“We have enslaved the rest of animal creation and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form.” — William Ralph Inge
Spain is the third largest of the European countries and, without question, one of the most beautiful on the vast continent. From the surreal architecture of Antonio Gaudi in Barcelona to the stunning Moorish palaces of Granada, from the snowcapped mountaintops of the Sierra Nevada to the hilltop towns of Pueblos Blancos, from the gorgeous beaches of Costa del Sol to the marvel of the Balearic Islands, from the frantic metropolis of Madrid to the serenity of Ordesa National Park, Spain offers a treasure trove of beauty sure to steal your breath away.
The Spanish people have a beautiful language, a rich and varied culture, and a fascinating history established by Phoenicians, Africans, Celts, Carthaginians, Greeks, Visigoths, Arabs, and other peoples. Unfortunately, like nearly every other nation and culture, Spain has “traditions” of extreme animal cruelty that are central to their cultural identity. Like Italians who behead geese, Pakistanis who attack bears with dogs, English who hunt foxes, Canadians who kill baby seals, and Americans who fight cocks, many Spaniards are horribly cruel to animals. At their worst, Spaniards – and the moronic tourists who flock to their bloody rites — can be bloodthirsty barbarians, Dionysian devotees who succumb to mystical rapture during the torture and killing of animals.
Bullfighting is as pervasive in Spain as baseball is in the US, and bullfighters claim the same celebrity status as do sports stars here. But Spain honors unique cruelties that are unthinkable in the US.
Spain seems to be at a crossroads of change, however, as their blood sports have come under fire both domestically and internationally. Spain is a critical test for whether or not human beings can overcome their violent traditions and construct new identities no longer rooted in violence toward other species.
As I write this, thousands of revelers from around the globe swell the streets of Pamplona for the Encierros — the annual “running of the bulls.” By their own estimation, these moral misfits are having the time of their lives while helping to torture and kill bulls during the eight days of the San Fermin festival.
As this dark cloud hovers over northern Spain, where cruelty to animals is a cause for celebration and joy, I shudder in horror over the sad spectacle of human cretinism as I brood over the possibility of a viable future for such a disturbed and demented species. I contemplate how much the future of humanity depends on its ability to end wicked traditions, to stop hating animals and the natural world, and to adopt an ethics of reverence for life. Of course humans are cruel to one another and need to bring peace to interpersonal relations, but their war against nature is far more costly and arguably lies at the root of the current evolutionary impasse. In so many ways, the “animal question” is central to the human question.
Nothing less is at stake than the future of humanity and biodiversity. With its deep-seated traditions that tie the Eros of joy to the Thanatos of death and violence, Spain is a flashpoint for human transformation.
Blood Fiestas: Spectacles of Cruelty
“Of all animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.” –Mark Twain
“Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character; and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.”– Arthur Schopenhauer
One automatically associates animal abuse in Spain with bullfighting, but bullfighting is only one form of animal cruelty featured in national “fiestas.” Throughout the year, there are ten to twenty thousand fiestas, and every town and village has their own patron saint they honor with prolonged celebrations. Fiestas can be secular or religious in nature, but they always involve animal torture. Perversely, fiestas are most popular during religious holidays and particularly during Easter Week – with nary a word of objection from the Catholic Church. Spaniards also delight in rituals of animal cruelty on October 4, St Francis of Assisi’s day, and they mark January 17, the day honoring San Antonio Abad, Spain’s patron saint of animals, with chicken beheading competitions.
Animal rights activists in the US are rightly horrified by the animal abuse inherent in circuses and rodeos, but it pales in comparison to the catalogue of evils showcased in Spanish fiestas. Spaniards light the horns of a bull on fire and laugh at his torment while exploding firecrackers. They wrestle ponies to the ground and cut off their manes and tails. They suspend pigeons and squirrels in pots that they pelt with stones until the animals fall. They bury birds with their heads sticking up in order to decapitate them with swords. They throw ducks with clipped wings into the sea so that swimmers can rip them apart in tug-of-war contests. They grease pigs for catching contests that badly maul the animals. They string geese up by their feet and wrench their heads off.
