Who’s afraid of the big bad colonist?
The amount of attention brought on by Cecil the Lion’s killing is incredible, with a huge image even gracing the front of New York’s Empire State Building. But this kind Imperial display of sympathy for the wild obscures a very real hypocrisy.
The idea that a white man from the US can go to Africa on his spare time with the expressed intention of shooting down an “exotic” animal is surely not new. For hundreds of years, big game hunting has always been a part of a colonial system wherein non-European countries became the cathartic playgrounds where the bored and banal Western lifestyle could vent itself through supremely egoistic pursuits of blood and glory.
Big game hunting was part of the internal colonization of the US. The hunting of the buffalo was seen as a kind of national sport of westward expansion—a pursuit justified in itself as the domination of a wild land by a stronger, purifying force.As the buffalo were brought to the brink of extermination by US colonists, Africa was increasingly opened up to colonization, and the Serengeti became the infamous new place for the big hunt. The grand waltzes and bagatelles that graced the sumptuous parties and feasts of 19th Century Imperial courts were played on the ivory of majestic African conquests. Social life in the colonial center was refreshed with the blood of the colonies. And in spite of what we might think, this still goes on today.
The Symbol of Dominion
There has always been something particularly colonial about the bold, courageous explorer and big game hunter who travels the world to kill the last remnants of the wild in order to make way for clean, healthy Western progress in the form of continuous exploitation through logging, mining, and plantations. His domination of nature marks his domination of himself in a weird way. He has become the master of the universe by manufacturing an identity based on the subversion of what he presumes to be his own arcane, more-feminine nature, which is most commonly associated with non-whites and colonized peoples.
Theodor Roosevelt, a staunch believer in eugenics and the white man’s mission to colonize the world, is perhaps the world’s most famous big game hunter. His own failed attempts at ranching brought him in close contact with a man identified as the first national socialist, the Marquis de Morès, later to inform his eugenic beliefs on raising the appropriate “human stock” (a concept that has everything to do with atavistic notions of “hereditary nobility”).
“If I were king of the forest”
Roosevelt’s administration is often known for its “conservationism,” with its chief being Gifford Pinchot, an occultist who learned his trade in “forest hygiene” from the greatest minds of France and Germany (the latter forest service having established itself under the Wolfsangel symbol later taken up by the Nazi SS).
For Pinchot, the forest was a hygienic place for man to recreate; however, to exploit natural resources, the forest had to be cleaned up a bit—large, fast-growing trees had to be planted in an order that made it easily accessible to loggers, so that the Imperial conquest could continue. The US forest service still views “healthy forests” as consistently logged ones.
Claiming the Territory
When the Western man (or woman) kills the native animal, he claims his territory and proves his reproductive worth, his virility. He stakes out a Westernized place in which he might bring his own brand of cattle, crops, and culture—a place for his own progeny to settle. Through killing, the pride of colonialism establishes itself.
With the recolonization of Africa occurring today through millions upon millions of hectares of land grabs made not just by the North Atlantic, but by India, Brazil, the Saudis, Russia, and China, the big game hunt is once again becoming a show of colonial force.
The slaughter of the wild buffalo made way for the devastation of the West through cattle ranching on non-native habitat, which has, in turn, contributed to soaring greenhouse emissions. Today, Africa’s lands are being pummeled by climate change-induced drought, making it difficult for native species to survive on their own.
The hunting of big game is, then, almost a mere symbolic gesture of the white man aggressively confronting the native in an unnecessary display of dominance. It is like ISIS destroying historic monuments, or perhaps more directly, Napoleon aiming his cannons at the Sphinx. But this is where the attention on Cecil somewhat misses the point.
An End to All That
We cannot have a kinder-gentler colonialism, where native species are rendered to their reserves, and land grabs continue apace. The machinery of colonial domination in full swing is rendering the planet uninhabitable for native species everywhere. When keeping them alive becomes as symbolic as murdering them in big game hunts, we have already lost the value of biodiversity.
As many have pointed out, the big game hunting of lions and elephants in Africa, or adventure hunting of bears and wolves in North America, reflect similar systems of colonial oppression in the streets. The same financial system that is grabbing land out from under the feet of indigenous peoples is also responsible for foreclosures and gentrification—both of which are enforced by the same kind of police, military, and security forces, and both of which have their own symbolic systems of racialized dominion.
If we are against the symbolic reality of big game hunting, we have to also be against its implications. Yes, this kind of sinister butchery must be stopped. So must everything it represents. That means transforming not just the juridical relationship to big game hunting, but the economic, cultural and political system to which such displays are virtually indispensable.