Perhaps bullfighting is not a moral wrong: My talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Yesterday evening I immensely enjoyed giving a talk to the sold out audience at the 500-seat Scottish Power Theatre at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on my award-winning book Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bulllfight. It was followed by a discussion with the chair, Al Senter, and the Q&A session with the audience that (along with brief personal chats with about half of those present who came to have their books signed by me in the London Review of Books tent afterwards.) The questions were all well-informed and interesting, not least because, as many of the audience members said to me in person, I’d answered most of the more controversial questions in my opening talk. Here is the transcript of what I said:

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I was going to read from my book, but it seems that the most important topic in the United Kingdom in the 21st Century, indeed in the English-speaking world – when discussing bullfighting – are the ethical issues surrounding the injuring and killing of animals as part of a public spectacle. So I want to address these head on.

As a liberal – in the classical, John Suart Mill sense - it is not my intention, or my place, to tell people whether or not they should approve of or enjoy bullfighting anymore than it is whether they should approve of or enjoy opera. However, when people seek to ban an art form from existing, so that other people may not enjoy it, whatever claims have been made by other people who have never witnessed it, then certain questions have to be raised.

Whatever the motivations behind the ban on bullfighting on Catalonia – and there have been accusations of underhand dealings, thumbing of noses at Madrid to gain votes, which has some circumstantial evidence for it as the popular Catalan regional hobby of attaching burning tar balls and fireworks onto bulls’ horns and letting them into the streets is unaffected by the legislation – anyway, the stated reason is the ethics, or rather lack of ethics, of bullfighting. So, that is what I should like to discuss here.

However, before I can do that, I have to dispel some myths that have long surrounded the bullfight, pieces of propaganda that have been propagated by the anti-bullfight lobby such as CAS International, the League Against Cruel Sports and PETA.

The one I most often hear is the complaint that the matador faces a broken down and destroyed animal. Take a close look at this bull in these photos and tell me how broken down it looks.

Morante de la Puebla performs a ‘veronica’ (Photo: Author)

Morante de la Puebla performs a second ‘veronica’ (Photo: Author)

Morante de la Puebla performs a third ‘veronica’ (Photo: Author)

Morante de la Puebla performs a fourth ‘veronica’ (Photo: Author)

There is not a drop of blood on it and it is being passed in four perfect veronicas – named after Saint Veronica’s wiping of Christ’s face with a cloth, by the matador Morante de la Puebla, Spain’s greatest exponent of the large cape, the capote, which is used at the beginning of a fight.

There is an argument matadors should spend more time with the cape at the beginning of the fight, and I completely agree, but let’s get our facts right, they all face an untouched bull at the beginning of the fight for at least one series of passes by law. And I mean law, Spanish bullfighting regulations being part of national legislation.

That bull is as fresh and strong as one could want. Is it possible those horns have been shaved? Yes, possible. But by how much? (And note that the greatest matador of the post-war period, Manolete, was killed by a ‘Miura’ bull called Islero which had shaved horns.) Is it possible there is tranquiliser in that blood stream or that he has been injured? Well, if so, not very much! Finally, is it possible that vaseline or some other substance has been rubbed into his eyes? No. Because perfect vision is required so that the bull clearly sees the cape move and charges it, rather than charging the general shape of man and cape and ends up injuring or killing the bullfighter. (Bulls are functionally colour-blind, and charge at movement.) These activities are all also illegal. Spain, despite xenophobic and frankly racist rumours to the contrary is an EU member state, not a banana republic that ignores the law at will.

The bull goes on from being caped with the large cape to face the picador on his armoured horse with his lance. This is the most controversial, and to many the most abhorrent part of the bullfight. There he will be ‘cited’ to charge the horse, normally twice, sometimes only once, sometimes as many as three or four times. This is done by advancing the horse to within a few steps of the bull and then calling him, this time using sound to aggravate his ferocity.

As he hits the horse’s quilted armour, the peto, the picador’s lance will enter his shoulder muscles (actually just behind the great hump of goring muscle called the morillo which defines this breed of cattle). The bull will continue striving into the horse despite this – which is why the lance has a crossbar to stop the bull from killing itself – until it is drawn off the horse by a matador or one of his assistants with a cape.

It is notable that the bull charges onto the lance – the horse does not charge the bull – and then the bull does not retreat or leave but must be removed. There is no denying he feels the lance wound, but his reaction tells you how evaluates that damage – he does not exhibit what they call in animal behaviour texts ‘classic pain behaviour’, i.e. running away (see Reference 1, references at end.) The reasoning for having the picador is to bring the bull’s head lower and to slow and regularise his charge.

Or, rather, the reasoning from the matador’s point of view, which is the view many aficionados, ‘fans’, take as well. However, some, purer, and often older, aficionados, watch bullfights only for the bull and for them this section shows the bull’s courage, strength, determination and ferocity. Think of that what you will.

The horse leaning onto the bull serves a similar purpose to the lance, tiring the animal. This is why picadors’ horse-breeders, like Alain Bonijol in France, train their horses to lean in, first with a carriage with horns, and then small, semi-tame bulls. By the way, this is all “reason”, the cause is historical: the bullfight grew out of the horseback bullfight of Castillian and Moorish knights, whose servant on the ground – the killer or matador, for that is what the word meant – came to exceed his master in popular appeal.

Now, injuries to horses must happen, but I have ridden all my life and have yet to see a horse leave the ring lame in 300 hundred bulls. Contrary to rumours you may read, the armour goes all around the horse’s body. Trained picadors’ horses are an expensive commodity and the days of elderly horses being eviscerated for proof of the bull’s courage are thankfully long gone. The body-armour, the peto, they wear, and especially the breeder Alain Bonijol’s kevlar variant of it, offers good protection. Which is not to say that it still wouldn’t be like undergoing tackling practice for a game of rugby. It is illegal to tranquilise the horse before the fight.

After the picador comes the placing of the banderillas, three pairs of coloured sticks with barbed spikes at the end. The reasoning and the history behind this are something of a mystery to me. Chasing the moving man who places them rather than hitting the static horse – in combination of the sting as the barbs strike home – certainly seems to reinvigorate the bull. And, visually, it allows bullfighters – matadors or more often their assistants – to show athleticism and derring-do, although many aficionados I know seem to nod through this part of the fight unless something spectacular happens.

Although the barbs undeniably hurt the bull, one must remember the size, scale and ferocity of the animal. Its leather alone is up to a half-centimetre, a quarter inch, in thickness. They are usually placed by the assistants to the matador, although sometimes they are placed by him. Matadors of the older style, who often fight the larger, more dangerous bulls, regularly place them themselves. The greatest of these is my friend Juan José Padilla, shown doing so in my photo from Seville last year.

