Dominion: the power of man, the suffering of animals,
and the call to mercy, by Matthew Scully. New
York: St Martin’s Press, 2002, 434 pps, h/b ISBN 0312261470,£19.99. UK
publication date August 2003.
You really must get hold of a copy of this book. It is
the best of its kind that I have read recently - on a par with the works
of Andrew Linzey and Richard Ryder. And if you look at the note at the
end, I have obtained a good bargain for Ark readers.
One American reviewer, the Revd JR Hyland, Director of
Humane Religion, wrote in Animal People (Jan/Feb 2003): ‘Dominion is so
powerful that when I read the manuscript before it was sent to the
publisher, I was sure that St Martin’s Press would either refuse to
print it or would force Scully to do a rewrite that would neutralise
both its content anf the passion of his writing. That did not happen ...
The writing is intense from the first chapter to the last.’
Scully reflects on the bases on which we have
misapplied the notion of our ‘dominion’ over the universe. He urges
people to use their free will and judgement in a moral way, and to
behave with the restraint and compassion appropriate to our species: a
sort of noblesse oblige by the creatures made in the image of God.
Christians, after all, believe in a gracious God - one who is
self-giving, not despotic or tyannical. God’s is the model of dominion:
Scully denounces abuses of the Creator’s intentions,
where people reduce creation to commodities, giving wild and domestic
animals alike no more than financial value. It may have been the case in
history, he argues, that hard necessity required the equally hard use of
animals for labour, for furs, or to be hunted for food. But that when
‘substitute products are found, with each creature in turn, responsible
dominion calls for a reprieve. The warrant expires. The divine mandate
is used up. What were once "necessary evils" become just evils.’ Scully
names the evils - and it must be uncomfortable reading for many.
He takes his opponents and their theories seriously,
the better to refute them: ‘One tires especially of the posture among
the theorists that they, and they alone, are guided by reason, while the
rest of us wallow in our silly emotionalism. that is why we must ...
[examine] their assumptions.’
The author investigates three assignments: a
convention of big-game hunters, a meeting of whalers, and an industrial
pig-farm, or ‘hog-growing’ unit.
The first is an annual convention of Safari Club
International, whose members brag of the points gained by the number of
trophy animals they have killed (the ‘big five’ being rhino, elephant,
leopard, lion and buffalo). Serious killers go to Africa, but for local
weekend killing trips, animals are transported, bred, or ‘retired’ from
circuses and zoos, to provide easy targets in ‘No Kill. No Pay’
fenced-in game parks in the USA. One popular item displayed is the book
Secrets of Tax Deductible Hunting, on sale along with videos of ‘great
kills’ and gadgets that replicate the call of distressed young creatures
to lure the adults into the sights of the guns. What is also really
sickening are the accounts of the prayer services asking for God’s
blessing on the hunters and their ‘sport’.
The whalers and industrial pig farmers are shown up as
totally devoid of concern for the animals in their businesses,
justifying their activities on ‘providing people with what they want’.
In the words of the late Cardinal Heenan, ‘The difficulty is that many
people do not realise the extent to which cruelty to animals is
practised as a matter of business...’ Scully’s great service is in
exposing this very ‘matter of business’: big business interests coming
before the environment, before the small farmer, before the ‘integrity
of creation’, as Catholic teaching puts it.
Scully asks for consistency in our treatment of
animals. We dote on our dogs and cats, but they are no different from
other sentient creatures. ‘Go into the largest livestock operation,
search out the darkest and tiniest stall or pen, single out the
filthiest, most forlorn little lamb or pig or calf; and that is one of
God’s creatures you’re looking at, morally indistinguishable from your
beloved Fluffy or Frisky.’
Matthew Scully is writing mainly for Americans, in
whose country nine States have no animal cruelty leglislation (Nebraska
has just become the 41st State making cruelty a felony: Alleluia!). Yet
his knowledge of the British scene is impressive - especially moving is
his treatment of our recent disastrous foot-and-mouth crisis. This book
is one which all of us should have, not on our shelves, but beside our
Deborah M Jones