Previously, I wrote on LessWrong about the preliminary evidence in favor of using leaflets to promote veganism as a way of cost-effectively reducing suffering. In response, there was a large discussion with 530+ comments. In this discussion, I found that a lot of people wanted me to write about why I think nonhuman animals deserve our concern anyway.
Therefore, I wrote this essay with an attempt to defend the view that if one cares about suffering, one should also care about nonhuman animals, since (1) they are capable of suffering, (2) they do suffer quite a lot, and (3) we can prevent their suffering. I hope that we can have a sober, non mind-killing discussion about this topic, since it’s possibly quite important.
For the past two years, the only place I ate meat was at home with my family. As of October 2012, I've finally stopped eating meat altogether and can't see a reason why I would want to go back to eating meat. This kind of attitude toward eating is commonly classified as "vegetarianism" where one refrains from eating the flesh of all animals, including fish, but still will consume animal products like eggs and milk (though I try to avoid egg as best I can).
Why might I want to do this? And why might I see it as a serious issue? It's because I'm very concerned about the reality of suffering done to our "food animals" in the process of making them into meat, because I see vegetarianism as a way to reduce this suffering by stopping the harmful process, and because vegetarianism has not been hard at all for me to accomplish.
Animals Can Suffer
Back in the 1600s, Réné Descartes thought nonhuman animals were soulless automatons that could respond to their environment and react to stimuli, but could not feel anything — humans were the only species that were truly conscious. Descartes hit on an important point — since feelings are completely internal to the animal doing the feeling, it is impossible to demonstrate that anyone is truly conscious.
However, when it comes to humans, we don’t let that stop us from assuming other people feel pain. When we jab a person with a needle, no matter who they are, where they come from, or what they look like, they share a rather universal reaction of what we consider to be evidence of pain. We also extend this to our pets — we make great strides to avoid harming kittens, puppies, or other companion animals, and no one would want to kick a puppy or light a kitten on fire just because their consciousness cannot be directly observed. That’s why we even go as far as having laws against animal cruelty.
The animals we eat are no different. Pigs, chickens, cows, and fish all have incredibly analogous responses to stimuli that we would normally agree cause pain to humans and pets. Jab a pig with a needle, kick a chicken, or light a cow on fire, and they will react aversively like any cat, dog, horse, or human.
But we don't need to rely on just our intuition -- instead, we can look at the science. Animal scientists Temple Grandin and Mark Deesing conclude that "[o]ur review of the literature on frontal cortex development enables us to conclude that all mammals, including rats, have a sufficiently developed prefrontal cortex to suffer from pain". An interview of seven different scientists concludes that animals can suffer.
Dr. Jane Goodall, famous for having studied animals, writes in her introduction to The Inner World of Farm Animals that "farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear, and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined…they are individuals in their own right." Farm Sanctuary, an animal welfare organization, has a good overview documenting this research on animal emotion.
Lastly, among much other evidence, in the "Cambridge Declaration On Consciousness", prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists states:
Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.
Factory Farming Causes Considerable Suffering
However, the fact that animals can suffer is just one piece of the picture; we next have to establish that animals do suffer as a result of people eating meat. Honestly, this is easier shown than told -- there's an extremely harrowing and shocking 11-minute video about the cruelty available. Watching that video is perhaps the easiest way to see the suffering of nonhuman animals first hand in these "factory farms".
In making the case clear, Vegan Outreach writes "Many people believe that animals raised for food must be treated well because sick or dead animals would be of no use to agribusiness. This is not true."
They then go on to document, with sources, how virtually all birds raised for food are from factory farms where "resulting ammonia levels [from densely populated sheds and accumulated waste] commonly cause painful burns to the birds' skin, eyes, and respiratory tracts" and how hens "become immobilized and die of asphyxiation or dehydration", having been "[p]acked in cages (usually less than half a square foot of floor space per bird)". In fact, 137 million chickens suffer to death each year before they can even make it to slaughter -- more than the number of animals killed for fur, in shelters and in laboratories combined!
