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Showing posts with the label animal rights

How Much Do Wild Animals Suffer? A Foundational Result on the Question is Wrong.

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In 1995, Yew-Kwang Ng wrote a groundbreaking paper, "Towards welfare biology: Evolutionary economics of animal consciousness and suffering" that explored the novel question of the wellbeing of wild animals as distinct from the conservation of species. As perceptive as it was innovative, the paper proposed a number of axioms about evolution and consciousness to study which animals are sentient, what their experiences are, and what might be done about it.

Among the many results in the paper was the Buddhist Premise, which stated that under reasonable conditions, suffering should exceed enjoyment for the average wild animal. The finding matches the intuitions of many people who have thought about the issue and concluded that nature is "red in tooth and claw" in Alfred, Lord Tennyson's phrase. As it turns out, though, this "evolutionary economics" argument is wrong. This week, Ng and I published a new paper showing that the original "Buddhist Premise&…

Am I an Internet Person?

I was thinking about online polarization the other day and anti-elite sentiment, and I realized that despite what I'd like to believe, I'm an exhibit in the power of the internet. I often sympathize with the people termed "elites" — not financial elites, but academics and in many cases the media and mainstream but progressive politicians. So in this age of Brexit and Trump and Yellow Vests I've been inclined to think I'm not one of the anti-elite members of the public...

Until I thought about my views on animals and how I think what's happening to animals is a moral crisis of the first order. I've had these concerns since early on in college, but it did not dominate my thinking back then. Today, I see what's happening to animals as of overwhelming importance. (I've also come to be strongly aware of moral obligations to help others, the long-term future, and rationality, but those are perhaps less political and certainly less clearcut.) How did …

A Funny Thing Happened While Selling Cory Booker to Vegans

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Last Friday I wrote a post in support of Cory Booker's presidency. The main audience was animal advocates, though I also aimed it at the general public and wrote about a number of his policies and politics that I think recommend him.

My original version of the post included a section that I decided to delete. In the deleted section, I predicted that a lot of people concerned with animals would immediately dismiss the first true animal advocate running for president based on other stances, something they would never do for human issues. It's striking to me how accurate my predictions are, so I thought it was worth sharing what I removed from the post, which I think underlines a problem not only among vegans but also on the left in general: that there is a socially-enforced ranking of issues that nearly everyone follows at the end of the day and that has little explicit justification.

The note is below the line.

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I anticipate some on the vegan internet accus…

Booker 2020

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Cory Booker announced his presidential bid. I'm going to sign up to volunteer with his campaign as soon as it's possible, and I think he’s the candidate worth supporting. Here's why:

Trump has made clear that he intends to further incite white voters in 2020 with racist appeals, and so far Democrats don’t have a great idea how to combat it. One idea is to do the same thing on the left and try to use equally angry rhetoric, and I think this could work, but it's not the best bet because (a) Trump isn’t actually that popular, he’s just a puzzle in his extreme political tactics; (b) left-leaning voters are just not as angry or hateful; (c) the blue coalition is very mixed and hard to unify as a singular group. Also, even if it works, it's probably better to go with a positive message for the long-term health of American politics.

It seems to me that there are two things that may work. First, representing underrepresented voters most affected by Trump. Second, crafting a …

On Animal Charity Evaluators' Review of the Save Movement

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There’s been a back and forth for the past few years about Animal Charity Evaluators’ research, and I have sympathized, in most cases, with both camps. As I’ve said before I have tremendous respect for ACE. I think their promotion of impact and evidence has greatly benefited the movement, and some of the subsidiary conclusions, that we should focus on farmed animals or that we should think about counterfactuals, are totally correct. At the same time, I think their research has had flaws that critics have correctly pointed out. A further reason for my support is my sense that ACE is steadily improving, and for this reason I wanted to note that I think ACE missed an opportunity to really follow its own growing body of research with its review of and decision not to recognize the Save Movement.

