A few years ago I wrote a Canadian member of Parliament to protest the annual slaughter of baby harp seals. I received a stock form letter in return thanking me for sharing my thoughts while informing me that the annual “harvest” of seals was a deeply entrenched part of the Newfoundland and Labrador culture.
From fox hunting to slavery, appeal to culture has long been a common defense of immoral practices. It’s also completely irrelevant. Whether or not a practice is a deeply entrenched part of one’s culture is of no consequence when assessing the morality of the action (unless, of course, you happen to be a cultural relativist).
We can put it this way: poutine (French fries with cheese curds and gravy) is very unhealthy. The fact that it also happens to be a staple cuisine of Quebec culture doesn’t change the fact that it is very unhealthy. And some practices are immoral. The fact that they also happen to be staple practices of a particular culture doesn’t change the fact that they are immoral.
And this brings me to the truly horrendous practice of Spanish bull-fighting. But not just bull-fighting. Yesterday I learned that it is common practice at many small town Spanish fairs to take a baby bull and stab it to death with skewers as a mock bull-fight. An animal rights group in Spain just posted video of one baby bull being stabbed to death over seventeen minutes as it cries, screams, vomits blood, and finally falls and dies while the villagers cheer and celebrate their “culture.”
In his book God, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe Robert Wennberg recalled how bear baiting used to be a common practice at the English county fair. C’mon Vicar! Let’s go watch a bear being tortured!
Incredibly, somehow English culture survived the elimination of this horrendous practice. And Spanish culture too will survive the elimination of the bullfight. Indeed, it will be the better for it.