Farm Sanctuary also provides an excellent overview of the cruelty of factory farming, writing "Animals on factory farms are regarded as commodities to be exploited for profit. They undergo painful mutilations and are bred to grow unnaturally fast and large for the purpose of maximizing meat, egg, and milk production for the food industry."
It seems clear that factory farming practices are truly deplorable, and certainly are not worth the benefit of eating a slightly tastier meal. In "An Animal's Place", Michael Pollan writes:
To visit a modern CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) is to enter a world that, for all its technological sophistication, is still designed according to Cartesian principles: animals are machines incapable of feeling pain. Since no thinking person can possibly believe this any more, industrial animal agriculture depends on a suspension of disbelief on the part of the people who operate it and a willingness to avert your eyes on the part of everyone else.
Vegetarianism Can Make a Difference
Many people see the staggering amount of suffering in factory farms, and if they don't aim to dismiss it outright will say that there's no way they can make a difference by changing their eating habits. However, this is certainly not the case!
How Many Would Be Saved?
Drawing from the 2010 Livestock Slaughter Animal Summary and the Poultry Slaughter Animal Summary, 9.1 billion land animals are either grown in the US or imported (94% of which are chickens!), 1.6 billion are exported, and 631 million die before anyone can eat them, leaving 8.1 billion land animals for US consumption each year.
A naïve average would divide this total among the population of the US, which is 311 million, assigning 26 land animals for each person's annual consumption. Thus, by being vegetarian, you are saving 26 land animals a year you would have otherwise eaten. And this doesn't even count fish, which could be quite high given how many fish need to be grown just to be fed to bigger fish!
Yet, this is not quite true. It's important to note that supply and demand aren't perfectly linear. If you reduce your demand for meat, the suppliers will react by lowering the price of meat a little bit, making it so more people can buy it. Since chickens dominate the meat market, we'll adjust by the supply elasticity of chickens, which is 0.22 and the demand elasticity of chickens, which is -0.52, and calculate the change in supply, which is 0.3. Taking this multiplier, it's more accurate to say you're saving 7.8 land animals a year or more. Though, there are a lot of complex considerations in calculating elasticity, so we should take this figure to have some uncertainty.
One might critique this response by responding that since meat is often bought in bulk, reducing meat consumption won't affect the amount of meat bought, and thus the suffering will still be the same, except with meat gone to waste. However, this ignores the effect of many different vegetarians acting together.
Imagine that you're supermarket buys cases of 200 chicken wings. It would thus take 200 people together to agree to buy 1 less wing in order for the supermarket to buy less wings. However, you have no idea if you're vegetarian #1 or vegetarian #56 or vegetarian #200, making the tipping point for 200 less wings to be bought. You thus can estimate that by buying one less wing you have a 1 in 200 chance of reducing 200 wings, which is equivalent to reducing the supply by one wing. So the effect basically cancels out. See here or here for more.
Every time you buy factory farmed meat, you are creating demand for that product, essentially saying "Thank you, I liked what you are doing and want to encourage you to do it more". By eating less meat, we can stop our support of this industry.
Vegetarianism Is Easier Than You Think
So nonhuman animals can suffer and do suffer in factory farms, and we can help stop this suffering by eating less meat. I know people who get this far, but then stop and say that, as much as they would like to, there's no way they could be a vegetarian because they like meat too much! However, such a joy for meat shouldn't count much compared to the massive suffering each animal undergoes just to be farmed -- imagine if someone wouldn't stop eating your pet just because they like eating your pet so much!
This is less than a problem than you might think, because being a vegetarian is really easy. Most people only think about what they would have to give up and how good it tastes, and don't think about what tasty things they could eat instead that have no meat in them. When I first decided to be a vegetarian, I simply switched from tasty hamburgers to tasty veggieburgers and there was no problem at all.
To those who say that vegetarianism is too hard, I’d like to simply challenge you to just try it for a few days. Feel free to give up afterward if you find it too hard. But I imagine that you should do just fine, find great replacements, and be able to save animals from suffering in the process.
