Showing posts with the label animal rights

Democracy and Altruism (Toward Non-Voters)

Does democracy help people who don't get to vote? Democracy has a strong track record of peace and prosperity, but it's not obvious that it would help those who, as a class, do not participate in the political process, such as future generations and nonhuman animals. Two nice economics experiments suggest that democracy may help those who don't vote. (Specifically, elections help relative to everyone deciding for themselves.) The first is Hauser et al. (2014), "Cooperating with the Future" (I'm working with the first author on a new project): What mechanisms can maintain cooperation with the future? To answer this question, we devise a new experimental paradigm, the ‘Intergenerational Goods Game’. A line-up of successive groups (generations) can each either extract a resource to exhaustion or leave something for the next group. Exhausting the resource maximizes the payoff for the present generation, but leaves all future generations empty-handed. Here we show


Why did Lucas and I split our donations, as I discussed in my post last week ? To some people this might be a dumb question—why not split? In fact I think it's generally best to allocate everything to the highest-impact option. See here , here , and  here  for arguments as to why, but essentially you can think of it in this way. If you're donating for altruistic reasons, you're trying to improve others' wellbeing. The first dollar and the last dollar you donate shouldn't have different effects unless you give a large amount of money, so large that the organization receiving it has less use for the last dollar than the first. Nevertheless, we split our donations this year, as he and I have in the past. I think in the past my donation-splitting was somewhat driven by making myself feel good. This year, though, I thought through it more, and I figured my reasoning could be helpful to others. 1. We donated to Animal Charity Evaluators and Mercy for Animals in the spir

Donor-Advised Fund: First Donations!

When we got married, Lucas and I set up a donor-advised fund. We did this because we plan to donate a large portion of our lifetime earnings, and we think that to a first-order approximation, it's best to save and donate later. (See Phil Trammell's persuasive argument for this in paper form  or on the 80,000 Hours podcast .) Nevertheless, we plan to donate a portion of our projected lifetime earnings each year, around 1% or so. This is essentially because of a mix of diminishing returns and the small chance that now could be an exceptionally important time. In line with that, we made our first grants from our donor-advised fund this year, and some donations that would have come from it except that we donated directly on Facebook to try to get matched. (We'll see what happens on that score.) I'm excited to announce our donations and encourage others to support these excellent organizations! First, we made an unusual donation for us to the Register 2 Vote fund at Block Po

Who Supports Animal Rights?

There's a new paper out by political scientists on support for animal rights. It's in line with most of the data I'd seen but bears repeating. High correlations with support for human rights and being female, and not much of a connection with wealth, but if anything wealthy people are less supportive of animal rights. The abstract: In this article, we empirically test explanations for variation in support for animal rights at the individual level and across the United States. We draw on a combination of national public opinion surveys and cross-sectional data on animal rights laws from the fifty US states. We find a strong connection between recognition of human rights and animal rights both at the individual attitude level and at the US state policy level. Our results demonstrate that support for animal rights strongly links to support for disadvantaged or marginalized human populations, including LGBT groups, racial minorities, undocumented immigrants, and the poor.

Want to Save the World? Enter the Priesthood

Effective altruism is now spending a great deal of time on improving prospects for the future. This is chiefly by avoiding extinction risks , but there are other strategies as well, e.g. moral circle expansion . In any case changing institutions looks like a promising way to improve the world. What are the longest-lasting institutions in the world? Certainly high among them is religion.  For this reason, it seems to me that expanding religions' moral circles (especially old religions with a tendency to grow) is a highly-neglected strategy for improving the world. I've seen posts in effective altruism (e.g. this one ) about outreach to religious groups, but I always saw them as a sort of diversity and inclusivity message: to grow a movement, you need to welcome all sorts of people. It's important to welcome and include people, of course, but this seems to be dramatically underselling the prominence of religion in virtually every society. The Catholic Church is around

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

NOTE: I would like to clarify that the post below and the published paper show that a result from 1995 does not hold, but they do NOT make the case for the 1995 model being correct. There are many reasons the models in both papers are likely to be deeply flawed: path dependency, dynamic ecosystems, philosophical problems with the definition of suffering and enjoyment, and so on. The primary point here is to treat the 1995 result and other work on wild animal suffering with caution. 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 wa

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 attrac

The Groffscars ("Oscars") of 2017

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 (an d 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?) 

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?

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 fiancĂ© 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 Jedi s and Finding Dory s of the world that really carry the day for animal rights. Fiction, in fact, is a powerful way to incre

Why I am Donating to Wild Animal Suffering Research

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 . 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.  

Things I've Changed My Mind on This Year:

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 Superintelligence and 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 act