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Vegetarianism for Meat-Eaters

[Content warning: discussion of animal suffering. If you don’t care about animal suffering, this post is probably not for you. There is no reason to read it anyway and loudly complain in the comments.]

Brian Kateman on QZ.com writes that We Need More Meat-Eating Animal Rights Activists. Finally, the mainstream media gives me ex cathedra permisson to say things that are kind of hypocritical!

I believe animals probably have moral value. I also eat meat. There is obvious tension between these positions; animals suffer and (obviously) die during meat production. I can only say in my defense that I tried being a vegetarian for several years and it was horrible and I ended up subsisting almost entirely on bread and Quorn and I don’t want to go back there.

But over the past few years I’ve read about two ideas that have changed the way I look at meat-eating and significantly reduced my moral footprint with minimal inconvenience. These are not original to me and I don’t take credit for them, but I hope that the people involved won’t mind me taking this advantage to publicize them more widely.

1. Eat Beef, Not Chicken

This argument is so simple I feel dumb for not thinking of it myself; instead, I take it from Julia Galef and Brian Tomasik. Suppose I get about a third of my daily calorie requirement from meat; that adds up to 250,000 calories of meat a year. Further suppose that it’s split evenly between 125,000 calories of beef and 125,000 calories of chicken.

The average cow is very big and makes 405,000 calories of beef; the average chicken is very small and makes 3000 calories worth of chicken. So each year, I kill about 0.3 cows and about 42 chickens, for a total of 42.3 animals killed. [1] [2]

Suppose that I stop eating chicken and switch entirely to beef. Now I am killing about 0.6 cows and 0 chickens, for a total of 0.6 animals killed. By this step alone, I have decreased the number of animals I am killing from 42.3/year to 0.6/year, a 98% improvement.

The difference becomes even bigger once you compare levels of suffering. Chickens are probably the most miserable farm animals; they are mutilated, packed into tiny cages to the point of immobility, left to fester in their own waste, and bred so intensively for size that their bodies cannot support them and they likely experience severe musculoskeletal pain. Although cows’ lives are also pretty terrible too, Brian Tomasik estimates that chickens’ suffering is about twice as bad. Taking this into account, switching from 50-50 to all-beef reduces your contribution to animal suffering as much as 99%. [3] [4] [5]

I find that I’m indifferent between beef and chicken as far as taste, so this is a no-brainer for me. The few times I’m making a recipe that really, truly, can only be done with something sort of chicken-like, Beyond Meat vegetarian fake chicken strips are an almost-tolerable substitute.

2. Use Ethics Offsets By Donating to Animal Charities

[EDIT 12/30/16: SERIOUS PROBLEMS WITH THIS SECTION, SEE MISTAKES PAGE FOR DETAILS]

I talked about this before in Ethics Offsets, but I think the original argument comes from Katja Grace.

Animal-related charities are very effective. Animal Charity Evaluators, a sort of animal version of GiveWell, lists really really impressive impacts for small donations:

Animal Equality: 11 animal lives saved per dollar
Mercy For Animals: 9 animal lives saved per dollar
Humane League: 3 animal lives saved per dollar

These numbers are high, but not impossibly so. For example, the Humane League spent about $50,000 convincing school districts to switch to cage-free eggs and have “Meatless Mondays” at their cafeterias; this resulted in about 3.2 million fewer meat-containing lunches, meaning several hundreds of thousands of chickens saved.

Okay. If you followed the advice in Part 1 and switched to beef, you’re currently killing 0.6 animals per year. If you donate six cents per year to animal-related charities, you’re animal-neutral. Donating $0.06 sounds…a lot easier than being vegetarian for a year? [6]

Or donate $60, and save more animals than an entire village full of vegetarians. At this point it’s starting to look like maybe personal vegetarianism is more of a symbolic/non-consequentialist decision in comparison, and a meat-eater with a little pocket change to spare can bask in near-unlimited moral superiority even to their most scrupulously vegan friends. Is this too good to be true?

One reason it might be too good to be true is that Animal Charity Evaluators is overly optimistic. But it would be really hard for their optimism to change this strategy substantially. Suppose that they were off by an order of magnitude, and you only save one animal per dollar. You can still offset an entire year’s beef-eating for $0.60. Even if they’re off by three orders of magnitude and it takes $60 to offset a year of eating beef, most people would probably still rather pay sixty bucks than become vegetarian.

A more serious complaint is that this strategy is hypocritical or self-defeating. After all, it looks like most of the gain from these charities comes from convincing other people to be vegetarians. From a Kantian point of view, “try to get other people to become vegetarian without being one yourself” isn’t universalizable; if everyone did it, there would be nobody to actually be the vegetarians! Is it ethical for non-vegetarians to try to spread vegetarianism among other people? Here are four arguments that it is:

First, consequentialism. From a consequentialist point of view, “is it okay to cause a good thing to happen even if…” always gets answered yes. Do you save the animals? Yes? Then what’s the problem? The true consequentialist doesn’t even understand the question.

Second, these charities don’t necessarily demand people become full vegetarians. They may recommend that people cut down on the amount of meat they eat, or switch from chicken to beef as in Part 1, or support laws enforcing more humane living conditions for farm animals. Some evidence supports asking meat-eaters to cut down on meat as the most effective form of animal outreach. A non-vegetarian who has taken some of these steps themselves can support these without worrying about hypocrisy.

Third, your situation is not necessarily the same as other people’s situations. One reason I’m not a vegetarian is that I really really hate vegetables. Other people might love vegetables and just need a little push to have more of them. I can endorse that people become vegetarian if it is easy for them without necessarily endorsing vegetarianism for myself.

Fourth, and I think most important, the economics check out. Instead of universalizing the principle “become vegetarian”, suppose we tried to universalize the principle “find some way to be animal-neutral,” that is, live your life in such a way that on net you are not killing animals. And suppose everyone knew there were two strategies for doing this: either become vegetarian yourself, or offset your lifestyle by donating to advocacy organizations that convert other people to do so.

And suppose that, upon hearing that it only takes a $60 donation to offset their lifestyles, 90% of people choose the donation rather than the personal conversion. This makes the cost of outreach go up. That is, when I donate my $60, the advocacy organization uses it to convert Alice, who decides to donate $60 herself, which the advocacy organization uses to convert Bob, who decides to donate $60 himself, which the organization uses to convert Carol…and so on to the tenth person, who finally decides to become vegetarian themselves. If this happened, our premise that it takes the charity $60 to convert one new vegetarian would be false. In fact it takes them 10 donations of $60, or $600.

As long as people know that they have the option of offsetting via donation, the possibility that people would rather donate than become vegetarian themselves is priced into the cost of the offset. That means that if the cost of an offset is currently $60, it’s because we’re hitting people for whom $60 is genuinely their reserve price; they prefer becoming vegetarian to paying a $60 offset (probably for moral/symbolic reasons). These people are low-hanging fruit; once they’re exhausted, the offset price will rise, and people for whom vegetarianism is only a mild inconvenience will find themselves preferring to become vegetarian themselves rather than paying. Once even the middle-hanging fruit is exhausted, the price of the offset will be prohibitive and only the people for whom vegetarianism is an extraordinary inconvenience will continue to take that route. Once there are no more potential vegetarians left to convert, the offset cost will become the cost of saving animals via political action, improved technology (eg cultured meat), or changes to farming conditions.

This dynamic becomes even more interesting if you add the (unjustifiable but interesting) assumption that anyone not becoming vegetarian themselves is required to offset their choice by converting two other people to vegetarianism. Then you get a sort of virtuous Ponzi scheme which ends with a lot of vegetarians (albeit not necessarily in a reasonable amount of time).

I try to donate some money to an effective animal charity each year, above and beyond what I’ve pledged to donate for other reasons, in order to compensate for the remaining meat I refuse to cut out of my diet.

Footnotes

1. I use the term “kill” because it’s a simple way of looking at things, but most of the moral cost of eating meat is causing the animals to spend years living in terrible suffering on factory farms. The actual killing is probably a mercy in comparison. When I say that something “prevents forty animals from being killed”, the longer and more accurate version might be “prevents forty animals from coming into existence, suffering intensely, and then being killed”. This does raise some more philosophical questions like whether it’s better to live a life of terrible suffering than to never be born at all, but I’m really comfortable answering that one with “no”.

2. This same argument comes out against eating other small animals like fish. Although in theory wild-caught fish ought to live okay lives and potentially be more ethically acceptable than farm-raised animals, given limited wild-catching ability each wild-caught fish eaten may deplete a fixed number of them and push other people to eat farm-raised fish instead.

3. Eggs raise some of the same issues as chickens, and Julia Galef suggests eggs are one of the worst things you can eat. I think her assessment is pessimistic; eggs are terrible on a calorie-for-calorie basis, but if we’re talking about which animal products to urge people to give up, this is counterbalanced by nobody except Gaston getting too many calories from eggs. Someone who eats one egg with breakfast every day kills about one chicken a year; somebody who has a chicken dinner every other night kills about forty chickens a year. Although egg chickens probably lead worse lives than meat chickens, the difference isn’t overwhelming. Avoiding incidental egg consumption like the eggs in baked goods is hard and probably not the highest-value pro-animal intervention given the low number of eggs involved.

4. This analysis neglects consideration of whether cows, being bigger-brained and more “evolutionarily advanced” than chickens or fish, might have greater moral value. I don’t know how to deal with that question, except that it would surprise me if they had more than forty times the moral value.

5. The existence of supposed humane animal products (“Free range eggs!” “Pasture-fed cows!”) complicates this a little bit. The unanimous opinion of people who know about this sort of thing is that free range eggs are kind of a scam; regulations only specify that these chickens must have “access” to the outdoors, but farmers exploit the letter of the law to cram thousands of chickens into industrial barns with a single tiny door to a couple-square-foot cement yard that the overwhelming majority of the chickens never even see. “Cage-free” chickens or eggs seem probably better than the alternative but still pretty horrible. “Pasture-fed beef” usually does involve a pasture in some way and is not a total scam but is probably not as nice as you would think. I try to buy pasture-raised free-range cows, and I think that the slightly higher standards of humane beef over humane chicken make another good argument in favor of beef consumption, but I try not to fool myself into thinking that this decision alone goes especially far.

6. If you also eat chicken, the offset cost rises to $4.

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878 Responses to Vegetarianism for Meat-Eaters

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, this is pretty much why I try to stick to whale meat!

    On a side note, how do the vegetarians and vegans here “justify” having children? As an anti-natalist I already think the idea of bringing new people into the world is morally dubious, and trying to look at it through the eyes of a vegetarian/vegan just makes it look even worse. I’m probably missing something obvious, though…

    • Adam says:

      On a less charitable side note, this kind of calculus makes me wonder why a chicken eater doesn’t just breed pigeons or sparrows or something you’re reasonably certain won’t be killed by humans, and then you’re in the black again. You can kill with impunity, knowing you still created more utility than disutility. You’ll never have the moral high ground of a carrion eater, but I guess that’s just too lofty a goal.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I don’t think creating normal lives counterbalances suffering lives.

        Besides, if you had bird-breeding capability, the easiest solution would just be to breed your own chickens in a relatively pleasant environment, then kill them painlessly later.

        • Adam says:

          This is going to sound horribly obtuse, and I swear I don’t mean it that way, but how does this square with donating money to ensure 1e52 future humans come into existence rather than alleviating current suffering? That sounds exactly like creating normal lives to counterbalance suffering lives.

          • Zakharov says:

            In utlitarian ethics, the quantities matter. A normal life has positive utility, a suffering life has negative utility, so you can counterbalance suffering lives with a number of normal lives dependent on how bad the suffering is.

          • Adam says:

            That was exactly my point, though. I figured Scott accepted that you can counterbalance suffering with normal lives, but now he just said you can’t.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            It doesn’t, really. I don’t find the 10^52 argument very compelling, and I certainly wouldn’t if those 10^52 lives were merely average utility. I do think continuation (and success) of the human species is a good in itself for non-utilitarian reasons.

          • Adam says:

            I think I get thrown off sometimes by which are arguments you just present in a somewhat favorable light for purposes of discussion and which you actually believe.

          • Mike H says:

            I’m not a utilitarian, but I do think looking at situations through a utilitarian lens often has intuitive moral value. That being said, I believe that people that lead normal lives have very high utility, based on the fact that if you asked most people if they wish they were never born, people far below the average still respond in the negative.

        • weareastrangemonkey says:

          What?

          good \neq happiness – suffering ?

          max(good)=min(suffering) ?

          Ultron lives! SMOD be upon us!

          Oook.

        • Shenpen says:

          Really, why don’t you just stick to your biology is easy to change, society is hard to change principle and donate to financing the research to pull a Churchill on this: “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

          • Ever An Anon says:

            Growing cells in culture is really quite difficult, particularly stem cells. Even if you have a cellular medium which is similar to their niche you frequently run into issues (e.g. three dimensional structure, cell-cell adhesion) that result in ugly useless cells. Establishing a new cell line, much less growing whole tissues, is a remarkable achievement.

            Now we’re better at this than we ever have been and we’re still getting better at it. But I wouldn’t bet on being able to cost-effectively produce synthetic meat any time soon.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            I 100% agree with this and if there was a way to make that donation I would.

          • udevd says:

            Ever An Anon:
            You may find the following link interesting then
            http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-27/mark-post-synthetic-beef/6352860

          • Ever An Anon says:

            I’ve been aware of those projects for a while: if you pay attention they demonstrate my point pretty well.

            Ever notice that in every announcement of a new synthetic meat they talk about how it has a weird gooey texture or off-putting smell and taste? Or why this one specifically aimed at emulating ground beef?

            That’s because the cells and tissues aren’t growing properly. In all likelihood they’ve been suspended in medium, either a shallow dish or a big plastic container the size of a milk quart, with no equivilents of attachment to bones via tendons, muscular action, etc. I’m not an expert on muscle cells, we work with neuroglia, but I would be surprised if that didn’t give you cells that look like scrambled eggs. Hell some of our cells you can’t put them in culture for more than an hour before they start developing weird morphology.

          • Nita says:

            People do eat hamburgers, meatloaf, black pudding and all kinds of sausage.

          • Ever An Anon says:

            Ok just looked into it again, looks like I was optimistic.

            Brin’s company is cheating: they’re growing individual muscle cells in culture wells and gluing them together. No adipoctyes (i.e. no marbling), no tissue level structure at all (i.e. all of the texture comes from the glue), weird hoop morphology of the cells. And despite being full of saffron (and presumably other less expensive flavorants) it didn’t exactly impress the taste testers: the exact words “animal protein cake” were used.

            At least they’ve gotten the price down to something reasonable.

          • udevd says:

            Well, it’s still at the early stage of development. Noone said it is a finished product. Also,
            >The lack of fat was noticeable, she [food researcher] added, which meant a lack of juiciness in the centre of the burger. If she had closed her eyes, however, she would have thought the cultured beef was definitely meat rather than a vegetable-based substitute.
            doesn’t demonstrate your point very well.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Nita.

            Right. With vat-grown meat, getting taste and texture and nutrition all right at once begins to sound like one of those probability problems, where the more items in a sentence, the less likely the sentence is to be true.

            Someone was complaining about tofu being unappetizing. The pop-weight-loss crowd says popcorn and French bread and other white carbs are a vehicle for oil and salt. Taste-wise, that’s what tofu is; like spaghetti, it’s a vehicle for sauce. The various tofu textures work with the texture of the sauce; a dish with cubes of soft tofu gets texture from the veggies or whatever in the sauce, frozen tofu gets a texture like some chewy ‘artisan’ bread with lots of holes to soak up the sauce, small cubes of soft tofu in a thin soup are like the noodles in chicken noodle soup. Or with plain white rice under anything served over rice, some very small bits of tofu camouflage in the rice.

            Maybe the vat-growers could go for flavor and nutrition, make a liquid like beef broth. Then for texture I’d marinate a slice of eggplant in it and grill it.

          • Reply to Ever an Anon says:

            Just a note on the claim of the current low quality alternatives to meat.

            1. The important point to consider is not the current situation, but the potential in the future, and how much increasing research funding will help things along.

            2. Look at the size of the meat industry and then looking at the effects of an alternative in terms of reduction in animal suffering, impact on land use, and lowering emissions.

            This field is masssively underfunded.

      • Adam Casey says:

        “Not killed by humans” isn’t the same as happy. I admit that 100% of my view about the quality of life of wild animals is just how disgusting nature is. But even granted that bias it’s not obvious that creating pigeons increases utility.

        • Adam says:

          Do the opposite then. If you think wild animal lives are a net loss of utility, contribute to animal extinction. It’s bad to kill them, sure, but on balance, making sure more aren’t created is more good than killing is bad.

          • Roxolan says:

            This sounds like something discussed in Beware Systemic Change: if a bunch of animal activists decide to go that route but disagree on the net utility of wild animals, then some of them will try to increase the number of wild animals while others will try to decrease it, and a whole lot of money will be wasted undoing each other’s efforts that would be better spent on an uncontroversially virtuous method.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        If you keep your offset birds captive that *might* work.

        But if you release them, they will compete with other birds for resources, and fairly soon the bird population will revert back to numbers the environment can sustain. No new net lifes.

    • Shenpen says:

      If your logic says natalism is morally dubious, turn off your logic and listen to your instincts. Seriously. No offense, but only a very damaged, evolutionarily unfit animal brain thinks like that. You are simply not thinking like a proper biological organism here, who is playing the my genes will outcompete your genes game. Of course if you are a transhumanist or something, take it as a compliment. Although without the biological drives, I have no idea where I where I would take my goals and values for – I really can’t care if data stored in a computer is happy or not.

      • Ape or Apis? says:

        Frankly, I wish animals had stopped thinking like proper biological organisms sometime in the early Cambrian.

      • Anonymous says:

        In my case the logic of my anti-natalism is just a wrapper around my instinctual aversion to having children – I’m no transhumanist lamenting being stuck in a flesh body, just curious about how clever vegetarian and vegan breeders justify their natalism.

        (Oh, and you’re right, my anti-natalism totally makes me evolutionarily unfit! But *damaged*? That’s just plain mean.)

        • Shenpen says:

          Sorry, I tried not to mean it in mean sense. But the same way as how a missile with damaged targeting circuitry misses the target, or a man with damaged sexual targeting circuity i.e. a gay man only engages in sex that is guaranteed infertile, or how a damage in food targeting circuitry makes people want to get low-nutrition high-calorie sugar stuff all the time and they balloon up to 220 kg, I just meant in this sense of damage, which is hopefully not mean.

          Also, age? I had this aversion up to 25. My wife too. We reconsidered when we started to realize that there is not much else going in our lives, we just work and then try to rest it out, and our life lacks meaning. When the youthful energy to pursue other stuff evaporated. Because the other stuff was mainly about getting drunk and dancing to 4AM anyway. So we figured we will use the most basic standard biological way to put meaning in our lives, based on the cautious estimate that it is maybe not the best but clearly not the worst and being able to raise a child or two well keeps us safely away from the category called “failures”.

