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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 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

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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.  

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 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

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 pe

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

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. T