If reducing suffering is one of your goals, there’s no reason why you must either be a die-hard meat eater or a die-hard vegetarian. Instead, feel free to explore some middle ground. You could be a vegetarian on weekdays but eat meat on weekends, or just try Meatless Mondays, or simply try to eat less meat. You could try to eat bigger animals like cows instead of fish or chicken, thus getting the same amount of meat with significantly less suffering.
-(This was also cross-posted on my blog.)
As someone who agrees with (almost) everything you wrote above, I fear that you haven't seriously addressed what I take to be any of the best arguments against vegetarianism, which are:
Present Triviality. Becoming a vegetarian is at least a minor inconvenience — it restricts your social activities, forces you to devote extra resources to keeping yourself healthy, etc. If you're an Effective Altruist, then your time, money, and mental energy would be much better spent on directly impacting society than on changing your personal behavior. Even minor inconveniences and attention drains will be a net negative. So you should tell everyone else (outside of EA) to be a vegetarian, but not be one yourself.
Future Triviality. Meanwhile, almost all potential suffering and well-being lies in the distant future; that is, even if we have only a small chance of expanding to the stars, the aggregate value for that vast sum of life dwarfs that of the present. So we should invest everything we have into making it as likely as possible that humans and non-humans will thrive in the distant future, e.g., by making Friendly AI that values non-human suffering. Even minor distractions from that goal a
How about becoming a mostly vegetarian? Avoid eating meat... unless it would be really inconvenient to do so.
Depending on your specific situations, perhaps you could reduce your meat consumption by 50%, which from the utilitarian viewpoint is 50% as good as becoming a full vegetarian. And the costs are trivial.
This is what I am doing recently, and it works well for me. For example, if I have a lunch menu, by default I read the vegetarian option first, and I choose otherwise only if it is something I dislike (or if it contains sugar), which is maybe 20% of cases. The only difficult thing was to do it for the first week, then it works automatically; it is actually easier than reading the full list and deciding between similar options.
1) This is indeed an important consideration, although I think for most people the inconveniences would only present themselves during the transition phase. Once you get used to it sufficiently and if you live somewhere with lots of tasty veg*an food options, it might not be a problem anymore. Also, in the social context, being a vegetarian can be a good conversation starter which one can use to steer the conversation towards whatever ethical issues one considers most important. ("I'm not just concerned about personal purity, I also want to actively prevent suffering. For instance...")
I suspect paying others to go veg*an for you might indeed be more effective, but especially for people who serve as social role models, personal choices may be very important as well, up to the point of being dominant.
2) Yeah but how is the AI going to care about non-human suffering if few humans (and, it seems to me, few people working on fAI) take it seriously?
3)-5) These are reasons for some probabilistic discounting, and then the question becomes whether it's significant enough. They don't strike me as too strong but this is worthy of discussion. Personally I never found 4. convincing at all but I'm curious as to whether people have arguments for this type of position that I'm not yet aware of.
It doesn't need to depend on people's dietary habits directly. A lot of people think animals count at least somewhat, but they might be too prone to rationalizing objections and too lazy to draw any significant practical conclusions from that. However, if those people were presented with a political initiative that replaces animal products by plant-based options that are just as good/healthy/whatever, then a lot of them would hopefully vote for it. In that sense, raising awareness for the issue, even if behavioral change is slow, may already be an important improvement to the meme-pool. Whatever utility functions society as a whole or those in power eventually decide to implement, is seems that this to at least some extent depends on the values of currently existing people (and especially people with high potential for becoming influential at some time in the future). This is why I consider anti-speciesist value spreading a contender for top priority.
I actually don't object to animals being killed, I'm just concerned about their suffering. But I suspect lots of people would object, so if it isn't too expensive, why not just take care of those animals that already exist and let the... (read more)
I think the word "pain" is misleading. What I care about precisely is suffering, defined as a conscious state a being wants to get out of. If you don't dislike it and don't have an urge to make it stop, it's not suffering. This is also why I think the "pain" of people with pain asymbolia is not morally bad.
