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Showing posts with the label animal welfare

Want to Save the World? Enter the Priesthood

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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 strategy, either to spread moral consideration for animals and future people. What are the longest-lasting institutions in the world? Certainly high among them is religion. For this reason, it seems to me that influencing religion, particularly 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 importance of religion. The Catholic Church is around 20…

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 …

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…

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…

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 …