(The TLS: A dispute of animal rights)

In the September 16 issue of The Times Literary Supplement (No. 5659) the animal rights philosopher Professor Mark Rowlands of Miami University reviewed Into The Arena. That review cannot be reprinted, but here is the correspondence which followed in the letters’ page of the TLS.

September 30 2011

No. 5661

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Bullfighting

Sir, – It seems the TLS chose a reviewer for my book, Into The Arena, (September 16) who not only dislikes its subject, bullfighting (Mark Rowlands is a proponent of vegetarianism and once tried to make his pet wolf into one as described in The Philosopher And The Wolf ) but also its author (I reviewed his book elsewhere, unfavourably: a “frustratingly limited work of philosophy”, “sterile” etc. – and he has published his views on this.) I am not saying this is the sole reason his review has been the only negative one of the book so far, but it certainly diminishes its claim to any authority. Overlooking his personal tone, I will focus on some of his errors of fact and logic.

First, Álvaro Múnera was not a “prominent bullfighter”, he never even achieved the rank of matador, retiring while still a novillero, a “novice bullfighter”. Múnera himself said in an interview on Radio Netherlands International that he became an anti-bullfight lobbyist because a friend’s aunt told him he was evil for killing bulls, just as he said he became a novice because his father told him to. So I do not find it “startling arrogance” to describe him in his own terms. (I do, however, find it so to publish without checking one’s facts first.) And the former matador Eduardo Dávila Miura was not “at this time, giving lessons for a modest €35 an hour” but for €1,000 an hour, the fractional price being an exceptional offer to a friend of friends.

Rowlands also misleadingly edits a sentence by the taurine author Barnaby
Conrad. Conrad wrote that hundreds of bullfighters had died in the past three
centuries, and that of the 300 or so major matadors, one in six had died.
Rowlands turns that into a mere “fifty-two matador deaths in the arena since
1700”. However, as he points out, I argue that bullfighting is not a sport, so his comparative mortality statistics are irrelevant. It is a tragic performance spectacle, requiring the death of a bull.

Moving from facts to reasoning: having accepted that “the lives of fighting cattle are better than those of beef cattle, and death in the ring is no worse than death in a slaughterhouse”, he then claims that I am trying to justify one wrong by pointing out another. I never argued this. My thesis is that we are dishonest about our true views on the moral status of animals and that the evidence of this is our complicity with the meat industry, most of the output of which is of nutritionally negative value. And when I point out the veganism and anti-pet-owning stance of the animal rights campaigner Jordi Casamitjana, I am offering it as evidence of the endpoint of the road these two polemicists would have us go down with them. Rowlands also notably ignores my argument that if you ban bullfighting then the ranches will become farms for the meat industry, thus actually diminishing animal welfare in Europe (to say nothing of the environmental cost as wilderness is converted to pasture).

Finally, I am well aware that many animal rights philosophers try to evade the consequence of their theories which necessitate intervention in animals’ natural lives, especially predation. Rowlands himself argued in Animal Rights (1998) that since predation reduces starvation and disease in prey species, we have no duty to prevent it. However, as there are more humane culling methods than “death-by-predator”, this is simply wrong. In Rowlands’s schema, we have a duty to intervene both in the lives of wild animals – tofu for wolves, protective fencing for elk – and in their deaths – lethal injections for all.

It is ironic that a corollary of Rowlands’s philosophy is that he should be in favour of bullfighting, not against it. His ethical system relies on a Rawlsian “original position” according to which we should make the world into the best it could be for all, given that we don’t know who we will be when we are put in it; for Rowlands – but not Rawls – this includes being incarnated as animals. After research, I can say it is better to be a toro bravo than a meat cow in a factory farm in the United States or a buffalo on the African plains subject to disease, the elements, and a terrible death. A truth known to the 20,000 Spaniards, but not the handful of protesters they filed past, while leaving the Plaza de Toros in Barcelona last Sunday as its gates closed forever after ninety-seven years.

