Despite being a technology entrepreneur worth at least $40 million, Go Daddy co-founder and CEO Bob Parsons is apparently a bit of a hick. He fills ads for his website-hosting company with fake-boobed women dressed like Hooters waitresses. He employs NASCAR driver Danica Patrick as a spokesperson. He named his company “Go Daddy.”
Last week, Parsons uploaded a video showing himself shooting and killing an elephant in Zimbabwe. As AC/DC's “Hells Bells” plays in the background, a tour group escorts Parsons to the bull and he delivers a shot into its backside. The elephant lets out a loud trumpet sound, and the next image is Parsons proudly standing over its corpse, rifle in hand. Then, hungry villagers — who Parsons apparently outfitted in Go Daddy hats and t-shirts — literally rip apart the carcass (in a scene reminiscent of any recent trip to a Borders bookstore).
Conservationists, animal rights groups and even the mainstream media have jumped down Parsons' throat. The CEO defended his actions, saying farmers asked him to track down a “problem elephant” that was stampeding through their fields and gobbling up crops. “These people are all subsistence farmers,” he told a tech website, “and if they don't have a good harvest, they starve.” Plus, they got some elephant meat.
It's laughable that an American millionaire is suggesting his way of helping starving Africans was to fly over and personally put a cap in an elephant's ass. (He could have just paid for a barrier around the crops.) But is what Parsons did any worse than ordering a beef burrito?
I've been a vegetarian my entire adult life, and while I am not willing to let an animal be killed in any way just so I can feed off its corpse (given all the other options for fulfilling my nutritional needs), my main ethical reasoning comes from the factory farms that produce 74 percent of the world's poultry and 43 percent of its beef (according to the Worldwatch Institute). In these complexes, animals are kept in cramped quarters and mutilated to make them conform to inhumane conditions. The creatures' bodies grow in pained, disfigured ways as they are pumped full of growth hormones and not allowed space to exercise. Knowing the animals will get violent in the face of extreme pain and frustration, workers pull the beaks off chickens and beat and drug pigs. The process doesn't just murder animals for food — it forsakes any responsibility to non-human creatures (and plenty of human ones, given the working conditions) for corporate greed. In the U.S., where every product is made on a Ford-like assembly line, you can assume your burger or chicken salad has been produced this way unless you picked up the meat from a local farm yourself.
Compared to that, the transgressions of Parsons are tiny. He killed an animal that had lived to adulthood in the wild. He's like a pot dealer being shamed by a world that sucks up the products of mafia-style cartels. One reason I became a vegetarian was to escape the hypocrisy of Western carnivores, who eat pigs and wear cows but ride horses and play with cats. The scandal-toned coverage of this story on CNN and ABC News has reminded me of New Englanders who are shocked when I tell them about the culture of deer hunting in my native Pennsylvania. Most people will only wince at the slaughter of an animal if its species provided the protagonist of a Disney movie.
PETA has bestowed the title of “Scummiest CEO of the Year” on Parsons. Really? Shouldn't that go to whoever runs McDonalds or Burger King or Yum! brands or Sodexo or Butterball or Tyson or Cargill or ConAgra?
Conservationists may have more of a point. African governments inflate their elephant numbers to attract hunters and skirt regulators. Still, there's no evidence Parsons shot an endangered species.
Americans don't consume 64 billion pounds of meat a year because they lack sympathy for animals — no other people in the world take their dogs to get pictures with Santa — but because they look away from institutionalized animal cruelty to satisfy their drive for cheap, easy food. They won't get their lazy, complacent, squeamish asses into the field and kill their dinner. You can't say that about Bob Parsons, even if he is, overall, kind of a douche.