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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 …

Is Peace the Cause of Political Polarization?

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Everybody likes to attribute bad trends to other bad trends they don't like. Liberals may say political polarization is caused by inequality, while conservatives may say it's caused by the decline in religion. Recently I've been wondering if a good trend caused a bad trend: is political polarization just a result of decades without a major war mobilization?

A lot of egalitarian reforms and social projects seem to happen during or around wartime. The U.S. abolished slavery during the Civil War, gave women the right to vote on the heels of World War I, and World War II had all sorts of social effects from racially integrated units to gay soldiers to women in factories. When I read about the history of Rome, I remember great land reforms tending to coincide with major wars. (Lex Licinia Sextia, the first major land reform, happened on the coattails of the Roman-Etruscan wars.) The idea of war triggering social egalitarianism also fits with folk psychology ideas of how people b…

Animal Welfare Reforms Are Looking Significantly Better for Animals (and Worse for Gary Francione)

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Supporters of welfare reform campaigns by animal advocacy organizations got a nice piece of evidence last month that deserves more attention than it's gotten in effective animal advocacy circles.  To cast things in sloppy strokes, a longstanding feud between "welfarists" and "abolitionists" has been over whether welfare reforms help or hurt animal agriculture. Abolitionists argue that reforms actually help the industry–if not, why would the industry adopt them? We'll probably never have a definite answer to this question, but economic analyses of one of the biggest animal welfare laws in U.S. history–California's Proposition 2–give reason for animal advocates to move toward the welfarist view.

From the paper, "The Impact of Farm Animal Housing Restrictions on Egg Prices, Consumer Welfare, and Production in California":


Twenty months after implementation of the [animal welfare] laws, the number of egg-laying hens and total egg production in Calif…

Poland's Nationalist March

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Poland had a 60,000-person nationalist march Saturday, something that hits close to home for me since my family comes from the Poland/Ukraine border, and nearly all of my great-grandfather’s (who I knew) family was likely killed in Auschwitz. The march is terrifying, but I don't find it surprising based on my experience visiting Krakow a few years ago.

I went to Krakow largely to visit Auschwitz but also, to a small degree, to see the region where my ancestors lived (even if they did not have a connection to Krakow itself).

My visit to Auschwitz was highly commercial: people smiled for pictures by the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate, and we of course exited through the gift shop. People on my tour were uncomfortable when I put rocks on memorial sites in keeping with Jewish tradition. When I returned from the tour and was walking around Krakow, I kept getting solicited by guides in golf carts, each one claiming to offer the best deal on a tour of Auschwitz and the Jewish quarter.
Then I visi…

The Man in the High Castle: Best Show on TV

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I've recently gotten into Amazon's The Man in the High Castle, based on the Philip K. Dick novel. The show depicts the 1960s in an alternate history in which Axis powers won World War II. The U.S. is divided into a German half, a Japanese half, and a no man's land in between. Resistance fighters work to undermine fascist rule while political tensions rise between the Japanese and Germans. It's terrifying, of course, but it's also gripping and inspiring.

(Note that I am only on season 1, so don't expect this to depict the second season properly.)

Beyond the obvious political intrigue, what I appreciate about the show is its blend of genres. It's part spy game (with double agents and all), part neo-noir detective story, part western, and part war flick. The pace moves steadily–it's the first show I find close so irresistible since Lost.

More than anything, I appreciate the show for its depiction of a struggle for justice against all odds. Give it a watch.

Why You Should Read "Positive News"

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The new news site "Positive News" is worth a read. I'm far from a starry-eyed optimist and was cheered by an MRI study in 2011 claiming (by a dubious definition) that optimism was a psychological disorder. That does not change the fact that contemporary news is overly focused on small, negative aspects of reality: shootings that kill a tiny number of people next to the numbers whose lives are being saved worldwide by the decline in poverty; a Trump tweet that threatens democracy far less than Supreme Court decisions elsewhere signal a rise in democracy.

I don't do a good enough job myself of being positive, and I'm hoping this will help me improve on that score.
Great recent features include: –The movement for joyful aging5 possible solutions to overpopulationThe new masculinity

Oh, and on the positive news front ISIS is crumbling–so much that it rarely gets mentioned in the news next to the likes of North Korea. Even if another crisis has taken center stage, it…