Some fiestas are particularly infamous, such as the goat fiesta of Manganeses de la Polyorosa where villagers throw a goat from a church (!) tower. If the goat survives, it is drowned in the town fountain. Every year in the village of Villanueve de la Vera, drunken revelers drag a donkey into the streets and beat it to a bloody pulp. The “running of the bulls” in Pamplona is held every July. Each day for a week, six terrified fighting bulls are set loose in the cobbled streets as thousands of mindless daredevils try to dodge their deadly horns. The party ends with the brutal killing of the bulls. In the annual Fiesta of San Juan in Coria, Spain, tourists and locals armed with blowpipes shoot bulls with darts until their bodies are a bloody mess, and then they castrate and kill them.
These are dramatic examples of what author Jim Mason (An Unnatural Order: Uncovering the Roots of our Domination of Nature and Each Other) describes as “misothery” – human hatred and contempt for animals. Beginning at least with the emergence of agricultural society ten thousand years ago, human beings constructed their cultural and personal identities to a large degree as species identities, premised upon a sharp line of opposition between their animality and that of all other species. They thereby endowed themselves with special privileges by virtue of their powers of reason, speech, technology, or, in the Christian tradition, their alleged likeness to God. The result is what Mason calls the “dominionist” worldview whereby human beings arrogate to themselves supreme authority over the Earth and its living inhabitants.
A steady decline in reverence for animals is present in the transition from the Egyptian deification of bulls to the Greek naturalization of hierarchy to the bloodletting of the Roman Colosseum where sometimes thousands of animals a day were slaughtered for “entertainment.” Once a rigid opposition between human and nonhuman animal is made in theory, it is perpetually established in practice through rituals of domination. Animals become objects onto and through which human beings release and generate aggression. In endless “contests” ranging from bullfighting to rodeos to alligator wrestling, “civilized man” asserts, affirms, and celebrates his superiority over “wild nature.”
The tragic flaw in the human species is its historical need to define itself not only as radically different from all other species, but also as infinitely greater and more advanced. This schizophrenia is a general human phenomenon, but Spaniards have elevated cruelty to an “art form,” which in fact is how they view bullfighting.
Bullfighting: Tragedy and Farce in 3 Acts
“Torture is neither art nor culture.”– Anti-bullfight poster in Spain
“It is man’s sympathy with all creatures that first makes him truly a man.”– Albert Schweitzer
In addition to lush flamenco music and beautiful poetry and literature, Spain claims bullfighting – the corrida — as one of its oldest and most dignified traditions. In an attempt to justify current brutalities, apologists of bullfighting often mythologize its murky origins, linking it to the prehistoric sacrifice of bulls in early Mediterranean cultures and the Greek killing of the Minotaur. Wild bulls lived throughout Mediterranean forests. 35,000 thousand years ago, on cave walls in Spain and France, early human beings depicted them with awe and reverence. Standing six feet high at the shoulders and weighing a ton, the bull was a huge and powerful animal, an appropriate totemic symbol to worship and stimulate the mind – but also an affront and challenge to human dominion. The bull-god Apis was the most important deity in ancient Egypt. Bulls eventually were domesticated and in Crete they were brought to palace arenas where daring athletes attempted to vault over their horns, perhaps the first historical anticipation of the modern bullfight. By the time of the Romans, however, bulls and other animals had lost all reverential status and were hunted and killed with bloodthirsty glee.
In the Middle Ages, bullfighting was the province of the aristocracy who attacked bulls while riding on horseback in order to train knights or to celebrate royal events. In the 18th century, King Felipe V prohibited nobles from practicing bullfighting as he feared it could undermine public morals. In 1724, bullfighting changed dramatically when commoners adopted it and began to fight bulls on foot by dodging them, pole vaulting over them, using rags to sidestep them, and raising small spears. They thereby established the corrida as currently practiced and, over time, the maneuvers, costumes, and weapons were refined.
