Review of Dominion in Virginian-Pilot
KarenDawn at DawnWatch.com
Tue Jun 3 10:50:37 EDT 2003
The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, Va.)
June 1, 2003 Sunday Final Edition
DAILY BREAK, Pg. E3
TAKING OFF OUR BLINDERS REGARDING ANIMALS
The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
St. Martin's Press. 434 pp. $27.95.
WHY DO SO MANY otherwise well-meaning people remain silent about the
horrific way we treat animals in this society?
All of us realize at this point that the eggs we buy at the grocery store
come from windowless chicken gulags where the birds are kept in crowded,
filthy conditions. Still, we pick up the eggs and put them in our carts.
Each of us knows that bacon comes from pigs cruelly confined in miserably
small crates on huge factory farm complexes. We buy it anyway.
Matthew Scully has a theory about this: Once we fully acknowledge the extent
to which industrial farming negates and processes live, sentient beings for
our convenience, we will then have to judge ourselves. This, of course, we
are loath to do. And so we "take the view that this is the way of the world,
there's not much we can do about it, best to drop the subject and hope that
more people don't notice."
"Yet where does this worldly wise outlook leave us?" Scully asks. "It leaves
us silenced, compromised, exchanging knowing glances at the barbarities that
lie out of view. Saddest of all, it leaves us useless. It leaves decent and
humane people silent as the creatures of the world fall ever more under the
heel of the careless or the wicked."
Scully's powerful, profoundly moral book, "Dominion: The Power of Man, the
Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy," is his own effort to transcend
that silent complicity and to speak out against the "careless" and the
"wicked," namely Safari Club International, the whaling industry, Smithfield
Foods, industrial farming in general, and a host of tedious academics
compelled to endlessly surmise that animals don't feel pain.
By turns eloquent, sorrowful, scathing and self-righteous, Scully examines
religion, free trade, science, economics, international politics and the
myriad ways people invent to excuse themselves for their role in the
brutality visited with such relentless predictability on the most voiceless
and defenseless among us.
Members of the Safari Club - a club whose members (including Homeland
Security chief Tom Ridge and former Gulf War general Norman Schwarzkopf) pay
tens of thousands of dollars to kill exotic animals in canned hunts - attend
the Christian Sportsmen's Fellowship Breakfast and regard their activities
as a kind of "conservationism." A meat company president talks cheerfully
about "processing animals for profit" and being a "customer-driven
business." Being shot in the head, Scully is told, spares an elephant the
inevitable pain and rigor of natural death.
Half investigative tract, half philosophical meditation, "Dominion" is an
unusual hybrid of a book. It is somehow rendered more unusual by the fact
that Scully is a conservative Republican and former speechwriter for George
W. Bush. "I came to admire him greatly, both as a leader and a man," he
writes of Bush in the acknowledgments section of Dominion.
One can't help but wonder, however: How does Scully reconcile his deeply
felt concerns for animal welfare and wildlife protection with the Bush
administration's support for, say, renewed trade in elephant ivory? Or the
weakening of whale protections? This is never explained.
Still, Scully is to be commended. He is a deeply intelligent, deeply
compassionate man with a basic argument, radical in its implications: All
animals, he maintains, have value apart from us.
"If animals are just commodities, then we are just consumers, with no
greater good than material pleasure and no higher law than appetite. And if
there is a God and they are His creatures, not ours, then there is indeed a
higher law regarding their care and we must answer to it - not just when it
suits us, not just when we feel the spirit upon us, and not just when it's
cost efficient, but always."
Laura LaFay is a freelance writer in Richmond.
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