A Muddle in the Middle: Dominion and Rule

the-creation-of-the-animals-1519Emerson begins his essay “Experience” (1844)–and here it’s good to remind the modern, the “now” of ourselves, that our thoughts have already walked the earth–

Where do we find ourselves? In a series of which we do not know the extremes, and believe that it has none. We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight.

To recognize that we are “on a stair” is to “wake” to that fact and that is the “finding.” To believe as if this “position” (physico-spatial or intellectual) has no antecedence and no subsequence is to be asleep, perhaps “irresponsible” of the power inherent in our choice of direction.

[All subsequent quotations, except where indicated, are from “Experience.”]

The results of life are uncalculated and uncalculable. The years teach much which the days never know. The persons who compose our company, converse, and come and go, and design and execute many things, and somewhat comes of it all, but an unlooked for result. The individual is always mistaken. He designed many things, and drew in other persons as coadjutors, quarrelled with some or all, blundered much, and something is done; all are a little advanced, but the individual is always mistaken. It turns out somewhat new, and very unlike what he promised himself.

We always find ourselves in disagreement even with ourselves.


Human life is made up of the two elements, power and form, and the proportion must be invariably kept, if we would have it sweet and sound. Each of these elements in excess makes a mischief as hurtful as its defect. Everything runs to excess: every good quality is noxious, if unmixed, and, to carry the danger to the edge of ruin, nature causes each man’s peculiarity to superabound.

Humans insist on Dominion (power and form) as promised in an ancient and ubiquitous if somewhat unread book.

Genesis 1:28 (KJV) And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:28 (Geneva, 1599) And God blessed them, and God said to them, Bring forth fruit, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the heaven, and over every beast that moveth upon the earth.

I find the distinction in these two versions of this verse, that between “dominion” and “rule,” instructive. We occupy this one extreme and hardly comprehend the other pole (Emerson), that of submission or subservience, when it comes to “every beast that moveth.” Certainly we cannot comprehend the call to abstention made by “abolitionists”–for abolition is a complete and uncompromising morality. But humans in the main do not question that the right borne of this verse out of the book of Genesis (origins after all) is total and a given

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. Dominion, in the King James Version is the power of life and death. Rule, in the Geneva Bible (preceding the KJV) suggests something far more judicious.


Antonyms to “rule” are disorganization, lawlessness, and bad manners (a local construct).
Antonyms to “dominion” include surrender, weakness, and yielding.

Synonyms include Humble and Flexible.
Antonyms include Obstinate and Rigid.

We do not yield easily where we find opportunities for dominance. One sees the distrust of anarchy in this. Surely the anarchist understands the will to liberty that all beings must feel as inherent truth as much as proven by enforced denial and subversion.


A man kicks a cat, perhaps kills it. This is, we feel, an insult to being and indicates a lack of empathy and even perhaps an evil in the perpetrator–what was his reason for doing such a thing we wonder. Does he need to have one?

A man kills several cats in the action we call euthanasia (the masking word)–as a purported good of society. Most cannot think this evil but rather, if thought of at all, an unfortunate necessity.

By the power of Dominion, humans are the only Predator and acts of euthanasia are acts of predation. Replacing the natural cycle (non-mechanical) that is interrupted by the very presence of human social systems (and our pervasive usurpation of habitat). Our Rule is won by killing.

For the last several years there has been a call to “cull” a claimed overabundance of deer. Various reasons are given and some even declare the deer are as harmful to our ecosystems as the overabundance of carbon in our atmosphere.

Why do we care if deer become a euthanized cats or dogs; or terrorized and slaughtered pigs or cows or chickens?

I take this evanescence and lubricity of all objects, which lets them slip through our fingers then when we clutch hardest, to be the most unhandsome part of our condition. Nature does not like to be observed, and likes that we should be her fools and playmates. We may have the sphere for our cricket-ball, but not a berry for our philosophy. Direct strokes she never gave us power to make; all our blows glance, all our hits are accidents.

Which is to say, I think, that dominion is a handful of sand.

“A man is a golden impossibility. The line he must walk is a hair’s breadth. The wise through excess of wisdom is made a fool.”

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