Juan José Padilla places banderillas ‘de poder a poder’ (Photo: Author)

As can be seen, this bull is still in fearsome shape. Its head is lower, and it is moving slower, but it is far from being half-dead from blood loss. This is a 610 kilogramme Miura bull – just shy of 1,400 lbs or 100 stone – and it has some 36.6 litres – 64 pints – of blood. A healthy bull can lose 25% without serious problems for the duration of the fight, which is over 9 litres or 16 pints. That’s the entire blood content of a small man’s body twice-over. (Ref.2)

So when the matador faces the bull for the most famous part of the fight, with the muleta, or red cloth, the bull is undeniably a different animal, but it is far from powerless. In fact, it is only because the bull has been moulded into this shape that the matador can then exercise what the modern Spanish audience loves most, which is “artful” bullfighting, one of whose tenets involves bringing the bull as close to the matador’s body as he can. This damage to the bull makes it possible for the matador to take greater risks. However, it is far from being putty in his hands. Witness the bull’s ferocity and speed in my photo of the greatest exponent of the muleta in the world, José Tomás.

José Tomás performs a ‘manoletina’ (Photo: Author)

This photo I took in Córdoba in 2009. I could not take one 2010, because José Tomás was not working in Spain, as, before he could return from fighting in Mexico, he almost died. Whilst he was caping – with the muleta, after the picador and the banderillas – the bull found him under the cloth and took apart the workings of his inner thigh in a manner which lost him 18 pints of blood (as I said, this is the circulation of two men of his size: they were pumping it in and it was just coming out again).

That press photo above doesn’t do the damage the matador sustained justice. This one of the matador Julio Aparicio taken just a few weeks later in Madrid does.

Modern medicine being as astonishingly advanced as it is, both survived. However, it was not always thus. Should you have the stomach for it, you can easily find on the internet the film of the death of Paquirri in 1984, his last words being to tell the panicked surgeons, tranquillo, ‘calm down’. Or, from an earlier era, you can read the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan on the death of Manolete, or the poet Federico García Lorca’s lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejías, or Ernest Hemingway on his friend Gitanillo de Triana, or the great matador Juan Belmonte on the death of his friend and rival Joselito in his autiobiography… the list goes on and on. Since 1700 533 professional bullfighters have died in the ring, as the blog post after this one here details.

However, I am not trying to claim that bullfighting is some sort of battle between man and bull.

(The photo and those following are from a colleague on my book, and World Press Photo 2009 Prize-Winner, Carlos Cazalis. The pass being performed by Tomás above is a caleserina , invented by and named after Alfonso Ramirez ‘El Calesero’, the photographer’s grandfather.)

A fifty percent mortality rate on either side is not the desired result. This is because bullfighting is not a sport.

It is written about in the cultural pages in Spanish newspapers, and the suffix ‘-fight’ is an English invention, the word bullfighting coming from our own bull-baiting with dogs, something that truly is a grotesque blood-sport.

What we call the bullfight, should really be called the corrida de toros, and the bullfighters, toreros (toreador, a word people pick up from the opera Carmen, is an archaism no longer in use in Spain).

If the corrida de toros is a contest, it is metaphorically so, like the contest between man and mountain in rock-climbing. Is that a fair contest? I don’t think that question even makes any sense. This is not gladiatorialism, it is a tragedy containing a ritual sacrifice, and the task of the matador is to deal with the bull in a manner which transmits that, finishing as cleanly and bravely as he can. He regulates his level of danger as an actor modulates his voice and physical behaviour. Matadors don’t get gored because they can’t avoid it. They get gored because they are deliberately trying something their skill, or the bull’s temperament, cannot support. Just as sometimes an actor will overreach his ability or try something the script will not bear.

Despite this dramatic analogy, the corrida is the only spectacle that not only represents man’s struggle with death (among other things), but also just is that struggle. I don’t want to bogged down in the further argument about whether it is an artform, but as a representational public spectacle, it is unique in this.

(This photo of Padilla training is by my friend Nicolás Haro.)

When the man faces the bull, even at the end, there is always a risk. And in order to kill well the matador must increase the risk and go over the horns, such as the very finest matador with the sword, my friend Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez, so often does. (Paquirri, whose death I mention above, was Cayetano’s father.)

Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez kills ‘a volapie’ (Photo: Author)

This bull died very quickly and cleanly afterwards, although that is not always the case. The most gruesome sight is when the sword opens a conduit between a pressurised blood vessel and a lung, causing blood to spew out of the mouth. Whether it is the most distressing reality for the animal, I don’t know. It is the long deaths upset me personally the most: when the bull walks back to the wooden barrier, clutching onto life. Sometimes, though, even then he is not without fight.

A Miura bull rears after the killing stroke from El Fundi (Photo: Author)

By law, the matador must go over the horns once with the sword, although he may try again should this not prove fatal for the bull swiftly enough. Usually, he will change to the descabello, a heavier sword with a broader, flat blade at the end, which is used with a downward strike to sever the spinal column at the entry point to the skull. Done correctly, it causes the animal to drop to the ground instantly. It drops, because all motor neurones are severed and you cannot sever all motor neurones without severing all sensory neurones, taking away any pain the bull may be feeling in its final moments. (If the descabello is not required, the moment the bull falls to the ground from the sword-wound an assistant to the matador does the same job with a dagger to make sure the spinal cord is severed.)

Having dealt with some common misconceptions about the corrida, I will now try to talk about its rights and wrongs as it actually is.

First on the list of wrongs is the most obvious one: men sending an animal into a ring to be injured by a picador’s lance and three banderilleros’ pairs of spiked sticks. Then, after a maximum of 15 minutes of caping, killing it with one or more sabre-thrusts.

And all for reasons of human entertainment.

The second mark against the activity – as if it needed one – is that witnessing this hardens the human spirit to suffering in general beyond the bullfight. This is a psychological reason to legislate against the bullfight. Like all psychology, it is underpinned by a deeper ethical problem: that of the virtue of the audience for wanting to watch a corrida in the first place. Along parallel lines runs the progressive argument that in 21st century Europe such a throwback to our Roman gladiatorial past has no place. This argument is based on the very idea of what it is to be ‘modern’; in a word, the corrida is uncivilized.

There are also the various specific abuses that go with a big money industry in which key players have a great deal to lose (for the matadors, most notably their lives). So, as with horseracing, there are accusations of doping. There is also the infamous ‘shaving’ of bull’s horns which prevents them from using them accurately.

Some of these criticisms have clear counters. In terms of animal welfare, the fighting bull lives four to six years whereas the meat cow lives one to two. What it is more, it doesn’t just live in the sense of existing, it lives a full and natural life. Those years are spent free roaming in the dehesa, the lightly wooded natural pastureland which is the residue of the ancient forests of Spain. It is a rural idyll, although with the modern additions of full veterinary care and an absence of predators big enough to threaten evolution’s answer to a main battle tank.

I am not claiming the reasons for this are pure: the bull must grow its formidable muscle and learn to use its horns in dominance fights with its herd-brothers – it is ranched from horseback and has rarely encountered (save for veterinary interventions) a man on the ground until it enters the ring. Watch this segment of a well-known programme from Spanish television to see quite the wild splendour in which these animals exist, their natural ferocity unprovoked on one another, and their vast difference from other cattle.

All this is so that when it enters that ring, it looks like this.

Rather than this.

Even though both came from something more like this

By contrast, according to the brilliant book by Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals, 78.2 per cent of beef cows in US are raised on factory farms. The UK is better, but the numbers are still significant.