Here is a thought experiment. Suppose that explorers arrive in a previously unknown area of the Amazon, where a strange tribe exists. The tribe suffers from a rare genetic anomaly, whereby all of its individuals are physically and cognitively stuck at the age of 3.
They laugh and they cry. They love and they hate. But they have no capacity for complex planning, or normative sophistication. So they live their lives as young children do -- on a moment to moment basis -- and they have no hope for ever developing beyond that.
If the explorers took these gentle creatures and murdered them -- for science, for food, or for fun -- would we say, "Oh but those children are not so intelligent, so the violence is ok." Or would we be even more horrified by the violence, precisely because the children had no capacity to fend for themselves?
I would submit that the argument against animal exploitation is even stronger than the argument against violence in this thought experiment, because we could be quite confident that whatever awareness these children had, it was "less than" what a normal human has. We are comparing the same species after all, and presumably whatever the Amazo... (read more)
This is a variant of the argument from marginal cases: if there is some quality that makes you count morally, and we can find some example humans (ex: 3 year olds) that have less of that quality than some animals, what do we do?
I'm very sure than an 8 year old human counts morally and that a chicken does not, and while I'm not very clear on where along that spectrum the quality I care about starts getting up to levels where it matters, I think it's probably something no or almost no animals have and some humans don't have. Making this distinction among humans, however, would be incredibly socially destructive, especially given how unsure I am about where the line should go, and so I think we end up with a much better society if we treat all humans as morally equal. This means I end up saying things like "value all humans equally; don't value animals" when that's not my real distinction, just the closest schelling point).
You're right it might have been good to answer these in the core essay.
I disagree that being a vegetarian is an inconvenience. I haven't found my social activities restricted in any non-trivial way and being healthy has been just as easy/hard as when eating meat. It does not drain my attention from other EA activities.
I agree with this in principle, but again don't think vegetarianism is a stop from that. Certainly removing factory farming is a small win compared to successful star colonization, but I don't think there's much we can do now to ensure successful colonization, while there is stuff we can do now to ensure factory farming elimination.
It need not, which is what makes consciousness thorny. I don't think there is a tidy resolution to this problem. We'll have to take our best guess, and that involves thinking nonhuman animals suffer. ... (read more)
Your points (1) and (2) seem like fully general counterarguments against any activity at all, other than the single most effective activity at any given time. I do agree with you that future suffering could potentially greatly outweigh present suffering, and I think it's very important to try to prevent future suffering of non-human animals. However, it seems that one of the best ways to do that is to encourage others to care more for the welfare of non-human animals, i.e. become veg*ans.
Perhaps more importantly, it makes sense from a psychological perspective to become a veg*an if you care about non-human animals. It seems that if I ate meat, cognitive dissonance would make it much harder for me to make an effort to prevent non-human suffering on a broader scale.
(4): Although I see no way to falsify this belief, I also don't see any reason to believe that it's true. Furthermore, it runs counter to my intuitions. Are profoundly mentally disabled humans incapable of "true" suffering?
(5): Humans and non-human animals evolved in the same way, so it strikes me as highly implausible that humans would be capable of suffering while all non-humans would lack this capacity.
I think it's fairly clear that a farm chicken's life is well below that threshold. If I had the choice between losing consciousness for an hour or spending an hour as a chicken on a factory farm, I would definitely choose the former.
Ninja Edit: I think a lot of people have poor intuitions when comparing life to non-life because our brains are wired to strongly shy away from non-life. That's why the example I gave above used temporary loss of consciousness rather than death. Even if you don't buy the above example, I think it's possible to see that factory-farmed life is worse than death. This article discussed how doctors--the people most familiar with medical treatment--frequently choose to die sooner rather than attempt to prolong their lives when they know they will suffer greatly in their last days. It seems that life on a factory farm would entail much more suffering than death by a common illness.
My other comment was downvoted below the troll level, so I'll ask here. Suppose we found a morphine-like drug which effectively and provably wireheads chickens to be happy with their living conditions, and with no side effects for humans consuming the meat. Would that answer your arguments about suffering?
