Two news items about legislation caught my eye this week and demonstrate an important difference between how Americans and Spaniards deal with cultural diversity.
No more death in the afternoon
On Wednesday the Catalan parliament voted 68 to 55 to ban bullfighting throughout the Catalan autonomous community. It is the second autonomous community to do so (the Canary Islands were first, in 1991). Below is a very balanced report from CNN (more balanced than anything I saw on TV here in Barcelona last night following the vote).
Arguments against the legislation claim that bullfighting is an ancient tradition of the Iberian peninsula, and that outlawing it threatens Spanish identity and cultural unity. Some of them claim the ban is unconstitutional (?) and that they will be taking the matter to the Spanish constitutional court.
Shuffle up and deal with it
Meanwhile in the US Congress, the House Financial Services Committee voted 41 to 22 on Wednesday in favor of a bill to legalize (and tax) online poker and other non-sports gambling activities. Part of the bill’s success must be attributed to the lobbying efforts of the Poker Players Alliance. From their mission statement:
“Through education and awareness the PPA will keep this game of skill, one of America’s oldest recreational activities, free from egregious government intervention and misguided laws.”
(Full disclosure: I am a member of the PPA.)
It is possible that states and Indian tribes will be able to opt out of the new law and prohibit online gambling within their borders. Opponents of the bill argue that online gaming facilitates money laundering and terrorist activities (?) and that it provides an easy path to degenerate behavior and gambling addiction.
We’re here, you’re here, get over it
So here we have two cases of legislation that touches on cultural traditions. Bullfights have been going on in Spain since Roman times; poker has been played in the United States since the early 1800s. Both are shown on sports television channels. Both have found their way into the language, literature, and the imagination of a people. Detractors of both traditions argue that they are morally reprehensible.
The two debates highlight a key difference in tolerance for cultural diversity in the US and Spain. In Spain, any variation from cultural homogeneity can spark a visceral fear for peninsular unity. For some, Catalonia’s ban on bullfighting is seen as a threat to the cohesion of the Spanish state. (Interestingly, when the Canary Islands passed their own ban on bullfighting in 1991, no such fear accompanied the decision.)
In the United States, citizens do not experience such an existential crisis, even when legislation touches a cultural nerve. We get mad at each other, we bicker, we say, “Those New Yorkers are crazy!” or “Can you imagine if we had to live in Missouri?” If efforts to change a state’s laws don’t work, we either keep trying, or we move to another state. We don’t lose sleep worrying that differences among the states will cause the entire Union to dissolve.
If a multicultural, “pluralist” Spain is going to survive beyond its first thirty years of democracy, Spaniards are going to need to open up their definition of Spanish culture and identity. They must begin to imagine – and accept – a Spain in which different regions have different values. The current cultural model is simply unsustainable.