And as for the humane death one might hope was the sole upside of factory farming, here is Safran Foer’s analysis of the US abattoir system which kills 34.4 million cattle a year (for comparison – around three million cattle a year are slaughtered in the UK, nine million in Australia, four in Canada, two in New Zealand etc.)

Let’s say what we mean: animals are bled, skinned and dismembered while conscious. It happens all the time, and the industry and the government know it. Several plants cited for bleeding or skinning or dismembering live animals have defended their actions as common in the industry and asked, perhaps rightly, why they were being singled out.

(The photo above and the ones below are from another World Press Photo prize-winner, this time 2010, Tommaso Ausili.)

The reason for the horrifying cruelty is simple: this is an industrialized process with tight deadlines and even tighter profit margins. So, although the bolt gun which shoots a metal rod into the animal’s brain is meant to kill it outright, “sometimes the bolt only dazes the animal, which either remains conscious or wakes up as it is being ‘processed’.” Processing involves the animal being hoisted it into the air by a chain around a leg so its throat can be cut.

As one slaughterhouse worker put it, sometimes “they’d be blinking and stretching their necks from side to side, looking around, really frantic.” From here, the head is skinned and the legs below the knee are removed. Some are still awake at this point, as the interviewee continued: “As far as the ones that come back to life. . . the cattle just go wild, kicking in every direction”.

It is worth noting that the reason for this horror is entertainment, pure and simple: it is so that someone who ‘fancies a burger’ can have one. It is certainly not for any nutritional reason, in fact, given the obesity crisis in the western world, it has a negative nuritional value. And that is before we have even brought up the subject of leather as a clothing material… (To say nothing of the environmental costs of intensive cattle farming in terms of both the land itself and climate change. Fighting bull-breeding is the most extensive form of pastoral farming in the Western world – and remember, the bulls end up in the food chain just the same, as this photo from behind the scenes at the Pamplona bull-ring shows.)

(Photo: Jim Hollander)

(Photo: Jim Hollander)

The biggest contrast with the bullfight here, other than its relative lack of injurious savagery, is that fighting adrenalises the animal, and, given that this particular breed has been selected for generations for its fighting ability, there is a good reason to believe that this actually reduces suffering in terms of pain. To quote Professor Bateson, the former head of Animal Behaviour at Cambridge University:

Sports and battlefield injuries are often not felt until the game or the battle is over, when they may cause intense pain. (Ref.3)

By which stage the animal is, of course, already dead. What is more, by replacing terror with rage by allowing an inbred fighting instinct to be both aroused and maintained, psychological suffering is reduced as well. For whilst any extreme emotional state will actually remove pain, as the American animal scientist Dr Temple Grandin has pointed out time and time again to the meat industry, fear is a form of suffering just as much as pain is. (Ref.4)

Anger may not be a pleasant emotional state, but one would be hard put to call it suffering. Raging against the dying of the light is an infinitely preferable alternative than going gently, or dangling upside down with your face peeled off.

A brief aside on the landscape in which the bulls live. Here is how it is described by a 2002 European Commission environmental study on Mediterranean ecosystems:

Dehesas are typical ecosystems in western and south western parts of the Iberian Peninsula. They result from ancient methods of exploiting the landscape, which are well adapted to Mediterranean ecological conditions. A very important characteristic of dehesas is their high ecological value, with a combination of nature conservation with natural resource exploitation. Simultaneously, dehesas give shelter to a great diversity of wildlife species (some endangered and extinct in many other parts of Spain), which are preserved in these areas of human intervention. (Ref.5)

The harsh economic truth being that if the bullfight is banned, the farmers will have no choice but to convert their land to normal agricultural use or sell it to those who will. According to the study, bullfighting ranches make up half a million hectares – one and a quarter million acres – of dehesa, a fifth of the total in Spain. And those who say that this need not happen are quite disingenuously ignoring that the Spanish government was debating selling off its dehesa even before the economic crisis hit its present depth. Who in that near bankrupt nation is going buy this land, designated for agricultural use (rustico), and maintain it as a nature reserve?

As for horn-shaving and doping, these are serious issues which the authorities have tried to stamp out, but I am sure it does still occur. The fact that doping a bull may further reduce whatever pain or distress it feels, and that shaving its horns is not only painless – if you shave to the quick it bleeds – but the greatest matador Manolete was killed by a bull which later turned out to have shaved-horns, don’t really mitigate it.

So, that is my list of rights and wrongs about bullfighting. Now, I leave it to you to make up your mind whether you can bear to watch one, and then watch it. If you can’t, fine. However, remember that as the stereotypical British family sits down together at the traditional time of the bullfight – 5pm on the Sunday – with their bellies filled with roast beef to watch David Attenborough narrate as a lion eviscerates yet another buffalo – when they call their Spanish cousins barbaric they are at best guilty of hypocrisy, and at worst xenophobia.

As the newspapers said:

What makes the book work is that the author never loses his disgust for bullfighting… compelling and lyrical. Daily Mail *****

It’s to Fiske-Harrison’s credit that he never gets over his moral qualms…. an engrossing introduction to bullfighting. Financial Times

It is this world of glamour, fame and death that Fiske-Harrison penetrates in search of a solution to the “terrible quandary” of bullfighting. The outcome is a debut that provides an engrossing introduction to Spain’s “great feast of art and danger”. The Times (of London)

The book on bullfighting. The New York Times

Uneasy ethical dilemmas abound, not least the recurring question of how much suffering the animals are put through… a compelling read. Daily Telegraph

The definitive guide on the state of modern-day bullfighting. The Independent

The question of whether a modern society should endorse animal suffering as entertainment is bound to cross the mind of any casual visitor to a bullfight. Alexander Fiske-Harrison first tussled with the issue in his early twenties and, as a student of both philosophy and biology, has perhaps tussled with it more lengthily and cogently than most of us… particularly good… eloquence and precision. The Literary Review

He brings to the polarised discussion of bullfighting a level of nuance where his opponents bring only more dissimulation. The quality that makes the final chapter of Hemingway’s Death In The Afternoon the most intoxicating pervades Fiske-Harrison’s in its entirety. The Australian

From the very beginning, Fiske-Harrison makes it clear this will not be simply another book about the act of bullfighting, but rather a philosophical inquiry into the subject, trying to decipher its ethics or lack thereof… Into the Arena is truly remarkable. The grit and sweat of these characters is conveyed in tightly wrought prose. The Prague Post

To his credit, Fiske-Harrison acknowledges the morally questionable nature of the bullfight. And the book contains interesting explorations of concepts such as fear, bravery and drive.”
League Against Cruel Sports

A larger than life character. A hugely enjoyable and easy read. Moving and instructive.
Club Taurino of London

Arguably the most engaging study of bullfighting by an English speaker since Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon. His willingness to get his hands dirty, and his eye for detail, make this a compelling read for anyone interested in Spain’s ‘national fiesta’. Controversial, thought-provoking and highly recommended.
Jason Webster, author of Duende: A Journey In Search Of Flamenco

Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight by Alexander Fiske-Harrison – available on Kindle (in the US here, the UK here, Australia, Canada India, Spain, Mexico, France, Italy, Germany, Japan and Brazil) and iTunes.