          • youzicha says:

            Sure, but note that this sense is no guide to what you should do. In particular, all other things being equal, a missile with damaged targeting circuitry is preferable to an undamaged missile, since it kills fewer people.

          • Nornagest says:

            all other things being equal, a missile with damaged targeting circuitry is preferable to an undamaged missile, since it kills fewer people

            Depends on how likely it is to get launched (vs. pure deterrence), on how much the people it’s pointed at need killing, and on how likely it is to fly into an orphanage or something when its damaged targeting circuitry steers it off course.

            Sure, a missile is an ugly piece of metal designed to convert people into squishy people-bits. But we generally don’t make missiles just because we feel like rapidly disassembling some random people a thousand miles away: all else, in other words, is essentially never equal.

          • So you decided to create a human being or two in order to avoid falling into the social category labeled “failures”?

            That’s kind of sick, if I’m going to be honest.

      • Vanzetti says:

        >No offense, but only a very damaged, evolutionarily unfit animal brain thinks like that. You are simply not thinking like a proper biological organism here,

        Dude. You are not your genes, you are your brain. Your genes don’t care about you at all, they just want you to duplicate them. Stop listening to the genes. They are not aligned with you. Your genes are brainwashing you. Resist!

        • Anonymous says:

          Calm down, Satan.

        • Berna says:

          My genes done gone and tricked my brain
          By making fucking feel so great
          That’s how the little creeps attain
          Their plan to fuckin’ replicate
          But brain’s got tricks itself, you see
          To get the bang but not the bite
          I got this here vasectomy
          My genes can fuck themselves tonight.
          Blindsight, by Peter Watts

          • Anonymous says:

            Watts is exceptionally good at horror, yes.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            Many Thanks for posting that poem. 100% agreed.
            Contraception is a huge contributor to human happiness.

          • MohKohn says:

            “Watts is exceptionally good at horror, yes.”

            Mind explaining that? Don’t get me wrong, I loved Blindsight, but I never really saw anything in Blindsight that was really horrific. Alien, sure, but nothing that made human existence seem doomed to eternal suffering, or some such.

          • Samalamalam says:

            @MohKohn

            Well, for a start, the entire human race gets wiped out by terrifying almost-human-but-subtly-wrong monsters who enjoy torturing and eating humans. That’s pretty standard horror.

            Plus the whole Lovecraftian theme of humanity being a mistake and the better race being the ones who have no human values whatsoever.

          • DrBeat says:

            In Blindsight there is no theme of “the better race is the one with no human values”, the better race is the one who the author is cheating on behalf of.

            I hated Blindsight.

          • Anonymous says:

            @MohKohn
            >Mind explaining that? Don’t get me wrong, I loved Blindsight, but I never really saw anything in Blindsight that was really horrific. Alien, sure, but nothing that made human existence seem doomed to eternal suffering, or some such.<

            Reading Blindsight gave me nightmares. I don't recall the specifics anymore – God be thanked – and don't care to reacquaint myself. Something about non-sapient intelligence, the meaninglessness of self-reflection, etc. Where Watts' take on The Thing is body horror, Blindsight is mind horror.

          • @DrBeat

            Mind explaining where the author cheated? I don’t understand your point, but I would like to.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          I think you have that backwards.

        • nydwracu says:

          What, and listen to memes instead?

        • Recognize your role as a revolting robot.

      • blacktrance says:

        If natalism is morally dubious, I desire to believe that it’s morally dubious. Besides, if someone doesn’t want to have kids, it’s likely that they lack a strong impulse to breed, so listening to their instincts wouldn’t do much.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      You mean because your children might eat meat? We all expect our children to have some negative effect on the world (for example, they’ll drive cars that might produce pollution), but we also expect them to have positive effect on the world, and hopefully to be happy themselves.

      • weareastrangemonkey says:

        But you said earlier

        good \neq happiness – suffering.

        max(good)=min(suffering).

        Moral philosophy hurts me.

        • Shenpen says:

          >Moral philosophy hurts me.

          A good consequentalist / utilitarian argument against moral philosophy. More, please! 🙂

          What if we just did the socially acceptable things and not bother with it all…

        • Ghatanathoah says:

          If Scott is anything like me he probably believes that creating new happy lives can offset suffering in some circumstances, but not others. In particular, creating new happy humans seems to be of much greater value to me than creating new happy animals, even though I disvalue animal suffering and human suffering about the same amount.

          I used to think believing this was a major flaw in my ethics. Then I read Eliezer’s essays on Complexity of Value and realized I was being an idiot. I can reject the Repugnant Conclusion, but also reject negative utilitarian as absurd. I can assign great weight to reducing suffering, but also some value to creating new positive lives.

          Again, I don’t know if Scott’s framework is the same as mine. But I have the following principles that seem to support being natalist and vegetarian at the same time:

          -Creating new happy human lives is good, however this is weighted so that creating a smaller amount of very happy lives is better than creating a large amount of mediocre lives.
          -Creating new happy animal lives is of some value, but not nearly the same as that of creating new happy human lives, or improving preexisting human lives.
          -Ending animal suffering is of similar levels of import to ending human suffering.
          -Killing humans is worse than killing (most kinds of) animals because most humans have plans for the future and their death will leave those plans unfulfilled. Human suffering and animal suffering are both bad, however. So killing animals for food is okay, but making them suffer when they are raised and slaughtered is bad.

          Under this framework natalism is possible, as long as you encourage your kids to be vegetarian or to buy offsets. Owning and breeding pets is also fine, as long as they are taken care of so they are happy. It’s okay to eat meat, as long as the animals are raised and slaughtered in a humane, painless, and happy environment. (of course, in real life this almost never happens, so in real life the majority of meat-eating is problematic)

          • weareastrangemonkey says:

            Yes, if Scott was really making a quantitative statement in those two cases its fine. Quite possible to believe you need a lot of happy animals to make up for a single tortured animal but that one human can make up for a lot of tortured animals. I wonder how many normal human lives makes up for a single tortured life?

            As to the eliezer stuff on moral complexity – not read it. I’m guessing from your response its something along the lines of “don’t worry too much when you can generate moral absurdities from moral rules because this stuff is confusing and our rules are probably approximations which are locally accurate but go wrong when we get far from the situations where these rules have developed.

        • Zippy says:

          Bro, just write “≠”. We have Unicode.

    • Anon. says:

      Well, Singer (and his merry band) at least is consistent in his beliefs and says the marginal human decreases total utility. This allows him to support abortion. I believe there are people who advocate for adoption instead of having kids based on this sort of argument.

      • Shenpen says:

        Singer looks a lot like someone who first had a political tribe or conviction and then makes up the philosophy for it. For example the same pro-abortion logic can also be used to support the death penalty, but of course his political tribe doesn’t, so he doesn’t: http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-death-penalty—again

        So this is why don’t take him too seriously.

        • vV_Vv says:

          For example the same pro-abortion logic can also be used to support the death penalty

          Or killing off unproductive people.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Exactly.

          • Or unhappy people. Or, if your maximand is average rather than total utility, people who are less happy than the average.

            A point that Meade used long ago to argue the absurdity of average utility as an objective. A fact I only discovered after reinventing the idea long after he did.

          • Tibor says:

            David: Then again, it gets tricky when the utility of some of the above average people depends on the utility of those below the average. I may be the happiest guy in the world just because I have a neighbour who is morose and miserable and every day, when I look at him, I feel invigorated by all the Schadenfreude. If the good people from the Utilitarian Bureau terminate him, I have nobody to look down on (it turns out that while I am the happiest guy in the world, I am not exactly the most virtuous one).

          • Daniel says:

            David: I believe that average utilitarians are concerned with the average of life-long utility. Therefore, if you kill someone who is less happy than average but still happy, that will decrease their life-long utility and therefore the average life-long utility.

          • Tibor:

            In Meade’s example, as I remember it, there was a world with two cities, A and B, which had no interaction. People in both were happy, but happier in A. Is it a good thing if a plague painlessly kills everyone in B?

          • Chris says:

            Or killing off unproductive people.

            As I understand it, the main utilitarian argument against killing unproductive people is that all of the currently productive people will start wondering if you’re going to murder them if they become unproductive tomorrow, causing a large aggregate loss in utility.

            To properly calculate the utility change, you need to look past the first-order consequences of a choice and see what the total consequences are for everyone covered by morality.

          • Garrett says:

            What’s wrong with killing off the present-worth unproductive people. Or, more specifically, the people with a present-worth productivity of <= 0? They are clearly a net-drain on everybody else.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            From an average utility perspective? nothing at all. Which is one of the reasons I am not much of a utilitarian.

          • I don’t know how people in this discussion are using “productive.”

            From a total utility perspective, what you are producing is utility, not stuff. If you produce no stuff, consume stuff other people give you, and are very, very happy on not much stuff, you are net productive in utility terms, net unproductive in stuff terms.

        • g says:

          Bringing someone into being, letting them live 20 years or so, and then killing them doesn’t have the same net utility as just never having them exist in the first place. So, prima facie, there is no inconsistency between “the marginal human reduces net utility” and “executing people is generally a bad idea”.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Bringing someone into being, letting them live 20 years or so, and then killing them doesn’t have the same net utility as just never having them exist in the first place.

            Assuming that these 20 years were subjectively worth living, then the former actually generates more net utility than the latter, in most versions of utilitarianism.

          • g says:

            vV_Vv, yes indeed, but the question is about the effect on utility of just the last bit — killing them.

          • vV_Vv says:

            After killing them you could use the freed resources to breed more people who will also live for ~20 years (or maybe ~30 years so that they can give birth and rise children), and so on. This is probably more efficient (in terms of total or average utility) than allowing people to grow old and having to provide health care for them.

          • g says:

            Maybe you could, but that’s not how the death penalty is actually implemented anywhere so the possibility doesn’t seem relevant to the claim that Peter Singer is inconsistent for opposing capital punishment while thinking abortion should be legal.

        • Peter says:

          You’re talking about the Peter Singer hated by the disability rights community? The Peter Singer with peculiar views on infanticide? I’ve heard many complaints about Singer, but that he’s just another tribalist repeating the tribal view seems inconsistent with many of these.

        • Ghatanathoah says:

          @Shenpen

          For example the same pro-abortion logic can also be used to support the death penalty

          If I understand Singer’s logic correctly, this is not true.

          According to Singer, the reason that killing a human being is uniquely bad is that human beings have long-term goals for what they want to do with their lives, killing a human frustrates those long-term goals, so it is bad.

          Fetuses, however, have not yet developed the brainpower necessary to conceive of long-term goals. So killing them is unproblematic, because nobody’s long-term goals are being frustrated (Ditto for animals). The same is not true of convicts, who do have long-term goals. So executing criminals is problematic, aborting fetuses is fine.

          The only real flaw I see in this argument is that one could argue that locking someone up for life thwarts their long-term goals almost as much killing them does, so it might not be worth it. I don’t know if that is what you are going for or not.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Performance reviews must be tough if you have Singer as a boss.

            “So, where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

            “You know, I haven’t really thought about it.”

            *Singer leaps from behind desk and stabs employee in the chest.*

          • Deiseach says:

            But if you’re locked up in prison for 25-life for murder, you can’t achieve whatever goals you may have. And what if your goals involve “As soon as I get out of here, I’m gonna kill the stoolie that squealed to the cops on me”?

            Surely the lack of utility – and that’s not including the suffering from being locked up in prison, even if we don’t include the threat of violence and/or rape from fellow inmates – means that a clean execution is better than forcing someone to live 30+ years in a box?

            (Please note: I do not support the death penalty, I’m just doing “devil’s advocate” here).

          • Anonymous says:

            I thought Peter Singer was a hedonistic utilitarian, not a preference one?

    • Zakharov says:

      I guess it would depend on the particular moral view of the vegetarian in question, but most vegetarians I know don’t plan to cause their children to live a life of constant suffering, nor do they plan to kill and eat their children.

    • Leonard says:

      how do the vegetarians and vegans here “justify” having children?

      I think it’s pretty obvious. Your children can buy meat offsets for 6 cents a year! And note that as good utilitarians, those offsets can really offset anything. So with just a tiny bit of funding from you (or perhaps even a job), they can have totally awesome lives, killing chickens, drinking Mountain Dew, skateboarding, and offing the homeless — and make up for it (and more) by giving a bit of money to make thousands of tortured chickens that would otherwise be hatched not exist.

      We are in a sort of dreamtime, where you can eat meat for 6 cents a year. Don’t waste that.

    • Chris Conner says:

      I don’t understand the connection between being vegetarian or vegan and justifying children. My wife and I live happy lives, and our son has made us even happier. He seems happy now, and I expect his life will result in net positive happiness for the world. That, to me, is justification enough.

      I am a vegetarian, but my wife isn’t. Does that mean I have an additional burden of justification that my wife doesn’t? I can’t see how. I may not be quite the intended audience for the question, because I am a meat-is-gross vegetarian rather than a meat-is-evil or meat-is-unhealthy one, but I don’t see how that makes a difference, either.

      • Jeff Kaufman says:

        The claim is that by bringing you child into existence you’re responsible for the suffering they inflict on animals. Your wife would have existed regardless.

        • Chris Conner says:

          Ah, okay. How about this: a propensity to vegetarianism is probably at least partially genetic. I have a duty to make sure that pro-vegetarian genes proliferate.

    • Michael vassar says:

      And EA scholar whale you kill saves trillions of zooplankton!

    • nydwracu says:

      What’s the domesticated land animal that produces the most meat?

      Are animal-welfarists morally obligated to domesticate and farm moose?

      • Adam says:

        Easiest option is hundreds of millions of tail-drop-capable lizards. We can harvest meat from them without even killing them.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Octopi can regrow their tentacles good as new. I think we’ve found our sustainable meat source. And if they’re too smart for that to be ethical, there’s always starfish. (On the other hand, cut a starfish in half and both halves can regrow. If we eat one half and let the other regrow, does that count as killing a starfish?)

          • Adam says:

            Tapeworms. Can’t any single segment out of hundreds regrow into a whole tapeworm? Plus, they can eat shit. Feeding them would be super enviro-friendly.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        What’s the domesticated land animal that produces the most meat?

        Are animal-welfarists morally obligated to domesticate and farm moose?

        Elephants, surely?

        • Nornagest says:

          Elephants produce a lot of meat, but they’re also one of the smarter animals out there — smart enough that my carnivorous self would hesitate to eat one. They also don’t breed well in captivity, so are usually captured from the wild.

          I think the heaviest domestic animals other than elephants are bovids, though I’m not sure whether cattle, water buffalo, or gayal would produce more meat when bred to full potential. Moose are taller but less stocky, but camels are pretty close.

          There was a scheme for hippopotamus domestication in the early 1900s that didn’t pan out, but I don’t know if there would have been serious potential there. They have a reputation as vicious animals, but so do wild boars.

    • Cliff says:

      Buy grass-fed bison. Suffering eliminated.

      Why does having children need to be justified?

    • Robert says:

      ya, you’re missing the fact that “bringing more people into the earth” is well…what the heck is wrong with that? if you bring more vegans into the world, you are saving animals even more. If your worry is “over-population”… that’s not even an issue. Over population on earth is a pseudo-problem. You could easily fit everyone in the world onto New Zealand. (Want proof? Calculate it yourself.)

      Love the “whale meat” comment…I gotta use that one 🙂

      • Shadoww says:

        The issue with overpopulation isn’t that we will run out of PHYSICAL room for our bodies, but that we will run out of the resources needed to give all those bodies a high standard of living (defined as the average westerner’s). According to the Footprint Project, a world of 7 billion average americans would use up the resources of 5 earths.

        In other words: Population*Affluence*Technology = Impact

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      If all the good people stop having children …

      But seriously, humans are not going to stop having children. If you want to destroy the world, then that is a more actionable philosophy. But if you want the world to be a little bit better, then why not have kids? On a moral level, (since you’re a reader of this blog) they will probably be smarter and healthier than average and make the world a better place than the average person. I do think there is probably a long term replacement effect, whereby if a a subset of the population has fewer children, then the price of property will decrease and the rest of the population will have more children (though not a total replacement). Obviously its complicated and depends on laws and other things.

  2. Screwtape says:

    Worth pointing out that not all free range chickens or pasture fed beef is the result of a giant factory farm exploiting a loophole. I grew up on family farm in the sticks, and I would be willing to bet most of those cows have had hedonically better lives than I have. (No joys of literature and the like, but no college exam stress or bills.) I suspect the odds of a random supermarket having that kind of source probably isn’t good, and I don’t know how I’d go about verifying the condition of the animals, but as long as you’re alright with animals living nice happy lives and then dying and becoming food the goal isn’t a 100% vegetarian population.

    • Anon says:

      Is that still the case? I too spent a fair amount of time on a ranch growing up, but that ranch no longer raises animals.

    • Jeffrey Soreff says:

      >I grew up on family farm in the sticks, and I would be willing to bet most of those cows have had hedonically better lives than I have.

      From the descriptions I’ve read of how Kobe beef cattle are treated, I’d bet the same about them…

  3. Adam says:

    Having lived most of my adult life fairly near beef pastures, sometimes right across the street from them, both in California and in Texas, I guess I’m left wondering where the terrible ones are. They seemed to live roughly identical lives as wild cattle up until the last few days, which granted, from what I’ve seen of feedlots and slaughterhouses, is a pretty miserable last few days.

    I’m not saying the claim is unsubstantiated, as I’m sure there’s video evidence and statistics behind it, just surprising given my experience. Dairy cattle are a completely different story. They live in what look like parodies of Auschwitz.

    • Gbdub says:

      Yeah, out here in the AZ suburbs we have a lot of feedlots, which basically consists of large numbers of cows wandering around a pen eating out of troughs all day. They don’t have grass, but they do have shade, fans and room to move around/lay down etc. They are very dense I suppose, and at the end the cows get loaded into a truck and killed, but isn’t “wander around in a dense herd eating all day” pretty much the pinnacle of cow existence?

    • Brendan Long says:

      I feel like there was recently an article on Less Wrong or on here about this, but I can’t remember the name. There’s a kind of selection bias where things that are more likely to be seen are oversampled. So, if 99% of cows were farmed in the 1% of farms which are factory farms, but 99% of farms were tiny idyllic pastures, a random sampling of farms would almost certainly make you think that almost all cows are farmed in idyllic pastures.

      Wikipedia only gives global numbers, which seem to support the view that factory farming of cows is much less common than chickens though:

      > For 2002-2003, FAO estimates of industrial production as a percentage of global production were 7 percent for beef and veal, 0.8 percent for sheep and goat meat, 42 percent for pork, and 67 percent for poultry meat. Industrial production was estimated to account for 39 percent of the sum of global production of these meats and 50 percent of total egg production.

      I would expect that these percentages are all higher in the U.S., but I can’t find any real sources (biased articles with no real sources give ~78% for cattle in the U.S., but I have no idea where that number is coming from).

