DOMINION: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy


By Matthew Scully
St. Martin's Press, New York 2002; ISBN: 0312261470; 464 Pages, $27.95

Matthew Scully's powerful treatise, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, is a passionate, reasoned discourse on the way in which humans (mis)treat animals and a stern call for reform. He craftily weaves together historical, religious and philosophical considerations in his examination of the very essence of our humanity.

The central thesis in Dominion is that we, as an ostensibly humane species, must turn our consideration of nonhuman animals on its head: "Maybe, in the grand scheme of things, the life of a pig or cow or fowl of the air isn't worth much," Scully contends. "But if it's the Grand Scheme we are going by, just what is a plate of bacon or veal worth?"

Scully, a speechwriter for President Bush, implores us simply to act mercifully. Why? "It is just a gracious thing, an act of clemency only more to our credit because the animals themselves cannot ask for it, or rebuke us when we transgress against them, or even repay our kindness."

Scully touches on practically every conceivable animal protection issue in the book, focusing the bulk of his attention on three main case studies: trophy hunting, the decimation of the creatures of the sea, and the horrors of factory farming.

If, in a given situation, we have it in our power either to leave the creature there in his dark pen or let him out into the sun and breeze and feed him and let him play and sleep and cavort with his fellows―for me it's an easy call. Give him a break. Let him go. Let him enjoy his fleeting time on earth, and stop bringing his kind into the world solely to suffer and die.

Investigating Safari Club International and its annual conference, Scully questions how anyone could shoot an elephant, how anyone "could find pleasure in shooting an 8,000-pound mammal who has been walking the earth for fifty-odd years...."  How could they, indeed?

Scully next turns his persuasive prose to the mystery of commercial whaling: "... the great leviathan, these grand mammals of 'a certain intelligence' about which we learn more every year, creatures with no natural predator, not causing any environmental damage or harm to anyone, hunted to the point of annihilation in a single century after millions of years swimming the seas, are consigned to more years of hunting long after humanity has any need for any product derived from them."

Inside animal factories, especially hog "farms," which perhaps draw Scully's greatest ire, he wonders "How does a man rest at night knowing that in this strawless dungeon of pens are all of these living creatures under his care, never leaving except to die, hardly able to turn or lie down, horror-stricken by every opening of the door, biting and fighting and going mad?" And why do we torture these animals so? Scully suggests it stems from "our own boundless capacity for self-delusion, especially where there is money involved."

Scully's rhetoric is not merely theoretical. He calls for justice and mercy in very practical ways: ban the trade in bear parts, stop baiting wild animals and allowing "canned" hunts, rid the U.S. (as is the case in nearly 90 countries) of the draconian steel-jawed leghold trap, stop experimenting on primates, pass a "Humane Farming Act."

Scully's moving words left me nodding in agreement, muttering "yes" and "just so" with each passing page. Dominion is as empowering a book as I've read in many years, and I trust the newly-initiated animal advocate will devour this comprehensive primer with stirring enthusiasm.

-By Adam M. Roberts