Bullfighting is common in other Latin countries such as Portugal, Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru, but it also is popular in southern France. There are over 400 bullrings throughout Spain, seating anywhere from fifteen hundred to twenty thousand spectators. Each week, thousands of Spaniards and tourists flock to the nearest plaza de Toro. It is estimated that over 40,000 bulls are killed each year in Spanish bullfights and fiestas.
In a lucrative business, breeders raise bulls on farms throughout Spain. Only young bulls 3-4 years of age are used because older bulls are too strong. But even the young bulls must be weakened in a host of vicious ways. They are beaten and chased by men on horseback who jab them with sharp lances. Weeks before the fight, bulls are forced to wear heavy weights around their necks. In most cases breeders shave down the bulls’ horns to make them less dangerous – a painful mutilation performed without anesthetic. Shaving not only causes trauma to the bull, it impairs his coordination and ability to navigate. This and other acts of willful injury are illegal, but the law is flagrantly violated.
During transit in cramped vehicles without food, water, or space to move, many bulls die before or upon arrival. Bulls frequently are sick with diseases like bovine tuberculosis, suffer injured limbs, and may be ill from a cocktail of drugs combining tranquilizers for the ride and stimulants for the “fight.” On the day of the great encounter, they are confined in a dark box, isolated from other bulls for the first time. Just before they enter the arena, they are poked, harpooned, and harassed. When the passageway to the arena opens, they encounter blinding sunlight, strange surroundings, the disorienting roar of the crowd, and aggressive human beings charging them with capes and weapons.
Probably few people know how a bullfight proceeds, how violent and unfair a “fight” it is, and how relatively minor a role the matador plays. A bullfight proceeds in three stages, or tercios, designed to weaken, torture, torment, and kill the bull. In the tercio de varas, the matador’s assistants chase the bull with capes in order to provoke and tire him. Once the bull is sufficiently exhausted, two picadores ride in on horseback (the horses too are abused in numerous ways) and plunge lancers into the bull’s upper body. The tercio de banderillas begins when three banderilleros individually chase the bull in order to spear him in the neck with two banderillas (colorfully decorated wooden harpoons). Finally, when six banderillas are lodged in the bull’s neck, blood pouring down his back and spewing out of his nose and mouth, the tercio de muleta commences and the brave matador enters for the “ballet of death.” With his sword and red cape, he makes several stylized passes at the bull before he attempts to deliver the estocada, the death blow designed to plunge the sword through the bull’s neck or into his heart. The matador has ten minutes to kill the bull, but quite often, he fails to make a clean kill and has to stab the bull repeatedly. A team member then severs the bull’s spinal cord as he lies paralyzed and dying.
Throughout the final tercio, the applause, roar, and frenzy of the crowd grows progressively louder. When the bull is down and still conscious, the judge gives a sign as to whether to cut off an ear (good fight), two ears (excellent), or two ears and a tail (bravo!). Once the trophy is excised, the bull is dragged out of the ring and then butchered. The remains of the bull, including its testicles, are sold as “black meat” for human consumption – a practice banned by the Spanish government in 2001 due to concerns over mad cow disease.
This sickening “fight” lasts twenty minutes and is repeated six times with different matadors. When the last bull is removed, the matadors and their assistants enter the arena to receive their honors. If the crowd is particularly pleased with a matador, he will be carried out of the arena on their shoulders.