The Save Movement is a collection of people around the world who organize vigils at slaughterhouses to bear witness to the animals killed there. I participated with Save from around June 2017 throu…

How I'm Voting in California's Overwhelming June Primaries

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I've finished going through the June 5th California primary election for Oakland, and below are my picks. If anyone disagrees with my choices, please make your case—most of these I do not feel strongly about, and I did not have time to thoroughly research all of them.

In general, the issue I care most about is opposing or at least not supporting animal agriculture. In most cases that's irrelevant, as I could not find any relevant positions. The rare exception is incumbent Senator Dianne Feinstein, who spearheaded the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which is disqualifying. On top of that, she's historically supported mass incarceration and has buckled under to Trump until she started fearing primary challengers. Senator Feinstein deserves to lose badly. Everyone should vote for her most plausible opponent from the left, Kevin DeLeon, both now and in November. On top of that, if you can state publicly that you voted against her because of the AETA, that would be powerful.


As …

Cheers for Animal Charity Evaluators

Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) released a long-overdue report on protest effectiveness. I'm biased because I'm quoted there, but I thought I would take the occasion to note how much I think ACE has grown in the past few years. I'm tremendously grateful to ACE's founders, but when ACE started out (as "Effective Animal Advocacy"), its advice was rudimentary, based on little science, and made by a very small staff. I'm struck by the careful and nuanced conclusion the report reaches:

Overall, we would like to see the animal advocacy movement invest slightly more heavily in protests. Protests currently receive a tiny portion of the movement’s resources and, given the limited evidence we do have, it’s plausible they are at least as cost-effective as interventions that receive much more of the movement’s resources, such as leafleting. Moreover, we think that the use of protests contributes to the diversity of tactics in the movement, which can help attract a gre…

The Holocaust Analogy for Animal Agriculture Matters—And It Drives My Activism

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I can remember where I was the first time I learned that a man named Hitler had killed members of my family. It was on a hill in the Bay Area that we drove up to get to our house. I drove on it a few months ago and remembered the conversation. My great-grandfather loved me and always showed care to me in the few years I knew him, and it shocked me to learn that his brothers, sisters, and parents were murdered.

Like most Jews of my generation, I grew up with this legacy on my mind. In every history class I had that covered the 1940s, I would wonder when and how they would talk about the Holocaust. (It wasn't until high school that we did.) I did not know how the Holocaust happened until I was in fourth grade, when I overheard a friend describing how Hitler would get Jews to go into showers and then gas them. My friend clearly found it wrong, but he did not feel the outrage of if it had been done to him. I felt personal outrage. I could see that image in my head viscerally forever af…

The Groffscars ("Oscars") of 2017

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Thanks to the advent of MoviePass, I've decided to return to my high school cinephile days, and with them, a round up of the best of the year. But before I get into this, I must say, if you have not seen Black Panther yet, see it. It would rank toward the top of my list had it come out in 2017 (and surely will be one of the tops in 2018).

Without further ado, then, here are my top choices for 2017 in film:

8. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
I love Star Wars movies, and I'm not ashamed to say that the current round are worthy of recognition for their craftsmanship. This one in particular was a work of art in ways most Star Wars movies are not. The plot was complex and ever-changing, and the visuals were brilliant. I'm happy to see major Hollywood franchises–Marvel, Star Wars, etc.–start putting solid directors behind the camera to make pop entertainment into pop art. (Warner Brothers, could we fire Zack Snyder and get a real director for the Justice League movies?) Let's have mor…

The Humane Society and Sexual Harassment: Resources to Read

I thought of writing something myself in light of recent events at the Humane Society, which are reflective of deeper issues in the animal rights movement (ones that I have alternately witnessed, been a bystander to, tacitly facilitated, or spoken out against). Instead, I'm going to recommend women's writing on this subject:

“Hey Man”: Language and Bro Culture in the Animal Protection Movement

Carol Adams's Blog (Author of The Sexual Politics of Meat

VINE Sanctuary/pattrice jones's Blog

Encompass Movement

I should say, also, that I'm proud to support an entirely female or trans organization, Wild Animal Suffering Research.




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:







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 …