Consider the Poacher?
You’ve got to love blogging. I slip into thoughtless language and call an elephant lazy. A reader gently mock-chides me for my verbal slippage. I respond with a brief commentary on a proposed Tanzanian policy to shoot elephant poachers on the spot, as a sort of humorous self-warning to watch my language. Then excitement erupts.
In regards to the shoot-to-kill policy, I suggest due process, or a version of it, rather than firing away. For this opinion I’m mistakenly characterized as a simplistic minded pacifist while readers—every single one of whom I adore—ponder the joys of killing the poachers themselves (rather than, you know, fantasizing about it in a blog comment box).
Yeah, I know I’m exaggerating a bit here, and maybe even being snide (grant me a little room for that), but the following question is serious: has anyone considered the poacher? As far as I can tell, we’ve dismissed him as a thug doing a terrible thing. Yes, in shooting an elephant for the tusk trade, he is a thug doing a terrible thing. But could he be more? Could he be a victim and a thug? And might the two be connected?
Say he’s a confused teenager damaged by a childhood of dire poverty, physical abuse, and impressment into a gang of child soldiers. Say he’s a grown man whose crops were torched and whose children are starving and whose wife is ill. Say he’s a person for whom one tusk will bring unimaginable wealth. Such scenarios are hardly unlikely. Do we take the poacher’s past and present circumstances into consideration before we shoot to kill? Do we consider the possibility that—as often as we discuss “interlocking oppressions”—the poacher is both oppressor and oppressed?
Hence my reason for declaring that we hold our fire, at least for the moment. Yes, murdering an elephant is murdering an elephant. There is no relativism there. It’s wrong on every level. But when the man pulling the trigger could be the victim of distant or immediate circumstances that put him in that position, I think we need, at the least, to see what’s happening behind the scenes, in places we didn’t look.