“It’s a matter of respecting traditions.”– Jesus Moyano, picador
“All the arguments to prove man’s superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering the animals are our equals.” –Peter Singer
Unlike the “ignorant foreigners” who see bullfighting merely as a “sport,” Spanish connoisseurs and aficionados view it as profound art, rich allegory, and high metaphysical drama. Spanish poet Garcia Lorca called bullfighting Spain’s “authentic religious drama,” one involving courage and confrontation with death. For matador Curro Segura, bullfighting allegorizes “the struggle between life and death. It’s not about violence.” According to Spanish myth, the bull is fulfilling its destiny, being nothing but savage fury waiting for the fateful encounter with man. Christina Sanchez, a famous (and rare) woman bullfighter in Spain, speaks of bulls in this speciesist and essentializing manner: “They are brave, born to die in the ring and help create an act of art with a person.” Longtime bullfighter Diego O’Bolger mythologizes in terms that root human identity in the “domination” of the wild: “You’re taking the brute force of nature and blending the bull’s charge, your cape, and your body into something that does have artistic value. It’s almost like ballet.” The human need to feel superior to animals is evident in the words of Picador Carmelo Perez Arevalo, who described his act of killing a bull as “a feeling of complete happiness, and I felt very big.”
In novels such as Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway popularized bullfights for a global audience and uncritically embraced fatuous Spanish romanticizations of this vicious blood sport. For Hemingway, bullfighting epitomized athleticism, artistry, and courage. Hemingway saw bullfighting as “the only art in which the artist is in danger of death.” He spoke of “the emotional and spiritual intensity and pure classic beauty that can be produced by a man, an animal, and a piece of scarlet draped on a stick.” When the stick pieces the animal’s body, and the red blood runs into the sand or grass, the aesthetic process deepens; the blood is beauty and the beauty is blood. I might say this is enough to make a fascist proud, but contempt for animals transgresses all political ideologies and party lines to register as a general disorder within the human species.
It is only an apparent contradiction that throughout Spain T-shirts and merchandizing portray the bull as a beautiful and noble animal, for its majestic qualities are precisely what human beings must conquer and subdue. If the bull is so powerful and strong, then how much more superior must the human be if he can vanquish this mighty force? Consumer images display the bull running past the red cape of the gracefully dressed matador but never portray the gore and blood. The sanitized forms evoke great drama, but they are despicable lies and propaganda.
However much philosophical – pardon the pun – bullshit Spaniards and other fans of la corrida tender, bullfighting is nothing but a hideous, barbaric, bald-faced, contemptible, sickening display of humanity at its worst. The speciesism that reduces animals to nothing but resources for human use is blatantly on parade and evokes the same discredited rationale behind every form of human-to-human discrimination. Bulls exist to be bulls, not targets of human violence. Humanity is in great danger when it cannot separate barbarism from art, brutality from culture. Bullfighting is a pathetic passion play of domination whereby pathologically disturbed human beings manifesting a severe inferiority complex attempt to demonstrate their power and mastery over an innocent animal. Bullfighting and the fiestas advertise the darkest human evil, and they evince the complex interplay of aggressive biological urges and regressive cultural influences.
If bullfighting is an “art form,” then so are ritualistic cult killings. If bullfighting is “authentic religious drama,” so too is war and genocide. If the matador is ennobled, let us praise every mass murderer. The very term “bullfighting” is skewed, for it is neither a “fight” nor a “sport.” Debilitated, mutilated, disoriented, outnumbered, outgunned, and nowhere to run, the bull’s fate is sealed from the start. The matador’s “victory” is cheap, hollow, and wretched. In the last 45 years, four Spanish bullfighters have been killed by bulls, but 134,000 bulls have died. Unless there is a rare lightning strike of respect in the crowd and judging booth for a tough bull, the bull dies even if he wins. So much for Hemingway’s gin-soaked, pseudo-metaphysical muse that “A death will occur this afternoon, will it be man or animal?”
This sordid spectacle has as much reality as the World Wrestling Smackdown and this largely is because the brave matadors want the sizeable sums of money and glory without the Hemingwayian risk of injuries or death that might come from a “fair fight.” Compared to bullfighting during the 1920s and 1930s, today’s corrida typically is a sorry caricature of itself, little but tourist performance. As a cheap simulacrum, the corrida need only appear to be bold, daring, and dangerous. The true reality remains the barbarity, the sharpness of the blades, the agony and death of the bulls, and the degradation of the human spirit.
