I am somewhat surprised by the level of vitriol and anger aimed at Glenn McGrath at the moment on Facebook, Twitter and various news feeds:
“Well he’s just killed another thing..the McGrath foundation!”
“Just lost all respect I had in him.”
“Can I shoot him for his teeth please?”
“W A N K E R !”
“I wish I could wipe that stupid smile off his ugly face. Sicko.”
I understand people have a knee-jerk reaction when seeing someone posing triumphantly with an animal they have just killed in the name of “sport” or “entertainment”. Ending the life of any sentient being for the thrill of it, or for fun, is both repugnant and mind-boggling. This isn’t the kind of world we think we live in, or at least that we want to live in. But for all the criticism of McGrath, he has actually not done anything legally wrong. He was taken out on a legitimate licensed expedition to hunt Zimbabwean wildlife, and like hundreds and thousands of hunters throughout the world, every day, he had photos taken to show off his “trophies”. So why are some people so upset? I think the reasons say more about our expectations and perceptions than it does about Glenn McGrath’s character for two reasons. But first, some background.
Glenn McGrath was an Australian champion cricketer, some may even say a legend of the game. He bowled for his country at a time when our Aussie team was the best in the world, and his bowling prowess was one of the reasons we were number one. He was not only a skilled and disciplined bowler, but unlike other’s from that era, he was a hard but fair player. His star shone bright, and his reputation was broadened beyond just the devotees of cricket by his courage when supporting his wife Jane as she bravely fought, but ultimately lost a ten year battle with cancer. We felt a tremendous sense of pride to watch Glenn pick himself up after her death, and continue with Jane’s charity ‘The McGrath Foundation’ in raising awareness of breast cancer, and the foundation’s support of thousands of women fighting the deadly disease.
So why are we disgusted and outraged about this particular series of photos, above thousands like them posted on the internet every day?
Firstly, he’s a hero. Our hero. Not only as a sporting figure admired by men, women and children alike, but he has shown qualities of humanity that people from all walks of life find admirable. Courage, compassion, strength, and determination to honour his late wife’s legacy. While the vast majority of people are turned off by the sight of majestic wild animals cut down in their prime, this story wouldn’t have made the headlines and had thousands of Facebook and Twitter comments had it not been a high profile, well-regarded celebrity. We thought we knew him. It goes against everything that we thought we understood about the character of Glenn McGrath. But again, we must remember his actions whilst morally questionable, were not actually illegal. We have found fault with our hero because we imagined him to be a paragon of love. We, as Australians, and even in the broader world stage, put McGrath on a pedestal, and the aching feeling of disappointment we feel is only amplified by how high we held him in our regard. We are angry that he isn’t what we thought he was, or that we expected him to be. And this anger goes beyond the proportionate response we generally have towards others who have made dubious choices or shown poor judgment.
Secondly, we have an imbalance in our feelings towards wild animals, such as those McGrath is pictured and reported to have killed. We hold lions, elephants, giraffes, rhinos, zebras, dolphins, orangutans, chimpanzees and others similar, in high esteem. We see them as grand and magnificent, and we even elevate them to royalty. In other animals we see great intelligence, their ability to communicate, and even a familial connection. We have only to see a gorilla nurturing her baby, and we are filled with empathy. We point out the endangered status of such animals, which makes the death of one so rare, so unique, a tragedy. But animals being categorised as “endangered” is a human construct. It may be factual to be able to present a graph that shows the decline of white rhinos and that there are only ‘x’ amount left. But for every single non-human animal on the planet, when they are faced with death, they are endangered. By it’s very definition – “threatened with danger” – any sentient being who’s life is about to be taken is endangered. Our quantification of the term “endangered” means nothing to the individual animal. All that animal cares about, is the preservation of his or her own life (and possibly the life/lives of family members). Whether there are one billion buffalo, or only one, that sense of impending danger and the possibility of life ending matters to that one individual buffalo. And regardless of what we’ve be told about the humane way animals in agriculture are treated in their life and death, every single sentient being – the mouse, the cow, the chicken, the pig, the fish, the dog or buffalo – wants to live without being abused, without being enslaved, and without having their life taken from them for the whim of humans who wish to do so for the trivial reasons of palate pleasure, entertainment or convenience.
Glenn McGrath ended the lives of several wild animals in Zimbabwe for sport and entertainment. He wasn’t in mortal danger and defending himself, and he wasn’t in a situation where there was any necessity to kill and eat the animals for his survival. But, however objectionable it is psychologically to see the photographs and know that McGrath slaughtered those animals, morally there is no difference in what he did to what non-vegans do day in, day out. Every single year, worldwide, we kill more than 56 billion land animals (not counting over a trillion aquatic animals) for the trivial reason of palate pleasure and convenience. “There is no necessity; no compulsion. We do not need to eat animals to be optimally healthy and animal agriculture is an ecological disaster,”(1) says abolitionist vegan and animal rights activist Professor Gary Francione, “The best justification we have for imposing suffering and death on those billions of animals…is that they taste good.” Moreover, animals killed for food have had lives far more hideous than the animals that Glenn McGrath slayed.
Rather than looking at Glenn McGrath, in all our disappointment that “he’s not the man we thought he was”, let us take this opportunity to look at ourselves and examine our own cognitive dissonance. We are appalled and outraged by the death of one animal in one instance, while continuing to happily consume the butchered body of another. “Ironically, we already believe everything we need to believe to reject animal exploitation altogether. It’s just a matter of coming to see there is no morally relevant difference between shooting a lion for fun or eating a steak because you enjoy it. In both cases, we have taken a life for no good reason.”
Put your morals where your mouth is, and go vegan!
© 2015 Benjamin MacEllen