Dr. Steven Best

Book : Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?
Reflections on the Liberation of Animals
~ Dr. Steven Best Author link with info-how to order ~ Wikipedia

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"Barbarism in the Afternoon: Bullfighting, Violence, and the Crisis in Human Identity"

Dr. Steven Best is Associate Professor and Chair of the Philosophy at University of Texas, El Paso.

"We have enslaved the rest of animal creation and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form."
- William Ralph Inge

Spain is the third largest of the European countries and, without question, one of the most beautiful on the vast continent.
From the surreal architecture of Antonio Gaudi in Barcelona to the stunning Moorish palaces of Granada, from the snowcapped mountaintops of the Sierra Nevada to the hilltop towns of Pueblos Blancos, from the gorgeous beaches of Costa del Sol to the marvel of the Balearic Islands, from the frantic metropolis of Madrid to the serenity of Ordesa National Park, Spain offers a treasure trove of beauty sure to steal your breath away.

The Spanish people have a beautiful language, a rich and varied culture, and a fascinating history established by Phoenicians, Africans, Celts, Carthaginians, Greeks, Visigoths, Arabs, and other peoples.

Unfortunately, like nearly every other nation and culture, Spain has “traditions” of extreme animal cruelty that are central to their cultural identity.
Like Italians who behead geese, Pakistanis who attack bears with dogs, English who hunt foxes, Canadians who kill baby seals, and Americans who fight cocks, many Spaniards are horribly cruel to animals.

At their worst, Spaniards – and the moronic tourists who flock to their bloody rites -- can be bloodthirsty barbarians, Dionysian devotees who succumb to mystical rapture during the torture and killing of animals.

Bullfighting is as pervasive in Spain as baseball is in the US, and bullfighters claim the same celebrity status as do sports stars here. But Spain honors unique cruelties that are unthinkable in the US.

Spain seems to be at a crossroads of change, however, as their blood sports have come under fire both domestically and internationally. Spain is a critical test for whether or not human beings can overcome their violent traditions and construct new identities no longer rooted in violence toward other species.

As I write this, thousands of revelers from around the globe swell the streets of Pamplona for the Encierros -- the annual “running of the bulls.” By their own estimation, these moral misfits are having the time of their lives while helping to torture and kill bulls during the eight days of the San Fermin festival.

As this dark cloud hovers over northern Spain, where cruelty to animals is a cause for celebration and joy, I shudder in horror over the sad spectacle of human cretinism as I brood over the possibility of a viable future for such a disturbed and demented species.

I contemplate how much the future of humanity depends on its ability to end wicked traditions, to stop hating animals and the natural world, and to adopt an ethics of reverence for life.

Of course humans are cruel to one another and need to bring peace to interpersonal relations, but their war against nature is far more costly and arguably lies at the root of the current evolutionary impasse. In so many ways, the “animal question” is central to the human question.

Nothing less is at stake than the future of humanity and biodiversity. With its deep-seated traditions that tie the Eros of joy to the Thanatos of death and violence, Spain is a flashpoint for human transformation.

"Of all animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it." --Mark Twain

"Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character; and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man."-- Arthur Schopenhauer

One automatically associates animal abuse in Spain with bullfighting, but bullfighting is only one form of animal cruelty featured in national “fiestas.”
Throughout the year, there are ten to twenty thousand fiestas, and every town and village has their own patron saint they honor with prolonged celebrations.

Fiestas can be secular or religious in nature, but they always involve animal torture. Perversely, fiestas are most popular during religious holidays and particularly during Easter Week – with nary a word of objection from the Catholic Church. Spaniards also delight in rituals of animal cruelty on October 4, St Francis of Assisi's day, and they mark January 17, the day honoring San Antonio Abad, Spain’s patron saint of animals, with chicken beheading competitions.

Animal rights activists in the US are rightly horrified by the animal abuse inherent in circuses and rodeos, but it pales in comparison to the catalogue of evils showcased in Spanish fiestas.

Spaniards light the horns of a bull on fire and laugh at his torment while exploding firecrackers. They wrestle ponies to the ground and cut off their manes and tails. They suspend pigeons and squirrels in pots that they pelt with stones until the animals fall. They bury birds with their heads sticking up in order to decapitate them with swords. They throw ducks with clipped wings into the sea so that swimmers can rip them apart in tug-of-war contests. They grease pigs for catching contests that badly maul the animals. They string geese up by their feet and wrench their heads off.

Some fiestas are particularly infamous, such as the goat fiesta of Manganeses de la Polyorosa where villagers throw a goat from a church (!) tower. If the goat survives, it is drowned in the town fountain. Every year in the village of Villanueve de la Vera, drunken revelers drag a donkey into the streets and beat it to a bloody pulp. The “running of the bulls” in Pamplona is held every July. Each day for a week, six terrified fighting bulls are set loose in the cobbled streets as thousands of mindless daredevils try to dodge their deadly horns. The party ends with the brutal killing of the bulls. In the annual Fiesta of San Juan in Coria, Spain, tourists and locals armed with blowpipes shoot bulls with darts until their bodies are a bloody mess, and then they castrate and kill them.

These are dramatic examples of what author Jim Mason (An Unnatural Order: Uncovering the Roots of our Domination of Nature and Each Other) describes as “misothery” – human hatred and contempt for animals. Beginning at least with the emergence of agricultural society ten thousand years ago, human beings constructed their cultural and personal identities to a large degree as species identities, premised upon a sharp line of opposition between their animality and that of all other species. They thereby endowed themselves with special privileges by virtue of their powers of reason, speech, technology, or, in the Christian tradition, their alleged likeness to God. The result is what Mason calls the “dominionist” worldview whereby human beings arrogate to themselves supreme authority over the Earth and its living inhabitants.

A steady decline in reverence for animals is present in the transition from the Egyptian deification of bulls to the Greek naturalization of hierarchy to the bloodletting of the Roman Colosseum where sometimes thousands of animals a day were slaughtered for “entertainment.” Once a rigid opposition between human and nonhuman animal is made in theory, it is perpetually established in practice through rituals of domination. Animals become objects onto and through which human beings release and generate aggression. In endless “contests” ranging from bullfighting to rodeos to alligator wrestling, “civilized man” asserts, affirms, and celebrates his superiority over “wild nature.”

The tragic flaw in the human species is its historical need to define itself not only as radically different from all other species, but also as infinitely greater and more advanced. This schizophrenia is a general human phenomenon, but Spaniards have elevated cruelty to an “art form,” which in fact is how they view bullfighting.

Dr. Steven Best is Associate Professor and Chair of the Philosophy at University of Texas, El Paso.

by Dr. Steven Best