Nominated and shortlisted for

P.S. The matador Padilla was nearly killed last year, losing his eye among other terrible injuries. You can read about this, and his comeback fight – without depth perception – to which I accompanied him in my piece for GQ magazine here.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison


1. E.g. Bekoff, M, Jamieson, D. (2002), Readings in Animal Cognition. MIT Press, MA.

2. Estimated from standard veterinary equation, see e.g. ‘Guidelines for the Welfare of Livestock from which Blood is Harvested for Commercial and Research Purposes,’ published by the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee of the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture.

3. Safran Foer, J. (2009) Eating Animals, Little, Brown & Co. New York.

4. Bateson, P (1991) ‘Assessment of Pain in Animals’, Animal Behaviour, 42, 827-839

5. E.g. Grandin, T., Deesing, M. (2002), ‘Distress in Animals: Is it Fear, Pain or Physical Stress?’ Deilvered to the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners – Symposium on Pain, Stress, Distress and Fear: Emerging Concepts and Strategies in Veterinary Medicine.

6. Mazzoleni, S.. di Pasquale, G., Mulligan, M., di Martino, P., Rego, F. Eds., (2002), Recent Dynamics of the Mediterranean Vegetation and Landscape. John Wiley & Sons, London.

After his death, the drama ends, and as with three million slaughtered cattle a year in the UK – thirty million or so in the US, nine million in Australia, four in Canada, two in New Zealand etc. – the six thousand bulls who die in corridas in Spain go straight into the food chain.

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  1. Alexander, your immersion into the art and careful consideration of those whose opionions are based purely in emotion is refreshing and spot on. As a fellow aficionado abroad I tire of the standard assertion of the brutality of the bullfight from those that don’t spend the time to know the facts. More people should read this piece before chirping.

  2. Thank you.

  3. I will say this about the “vastly exaggerated reports of death threats etc. abounding in the Oxford Times and Oxford Mail.” without them I wouldn’t have come to this blog and wouldn’t have known about your book.

    I read this with a great deal of interest, in my youth and at college I used to rage against cruelty to animals and hated the idea of hunting with dogs, shooting, and bullfighting, as i grew older and moved in to a more countryside environment I had my eyes opened to the realities of this country’s “bloodsports”, their part in the communities involved and what actually happens, as a result I have changed my mind and attitude.

    I used to travel to Spain for business, and sometimes I would be in Seville at the same time a fight was on and often wondered if I could go and see one. I always decided against it (not knowing how to get old of a ticket anyway) but I would eat and drink in the tapas bars around that enormous arena and the atmosphere was always charged.

    After reading your blog here I am now angry at myself for never taking up colleagues’ invitations to go to at least one fight.

    Thank you, I intend to go out and buy your book and find out more.

  4. Thank you. As I point out in the book, though, had you gone to one in Seville, odds on it wouldn’t have been a good one. A down side of the spectacle (to say the least!) Best, AFH

  5. Sandra Kwa says:

    Around 1988 I made myself sit through the French film ‘De Sable et de Sang’ because I knew it contained lots of real footage of bulls in the arena. I also researched (like Safran Foer 20 years later) the whole animal production scene, and became a vegetarian by 1990. I’m aware of all the hypocrisies, I know death is a part of life, and blood sports have always existed, but I simply can’t understand or identify with people’s taste for it. It sickens and distresses me. Why doesn’t it you? Why do you do it? Can’t the human spirit aim for something better? Compassion? Empathy? Nurturing? Lions eviscerating buffalos for survival doesn’t make it alright for people to do it as a national past-time. There are so many other causes that could do with your obvious intellect and passion – you could really make a difference in a world full of crucial problems. I hope you direct your abilities to one of them one day when you’re over the bullfighting.

  6. “I simply can’t understand or identify with people’s taste for it.”

    The people of Spain don’t ask for your understanding, and, I suspect, would rather you didn’t identify with them. You have a vision of life, of progress, which – when I am not writing other things on deadline – I would like to come back to and dispute. For the moment, however, I would merely say you seem to be deliberately limiting yourself, and your “empathy”, to your own tastes. No one expects you to change them, or even broaden them, just not to inflict them on others.

  7. Sandra Kwa says:

    Re: Apr 5. Alexander, I’m not ‘inflicting’, just adding my comment as you have commendably invited on this website. You – and ‘the people of Spain’ – may not seek my understanding, nevertheless I seek to understand what makes you, a fellow human, tick. This is why I have read your posts, but also why I asked you, genuinely, ‘why doesn’t it distress you too?’ and ‘why do you do it?’ I want you to ‘inflict’ on me a description of your tastes, your own feelings, your empathies, when you engage in inflicting pain on an animal. I have friends who shoot feral animals and kill their own farm animals for food, but none who enjoy it. You – and ‘the people of Spain’ – might prefer I don’t identify with you, but I want to, I have never deliberately limited myself, quite the opposite. I can understand attraction to displays of courage and athleticism, and representations of tragedy, but not real swords, real blood and real pain in live animals … yes, when you don’t have pressing deadlines, I would welcome an explanation of your ‘vision of life, of progress’. It is important for humans to try to understand each other, and in the process, open discourse might lead at times to a convergence of opinion, of tastes, of moral sensibilities, that creates a better society overall, for us and the non-human beings over which we have power and responsibility. That, I guess, is my vision of life, of progress. Sincerely, Sandra.

  8. I didn’t say you were inflicting them yet, just that that was what you were indicating you would like to do as a result of your disagreement with their views and incomprehension of their source.

    I know I said I would come back to this, but it does seem like you are opting for the lazy way round and that doesn’t work. I wrote an entire book on this, Into The Arena. You can hardly expect me to summarise it here for free. On this blog even, there is a post called the uses of cruelty. I suggest you start there.

    As for convergence of moralities – that means one ethical system wins, all others lose. It is what the missionaries called conversion. You may want the world to be all one culture, one taste, etc. that idea fills me with revulsion. It means the killing of everything you do not like. Which is, in the final analysis, far more gruesome than killing bulls… Which everyone does anyway.

  9. Aart van Kruiselbergen says:

    You seem to have the rather fanatical enthusiasm of the convert. During the more than 30 years I lived in Spain every now and then one would come across expats who tried to be more Spanish than the Spanish. They would take up flamenco dancing and get over excited about bullfighters, usually to slightly ludicrous effect.
    As you are keen to quote those two old warhorses Mr. Orson Welles and Mr Ernest Hemmingway who so loved bullfighting, it seems only fair to quote two other famous people on the treatment of animals:
    That great observer of human folly Mr Noël Coward wrote in July 1925: “In Barcelona on Sunday I went to my first and last bull fight. I was fortunate enough to secure a seat in the front row – and it was all too lovely. I saw fine horses gored to death and three Bulls baited and finally murdered all in the course of a half an hour, after which I left charmed and awed by the sportsmanship and refinement of the Spanish Nation.”
    Ghandi famously wrote: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”.

