Posted by: Kenn Hermann | October 20, 2006

Reformational Philosophy and Hooved Abstractions

Several lines intersected today to inspire this post:

  • I was getting ready to scan the last few chapters of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals for my “Cultural Dynamics of Technology” class. If you are not familiar with Pollan, a regular writer for The New York Times Magazine, a simple Google search will pull up several of his articles on our industrialized food system and interviews on this book. I had wanted to post something when the book first came out, but time got away from me. In any case, I want my students to confront the ‘cultural dynamics of technology’ in the highly industrialized and technicized way food is manufactured for us. I doubt that they have given serious thought to food as a technical object in the modern West. They need to.
  • I have been working on a response to Rudi Hayward’s question, in response to earlier posts of mine, asking whether all technology was an abstraction.
  • Thinknet, the listserv for those interested in Herman Dooyeweerd’s philosophy, has been discussing the appropriateness of eating meat/flesh in the post-fall world. Just today, Henk Geertsema posted a response that brought these concerns together for me.

The following is Henk’s original post:

“I do have problems with meat that comes from contemporary advanced bio-industry. Animals in that case seem to be taken as primarily meat producers for human consumption regulated by market requirements. That does not seem to me God’s intention with animals either. Reformational philosophy is a helpful instrument to explain what is happening here. Animals are taken primarily from the perspective of their economic and formative object functions, ignoring their sensitive and biotic subject functions in their own right. Is that in accordance with creational order? Is not the sensitive aspect the qualifying function of animals? And should they not be respected as far as possible even where animals are used and eaten by us humans? Is not there a lot of the modern worldview implied that looks at creation as without intrinsic meaning but as material for human use and manipulation as if value is only attributed to the non-human by humans. I do not refrain from eating meat but I do try not to eat meat (or eggs) that come from bio-industry, because most of the time I wonder if I can thank God for that in honesty and respect for Himself and his creatures.”

This was my response:

Thanks, Henk. I most emphatically agree with you. Reformational philosophy can, indeed, be most helpful in pointing out the way that creatures have been ‘transformed’ by being ‘subjected’ to the technological-scientific method and stripped of their proper creaturely modes of being. Creatures as technological-scientific objects are not the ‘creatures’ that the Lord intended; they have become hooved abstractions. There is a profound violation here, it seems. Michael Pollan has spoken most eloquently to this objectification — though he does not use that language, of course.

One does not have to be a vegetarian to recognize the crucial differences between the absolutization of creatures as ‘meat’ for the consumer and the fully-articulated life of creatures which can, as the need arises, be killed for meat. That they can be eaten is a subsidiary function; that they are only useful to be eaten is an objectification of that function. I still remember the almost ceremonial solemnity with which my grandfather butchered hogs every fall. That, in my mind, is the proper reverential attitude toward these creatures. I am grateful for the movement toward organic farming in our area, many of whom happen to be conservative evangelicals, who provide ‘healthy’ normative meat. They are ready to listen to a theological/philosophical understanding of what they feel in their gut is proper.

So, Rudi, this is a partial answer to your question. If you can see how animals, in becoming subjected to the control of the technological-scientific method of production, have been ‘abstracted’ from their normative, creaturely functions and environment, then you can begin to recognize the same phenomena of abstraction that occurs throughout our technological society. More is coming shortly. See my follow-up post.


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