ALEXANDER FISKE-HARRISON
Las Casas de la Juderia, Barrio Santa Cruz, Seville, Spain

October 7 2011

No. 5662

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Bullfighting

Sir, – Alexander Fiske-Harrison’s response (Letters, September 30) to my review of his book Into the Arena provides a nice example of the sort of failing for which I took that book to task – a reliance on ad hominem arguments that attack the giver of an argument rather than the argument itself. Thus, Fiske-Harrison suggests that my negative review of his book (September 16) was a tit-for-tat response to a similarly unfavourable treatment he gave my book, The Philosopher and the Wolf, elsewhere.

In fact, I do not remember his review being especially unfavourable. Indeed, following his review, we kept up what I thought of as a rather cordial email correspondence where I attempted, apparently unsuccessfully, to explain the moral arguments pertaining to animals. I did, of course, inform the TLS of the fact that he had previously reviewed a book of mine. So, I resent the suggestion that my negative review was the result of personal animus.

Contrary to Fiske-Harrison’s claim that my review was conducted with a “personal tone”, there is nothing in either the form or content of that review that is personal. Rather, I focused largely on his arguments in favour of bullfighting and showed that they were not very good ones. They exhibited a number of logical fallacies including question-begging (for example, with regard to his “It’s art” defence). There were other flaws that word constraints did not permit me to incorporate. I did not discuss his “if you ban bullfighting then the ranches will become farms for the meat industry” argument largely because it is a non sequitur.

Fiske-Harrison’s claim that the animal rights view necessitates “intervention in animals’ natural lives, especially predation” is false. Different moral theories will articulate the idea in different ways, but the core idea remains the same: predators must eat meat to survive. Therefore, they are permitted to eat meat. Ought implies can, as Kant put it. If you cannot refrain from eating meat (and “tofu for wolves”, as Fiske-Harrison sarcastically puts it, would, of course, kill them), then no sense can be made of the idea that you ought to refrain. Humans, on the other hand, do not need to eat meat. That is the relevant difference between us and predators. This is a simple idea that will be found in the writings of every major author who has written on animal rights.

Fiske-Harrison complains that I unjustly accuse him of a “two wrongs don’t make a right” fallacy. He writes: “I never argued this. My thesis is that we are dishonest about our true views on the moral status of animals and that the evidence of this is our complicity with the meat industry”. However, as I point out in my review, he makes the dishonesty charge precisely as a way of trying to deflect the “two wrongs don’t make a right” objection. I quote: “Two wrongs don’t make a right. The real answer would be, ‘ How can you dare say this?’” My point is – and was in the review – that the appeal to dishonesty cannot perform this function. It would be akin to a liar justifying his lying by pointing out that other people are liars too.

There are other disagreements between us. We disagree about the number of matador deaths. I say fifty-two in the last 300 years, Fiske-Harrison says (vaguely) “hundreds”. My claim occurred during the course of an argument to the effect that the ratio of dead bulls to dead bullfighters is generally understood to be several hundred thousand to one, and that Fiske-Harrison’s language gives a false impression of the dangers to bullfighters. Even if his “hundreds” is correct – which I doubt – this changes nothing in the overall argument.

I am willing to defer to Fiske-Harrison on the status of Álvaro Múnera as a novice matador. Nevertheless, his arrogance is startling. It lies in the assumption that he knows what is going on in Múnera’s mind when he undergoes a major upheaval in his core values. Fiske-Harrison reduces this to: he was “just doing what people told him to do”, which assumes that he has access to the contents of Múnera’s mind that, one might have thought, only God (if He existed) could have.

MARK ROWLANDS
Department of Philosophy, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida 33124.

October 14 2011

No. 5663

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Bullfighting

Sir, – Mark Rowlands suggests in his letter (October 7) that all our dealings have been cordial, despite publishing on his blog in January 2010, “Alex the bullfighter, as I like to think of him, missed the point of the book is [sic] quite spectacular fashion… Way too complicated for a bullfighter wannabe. In general, I always find it wise not to engage with people impervious to reason, and this is my last word on the matter.” If only it had been. And my complaint was not that our previous dealings were not disclosed to the TLS, but that they were not disclosed to the reader.