    [Noel Coward? Now who’s being ludicrous. AFH]

  10. Sandra Kwa says:

    Moral convergences led, and still lead, to the abolition of many cruel, ghastly, practices once widely accepted. There are always dissenters – and you seem to be one – in the slow trend towards a gentler human society. That old hunter-warrior instinct runs deep. The right of freedom from cruel treatment has been a struggle for women, children, the disabled, the indigenous etc, and as suggested by the previous commenter, animals are the last frontier (dare I say, the last arena?) of this struggle. In Australia, we have had a huge furore for a year now over how livestock are slaughtered, since gruesome footage was widely aired, with the moral consensus being that death should be as instant and stress-free as possible. This has also led to stronger animal welfare laws for both slaughter and livestock-raising/handling practices. The majority of people eat animals, but only a small minority are content to see them suffer. An even smaller minority gain some sort of gratification from witnessing or participating in animal suffering. Pomp, pageantry, pink stockings and brightly-tassled bandilleras don’t change the fact that animals are suffering for entertainment, so bullfights, dogfights, bear baiting etc are essentially the same.

    Oh, and please don’t confuse morality with religion, culture and personal likes. Moral convergence is the necessary ongoing process of debating as a society what is right and wrong, and coming to enough agreement to formulate laws that are acceptable enough to enough people to maintain social stability. It never pleases all of the people all of the time. There appears to be a growing moral convergence that cruelty in the name of entertainment, art, culture, tradition or religion is unacceptable; that the right of spectators to freely ‘enjoy’ blood sport is open to challenge; that hardening people against empathy is not a socially enlightening aim.

    I did read your blogs. I can understand you felt guilt, shame, and relief at having survived the bullfight. But to suggest that killing the animal brought a greater appreciation and respect for its life makes no sense at all. In my humble opinion, that is.

    [A nice point, that addresses none of mine. The end point of your moral convergence is already witnessable in zoos – the prevention of animals from harming one another, even if that is natural. That might be what you want, but not I. It will also produce a culture unable to defend itself against others – after going through the intermediary stage of killing only using a small number of people and specialised technologies. Drone strikes are the consequence and cowardice of this line of thought, just as are “humane” and hermetically-sealed abattoirs. Killing is killing. We must all of us get used to death… AFH]

  11. First of all: Excuse my english. I’m brazilian and maybe some things here are badly written…
    To Sandra and Aart:
    The corridas are not something “the people of Spain” do. As you may know there are many other hispanic (or not) countries who maintain corridas. These countries got independency but maintained corridas. An “anti-corridas” spanish friend of mine went backpacking through China and was surprised by the number of “aficionad@s” on that country. Many foreigners WHO WENT to corridas aprove it (and I don’t mean “like it”). Many spaniards don’t. So it has nothing to do with a exclusive culture, political view, or tradition of Spain.
    Secondly, is NOT a question of morality, nor brutality or sadism. There’s no pleasure watching blood, or death. Besides this, there’s conciusness. There’s admiration and respect for the torero and the bull. All those bulls have names. Every part of the bull is eaten, sold or used (nowadays this is called sustainability). The head of the bull you see in aficionados bars is respected: it isn’t a prize as many anglosaxian cultures understand it. It isn’t something you show to your friends when you return from africa just to prove you were there.
    You must eat. Killing is necessary for eating. Death is part of life. Even plants, vegetables and fruits must die to keep the chain alive. Even you and me. You can’t force the mexicans to hide their Santa Muerte (Saint Death) veneration. If you don’t understand something, you must at least research before you decide what’s your oppinion. Visit a slaughterhouse and then go to a corrida. Go to a tasca serving bull meat. Then go to a McDonald’s. Go to the countriside and watch a chicken being killed. Then go to a KFC or whatever industrial chicken farm… slaughterhouse… and yes, compare.
    I haven’t seen any associations trying to stop the slaughterhouse horrors. But I see the McDonald’s full of anti-corridas people. Many of them haven’t seen a real bull or cow ever. I did. Some people in my wife’s family kill what they eat. They don’t buy anything killed by others. They think thats not fair and against nature. Does this mean they are insensible? I’ve seen them crying at the theater… I’ve seen them helping other people. I’ve seen them helping animals, adopting dogs, cats, children. Waking up 3 in the morning to watch for a pregnant horse. You are not talking about an abstract matter. You are talking about hidding the real world. It’s too easy to talk about “bullfighting” when you’re confortable at home, without having to look after your own food and ignoring from where it came. By the comments, it looks like aficionados are some kind of blood-weirdos. Please, start reading about the matter and let the others be free. Not only bulls need to be respected but all animals and their death for our life should be always known, shown and respected. At least as they do on corridas. Yes, like corridas.
    To Fiske Harrison: I was a anti-corridas guy too. Till the day I went to a slaughterhouse. Thank you for your book and your imparciality. I know how difficult it is to research for truth on these “puritan politically correct” days. I understand perfectly your pros and cons over corridas. Many of us have the same questionings.
    There’s a brilliant english thinker who said: “In dealing with the arrogant asserter of doubt, it is not the right method to tell him to stop doubting. It is rather the right method to tell him to go on doubting, to doubt a little more, to doubt every day newer and wilder things in the universe, until at last, by some strange enlightenment, he may begin to doubt himself (G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw, 1994, pp. xii-xiii)” keep on! great book!

    Gabriel Netto,
    Intermedia Artist
    São Paulo, Brazil.

  12. Sandra Kwa says:

    Greetings Gabriel – it is good to have these discussion and all opinions. I am glad you say there is “no pleasure watching blood or death”. Alexander’s article objects to people “seeking to ban an art form so that other people may not enjoy it” so for me it raised the question of why people enjoy it, and whether this sense of enjoyment should be encouraged and nurtured in society.

    So we are in agreement – there is no enjoyment, just killing for meat with our eyes open. Good. So let’s start a new tradition where the bull is brought out to a public arena, calmly, shot or stunned quickly and instantly at close range, and is cut up and the meat distributed to meat-eaters, all in open view. The ceremonial music, dance and art can reflect our appreciation for the life the bull gave for our benefit, and our admiration and respect is demonstrated by giving it the happiest possible life AND death.

    You can still give the bull a name and put it’s head in the bar – just take away the 30 minutes of torture, that’s all.

    If people then also want to watch displays of human skill, courage, and male macho recklessness, they can go to the football or wrestling and see humans hurting each other by choice, and leaving animals out of it.

    That is indeed a nice quote you have ended with. We are all hoping for enlightenment at the end of our questionings – for me: an enlightenment that leads to compassion for both human and non-human beings.

  13. Dan Amon says:

    I’ll forever appreciate having the chance to see Spain before it’s decline. Old Spain, the Spain of Franco and militant Catholicism. In Cadiz in 1971 I met a gentleman from Asturias who said he was totally indifferent to bullfighting. But while walking I observed that some Americans considered themselves clever when going to a corrida and cheering for the bull. He stopped in mid-stride. “What’s more important,” he gasped, “a man or an animal.” I’ve never forgotten that. The Spaniard understands that truth instinctively. Man alone is made in God’s image. What chance does a man — weak, puny, lacking fangs and claws — have against such a creature as the Spanish fighting bull? None, except that man has intelligence and art.