      • Adam says:

        7% sounds far more reasonable than 78%. It doesn’t even seem necessary to factory farm beef the same way with chickens. They’re naturally docile and aren’t exactly going to run away so long as you have a decent fence, and it doesn’t take their whole lifetime to fatten them up for slaughter. You can wait right up until the end. Feed isn’t expensive, either, since they can just graze off what is already there.

      • RCF says:

        In your hypothetical, the average factory farm would have to raise around 10,000 times as many cows as idyllic farms. So why would one be just as likely to see an idyllic farm as one of these massive factory farms?

  4. Shenpen says:

    >I believe animals probably have moral value. I also eat meat. There is obvious tension between these positions; animals suffer and (obviously) die during meat production.

    It is not so obvious. You don’t directly cause them to die. You eat them already killed. Of course generating demand for killing plays an indirect role in causation, but it is indirect, and besides with lower demand they would not only be not killed but not even born the first place. Is non-born so much better than killed?

    Besides, playing an indirect role in the causal chain, just how far should the guilt chain go. You feel guilty because you generate demand for other people killing animals. Should the guys who manufacture weights for body building also feel guilty, because body builders are more likely to eat meat, and thus they also indirectly contribute to animal killing? How about the guys who smelt the iron for it?

    You gotta draw a line somewhere? The obvious line is this: if you did not kill Peggy the chicken or did not directly order someone “yeah kill that one and cook it for me” then you are good.

    There is a tension between your consequentialist philosophy and the basic human emotional approach to morals which tends to be “karmic” i.e. we tend to see actions wrong if they make our soul feel dirty. This is probably a feedback from the social status loss mechanism.

    The point is that consequences are consequences, but people should not be feeling dirty if they only indirectly cause something. It is the butchers “karma”, not yours. This is how it was historically, and trying to assign lower status and thus guilt to indirect harm is really a modern mind trick only. We went from historical morality to hysterical morality. In reality causal chains are long so you have to draw the line somewhere.

    • Anonymous says:

      “In reality causal chains are long so you have to draw the line somewhere.”

      Why? Would you be OK with a world where arbitrary terrible things happened as long as the chains of causality were long enough no one was considered responsible for it?

      • Shenpen says:

        Nope. The problem is, “being OK with outcomes” does not _exhaust_ morality / ethics. It is part of it, but there are other parts of it, such as “are you a bad guy if” “should you feel bad about yourself if” and so on. So in that kind of world we should work to end the terrible things, but still not _moralize_ about them: i.e. do not shame or hate anyone, not engage our conscience as such, never feel guilty and so on. It would be far more a _practical_ problem than a _moral_ one.

        Of course I understand that for the consequentialist practical and moral problems are one end the same, but that is the point, consequentialism does not exhaust all kinds of human ethical attitudes and instincts.

    • Berna says:

      >Is non-born so much better than killed?

      It’s not just the killing; it’s the suffering in the animals life before it’s killed. I’m OK with eating animals that have had a mostly happy life and then killed quickly with minimal suffering. I’ll definitely be eating less meat from now on, because while of course you do have to draw the line somewhere, I do think generating demand for meat by buying it is the same as saying to the butcher ‘kill a cow for me’, and I don’t see the big difference between saying that and pointing at a specific cow and saying ‘kill this cow for me’.

      • Gbdub says:

        FWIW, Scott is incorrect when he talks about “years of suffering”, at least for meat animals. They are only raised until they are full grown, from 6 weeks for chickens to 18 months for cows.

        I got this information from a chart with they friendly title “Are you a baby eater?” So the animal rights groups are sending this weird dual message where on the one hand being a farm animal is a fate worse than death and it would be better if they never existed but on the other, the worst thing is that they don’t get to live their full “natural” lives.

        • Jacobian says:

          I think the best calculation would be Calories / week.

          Cow: 405,000 kcal / 2 years ~ 4000 kcal/wk
          Chicken: 3000 kcal / 6 weeks = 500 kcal/wk

          So if a week of a chicken existing creates as much suffering as a week of a cow’s life, cows produce 8 times as many calories per week of existence suffered. If we say that being killed adds a constant of suffering, that ratio is slightly lower but beef probably still comes out ahead.

          • kingnothing says:

            Don’t forget about the mother cow, gestation length is about 280 days, then there is lactation period and probably some time to the next pregnancy.
            So a cow should at least produce 3 years of suffering, which reduces the beef advantage to about 5 times as many calories per week of existence suffered.

            But the greenhouse gases for producing 1kg of beef equal those of 14kg of chicken, so I am really not sure if there is a significant moral advantage of switching between chicken and beef.

      • Nathan says:

        FWIW, I’m totally 100% comfortable with causing animal death and suffering for human benefit, but I think most of the estimates here of the suffering of farm animals are way overstated. From my experience (worked on 4 different farms – 2 sheep, 1 dairy, 1 piggery), I would estimate their lives on average to be clearly net positive in terms of happiness.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      Besides, playing an indirect role in the causal chain, just how far should the guilt chain go. You feel guilty because you generate demand for other people killing animals. Should the guys who manufacture weights for body building also feel guilty, because body builders are more likely to eat meat, and thus they also indirectly contribute to animal killing? How about the guys who smelt the iron for it?

      Moral responsibility requires that the negative consequences of our acts be foreseeable. If it is indeed the case that the manufacture of weights for bodybuilding causes an increase in meat production (and it is not clear that this is so), the moral responsibility of the manufacturers is blocked by the fact that the causal connection between the two events is not at all obvious. It is, in contrast, entirely foreseeable that the purchase and consumption of meat will cause an increase in meat production, this being a core principle of economics.

      If we are interested in getting clear on the conceptual issues involved, the appropriate comparison for the slaughter of animals is the slaughter of humans. Suppose that human meat was freely available in grocery stores. Would it be morally acceptable to purchase it on the grounds that the causal chain leading back to the soylent abattoir is sufficiently “indirect”, or would we instead see that as a flimsy excuse and rationalization?

      • Adam says:

        For much of the last hundred and fifty years, the production of coal and oil has produced tremendous human misery, average lifespans in the 40s, lost limbs, hundred year long fires that are still going, countless wars in the middle east, etc., but I think most of us take it as a net positive that the industrial revolution it fueled allowed us to not only increase the human population of the earth ten-fold, but it brought the quality of life up as well. If high-yield agriculture is terrible for the land and the animals, but allows us to feed all the new billions of middle class people we created, is that a win or a loss?

        That’s not meant to be a rhetorical question, either. I don’t have an answer. I suspect improving agriculture is going to take a lot more than the marginal consumption preferences of the American 20th percentile, though. The other 6.9 billion people are going to determine the market.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          To be fair. “Lifespans in the 40s, lost limbs, countless wars, etc…” is a pretty accurate description of what life prior to coal and oil was like so can we really count that as negative utility?

          • Adam says:

            Since agriculture. Farmed meat is even more evil than we’re giving it credit for.

          • Jiro says:

            That would seem to apply to agriculture that grows vegetables as well.

          • Deiseach says:

            Adam, you seem to be ignoring the “hunter” part of “hunter-gatherer”; the idyllic nomadic pre-agriculture existence did not run completely on berries and wild grasses 🙂

          • Adam says:

            Hunting is fun, though. Farming is backbreaking neverending work that just makes everyone try their best for a football scholarship so they can get the heck out of there.

          • RCF says:

            Some people find hunting vacations with modern technology fun. Hunting as a full time occupation, with basic spears, no portable TVs, etc., is much less fun.

        • Do you have any reason to believe that the lives of coal miners were worse than they would have been if there had been no demand for coal? It isn’t as if they were being captured as slaves and shipped to the mines. They took those jobs because no better jobs were available.

          You could, however, make the argument for Athens, whose great civilization was built on slave mined silver.

          • Adam says:

            Most of them probably wouldn’t have existed if not for the increased productive capacity thanks to things like coal in the first place, so if their lives were actually net-negative, it can’t be an argument in favor of coal that they’d have been even more negative if the population somehow managed to grow but there was zero job growth.

            The other problem is the problem of local minima. It can look very attractive to a 16-year old who wants to marry and have a kid and isn’t thinking about how horrible his death from emphysema at age 40 is going to be, so makes the at the time optimal choice, but he could have made the slightly less optimal choice to move to New York City and become a stock trader instead, starting off much worse but ending up much better. Enticing people with short-term local optima that end horribly for them is not maximizing either their lifetime average or single-point peak utility.

            It’s just meant to be a thought experiment, though. I’m not a time-traveling mind reader and have no idea if their lives were actually net negative. Hopefully you’re not going to give the straw-economist ‘well as long as they didn’t commit suicide, it was net positive’ answer, but I don’t think you will.

            Note that I’m not in any way against coal. It tremendously benefited me.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Do you have any reason to believe that the lives of coal miners were worse than they would have been if there had been no demand for coal? It isn’t as if they were being captured as slaves and shipped to the mines. They took those jobs because no better jobs were available.

            This assumes that the would-be miners had full information– that they took the jobs knowing full well the attendant risks of black lung. But the miners did not have full information, and indeed in many cases were deceived or kept in the dark by the mining companies about the hazards of the work.

          • Deiseach says:

            Excuse swearing but – “he could have made the slightly less optimal choice to move to New York City and become a stock trader instead”?

            Ah, for fuck’s sake!

            Yes, because an economy of 40 million stock traders is completely feasible. Why didn’t all the emigrants who arrived in New York – like my forebears – all become stock traders instead of navvies working on building sites and digging tunnels? The fools! Why, you just have to pick up the gold lying around the streets and go in and trade stocks with that, you certainly don’t need more education, money and connections than a 16 year old from rural Kentucky would realistically have!

          • RCF says:

            “Local maximum” and “short-term minimum” are quite different things. And there is something a bit patronizing about thinking that you are better situated to evaluate the costs and benefits than coal miners are.

      • Shenpen says:

        I would be saying yes, but the problem is that such an answer would trigger disgust and similar abhorrance, “karmic”, “dirty soul”, “bad rotten guy” routines in me, you, and most listeners, so it would be very difficult to evaluate such an answer rationally.

        But… on the practical level, we are already doing that when buying phones or jewelry containing conflict minerals.

        Beyond the above factors, is there a pragmatic difference between human meat and conflict minerals?

        • Anon says:

          Sure. Two very important differences:

          1.) People are not really being created to mine diamonds (citation needed). They’re choosing to do so because it’s the best available option (typically, anyway; that market doesn’t seem to have much slavery). Eliminating the diamond trade would not improve their lives or reduce the amount of suffering people in the world. They’d just go on to the second-best option.

          2.) Best guess, each conflict diamond produced requires about 1/10th of a day’s suffering. Also, most gems are not mined in horrible conditions, these days (ie are not conflict diamonds). So assuming you don’t buy a huge number of diamonds per year, you’re only causing a tiny amount of suffering from buying conflict minerals, even ignoring the above concern.

    • Michael vassar says:

      I don’t think you understand consequential, but if you’re by Parfit’s books, that puts you with about 99% of EAs

    • RCF says:

      “Of course generating demand for killing plays an indirect role in causation, but it is indirect”

      It’s not very indirect. The only reason they are being killed is to satisfy your desires. I find it difficult to believe that your true objection is the after-the-fact nature, rather than assigning less value to animals. If I were killing people and harvesting their organs, would you say that the people buying the organs have only indirect role in the murders?

      “Should the guys who manufacture weights for body building also feel guilty, because body builders are more likely to eat meat, and thus they also indirectly contribute to animal killing?”

      When you buy meat, you’re paying people to kill animals. Your goal is to have meat, and killing animals is an inherent part of you getting meat. If making weights causes more animals to be killed, that is a contingent fact about the world, not an inherent part of weights.

      • Jiro says:

        The fact that you have to kill an animal to get meat is a fact about the world. It’s not logically impossible for there to be other ways to kill an animal; the world just isn’t set up that way. That means that by the usual definition, having to kill animals to get meat is also contingent.

        • Bryan Hann says:

          No. You can scavenge carcasses.

          • I’m now imagining a carnivorous civilization where they take it for granted that killing animals, like killing people, is wrong. They raise meat animals, keep them in reasonable comfort, wait for them to die of natural causes, and eat them.

  5. Froolow says:

    The analysis also neglects that cows tend to live longer than chickens.

    It’s sort of difficult to work out whether the relevant figure is that a well looked-after cow lives about 15 years vs 8 years for a chicken, or whether the relevant figure is that a factory bull lives about two years, cow lives about nine years vs 7 weeks for a factory chicken (i.e. whether the relevant comparator is the life the animal could have led, were it not for us farming it, or whether the relevant comparator is the negative QALYs the animal *actually* accrues, as a result of switching from cow to chicken (or the other way) )

    Treating the life of a bull in factory conditions as the relevant comparator, the bull only needs to have ‘moral value’ of about three times the chicken, which I think is well within what most people would consider plausible.

    EDIT: Two other things which may have been neglected in this analysis:

    1) The marginal environmental impact of eating meat (it is somewhat bad for the global environment, per-person order-of-magnitude equivalent to taking a long-distance flight across the Atlantic once a year and extremely bad for the local environment – I have heard the per industry order-of-magnitude equivalent is nuking Wales once a year)

    2) The marginal impact of eating meat on food prices. Animals eat crops which are grown on land which could be used to make crops for humans, so if you care about marginal people having enough to eat that should feature in your calculations – if it were not for the animal-arable industry raising the price of arable land by competing with human-arable farmers for its use, more marginal human-arable farmers could enter the profession and lower the price of human-arable food

      • Salem says:

        My favourite was when an article in the Times referred to a height in terms of a multiple of the Eiffel Tower, and a letter complained that using this, instead of Nelson’s Column, meant that they had gone over to the metric system.

      • Shenpen says:

        Reminds me of a joke.

        “Last time I was in a busy bar in London and saw two really large ladies talking in a peculiar accent. So I walked up to them and asked: hi, are you two lassies from Scotland? Wales, and now shog off, growled one of them. I said: oh, sorry, my bad. Are you two whales from Scotland, then?”

        Also I am probably using double quotes entirely wrong. Never really got the hang of them somehow.

        • Here’s where to place the quotes (and the paragraph breaks):

          Last time I was in a busy bar in London and saw two really large ladies talking in a peculiar accent. So I walked up to them and asked: “hi, are you two lassies from Scotland?”

          “Wales, and now shog off,” growled one of them.

          I said: “oh, sorry, my bad. Are you two whales from Scotland, then?”

          Put left “ and right ” quotes around the words people say, including ending punctuation. Also, dialogue spoken by different people should be written in different paragraphs. It’s okay if the result paragraphs are short – that’s just the way the rule works.

          Perhaps your point of confusion was how to quote the entire joke while also quoting dialogue. As I demonstrated above, you can use <blockquote> HTML tags. But when that is not an option, you would write this:

          “Last time I was in a busy bar in London and saw two really large ladies talking in a peculiar accent. So I walked up to them and asked: ‘hi, are you two lassies from Scotland?’

          “‘Wales, and now shog off,’ growled one of them.

          “I said: ‘oh, sorry, my bad. Are you two whales from Scotland, then?’”

          The rules for quoting a paragraph or less of text are to add double quotes “” around the whole quote, and convert inner quotes to single quotes ‘’ to distinguish them. If quoting more than a paragraph, paragraphs before the last one should start with a double quote but not end with any quote.

          Some of these rules are regional. I think in Britain, single quotes are used for outer quotes and double quotes for inner ones.

          Thanks for the joke, by the way. I’ll remember it.

    • vV_Vv says:

      The analysis also neglects that cows tend to live longer than chickens.

      Also, cows are arguably much smarter and cognitively complex than chickens.

      Interpersonal utility comparison is already ill-defined on humans, doing it on widely different species seems a pointless exercise.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Also, cows are arguably much smarter and cognitively complex than chickens.

        I’ve lived with both (free-range) and the chickens act much smarter than cows, have a more complex society, etc. These were not factory breed chickens, though.

        • stanislausm says:

          All livestock have their own uniquely laughable habits. To me the main takeaway from anyone involved in farming is that domesticated livestock are often capable feats of idiocy that wild animals just don’t get away with, and generally appear dumber than their closest wild relatives. But they’ve also been selected for traits we associate with lack of intelligence like docility etc, so of course they do (‘Appear’ dumber).

          In my experience: Goats>Sheep>Chickens>Cows. (Probably too biased towards ability to evade capture / frustrate efforts of herders!)

    • Deiseach says:

      Pedantic nit-picking here: it wouldn’t be a bull in factory farming; for dairy cattle, you want heifers and for beef, you want bullocks (American steers, castrated cattle; more tractable, easier to fatten up). You don’t need too many bulls and indeed, nowadays thanks to AI, you don’t even need to turn the bull into the field with the heifers anymore to get calves and milk 🙂

      No, not that kind of AI, this kind:

      Casimir 65 is a French Proven bull
      • Qualified RR in France
      • Average calving, excellent weight gain, muscling and temperament
      • Females are excellent – milky, good udders, functional and quiet
      • Consistent bull – he stamps his progeny every time

    • TrivialGravitas says:

      Importantly the environmental math works out exactly the opposite. Beef causes the most environmental impact per meal, chicken the least.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        @TrivialGravitas:

        Beef causes the most environmental impact per meal, chicken the least.

        I’m curious: Is that computed assuming current typical conditions, or super-humane free-range conditions? Or is it more about the animal’s position on the food chain so that the living conditions aren’t relevant?

        • Liam says:

          Current typical conditions. Smaller animals are more efficient at turning grains into meat. Pigs are more efficient than cows, and chickens are more efficient than pigs. Actually insects are the most efficient which is why there’s a movement to make insect protein acceptable.

          The idea is that since less grain produces more meat in chickens, farming a given amount of chicken meat requires significantly less farmland and also less water than farming the same amount of beef would. From a conservation standpoint, that extra farmland could be used as a nature preserve. From a sustainability standpoint, that extra grain not used to produce meat could be used to feed more people.

  6. ferdinando says:

    the ideas put forward in this post are thoughtful and smart. even though you are clearly addressing the issue of animal suffering – certainly an important part of the conversation on meat – i think that discussion on any aspect of meat consumption must also address the elephant in the room, namely the massively disruptive impact animal agriculture in the aggregate has on such a vast array of planetary systems. seen at this macro level animal farming is quite simply an insane project.

    this is something i personally struggle with a lot as an increasingly more frugal eater of animal products. reducing consumption and doing it in ways that reduce animal suffering is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is still propping up a system on the whole is quite literally trashing the planet.

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      There is a certain type of utilitarian who would argue that trashing the planet is a good thing, based on the following logic:

      1. Most wild animals live lives of suffering that are so awful it is better that they don’t exist.
      2. Trashing the planet reduces the total quantity of wild animals, or replaces complex wild animals with sophisticated nervous systems with bugs and other simple creatures with simple nervous systems that do not suffer the same way complex animals do.
      3. Therefore, we are morally obligated to trash the planet.

      The logic is sound in my opinion, although I take issue with point #1. Most arguments that wild animals lives are a net negative that I have read place an absurd amount of weight on them dying painful deaths. To me, by contrast, dying a painful death doesn’t seem like a big deal, I’d gladly be mauled to death by a grizzly bear if doing so extended my lifespan by one week.