I'd be happy with that.
Until we do, I'm not eating meat.
Personally, my issues with eating meat are at least as much about ecological concerns as humane ones, but I would definitely be in favor of eating vat meat which can be cultured with minimal ecological impact.
This is not at all an unrealistic possibility. It probably will be via gene knockout rather than a drug injection, if it happens. See Adam Shriver, "Knocking Out Pain in Livestock: Can Technology Succeed Where Morality Has Stalled?"
If this doesn't happen, it will probably be either because lab-grown meat ended up being cheaper to mass-produce, or because the people strongly pushing for animal rights were too squeamish to recognize the value of this option.
My brain really, really, really wanted to read "knee jerky" there.
I wonder about my brain sometimes.
This is a silly strawman, but I'll respond anyway, because why not.
The difference is that we (well, not me, but the OP and people who agree with him) only care about chickens to the extent that they are (allegedly) suffering, and we think it's not ok for them to suffer. On the other hand, we think that NON-WHITE PEOPLE (just like WHITE PEOPLE) have the right of self-determination, that it's wrong to forcibly modify their minds, etc.
My interesting perspective is that I raise Scottish Highland cattle and keep my own back yard chicken coop and also enjoy the company of my family pets. I am also finding my self more and more sympathetic to the sentiments and reasoning of the vegan position when it comes to food politics.
My animals feel and interact socially. They have personal, unique characters - Yes, even the chickens. They display emotions, trust, empathize, grieve... They are fellow beings deserving of our care and compassion[.]
My 2000 lb bull likes to nuzzle and enjoys being brushed. If any of the bovines in my care see me with a pail they anticipate a treat of grains and will come at a run. They will come when called and some even know their names. They enjoy nice grass fed open pastures and woods and clean water and shelter and even protection from predators so that i am quite confident that they have a better quality of life than the wild deer in the neighborhood.
My dogs, similarly have a better life than the wild koyotes. The chickens have it pretty good too in their nursing home (coop) for aged chickens not providing their eggs part of the bargain any more - another story.
But... The kind of farming i a... (read more)
Incidental: I don't care unusually much about evangelizing vegetarianism, but I happen to like to talk about food and most of what I know about it is vegetarianism-specialized, so if people are curious about practicalities I am happy to answer questions about what vegetarians eat and how it can be yummy.
Not to knock pasta (and I recommend my signature sauce, as well as putting artichokes through the blender and adding them to cream sauces for pasta), but I'm more of a soup fan. Bean soup, veggie soup (here's one way to do veggie soup), eggdrop soup, chowder (clam if you eat seafood, broccoli or corn if you don't), polenta leaf soup, miso soup.
There's also more things you can put in sandwiches besides mushrooms. I like Tofurkey, but even if you don't, here are things I put on bread (all of these things include cheese, but you could omit it if you aren't a huge fan of cheese):
In most of the above cases I make the sandwiches open-faced, and fry them in butter to crisp them up (the last I put in the toaster oven with olive oil, and add the basil and mozzarella after they come out toasty... (read more)
This essay's thesis is that we should eat less meat, but its evidence is only that factory-farmed meat is a problem.
Most (but not all) of the meat I eat is not factory-farmed. The coop where I buy my meat says (pdf) that it buys only "humanely and sustainably raised" meat and poultry ... from animals that are free to range on chemical-free pastures, raised on a grass-based diet with quality grain used only as necessary, never given hormones and produced and processed by small-scale farmers." (For eggs, the coop does offer less-humane options, but I only buy the most-humane ones).
I might stop eating most of the factory-farmed meat that I eat. It would simply mean never eating out at non-frou-frou places. The exception would be dealing with non-local family (for local family, I could simply bring meat from the coop to share).