As for his statement that I commit logical fallacies – had I written a philosophy text, then indeed, I might have been a little more rigorous in my reasoning, however, it was in fact a personal memoir of my time exploring what the subtitle of the book calls quite clearly, “The World Of The Spanish Bullfight.” Equally, his claim that my statement that banning bullfighting would lead to the conversion of the fighting cattle ranches into meat cattle farms is a formal non sequitur is entirely irrelevant: this is not an a priori deduction but an empirical induction. What else does he think land zoned as “for agricultural use” (rústico), which is farmed at uniquely low cattle population levels due to the tenfold price premium on fighting cattle stock over meat cattle stock, would become? Or perhaps this arm-chair theoriser thinks that the massively indebted Spanish government, which has already discussed selling off its protected forest and semi-forest (dehesa) to balance its books, will miraculously step in?

I have not the space to address Rowlands’ further arguments and thank him for deferring to my factual knowledge (although I wish he had done so before publishing his review). However, when he says “there is nothing in either the form or the content of that review that is personal”, I worry about what his definition of personal is if it excludes speaking of an author’s “startling arrogance” and “vainglory.” And what is he doing if not arguing personally, pruriently, ad hominem, and assuming he has “access to the contents off [my] mind that, one might have thought, only God (if He existed) could have,” when he says,

“I cannot allay the suspicion that Fiske-Harrison is sitting in the bar with blood on his hands because he enjoys it, his red badge of courage, the more so since the passage is close to an account of women – married and unmarried – throwing themselves at him.”

ALEXANDER FISKE-HARRISON
Las Casas de la Judería, Barrio de Santa Cruz, Seville

(The essence of what my argument would have been had I written a philosophical treatise defending bullfighting is as follows:

The vast majority of the English-speaking world indulges in the activity of eating meat for the purpose of the entertainment of the palate.

A significant minority of the Spanish-speaking world indulges in the activity of bullfighting for the purpose of a more general entertainment – combining visual spectacle, physical thrill, admiration of virtues such as strength (of the bull), courage (of both), athleticism (of both) and technique (of the man), and more subtle ones ranging from elegance to the representation of Man’s strugggle with Death.

Both of these activities have a consequence in terms of animal suffering, but, as Rowlands says:

The lives of fighting bulls are better than those of beef cattle, and death in the ring is no worse than death in a slaughterhouse. Let us accept this premiss.

The thrust of the fraction of Into The Arena involved in arguing in this area merely seeks to highlight these points. I put across my own views, which oscillate throughout the book, but I am not a proselytising moralist mounting a defence of anything, unlike Rowlands who once tried to force his pet wolf to become a vegetarian and then defended this act of cruelty in a book.

Perhaps some of my readers will go on to become vegetarians or vegans, and these will then criticise bullfighting and the meat-industry in equal measure. However, the fact is that most will continue to eat the same meat, but hopefully they will take a long hard look at what status they actually attribute to animals, as demonstrated by their behaviour, and maintain a slightly more dignified reserve when addressing the cultural traditions of other developed nations.

Nota Bene, the fighting bull enters the food chain after he is killed. Therefore, by Rowland’s own logic, the existence of bullfighting as a way to kill bulls is preferable to to its non-existence as it has superior welfare standards.

A word on my so-called “It’s an art” defence: entertainment – in the sense I am using here: of the palate, of the mind more generally– is generally held to be something that has an “aesthetic value”. As humans, we do indeed pitch aesthetic value against ethical value – if someone kills a cow to let it rot we think very differently of them than if they were to kill a cow to make beautiful leather shoes. As a professor of philosophy at a reputable university Rowlands should be aware that there are traditions in philosophy, such as are found in the early writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein, which go so far as to say that ethics are aesthetics are the same ( “Ethik und Aesthetik sind Eins.”) . This is too complicated a view to bring out here, and certainly unsuitable for a personal memoir about two years in Spain, but can be seen in phenomenon as various as the analysis of the concept “moral disgust” to the fact that the British Government thinks it right to shorten its citizen’s lives by spending £11.5 million to purchase Raphael’s ‘The Madonna of the Pinks’ for the country rather than on the National Health Service.

There are ways to attack the bullfight, of course, other than welfare. There is the accusation that it is a vice to wish to watch anything suffer and die, and perhaps it is, although I notice the human urge to watch such things on the stage or screen, from Elizabethan drama to Hollywood film, is not frowned upon. As for the charge that drama is fake but the bullfight is real: well, let us not pretend that the astonishing success of nature documentaries is because everyone wishes they knew a little more biology. Again, I am highlighting, not putting forward knock-down, logically-tight theses.)

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