    The first thing I’d rescue in a house fire is my collection of 30 bullfighting DVDs, especially those with Enrique Ponce.

  14. Adrian schmotolocha says:

    You sir are in serious denial of the bottom line: fundamentally it is men and horses ganging up on a single animal to torture it to death for your pleasure. You can call it ‘art’ or what you will but thats what is boils down to. I leave with this quote from Munera:

    Munera is outspoken that bullfighting only appeals to the lowest people. The Vice interviewer asked him how he accounted for the fact that people like Hemingway and Picasso were fans of bullfighting.

    “Look, to be a talented person doesn’t make you more human, more sensible, or more sensitive. There are lots of examples of murderers with a high IQ. But only those who have a sense of solidarity withother living beings are on their way to becoming better people. Those who consider the torture and death of an innocent animal a source of fun or inspiration are mean-spirited, despicable people. Never mind if they paint beautiful pictures, write wonderful books, or film great movies. A quill can be used to write with ink or blood, and many terrorists and drug dealers of the 21st century have university diplomas hanging on the wall. The virtues of the spirit, that’s what really counts in God’s eyes.”

  15. so good to read intelligent debate on this issue for a change.

  16. I am greatly enjoying your articles and posts, and am full of admiration for the way you have embraced bullfighting and are willing to challenge the accepted view so honestly and intelligently.
    There must be many people like me who have wanted to come out about bullfighting, who can sense both the depth and significance of what takes place in the arena but who are intimidated by the aggressive kneejerk hatred of the crowd who rush to condemn it. It’s been difficult to see the nuances when confronted by the absolute horror and disdain expressed by so many people for the corrida. Myself I believe that, as in other areas, most people find it easier to deal with complex issues by hiding behind blanket judgements. And of course it’s very convenient if you can deal with all the difficulties of using animals for food by falling back on mindless empathising with lost kittens and equally mindless tirades about a supposedly primitive and barbaric tradition practiced by foreigners. That stance allows you to trumpet your concern about animal welfare without ever having to do anything concrete about it in your own life. It’s all rather like the volunteers who rush to clean oiled seabirds after a spill- basically a wholly pointless activity designed to make themselves feel good, even though science has proven that 90%+ of the gulls die as soon as they are out of sight.
    I have raised and eaten many animals in my time and believe that you are correct in making a balanced comparison between intensive farming and the life and death of the bull in the arena. Most people of course will find that balance much too disturbing to examine, because it implies that we are utterly hypocritical in our attitudes and ethical positions. So we export our guilt into condemning Johnny foreigner for his supposed barbarism, whereas the more civilised shoe is surely completely on the other foot . Onward the liberation of the bullfight aficionados I say. Let’s stand up for intelligent and honest debate and not be intimidated by the witch hunters. Only a proper vegan is in a position to take the moral high ground on bullfighting and animal welfare- otherwise how can you justify the rapid execution and disposal of hundreds of thousands of new born male dairy calves every year in the UK to provide milk for your breakfast cereal? And that is just the tip of the iceberg. No-one likes to confront the fact that meat is largely a by-product of the milk business. At least the Spanish are more honest in their dealings with animals and do not seek to hide the trade behind closed doors as we do here in the UK. Praising bullfighting threatens that cosy silence tacitly agreed between UK farmers and consumers, though I would never blame the farmers. After all, its the public who demand cheap meat and subscribe to the neat marketing fictions about fresh farm foods. The corrida makes us confront those truths and as the article says many other, deeper truths as well. The combination of suffering and nobility, of art and death, of grace and mortal danger will always be a challenge to those who prefer their meat and their morals in neatly wrapped plastic packages.

  17. Our modern society is too much sterilized to allow room for reality, especially when it involves death. As I write in an article I have posted at, modern people – unlike Hemmingway – tend to forget that death is part of our lives everyday. We cannot eat meat every day and forget that. We cannot live in a nation which initiates wars on other nations and forget that. We cannot live and forget that. We have to realize that life and death are interlocked together in one – dellusing our selves does not change that. In a sense the bull is much better of a philosopher than most “ethical” people of today are…

  18. I absolutely agree that death is sanitised- even war is becoming a video game, and famine a media circus. The corrida is a direct challenge to deep seated attitudes and quite a few vested interests. Of course our farming industry would prefer us to focus on foreign eccentricities rather than our own food sources here in the UK. We visited a foie gras farm and found it quite opposite to the media myths. Not too sure about the philosophising bull though…

  19. I think you are a disgusting human being for even considering bullfighting to be acceptable. It is cruel and totally barbaric, just for the so called ‘pleasure’ of the viewers watching. They must be rather sick if you ask me. It makes me really angry and it should be against the law.

  20. And I think you are a child, both in terms of the breadth of your mind and your capacity to control your own emotions, but it takes all sorts to make a world…

  21. Fernando Gam says:

    I’m not very fond of the argument of “it could be worse”.

  22. Why not, it is universally used?

    “It is terrible, people die of cancer in their 80s.”
    “It could be worse, they could be dying of smallpox and tuberculosis in their 30s.”

    “It is terrible, there is no hot water.”
    “It could be worse, there might be no water at all.”

    “It is terrible, the newspapers sometimes don’t tell the truth.”
    “It could be worse, you might have no information at all.”

    I could go on, but I will not, because that is not my argument. My argument is that if people are honest about how they already deal with animals, they will see that the principles that underly their everyday actions in no way conflict with, or disallow, bullfighting. I do not say, “it could be worse”, I say, if you actually have the morality you pretend to, “IT ALREADY IS WORSE.” However, you don’t really have that morality at all. No one does. If they did, they’d be stopping lions from killing antelopes as all animal suffering would be wrong.

  23. David Pardo says:

    I’m not sure it’s of any use to engage on moral issues with someone who comes across as being a defiant moral relativist (who apparently was taught that nature has neither good nor evil – which, hazarding a hasty response, may be true in a sense that is irrelevant).

    I have read a couple of your articles, Alexander, and once started reading your book. Perhaps it would be better if I finished reading it before I express my thoughts (it may take a while, as I have other more pressing matters, and reading, to take care of). Very briefly, though (and treading very lightly on just a couple of many things I might comment on):

    I am always mystified at how defenders of bullfights become the most intense denouncers of factory farms and slaughter houses. If they see it is terrible, why don’t they oppose it? Sadly, they take this route only to defend another form of animal abuse (whether lighter of heavier, it matters not) and to call those who would condemn it hypocrites. I would only respect for not being a hypocrite that defender of bullfights to whom that argument would lead to his being a vegetarian. I doubt I will ever see that.

    All reforms have been fought bitterly. The imposition of the peto, for which you now give thanks (oh, so barbaric things were in the old days, but not now! Well, now too, but the barbarism that remains is alright, good even… Oh, will I make up my mind!), the peto, I was saying before I got carried away, was ridiculed by Hemingway. I’d wager you’d do the same if that were the situation today. Things in the past are safe to condemn, and easy, as we don’t have to go against what we are accustomed to. Opposition to reform in (to banning altogether, in this case) the present rests on this.

