Allow me for a moment to play Al Pacino and present an argument in favour of cruelty, or rather an argument in favour of the cruelest of pastimes – the bullfight.
Why-the-hell would anyone defend the ritualistic torture and slaughter of innocent animals for sport? Did you skim read The Sun Also Rises and let Hemingway diddle your artistic sensibilities? Are you now stuck writing articles that celebrate and romanticize cultures and practises you don't understand in a blatant attempt to write off violence and machismo as “art” or whatever?
Oh, only partly – I intend to bury my head in the sand in an attempt to dispel an all too popular myth: That the purpose of life is to do away with suffering. I am not talking about the many knee-jerk moralities that think Good-and-Evil synonymous with Pleasant and Unpleasant. I love me some soft-bellied hedonism as much as the next gal. But my beef is with the sickening conflation of Harmlessness with Morality. My beef is with the spineless, gutless jellyfish who thinks all competition is exploitation.
Allow me to get to the chitterlings-and-ham-hocks: all societies prohibit some forms of killing while they celebrate others e.g. Suicide, Sacrifice, Self-defence, Euthanasia, Abortion, War, Corporal-Punishment, etc.). Most North Americans are quick to allow raising and slaughtering cattle for flesh, but begin to froth at the mouth at the first mention of bullfighting. As de toro de lidia (The fighting bull). is often eaten after the fight the question remains: – on what grounds do we justify killing for pleasure in our Enlightened times? – What sets the corrida de toros (Running of the bulls or bullfight) apart from our politically-correct approach to bovine murder?
Two points jump out at me: (I) Minimal Suffering (II) Maximum Utility.
First, the bullfight fails to be moral-murder because it lacks a humane-death, i.e., a killing that minimizes all unnecessary suffering prior-to-death, and second, the bullfight does not serve a purpose considered proportional to the abundance of suffering caused. In my view, we perform a fun little cost-benefit analyses that weighs net-suffering against net-pleasure and thereby permits our cruelty as necessary in terms of some greater-good. Thereby the modern meat industry gracefully avoids the collective disgust against bullfighting by minimizing suffering and maximizing access to proteins, nutrients, clothings, shoes and the delicious taste of Korean barbecue. Bullfighting is considered deplorable to the contemporary westerner not because it makes animals suffer, but rather but because the suffering is deemed unnecessary, unjustifiable and therefor cruel. We have determined that bullfighting serves no utility proportional to the magnitude of suffering – if we accept this we may imagine that if it did in fact serve a purpose deemed valuable for society we would have no choice but to accept bullfighting and perhaps even celebrate it.
Unlike the civilized slaughter of bulls for delicious meat and fancy shoes, the West has decided that the purpose of the bullfight is a pure and sadistic celebration of violence as entertainment. Nothing but a blood-drunk ritual proof of the masculine ego’s dominion over nature. To the enlightened North-American this is undeniably insufficient grounds to justify the suffering experienced by the bull. Surely the bullfight is not the only vehicle for illustrating the fundamental truth of violent death. Surely that kernel of wisdom could just as easily be delivered with half-a-gallon of fake blood and a hockey mask, right? Surely the simple and universal struggle between man and nature is within the grasp of Zack Snyder, Michael Bay and your average Hollywood screenplay writer sitting comfortably with a soy-latte in his air-conditioned Starbucks cubicle completely alienated from starvation, death and killing. How hard could it be? – the bull dies every time. I suppose, if you’re one of those who think that, to quote Charles Bukowski in his poem Style “to do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art”– I suppose it is hard to think of a better example than bullfighting. And if Art, Wisdom and Culture are not sufficient reasons for cruelty I find it hard to justify taking a life for the taste-bud-tinglings of a McRib™.
