Posts

The Beauty of Swimming Next to Fishes

It's not often most humans encounter aquatic animals face to face (unlike domestic animals, and somewhat unlike even pigs or chickens). If we do encounter them, it's likely at the end of a fork.

Seeing fishes, sharks, and a lobster face-to-face was probably the highlight of my recent trip to Belize. You can appreciate their subjectivity in a way that's rare otherwise. Here's a video so you can experience a bit of that, too:







What I've Been Reading/Watching/Listening To

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Here are some recent things I've been following and would recommend:

Books:
1984 – It had been a while since I read this. In light of my experiences last year–the personal and the political–I dusted this off, and I am newly impressed by Orwell's world.
Infinite Jest – Apparently one of the best novels of the 21st century, this book has been enjoyable to read so far (I'm about half-way through). It's the first book I've read in a while that's an intellectual puzzle with obscure references and a counter-intuitive structure that one has to piece together.
Superforecasting – Social scientist Philip Tetlock discusses his forecasting tournaments, which set out to figure out how to predict the future–and do just that. It's both fascinating and important.

Films:
Call Me By Your Name – I loved this movie. From the music to the photography to the actors' playful banter, it's a beauty to behold.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – You've all seen this by now so why say an…

An Engagement Good for More Than Two

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Last weekend marked six months since my fiancé, Lucas Freitas, and I got engaged, and I thought it would be helpful for us to share how we (he, really) did it while keeping the event aligned with our shared values of altruism and rationality.

Lucas proposed to me in the conference hotel where we'd first met in person, just one year prior. We met at the National Animal Rights Conference in 2016, and he got down on one knee at the same tent by the pool where we'd had our first kiss.

When he offered me a beautiful ring, designed as the prairie diamond I'd gotten him when we were first dating, I was surprised and uneasy about the ring, and its potential cost, after saying yes while drowning in tears.

Jewelry had always seemed to me the essence of frivolity; the sort of expense one can commit to a charitable donation. What I didn’t realize was that Lucas researched and thought critically about the matter, and arrived at a middle ground that I believe combines a physical symbol of …

Not Everybody Feels the Same Way as Chewbacca

On Monday I commented that Star Wars: The Last Jedi may do more for animal rights than Chewbacca.

Apparently my canine companion has yet to get the message. It's a reminder that change comes in fits and spurts, not all at once:


Or maybe it's just jealousy.


Could Star Wars Do More for Animal Rights Than Cowspiracy?

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If you live on the planet Crait and haven't seen The Last Jedi yet, don't read this.The new Star Wars movie contains two moments with unsubtle animal rights messages. The first is what my fiancé Lucas is now calling the "Chewbacca goes vegan" scene. Chewbacca cannot bring himself to eat one of the adorable porgs, who strangely share an unfortunate but useful characteristic of most domestic animals: they look like babies. The second is when children liberate a bunch of horselike creatures from a cruel capitalist casino after we see the horses abused with the Star Wars version of a bull hook.

Those scenes mark Star Wars doing something Pixar is good at: giving animals both personalities and personhood, and making the audience root for them. While vegans cheer at documentaries like What the Health? and Cowspiracy, it may be the Last Jedis and Finding Dorys of the world that really carry the day for animal rights. Fiction, in fact, is a powerful way to increase empathy ac…

Why I am Donating to Wild Animal Suffering Research

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This post discusses my donations, as part of a pledge to give 10% of my monthly income to highly effective charities. To learn why thousands of people have taken the pledge and to take it, visit givingwhatwecan.org.


A dead turtle appeared on the shores of Playa Dorada in the Galapagos last month. The turtle, Benny, had died a few hours earlier, and his body was cold. Not too long ago Benny had been a baby with tiny little webbed hands and eyes that barely opened. You can see videos online of baby turtles just like Benny hatching and their little bodies moving oh-so-slowly as they meet the world for the first time. Benny had been one of them. Then he grew up and lived in the waters of the Galapagos–until one day, when he ate a jellyfish called "hielo," or ice, that poisoned him. Benny convulsed in severe pain until he suffered an abrupt death.
How did Benny die?
The species of the jellyfish that Benny eat is rapidly expanding thanks to the warming global climate.Benny could not …

Things I've Changed My Mind on This Year:

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1) The importance of artificial general intelligence:

I'd previously been dismissive of superintelligence as being something altruists should focus on, but that was in large part motivated reasoning. I read books like Superintelligenceand Global Catastrophic Risks, and I knew their theses were right initially but would not admit it to myself. With time, though I came to see that I was resisting the conclusion that superintelligence is an important priority mostly because it was uncomfortable. Now I recognize that it is potentially the most important problem and want to explore opportunities to contribute.

2) The economic argument for animal welfare reforms:

One of the reasons often given for supporting animal welfare reforms to those who want to see fewer (read: no) animals tortured for food is that welfare reforms make the industry less profitable, cutting down on the numbers of animals raised. I did not think this effect was strong enough to be worth the effort activists put into …