    In your discussion with Sandra (some time ago, I see), you seem to advise her to take care not to impose her moral views on others. Imposing is not the way, for sure, but convincing (or trying to) is, for any moral issue. Many defenders of bullfights, when speaking to those who would ban them, demand respect and tolerance. They are the protectors of tolerance, and their adversaries are intolerant. On the contrary, demanding tolerance meaning “leave us alone to do as we please” is not to respect their opponents view that what they defend is morally wrong. Convince them if is not, if you can, but, while they do, it is perfectly reasonable for them (for us) to want, and to demand, an end to a practise they (we) see that way. One suspects the relativism would stop when dealing with human matters. I don’t see many on the other, vastly more numerous (unfortunately) side of this divide over the consideration of animals flinch in the slightest when mention is made of slavery as an example of a moral issue on which all involved in the discussion might be expected to take a stance (yes, a moral one). This flinchlessness (other than to take disgust at the mere hint of an offensive comparison) must be because they regard animals and humans as categorically different entities. That, of course (I say nothing new) is the fundamental misconception. All the rest follows, and there is nothing more to say.

    You are a good writer and you’ve studied the right things (biology and philosophy). If only you’d make more sense to me and, in my eyes, put your talents at the service of the “right” cause.

    By the way, I am a Spaniard and I live in Spain.

  24. Dear David,

    A brief note, to be followed at greater length. First of all, I am far from being a moral relativist. Second, how I argue with someone is often dictated by how they approach me -”Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!” Finally, if you want to read my more advanced position, it is sketched in my argument with Prof. Mark Rowlands in the letters’ page of The TLS here:

    I will respond to you at greater length soon.

    Kind regards,


  25. David Pardo says:

    Dear Alexander,

    Thank you for your prompt reply. I expect you to come charging like a Miura now. I trust it will be a noble charge. If mine has seemed less so to you, I apologise. (On the subject of nobility, I’m not sure if your quote in German was directed at me or at other commenters, but it feels like an unwanted hook of the head from cloth to man – as was the deliberately blatent ad hominem remark, lightheartedly intended, I hope you could see, on which I closed my opening contribution.) I’m not sure what my tone was like in my abrupt comment. I wrote it on impulse and without looking back. As much as I yearn to engage in serious, well pondered discussion regarding ethics and animals, I am unable to spare much time for it at the moment (at least until I finish my unrelated thesis – I shouldn’t be writing even this). And so it is possible that my tone betrays a little more indignation than would be advisable, particularly after the tired barrage of bad arguments and clichés I’ve been exposed to since this week’s parliamentary debate to protect bullfighting (with the usual invectives abounding along the lines that those that want to ban it are uninformed, self-righteous, soft-minded, sentimental, incongruous, hypocritical, Disney-brainwashed, ignorant twits. You may be more on the defence in the UK, Alexander, but the field is different in Spain, as you know). My only outlet has been my comment on this thread. My views (and, I hope, my reasons) are strong on this subject. If we do discuss further I trust you will find that I am on the whole a reasonable and cordial interlocutor, if on occasion I feel the urge to express myself more, let’s say, energetically.

    I suspected you might reject the charge of moral relativism. You do assert yourself morally in some places. I’m curious, then, how you justify other assertions from a non-relativist position (e.g., that foreigners have no business telling Spaniards what they think is morally wrong).

    Thank you for directing me to your very interesting debate with Mark Rowlands. I expect that you have exchanged views with philosophers of Mark’s persuasion, hence my (perhaps tone-setting) pessimism regarding my chances of achieving anything they have not, untenable as I feel your general position is.

    But I will interject no further and leave you to your reply, if you consider it worth your time. I hope you do.

    Kind regards,


  26. You do love words. Short on arguments, though. My arguments about not telling the Spanish what to do are epistemological, not metaphysical. I would rather people spent some time thinking about how so many citizens of Spain can think the toros are not bad, or even good. Because, the fact is this: banning the bulls would diminish animal welfare, not improve it. And I’m not going to protest for better welfare in normal farming, I have better things to do, as should anti-taurinos. I kill cattle without compunction to entertain my palate, like everyone else. Let’s just admit that and move on…

  27. Fascinating reading – something which to direct the usual “howlers” I normally get when they discover I actually fancy Rejoneo.

    In nature, bulls of all species spend their lives fighting. It’s wired into their DNA. Of course their fights are far more brutal – being gored through a lung by a long horn is much worse than being stabbed with a banderilla. Their lives are usually ended in a drawn-out death spanning days, after being mortally gored by the stronger opponent, unlike the relatively quick death in the arena.

    I am very happy I discovered your blog and look forward to reading your book/s. I admire your courage to stand up for your beliefs regarding this very controversial subject.

    Best regards from South Africa.

  28. Thank you Chris. I just added a video to the middle part of this post on bulls on the ranch. You will like it.

  29. Indeed, thanks!

    I’ve often wondered what Matadors think of Rejoneo and Rejoneadors? The same way ballet dancers think of tapdancers? Or do they recognise their particular skills?

    As a horseman, I’m amazed by the riding/horse training skills they bring to the arena. The level of riding displayed by the top guys like Pablo Hermoso and Diego Ventura would take almost a lifetime to acquire. That’s beside all the other skills that go with rejoneo.

    An interesting fact closely-linked with bull”fighting” – The Portuguese Lusitano and Spanish Andalusian were once almost identical horses and both were used for Rejoneo. Then the Spaniards started favouring bull”fighting” on foot, while the Portuguese stayed on horseback. The result was that today the Lusitano is still the same athletic horse capable of Rejoneo (and now dressage), while the Andalusian has developed into a showy horse that wouldn’t be able to face a bull.

    Best wishes!

  30. Most of your arguments center around “the bull is a really tough animal! These injuries that seem grievous to us are comparatively small to it! Plus, it’s treated really well otherwise!”

    My reply: fine. Let’s raise you in some idyllic paradise with plenty of good food and exercise until the age of 21, upon which we’ll run you through the streets and then usher you into an enclosed space surrounded by screaming apes. Then we’ll goad you to rush at a moving target a few times. After that someone will shove a box cutter into your upper back. Not enough to kill you, of course! Just enough that you can’t lift your head very high. THEN we’ll stick some knitting needles into your neck. Don’t worry though, you’re only losing 25% of your blood. After all that, you’ll be goaded to charge vainly a few more times, and then someone will kill you with a clean stab to the heart.

    Except wait! Sometimes they miss. So, y’know. You might get 4-5 stabs before you actually die.

    No cruelty at all there, right? You have no problem with any of this. Right?

  31. I have far less of a problem with it than I would with being raised until I was 7 in poverty and squalor, forced to queue for death in terror, stunned and bolt-gunned ‘humanely’ assuming all goes well, and then fed upon by someone for the entertainment of their palate…

    Which would you choose?

