i have been reading matthew scully’s dominion for the past eight months. you may have noticed that already, if you ever check out the books listed in my sidebar. i think one of the reasons it took me so long to get through is because it is rather dense compared to my typical "nightstand reading," and as such, many nights i just didn’t feel up to it. i took breaks from reading it, read several other books during its tenure on my nightstand, but always returned to it, because it really is a fantastic book and i felt it was something i should read.
my favorite parts of the book were the in-depth chapters on hunting (and the safari club in particular), whaling, and the factory farming of pigs. they really painted a picture of what goes on, and why, and helped me understand all three industries in a much more complex manner than i previously had. there were also several portions of the book that were beautifully written, but just didn’t appeal to me as much. i hate to say it, but during these parts of the book, i sometimes reverted back to my grad school reading habits and read every word without really processing all of the information. if that happened too often, i knew it was time to put the book down for awhile.
i am really glad i kept picking it back up, though, because there is a passage that comes pretty late in the text that really grabbed me. the whole time i was reading it, i was thinking, "yes! that is such a great point!" and i memorized the page number immediately so i could go back and read it again when i was finished. i’m going to share it here, because i think it’s thought-provoking and worth some reflection.
on page 316, scully brings up the fact that robert f. kennedy, jr. has said that in an effort to withdraw support from industrial farming, he only buys meat from small farms who have treated their charges with "dignity and respect." scully goes on to say:
I think that is a decent compromise, and it is good to hear such a prominent voice taking the side of animals. How rare to hear anyone today speak of the "dignity" of these creatures. But this middle ground is vanishing with our small farms. More and more, consumers are left with a choice between two radical alternatives. The way I figure it, we can be radically kind or we can be radically cruel.
I know, of course, that we vegetarians are still considered an eccentric minority. It is always hard to raise the subject without feeling a little awkward, the skunk at every party and barbecue. Frankly I have felt a little uneasy just writing about the matter, forcing unpleasant details upon the reader, a task that can be mean and spiteful if done in the wrong spirit. As harsh as the process of industrial farming may be, the motive, after all, is not cruelty. It’s not as if anyone wants the creatures to suffer. We would all wish it otherwise. And in a way the standard vegetarian argument that the average person eats meat, and yet could not bear to see how it was produced, actually speaks well of the average person. Imagine a world in which most people enjoyed hearing and seeing the details.
I think this is why even the most impassioned vegetarian arguments often miss the mark: Because we tend to judge ourselves by motive and intention rather than by means and result. We vegetarians, in our defense, are at least prepared to look at actual consequences and inconvenient realities, understanding that he who wills the end also wills the means. At least we have confronted the seriousness of the matter, thought about it, made a conscious and deliberate choice, and how many people can actually pinpoint some moment in their lives when they decided to eat meat? From the first bits of flesh placed on the tray of our high chairs, most people go through life never once questioning that this is natural and necessary, the way things are and must ever be. Everyone does it, so it must be right.
Here’s a good question to ask yourself: Would you give up eating meat if you were persuaded that factory farming was cruel and unethical? Hypothetically, in other words, how difficult and inconvenient would it be to act upon your own moral concerns? Or indeed how socially embarrassing would it be, how troublesome to have to make a choice and explain and stay with it? The next question would be whether it is, in fact, the absence of moral concerns that prevents the change, or the prospect of the difficulties and inconveniences.
just some things to think about. oh, and by the way, if the answer is indeed "i’m worried about the prospect of difficulty and inconvenience," i’ve got your back. nothing but support and helpful advice from this girl!