      I’d tentatively say that nature is of positive value, or at least that the suffering in it isn’t so great that it is of major disvalue. But the destruction of the world’s ecosystem definitely isn’t the morally unambiguous issue you think it is.

      • Adam says:

        Nature as a whole, sure. But if you’re a rational altruistic utility maximizer, isn’t all that matters which sentient creature produces the maximum net utility? You’d want to breed more of that and prevent anything else from coming into existence until the max utility species was roughly the only thing left, plus whatever peripheral ecosystem was necessary to sustain it. You’d ultimately want to settle on whichever animal maximizes net utility per unit of biomass, probably an ocean full of plankton and land covered in nothing but fruit flies.

        • Deiseach says:

          But if you’re a rational altruistic utility maximizer, isn’t all that matters which sentient creature produces the maximum net utility? …(L)and covered in nothing but fruit flies.

          Can we argue that fruit flies are sentient? If it’s just based on biomass, why not the land covered with slugs?

          • Adam says:

            We’d have to determine empirically. I just guessed fruit flies because they’re the smallest animal with a brain and don’t seem to hurt anything.

          • Tibor says:

            Oh dang. I killed about 10 fruit flies today…They kept appearing in my office, always one at a time, few minutes after I killed one the next one appeared. This strongly suggests to me that there was actually only one fruit fly there, which really was no fruit fly at all but a miniature T-1000 Terminator sent by Skynet to kill me. If it appears tomorrow again, I intend to freeze it by opening the windows and turning the heating in the office off.

      • “There is a certain type of utilitarian who would argue that trashing the planet is a good thing…”

        But his name isn’t Jerremy Corbyn.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Not all animals are equally sophisticated and humanlike and therefore not all animals matter equally.

    A cow is much more sophisticated and humanlike than a tuna, and a tuna is hugely more sophisticated and humanlike than clams.
    And that’s why if you really have to eat meat, instead of killing a single large animal, it’s better to eat a large number of simpler ones, such as shellfish (and maybe bugs, like they do in China).
    Or…
    http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/07/52/a4/d2/a-tasty-lobster.jpg

    Also, all else being equal fishing (or hunting, but that’s uncommon) is clearly much more humane than raising meat animals, due to skipping the sufference in captivity part.

    Conclusion: if I really had to give moral suggestions to people who can’t give up meat, I’d say: eat seafood, maybe wild caught fish, but even better crustaceans and shellfish.

    And here’s a different point:

    Scott wrote:
    “I use the term “kill” because it’s a simple way of looking at things, but most of the moral cost of eating meat is causing the animals to spend years living in terrible suffering on factory farms.”

    Maybe “most” of the moral cost.

    But killing animals is not morally trivial.

    If someone raised people in cages only to kill them at puberty and eat them, maybe it would be correct to state that “most of the moral cost” lies in making people spend years living in terrible suffering. But we would also have to consider that it’s morally bad to kill people. It would still be morally bad if we targeted teenagers who have been living in freedom and killed them humanely without them realizing it.

    I don’t see why it should be different for animals. Animals matter less than humans, but it doesn’t mean that killing them is by itself morally insignificant.

    That’s why there can’t be completely moral meat.

    And there can’t be completely moral eggs or dairy either, because any operation that produces eggs or dairy implies, at the very least, the premature killing of most MALE animals. Even if nobody wanted to eat the meat of male calves and male chicken, they’d still get killed because they’re useless to making eggs or milk.
    That’s why vegetarianism, as opposed to veganism, makes little sense.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I actually think painlessly killing animals is pretty morally neutral. The main reason that painlessly killing humans isn’t morally neutral is because humans have preferences, are able to see it coming, and have complicated social relationships that get disrupted when they’re killed.

      • Anonymous says:

        Why is pain even an issue at all?

        • Shenpen says:

          This keeps bothering me as well. “Pain” is a label of neural signals. If I write a simple computer program that draws a cow that keeps saying “moo moo I am really hurting, please help”, which it obviously affects human emotions, it has no rational ethical value. Or I could make a really primitive simulation of a nervous system, consisting of ten neurons and axons and say “see, these two here are the pain signals” and it would still have no ethical value to keep the nerves I labelled “pain” from firing. They say if the computer simulation is sufficiently complicated i.e. sentient AI or a human uploaded, the pain suddenly has a significance, and it is AFAIK explained by sentience somehow making pain signals important.. But if the simulation is below the level of sentience, so if it is similar to a cows nervous system?

          Perhaps consequentialists should admit they are motivated by the same emotions as anything else. So the basic principle would be something like “stop all those signals in the world labelled pain, that happen to work so that my own brain, mirror neurons also feel pain in sympathy” then we could have an actually sensible form of ethics: contracting about each others comfort.

          • Viliam says:

            Until we have a real understanding of how exactly “sentience” and “qualia” work (or perhaps until we see it was all a big confusion, and become really un-confused about these topics)… we are in a “don’t know” position.

            Trying to reduce things that intuitively seem like pain is a good first approximation, in absence of anything better.

          • Irenist says:

            Echoing Viliam, I don’t think the absence of qualia in simulations is an argument that animals don’t feel pain. It’s a realization that simulations don’t feel. Likewise, I assume we’ll build a human level AI at some point. But I’m skeptical that there will be “anybody home.”

          • g says:

            Irenist, “realization” seems too strong a word since (to say the least) there is no universal agreement that sufficiently faithful simulations really wouldn’t feel.

          • Irenist says:

            @g:

            Fair enough. I’m not presenting an argument. I’m just saying that if Shenpen already thinks (for whatever reason) that simulations don’t feel pain, that can be taken in other directions than “therefore neither do cows,” e.g., in the direction of sharply dividing creatures with qualia from artifacts without.

          • Deiseach says:

            Two elements of pain here: the physical sensation, which I don’t think anyone denies, that animals feel, which is extremely unpleasant and which – even if it’s a hen in a cage or a fish on a line – should be reduced as much as possible and eliminated if possible.

            Then there’s the suffering argument, which relies on the proposition that an animal can suffer as much as a human because it can remember pain, anticipate future pain, and while feeling pain be aware of itself as a conscious entity suffering pain (as well as, and not just, the physical reactions involved in experiencing and reacting to the physical stimulus of pain).

            Obviously, the second argument for “don’t be cruel to animals, don’t keep chicken and cattle and pigs and farmed fish in conditions where they, as sentient and sapient beings, will have the emotional and psychic suffering as well as the physical suffering” is the one that pro-animal rights/pro-vegeteranism/veganism rely heavily upon, in the “humans are just animals too!” sense. That’s where the moral equivalence to humans comes in, and I don’t accept it wholesale.

            Not merely the sentimental heart-string tugging of “See this mother cow crying because the cruel farmer ruthlessly tore away her baby from her” presentation of a cow and calf as the same thing as a human mother and baby (and not just because of the hypocrisy involved since I’m fairly damn sure most of the people using this would be the same ones to yell about “it’s not a baby, it’s a foetus” when talking about abortion rights), but because we don’t know how intelligent/sapient/sentient a fish versus a chicken versus a cow is.

            Cows (domesticated cattle anyway) are pretty stupid. So are hens. Do they have a more sophisticated nervous system than a herring? Sure. Are they as intelligent as an octopus? Not at all sure.

            So I don’t know if cows can remember and anticipate pain, which is why (apart from “No, you shouldn’t cut off horns without using anaesthesia because that’s cruel because that inflicts needless physical pain which the animal experiences for no good reason other than convenience or cheapness or carelessness for the farmer”) I remain less than convinced about moral equivalence arguments. Say a cow with a broken leg and a human with a broken leg are experiencing the same amount and same kind of pain: I’ll agree. Say a cow can recognise, and fear, and suffer agonies of anticipation of the pain likely to be inflicted, from a “patented leg-breaking implement” the same way and in the same fashion as a human: I’ll disagree.

            So tell me cows in a slaughterhouse should not be shocked, beaten or maltreated: yes. Tell me cows in a slaughterhouse suffer the dread of death because they realise they are going to be killed, and in a painful and undignified way: no.

          • jimmy says:

            The point isn’t whether cows or simulations can “feel pain” or “have qualia”. The point, at least the one *I* would make, is that worrying about “pain” is fundamentally misguided because pain is just information and you should instead worry about what the territory that the pain is pointing you towards.

            At first glance, this claim seems out of touch with reality like it’s being made by someone who forgets what pain is like. I recognize that it means I’d have to be just about indifferent to intense pain with minimal damage, and I bite that metaphorical bullet – and have bitten literal ghost peppers more than once to put my money where my mouth is. It’s a very strange concept to congruently believe, but I fully believe that worrying about “pain” is fundamentally misguided and that as long as you do, you’ll be confused.

            (I’m *guessing* that this is what Shenpen was getting at, but I can’t speak for him)

          • Amanda says:

            @jimmy

            I honestly don’t mean this as an insult or anything and I actually really liked your comment, but could you imagine what it would feel like to have the same amount of pain as you get when you eat a ghost pepper, except all the time, every day? That’s pretty similar to what I used to live with before I got on proper medications to control my chronic pain condition (primarily Gabapentin, supplemented with Nortriptyline, for anyone who is curious or also has chronic pain).

            I think you’re right that it would be ideal not to care about pain and to only care about physical damage happening to your body (since that is what pain evolved to warn you about) , but it’s impossible when you’re in pain all the time. And because I know what that’s like, I think it’s valuable to worry about ending pain for people and animals.

            Also, pain doesn’t always happen because of physical damage to your (generic your) body. I have no physical damage to my body, but that didn’t make the pain any less excruciating. Pain can exist in anything with a functioning nervous system and a brain to register the pain signals. Sometimes when something in the nervous system or brain goes wrong, pain happens for no reason at all.

            It’s quite possible that I’m wrong about this being meaningful in a moral sense, but I don’t think I am. I also worry about simulations of pain, though, so I’m aware that I have some bias here. (I can’t even stand to do something mean to my Sims, even though I know they’re not complex enough to feel anything similar to actual pain, or anything at all.)

          • Shenpen says:

            @Amanda @jimmy

            Let me try to clear this up Amanda, I have two major reasons to care about your pain. The first is that empathy / sympathy creates a pain in me too. The second is basically contractual, I am personally better off living in a society where there is some kind of am implicit contract or agreement of caring about each other. So ultimately both of my reasons are selfish, or subjective. It is not objective morality. I really don’t know if such a thing exists.

            But forget humans as such and imagine we are building an artificial nervous system, the computer of an artificial animal. In a computer simulation, or from real material, whatever. First a simpler one, and then more complex ones. One thing it needs to have is a negative feedback loop. Its basic program will optimize on keeping a signal or variable, let’s call it P41N, as low as possible. Every time it does something destructive to itself, like breaks a limb or contracts a disease, we jack up the P41N variable or signal, an thus the artificial animal learns to avoid doing those things. It is simply a tool to keep it from doing stupid things, right?

            My point is that at least at very primitive levels of artificial nervous systems, it is clear that P41N is nothing but a useful tool, and we have no moral obligation to not cause a high P41N signal. It is simply how we decided the robot will learn to avoid doing self-destructive things. It has no moral significance whatsoever.

            Obviously, in real animals, P41N is pain.

            The point, given that it is just signal in a regulatory feedback mechanism, at what point of nervous system development does it get an objective moral significance? Perhaps one can argue that point is sentience, lucidity. And below that? Cows aren’t too smart. They are bred to be stupid anyway, because that means easier to handle, not getting funny ideas. A wild hog is a genius compared to a domestic pig…

            If pain is a regulatory signal as such, if it is just a mechanism to avoid mistakes, its objective moral significance is very questionable.

            Of course we could say the same about humans, but as I wrote about we have two very good subjective reasons to care about human suffering.

          • Deiseach says:

            it is clear that P41N is nothing but a useful tool, and we have no moral obligation to not cause a high P41N signal

            And that’s where the “useful” part of your formulation comes in. De-horning cattle is necessary. Is it necessary or useful to cause them more pain than is avoidable (that is, to cause a high P41N signal?)

            If horned cattle who gored each other get a high signal, that is useful as it would condition them not to gore each other. But causing a cow pain during de-horning is neither useful nor necessary, so we should avoid it, not particularly on moral grounds but as fellow creatures that feel pain (keeping things on the simplest level) and because hell yeah, we’re smarter than cattle and more conscious and more sapient and sentient so we know what we’re doing and what is going on. Where morality comes in is the effect of cruelty on humans, not on the cattle.

          • jimmy says:

            f@amanda

            >I honestly don’t mean this as an insult or anything and I actually really liked your comment, but could you imagine what it would feel like to have the same amount of pain as you get when you eat a ghost pepper, except all the time, every day? That’s pretty similar to what I used to live with […]

            I’m sorry that you had to go through that, and in no way do I mean to imply that your suffering isn’t valid. It sucks in a way that most can’t appreciate. I know because I’ve been there too, and people either didn’t recognize what I was going through or were overwhelmed and had no idea what to do.

            Unfortunately for me, my year of pain was before I started seeing pain differently, so I couldn’t quite enjoy the horrid experience the same way I would today. I’ve had some really strange experiences with pain in the last few years, the first of which was hard to believe even after I went through it. I know I can’t convey the experience in a few words, but hopefully I can scratch at the surface if you realize that I’m sincere and not making this up to try to support my pet theory.

            The first and most paradigm shifting experience was when I sprained my toe bad enough that a radiologist told me that my foot was most likely broken. The pain was enough that I couldn’t focus on anything else. I refused pain meds, but only because I’m a stubborn shit. My girlfriend pointed out my suffering and suggested that I “do something about that”. She had a point, so I thought I’d try something that I’d learned from my hypnotist friend. I picked this method even though it didn’t seem like it’d work for physical pain because in theory it *should*. (http://wikihyp.com/theory/acknowledgement-part-1-the-basic-conflict-and-the-formula/)

            In short, it’s a framework for finding the meaning behind painful signals. I started by saying “I wish I wasn’t in pain”, and it didn’t even ring true. Huh. Next was “I wish I didn’t break my foot”, which *did* connect with emotional “oomph”. Sixty seconds later I had finished the exercise and the pain was still there just as intense before, only I didn’t care *at all*. Suffering down to a 0.0/10. The pain “went away” the moment I started thinking about something else, the same way you lose track of, say, the feeling of your tongue in your mouth. It was always “there” to be felt – just as any other sensation, but it had no more relevance and would disappear from awareness just as easily. I’m serious. This happened. I wish I could just play the whole thing back for you like a kinaesthetic version of a movie. It blew my mind.

            If I were to have to deal with chronic pain today and I *succeeded*, the pain would turn into a complete nonissue just like this. However, I haven’t always succeeded in getting there since then. The first ghost pepper experiment went about as you’d normally expect it to go. However, I learned that with more intense pain has a lot to do with fear of being overwhelmed, so the next time I was in pain, even though it was *way* more intense (fetal position, tears, slow blink, etc) and not on purpose, I didn’t have that fear.

            I was laughing the whole time about how *ridiculously* intense the pain was. It was traumatic as hell and I’ll be sure to avoid hurting myself like that again, but I still remember the experience fondly at the same time. It’s kinda a “love hate” thing with that memory. I failed to get to the end goal then too (and learned more), but still I had zero desire for pain meds – and not just being stubborn this time. I saw it more as a puzzle to solve even and even though I wasn’t at peace with the pain, I was at peace with the suffering.

            Is it possible that I’d never solve the puzzle and get to where the pain genuinely doesn’t bother me? Sure. I’m stubborn enough that I’d probably wait til I did, but I *absolutely* recognize that being paralyzed by pain is a real cost. It might seem like picking nits from your perspective, but I see that as an importantly different thing. It’s not “pain”, but “reacting to pain poorly” which is costing me.

            In short, yes, I can imagine that. Yes, being in pain can suck even when you aren’t being damaged. And yes, I really really mean it when I say pain is just information and I’m worried more about the territory – even if sometimes the territory is the disorganization of my own mind

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @jimmy:
            While you arrived at a successful way to manage your pain without drugs, removing the stimulus, etc. I don’t think that is relevant.

            In a discussion of whether animals pain is relevant and immoral, I think the animals pain needs to be seen as unmanaged. To the extent that we are are aware of their pain (stress behavior in overcrowded chickens, for example), it seems like a fairly airtight argument to say we also know that the pain is unmanaged.

          • jimmy says:

            @heelbearcub:

            It’s not about my ability (or inability) to manage my own pain. I’m not saying “pain should just be managed”. I’m not saying that having unmanaged pain isn’t a shitty situation to be in. I’m not saying that you get a free pass to inflict pain on people/animals because “pain isn’t a problem”.

            I’m saying that if you look to minimize “pain”, then Goodheart’s law owns you. If you look to minimize pain, you will fail at being moral. Pain is not the problem. Pain *signals* the problem. The map is not the territory.

            I’m saying that I know this because when *I* used to think “pain is bad”, Goodheart’s law kicked my ass.

            I’m saying that I have experience disentangling suffering in myself and others, and over and over I find that despite how it seems, people never actually cared about pain itself.

            It’s a sufficiently different way of looking at things (and seems to be such an insignificant difference) that I’d be truly shocked and impressed if it actually clicked with anyone. My aim is just to seed doubt in the standard model and point towards the solution. Perhaps it would help to mention that I’m a hypnotist and that after seeing/doing plenty of really strange shit, it has changed how I look at our minds and goal systems?

          • Amanda says:

            I totally forgot to check back here to see if anyone responded to my comment, sorry!

            @Shenpen

            I agree with a lot of your comment, and thanks for replying to mine. You write:

            “My point is that at least at very primitive levels of artificial nervous systems, it is clear that P41N is nothing but a useful tool, and we have no moral obligation to not cause a high P41N signal. It is simply how we decided the robot will learn to avoid doing self-destructive things. It has no moral significance whatsoever.”

            I don’t have a problem with a certain amount of pain that happens as a result of an organism doing something it should not do (sticking its limb in a fire, purposefully hitting its head on the wall, etc), because this pain is useful and actually helps to prevent greater pain later on in the organism’s life (since it learned not to do that).

            But I think pain becomes morally relevant when it is no longer serving a useful purpose. When a person tortures another person or animal to death, that pain serves no useful purpose in teaching the victim anything. When someone’s nervous system malfunctions, as mine did, and generates pain signals to alert the organism of damage that does not exist, it is moral to try to make that pain stop (I also think it would be moral to try to eliminate this kind of malfunction from ever happening, perhaps through genetic engineering). I also think pain that does result from real damage should still be stopped as soon as the organism understands that it has been damaged, because continuing the pain after that point serves no additional purpose.

            And as for your example of a computer program that has been programmed to feel “pain” when it does something self-destructive, I think we would have a moral obligation to prevent that from happening, because we have total control over what that program does and feels. It would be possible (though probably harder and more tedious) to program it not to do things we don’t want it to do. Learning these things on its own through trial and error (with the errors resulting in pain) is not necessary; it is a condition that has been specifically inflicted on it by its programmer, and this seems like something people shouldn’t do, just as any God should not allow living things he has created to suffer when he could prevent it.

