DOMINION by Matthew Scully


The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
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A moral inquiry into the human treatment of animals.

Like it or not, humans have a measure of dominion over animals, but what are our moral obligations toward them, Scully asks. Do we sit mute before the unspeakable conditions and unadulterated cruelty of factory farming of animals or the staged machismo of big-game hunting? Do we recognize animals as having intelligence and capacity for pain, recognize their moral worth and our duty and kinship to them under natural law, “which advances a being onward toward its natural fulfillment”? If one is an eater of meat, asks vegetarian Scully, do you ask whether that pork chop had a good life before the blade ran home, and are you willing to support giant operations in which pigs are denied every conceivable natural moment, including sunlight? Scully has done plenty of fieldwork to make it plain that humility and empathy don’t guide our dealings with fellow creatures on megafarms or on “safari.” Decency and mercy are ostensible values governing behavior between humans, and it’s ridiculous to Scully to think they wouldn’t play a part in our interactions with animals. Yet, however vivid Scully’s descriptions of feedlots or however righteous his moral ground or unsparing his critiques of Peter Singer or Stephen Budiansky, he is also preaching to the converted. He takes pains to alienate hunters and will irritate fence-sitters with his coyness (“the creatures’ little lives of grazing and capering”), meanwhile offending everyone else and betraying his speechwriting past by unctuously draping expressions of uncertainty over the utter absence of his own uncertainty, with his buffed prose and his tendency to mewl: “The images bore witness.”

Still, Scully’s appeal for respect and dignity in our treatment of animals certainly beats the big-game outfitter who’s quoted: “You shoot ’em at close range. And the thing is, they don’t go right down. They get up. And now they’re piffed.”

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-312-26147-0
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2002