on October 20, 2002
Matthew Scully has written a beautiful book in which he bases his argument for animal protection not on rights, liberation, or ethics, but on mercy. He tells us, "We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but in a sense because they don't; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us. Animals are so easily overlooked, their interests so easily brushed aside. Whenever we humans enter the world, from our farms, to the local animal shelter to the African savanna, we enter as lords of the earth bearing strange powers of terror and mercy alike."
His argument is compelling.
Scully takes us into the world of Safari Club where his disgust is apparent to us and likely to be shared by all decent people reading his description. He includes a chapter on the impotent, sad, joke that is the International Whaling Commission. His chapter on factory farming and slaughterhouses is no less hard-hitting; he describes a state of the art farm where he found sows wounded, sickly, and some dead, housed in tiny gestation crates, unable to move. He writes about slaughterhouses where production speeds make the stunning of all animals impossible to achieve; the result is that many animals, every day, are hacked up or dropped into scalding water kicking and screaming.
Though other areas of abuse may not receive whole chapters, most get some attention. We read about a horrifying mass dolphin slaughter and learn that a few animals, rather than being killed, are allowed "to live out their days at a place called Izumito Sea Paradise, delighting crowds with their tricks and play." We are told that baby elephants used in circuses and other exotic animals found in the pet trade are acquired in a similar fashion. We read about the sad lives of circus elephants and learn that Ringling Brothers' is supporting efforts to lift the ban on ivory sales. There is a terrific section on the excesses of and inexcusable cruelties visited upon animals in biomedical research.
Other issues are covered briefly: Scully mentions that many zoos sell sick or elderly animals to hunting ranches. He refers to bear bile farming, discusses bow hunting, and he offers some caustic comment on fur as fashion.
Now I share my disappointments:
Though Scully's arguments for vegetarianism are strong, he writes off veganism with "Using animals for milk and wool and the like is perfectly acceptable provided they and their young are treated humanely, as they are on smaller farms." (P. 28.)
Perhaps Scully, like many vegetarians, has failed to notice that the fate of the dairy cow is the same as the fate of the beef cow or steer, regardless of the size of the farm; approximately eighty percent of hamburger meat in the US comes from dairy cows. And the life of a dairy cow includes much suffering regardless of the size of the farm. Scully quotes Temple Grandin: "When cows are weaned, both the cows and calves bellow for about twenty-four hours." (p. 245.)
Some might think the maternal longing is mitigated because, after all, she is only a cow. However a cow doesn't amuse herself with writing or reading books and watching television, or concern herself with her career and wonder how long she should stay away from it in order to care for her baby but still "have it all." To a cow, raising her young is "it all." And when we deprive her of that one joy in order to satisfy the odd human craving for the milk of another species, the distress, the bellowing, is on our account. Why should our mercy not include her?
Then there is the vivisection of Peter Singer. I would expect a catholic, pro-life, conservative speechwriter to take offense at some of Singer's views but I was disappointed by their misrepresentation. Scully tells us that Singer supports infanticide but fails to mention that Singer's arguments pertain to severely, usually painfully, disabled babies whose parents do not want them kept alive and who nobody else wishes to adopt. Perhaps the twelve page attack on Singer's views unrelated to animal welfare are included in order to burnish Scully's right wing, conservative credentials as he moves into a field more commonly inhabited by the morally questionable Liberals on the Left.
The following lines appalled me:
"In the same way, animal liberationists who turn to Peter Singer for guidance must ask themselves how we can protect vulnerable animals from the caprice of man if we do not protect vulnerable people, the sick, the aged, the newborn and the unborn -- how it is possible to love cats and dogs and baby seals if we do not love the most innocent and defenseless of human beings." (p. 311)
Peter Singer gives twenty percent of his income to largely human-centered charities such as Oxfam, and encourages those who turn to him for guidance to make similar sacrifices. This is hardly a rejection of the sick, aged, newborn or defenseless; in fact, Singer's personal dedication to the issue of poverty makes the accusation bizarre. Scully may be concerned about Singer's disregard for the unborn but he has no right to make sweeping false accusations.
My disappointments aside, I am thrilled that Matthew Scully has chosen to turn his formidable and well-respected intellect and passionate attention to the matter of animal protection. Scully's eloquent argument aimed not at animal rights activists but at those most likely to be resistant to the animal rights movement, could widen the circle of those who take the issue of animal protection seriously. Thus I hope wholeheartedly for Dominion's success and influence.
on February 28, 2006
I had 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 regards the life of his animal." This book is a reminder that dominion and domination are two completely different things.
on October 1, 2002
Matthew Scully's Dominion is not to be quickly perused and immediately forgotten. I have already read this seminal work from cover to cover--and take it for granted that I must reacquaint myself with its powerful arguments at least every other month. Scully is definitely not your typical bleeding heart Liberal. On the contrary, the author's conservative credentials are solidly established. He has served as both a speech writer for President George W. Bush and contributing editor to the National Review. Scully's vegetarianism, however, places him in an awkward predicament within this cultural milieu. Even neo-conservative animal lovers such as myself have no intention whatsoever in ceasing to eat meat. He knows this to be the case but hopes to persuade us to alleviate the suffering of these animals as much as possible. Perhaps more troubling is the moral dilemma of animals enduring pain and death in medical research projects. Where should we draw the line? Moreover, must an animal suffer merely to assist humankind in the development of a better shampoo or other beauty products?
