15 Comments

Yes. All of this.

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I'm glad you took into account how the relative badness of different animal product.

I think people aware of the wrongness of the animal exploitation and only reducing their support without going all the way are deeply disappointing persons. Yet, they are many, so it is important that they know what is the worse of the worse.

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Agreed. It's painful to see people think they're making progress by switching from eating cows to eating chickens, when they're doing the opposite. Many more deaths per calorie, and of animals in much more horrific conditions.

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I find that when people object to animal/human comparisons they more often than not misunderstand the conclusion being drawn. I.e. they think I’m saying that people are as valuable as they think animals are (so not very valuable, or maybe even not valuable at all), when I’m fact it goes the other way, or at the very least I’m only trying to argue that animals are more valuable than previously thought.

people would have to be objecting to the idea that animals are very valuable individuals when they find such comparisons offensive or improper. But this would strike me as very odd given that the objection is typically that i’m not showing proper respect to humans and/or arguing that humans don’t matter or matter as much as they think animals matter.

I think this misunderstanding is probably innocent a lot of time as when comparisons are being made it can be very easy to mistake what factors someone is actually comparing. I think we can combat this by asking what the similarities are when a comparison is being made so we can understand our interlocutor.

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Agree. I've learned to just get ahead of it by saying "btw a comparison is not an equivocation"

I think another thing you could say that I've been wanting to try out is, "I realize it isn't politically correct to say this, but putting aside what we are 'allowed' to say and really reflecting on the state of animal farming, do you not think the comparison is true or relevant?" maybe I'm naive but I can't imagine people actually saying they are that different when you reveal you already understand the kneejerk objection they were about to make, and are really taking the convo seriously and collaboratively rather than just saying spicy things inconsiderately

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Nov 28, 2023·edited Nov 28, 2023

To the extent that such a mistake is an innocent mistake, it's an astonishingly stupid mistake. After all, the argument is usually taking place in a conversational context involving a person who refrains from eating nonhuman animals (consistent with moral promotion of nonhumans), not a person who insists on being allowed to eat humans (consistent with moral denigration of humans).

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You complain that many people say dumb things because they haven't thought about a topic for more than 5 minutes. In the case of eating meat, you think their reflexive defenses of it are dumb. But that flavor of dumbness cuts both ways. There are just as many things that large numbers of people will condemn because they haven't thought about it for more than 5 minutes, and you seem to have no problem taking advantage of that fact when you mention Auschwitz and Treblinka. Reopening those places in any form, no matter how watered down, is going to elicit reflexive condemnation all around. Heck, you could propose reopening them as regular camps - no death or torture or confinement, just tents for holiday, and people would reflexively condemn it.

If you want people to consider the implications of justifying factory farming because animals aren't smart, maybe try something that will actually cause them to consider instead of provoking a gut reaction. Perhaps something less familiar...

One of the "Bobiverse" books contains a technologically advanced alien species with an interesting life cycle. When their young are born, they are basically wild animals (occasionally dangerous ones), with no capacity for language or reason, all the way up through adolescence. This species basically lets their young roam the wilds until they develop the mental capacities to join society. Adults have no more memory of their childhoods than humans have of their infancy, and they have no qualms about culling young members of their own species if the juvenile population becomes a danger to adult settlements. To me, this implication of "it's okay to harm things that aren't smart" seems perfectly fine and would probably seem reasonable for a significant proportion of the rest of the human meat-eating population. At the very least it is more likely to provoke thought and consideration than invoking nazis would.

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I'm quite sure that the guy who nicknamed himself "Bentham's Bulldog" doesn't hold a deontic rule against harming beings who aren't smart. The question with respect to animal agriculture is whether it's okay to bring beings into an existence filled with large overall suffering, for the sake of taste preference and tradition. Their not being as smart as us doesn't seem to change that answer. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't kill less smart beings in many other cases, such as when they're attacking us.

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I think whether a being is some definition of smart or not has to change that answer. If it doesn't, then using plants in agriculture would be approximately as bad as using animals. Millions of insects are probably killed just to farm a single field. And if we don't care about smarts, we have to be concerned with how crops feel about their predicament too.

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Insects are barely conscious and animals require eating more plants

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Aye, if it matters how conscious insects are, then I think we agree that smarts matter in the question of animal welfare. Our dispute lies in the contours of that principle - how smart is smart enough for moral concern and how confident should we be about where we draw those lines?

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I think we need to be clear about what we're referring to as "smarts". I agree that beings with subjective experience vary widely in the degree of subjective experience they have, and consequently in their moral worth. There's a good reason why the people who run rescue chicken sanctuaries don't worry about all the ants and earthworms that those chickens eat in the field, and why we don't have a second tier of rescuers breaking into the sanctuaries to free the ants and bring them to ant sanctuaries.

But while degree of sentience probably correlates well with intelligence across broad categories of animal, they're not the same thing, as is especially clear on the individual level. Torturing someone with a 150 IQ is not going to cause more pain than torturing someone with a 100 IQ.

I don't think you're ever going to find a line of "sentient enough for moral concern". Intrinsically good and bad experiences appear to be scalar, and therefore moral rightness and wrongness is scalar, without natural joints of "obligation" or "permissibility". So be it.

As to how confident we can be in *weighting* different beings, that's an important question. I mean, I have the intuition that my intuitions are very good on the matter. :-p But many other people seem to look at fish and intuit that they don't have thoughts or feelings (and even Michael Huemer claims to be highly uncertain on the matter), so clearly human intuitive faculties are highly error-prone one way or the other. We face the tough task of figuring out which sorts of scientific evidence are relevant, while simultaneously dealing with p-zombie distractions.

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So I think we might agree that subjective experience is a key factor in our moral calculations, but I guess for me the concept of "degree of subjective experience" doesn't really mesh with my experience. I have always either had subjective experience or not had subjective experience throughout my life. My subjective experience might be altered by circumstances like drug use or being in a dream, but it's always been either on or off for me. I'd never claim that a drunk version of me had a lower degree of subjective experience, but if they were black-out drunk, even if they were still bouncing around, partying hard, I'd claim that they were having zero or intermittent subjective experience.

So I'm inclined to believe that there is a sharp boundary between beings having subjective experiences we should be morally concerned about and beings not having subjective experiences where we need not have any humanitarian moral concerns (thought there may be other reasons to care about what happens to them). Drugs that reduce our intelligence seem to lead to us losing our subjective experience (blacking-out) well before our intelligence is reduced to farm animal level. It's also universal that humans don't have any subjective experiences while they are fetuses or infants when their intelligence is closest to animal level. I think that those are two clear indications that we shouldn't be concerned with the welfare of most animals.

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What do you mean when you say hypocrites “have no right” to morally judge others’ actions? Obviously you don’t mean they shouldn’t have the legal right. So are you saying it’s morally wrong for someone to condemn the actions of another if they themselves act hypocritically in totally separate contexts? Or are you just saying you personally won’t give their condemnation any credence? And if the latter, why use language like “you have no right”, other than just to use hypocrisy as its own moral cudgel in your argument?

My view is that if hypocrites can’t condemn, then no one can condemn. That’s not to say hypocrisy is an acceptable state of mind — you should work to be consistent — just that it’s a universal state of mind in various contexts, and shouldn’t exclude anyone from any discourse.

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