"Here’s a question that shouldn’t be difficult for anyone with a moral compass: should babies be ground to death in blenders? Should they be suffocated in bags? If your answer is no—as no doubt it should be—you should oppose this horrific practice done to billions of baby chicks."

So I guess this is the bullet I bite as a meat eater. I think a bit of introspection shows that torturing infants just isn't as terrible as it seems at first glance. When I was an infant, I was circumcised without anesthesia, and I spent a few days being prodded with needles and connected to all kinds of tubes in the ICU for a bad infection. Though neither episode was technically torture, I'm sure both were quite painful and uncomfortable. I have no memory of either. There may have been an infant wailing and screaming and reacting to pain in those situations, but there wasn't anything important within that was experiencing a bad time. I kind of wish my parents had pierced my ears as an infant or toddler because I'm way too much of a wuss to get it done today as an adult!

If the devil came to me and offered me a sandwich and some pop, with the price being that they would reduce me to an infant, body and mind, send me to a pocket dimension to be tortured for a thousand years while being kept in that infant state, and finally heal me of the damage inflicted and restore me to my adult form in the present, I would take that deal. I would take that deal because it is clear that being temporarily reduced to an infant is functionally equivalent to being temporarily anesthetized. If the devil threw in some fries, I'd go another millennium as a chicken, pig, cow, or other factory farmed animal instead of an infant.

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There are six distinct arguments identified here. I think they beg the question — they assume we should care about animals. They’re effective because we have evolved to have sympathy for babies, and unless we’re socialized to regard killing animals as normal, our affection includes things that merely remind us of babies.

Argument one is simply stating that you think something is bad, so therefore it is bad. It is intuitively immoral to you — so too is homosexuality to many people.

Argument two: I think it odd that people object to those practices in and of itself. The worst that can be said of it is that it indicates certain deviant preferences, which may presage the harm of humans.

Argument three: there is no trait, per se — it must merely be beneficial to us. Fighting otherwise identical aliens would be quite unlikely to help us, so we oughtn’t do it.

Argument four: and yet, we are not chickens. We know who we are, (we do not, I think, believe in reincarnation), and we have no need to pretend we may be something we aren’t.

Argument five is begging the question that we should care about animals.

The sixth argument is the best of them all. If we assume that one is responsible for both costs and benefits alike of their decisions though, the best that can be said for it is that we should individually choose to eat less meat. If you want government intervention against meat farming, climate change is a far better case for that.

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Would it be ethical for the utility monster to run the factory farming industry?

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The arguments are compelling. Two more to add:

1. Animals on factory farms are given about 50% of all antibiotics used on earth. That means this is a major source of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics speed up growth in some animals and are necessary when you pack animals together in cruel conditions.

2. factory farms elevate the risk of zoonotic pandemics. For more evidence on this, see “What’s Wrong with Factory Farming?”: https://academic.oup.com/phe/article/8/3/246/2362362

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It depends what you think morality is for. If you think morality is for maximizing the hedon count of the universe, you will give a different answer than if you think morality is for coordinating the game theory of repeatedly interacting intelligent beings, or simply put, people.

I think people are terrible at coordinating their mutual interest and an increase in the moral circle of concern to non-reciprocators imposes an additional cost that makes it even harder. It's hard enough to formulate and enforce moral norms that allow us to not backstab each other, defraud each other, attack each other, murder each other, steal from each other, etc. etc., without adding the additional constraint that we must place moral weight on chickens and far-future people and utility monsters also. It's asking a system under stress to devote its limited resources to optimization functions other than making the system function.

"But the hedon count is really important! Many chickens and many far future people!" is not an argument to convince those who have carefully examined their motivations and decided not to care about the hedons of chickens, far future people, utility monsters or hedonium.

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What if I genetically modify animals such that they enjoy being factory farmed, or at least such that they are biologically incapable of experiencing suffering? For example, maybe they just get a giant gland that dumps endorphins into their brain 24 hours a day and they experience permanent bliss irrespective of how they're treated. Does factory farming become morally neutral or even morally obligatory?

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

> "This is not just some bad thing. Even if we ignore all sea creatures and value land animals at 1/1000 what we value humans, our treatment of animals is morally equivalent to brutally torturing and killing about 80 million people every year. 80 billion animals being brutally tortured is such a vast number, that even if we devalue animals to a fairly large degree, it still wins out as the worst thing in the world. And this is a gross underestimate of its true immorality."

I think it's helpful to normalize the numbers to a more easily comparable form here. (After all, there is some number of people for whose meat-eating enjoyment it would be worth to brutally torture and kill about 80 million people per year. It's easy to make mistakes when large numbers are involved.) What follows is my quick attempt to do so – feel free to point at any mistakes.

Firstly, for one person to eat meat for a year, this comparison comes out to on the order of 80 million / 8 billion = 1/100 people tortured and killed per year. In my view, the main moral loss here is from the torturing and not the killing, because these animals would not be born in the counterfactual with no factory farming, and I don't think that being killed is worse than not having been born (all else equal; all else is ~never equal for murdering people, but it seems like it might well be in the case of factory farming, once we account for the torture). (I can foresee this last sentence being controversial.)

Quick googling suggested that most of these 80 billion animals are chicken, and that the average chicken lives for 42 days. This adds up to 42*1/100=0.42 days = 10 hours of torture per person eating meat for one year. So the question becomes this: which one of the following two options would one prefer?

A) One is a vegetarian for the next year.

B) One gets to eat meat for the next year, but has to accept 10 hours of torture of badness of intensity equal to the average intensity for a factory-farmed chicken (hopefully we can make sense of this). This torture has no adverse effects on the person at any other time.

(I guess it probably won't matter for most people, but to clarify: the 10 hours in B are added to one's life, i.e. one would not have gotten to live for these 10 hours otherwise.)

I don't think it's super obvious that everyone would choose A here – I'd bet that there is a significant fraction of people who would choose B. The comparison becomes even less obvious if we are thinking of this not from the viewpoint of someone who cares equally about all (e.g. not from what we'd hope e.g. a global government is pursuing), but who is somewhat selfish – considering how little people donate, this includes almost everyone, it seems. The latter case is what's relevant when an individual is deciding whether to stop eating meat.

To spell out what happens to the comparison in case of partial selfishness: I think most (or certainly many) people would not sacrifice themselves for 10 random people. If one considers a random chicken's pain (per second) to be worth not 1/1000 of one's own pain, but 1/1000 of a random person's, one gets a summary factor of 1/10000 for the chicken, and then the 10 hours are substituted with 1 hour in B. And so the case of A>B becomes less obvious still.

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Excellent article.

>“Conclusions: This comprehensive meta-analysis reports a significant protective effect of a vegetarian diet versus the incidence and/or mortality from ischemic heart disease (-25%) and incidence from total cancer (-8%). Vegan diet conferred a significant reduced risk (-15%) of incidence from total cancer.”

One minor point related to this: I know from personal experience that it's incredibly easy, as a vegetarian or vegan, to fall into a diet as unhealthy as any omnivorous diet if you're not making sure you're getting adequate nutrients (whether from plant sources or supplements).

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