I have been avoiding reading Matthew Scully’s Dominion for months. Avoiding it because I knew it would enrage, upset and embarrass me. And once I did pick up the book and commit to reading it, my predictions were dead on. This powerful, emotionally draining and gut-wrenching book about the systematic abuse and widespread slaughter of animals enraged me as a compassionate person, upset me as a lover of animals, and embarrassed me as a human being who has blindly taken part in the chain of abuse.
Scully, a former Special Assistant and speech writer to President George W. Bush, surprises me first and foremost in that his background as a Republican is not something I would immediately associate with animal rights. Yet he clearly feels deeply about the subject, and that comes through loud and clear in this intricately detailed, impassioned examination of the ways we humans have abused our guardianship position and made animals into virtual slaves of our own needs, desires, passions and greed.
From the horrors of factory farming, where massive numbers of cows, sheep, pigs and veal calves are treated like machines to produce our food, to the disgusting antics of the wealthy hunters who pay tens of thousands of dollars to kill exotic wildlife, to the brutal slaughter of seal pups, lab animals, precious and rare elephants, and whales (called “living marine resources” by the men who clamor for more lethal means to kill them with), this book leaves no stone unturned in its unflinching look at the myriad ways humans mistreat other life forms. Scully also spends a lot of time countering the ridiculous arguments of religious leaders, scientists and even sportsmen that animals do not feel pain, have no souls, and therefore are ours to do with as we please.
Scully takes us into whaling commission meetings, hog farms, science labs and canned hunts, and into the minds of the men who get their kicks - and even their paychecks - from brutalizing other living things. We listen to the reasoning and excuses of people who think animals are find to torture and kill because they don’t think like us, talk like us, or feel like us. We hear the excuses, the arguments and even the motivations of those who engage in the suffering of animals for prosperity, knowledge, thrills and cheap hamburgers.
Eventually, the book leads us to the conclusion that we as a species have utterly failed our fellow creatures in every way. That we have been given a sense of dominion over the beasts of air and sea and earth seems to have given way to a righteous attitude of ownership, whereby we kill millions of animals each year for our own consumption, pleasure and control.
Dominion is not a book written by some animal rights wacko. It is written by a respected journalist and former literary editor of National Review, and a man who has worked under some of the most powerful Republican leaders. It is written with respect and restraint, honesty and directness, and a deep compassion for the creatures we have enslaved, even as we seek more, faster, cheaper, easier ways of living - all at their expense.
Scully’s book is devastating, and will upset many readers, so be forewarned. This is not easy material to sit through, but it is important nonetheless. This call to mercy is one of the most powerful books I have ever tried to avoid reading. Denial may save us for awhile, but in the end, we need to face the truth, and then do something about it. As it says in the Book of Proverbs, “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast.” This book is a reminder that dominion and domination are two completely different things.