So-called “bloodless bullfights” are practiced in the US, but the bulls are still tormented and abused, only to be killed once outside the arena. The French and Mexicans have put another fine layer of civilization on the corrida in the form of the “baby bullfight.” Baby bulls, some no more than a few weeks old, are brought into a small arena in order to be stabbed to death by spectators, many of them knife-wielding children learning their Mediterranean and Latin traditions and earning their first degree in arrogance and violence.
The introduction of children to bullfighting is particularly regressive, as studies demonstrate that children who attend bullfights suffer psychological disorders and are more prone to aggressive behavior. Yet in 1992, Spain rescinded a 65 year old royal decree banning children under 14 from attending bullfights. The impact of watching animal cruelty, let along being directly involved in the bloodletting of baby bullfights, is another bad omen for the future of humanity.
Bullfighting is emblematic of the sickness, alienation, aggression, and violence haunting the tormented human soul. In their condition of being shaped by both natural and cultural evolution, humanity is haunted by conflicting drives and imperatives. Historically, far more enlightened and benign aspects of human beings have informed relations to the social and natural worlds, and this side of the human condition gives one hope for possible change. But until “traditions” such as bullfighting and blood fiestas are eradicated and thrown into the trash bin of history where they belong, humanity surely will continue its rapid decline into decadence, barbarism, and self-destruction.
The Struggle for Moral Progress
“Bullfighting is a stumbling block for the humanization of man.”– Mexican author Eduardo del Rio
‘I want to realize brotherhood or identity not merely with the beings called human, but I want to realize identity with all life, even with such things as crawl upon earth.”– Mahatma Gandhi
Bullfighting is a significant attraction throughout Spain. Toledo, Seville, Ronda, Madrid, and other Spanish cities proudly boast bullfighting rings and canonize matadors. Bars, cafes, restaurants, shops, and street walls are plastered with ubiquitous images that glorify la corrida.
But bullfighting and blood fiestas are coming under fire internationally and from within Spain itself. Spanish TV stations have reduced their coverage of bullfights to a third of previous broadcasting time, suggesting waning interest. Surveys of Spanish TV watchers show that only 14% have a strong interest in bullfighting, while 68% have no interest at all. In Mexico, interest in bullfighting clearly is waning. In the past 30 years in Juarez, for example, the number of annual bullfights has dropped from 50 to five. Throughout Mexico, the number of bullrings is rapidly dwindling.
Crucially, recent polls demonstrate that over 80% of Spaniards, Europeans, and Mexican oppose bullfights. Polling of over 50,000 residents in 12 states of the Mexican Union by the World Society for the Protection of Animals indicates that 87% of people are opposed to bullfighting. In an important recognition of the connection between human and animal rights, the Green Party in Mexico and Spain joined animal rights groups in the opposition to bullfighting.
A number of factors are eroding the popularity of bullfighting in countries like Mexico and Spain. These include cultural and economic modernization through the influences of global capitalism and the European Union; alternative sources of “entertainment” such as mass media, television, shopping malls, movie theaters, and computer games; and the wild popularity of soccer (a game so marred with violence among fans that it serves as a suitable release for human aggression). Spain has undergone rapid modernization in the last 40 years. Until the 1950s, Spain was a predominantly rural nation, and fascist dictator General Franco ruled the country with his odious ideologies from 1939 to 1975, when he finally died. Thereafter, socialists boosted Spain’s international standing and Spain joined the European community in 1986.