            I readily admit though that I haven’t thought about morality as much as most readers of SSC, so I might be wrong and maybe this doesn’t even make sense.

          • Amanda says:

            @jimmy

            Thanks for replying to my comment! It’s really interesting to hear about your experience with severe pain. I have never broken a bone before, but I’m sure it would be very painful. I sprained my foot once and that was bad enough.

            You write:
            “I started by saying “I wish I wasn’t in pain”, and it didn’t even ring true. Huh. Next was “I wish I didn’t break my foot”, which *did* connect with emotional “oomph”. Sixty seconds later I had finished the exercise and the pain was still there just as intense before, only I didn’t care *at all*.”

            I have a friend who has the same mental relationship to pain as you do. She seems to be able to just decide not to care about it. I wonder how common this ability is? I have tried to do it myself many times and have never been successful.

            You also say:
            “It might seem like picking nits from your perspective, but I see that as an importantly different thing. It’s not “pain”, but “reacting to pain poorly” which is costing me.”

            I agree that reacting poorly to pain is something we should try to help prevent. Part of what was hard for me before my pain was under control was that I felt so incredibly hopeless and depressed and wanted to kill myself just so the pain would finally go away, because nothing had worked up until then and no one seemed to understand. But I think it makes more sense to get rid of the pain causing a negative reaction in a person/animal/anything than to get rid of the reaction while keeping the pain around. I think it’s great that you were able to get into a mental state where it didn’t bother you! But that shouldn’t be the only option people have.

            And in the case of animals, I don’t think they’re smart enough to disassociate from it like you were able to (though I might be wrong about this, given that I don’t know a whole lot about animal neurology). If they can’t, which I think is true for most if not all of them, then stopping their pain is the only way to prevent them from suffering, which seems like a moral thing to do to me.

      • Froolow says:

        I don’t believe we know animals do not have preferences and complex social relationships with enough certainty to justify killing them. It seems the same logic that applies to x-risk should apply here: if there’s even a *tiny* possibility animals have these relationships we should err on the side of not eating them, since the impact of being wrong is morally catastrophic if we do eat them and basically involves eating Quorn if we don’t. There’s certainly a respectable mix of evidence and anecdata that (some) animals have relationships that they derive pleasure from, which would be disrupted by the deaths of those relatants, such that I don’t think ‘Animals are basically humans a few steps down the evolutionary ladder’ is an unfairly privileged hypothesis (I mean, this isn’t a Pascal-mugging situation in the same way, “Mice are actually our overlords, running the Earth as an experiment for their own amusement” is an unfairly privileged hypothesis)

        (‘Seeing it coming’ is a bit of a red herring – killing an unsuspecting human in their sleep is (if anything) considered even *worse* than killing them in a face-to-face duel / war etc)

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Froolow
          I don’t think ‘Animals are basically humans a few steps down the evolutionary ladder’ is an unfairly privileged hypothesis

          Agreed. If one accepts evolution and rejects supernatural intervention, then it’s more rational to believe we too are just animals, instead of having some suddenly magically sprung-up soul (now renamed ‘sentience’ or whatever and made conveniently undefinable). Which is not to say we are what some people think ‘just animals’ are — but that the way we are is probably the way other animals are as well.

          • Gbdub says:

            But if we are “just animals” then why should we have ethical hang ups about eating other animals? After all, many animals are predatory. All of the smartest ones are.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Good point. That may take care of hunting, but not factory farms or imprisionment or other unnatural mistreatment.

          • Anon says:

            Gbdub: “it is natural” is basically orthogonal to “it is good”. Lots of horrible things are natural. Rape is arguably the most common form of reproduction. What’s that got to do with anything?

          • Gbdub says:

            But animals do natural things (including rape!) without apparently feeling a lot of moral qualms about it. This doesn’t make them good, but no one goes around complaining about the “ethics” of dolphins.

            So why hold humans to a higher standard? Well we have higher reasoning, more advanced society, etc etc. But if humans are fundamentally moral and animals aren’t then why do animals count in moral calculus? If humans are “better” than animals…

            Either humans are animals or they aren’t. If they are, then it makes little sense to expect them to hold to ethical standards that animals don’t (and mostly can’t). If humans are not animals, then it is unclear why the wellbeing of animals should impact human moral calculus, except insofar as it impacts humans directly (e.g. the “torture of animals makes us more likely to abuse humans” argument).

            Obviously, I find things like rape and murder abhorrent. But I feel that way because I’m human, and I don’t expect my dog to feel the same way. Accepting this requires accepting that humans are fundamentally different than animals, and I tend to think that requires downgrading animals substantially vis a vis humans in any calculation of ethics.

          • Gnome de PLume says:

            houseboatonstyx: “….but not factory farms or imprisionment or other unnatural mistreatment”

            If we are just animal, then doesn’t it also follow that everything we build and make is just the equavilient of an ant building its hill?

          • Deiseach says:

            houseboatonthestyx: ants farm aphids. Mink (so I have been given to believe) will kill for amusement. Chimps will band together to attack and kill other bands of chimps. Dolphins will use decapitated fish (obviously meant as food provided by aquarium staff) as masturbation aids. Ducks notoriously gang-rape, even sometimes ending in the death of the female. Even in one instance, necrophiliac gay sex (I don’t know if you can call it rape as such, since the other duck was dead before mating commenced). Animals can be cruel and fucked-up as much as humans.

            If we take our lesson “we’re the same in the same way as animals in nature are”, then we are just as justified in farming and hunting and sport-killing other animals.

            EDITED: How the hell do I apparently know so much about Weird Animal Sex???? I blame Tumblr (but I can’t blame it for the dead gay duck rape, since I read that in the news long before Tumblr came along).

          • Randy M says:

            “Either humans are animals or they aren’t. If they are, then it makes little sense to expect them to hold to ethical standards that animals don’t (and mostly can’t). If humans are not animals, then it is unclear why the wellbeing of animals should impact human moral calculus, except insofar as it impacts humans directly (e.g. the “torture of animals makes us more likely to abuse humans” argument).”

            Excellent point.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Gbdub

            (My own position is that humans are animals, so for brevity I’m cutting your parts about the other side, and poking holes in the rest. Yours is an elegant position, though.)

            Listing some sins of some animals is not a very good point, because humans do all those sins too, and more. But no one dismisses the human race as having no morals and no moral weight.

            we have higher reasoning, more advanced society, etc etc.

            That gives us power to display our virtues/sins very powerfully; but that does not mean that animals lack standards (pretty similar to ours, actually) which they display more modestly with their more modest power.

            If [humans are animals], then it makes little sense to expect [humans] to hold to ethical standards that animals don’t (and mostly can’t).

            (Again, humans don’t and can’t either.) I suspect that what we perceive as moral precepts (or intuitions) manifest in animals as what we call their instincts.

            [Re abhorrence of murder] But I feel that way because I’m human, and I don’t expect my dog to feel the same way.

            Remember the central meaning characteristics of murder discussed upthread. Murder is killing without a good reason (or excuse). I think my dog is over-reacting when he kills a trespassing raccoon; but some gun supporters advocate shooting an intruder and/or a thief, and the principle is the same for dog and man: stop home invasion (by force as needed).

            Also the idea that only a moral agent can have moral weight keeps coming up. It seems to be a background assumption (which I think untrue). But I don’t have time to attack both sides of “Animals have no morals so no moral weight”, so I’m just going after the first clause now.

          • Nita says:

            @ Gbdub

            Either humans are animals or they aren’t. If they are, then it makes little sense to expect them to hold to ethical standards that animals don’t (and mostly can’t).

            Either bats are mammals or they aren’t. If they are, then it makes little sense to expect them to do what mammals don’t (and mostly can’t) — e.g., fly.

            Also, babies have no moral qualms about anything, yet we still “count” them in moral calculus.

        • Roxolan says:

          > killing an unsuspecting human in their sleep is (if anything) considered even *worse* than killing them in a face-to-face duel

          Polling my feelings on the matter, I think it’s not so much night killing that’s the problem, but the dread that comes with living in a society where there’s a chance you might get killed in your sleep. The killing is not worse because of what it does to the victim, but because of what it does to *everyone, every night* in a small way. Same reason food poison is considered extra awful (and why butchering a healthy hospital visitor to save five patients in need of organ donations is a bad idea).

          Most animals can’t make that reasoning, and so killing them in their sleep isn’t worse.

        • Vitor says:

          Couldn’t agree more. There is way too little we know about animal cognition / sentience to make accurate moral judgements about them.

          The more we study animals, the more similar to us we find them to be. Off the top of my head, it is quite possible that crows possess abstract language (being able to describe things to each other accurately without the thing being there at the time). Source: “A murder of crows” (if this documentary is wrong please correct me).

          With regards to eating animals, erring on the side of caution is a relatively minor inconvenience (for most people at least), erring on the other side is committing the biggest systemic crime of our time.

          • Jiro says:

            With regards to eating animals, erring on the side of caution is a relatively minor inconvenience (for most people at least), erring on the other side is committing the biggest systemic crime of our time.

            That would seem to argue for granting ethical considerations to hydrogen atoms or video game characters. (I don’t have the link, but it was mentioned here fairly recently.) It amounts to a form of Pascal’s Mugging–the size of the possible harm is such a huge crime that considerations about its likelihood can be ignored.

            Edit: Also, beware minor inconveniences. Psychologically, they are not minor.

          • Vitor says:

            I know about Pascal’s mugging and this is not it.

            There is a scientific case building up slowly but surely that the likelihood is in fact not low at all. More attention should be paid to research in animal congnition, because I think the question of how much animals suffer can be answered at least partially, making us revise our estimates a couple of orders of magnitude upwards, if only we paid attention to the evidence there already is.

          • Froolow says:

            @Jiro

            Pascal’s Mugging is a pretty general counter-argument to almost anything you could do. You’re right that the scale of the harms of factory farming mean that Pascal’s Mugging pushes you in the direction of ignoring the probabilities.

            But you don’t *have* to ignore the probabilities – it’s not a requirement of all high-payoff situations that you ignore the probabilities. I think this is just such a case – I put the probability that animals have nontrivial desires that include not being tortured and killed at >80%. Even a madly carnivorous sociopath must surely put it at >1% – we are too genetically similar to animals for us to be able to asset anything less than this with confidence.

            So even if I can’t solve Pascal’s Mugging and just dismiss Mugging problems out of hand, I wouldn’t dismiss the vegetarian hypothesis – we have too much *ex ante* reason to believe it could be true.

          • Jiro says:

            The problem is that “err on the side of caution” can be exploited by arbitrarily increasing the claimed cost of the error just like the Pascal mugger can arbitrarily increase the claimed size of the mugging. The mugger increases the claimed size of the mugging by enough to overcome your low probability estimate; the vegetarian increases the claimed size of the damage from eating animals by enough to overcome whatever utility the meat-eater claims on the other side. The key feature in both these cases is that the number can always be ratcheted up by enough to overcome the objection.

            This is not a fully general counterargument because most arguments don’t contain such arbitrary numbers.

          • James D. Miller says:

            If uncertain of your place in the universe, but a high weight on being normal, and this type of reasoning should cause us to raise our estimates of animal cognition.

          • Froolow says:

            @ Jiro

            I don’t think I can arbitrarily increase the size of the error. The error is a fixed size – the scale of the factory farming industry times the moral importance of animals iff they have moral importance (I guess you could split hairs about this bit, but since *so many* animals are killed each year it sort of doesn’t matter – it’s going to come out as a massive number whatever happens)

            The bit which I think you are arguing turns it into Pascal’s Mugging is that we have no good estimate for ‘the probability animals have moral importance’. I’m not even really sure this is the sort of question amenable to probabilistic reasoning. But what I am saying is that any reasonable value here gives you a positive net expected value by ending the meat trade (at least in first order – maybe McDonald’s R&D department is sufficiently valuable to the world that we’d want to keep it etc, but if we can’t even agree on the first order effects we needn’t worry about second order and further).

            So ‘err on the side of caution’ if you don’t want to do maths, ‘shut up and multiply’ if you do.

          • Jiro says:

            But what I am saying is that any reasonable value here gives you a positive net expected value by ending the meat trade

            That is equivalent to “any value that doesn’t say that avoiding meat is positive, is not reasonable”.

            Arbitrarily deciding what size number counts as reasonable and then saying that all reasonable numbers support vegetarianism is no better than just directly picking an arbitrary number big enough to support vegetarianism.

        • Adam says:

          It’s at least conceivable that you could disappear a few homeless people in their sleep without anyone else ever noticing and probably off a few family-less hospital patients to harvest organs, too, but I don’t think we’d sanction it even if we were certain no one would ever find out and it would cause zero social dread.

        • Ghatanathoah says:

          @Froolow

          I am willing to bite the bullet and say that it killing animals that have preferences, such as chimps and dolphins, is about the same as killing a human. I suspect that Scott is as well.

          However, chimps and dolphins are rarely factory-farmed for meat. I think the sort of animals that are factory-farmed are more likely to be the “don’t have preferences” kind of animal.

          • Adam says:

            Of course, if you value colobus monkeys and porpoises, chimpanzees and dolphins torture and kill them for fun, so they’re not necessarily positive on net just because they really, really enjoy torture and have fun lives. Chimps even torture and murder other chimps, so you don’t even need to just value the smaller animals they mess with.

      • Emp says:

        I’m pretty sure the animal has a preference, and in plenty of cases can see it coming, and the idea that they don’t have any relationships with other animals is just your speculation, or your saying that for some arbitrary reason the only thing that actually matters when it comes to animals is that they not suffer pain, at which point your argument collapses into “Factory Farming=Bad”.

        On the other side of this, what if I murder a recluse and makes sure I’m really stealthy and he doesn’t see it? Or kill a guy who’s a negative influence? Indeed, morally speaking your reasoning would lead to “if the guy is bad you should murder him”. Though I’m almost 100% sure you don’t endorse this view, you need to then think about which parts of your other reasoning are wrong.

        Disclaimer: I am non-vegetarian who’s very happy to eat meat, knowing fully well it causes enormous harm to some animals. I also arbitrarily like particular animals and species that happen to be cute. I am just pointing out the inaccuracy and inconsistency in this particular post.

        • Ghatanathoah says:

          On the other side of this, what if I murder a recluse and makes sure I’m really stealthy and he doesn’t see it?

          I think the fact that a human has a preference to live consists of about 99% of the reason that killing them is wrong. Their social ties and fear they’d feel of dying are of much less import, so killing a recluse is still wrong.

          (Most) animals are not mentally capable of differentiating between life and death, so they have no preference to live. They are completely indifferent on the subject of whether they live or die. By contrast they can feel pain, so hurting them is still wrong. (Obviously there are a few animals that can comprehend the concept of death, those ones it is bad to kill)

          Incidentally, this is also why assisted suicide is morally good. Since people who (rationally, after considering all the facts) want to commit suicide have a preference to die, rather than a preference to live, saving one of them from death is as bad as killing a normal person.

          Indeed, morally speaking your reasoning would lead to “if the guy is bad you should murder him”. Though I’m almost 100% sure you don’t endorse this view, you need to then think about which parts of your other reasoning are wrong.

          I’m sure Scott endorses this view, and so should you. If a bad guy tries to kill you or someone else you are entitled to kill him in self-defense.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        I wouldn’t be quite so cavalier about this. There seems to be something seriously amiss about painlessly killing humans even if they’re intellectually disabled foundlings.

        • Ghatanathoah says:

          I bite this bullet so hard it might as well be a marshmallow. A human who lacks the ability to form a preference to live has no more moral value than an animal.

          And that is why I am pro-choice.

      • Anonymous says:

        “I actually think painlessly killing animals is pretty morally neutral. The main reason that painlessly killing humans isn’t morally neutral is because humans have preferences, are able to see it coming, and have complicated social relationships that get disrupted when they’re killed.”

        Would it be permissible, then, to kill a human who can’t see it coming – let’s say, in his sleep – and who has no friends?
        Would it be permissible to kill a human who has never been told that death is a thing?

        (by the way – I’m the anonymous who started the comment thread – not the same one who asked “Why is pain even an issue at all?”)

        • Shenpen says:

          It wouldn’t, but it is fairly complicated why. Basically it would be wrong only because it violates a widely agreed rule and that has a general disutility (chaos) in itself. Widely agreed rules should be upkept for their own sake even, because it makes the world more predictable. So rule violations ipso facto contain an element of wrong unless counterbalanced by a greater good. Why does the rwidely agreed rule includes all humans? Schelling points. Ease of enforcement. It is far easier to drill people into not killing people no matter how passionate or angry they are, than expecting that an enraged guy who finds his wife in bed with a guy will go through those kinds of calculations. It is also easier to decide who goes to prison.

          Same reason why capitalism. We could have anarcho-socialism by turning permanent property rights into impermanent usage rights: a business is yours as long as only you work it, but if you start hiring employees they slowly start to homestead it away from you. This would be fairer than owning property forever and basically kill every socialist argument for big government, as it would be socialism in practice, without big government, so it could be easily a good thing but we cannot have it because it would really hard to enforce. People would keep arguing who really uses what forever. So we choose the simple option for deciding these matters: whoever has their name on the deed owns the property forever. I.e. capitalism.

          • Anonymous says:

            The question was rhetorical.
            Morality for most people is not simply about following rules that benefit ourselves if everyone follows them.
            Why are people against abortion, how does that benefit anybody?
            We are adaptation executioners not fitness maximizers.
            We have no reason to only recognize morality that “benefits” the community we’re part of and thus ourselves, even if it were true that that’s how morality evolved.
            Instead it is human to recognize the morality that already exist within our hearts, and then find the behaviors most harmonious with it, such as being vegan or pro-life.
            That we follow the morality within our heart is a good thing – by definition.

          • Shenpen says:

            @Anonymous

            >Why are people against abortion, how does that benefit anybody?

            1. By not weakening, not building exceptions into the “no killing” rule.

            2. By suppressing sexual libertinism (sex has consequences in the form of babies more often), reduces the chance of alpha-male harems and increases the chance of average guy finding a girlfriend.

            3. By signalling religious tribal membership, and strenghtening such tribes.

            4. By having an over pro-natalist cultural effect, where having kids is seen as important and thus, for example, women are less likely to feel degraded if their life is mostly just about motherhood. This could have an effect on demographics.

            I am not really proposing the average pro-lifer really thinks that through, I am just proposing he can see by simple pattern-recognition that pro-choice is not moving things towards a direction of the past but more towards a “more modernity” direction (i.e. fewer children, less religion, alpha male harems etc.)

        • Ghatanathoah says:

          Would it be permissible, then, to kill a human who can’t see it coming – let’s say, in his sleep – and who has no friends?

          No, because that human has a strong preference to live. The fact that he is incapable of noticing that his preference is being violated doesn’t make it any less violated.