Matthew Scully fortunately is not in the same camp as the secularist philosopher, Peter Singer. Animals are not equal to us. The theistic contention that humans have dominion over the animal kingdom is also the author's position. They lack our intelligence and therefore find themselves unable to sufficiently thwart our will. Yet, isn't this a reason why we should go out of our way to be kind to these mostly helpless creatures? Why do so many religious adherents seem so indifferent to the unnecessary harm caused to these sentient members of the animal kingdom? Have many people loyal to the wisdom of the Old Testament misunderstood God's will in this matter? Did God supposedly give us the right to treat animals as mere commodity products? Scully does not hesitate to take to task those conservatives who refuse to honestly confront the issue of animal cruelty. Many of these folks cowardly hide behind sarcasm and viscous ridicule instead of seriously discussing these issues.
And yes, Dominion deserves five stars. This book should be read and discussed by everyone claiming to be just and humane. The radical Liberals have for far too long monopolized this debate. It's time for other conservative thinkers to join Matthew Scully and begin thinking hard and long regarding our treatment of those lesser creatures who share the planet with us.
on August 31, 2003
First of all, I have no earthly idea how Matthew Scully had the
guts to write this book---and, indeed, maintain his sanity.
Each chapter (for me) was overwhelming. I had to take a breather
and attempt to regain my composure every few pages.
It's hard for me to believe I breathe the same air with people who so felicitously slaughter and decimate creatures who have
no other reason for being---other than to swim, walk, eat and
live in peace.
And, the egos, chicanery, lies, duplicity and---religious
play-acting will boggle your mind.
We've proven ourselves a very adept society at killing and
butchering 'lesser' creatures.
Mr. Scully is a guiding light and beacon for whom we, each
and every one, should be eternally grateful.
It took me weeks and weeks after ordering this book to skewer
up myself to read it; now, I know why.
Buckle up, because, in my humble estimation, if you have a modicum of compassion in your being, this book will change your life.
I've known for years the horrible things we've done to 'animals' in the name of sustenance, economics, religion
But, Mr. Scully has shot an arrow into my heart.
He will do the same to you.
Read it. Then, read it again.
Keep an open mind. Do it.
on January 1, 2003
I first heard of this book through a book review in the Wall Street Journal. I was intrigued that a person who served as a speechwriter for George W. would author a book on this topic. I read this book over the holidays, not the best time to decide to become a vegetarian. I have driven by numerous factory hog farms over the years, but have never given much thought to what was going on inside. His detailed descriptions of that industry are still vivid in my mind. I've never understood how people can hunt and kill beautiful wild creatures, but Scully does a masterful job at countering all of the arguments that hunters use to defend their actions. After reading this book, one will never look upon their pets, farm animals, or wild creatures in the same way. It is truly a life-changing book which needs to be read by a large audience, especially by our government leaders who need to help stop the barbaric ways we treat animals.
on November 23, 2002
This book is a heart breaker but in a liberating way. Mathew Scully, thank you for your courage and fearlessness but very importantly thank you for your eloquence. Knowing something of your background as a senior speach writer for President Bush, it is quite impressive that you have bravely followed your heart and worked so hard to write a book that exposes the common- place cruelty and violence leveled against non-human animals daily in our society. In argueing for the rights for animals many animal rights activists focus on human health or the how a vegetarian diet will help the environment. These are good focuses. But Scully has appealed to our consciousness and morality. He himself has come to his conclusions that animals should not be treated as garbage because he has dared to challange his own callousness and vowed to feel from his heart. He has gone deeply into the depth of his own heart which is really the greater heart that we all share, but because of social conditioning most of us have become estranged from. Thank you Mathew Scully, for sharing the opening of your own heart with all of us, may we be the better for it and may we be inspired to extend our innate kindness to ALL others. May the lives of many animals be inmproved due to your efforts. This book is groundbreaking and life changing.
on December 1, 2003
Matthew Scully's book lays out the important stuff. He's not interested in taking an ideological stand or labeling himself a "rights" person or a "welfare" person. Instead, he goes right to the heart of the matter of human morality and character in our relations with other creatures. Whatever your vocation, whether you're a hunter or a farmer or a scientist or a student or just a consumer and nothing else, you'll get something out of this book. It'll give you something to think about. It's a special pleasure to read someone who writes so eloquently. Most of the time, you'll be carried along by his haunting and beautiful prose.