Modernizing influences stem not only from economic and technological areas, but also changes in the realm of ethics. Increasingly, human beings around the world are finding animal abuse unacceptable. Consequently, a number of international groups such as the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), the Anti-Bullfighting International, and the Association for Animal Liberation have adopted aggressive campaigns against bullfighting. A plethora of animal rights groups challenging bullfighting and other forms of animal abuse exist in France and Latin countries such Spain, Portugal, and Mexico. Fight Against Animal Cruelty in Europe (FAACE) has stopped some blood fiestas and instituted welfare regulations in many European cities and regions. The WSPA and other groups are teaching humane education in countries that promote bullfighting. In the US, groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) have waged effective protest and education campaigns against bullfighting.
Because of international opposition, bullfights and blood fiestas have been stopped in Paris, Moscow, Cuba, and elsewhere. In 1992, 400 Spanish protestors marched in Madrid to decry bullfighting and in 2000, 500 demonstrated in Barcelona. Since 1990, the Barcelona group, Animal Help, has closed down three out of nine Catalonian bullfighting arenas. Spanish resort towns such as Tossa de Mar, Vilamacolum, and La Vajol have banned bullfights, as did the Mexican city of Jalapa. Catalonia, the most progressive region in Spain, passed a law in 1988 that prohibited the worst excesses of the blood fiestas, although bullfighting is still practiced in Barcelona. Bullfighting and blood fiestas have been banned in the Canary Islands, but cockfighting is both legal and popular there. Ordinances against bullfighting have been passed throughout Central and Latin America.
If the vast majority of Europeans and Mexicans oppose bullfighting and cruel fiestas, why do they still persist? A well-organized minority of breeders and lobbyists continues to exert powerful economic and political muscle. In Spain, national and local governments embrace bullfighting and the revenue it brings. Bull breeders with extensive grass roots connections promote blood fiestas as a profitable way to sell cows, bulls, calves, and other animals that are by-products of their industry. Official church policy is to stay “neutral,” although the church has blessed some matadors, some bishops have attended bullfights and accept industry funds, and some even have been bullfighters. The Pope has turned a deaf ear to protests and ignored evidence of cruelty sent to him that profanes any decent concept of God and creation.
In addition, bullfighting is promoted by companies such as Corona beer (owned by Anheuser-Busch). Tourist industries provide another economic boost for bullfighting. US tourist guidebooks dutifully tell the consumer just where and when to see a bullfight, and peddle the romance of bullfighting with nary a suggestion the tradition increasingly is viewed as barbaric. Tourist companies often promote packages involving visits to a bullfight and a stay at nearby hotels operated by and for the industry. Once they see the bloody reality behind the phony romance, however, most tourists leave after only two of six bulls have been killed and never return.
Companies supporting bullfighting are very vulnerable to protest and boycotts. After intense pressure from SHARK and other groups, Pepsi pulled their advertisements from Mexican bullrings. Dillard’s department stores in Phoenix stopped selling bullfight tickets after being flooded with customer complaints and returned merchandise. Thus, not only is it crucial to promote education in Spain and other countries that have bullfighting, but also in the US, particularly in border cities such as Tucson or El Paso where US citizens can easily visit Mexico to see a bullfight. According to Steve Hindi of SHARK, Mexican border rings would fold overnight without the aid of American tourism.
Reinventing Tradition and Human Identity
“The antiquity of an abuse is not justification for its continuance.”– Dr. Samuel Johnson
“The thinking man must oppose all cruel customs no matter how deeply rooted in tradition or surrounded by a halo. We need a boundless ethic which will include the animals also.”– Albert Schweitzer
Looking at past changes in Europe, we can see there is hope that someday bullfighting, a long entrenched “tradition,” may also be abolished. England had bull running and baiting for over 1,000 years until Parliament banned it in 1835. Festivals such as chicken killing were common in European countries such as England, Italy, Belgium, Germany, but have been banned. Spain’s recent “tradition” of throwing goats out of church towers (begun in 1975) has also stopped. Views of animals are changing on a global basis and bullfighting in Spain and elsewhere, like cockfighting in the US, may not be able to withstand the winds of moral progress.