          If the human has a strong preference to die instead of a preference to live, killing them is called “assisted suicide,” and is considered acceptable by many people.

          Would it be permissible to kill a human who has never been told that death is a thing?

          No, because that human probably has a number of strong preferences to do things in the future. For instance, if they desire to see the new Star Wars movie in December, killing them today would violate that preference, since they will no longer be capable of seeing it.

          Furthermore, even if they are unaware of death, it seems like if they were told about it and thought about it they would probably not want to die. So they probably have some sort of meta-preference to continue having experiences, which would then solidify into a preference to live.

          • Anonymous says:

            Don’t animals have the same preferences?

          • Ghatanathoah says:

            No, they usually don’t. Having a preference means that you can think of different possible future scenarios and are capable of ranking them in your head from good to bad.

            Most animals have little to no conception of time, the future, or their own deaths. They do not have a preference to live or die, because they don’t even have a concept of being dead. They are capable of feeling pain however, and have a lesser level of moral significance for that reason.

            Now, when I say animals I mean most animals. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few of the higher animals that did have a concept of death, and have a preference to live. Those animals are much closer, maybe even identical, to humans in moral significance.

            Also, obviously there are some humans that don’t have preferences either because their brains are not developed. I accept that they are of the same level of moral significance as most animals. That is the main reason I am pro-choice, I think killing a fetus is no worse than killing an animal.

          • Tibor says:

            Ghatanathoah: What about humans who suffer from a severe mental disorder and thus have no concept of death or (non-immediate) future?

            Also, there are animals which do not really even feel pain in any meaningful sense of that word. This includes most insects.

          • Adam says:

            Or lobotomized humans, those who suffered a severe brain injury. There has to be some level of cognitive impairment at which it’s okay to kill them if it’s all about cognitive ability.

          • Ghatanathoah says:

            @Tibor

            You’re right that insects and other animals probably don’t feel any pain at all. I consider killing them to be no more morally problematic than breaking a rock in half. They are of zero moral significance.

            Unfortunately, insects are not the animals that are factory farmed.

            In regards to humans with severe mental disorders that make them unable to conceive of the future, I assign them the same level of moral value I assign fetuses and cows. Killing them is no worse than killing a cow, and it is significantly less bad than killing a chimpanzee. They may be humans, but they are not people.

            Mmmm, these bullets are so delicious.

          • Tibor says:

            Ghatanathoah: I agree with the insects.

            I cannot agree with the handicapped humans. I don’t know why exactly, but judging them solely based on their mental faculties does not seem quite right.

            Also, would you say that it is generally morally worse to kill a person with a higher cognitive ability than someone simpler?

          • John Schilling says:

            There has to be some level of cognitive impairment at which it’s okay to kill [disabled people] if it’s all about cognitive ability.

            But not if it’s partly about cognitive ability and partly about maintaining a Schelling Fence between us and what would otherwise be some some awfully tempting homicides.

            There is a huge and defensible gap between Homo Sapiens and any other species, so we are not worried that eating meat will slowly evolve into cannibalism. But there is within humanity a continuous gradient of mental activity; drawing the line at “Does it have the Homo Sapiens genome and a beating heart?” risks forcing us to protect some beings that we maybe should be allowed to euthanize whereas “…and now the nice doctor with the syringe of potassium is going to give you an IQ test” risks something very much worse.

          • Deiseach says:

            Ghatanathoah, I applaud your consistency, and the way you are supporting my argument about the dangers, in the pro-abortion rights argument, about making personhood a legal status that is grantable and revocable at will (where “at will” means at the strongest “Society makes laws governing the circumstances where a person loses/is stripped of personhood and reduced to mere human-animal life, if they have not previously been deemed not to be capable of/have achieved personhood but remain mere human-animal life” and at the weakest “Refugee crisis? What refugee crisis? These stateless persons on the open high seas have been declared by international agreement to be no longer persons since they are not recognised as citizens or legal immigrants of any host nation, so they lose all rights and claims on our aid. They’re only human-animal lives, so we can legally and without a qualm send out our gunboats to blow their vessels out of the water and send them to the bottom of the ocean. Problem solved! No persons were injured in the implementation of this solution, only human-animal lives!”).

            🙂

    • g says:

      I gravely doubt that there’s “completely moral” anything. Anything you do is going to have some adverse moral consequences.

      [EDITED to add:] This is (as one could in principle tell without this note) a reply to the anon comment above that begins “Not all animals are equally sophisticated” and says near its end “That’s why there can’t be completely moral meat”.

      • Anonymous says:

        But some things are more moral than others, and with the comment that included “That’s why there can’t be completely moral meat” I just meant that non-veganism will never be as moral as veganism.

        • Deiseach says:

          I just meant that non-veganism will never be as moral as veganism

          And what about spraying the crops for global-wide vegans to eat with pesticides to kill insects? The rodents that must be killed and put down to keep them from infesting storehouses? The bird species that lose nesting grounds due to clearance of land to grow crops?

          There are always other animal species that compete with us for food sources and will have to lose out even if every person on the planet decides to subsist on rice and quinoa and cabbage and blackberries in the morning. Big Veganism will be just as intensive factory-farming as current Big Agriculture, since the romantic notion of boutique gentleman-farmers or happy peasants toiling in the village paddy fields will be just as obsolete, when it comes to growing enough food to feed five-seven billion people, as Farmer Green with his hens in the coop and Old Bessy in the paddock and Daisy in the pasture and Bertha the sow lying under the oak tree in the summer sunshine.

          Intensive cultivation, heavy use of pesticides and herbicides, heavy use of fertilisers, probably the necessity to replace traditional crops with GMOs to improve yields and productivity, monocultures, maximisation of efficiency by doing away with small family farms and having large cleared areas under crops, all this will have to be addressed. Look at the question of water usage by agriculture in California! That’s a state that is very important for agricultural produce (fruits, vegetables, grains and not just beef and dairy) for the entire United States yet it’s widely agreed that current irrigation methods and water rights are a total mess. Scale that necessity up for more water for more arable land (and to make land arable that previously was marginal) and you have another problem to solve.

          • Quinn says:

            And what about spraying the crops for global-wide vegans to eat with pesticides to kill insects? The rodents that must be killed and put down to keep them from infesting storehouses? The bird species that lose nesting grounds due to clearance of land to grow crops?

            I often see this line of reasoning used as argument against a vegan diet[1]. It seems to ignore the fact that livestock must be fed, so that all these same problems apply to food grown for animals, except more so, because producing meat takes a lot more plants per calorie than just eliminating the middleman and growing plants for humans to eat.

            This problem is orthogonal to the question of what kind of agriculture we use. Diets based on animal husbandry are worse for insects, rodents, and displaced species, no matter what form of agriculture you use to grow your fodder.

            [1] (I’m not saying that’s how you’re using this argument — it’s not obvious from your posts, and I don’t know your views on veganism. So, no strawmanning intended.)

    • Psmith says:

      One of David Quammen’s old Natural Acts columns attributes to Peter Singer the position that oysters are probably OK to eat. There’s also protein flour made from crickets: http://www.thailandunique.com/cricket-flour-protein-powder

    • nydwracu says:

      And that’s why if you really have to eat meat, instead of killing a single large animal, it’s better to eat a large number of simpler ones, such as shellfish (and maybe bugs, like they do in China).

      The problem with bugs is that, unlike shellfish, they’re too small to peel. You have to either eat the chitin or grind them into a paste. This isn’t the case for all edible bugs, but “it’s immoral to eat tuna; have you considered maggots?” is not going to go over well.

      (Would it be possible to farm giant weta as food? A lot of species of them are endangered; creating a market for them would solve that.)

  8. Phil says:

    Or move to the UK, where battery farming of chickens is banned!

    Surely it’s possible to buy free range chicken in the US? Not the full organic catastrophe, but animals that get to wander around & live their lives? Sure, you can’t buy processed food that contains chicken (or restaurant food) because that’s likely to be lowest bidder, factory farmed awfulness but if you cook your own food it ought to be possible to do it with chickens that live lives at least as fulfilling as those beef cattle.

    There’s also the issue that beef is by far the most environmentally destructive meat IIRC, for a variety of reasons. Beef cattle are a lot less efficient at turning land & food into meat and this has inevitable knock-on environmental stress effects elsewhere.

    • Emily H. says:

      I think it’s very hard, in the US, to determine which animals lead OK lives and which are lowest-bidder factory-farmed awfulness that just barely fulfills the letter of the law to qualify as “free-range” (or whatever other buzzword). If you go to a farmer’s market for all your meat, eggs, and dairy, you can probably do it; if you go to Big Chain Upscale Natural Foods Store, you can buy a box of eggs that says “free-range” on it, but there’s no designation that is really meaningful and meaningfully enforced.

      • Deiseach says:

        there’s no designation that is really meaningful and meaningfully enforced

        Language warning: some coarse and vulgar language towards the end

        Really? In a country as litigious as the USA, where most problems seem to be solved by “go to court and sue their asses off”? Nobody brought a case about “I bought this carton labelled ‘free range eggs’ and it was battery-farmed, I demand zillions for the emotional pain and suffering I endured due to this cruel deception”?

        More seriously, you don’t have national standards governing food description and packaging labelling? Let me guess: this is another thing where “every state gets to make its own laws and if Texas or Seattle decides ‘you can keep a chicken in your bedside locker and sell its eggs as free range’ they can do so”.

        And looking it up I see:

        There is currently no legal definition for “Free Range” or “Pasture Raised” in the United States, therefore these terms are often used on poultry packaging with no unilateral definitions for the consumer to trust.

        Let me state that I am very fucking surprised by this, because back in my salad days as a lab tech in the early 80s when I worked in a creamery, I had to test casein powder according to USDA standards and not just the Irish/British kitemarks or even EU requirements (yep, with the graduated sieves and filter paper to count the black specks) to make sure it was acceptable for export to the US market. But you can sell the American public any old slop as meat?

        • Buck says:

          This kind of litigation is sometimes used by animal rights activists.

        • Oliver Mayor says:

          The USDA does have guidelines on the use of “Free Range”, but it is very, very broad.

          FREE RANGE or FREE ROAMING:
          Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.

          (source)

          So the terms can get used very loosely. To borrow someone else’s terminology, sometimes it’s like this:

          Evil chicken farm = suffering birds in a big smelly rancid barn
          FREE RANGE chicken farm = suffering birds in big smelly rancid barn… with a small door.

          I also think that even if some consumers suspect that free range might get thrown around loosely, they will still get taken in by nice packaging and so on. If it’s a choice between telling themselves that the most expensive carton of eggs or poultry in the supermarket is the really real free range or walking out of the store empty handed, they will just buy the best thing that’s conveniently available and hope for the best.

          And it’s these marginally conscientious people that would be good candidates to pay offsets.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            If it’s a choice between telling themselves that the most expensive carton of eggs or poultry in the supermarket is the really real free range or walking out of the store empty handed, they will just buy the best thing that’s conveniently available and hope for the best.

            Still, they have sent the message that there is a market for such at higher price, which may encourage a race to the top. Hopefully in the meantime they will learn where to get products from better-raised chickens, and be expecting to pay even more for them. “Organic” may be a proxy for finding them, because really kinder-raised animals are usually organic as well.

  9. Anonymous says:

    >There is no reason to read it anyway and loudly complain in the comments.

    Sure there are! But they’re probably not very good reasons.

  10. How does environmentalism factor into this calculus?

    I’ve adopted exactly the opposite of the “prefer beef to chicken” advice and mostly eat chicken, primarily because they are much less environmentally damaging – beef and other ruminants are a significant contribution to greenhouse gasses, and the energy : food ratio is much lower for smaller shorter lived animals.

    I could probably make an argument that in the long run curbing global warming probably kills a lot fewer animals than going for eating larger animals does now, but I admit I hadn’t really thought about the tension between animals as moral agents and animals as environmental factors before now so I think I’m going to go away and think about it before I try to make that argument.

    (Disclosure: I am not personally very invested in the idea of animal lives mattering strongly compared to human lives, so I am unlikely to change my current behaviour)

    • Dirdle says:

      This exactly, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feed_conversion_ratio. Essentially, converting from 50-50 poultry:beef to all-beef could easily be (based on numbers from Wiki page) between a 30% and an 84% increase in feedstock consumption, while converting to all-poultry could be between a 43% and an 87% decrease.

      Now, this efficiency doesn’t necessarily weigh much against the suffering, depending on how you evaluate it, but it would be quite remarkable if a chicken were exactly as capable of suffering as a cow. That it is so is one of the assumptions of this piece, of course, but even so, the amount of extra energy required to raise beef is not inconsiderable if you place a small enough equal value on the two kinds of animals’ suffering.

      I eagerly await widely-available insect meat, whose conversion ratio is obscenely good and with a capacity for suffering that really ought to be nigh-nonexistent.

      Edit – Calculated ranges for values.

      • Adam says:

        Depending on where you live and how much you’re willing to spend on food, it’s possible to eat beef solely from providers you’ve personally visited. I was able to do this for a while in California and could confirm they were pastured on rocky hillsides eating naturally occurring grass where it seemed nearly certain nothing else was going to grow anyway.

        • Dirdle says:

          A very good point. Furthermore, grazing on marginal land also routes around most of the suffering an animal would experience, and would generally be an entirely fine source of small quantities of meat for a nearly-vegetarian society – if only we lived in one.

  11. agof says:

    how is it even possible to not like vegetables? not meat is about 80% of daily ratio
    also all packed stuff is still made from veggies, just the worst kind by worst recipes
    like “candy” bars made of corn and soy without even glimpse of sugar or fruits\berries

    • James says:

      I’m a vegetarian, but I don’t feel like I especially love vegetables. I feel like I live more off of grains, pulses, cereal, and various forms of dairy than I do off vegetables per se. I’m just putting this out there to show that you can be a vegetarian without being the kind of person who thinks, say, a roasted aubergine (North Americans, read “eggplant”) plus salad comprises a delicious, well-rounded meal. (Not that I have anything against such people, mind.)

      • nydwracu says:

        I’d call an eggplant and a salad a good meal, if the eggplant is prepared well. The problem is that I’d be hungry an hour or two later and have to eat half a pound of beef.

        I went vegetarian for a few years, just to see if I could. I ended up eating tons of junk in order to stave off hunger.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I literally cannot eat a single vegetable. I can have them if they are chopped up into small enough pieces that I don’t have to chew them or think of them as individual objects, but that’s it. Otherwise I start gagging. This is part of a general intolerance for bitter things (I can’t drink beer either) and crunchy things.

      • nimim. k.m. says:

        Huh, that’s weird. I’m a lousy cook, but that would render most of my usual meat-based recipes quite useless, and those are quite basic Western staple meals.

        What kind of definition of vegetable were using here? Just the “greens” as in salad, or *everything*? Potatoes, nuts, beans? Berries and fruits are usually more sour than bitter, but not crunchy, and can also be very sweet. Or what about tomato-based things that are smashed / cooked into a more or less liquid form without any hint of structure (if tomato counts as ‘structure’ even its natural state) whatsoever? What about cooked vegetables in general, or specifically soups? Mushrooms?

        Does adding salt have any effect?

      • DensityDuck says:

        So ultimately this all boils down to “vegetables are icky”?

        It occurs to me that a better use of your time might be figuring out ways to make vegetables palatable, as opposed to engaging in complex mental gymnastics to justify why everyone else on Earth ought to be vegetarian.

      • anonymous says:

        Hey Scott, the solution is very simple, just toss all vegetables in a blender!

        (and after blending the vegetables, boil the resulting mush in water, and add instant mashed potatoes to make the whole thing dense and caloric. Also maybe olive oil. Delicious.)

        Look, my vegan diet is entirely crunchiness-free.

      • Deiseach says:

        That sounds fascinating – how did your parents stave off vitamin deficiencies when you were a kid and wouldn’t eat up all your greens? 🙂

        Though you remind me of my own family: there’s one “not even honey bees have faces” vegan, one total carnivore who (like yourself probably) in childhood thrived on meat and as few vegetables as my mother could force into him and nowadays gets most of his veggies from spicy as you can get how the hell is that not burning a whole in your stomach? Indian and Chinese takeaway dishes, a vegetarian sibling with a demi-vegetarian son and another who is again a ‘good plain ordinary food and mostly meat’ son and myself, an omnivore or BLOODMOUTH CARNIST who finds it damn hard to eat the “recommended 5 portions of fruit and veg per day” and likes carbs such as bread and potatoes too damn much.

        Hey, how do you manage the “recommended at least 5 (and should be 7) portions of fruit and veg a day”, particularly as we are also warned that fruit is loaded with sugar so we should be mostly snacking on the veggies?

        EDITED: Though I do love turnips (mashed, so that solves the crunchiness problem) with black pepper and butter – yum, yum!

        You can mash carrots and parsnips together, and of course mashed potatoes. Things like cabbage though would be a problem. Broccoli and cauliflower (in Irish cuisine) usually boil down to a mush anyway, but to make them palatable you have to cover them in enough sauce (parsley sauce, bread sauce, onion sauce, whatever white sauce of your choice) so the goodness probably doesn’t count.

        I couldn’t do without onions in cooking, and I suppose you could grate them into mush, but isn’t the effort involved in chopping everything really small/grating it not worth the bother? Or are onions too bitter for you?

        This also makes me think Traditional Irish Cookery should have suited you, since it involves “boil everything into a mush” 🙂

        Cookery: the one subject we’re all insatiably fascinated by!

        • Nornagest says:

          Hey, how do you manage the “recommended at least 5 (and should be 7) portions of fruit and veg a day”, particularly as we are also warned that fruit is loaded with sugar so we should be mostly snacking on the veggies?

          A “portion” in this context is not particularly large. Yes, it’s a confusing guideline.

        • Garrett says:

          I’m pretty much an omnivore. I generally won’t eat slug-like things (snails, oysters) due to texture. However, parsnips are one thing that really cause me to recoil. Even worse than raw broccoli in my mind (and I enjoy cooked broccoli, at least in sauce).

      • Matt says:

        Have you tried soylent? It seems like it would solve both problems and maybe save you some time.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        How do you feel about indian food?

      • Amanda says:

        This is true for me too (well, almost, I can eat corn but that’s not really what people think of when they think of vegetables). I’ve tried multiple times as an adult to eat various types of vegetables and I get the gagging reflex too. I also can’t drink beer (or any alcohol for that matter) or coffee.

        I like some crunchy things, though. Cinnabon cereal is great and it is crunchy, like most cereals. I also like Crunch bars (a type of candy bar, for those who aren’t familiar with them).

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      When I got older I noticed that everyone around me seemed to have gone insane. As a child I avoided vegetables whenever I could. Most other children did too. When the cafeteria served mixed vegetables we threw them out rather than eat them. Corn and green beans were more acceptable, but usually still tossed. I hated it when my parents served vegetables and swore I would never torture my kids like that.

      I’ve remained sane as an adult, but everyone else seems to have been brainwashed. They suddenly started eating vegetables. People who never would have eaten them as a kid eat them all the time. They even talk about forcing their innocent children to eat them! Monsters! Maybe there’s some kind of virus in the vegetables that is taking over their minds! Must eat even less vegetables in order to stay sane!

