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Outrage, Cecil the Lion, and Rampant Narcissism

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Vacation prevented me from anything other than knowing there was a dead lion meme, but I am back now and I find the Cecil the Lion story amazing.  Apparently a gentleman from the US paid a great deal of money to hunt and kill a lion.  He ended up killing Cecil, a male lion that is a star in a national park in Africa.  Accounts vary but apparently it was poaching, an illegal act; however, regardless of the actual events the internet outrage has been so over the top as to be stunning.

The New York Time today reports that the American Psychological Association is changing its code of ethics such that it is unethical for a psychologist to participate in an interrogation that is part of an official government terror investigation, regardless of whether so-called “enhanced techniques” are used or not.

“Overreaction” is the word that these two stories have in common.  Apparently there is no longer a category of “shameful,” or “bad idea, or simply “wrong.”  Apparently we now go straight from “that’s OK” to “OUTRAGE!”  What in the world is going on here?

The Times story on psychological participation in interrogations starts giving us hints:

The board’s recommendation is a response to a report from earlier this month after an independent investigation into the involvement of prominent psychologists and association officials in the harsh interrogation programs operated by the C.I.A. and the Defense Department during the Bush administration.

One could easily conclude that this bit of overreaction is a result of shame.  While I am not necessarily against the use of enhanced interrogation, many people are, so it is kind of understandable that the APA would want to react to psychologists participation in such interrogations, but why ALL government interrogations?  SHame is the easiest explanation.

The editorial board at the NYT this morning also published an editorial on Cecil the lion.  It mostly reads like they did not know what to say but had to say something because of the enormity of the phenomena.  It too; however, contains a hint as to the source of the outrage:

Humans are very selective in their attitudes toward threatened species, and obviously Cecil, a beautiful beast, is the beneficiary of very selective attention.

Here it seems like the motivation for the outrage is even more personal than shame; it is empathy.  The big kitty that so resembles the kitty everybody has at home got killed.  People are taking this personally – like someone killed their cat.

Both of these stories also are steeped in a basic human laziness.  It is easier to ban participation in all interrogation than to try and figure out which techniques are acceptable and which are not.  It is easier to be upset about the killing of a lion than it is to concentrate on the other far more serious and impactful crimes around us.

The Time magazine blog carried a fairly vapid piece on using intuition to make decisions that does contain one gem of a line.  First they define intuition:

There is no such thing as a purely logical decision. The brain uses a combination of logic and emotion when making decisions of any kind. That specific emotion, innate to us as humans, is intuition. We possess the capacity to feel, and thereby the ability to know things without consciously reasoning. The “gut feeling” is real, and we use it all the time.

And then the gem:

I think we can sharpen our intuition just as a golfer sharpens his or her skills

But because we value feelings more than work today nobody bothers to sharpen their intuition – the emotional component (present without any training) of intuition overrides the logical component (which requires information and training) and all we are left with is a “feeling” and outrage is usually a result of feeling.   All this outrage is not an effort to fix a problem, it is an effort to soothe our own feelings.  “I’m upset the lion was killed; I HAVE to do something.”  And so we take to Facebook or Twitter and public outrage is born.

Soothing our own feelings, regardless of the public outcome, is the ultimate expression of narcissism.  It says that our feelings matter more than anything else – even the feelings of others.  The only cure for this sad state of affairs is to learn that there is something outside of ourselves and that that something matters a lot more than we do.  And it cannot be other people, because on what basis can we decide that the feelings of others matter more than our feelings?  Nope, it has to be something absolute and apart from humanity.

Like maybe God.


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