That said, it's hard to know when a restaurant is serving humanely raised meat. It seems like it would be nice to have a site where I could type in a restaurant's name, and find out who their suppliers are and what standards they adhere to. For the vast majority of restaurants, the answer would be that they just don't care. But, at least in... (read more)
The shareholders of Niman Ranch voted to reduce their standards to increase profits. As a result, Bill Niman (who originally founded the company) now refuses to eat their products, Wikipedia has more
I only think factory-farmed meat is the problem. I use "eat less meat" as a shorthand, since nearly all meat is factory-farmed meat.
I definitely agree it's better to buy "humanely raised" meat and poultry than not "humanely raised" meat/poultry. And perhaps you have found a trustworthy source.
But be careful of why I put "humanely raised" in quotes -- many such operations are not actually humane. Cage-free is much better than not cage-free, but conditions are still pretty bad. Free-range is better than not free-range, but just legally requires the animal be allowed to stay outside. There are no legal restrictions on the quality of the outside section, how long they can stay outside, or crowding. Vegan Outreach has more information.
That sounds like an excellent idea!
I was going to ask what you thought about http://www.certifiedhumane.com/ but it is completely fucking useless: "The Animal Care Standards for Chickens Used in Broiler Production do not require that chickens have access to range." So nevermind.
So instead I'll ask why a meaningful set of standards doesn't exist. http://www.globalanimalpartnership.org/ Step 5, maybe? Their web site sucks, because it doesn't give me a searchable list of products, but maybe they just need some help.
Anyway, this seems like it would be a way more effective thing for EAA to do than just about anything else -- I bet lots more people would be willing to pay more for meat, than would be convinceable to eat less meat directly.
Modern farming techniques are designed to minimize labor, especially managerial labor, not energy.
Factory-farmed animals don't eat grass. This is a really important detail.
I don't quite understand in which meaning is the word "save" used here.
It seems to me that an equivalent statement would be "After a short period of adjustment, you being a vegetarian would result in 26 land animals not existing any more (as in, not being born)".
In the ultimate case of everyone becoming a full vegetarian, domestic animals raised for meat would become endangered species in danger of extinction. I don't think it counts as "saving".
I agree with you on the technicality-it's a weird use of the word "save". Philosophically I agree with the original poster. As an individual who can suffer, I would prefer to not exist (edit: not have existed in the first place) than to live my life in a factory farm.
I appreciate you making this post, peter_hurford (though I admit I skipped over the parts about vegetarianism's effectiveness and easiness, as those are not the parts of the argument I am interested in). However, I'm afraid that (as far as my objection to your view goes), your argument entirely begs the question.
You open with seemingly the following logic:
(1) We care about suffering.
(2) Animals can suffer.
(3) Animals do suffer.
(4) We can prevent animal suffering.
(5) By (1) and (4), we should prevent animal suffering.
But such a formulation leaves out some i... (read more)
Thank you for writing this. For future reference, I am much more convinced by arguments that animals suffer in a way that is similar to how humans suffer (e.g. in a way that, if I saw it, would activate the same neurons in my head that activate when I see a human suffer) than by arguments that animals suffer in some more abstract sense, and I expect that I'm not alone in this preference.
I've been eating less meat lately for a reason that has nothing directly to do with animal suffering. Rather I have been experimenting with a lifestyle of nutrient powders, aka DIY Soylent, to substitute for meals. The recipe I settled on happened to be vegan, since it uses soy powder as the main protein source. One could substitute whey (the main Soylent is whey based) or meat based protein, however I am thus far happy with the taste and effects of the soy version.
Anyway, I don't know how widely this practice is likely to spread. It makes remarkable sense... (read more)
If dogs & cats were raised specifically to be eaten & not involved socially in our lives as if they were members of the family, I don't think I'd care about them any more than I care about chickens or cows.
This article seems to assume that I oppose all suffering everywhere, which I'm not sure is true. Getting caught stealing causes suffering to the thief and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I care about chickens & cows significantly less than I care about thieves because thieves are at least human.
I care about animal suffering in the same sense I care about dust specks not getting into my eye - if I'd be otherwise indifferent, I'd rather not have it, but it's very easily outweighed, in this case by the taste of animals. To the extent that factory farming causes meat to be cheaper, I welcome it. Why should I be a vegetarian?