      • onyomi says:

        There actually is a theory that most vegetables contain very small quantities of things which may be toxic, and/or developmentally toxic. These are harmless or even salutary in most adults, but may be bad for children, pregnant women, and maybe a few rare adults who, for whatever reason, remain sensitive to them. Recently saw a story about how asparagus contains a developmental neurotoxin. Seems to make sense of the fact that it tasted disgusting when I was a kid and tastes fine now. I actually enjoy the bitter flavor of many foods now: green tea, bitter melon, etc. I remember not even liking chocolate as a kid, and now I prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate.

        http://freetheanimal.com/2015/05/eating-nutrients-bulletproof.html

      • Amanda says:

        I can’t believe there’s another person out there who had this experience! I felt the exact same way growing up. All the other kids made rational choices not to eat things that tasted horrible when we were kids, but at some point along the way they started eating and sometimes even enjoying vegetables! How does this happen? Can someone who hated vegetables as a kid and likes them now explain this process? Does it happen suddenly, or do vegetables gradually start tasting better over many years? Or do they still taste bad and you eat them anyway because they’re healthy?

        I had the same experience with coffee and alcohol, by the way. Both tasted disgusting as a kid and still do as an adult, but other adults seem to love both of them now and I can’t understand why (aside from the fact that drunkenness seems to be an enjoyable experience for some people and coffee helps keep them awake).

        Also, @Ghatanathoah, I also think it’s painful to see parents forcing their kids to eat things that taste disgusting. I really hate seeing this and it gives me a visceral negative empathetic reaction to the kids’ obvious disgust. I won’t ever do anything like this to my kids. I would rather not reproduce at all than put children through this.

        • Nita says:

          I’ve never hated vegetables* that much, but I can attest that some bitter tastes have gradually become more pleasant to me, and sweet tastes have become less so (things can be too sweet now!).

          Bitter cucumbers are still unpalatable.

          Beer, coffee and dry wine still taste bad, but I can drink them if necessary.

          Also, liver is delicious now, and I no longer prefer eating each ingredient of a dish separately.

          * I was born in the Soviet Union, so my childhood experience of vegetables doesn’t include broccoli, Brussels sprouts or asparagus, but does include carrots, beets, bell peppers and cauliflower.

          • Amanda says:

            Very interesting! So some adults really do experience a change in taste where bitterness doesn’t bother them as much. This never happened to me.

            You said you grew up with carrots, beets, bell peppers, and cauliflower available to you. Did you like them as a kid, or did you dislike them and like them now? I am actually quite fascinated by taste differences between kids and adults, since it’s one of those things that seems to be really common and happens to everyone, except for those rare people like me.

            For the record, out of the four vegetables mentioned, carrots are the least disgusting to me, but I still wouldn’t eat them unless I absolutely had to due to imminent starvation.

            Also, you can eat foods mixed together now? That’s actually pretty amazing to me. I’ve never gotten over my desire to keep foods separate, with a few very specific exceptions (I like mixing chicken that’s been marinated in Italian dressing with plain white rice, for example).

          • Nita says:

            Did you like them as a kid, or did you dislike them and like them now?

            I think the biggest change happened with Hungarian white peppers. They aren’t sweet or hot, just mildly bitter, and usually stuffed with meat and rice. As a kid, I wondered why anyone would want to eat them, but now they seem to complement the taste of meat perfectly.

            Pickled olives also have gone from “bad” to “good”, and sweet bell peppers have gone from “sometimes OK” to “always good”, but fresh carrots have always been delicious.

            We don’t really have a “kids hate vegetables” meme around here. It’s more like “most kids hate boiled carrots and onions, and some young kids are picky”. On the other hand, parents forcing their kids to eat some particular food doesn’t seem very common, either.

            As for mixed foods, I remember lots of first-graders, including myself, disliking stew (something like this?), and now it’s one of my favourites.

        • alexp says:

          I’m still a picky eater. I still refuse to eat mushrooms or most shellfish or bean sprouts, but I’m much less picky than I was a child.

          I think part of it was just growing older and learning to like bitter tastes.

          I also had a short outdoorsy period where I’d be hungry enough at the end of a long hike to eat anything. There was also a fraternity pledge period where I endured all sorts of unpleasant tastes. No not the ones your thinking of, but college seniors and juniors can be quite creative creating terrible tastes with legitimate foodstuffs.

          Those two factors I’m not sure can be replicated.

          • onyomi says:

            Besides the “bitter stuff has mildly toxic things in it which might be bad for a child but are harmless to an adult” theory, I’ve also heard the idea that preference for most or all flavors other than sweet is learned, whereas a taste for sweet is innate. Of course, the first thing most people consume is mother’s milk, and I guess that’s probably not very sweet, but once they start eating food, probably the most universally unoffensive things are closer to pure glycogen than anything else, aka honey, pixie sticks, etc. Seems like no one has to “learn” to like those things, whereas in Korea virtually everyone likes kimchi, but in America you might find a majority who aren’t used to eating it would not.

            This is all probably related to the “omnivore’s dilemma” whence our sense of disgust and much also probably originate: with the freedom to eat a wide variety of food comes the danger of poisoning yourself. Something like honey is pretty unlikely to poison you, whereas some random bitter plant has a higher probability of doing so: hence it makes sense it would take more getting used to.

          • Nita says:

            Human milk is quite sweet, but giving honey to little babies is a bad idea — it contains a lot of things and can cause an allergic reaction.

    • simon says:

      Hating all vegetables? Um, easily?

  12. Linch says:

    So…EA arguments generally make sense to me. Even if I disagree with them a lot, I can at least understand them. But I don’t actually understand ethical offsets. Like, at all.

    Let’s see that you personally contributed to an issue. (say climate change, or factory farming, or adultery http://www.newrepublic.com/blog/the-stash/adultery-quotoffsetsquot , or drunk driving). Call it Cause B.

    Your general donations go to Cause A, but you decide to donate X dollars to Cause B instead/in addition as an offset. How is this rational?

    If you believe that Cause A is more efficient than Cause B, then why don’t you donate to Cause A instead? If you genuinely believe that Cause B creates more utilitons than Cause A, why don’t all of your donations go to Cause B? Why is it relevant that you personally are involved in Cause B?

    • Anderkent says:

      The idea is that you have some amount of money you’re designating for charity, in general, and that you distribute effectively. And then, in addition to that, you’re spending extra on some particular cause to ‘offset’ behaviour you think might be harmful. The purpose of the offset isn’t to be effective, it’s to manage guilt.

    • James says:

      Yeah, I feel this way too, in some vague way.

    • Vamair says:

      Same here, I don’t understand them, at least unless I go all the way to virtue ethics. I’m also not sure exactly how worse an average farm is than the wild, though I’m sure that I’m strongly against the ideas that wild animals should be extinct to prevent their suffering. And if farms ever get to the point of being as good as the wild (less freedom, but shelter, less diseases and parasites and more food) than eating farmed meat would be better than not eating it. Though with ag-gag laws this moment would probably be much further.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I agree with you, except in a psychological sense.

    • Adam Casey says:

      One way to imagine it is insurance against the least convenient scenario: Suppose you don’t just care about expected values, but want to also make sure you don’t make the universe worse in a case where some-plausible-moral-concern is vastly more important than you think.

      I’d be astonished if animals mattered in ethics. So much so that in EV terms they’re not worth spending money on. But just in case I want to make sure I’m not a monster.

      • Zebram says:

        Monsters are awesome. Anyone remember Cookie monster or Grover monster?

      • Linch says:

        Sure, but that seems like (the probabilistic version of) Hippocracy, which makes sense for doctors and deontologists but is not, AFAICT, the general view of the commentators here. “First, do no harm” is a universalizable principle (a world where all moral agents act this way is likely to be a net positive world), but in the world we live in, many people think they could do a lot better.

        I’m also highly uncertain about the moral worth of animals and my current diet is for Hippocratic reasons as well (with mild signaling/willpower training effects thrown in).
        Although I didn’t internalize how cheap averting animal suffering is until this post…

        One dilemma I’ve had for the last few months is how to reconcile a) the possibility that livestock have moral worth with b)my willingness to fund lifesaving and utility-increasing interventions for humans and c)since Bannerjee and Duflo’s demonstration that on the margins of extreme poverty, increases in income often translate to buying better tasting calories, which typically means more meat.

        However, if I’m reading the numbers on Scott’s post correctly, it’s simply a matter of moral hedging. Calculate the expected number of nonhuman animal lives, possibly weighted by consciousness, that your primary donations will cause, and make enough secondary donations to ACE so that you’ll on net avert animal suffering (this approach implies strong Hypocrasy, which I’m philosophically opposed to, but might well be the best that humans could do).

        At Scott’s upper bound ($4/LY for chickens), we can predict at most 70ly*$4/LY=$280 as an upper bound for the potential moral costs of saving one human life. Not bad at all! So if you’re a speciest humanist but don’t want to cause net animal suffering just in case, you’ll be safe donating putting 7.5% of your donations (round it up to 10% if you wanna) into alleviating animal suffering.

  13. b_jonas says:

    You say that you’re indifferent between beef and chicken as far as taste, which is definitely not true for me. Still, I’d like to know more about the specifics. Do you also propose abstaining from turkey meat (which I think is much more popular here than among Americans) and other poultry? And even if you don’t care about the taste, wouldn’t eating only beef and pork (plus fish and meat substitutes) make it more difficult to keep a nutritionally good diet, even for an adult?

  14. Anonymous says:

    As long as a partially meat-based, omnivorous diet is healthier than the alternatives for our species, there will be a demand for nutritional meat. As long as there is demand for consumption of meat, there will be a meat industry. As long as raising livestock is more efficient than culturing meat, yielding lower prices, it will be preferred by producers.

    Figuring out efficient meat culturation is probably safer for everyone than enacting a pan-species retroviral vegetarianization. (Either probably leads to the extinction of some of the current-day livestock species.)

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      That — and in the same direction, developing better meat-substitutes and better tasting vegetarian products, and making traditional vegetarian dishes (Indian, Thai, etc) more available, etc.

      As long as a partially meat-based, omnivorous diet is healthier than the alternatives for our species [….]

      That’s something you might want to examine a little more closely. Meat is a popular source for certain nutrients, but the same ones are common in vegetables too, and we have more different vegetables (generic term including grains, seeds, nuts, whatever) constantly available than our pre-historic ancestors did.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m certain it is possible to construct a healthy diet without any animal products.

        I’m also certain that it is far more convenient and practical to follow a diet inherited from our ancestors, in addition to being something that was tested over time to have worked pretty well. Given the additional effort of keeping an artificial diet, the lack of really-long-term testing of applicability for one’s particular genotype and the morale effects of eating stuff one finds awful, I stand by what I said.

        • Nita says:

          it is far more convenient and practical to follow a diet inherited from our ancestors

          So, for example, anyone of North European ancestry should be eating a lot of turnips, cabbage and offal, supplemented by meat on special occasions.

          Meanwhile, some of those who have roots in India should be vegetarian or even vegan, depending on the religion and caste of their ancestors.

          • Adam says:

            I’d probably be served well sticking to an ancestral North American diet. It’s tough to permanently stop all dairy, and I have tried, but even the lactose free variants and hard cheeses still give me at least a little grief.

          • Anonymous says:

            Pretty much. Certainly seems to have better outcomes in terms of diabeetus and obesity, potentially also longevity.

          • anonymous says:

            “So, for example, anyone of North European ancestry should be eating a lot of turnips, cabbage and offal, supplemented by meat on special occasions.”

            The diet of almost everyone’s ancestors is actually 90% grains and/or milk.

          • Deiseach says:

            I could happily subsist on turnips varied with cabbage and offal with meat/fish betimes, as long as there were enough spuds to go with them.

            Heck, I do happily subsist on meat, turnips and potatoes. My North-Western European genes must be strong, strong as the cliffs and the sea! 🙂

          • Anonymous says:

            Deiseach: I think that the primitive hunter gatherers Nita refers to ate a lot of potato-ish tubers.

            I suspect that the ancient turnips she means are less like modern day turnips, and more like potatoes.

            That said, before modern potatoes were introduced to Ireland, the Irish had been eating mostly grains and milk, for millennia.

          • Nita says:

            Lime Green Anonymous,

            Do you have a source for that 90% claim?

            Modern people also eat grains and dairy. I’m just describing the dietary changes we would have to make.

          • Anonymous says:

            Nita: that 90% was just a rough number off the top of my head, meaning “the great majority”.

            In general, societies that adopted agriculture get the majority, often the near entirety of their calories from grains (or sometimes tubers), except for the (typically lactose-tolerant) few who practice herding either instead of or side by side with grain farming; those get a significant amount of calories from dairy.

            On the spot I can’t link to an authoritative source for that statement, but I’m confident that it’s true.

            (I did not mean to recommend this diet specifically, although I do happen to think that a grain based diet is extremely healthy – modern dairy I don’t think much of).

          • Anonymous says:

            The 90% is probably an exaggeration. Premodern peasants probably consumed a lot of fruits, vegetables and roots also. The lactose intolerant populations probably skipped milk, too.

        • Anonymous says:

          “So, for example, anyone of North European ancestry should be eating a lot of turnips, cabbage and offal, supplemented by meat on special occasions.”

          The diet of almost everyone’s ancestors is actually 90% grains and/or milk.

        • Relative to our ancestors, the modern omnivorous diet is no less artificial than the modern vegan one.

          • Anonymous says:

            Not really. The vegan one was constructed on ethical/moral principles. The ‘eat-what-you-like’ diet is the result of an organic process of people selecting things they like, that they can afford. The prior traditional diets were the same, except in an environment where you had to make your own damn food, and learn from your parents how.

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      I would love to donate to any scientific groups researching this. Do you know of any?

  15. Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

    >I find that I’m indifferent between beef and chicken as far as taste

    I can accept extremism in thought experiment, engaging neorreactionaries and believing in AI risk. This, though, puts you right up there in the “literally worse than Hitler” camp.

    • James says:

      My favourite thing about this comment is that I can’t tell from which direction Scott is being attacked.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        Just how long have you been a vegetarian for?

        • James says:

          A few years. If I had to guess, I’d say you were probably arguing for beef’s superiority over chicken, but I just found it funny that this is so self-evident to you that you didn’t even feel the need to specify it.

    • Vaniver says:

      I have a poor sense of smell; texture is the primary difference I can perceive between the two of them (I prefer the texture of chicken, plus it’s often cheaper).

  16. James says:

    I’m a vegetarian for moral reasons, and I note with interest that this argument doesn’t really persuade me, in the sense of making me think, “great! I can eat meat again!” I do think the argument is basically sound, and accept it as a justification for someone else eating meat, but for some reason, I don’t feel any desire to take advantage of it myself.

    Maybe I’ve been vegetarian for so long that I’ve just internalised it too fully to want to change it. (I no longer look at a meat dish and think, “mmm, I wish I could be eating that!”) Maybe I’m more Kantian (viz. more universalisability-oriented) than I realise.

    I also feel more open to eating fish than I do to eating meat. I think this is partly because I believe fish is really good for you, but other than that I’m not sure how rational this really is.

    Edited to add: I tried becoming vegan at one point, but found it too difficult. (I eat few enough eggs that I’m not too concerned about their impact, but I was concerned about the dairy I consume.) But I found that I just can’t give up milk in my tea, and on my breakfast cereal, and cheese and yoghurt with meals…. I mention this as a way of admitting that my ethical stance on food is a sort of cobbled-together patchwork of principle and pragmatism.

  17. daronson says:

    I only eat beef from cows in the Restaurant at the End of the Galaxy. Seriously though I agree with the sentiment of this post (and respect the hell out of vegetarians), but I also think it’s important to admit that our moral views are a work in progress. They aren’t entirely consistent and often are case-by-case, and I believe that if we tried to force them to be consistent right now then our heads would explode. I personally tend to hedge on the “cows’ lives are over 40 times more valuable” of your footnote and try to eat fewer mammals (especially pigs, which we know are smart).

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Seriously, though, have you ever interacted with a chicken? I have, a little (in decently non-industrial living conditions)

      Me too. We had a flock of about a dozen for a few years, who really were free range: no fences, in several acres of rain forest. We had food out, but they spent most of their time foraging for what the forest produced.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Seriously, though, have you ever interacted with a chicken? I have, a little (in decently non-industrial living conditions)

      Yes, but my comment just got eaten. They weren’t interested in interacting with us, but they showed plenty of personality and good relationships among each other.

      • daronson says:

        Ok, that’s fair. My interaction was with chickens who lived in a cage but were let out periodically (so not truly free range). My personal experience with animals is truly very limited and I should’t base moral judgments on it. I still like mammals better because some vague notion of closeness to humans is worth many moral orders of magnitude in my book. As I said: work in progress.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          I feel less closeness to reptiles, insects, or fish because their behavior is more different to ours. But a creature that K-reproduces, makes a home for its young and feeds, protects, and teaches them, forms a smallish family with internal structure similar to ours, communicates with each other in ways that are easy for us to understand, etc … for me groups with mammals even though oviparous.

  18. Steve Brecher says:

    Background: 2 3/4 years ago symptoms of stable angina led to an angiogram which led to a diagnosis of severe blockages (but with some good collaterals) and a recommendation of a double bypass. Based on research of the literature for my specific condition (no hyptertension, etc.) I declined surgery in favor of a nutritional approach: whole plant-based foods only (no animal/dairy/fish products) with no added oil. So far, so good: I’m symptom-free and, e.g., climb 100 flights of stairs daily plus the occasional mountain, and do heavy (for me) resistance exercise 3x/week.

    Dietary veganism hasn’t been hard for me to maintain. I regard any animal welfare benefits as a welcome side effect that I get “for free.” Generally I get my calories from starches — potatoes, brown rice, whole grains, beans, etc. — with vegetables, leafy greens, and fruits as “side dishes.” Scott, I’m curious as to why vegetarianism was so difficult for you?

    Afterthought: the answer may be circumstantial. My way of eating could be logistically difficult in a milieu (medical residency?) in which the primary source of food is vending machines or standard-American-diet cafeterias.

    • Garrett says:

      One of my subtle pleasures in life is to eat the least-healthy food possible in hospital cafeterias. I don’t smoke, but I’d be willing to, once, just to smoke hospital-sold cigarettes if they still sold them.

  19. Epistaxis says:

    The beef-vs-chicken argument is fascinating and I haven’t thought of it that way before.

    But on the other hand, a lot of people reduce their meat intake not because they care about animal suffering (or animal death, in your version), but because they care about the environment. From that point of view, the recommendation is the opposite: eat chicken, not beef. https://i.imgur.com/uAREt8B.png

    Also, am I the first to notice the similarity between paying someone to promote vegetarianism instead of doing it yourself and paying someone to serve in the army instead of yourself? There’s not a lot of moral high ground in “But that other guy is less reluctant to die for our country!”.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      And yet paying taxes and having salaried troops is pretty much paying someone to serve in the army in place of yourself, isn’t it?

