Monday, June 26, 2006

Warkentin Review, Dis/integrating animals

Computing Reviews

"Dis/integrating animals: ethical dimensions of the genetic engineering of animals for human consumption" Warkentin T.AI & Society 20(1): 82-102, 2005

IT professionals should be reflecting on this piece to answer questions of identity. What we are as humans is more typically posed to technologists by thinkers such as George Dyson who argues that machines, specifically computers, will evolve beyond humans. On the other hand, Warkentin provocatively claims that we become less human by genetically altering animal bodies.

The question is: are we becoming something beyond human because of our machines or is genetic engineering robbing us of our humanity?

Warkentin ranges over feminism, biology, and philosophy to lament that genetic technologies engineer impure food and ending the suffering of animals through genetic modification diminishes both animals and humans. Warkentin reveals a secular sensibility for long-standing religious issues of identity, purification, and suffering.

Religions generally maintain that food or anything that enters the body may pollute. Indeed, contamination by polluted food is a pervasive danger, typically involving intricate avoidance principles which Orthodox Judaism, particularly kosher rules, artfully articulates.

In the classic work Purity and Danger (1966) Mary Douglas focuses on pollution with a cogent analysis of food taboos. Religions outline an agenda for congregants to follow maintaining their sense of identity. Warkentin maintains that human identity is diminished or defiled by eating genetically engineered food, what Douglas introduces as “dirt.”

But that ingesting a given food which has a spiritually polluting quality independent of our post-modern cultural context does not seem to be based on an objective fact. Warkentin ultimately does not demonstrate how genetically modified food pollutes us.

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