Friday, July 30, 2010

On Bullfighting, Laws and Liberties

On Wednesday, after about eighteen months of discussion, the autonomous parliament of Catalonia decided to ban bullfighting starting in 2012. Although for many the debate went beyond the specific issue in question, and it mainly became a nationalist struggle about the identity of the Catalan people against Spain, its result has been welcomed by advocates of animal rights around the world. At the same time, the vote has generated great expectations about what might happen in the near future, not only in other countries and regions where bullfighting is a common practice, but also in those in which similar practices as dog and cock fight remain.

The identity problem was evident in the final vote, where the Catalan nationalists voted mainly for the ban, whereas the socialists and those who had previously opposed the autonomy of Catalonia were against it. Indeed, the Popular Party, which has resisted some efforts aimed at redefining the Catalan autonomy, made the announcement to bring the case before the Constitutional Court and before the Spanish Congress of Deputies. The goal is now to consider bullfighting a practice that is a part of the Spanish tradition and, thus, prevent its banning in autonomous regions. Part of the argument about the reasons being political rather than otherwise, is the fact that nothing has yet been said about practices such as correbous, in which the animal is surrounded, fire is light in its horns and it is subsequently abused with sticks by those attending the event. In spite of the decision on the prohibition of bullfighting, this practice will continue to be held in the region.

The discussion over the last months within and outside Catalonia has revolved around a wide variety of topics. There are those who oppose the ban for the sake of tradition, his "artistic character", its convening power, or economic reasons (See here). It is not too difficult to refute each of these arguments and, on the contrary, it is rather obvious that none of these reasons justifies the mistreatment of the animals and the sad spectacle that bullfighting turns to be in the times in which we live.

However, an argument that is a little more difficult to controvert by those who oppose bullfighting but are of a liberal thinking, is the one about the interference with citizens' lives. In this regard, there have been comparisons with drug use prohibition and even restrictions to sexual freedom. In my opinion this comparison is not fair. Topics such as drug use -insofar its consequences do not affect the community- or sexual preferences between consenting adults, are autonomous decisions of individuals and have only an impact on their own lives; therefore, there is certainly no role for the State here to decide and impose on them. Something quite different happens with bullfighting, cock and dog fights, bestiality, or any other example of barbarism backed by tradition (... as if history and traditions were not full of errors,...). In these cases we talk about human beings deciding for themselves about how, when and how much to abuse -not themselves- but an animal.

I share the opinion of those who argue that it would have been much more desirable if bullfighting disappeared thanks to the absence of public attending the event. What better a setting than this! But let's be honest about it, a characteristic of many historical processes is that they tend to perpetuate undesirable, inefficient and unfair practices. In many cases, in scenarios with no intervention, what it is desirable does not go hand in hand with what it is observed; as it is well known in the social sciences, there is not always an invisible hand leading society towards efficient results. Moreover, historical processes generate situations for which the only possible escape is through a firm and decisive action of the citizens, in which the State can solve the ubiquitous collective action problems that hinder their implementation.

The changes made in the area of slavery, extended labor hours, and satisfaction with child labor, just to name a few examples, have not been met by waiting for each person to consciously understand their inconvenience and choose to abandon them, but through State decisions based on democratic practices.

The weight of ideas in this debate has been of great importance and therefore, in a similar fashion as those with positions against bullfighting, those who advocate it have had the support of prestigious intellectuals. In a recent article, Mario Vargas Llosa opposed the prohibition of bullfighting arguing that while this is a cruel practice, there are many other cruelties to animals; this position, of course, is quite mediocre, conservative and hopeless. It is like inviting to kill since there are already thousands of murders, or tolerate rape against women since they have been already oppressed in many other ways. Then he adds that "the bull is, probably, ... until entering the ring, the animal better treated and cared for over the creation."  As if such a treatment were not simply a preparation for the grotesque spectacle of its death, ...

Similarly, Victor Gómez Pin and Francis Wolff oppose the prohibition of bullfighting and question a society where "men invented the animals while they stop believing in God." It is already a good time for us to recognize that human being's appearance on Earth was as likely as the one of millions of other species; that we are not the center of the universe, as many religions would have people believe, and that our developing of reason does not give us a privileged position to destroy the entire planet, nor to entertain ourselves with the suffering of other creatures.

Beyond the political interests behind the Catalan parliament's decision, the compensations to be paid to the bullfighting business-people, and the next rounds required before the final implementation of the decision, hopefully the debate on the issue in other places where these practices continue will start soon. Similarly, since in the South we are used to copy everything bad from the developed societies, hopefully we will also start copying such noble initiatives as this.

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