You’re probably wondering how you became the most hated man in America. From the tone of your hollow apologies, it is quite clear that you are befuddled by your rise to infamy and still have no insight into why you’ve become the target of such contempt.
As a student of human behavior, I think I can help shed some light on the phenomenon.
The inciting incident was the murder of a beloved lion. His name was Cecil. He lived for thirteen years in the security that he had no natural predators and he posed no threat to your livelihood as an obscure dentist in Minneapolis. He died a torturous death, suffering his wounds for 40 hours, so that you could indulge in your sadistic pleasure.
That was bad enough. But there’s more.
It is your background, your past, all documented by photographs you treasured, which triggered psychological reactions of dismay and disgust around the globe.
To start with, you’re a dentist; a professional of the healing arts. One expects certain personality traits in healers, the most important one being compassion. The idea that a physician would enjoy the killing of animals purely for sport creates psychological dissonance that cannot be reconciled without drawing ire.
Most people are fair-minded: they can understand the need to hunt for food; they can even accept the need to cull a particular species whose overpopulation places other species and habitat at risk. They cannot understand the motivation of a man, who clearly enjoys a comfortable existence, to travel across the world to murder a member of an endangered species. You don’t seem to get this.
Speaking of your comfortable existence, in a period where so many are still suffering from economic insecurity, it is incomprehensible for them to contemplate that you spent the equivalent of their annual income to indulge in sadistic pleasures.
Then there are the pictures. You crouching next to Cecil, you stooped against a dead rhinoceros, you, shirtless, holding the lifeless body of a beautiful leopard. These pictures trigger the psychological mechanism of contrast: Cecil’s majestic mane versus your receding hairline; Cecil’s pristine fangs versus your toilet-bowl-white veneers; the strength and dignity of these noble beings versus the imperfections and impotence of your waning manhood.
In every case, when one views the pictures, one can’t help but feel that the wrong party succumbed. Nobody roots for bullies.
About those pictures, not since Putin released photos of himself bare-chested has the image of a shirtless man caused such utter repugnance. And not since Sir Lawrence Olivier played the part of Dr. Szell in Marathon Man has the public been so creeped out by dentists.
But again, it comes down to your limp apology. You drummed up the feeble justification that you believed you were acting within the allowed limits of the law. This was not an issue of legality, Walt. This was about right and wrong. It’s so sad that you can’t see that. There is no sincerity in your words, no remorse, no flash of insight.
You are doomed by your own incapacity to understand.
Cecil suffered for 40 hours in silent dignity. As you pass your hours in seclusion, unable to practice your profession, unable to step freely in your own community, you should think of Cecil: think of his suffering, think of his loneliness. Perhaps, then you’ll understand.
If you don’t, your soul will rot under the scorching light of truth like the carcasses of your innocent victims.
Author of The Art of Forgetting