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Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 05:26 PM PST

Bullfighting and Evolution

by speedboat

The Spanish province of Catalonia has prohibited bullfighting, and Ecuador held a referendum that would end the national bullfighting fiestas. The controversy is live.
A friend sent me by email a very critical multimedia presentation of the cruel and savage character of bullfighting. The photographs paint the harshest aspects in explicit gore. The text passionately describes the bloody process, and appeals to ban it forever as a disgusting barbarism.
The issue of bullfighting is more complicated than that essay and incarnadine photo collection. There is not among the photos a bullfighter gored or trampled. In fact, bullfighters average a goring per season. And so, it is not a simple massacre of defenseless animals. The challenge is unequal, yes, and it should be so. But seen another way, the bull could kill the bullfighter at any time during the encounter, while the man proceeds according to refined tradition.
There's more. I think this contest is part of our genetic memory accumulated through millions of years of evolution. No doubt many of you have your own values, and hold that all voluntary lethal blood challenges are primitive. I will not argue. Sports that glorify dangerous conflict like boxing and American football highlight our ancestral emotions.
Our ancestors are the predatory apes. They faced beasts to eat or be eaten. We admire the warrior, the hunter, the provider, the defender, the dominator. Imagine your family in Haiti after the earthquake, your abstractions shattered under brutal imperatives. Right or wrong, the fighter has greater possibilities.
We admire the athlete for the skill, courage, and confidence to risk to his life in his sport. This emotional response persists in the very bowels of our behavior for reasons of survival, bred by millions of years of competition and success.
Another sport that puts man in the ring with furious bulls is the American Rodeo. They don't kill the bulls, but the cowboys cling mounted on the bull for violent seconds before being thrown, perhaps trampled and crushed.
This is an interesting and revealing parallel. The cowboys’ skeletons show the same constellation of injuries as the Neanderthals’. Fifty thousand years ago they hunted large animals, mixing it up with the bulls and rhinos, lancing their prey close up with thrusting spears.
After the Neanderthals came the homo sapiens who thirty thousand years ago painted the caves of Lascaux, artistic expressions as sophisticated as the best of our own time, and the bull as the most important image. More than three thousand years ago, the Minoan civilization of Crete celebrated acrobatic bull-dancing, a central element of their culture. Today, ordinary people test themselves with the bulls at festivals such as San Fermin in Pamplona.
We can speculate about a prehistoric relationship with the bulls, as important as the dog; an emblematic influence on our physical and psychological evolution. We should not lightly discard any element of our evolution. The genes for one apparent characteristic can carry along another, invisible but no less important.
The last photo from my friend’s multimedia shows the dead bull dragged to the butcher shop. After all, the animal is not simply discarded as waste from an entertainment, rather it is duly treated as slaughtered beef. Again, we can see parallels in our prehistory. Like the tribal hunters who honor their prey, the bullfight should remind us that all that plastic-wrapped and brightly labeled meat in the supermarket came from similar animals, but never glorified in their sacrifice. For the vegetarian it is a dreadful scene. But we are more carnivores. Indeed there is a demand for beef from the fighting bulls, and there are even specialized restaurants. Not all the fighting bulls end in the bullfighting arena; this cattle is also simply butchered like any other. However, the natural life of the animals gives special qualities to the product.
Nature enters the discussion because unlike almost all other cattle, fighting bulls are raised in open country. They graze in the bush without stables, no industrialized feed, without hormonal additives or prophylactic antibiotics. The animals are managed by horsemen, not machinery. The farms seem like natural parks instead of the meat industry’s overcrowded corrals, and are known to harbor much wildlife. Without the profit from the fighting bulls, what reason would the owner have to keep large tracts of land as if they were ecological reserves?
And what of the animals destined for slaughter? All domesticated breeds of cattle are kept for human purposes. For thousands of years of we have bred them in pragmatic selection for meat, milk, leather, draft animals, a thousand uses, industrial, medicinal and others. Without our use and maintenance, these races would disappear in a few generations. The fighting bull bloodline is an ancient gene pool out of Africa. Without bullfighting, this part of bovine nature would become useless and die out. What valuable characteristics will die with it? It is an important question in this era of extinctions.
Narrowly ethical and ideological premises sometimes give wrong answers. We must also think in biological, ecological, social, economic and even evolutionary terms. But perhaps the most significant consideration in bullfighting is human nature in the most basic sense. Despite wars and abuses and terrors, ask what will be the effects through the centuries, if we lose this admiration for grace and courage, measuring self against death and prepared to kill?
From the perspective of fifty thousand years, try to imagine the unforeseen challenges that humans face in the long future. Shall we breed both bulls and men to be tame?


The War On Drugs: A Zillion Dollar Reality Check
    Alcohol prohibition eighty-some years ago criminalized a social and health problem, handing an inexpugnable market to the underworld.  Think of it in market terms.  Market effects turned isolated gangs to international syndication, increasing their reach and financial sophistication.  Prohibition was unworkable when the world was so much simpler, when the whole population was around two billion.  Prohibition absolutely failed to remedy alcohol abuse and worse yet gave us the modern Mafias.

It is a lesson we have failed to learn.  Like alcohol and tobacco, we should license noxious drugs to better control that market too.  Alcohol and tobacco are in essence cheap agricultural products. The market tolerates the high markup of taxation, and evasion is rare.  Illegal drugs are likewise cheap products, but in their case the markup goes to the traffickers.  Hundreds (yes $100s plural) of billions of dollars involved and it is all going the wrong direction.  Not only the income from drugs, but the hundreds of billions wasted on failed enforcement.  Lose and lose.

Drug prohibition is a multi-billion dollar subsidy to our worst enemies; monsters far worse than the Mafias created by alcohol prohibition.  And in a sort of collateral damage from the War on Drugs, millions of young people learn their values in gangs and prisons.  The horrific mass murders at Tamaulipas in Mexico are just a harbinger of things to come, as this lawless economy and its savage culture metastasize through children and grandchildren who will know nothing else.

The billions going to the terrorists and thugs is an international disaster for democracy, human rights, government transparency, and a long negative list of unintended consequences.  As for the friendly governments of the producing and transit countries, injecting DEA money into their oft corrupt institutions must be counterproductive.  A corrupt government milks any cow, and the DEA is just part of the livestock.

Dope is already so completely available on the street; we have little reason to think legalization would increase net use and addiction rates.  If you want it you can find it.  And that ready availability on the street is proof that prohibition does not work.  It is perfectly silly to reply that drugs are bad and should not be legal.  Of course they are bad.  But it does not follow that prohibition is any kind of useful solution.

We should stop spending billions on failed persecution and start collecting high taxes.  To repeat, drugs should be licensed, controlled, and taxed like alcohol.  This enormous double budget windfall should be spent on the causes of drug abuse. We need education, health, jobs, prison reform and community programs. That rational policy would have positive societal effects, free the judiciary, military and police to deal with real priorities, and strip hundreds of billions of dollars from gangs and terrorists.

The War on Drugs is the most pernicious stupidity to be found in US foreign policy.

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