Respect for every individual

Titus Rivas does not want to discriminate based on animal species BarbieIn my lifetime I've come across severe forms of animal abuse more than once. You could even say it was sort of a family tradition. My father was from Spain and from childhood he unfortunately clearly sympathized with Franco's regime. For him this also included a mild form of nationalism, which was mainly expressed by the pre-eminent national festivities of bullfighting. Visiting bullfights and advertising them to Dutch people served as a pattern, in his opinion, for a European orientation without losing the Spanish identity. For instance, he bought Spanish films about bullfights and showed them at home to his guests, along with his own family films.
As a child my brother was given a bullfighter's costume complete with hat, and he was encouraged to "dance" in it like a real torero. Toys completed the picture: we were given among other things a box filled with plastic bulls that had spears sticking out of their backs, bullfighters with capes in various colors and horses that are used by the "picadores". This way my father tried to make us proud at a young age of this - for him - great symbol of Spanish culture. But even as a boy I was rebellious and I didn't blindly accept everything my parents told me.
I don't remember how old I was exactly, but one day at home we were watching we a bullfight on TV (I think it was the German show "Aqui España") together, and I suddenly saw what these festivals were really all about. I saw a bull being injured several times and bleeding profusely and at first I remember wondering how it could possibly still win from the matador.
But then I realized that the outcome was preset: the bull would kick the bucket and nobody did anything about it. I felt a chill of panic and I had to think of history books about Marie Antoinette and such that I used to love as a boy, in other words: of public executions.
On the understanding that what we were dealing with here was a completely innocent animal that wasn't killed swiftly with one stroke, but that was tortured to death slowly but surely. Nobody did anything about it, and they pretended it was all grand and good.
Disgusted I turned away from the TV, and outraged I asked my father if he thought this was "fair".
He didn't know what to say about this, besides something I would hear a lot later, namely that I didn't have a clue what bullfighting was all about. It's not about torturing or killing a bull, said my father, but about the elegance of the movements of the torero and his cape and the torero's great courage. This "explanation" made me feel sick and my father's "aficion" always stood painfully between us until he died in December 1997. Several times he tried to convince me to visit a bullfight with him or at least see one on TV or in the theater, but that was always in vain.
From the moment I realized what people were doing to helpless bulls in the arena, I started to gain the insight that whatever happened, we had to have good reasons to do anything to animals in the first place. For me, beauty and the exhibition of masculinity definitely do not come under that heading since then. I did keep eating meat for many years, until I was 18. And as a teenager I had been guilty of massacring scores of maybugs as a 'game' with other children, by hitting them with a tennis racket as they flew by. I still remember that I would feel so guilty at night, and was frantically looking for rationalizations for my behavior. In the meantime I had refused to eat all kinds of "exotic" animals such as frogs or squid because I didn't feel the need to add to my list of edible creatures, and even had an increasing urge to limit that list further.
A broadcast about the violent reality of factory farming and a talk with one of my classmates who was a vegetarian decided me. I permanently wanted to stop eating meat. But it took another year before this became really possible at my house, because my father kept making trouble. And it was also made extra difficult because I was given tempeh almost every day, one of the few vegetarian products I still don't like.
But from the age of 18 I've been a vegetarian and from the age of 19 a vegan. Under social pressure I 'sinned' at parties about ten times, which means I used products that had dairy ingredients. And I used to occasionally buy liquorice that could be expected to contain gelatin. But I have never eaten meat anymore, not for half my life (I'm 36 now). My veganism is now more consistent and more obvious than ever.
Since my 19th birthday my respect for animals has become a part of a wider respect for individuals. For me this fits liberal socialism. I regard the exclusion of animals from individual respect as speciesism, discrimination on the basis of animal species. In my psychology studies I wrote a paper together with my brother Esteban Rivas in this framework about animal consciousness. Nowadays I express my personal battle against speciesism mainly by writing essays, mostly for the magazine "Gezond Idee!". I hope it will become increasingly normal to assign rights to individual animals, and at the same time increasingly absurd to sacrifice animals for human pleasure or enjoyment.
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