Thanks for posting this Peter. I've found it hard to find an action with a higher benefit/cost ratio than ordering a bean burrito instead of a chicken one, and I'm interested to see what others have to say on the subject.
Is this sentence missing words? Should be "more than the number of ...", I assume?
Don't farmers kill huge numbers of animals when they grow food because of tractors running over animals or from chemicals designed to kill animals that would otherwise eat the grown food? I suspect that most of the marginal animal suffering arising from my eating steak comes from the production of the food used to feed the cow.
This is a great point, and was advanced by Steven Davis, who claimed that eating grass-fed cows would cause fewer deaths than being vegetarian. Matheny however found an error in his calculation - you can see the paper for full details, but the short version is that veg diets cause much less harm.
Your karma is -146 now. Weren't you going to declare victory and leave at -100?
Starting from the perspective that the best way to cause a behavior change is to convince System 1 of something rather than System 2, one strategy for convincing people that they should care about animal suffering is to provide more opportunities for them to interact with non-pet animals in a substantial way (so not at a zoo). I have essentially no direct experience with animals other than cats, dogs, and the like.
Idea: if you're very interested in promoting veganism or vegitarianism, help make it taste better, or invest in or donate to those who are helping make it taste better. As my other much-downvoted comment showed, I am very skeptical that appeals to altruism will have nearly as much of an affect as appeals to self-interest, especially outside of this community. I believe most people eat meat because it just tastes better than their alternatives.
Grown crops are far more efficient to produce than livestock, so there are plenty of other good reasons to transiti... (read more)
By the way, for everyone who's interested in convincing people that animals suffer and that animal suffering is morally relevant, I recommend reading (and quoting to people) Stanislaw Lem's short story "The Seventh Sally, or How Trurl's Own Perfection Led to No Good". I found it to be possibly the most emotionally and logically salient argument for the "suffering matters, no matter what sort" position I've ever read. Here's the most relevant passage (Klapaucius's reply to Trurl arguing that his creations are mere simulacra, and so are n... (read more)
Ignoring economic/environmental cost, how many chickens would you create and breed into factory-farming suffering, in exchange for one additional QALY? That is, you wouldn't make the trade unless it took fewer than this number of farmed chickens.
(answers may be very small (less than 1) if you value avoiding chicken suffering more than healthy human life-years) or even negative if you'd give up human lives to create more suffering chickens.
(If you think factory-farmed chickens have lives worth creating, please don't answer the poll, as your answ... (read more)
A question I have is how to evaluate the morality of the two options:
If everyone went vegetarian, the animal population would likely be greatly diminished and it isn't obvious to me that I'd choose option B over option A if I were on the menu. Are there some standard objections to the idea that option A is better than option B?
One quick objection might be that it proves too much. If John Beatmykids told me he wouldn't... (read more)
Indeed so. Factory-farmed nonhuman animals are debeaked, tail-docked, castrated (etc) to prevent them from mutilating themselves and each other. Self-mutilitary behaviour in particular suggests an extraordinarily severe level of chronic distress. Compare how desperate human beings must be before we self-mutilate. A meat-eater can (correctly) respond that the behavioural and neuroscientific evidence that factory-farmed animals suffer a lot is merely suggestive, not conclusive. But we're not trying to defeat philosophical scepticism, just act on the best available evidence. Humans who persuade ourselves that factory-farmed animals are happy are simply kidding ourselves - we're trying to rationalise the ethically indefensible.
Not sure if this has been linked before. Some quotes:... (read more)
As a mostly-vegetarian person myself, I find this article's primary moral point very unconvincing.
Yes, factory farms are terrible, and we should make them illegal. But not all meat is raised on factory farms. Chickens and cattle who are raised ethically (which can still produce decent yields, though obviously less than factory farms) have lower levels of stress hormones than comparable wild animals. We can't measure happiness directly in these low-light animals, but stress hormones are a very good analogue for an enjoyable life, and we know that high le... (read more)
People who say that vegetarianism is too hard generally don't mean that being too hard is the only reason they won't do it.
