Bulls, Apes, Genes and Clouds: New Ethics of Life in Contemporary Spain

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University Club, Room 212
@ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Portrait image of Katarzyna Olga Beilin wearing black

Monday Seminar

Katarzyna Olga Beilin

Resident Fellow (2011-2012)

Spanish and Portuguese, UW-Madison


The debates on bullfighting, which culminated in the abolition of tauromaquia in Catalonia in 2011, have reopened reflections on Spanish national identity. Those who see bullfighting as a symbolic enactment of Spanish cultural essence, conceive of a Spaniard as violently opposed to an animal, and as destructor of nature. The anti-bullfighting movement, motivated by empathy towards animals, is by default opposed to this concept of Spanishness. Thus, an interpretation of the Catalonian abolition as an anti-Spanish manifestation is correct to the extent that it manifests itself against cultural practices that celebrate human destruction of vulnerable forms of nature (consumption and other uses of animals, but also conquests, violence against women, etc). Animal rights activists call for reconsidering divisions between human and non-human forms of life. The desire to blur the human/animal divide culminated in the request to the Government to adopt the principles stated in the Great Ape Project. The request was voted in the affirmative, but it was not finally enacted as law by the Spanish Parliament. In the process of the Parliamentary debates, however, the project stimulated fascinating discussions on genetic similarities between all hominids, which may condition our not-so-different life practices, and which may lie at the basis of our various rules of law and ethics. This brought the realization that the partiality of our ethics, wherein we naturally privilege our family, clan, race, and species over others, and eat them, is a remnant from hundreds of thousands of years ago, when we were closer to our ancestral hominid stage. This partiality, which may have been adaptive then, is no longer so at our current stage of development. Today it amounts to poisoning and destroying of what is left of our natural environment, by constant wars, and extermination of other species. Some Spanish thinkers ask if ethics has, in fact, any claim to truth except as a system of rules serving adaptation of our species, and if so, do these rules, as they are now, really serve our species well enough. For example, an ethics of individual freedom, as opposed to one that would favor social cooperation, may be responsible for social problems that range from excessive economic inequalities to climate change. Philosophers of science ask if this could be perhaps changed through so-called “human enhancement,” a modification of human genetic material or hormonal therapy to reduce our violent tendencies and egoism. But, even if these ideas may seem far-fetched, an understanding that a change in ethics of life is urgently needed has spread considerably.


Katarzyna Olga Beilin specializes in narrative, film, and culture of contemporary Spain. She is an author of three books Conversaciones literarias con novelistas contemporáneos (Literary Conversations with Contemporary Novelists, Tamesis, 2004), Meteory (Metheors, a novel, Agawa 2005), Del infierno al cuerpo: otredad en la narrativa y cine peninsular contemporáneo (From Hell to Flesh: Otherness in Spanish Contemporary Narrative and Film, Libertarias, 2007). This last book focuses on otherness in Spanish contemporary literature and film and its meanings in ethics and epistemology of the last two centuries. Thus it connects to the current project, where the other takes the form of a non-human animal. Katarzyna is also finishing her second novel, Aquarius, which inquires about the multiple meanings and forms of the end of the world.