26 March 2004

From the Mailbag


I quickly scanned the essay on fishing [see the post of 24 March, infra]. He raises some interesting points, but I am not sure a scientific, neurological approach is correct. It would imply that any torture or mutilation is OK as long as there is no pain. Like most other issues, there are some very clear extremes and a huge unclear grey area where everyone argues where to draw a line. Issues of animal rights are more properly addressed in the abstract than with science. Science is easily co-opted, as witness the Nazi atrocities.

I read the essay on bullfighting [see the post of 23 March, infra]. My father traveled in Mexico and was an "affectionado." I have never had an interest in bullfighting and do consider it cruel. Psychologically it can be classed as operant conditioning. Despite the author's romanticizing, the bull is tortured, conditioned, and confused until it stands still and allows itself to be slaughtered. In the cases where the torero does the kill recibiendo the bull is essentially under conditioned control to follow the cape so that he lowers his head as he passes to provide the opening for the sword. It has the same morality as the old Roman gladiator contests and serves much the same function, with great amounts of rationalizing. I have heard it presented as a morality play. Bullshit (pun originally unintended but kept).

I think it is possible to be cruel to animals even if they don't feel pain. There are two forms of cruelty, intentional and unintentional. The first is easy to condemn, the second takes more work and frequently involves considerable re-education and discussion. As I said earlier this week, I have a lot of confused areas. I work on them as opportunity presents itself.


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