Bullfighting and Other Cruelties Don't Belong in the Modern World
Last night, I debated a bullfighting enthusiast on CNN International, and the news hook was the impending start of the week-long festival in Pamplona that includes the so-called Running of the Bulls. There, bulls are released from a corral, and they then are led on a short dash on the slick streets of the town and into the bullfighting arena, with human runners ahead and around the bulls, supposedly courting danger. Later in the evening, the bulls will be killed by the picadors and the matadors in a choreographed exercise with the outcome preordained. The Running of the Bulls is act one of this several-part spectacle of violence against animals.
Learn about 11 ways you can help end bullfighting.
In the United States and in many other countries throughout the world, bullfighting is banned, not just because it’s cruel, but because the violence is so gratuitous. Most civilized people believe that killing animals just for the entertainment of spectators is wrong. That’s the sort of killing that happened in the Roman Colosseum centuries ago, and we look back on it with some blend of fascination and disgust.
Today, there’s hardly any moral distinction between bullfighting and dogfighting and cockfighting. You may get a few more high-brow types at the bullfighting arena than you do at an animal fight, but the knit of the shirt doesn’t diminish the repugnance of the moral spectacle that’s the focus of attention. They’re all staged and contrived events where animals are killed for human entertainment.
Today’s Fresno Bee has a story about how HSUS personnel gathered intelligence on a U.S.-based cockfighter and knife-seller in Tulare County and how we worked with law enforcement officials last month to raid the illegal operation. The knives are affixed to the birds’ legs to enhance the bloodletting and to expedite the outcome of the fight. When you really get close to the details of these staged events, it’s even worse than it seems at first glance.
Also in California, we’ve also been debating what constitutes “sport” when it comes to bear and bobcat hunting. The HSUS is backing a bill, S.B. 1221, to outlaw the hound hunting of bears and bobcats. In this version of sport, dogs are set loose to chase, harass, and fight with these wild animals. Eventually, the bears or bobcats take refuge in a tree to escape the attacking dogs, and the houndsman, using telemetry equipment affixed to the dogs’ collars, follows the signal and shoots the animal out of a tree. S.B. 1221 passed the state Senate and an Assembly committee, and it has one more committee to clear before a vote in the full Assembly.
In each case–bullfighting, cockfighting, hounding–the participants defend their enterprise on the basis of tradition, as if longevity or durability were a moral rationale. They also argue that the activities generates money–which is, in one respect, a fact, but which I think is also irrelevant from a moral perspective. Plenty of terrible things happen with a profit motive–everything from child trafficking to wildlife poaching. They also often claim that we animal advocates haven’t engaged in this conduct, so we really don’t know what it’s like, as if we all have to witness or commit crimes to make a moral judgment about the offenses.
The problem for all of these apologists of cruelty is that they conduct their actions in a society that has an increasing understanding of animal cognition and feelings and that has a growing body of law against animal cruelty. As communities and nations, we make judgments about what sort of uses of animals are outside the bounds of civil behavior. It’s one thing to kill animals for survival or self-defense. A lot of people also will argue it’s okay to kill animals for food, or the defense of property, or for the supposed benefit of science. But to kill animals just for entertainment–and to do it by stabbing bulls to weaken them over a 30-minute time frame, to watch birds fitted with knives slash each other for gambling purposes, or to chase a frightened bear for 3 or 4 hours through the woods, and then ultimately to shoot the animal off of a tree limb–well, it’s just hard to stomach in our time.
Our values are evolving, and for the better. With power comes responsibility. These people treat power as license, and there's no compelling defense for their conduct.