I used this book as a teaching tool in my philosophy class, and it was far more effective to convey the important stuff about human morality towards animals than anything else I've used. My students lapped it up, found it immensely readable, and it made them think. Particularly effective, I think, is the way Scully speaks to the whole person--the spiritual, emotional as well as keenly rational--rather than just the latter. So, one responds with one's whole being. This book gets under your skin and stays there. Highly recommended for everyone.
on April 17, 2003
It is so amazing the types of things that go on around us that most of us never see. And even when we are made aware of the horrors that man is capable of, if it does not affect us directly, then we easily dismiss it. Reading a book like "Dominion", though, will completely change your views on just how evil some people can be. There were points in this book where I actually felt myself getting so upset I was visibly shaking. Many times I would put the book down for a day just because what I read was so moving that I couldn't bear to read any more at that moment. But it is a book I had to read more of, because these are facts and issues of which everyone should be aware. How can it be that we as a species can use and abuse animals for profit like this, most of the time for things that we can do without. We have the power to do the right thing by these animals, and treat them with the dignity that they deserve. Matthew Scully does not preach to us and try and convince us to become vegetarians. He just points out how things have gotten so out of hand that we treat animals now as just commodities and things, not creatures of the earth, who live and breathe as we all do. This book has really made me want to become more active in animal rights. I think that you will find that it will make you think twice before you have that next hamburger, pork chop, or buying that new fur coat. A more beautifully written book you will not find.
on October 26, 2003
As "Dominion" is the first animal welfare/animal rights book written by a Republican, I was driven to read it out of curiosity. In it, Scully lays out a compelling argument against animal exploitation; yet, he seems to backtrack in his final chapters, diluting his thesis and offering excuses for those who would rather make superficial changes.
Rather than just hurling statistics at the reader (as some animal rights books seem to do), Scully attempts to illustrate several instances of animal exploitation with personal narratives. In order to explain the absurdity of hunting - particularly big game hunting - Scully attends the 1999 convention of the Safari Club International; he details the folly of the world's wildlife management philosophy from his seat at the 2000 meeting of the International Whaling Commission; and he offers a firsthand look at the horrors of modern factory farms, along with the callousness and disregard of those who are responsible. While Scully does manage to interweave his accounts with facts, figures, and philosophy, the book is far from dry. Instead, "Dominion" reads more like a novel, and a terrifying one at that: much of what Scully asserts will sicken you.
Throughout the first 350 pages of "Dominion", Scully lays out a cogent argument for animal rights, without ever using the term "animal rights". Thus, the reader is left wondering whether Scully is an animal rights advocate or an animal welfarist (and yes, there's a world of difference between the two!). In this manner, he never fully articulates his beliefs. He also dismisses philosophical arguments for animal rights/welfare in favor of religion - at best, a silly idea. While I understand that the book is aimed largely at Christians, it's still pure folly to cast off all semblance of logic in the name of religion. The animal rights movement is incredibly diverse, and the different types arguments reflect this. Appealing to one's sense of mercy (hence the book's subtitle, "The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy") may convince certain segments of society to repent their animal-exploiting ways, but other people may require different routes of persuasion, logic included. Not to mention, the animal rights (and even welfare, to a lesser extent) movement is commonly accused of being devoid of logic and riddled with sentimentality - Scully's advice certainly wouldn't help correct this stereotype.
Despite these flaws, I was still impressed with "Dominion" - until I got to the final chapter. Though Scully seems unequivocal in his condemnation of meat-eating (as it's cruel, unnecessary, and harmful to the environment), in the end he merely calls for more humane standards. I'm sorry, but killing is in and of itself inhumane - when it comes to killing for food or fun, there's no such thing as a humane death. For humans, meat's pure lack of necessity negates humaneness. Though I am myself a vegan, I'm not even quibbling over the merits of vegetarianism vs. veganism here - Scully makes a great case for going veg, and then offers a "get out of jail free" card for those who would rather keep on eating meat - never mind the dairy. There's no such thing as "human decency" when needlessly killing (not to mention torturing) billions of animals a year because of preferences, convenience or tradition.
Some reviewers have expressed their satisfaction that "Dominion" isn't just another radical, zealous, foaming-at-the-mouth animal rights book. Well, it isn't - but that's because it isn't an animal rights book at all. For whatever reason, Scully chose the easy way out after setting forth an impassioned argument in favor of animal rights. He set the stage for a call to end all forms of animal exploitation - but in the end, he merely called for greater regulation. It was quite disappointing, since I was at first under the impression that we finally had an ally on the right.
Despite Scully's moral schizophrenia, I still enjoyed the bulk of the book, which is why I gave it more than the 1 star I would have otherwise. Nonetheless, "Dominion" started with an impressive bang, and ended with a self-serving, compliant little whimper.
on November 10, 2002
For too long some Christians have used God's granting man "dominion" over animals as a justification for all matter of ungodlike abuse. Matthew Sculley takes a rational and thoughtful look at what dominion means from a Christian and biblical perspective. He clearly shows that current state of animal affairs has taken a horrible turn that is clearly incompatible with Christian ideals.
The ethical debate over our obligations to our fellow animals has been largely dominated by philosophers who reject Christianity. Mr. Sculley fills the gap by providing a voice for the silent majority who believe animals have one right: the right to our mercy.
We would do well to remember that in the Hebrew of the old testament, God also granted King David dominion over the Jews. I suppose we should be grateful that David did not interpet this charge to stewardship as carte blanche to use his subjects for food, clothing and trophy hunting.
Thanks Mr. Sculley! Jean Greek, co author of Specious Science and Sacred Cows and Golden Geese.