The judges on France’s Constitutional Council, a 9 member body, ruled yesterday that bullfighting does not contravene the constitution, rejecting a challenge by the animal-rights group CRAC who seeks to ban the practice nationwide. Although bullfighting is prohibited in certain parts of France, the tradition has remained popular in the south – particularly in the Nimes and Arles areas – for the past 150 years. Professor Diane Marie Amann offered a brief analysis of the Council’s ruling here. CRAC contended that an exception contained in the country’s criminal code which explicitly protected bullfighting—if it occurs in regions “where an uninterrupted local tradition can be invoked”—violates equal protection principles (“The law…must be the same for everyone, with respect to protection as well as to punishment”). In other words, because bullfighting is prohibited in some areas on animal cruelty grounds, the same practice should be prohibited everywhere, otherwise unequal treatment would result. Rejecting this argument, the judges affirmed the tradition exception as constitutionally permissible. But the decision raises the obvious question, what’s so special about tradition? Why should entrenched cultural traditions, however humanly significant, take precedent over the welfare-interests of animals?
There are many “styles” of bullfighting—and in France both Spanish-style and local French style are practiced. The most cruel and brutal are those where the bulls are killed, which occurs frequently; PETA estimates that around 250,000 bulls worldwide die per year in bullfights. Elaborate and highly stylized, bullfights have been described and glorified as an “art,” akin to sculpture and painting, most notably by the author Ernest Hemingway. In “Death In The Afternoon,” Heminway explains that “He [the matador] must have a spiritual enjoyment of the moment of killing. Killing cleanly and in a way which gives you esthetic pleasure and pride has always been one of the greatest enjoyments of a part of the human race.”
So how is the killing done? In Spanish-style bullfighting, for instance, there are typically three stages. The first consists of picadors—men on horseback—whose function is to cut into the bull’s neck muscles with lances, for the purpose of weakening him. Next, men designated as banderillas plant harpoon-like instruments into the bull’s shoulder. Finally the matador arrives, the participant who, if successful, will finish off the bull with a single sword thrust—called the estoque—through the animal’s heart. If unsuccessful, the bull’s suffering is prolonged until the inevitable. The whole fight is scheduled to last 20 minutes, but circumstances vary. In my brief description, I have omitted many aspects and details surrounding bullfights, including the pre-fight treatment, other cruelties such as to horses, and various elaborate rituals and “techniques” that, in the mind of supporters, elevate the practice to a refined art-form.
Given the above, regardless of whether animal torture can qualify as an art-form (an interesting philosophical question), one would think that defenders of bullfighting would at least recognize it as such – torture that is extremely brutal and cruel. Right? Not so, according to Brigitte Dubois, president of Nimes bullfighting association. Dubois, who doesn’t see why bullfighting should be “controversial,” claims that she loves animals perhaps more than protestors. “I can belong to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and at the same time like bullfights. It’s not incompatible at all.” (Note: The French SPA is actually against bullfighting.)
Returning to the initial question posed at the beginning, the answer is obvious: Not much—tradition isn’t that special, let alone infinitely so. More pertinent is why entrenched traditions can so easily lead to extreme moral blindness, and what can be done to wake enthusiasts up to the plain absurdities of their convictions. Ethical truths can be a very simple matter, but often getting people to see them – and live by them – is not.
[This NYT’s piece offers a fascinating, though disturbing, look into the mind of a bullrunning enthusiast.]
[See this entry on El Toro de la Vega, the yearly festival where a bull is stabbed to death by men and boys on horseback.]
Filed under: animal advocacy, animal cruelty, animal ethics, animal law, animal rights, animal welfare Tagged: | animal advocacy, animal cruelty, animal ethics, animal law, animal rights, animal torture, animal welfare, art, bullfighting, bulls, estoque, Hemingway, matador, PETA, picadors