I’ve heard it argued that the bullfight is tragic illustration of what for millions of years has been a reality for all living things – including human beings – but has within the last few generations become utterly incomprehensible. Maybe “exploitation is not part of a depraved or incomplete and primitive society: it belongs in the essential nature of what is living, as a basic organic function.” Like a young Orca learning to beat blue whales against the cliffs. Like a Mantis eatings its mate. Like leopard separating the injured impala. Like relentlessly beating your brother at Mario Kart. Maybe, just maybe, this cruelty and exploitation is “in reality the fundamental fact of all history” innate to what it means to be alive – maybe, to live fully necessitates cruelty, domination and consumption.
Okay, not only is this a naturalistic fallacy: to assume that because things are a certain way, that they Should be that way.– Besides, it just sounds like animal cruelty with extra steps.
The slaughterhouses of the modern-meat-packing industry follow the mantra of Enlightened killing, the humane death. Conveyor-belt killing is both clean and sanitary! It is engineered with precision to minimize pain and maximize the output of delicious flesh! Their sterile conditions render the beast numb and unaware to ensure that suffering is minimal and rarely excessive – throughout the duration of its short life up to the moment of death. A life and death as instantaneous, efficient and painless as they come – without the complication of suffering or agency. For the sake of maximizing-net-utility we must eliminate any facet of existence that is considered a waste of resources: the animals are often castrated, drugged (not in the fun way) and live short sedentary lives: only exposed to the bare minimum of nutrient and sunlight approved by the FDA and AAFC. We aim to minimize suffering and raise cattle that are delicious, plump, non-confrontational and weak – to steer them through life with as few bumps as possible.
I will not argue that the Spanish fighting-bull will suffer less than your average cow in a slaughterhouse. I will not argue that stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol flood the nervous system rendering the bull largely numb for the duration of the 20 minute fight. I would never argue such a thing. I have no doubt that the Toro will experience grotesque and excessive suffering at the hands of the matador, the banderillas and the picadors. Not because of a poorly executed coup de grâce but because suffering is as inalienable to pure fighting as is the possibility of death. I am not going to diminish the stress and suffering that is intentionally inflicted on the bull, not because it is “inhumane” but because it would mean accepting that minimal physical pain justifies killing. It would mean accepting that the amount of suffering in a life, determines whether or not it is worth living. Instead, I think a life which is imbued with some sort of meaning purpose and agency, the only life worth living, necessitates both gratuitous-suffering as well as immense-pleasure. Without either life remains limp and bloodless, without challenges, passion or purpose.
“Would you be so kind as to give a little thought to the question of what your good would be doing if evil did not exist, and how the earth would look if the shadows were to disappear from it? After all, shadows are cast by things and people. There's the shadow of my sword, for instance. But shadows also come from trees and living beings.
Do you want to strip the earth of all trees and living things just because
of your fantasy of enjoying naked light? You're stupid ... “
– Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov, 1967
Although the fighting bull is raised for the slaughter unlike factory-farm bulls they are raised to be strong, large, savage and healthy – as there is only shame and contempt for fighting, underaged, undersized or faint-hearted bulls. Only the most aggressive and brave bulls are selected for the fight. Large scale farm bulls never face challenge or competition – they never have a chance to use their use their instincts, wit or brawn. They never have the opportunity to push the limits of their biology. This element of the fight or competition is what I consider to be the very essence of living things – without it there is no fulfillment. Without a chance for agency, failure or suffering life is a hollow and brutal joke. Without this opportunity no amount of skill, determination or intelligence can render the life meaningful. Existence in the soul-less slaughterhouse or factory farm is necessarily colourless without the heights of success or the lows of failure. The beauty of of sentient-consciousness rendered impotent and useless. There is no dignity, no sex, no social-interaction, no sunshine. Although the Spanish fighting bull suffers dramatically its experience taken as a whole more closely resembles life. Fear and Suffering included.