  32. It’s nonsensical to compare the perceived suffering of a bull to how a human would feel in similar circumstances. Bulls (of most animal species) are hardwired to fight. It’s what they do in the wild with no human intervention at all. Bulls constantly fight over territory, females or sometimes just because they feel like it. Research has shown that in the heat of these fights, such an animal feels very little or no pain, no doubt part of their evolutionary path. In nature, the loser is usually substantially gored and left to die a slow and lonely death. So essentially a “bullfight” is a more humane way of slaughtering an animal for human consumption than abattoirs and the whole meat industry. Blame flesh-eating humans, that’s the real root.

  33. Mr Fiske Harrison, in one your posts on this blog, you made the following remark. “And I’m not going to protest for better welfare in normal farming, I have better things to do, as should anti-taurinos. I kill cattle without compunction to entertain my palate, like everyone else. Let’s just admit that and move on…” This is revealing as your fundamental position seems to be along the lines of “each to his own” or perhaps, in more casual parlance, “whatever floats your boat” – which usually attracts people with morally controversial positions. Actually, I can see from that statement that you do not believe in reform at all, you actually do not care. When you carefully and in detail describe the horrors of modern industrial farming and slaughter, and compare this unfavourably with the short but good life of a fighting bull, you are on strong ground because you are correct. However, you only use these comparisons to trip up meateaters who care about animals. But that statement takes us to the heart of the matter. It is precisely here that the solution lies : reform. If humane farming replaced industrial farming, meateating would become compatible with animal welfare and with opposing bullfighting. Reform of industrial farming is the real danger for you, because if it ever happened, it would greatly weaken your position. But reform is exactly what you do not want, as indeed you say. Therefore behind your apparently lofty “each to their own” standpoint is in fact the underlying amorality that is the real essence of your position. All the other arguments you use including the physiology of diminished pain in bullfighting (and all fighting), greater cruelty of industrial farming and slaughter, protection of the dehesa environments and quality of life of the free-range bulls, are all really ways of sidestepping the central moral issues – reform or not? Any genuine person against bullfighting wants to end ALL cruelty to animals in all its forms.

  34. I will approve your earlier comments when I get the opportunity to digest and respond to them. For this one, I will simply pass you on to my post, ‘The Uses Of Cruelty.’

  35. Inhumane behaviour – however dressed up – is precisely that whatever its context and reflects the values of those who practise it. Beauty and ugliness are in the eye of the mirror’s beholder. To me personally the bullfight is a stomach-churning spectacle and I am glad Catalans generally want no part in it. Yesterday’s widely-broadcast attendance by King Juan Carlos regaled in full military uniform to preside a San Isidro fight in Madrid as one of his last official acts is a fitting metaphor for a Spanish society that is in the process of healing as the new generations attempt to cast off the vestiges of La España Negra. I’m on their side.

  36. As importance as kindness is honesty, and when the kindness is not actually kindness at all – as in those who say the corrida is cruel while eating hamburgers – then give me bloody honesty every time. That is progress… AFH

  37. Dumnomnii says:


    I have enjoyed reading your views, and the debate it had generated. My only regret is that I hadn’t read it in detail before my trip to Pamplona this year. We ran on the same day that Bill Hillman was injured, and spent some time in the Windsor when you were there, but were unaware who you were, but the jacket was memorable!

    It was hard to describe the emotions that I experienced post run, we were just behind the spanish man who was in red, and was gored badly. The speed and the viciousness of the goring instantly made me realise that the difference between life and death was a very fine line.

    The four of us who went from the UK to participate in the run were subjected to quite a lot of abuse from a couple of individuals, who even when challenged with the fact that they were meat eaters, and contributed to a cow being killed every 15 seconds in the UK, ignored this just to carry on their tirades that even making the bulls run through the streets was cruel, and carried on relentlessly in what I can only say was a misinformed series of assumptions taken from sections of the media that supported their opinions.

    Your posts would have been the perfect riposte at the time, however even then with topics such as this, some people are not even willing to have a balanced debate.

  38. Thank you. Yes, a shame you didn’t come over for a beer. I’ll be at the same table next year – or, as you can see in my latest post – the very different streets of Cuellar, also definitely worth a visit, not least as you can see the bulls! AFH


  1. [...] myself), which can be found in detail in Chapter 7 of the book [and with vivid pictures in the transcript of my talk at the Edinburgh Festival - AFH]. I won’t repeat here the horrors of the abattoir, [...]

  2. [...] There was also the argument I had just had with two bullfighting fans, aficionados, about whether bullfights harden one to seeing pain, blood and death (I made the claim in my speech at the Edinburgh Festival, reprinted on this blog). [...]

  3. [...] Now, no one pretends the corrida is fair in Spain, nor is it spoken of as a sport or a fight – no more so than the slaughterhouse. Also, unlike both the world of sport and the meat industry, the Fiesta is written about in the cultural pages of the newspapers, among dance and and opera and theatre for reasons that should will clear below. If the ethics are the most important thing to you, read the in-depth talk I gave on this at the Edinburgh International Book Festival here. [...]

  4. As I please says:

    [...] a talk made at the 2012 Edinburgh International Book Festival, bullfighting advocate and trained matador, Alexander Fiske-Harrison offered a notable argument on [...]

  5. [...] Whatever you feel about bullfighting, there is no excuse for dishonesty – from either side of the debate. For the transcript of the lecture on this debate, first delivered at the Edinburgh International Book Festival by the author of Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight, click here. [...]

  6. [...] (We had the word bullfight and its cognates sitting idle in our vocabulary since we banned our own grim ‘sport’ of bull-baiting with dogs, which gave us our national symbol, the bull-dog, as Spain was given its, the toro bravo by the corrida, hence it is also called the fiesta nacional. For discussion of its current popularity and the oft-quoted ‘Gallup’ polls, see this post. On the ethics of the corrida, see this one.) [...]

  7. […] a sarcastic irreverence with the tense drama of the corrida. The bullfight may or may not seem ethical to some people, and sometimes I find it troubling. But I go every chance I […]

  8. […] journalist called Angus MacSwan asked to interview me. By then I had been worn smooth and glib by endlessly justifying the ritual injuring and killing of animals in the ring and so was surprised when he told me outright […]

  9. […] journalist called Angus MacSwan asked to interview me. By then I had been worn smooth and glib by endlessly justifying the ritual injuring and killing of animals in the ring and so was surprised when he told me outright […]

  10. […] holding pens. At the bullring they will face the matadors and inevitable death. Bull fighting is a hotly-contested issue: deeply Spanish, yet cruel. Those that run in front of these bulls were historically boys […]

  11. […] give a version of my usual speech on the so-called moral issues surrounding the corrida ( such as I did here, for the Edinburgh International Book Festival) I gave something much closer to how I speak in […]

  12. […] Now, no one pretends the corrida is fair in Spain, nor is it spoken of as a sport or a fight – no more so than the slaughterhouse. Also, unlike both the world of sport and the meat industry, the Fiesta is written about in the cultural pages of the newspapers, among dance and and opera and theatre for reasons that should will clear below. If the ethics are the most important thing to you, read the in-depth talk I gave on this at the Edinburgh International Book Festival here. […]

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