Some Spanish cities like Barcelona have approved measures such as the 1988 Municipal Declaration for the Coexistence and Rights of Animals, but exempt bullfighting, just as animal welfare acts in the US excuse the worst forms of institutional abuse because they are considered valid – scientifically, economically, or culturally – and not gratuitous acts of cruelty such as lighting a cat on fire. The 1997 Amsterdam Protocol of the European Union gives legal recognition to animals as sentient beings, but the EU has declared bullfighting a protected activity under the heading of National Culture. To its great discredit, the EU supports bullfighting for tourist euros and subsidizes bull breeding farms. In 2004, Barcelona is hosting the Universal Forum of Culture – an excellent opportunity to talk about what culture means, especially since Barcelona allows 100 bulls a year to be killed for entertainment, even though a WSPA poll reveals that 96% of Catalonians oppose bullfighting, and 87% view respect for animals as related to progress in Spain. Consequently, the WSPA, the Asociación Defensa Derechos Animal, and other groups will be pushing an anti-bullfighting agenda.
Traditions must be measured not according to how long they have existed or how many people adhere to them, but rather, minimally, whether or not they are humane and nonviolent. Cruelty has nothing do with culture; rather, it is the antithesis of culture. To the degree that humanity has a moral awakening, it will realize that animal rights trump cultural traditions predicated upon needless and wanton violence.
Every year hundreds of people travel to California for the annual Mooning of Amtrak. Drunken and rowdy, they line up with their backs to a passing train and drop their pants. Similarly, people in Maine enjoy the annual Garbage Parade where people make creative floats out of junk. Silly, perhaps, but unlike the fiestas of Spain a great time is had by all without animals having to pay the price. Could the Spaniards ever embrace as sufficiently entertaining new traditions such as PETA is trying to implement – the running of the nudes? Many Spaniards, Mexicans, and people of other Latin nationalities are experiencing an identity crisis that forces the urgent question of how human beings ought to relate to other animals.
The bull is a magnificent being and a potent symbol for a culture to revere. But reverence demands honor and respect, a will to coexist and protect, not to violate and kill. The Spaniards are welcome to keep the bull as their totemic animal, but they should retool their tradition to protect the bull instead of mutilating it. If there is a tradition to recapture, perhaps Spain ought to bypass the Roman “games” and return to the ancient Egyptian reverence of the bull as a God, although without their ritual of sacrifice.
The setting of the Spanish sun, the magenta-colored capes, the matador’s stunning traje de luces (suit of lights) — all have great aesthetic value, but only if decontextualized from the basic fact that a suffering animal is forced to die because of human lack of knowledge, arrogance, barbarity, and greed. This fact dethrones bullfighting from the lofty plane of art and throws it exactly where it belongs — into the sewer of human evil and vice.
One must hope that in the midst of tumultuous changes brought on by the globalization of capitalism that humanity will be wise enough to preserve the best traditions of European cultures, such as the beauty of Spanish flamenco music and poetry, while rejecting the worst, such as bullfighting and blood fiestas. Modernization destroys cultures, devours the natural world, decimates biodiversity, and reduces value to the crude denomination of profit. But it also subverts ancient hierarchies and promotes the progressive values of rights, democracy, and equality.
Animal rights is the next stage in the development of the highest values modern humanity has devised. Once human beings create something worthy of the name “culture,” there will be no place in it for bullfighting, blood fiestas, or any other form of cruelty inflicted on animals. Our distorted conceptions of ourselves as demigods who command the planet must be replaced with the far more humble and holistic notion that we belong to and are dependent upon vast networks of living relationships. If humanity and the living world as a whole is to have a future, human beings must eliminate dominionism and speciesism in favor of an ethics respecting the entire biocommunity.
Increasing worldwide opposition to bullfighting is a strong marker of moral progress and a portentous shift in human species identity. This moral revolution must unfold globally, and the struggle in Spain will be a key indicator to gauge the ability of the human species to adapt, change, and evolve or to succumb to a dark and bleak future.