This appears to be an argument for buying ethically raised meats instead of factory farmed meats, not an argument for never eating meat.
Consider the two groups of animals.
Group A consists of factory farmed animals which suffer a total of X units of pain in their lives. Group B consists of animals in the wild that also suffer a total of X units of pain in their lives*
We could try to reduce suffering by preventing Group A's existence (your suggestion), or we could try to reduce suffering by preventing Group B's existence. Ignoring convenience why should we choose your option?
*I used the groups so as to address the fact that the individual animals may suffer different amounts.
The general consensus is that at this stage, it's most important to raise awareness about wild animal suffering so future generations are likely to do something about the issue. This is done by spreading anti-speciesism and by countering the view that whatever is natural is somehow good or that nature "has a plan". It seems especially important to try to change the paradigm in ecology and conservation biology in order to focus more attention on the largest source of suffering on the planet. Some altruists also focus on this issue because of concerns about space colonisation, for instance, future humans might want to colonise the universe with Darwinian life or do ancestor simulations, which would be very bad from an anti-speciesist point of view.
Some imagined long-term solutions for the problem of wild animal suffering range from a welfare state for elephants to reprogramming predators to reducing biomass, but right now people are mainly trying to raise awareness for more intuitive interventions such as vaccinating wild animals against diseases (which is already done in some cases for the benefit of humans), not reintroducing predators to regions for human aesthetic re... (read more)
I tried it in my youth but due to being a picky eater and not really planning it well, the doctor told my parents to give me more meat after I became anemic.
I'm interested in starting it up again in the future, when I learn a bit more about cooking and everything.
The weird thing is that I already ignore almost all meats most of the time (I pretty much eat only fish) so I don't know how going the extra mile and cutting them out completely could have much of an effect...
You know those Chick-fil-A advertisements with the cows beseeching you to eat more chicken? The ironic thing is, if you eat more chickens, there will actually be more chickens in the world, and if you eat fewer cows, there will be fewer cows in the world. It's just supply and demand. The survival of cows and chickens is controlled by the farmers, who are profit-oriented. If it stops being profitable to raise cows for the slaughter, then cows won't be raised at all.
Or consider this: suppose everyone in the world right now switches to vegetarianism. All the ... (read more)
I really don't get it. Why should I care about any suffering at all, in the first place? upd: Life is absurd and everybody dies, y'know?
I admit to being perplexed by this and some other pro-altruism posts on LW. If we're trying to be rationalists, shouldn't we come out and say: "I don't often care about other's suffering, especially of those people I don't know personally, but I do try and signal that I care because this signaling benefits me. Sometimes this signaling benefits others too, which is nice".
I agree everyone likely benefits from a society structured to reward altruism. We all might be in need of altruism one day. But there seems to be a disconnect between the prose of... (read more)
That's, um, not a general rationalist belief.
Remember the evolutionary-cognitive boundary. "We have evolved behaviors whose function is to signal altruism rather than to genuinely cause altruistic behavior" is not the same thing as "we act kind-of-altruistically because consciously or unconsciously expect it to signal favorable things about us".
If you realize that evolution has programmed you to do something for some purpose, then embracing that evolutionary goal is certainly one possibility. But you can also decide that you genuinely care about some other purpose, and use the knowledge about yourself to figure out how to put yourself in situations which promote the kind of purpose that you prefer. Maybe I know that status benefits cause me to more reliably take altruistic action than rational calculation about altruism does, so I seek to put myself in communities where rationally calculating the most altruistic course of action and then taking that action is high status. And I also try to make this more high status in general, so that even... (read more)
Obtaining optimal health is an unsolved problem. With optimal health, a human will live longer. This human weights probably sentient life as worth more than probably non-sentient life. According to this human's values, the amount of probably non-sentient life this human must consume in order to obtain optimal health does not justify consumption in and of itself. As a human will live longer with optimal health, this human also has more time they can devote to offsetting their consumption, in the end making their human life worth more in net than the cum... (read more)