Hi Ramah Outdoor community!

My name is Dan Carmeli, and for the last two years I have served as the Ramah Outdoors webmaster.  I spend most of my time as a second-year law student, and I am very passionate about sustainability, local food systems, and the environment in general.   I have enjoyed following and contributing to camp’s development.  After spending much time behind the scenes, I write to you today to address a recent issue that compels us to reflect upon our camp’s values and how they apply to our very own website!

As many of you may have learned in the news, GoDaddy.com’s CEO, Bob Parsons, recently posted a video of himself shooting and killing an elephant in Zimbabwe.  According to Parsons, the elephants there often trample crops, resulting in significant hardship for the local farmers.  He has steadfastly defended and praised his behavior, stating that, “of everything I do this is the most rewarding.”  Environmental and animal rights groups, on the other hand, have decried his actions as inhumane.  They argue that, whatever the extent of the inconvenience the elephants cause the local residents, other solutions undoubtedly exist.

The Ramah Outdoors website is hosted by GoDaddy.com.

Yesterday we asked you whether you believe Ramah Outdoors should disassociate itself from GoDaddy.com and find a new web hosting service.  To facilitate the discussion, I share some of my thoughts, pose some deeper questions, and challenge you to explore the intricacies of this issue.

First, on a personal level, what specific aspect of Parsons’ actions disturbs us?   Let’s first consider the incident itself.

  • Is it the fact that it was an elephant? Would we have been less offended if he had killed a horse?  What about chicken or, even, a mosquito?  Why should we care more because it was an elephant?  Is it because they are exotic? Because they excite our imagination?  Because we do not eat them?
  • What makes one pest different from another? What is the difference between eliminating the insects that eat your crops and killing the elephants that trample them?  What about the formerly common American practice of shooting wolves to protect livestock?
  • Should we consider cultural differences? In India, elephants are sacred animals.   In Southeast Asia, elephants are domesticated to do agricultural labor.   In the U.S. they entertain (some would say are enslaved) in circuses.  In Zimbabwe, they are wild, seemingly, causing problems for local residents.
  • Have we been disproportionately sensitized? Elephants, especially African ones, have received considerable attention over the last few decades pursuant to international campaigns to end poaching and avoid extinction.  What if there had been no such campaigns or if elephants were not endangered?

As members of the Ramah Outdoors community, we approach the issue through a different lens.  We share the value of leaving no trace.  We recognize that each creature is one of God’s creatures.  We understand our roles as stewards of the environment.  We look at the world with wonder and radical amazement.  We find ways to harmonize our existence with the rest of the world, rather than exert our dominance.  So no matter how you slice it, killing that elephant runs counter to our entire value system.

So, we don’t agree with Parsons’ action, but why should we care?  This leads us to consider Parsons’ second act: posting the video online.

Had Parsons merely gone to Africa, shot an elephant, and returned to the U.S., we likely wouldn’t be having this discussion.  Under such circumstances, Parsons’ actions would have had no connection to us.  He would have been acting as a private citizen on his own personal time.  However, posing with local residents with their new “GoDaddy.com” caps and uploading the video for the world to see, Parsons acted not only on his own behalf, but on the behalf of his company.  And as patrons of GoDaddy.com, our implicit endorsement extends to Parsons’ acts as well.

But what difference does it make?  Had we not reached out to you, you would have never known that our website is hosted by GoDaddy.com and you would have never known whether we remained with GoDaddy.com or switched to another hosting service.  And even if you know, most people in the world (including Parsons) will never know.  Essentially, would this even have been an issue had we not made it an issue?

We have here an interesting dichotomy: Parsons’ actions, which were made known to the world, and our actions, which will be known to practically no one.  It is human nature to feel responsible and to be held accountable for actions that others know about.  How many of us keep our homes messy, only to clean it when we know company is coming over?  After all, why bother if nobody is watching?

As members of the Ramah Outdoors community, we know otherwise.  Leaving a place worse off than the way we found it is wrong regardless of whether anyone else will be using that place.   There is an inherent and holy value of living virtuously.  The undisclosed donor is just as praiseworthy, if not more, than a disclosed donor. Similarly, the anonymous sinner acts just as reprehensively as the known sinner.  Ultimately, the distinction between known and unknown is entirely a fiction.  We are all interconnected; we all rely on the same resources; we are all responsible for one another; we are all accountable to the same higher source.

True values are what we do when no one is watching.  Our actions as a community, both public and private, matter.  Please visit our facebook page and share your thoughts so that our actions may speak for all of us.