In the pit of my gut and the marrow of my bones I would chose to die violently and unfairly in a sweltering arena than mindlessly herded on a conveyor belt to my death in a cold room of metal and concrete. Regardless of whether you are thinking “Hell Yeah!” or “Fuck No!” I would choose it over-and-over again for eternity if I could – regardless of the amount of suffering. In my eyes exchanging Life for mere Existence without suffering is always too high a price
If you think this is a false dichotomy and think both Caged-Slaughter and Gladiatorial-Slaughter are barbaric and outdated practices then you may be my moral superior. Please proceed to frolic in the wheatgrass with your animal buddies – but as for me and the rest of us degenerates that are unwilling to given up that sweet juicy Cajun Chicken Sandwich. We have a some further moral contortionism to perform.
Life, endowed with meaning and purpose does not necessitate the experience of cruelty itself but rather, the capacity to experience and inflict cruelty. If one is a incapable of cruelty, a toothless tiger, one has no choice but to do the right thing. Harmlessness is not a virtue and it sure-as-hell is not synonymous with morality – I do not believe there is morality without Evil. Morality is born from an intelligent relationship to suffering, cruelty and death not some soft-bellied tootsie-roll-fruit-cup philosophy that renders you harmless and attempt to eradicate anything unpleasant.
“I am morally superior to George Washington. He couldn't tell a lie. I can and I don't.”
– Mark Twain (Quoted in An Essay on Free Will, Peter van Inwagen, 1983)
For many in North American culture, comfort and complacency are in abundance. However, knowledge of suffering and hardship are not. It is for this reason that I believe harmlessness, victimhood and sheepishness are now presented as virtues and desirable qualities. Because castrating your own agency leaves you immobile and unable to harm and thereby alleviates you of all responsibility. I see a tendency to ignore and reject all unpleasant realities because they a hard on the ears and spirit. We can’t afford to treat ourselves like children anymore. I am not arguing that bullfighting is okay, but I see the outrage against bullfighting as an attempt to reject the reality of violence, suffering and death. Contemporary North American society, as well as much of the world are further alienated from the reality of death and suffering than at any point in history. For the first time in history humans can exist without killing, hunting, fishing or even fighting – things that used to be inseparable for continuing your own life and the lives of your family and friends. Most people are unwilling to examine their own relationship to cruelty and death in a realistic manner because it would require us to accept our capacity for Suffering and Cruelty as much a part of ourselves as our capacity for Pleasure and Kindness. It requires us to stop drinking flower-water and suckling at the kool-aid-titty of positive-psychology and accept our own capacity for Evil. To understand Life necessitates Death as much as Good necessitates Evil. Once we have developed and come to terms with a healthy and realistic perspective of reality we may concern ourselves with other things – go play with a kitten, or swim in a pool, or ride a bike, or whatever it is people do when they are not coming to terms with their own capacity to both experience and cause suffering.
Anyway, I expect the collective consciousness of the West will soon reject the mutilation and slaughter of animals for any reason – food, clothing, sport or pleasure– on the grounds of speciesism or something to that effect. Soon we will all be eating artificial meats grown in petri-dishes free from all killing and suffering whatsoever. Soon we may even be able to live forever or eliminate near all suffering. But that day is not today. And I fear the denial of suffering, the denial of pain, and the Denial of Death or Evil as being simply Inhuman is all too common. I think this is an unrealistic and unhealthy perspective granted the atrocities committed in the last century alone in the name of Civilized peoples. I am not arguing for more cruelty, death or suffering. I am not arguing for bullfighting or even against slaughterhouses per-say. I am arguing against the arrogant belief that we are on the cusp of transcending our nature altogether. And even if we are, we ought to at least understand if not respect those forces that despite their immediate unpleasantness have been, and remain, one of the biggest guiding evolutionary forces to our species – as much a part of what it means to be alive as sex, food or pleasure.
I do not fear the onset of Big Brother as much as I fear a future like that of Brave New World– one in which we become so blinded and fixated on immediate pleasure and oversaturated gratification that we reject reality altogether. In all honesty have no horse or cow in the race regarding bullfighting or meat-consumption (is that a pun?). In all honesty I hope to decondition my own blind-faith in Happiness and Pleasure as the highest-good and as Huxley wrote: “take to believing, instead, that the goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere; that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well-being, but some intensification and refining of consciousness.”