Banning Bullfights: Taking One Step toward Civilization

By Matthieu Ricard on August 05, 2010

In voting to ban bullfights, Catalan Parliamentarians have launched a national debate in Spain. Those who support bullfights put forward two arguments: bullfighting is a cultural tradition as well as an art. However, to kill is not an art, and torture is not culture.

Let us consider this by going through the stages involved in bullfighting. First, the bull is ‟prepared.” His horns are shaved by sawing through them, leaving an open wound; this is as painful as sawing through a tooth without anesthetic. The points are then reshaped by polishing them or by coating them with resin. Modifying the length of the horns ensures that the bull's head-butting ability will lack precision and make him miss his target. The bull is then transported, sometimes for some 20 hours, in a narrow container, without water or food, which weakens and dehydrates him. The bull sometimes dies from this. Before the bullfight, no qualms are felt about administering tranquilizers and injecting petroleum jelly in the eyes of the bull, needles are inserted in the testicles and wood shims are wedged within the hooves, the bull is also beaten with planks on his backbone and loins so as to not leave any marks.

The bullfight itself then follows. Picadors (‟lancers”) on horseback drive lances deeply into the body of the bull in order to slit his neck muscles and the ligaments in the nape of his neck thereby preventing the bull from lifting his head and giving head butts up and down with his horns. This procedure is repeated half a dozen times. The intercostal arteries are often cut. The point is to weaken the animal by making him lose half of his blood supply, i.e., 7 liters. At the same time, the bull is spurred into making charges to tire him out as much as possible. He is then seen opening his mouth because he lacks oxygen.

Now comes the time to plant the banderillas. As sharp as razor blades and with harpoon points on their ends, banderillas are plunged into the bull's back to drain his blood and to avoid his dying too soon of internal bleeding due to the picador's endeavor.
The matador then thrusts an 85cm-long sword into the withers of the exhausted animal. Often the blade will trigger internal bleeding or else rupture a lung. In the latter case, the bull vomits his blood and dies of asphyxiation. Otherwise, the matador repeats the procedure. He uses a small sword that he sticks into the head of the animal between the horns in order to lacerate the brain. The matador then destroys the animal by repeatedly stabbing the nape of the bull's neck and sections off his spinal cord. However, the bull is robust and, one time out of three, he is still alive when a team of mules drags him out of the arena. 
So much for art. So much for culture.

Several years ago, in speaking about bulls, the director of the Nîmes arenas maintained that, ‟In the arena, there's no proof that the bull suffers.”  So much for good faith.

As for the philosopher Francis Wolff, he declared that, ‟bullfighting upholds a consistent and respectful ethics with regards to bulls” and that its banning would constitute ‟not only a great cultural and esthetic loss but also a loss of morality.”  So much for morality.

According to Alain Renaut, another philosopher, bullfighting represents, ‟the savage nature (i.e., violence) being subjugated by human free will, a victory of freedom over nature.”  What freedom? The freedom to kill?

Regarding bullfighting, the torero Vincente Barrera declared in recent days that, ‟If the Spanish State recognizes bullfighting as an art, its banning would be as absurd as censoring a painting that some people do not appreciate.”
Is it enough to declare that an activity is an ‟art” in order to suppress all ethical objections and to ignore the ban on deliberately making another living being suffer, one who has not committed the slightest harm? If this were the case, then a sharpshooter and a Grand Inquisitor of the Middle Ages would be great artists, judging from their mastery of the art of killing and torturing.

Aficionados have announced that if bullfighting were banned throughout Spain, they would file a complaint, viewing this as an attack on their right to work, a fundamental right written into the Spanish Constitution. Of course, this work would have to not affect others adversely; otherwise, professional killers, who make a living with their trade, could insist upon the same rights and so could do arms and drug dealers.

This celebration of man's dominion over nature, the insistence on presenting bullfighting as an art, the related financial considerations, and the claims regarding tradition are merely specious, unfounded arguments that flout basic human values. Only a lack of awareness about the suffering that is inflicted and the cynical arrogance of some men, only these could lead some to grant themselves the right to dispose of the life of other living beings for the purpose of eating, getting richer, having fun, practicing sports, and entertaining themselves, all with ‟art” and in the name of tradition. But this art is one of cruelty, and this tradition, its perpetuation.

‟Wherever blood flows, art is not possible,” wrote the great French painter Eugène Delacroix.

When will there be a ban in France and in all of Spain? This would show that it is not a question of political manipulation, but simply one of humanity.