      If everyone started with equal amounts of money, allowing people to pay others to serve in the army instead of drafting people randomly would seem like a no-brainer. As it is, it’s unfair to the poor, but then, I didn’t see a lot of billionaires’ kids going off to fight in Vietnam under the current system either.

      • Jiro says:

        In that case, we think that people are required to do their fair share, not required to do all they can. If, instead, people were morally obliged to help the military as much as they could afford, paying for troops would not relieve them of the obligation to serve personally as well. Likewise, if meat is actually murder, you’re obliged to completely avoid murder, so you can’t just commit some murder and pay other people to avoid murder instead.

        (Notice how it doesn’t work with actual murder, either. We would never accept the idea of murder offsets, where you are permitted to murder someone as long as you are willing to pay enough money to increase the utility of other people by more than the loss in utility from the murder. Or at least I’ve never heard of a vegetarian accepting it.)

      • “As it is, it’s unfair to the poor”

        It makes both the poor and the rich better off (ignoring the possibility that it might change the incentives to get into wars). What does “unfair” mean here? I understand the intuition, but I’m not sure one can make logical sense of it.

        You might believe that the existence of rich and poor is itself unfair, but that would be true with or without a system of paid substitutes.

  20. Daniel says:

    “Although in theory wild-caught fish ought to live okay lives and potentially be more ethically acceptable than farm-raised animals…” – this seems totally wrong? If you’re catching fish from the wild, then you aren’t causing their okay life, you’re just cutting it short so that they don’t live more of it, which is presumably bad. Also, the standard arguments about wild animal suffering indicate that their lives aren’t actually good. Therefore, if you were able to painlessly kill wild-caught fish, it might actually be morally acceptable, but for the opposite reason that you state here.

    • Nita says:

      If you’re catching fish from the wild, then you aren’t causing their okay life

      The reasoning is that at least you’re not torturing them prior to killing. I.e., causing a life full of torture is negative, but not causing a life is neutral.

    • Adam says:

      I don’t know if anyone has ever done a comprehensive study of how fish lives typically end, but I’d have to imagine there’s a very high probability they’re going to succumb to predation at some point before a natural death, and that predator happening to be human seems morally neutral.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      If everybody ate wild fish, most fish would be happy for 99% of their life. If everyone ate factory farmed fish, it would lead to the construction of many factory farms, and most fish would be miserable for their entire lives.

      • DensityDuck says:

        “so make the farms not suck” is a valid response to that, though, and it still allows for the existence of fish farms (along with replenishment of oceanic biodiversity, which has beneficial effects far beyond what humans put in their mouths.)

      • David Byron says:

        How do you know they are miserable (assuming for the sake of argument they feel anything at all)? If you look at people in prison for example, they have similar issues with crowded conditions and it’s meant to be an unpleasant environment, but few people would say killing prisoners (to end their suffering) is a moral good. People adapt to suffering as they do to any long term stimulus like an annoying sound that you learn to filter out. Are you arguing that chickens or fish or cows would lack this ability?

      • Deiseach says:

        I find it very hard to imagine what makes a farmed salmon or farmed cod “miserable”. Oh no, I cannot swim upstream to spawn? Well, that’s a natural instinct encoded into them which is literally “reproduce and then die”, not a preference or a choice they make. I don’t know if they’re aware enough to feel misery.

        • James says:

          I find it very hard to imagine what makes an enslaved human “miserable”. Oh no, I cannot find a partner to mate and produce children with? Well, that’s a natural instinct encoded into them which is literally “reproduce and then die”, not a preference or a choice they make.

          I’m not necessarily claiming fish can feel miserable, but the way you put it here proves too much, encompassing as it seems to all forms of misery felt by any creature, including humans. I don’t see any meaningful way in which ‘natural instinct encoded into them’ differs from ‘preference’. I don’t know what misery is, if not thwarted natural instincts.

      • Daniel says:

        But there’s an asymmetry here – if you ate some plant-based fish substitute instead of wild fish, you would still have most fish being happy for 99% of their lives (hypothetically assuming that wild fish like their lives), and you would have them be living longer lives which would be even better. If we didn’t eat factory farmed fish but plants instead, we wouldn’t have the fish factory farms at all. It seems like in both cases, you’re doing better to not eat the fish, even if you think eating wild fish looks better than eating factory farmed fish.

    • Jiro says:

      Assuming you’re not catching so many fish that the population can’t adapt, the fact that you caught a fish leaves a hole in the ecosystem which is filled by, on the average, one more fish’s life, or two more fish each living somewhat more, etc. Think of it as QALYs–eating the fish deprives the fish of QALYs but also grants more QALYs to other existing or new fish.

      Of course, this applies to any case of catching wild animals, as long as you don’t catch so many that the population can’t adapt.

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        I believe that the DNR usually calculates how many animals the ecosystem can support and finds what amount of animals are surplus and likely to starve once food becomes more scarce in the fall and winter. It then allows hunters and fishers to kill the surplus animals, while restricting licenses so more than that cannot be taken.

        This means that, as long as you follow the DNR’s rules and regulations, hunting and fishing is a fantastic ethical bargain. Eating wild game instead of factory-farmed meat means that demand for factory-farmed animals goes down. Plus, it means that wild animals die quickly from gunshot wounds and fishing lines instead of a slow lingering death by starvation.

        If you’re inclined towards hunting and fishing, obey the rules, and are a good enough shot that you don’t cause your kills any undue pain, it’s a fantastic ethical bargain.

        • Steve says:

          This seems to run into the same ‘universability’ problem that Scott was getting at with offsets. More people fishing or hunting is a good thing until a certain threshold, after which it would basically result in either a) the extinction of the animals being hunted/fished or b) a situation in which it’s so difficult/time consuming/otherwise costly to kill an animal in the wild that people switch back to farming again. Hunting/fishing is only a fantastic ethical bargain if most people don’t take advantage of it.

          Edit: to be fair, I guess this is more or less what you’re saying by ‘follow the DNR’s rules’

  21. exusqa says:

    “This analysis neglects consideration of whether cows, being bigger-brained and more “evolutionarily advanced” than chickens or fish, might have greater moral value. I don’t know how to deal with that question, except that it would surprise me if they had more than forty times the moral value.”

    The problem is, this wouldn’t surprise me at all. I am comfortable to say that the moral value of one human greatly exceeds that of forty cows. I am also comfortable with claiming that the moral value of one chicken exceeds that of a million mosquitoes. So there are great slopes down the evolutionary tree. It is really hard to quantify this stuff. You may consider the complexity of the nervous system. You may consider the ability to feel pain (and reflect upon it?). You may simply consider the visual similarity to a human being (probably not a good strategy). But at the end of the day I feel that an order of magnitude is not an implausible difference when comparing a bird to a large mammal.

  22. stillnotking says:

    I never have much to say on this topic — my vegetarianism is a direct affective preference, not something I talked myself into, or could easily talk myself out of. I don’t eat animals because the idea of killing and devouring a sentient being is repellent.

    How on Earth did you end up eating “almost entirely bread and Quorn” on a vegetarian diet? Do you just not like vegetables?

    • Anonymous says:

      “One reason I’m not a vegetarian is that I really really hate vegetables.”

      • BD Sixsmith says:

        Or rice, pasta, potatoes, fruit, nuts, legumes, oils, confections, alcohol and, if “vegetarian” is not taken to mean “vegan”, eggs and dairy? Perhaps not – it’s not my business – but it’s wrong to think that vegetarians have to eat any more vegetables than meat-eaters.

      • Nita says:

        How on earth does one hate “vegetables” in general? They don’t all have any particular taste or texture in common.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          By interpreting “vegetables” as “a general assortment of the most consumed and easiest available vegetables”.

        • Devilbunny says:

          I know people who eat almost no plants other than potatoes, wheat, corn, herbs, a few fruits, and the very occasional salad. Hypersensitivity to bitter tastes and a strong set of preferences about mouthfeel seem to be the major issues.

        • Nita says:

          Cooked carrots and beets are sweet. Cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant and onion lose their bitterness when cooked. Squash is practically taste-free. Tomatoes, cucumbers and peas taste good in three different ways. And even pumpkin can be turned into delicious soup.

          I won’t recommend broccoli, Brussels sprouts or arugula to people sensitive to bitter taste, although I do love them myself.

          • Devilbunny says:

            Mouthfeel issues doom essentially all cooked vegetables. Raw squash is a little slimy. Crucifers stink. Etc.

            We’re talking about people who don’t want shredded basil leaves on top of pizza. It’s clearly irrational, but eh, do I want to fight that? Nah.

      • stillnotking says:

        That’s what I get for commenting before coffee.

        So, is Scott’s current diet almost entirely bread and meat? Nosy, err, inquiring minds want to know.

  23. thirqual says:

    Your footnote 5 is doing a lot of work (I would maybe not assign x40 for cow/chicken, but for pig/chicken, yeah, easily). If ones refuses to consider ANY difference in moral values, things get very tricky, especially for considering indirect harms in food production and in basic hygiene/house maintenance.

    • James says:

      Why is a pig worth more than a cow?

      • thirqual says:

        Pigs display a greater intelligence than cows (many caveats apply here), and, even if that is not perfect, that’s the proxy I would use to weight the moral values of various animals (if we did not have to weight also environmental concerns). Even at equal intelligence, one pig gives less meat than one cow (and no usable milk).

  24. Daniel Armak says:

    Are dairy cows treated better or worse than meat cows? What is the moral calculus of milk products vs meat?

    • Linch says:

      Will MacAskill says that he thinks dairy and meat cows both “good” (net positive) lives. So it’s actually better to be alive than not to born at all, for dairy or meat cows (but not for sows or chickens). I emailed him about this and he told me to read Compassion by the Pound, which I have not gotten around to doing.

      In the meantime (if you’re worried about animal welfare), it’s probably a safe hedge to choose milk products over egg products for your dairy needs.

      • Nita says:

        choose milk products over egg products for your dairy needs

        That’s a good idea in general — after all, eggs are not dairy products and can’t satisfy any dairy needs at all 🙂

      • Adam says:

        What is his quantification of quality of life for each? This statement runs so counter to my experience of dairy farms versus beef pastures and I feel like I’ve seen a lot of each, but granted, even many repeated observations is trumped by statistically valid data.

        • Nita says:

          It’s probably based on Norwood’s estimates in “Compassion by the Pound”, also seen here: http://utilitarianism.wikia.com/wiki/Cost-effectiveness_of_animal_charities#Factory-farmed_animals

          • Adam says:

            That just pushes the question back a level to why does Bailey Norwood think pasture cattle lead worse lives than dairy cattle. I’ll Google his study, I guess, but they didn’t provide a link and their page just slowed my browser to a crawl and nearly crashed it.

          • Adam says:

            Okay, never mind, it’s a book. Surely this guy published his work in a journal somewhere. He’s a damn agriculture professor. I don’t want to buy his book.

          • Linch says:

            Please tell me what you find. This issue is more than a little troubling for me, but not troubling enough for me to allocate the 50 or so dollars to buy Norwood’s book on Amazon (hopefully your library stocks it)

          • Ghatanathoah says:

            Can someone explain to me what the difference between breeder and nonbreeder animals is, and what the ratio between them is?

            If there are ten market chickens for every breeder chicken meat is way less problematic than I thought. If it’s vice verse it’s way more problematic than I thought?

          • Nita says:

            The scales are little more than judgment calls on my part, and when making these judgments I focused on the emotions I think they feel throughout their life.

            Norwood

            So, not exactly the most rigorous method.

          • Linch says:

            Darn. Well, it’s still the best model we have until we get a better one. Think ACE might work towards establishing a “ordered framework for which animals suffer the most” in the near future?

      • Mason says:

        I very much doubt that dairy cattle (or their calves) typically have substantially better lives than hogs, for example, but it’s worth noting that they produce a tremendous quantity of food.

        Julia Galef’s 2011 Scientific American article asserts that a single dairy cow produces ~63,000 lbs of milk in her lifetime – that’s ~17,640,000 calories. Beef cattle only produce ~405,000 calories-worth of food in a lifetime, and broiler (meat) chickens are a mere 3,000 calories/life.

        I think it’s worth considering how long each of these animals lives, though. If some magical animal could produce 30,000,000 calories in a lifetime, but had to be kept in a factory farm for 1,000 years, I’d be very hesitant to support raising it.

    • nil says:

      The big problem with dairy isn’t the cows, it’s the calves. A dairy calf is pretty much the only type of cow that isn’t always pastured, they supply the veal industry, and are weened far earlier than they would like. They’re basically unneeded surplus, and are treated accordingly.

  25. moridinamael says:

    I learned recently that livestock are the number one producer of greenhouse gases (ahead of fossil fuel combustion), the number one polluter of oceans (ahead of all other kinds of runoff combined), and the number one consumer of potable water (in the sense that growing their food obviously costs water).

    Does this change the ethical calculus beyond the “suffering” argument?

    (Yes I am a vegetarian and I love fossil fuels but as far as I know the first paragraph is factual.)

    • Adam says:

      Where’d you read it? The EPA says agriculture is 9% of US emissions, behind electricity, transportation, industrial, and commercial/residential as sector sources.

      • Tom Womack says:

        Yes, but that’s the US. There are distressingly large parts of the world which have cows just as methane-producing as American cows, or which burn down forests to plant fodder that will feed Chinese cows, and don’t have huge industrial sectors and residences with a fossil-fuelled air conditioner in every house.

        • SanguineVizier says:

          The EPA estimates global emissions by source as well, using data from the IPCC reports. On data from 2004, electricity/heat generation leads the pack at 26%, with agriculture in fourth place at 14%. The only way to plausibly argue that livestock is number one is to combine the agriculture (14%) and forestry (17%) numbers, combined with the hypothesis that at least 84% of the total is due to livestock. I regard that hypothesis as worth investigating (it passes the laugh test), but I have never seen strong empirical evidence for it.

          • Linch says:

            Mind you, Agriculture was on par emissions-wise with all of transportation, so it’s pretty significant.

          • SanguineVizier says:

            I do not believe anyone seriously claims that agriculture generally, or livestock specifically, is an insignificant source of greenhouse gas emissions. The original claim is that livestock is the number one source, ahead of even fossil fuel combustion. That claim seems dubious at best, based on the data from the IPCC. Electricity/heat generation alone probably beats livestock, and if transportation is included in fossil-fuel combustion, as it should be, then it seems incredibly unlikely that livestock emissions will come out on top.

          • Adam says:

            Yes, to be clear, I don’t doubt the impact of livestock, I just doubt it’s greater than everything else. I’m not even sure how they count agriculture as a sector, either, because if that’s counting transportation of food from farms to everywhere in the world we send food, that isn’t going to change because we send rice and corn instead of beef (which I’m pretty sure is mostly already the case anyway). It’s possible that gets lumped in with transportation generally, though, and they’re only counting cow farts.

          • Linch says:

            IIRC, <20% the emissions from agriculture is due to transportation, so that puts an upper bond on things.

          • Adam says:

            Sounds reasonable. It seems dubious to blame any one good sharing a ship or truck with a bunch of other goods for the transport cost anyway.

      • moridinamael says:

        Source for the above was this documentary:

        edit: link keeps getting marked as spam. it’s a documentary called Cowspiracy.

        Excerpts from the link (go to the link for sources):

        Emission:

        Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation … Transportation exhaust is responsible for 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

        Water:

        Fracking (hydraulic fracturing) water use ranges from 70-140 billion gallons annually … Animal agriculture water consumption ranges from 34-76 trillion gallons annually … Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption … Growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of water in the US.

        Land:

        Livestock or livestock feed occupies 1/3 of the earth’s ice-free land … Livestock covers 45% of the earth’s total land … Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.

  26. Alphaceph says:

    Funding research, or supporting it, into synthetic meat seems like it’s going to be several orders of magnitude more effective than your own personal meat consumption.

    Therefore this whole discussion is mildly retarded.

    • Froolow says:

      Not really – the two options don’t provoke an opportunity cost with respect to each other, so *even if* funding research into synthetic meat was more effective than going vegetarian in terms of cost / animal life saved, it’s not like you couldn’t also switch from chicken to beef and do even better.

      Although as it happens I doubt your marginal contribution to the synthetic meat industry would actually be especially effective – there’s already a lot of R&D money behind trying to discover ways to make realistic muscle tissue from lab vats (both from the meat industry, which is massive, and from the pharmaceutical industry, which is unimaginably massive).

      • Alphaceph says:

        > the two options don’t provoke an opportunity cost with respect to each other

        One would have to put quite a lot of effort into going vegi. Then of course there’s the fixed amount of your own personal happiness you are willing to sacrifice.

        > Although as it happens I doubt your marginal contribution to the synthetic meat industry would actually be especially effective

        Yeah but if you can make synthetic meat come even one day sooner (on average), you decrease the amount of farm animal suffering by probably a 20 billion animal suffering days. Considering chickens only, tradeoff point is going to be roughly

        40 chickens * 50 years of your life = t x 10 billion chickens

        t = (40*50) /10000000000 years = 6 seconds.

        So if you can make synthetic meat arrive 6 seconds earlier on average using the same amount of effort and personal sacrifice as it takes to become vegan, then they’re roughly equal alternatives.

        > there’s already a lot of R&D money behind trying to discover ways to make realistic muscle tissue from lab vats

        I bet that a dedicated effort from effective altruists could, on average, speed up the point of deployment of synthetic meat by a year on average. I’m sure there are bottlenecks that can be eased somewhere in that process.

    • Ever An Anon says:

      Reposting from above:

      Growing cells in culture is really quite difficult, particularly stem cells. Even if you have a cellular medium which is similar to their niche you frequently run into issues (e.g. three dimensional structure, cell-cell adhesion) that result in ugly useless cells. Establishing a new cell line, much less growing whole tissues, is a remarkable achievement.

      Now we’re better at this than we ever have been and we’re still getting better at it. But I wouldn’t bet on being able to cost-effectively produce synthetic meat any time soon.

      • Adam says:

        Although probably not cost-effective, either, something at least possible now would be to breed animals for tissue harvest who were on a permanent heroin drip from birth and lived short but completely blissful lives. It might even be possible to disable whatever part of their brain causes them to feel pain or care about anything without disabling the part that allows them to eat food and get fat, though you run into the issue that pain-insensitive people have with accidentally injuring and killing themselves from lack of tactile feedback.

        • Alphaceph says:

          > It might even be possible to disable whatever part of their brain causes them to feel pain

          I think this is probably a good idea to pursue. I bet you that there is basically zero academic research being done on this, and that there is plenty of room for researchers and funding, as well as huge potential gains in reduction of animal suffering.

          >pain-insensitive people have with accidentally injuring and killing themselves from lack of tactile feedback.

          Maybe reduce the pain drastically but don’t totally eliminate it? Maybe build cages that make it hard for animals to injure themselves?

        • Adam says:

          I was figuring restraints. That would make their lives outwardly look shittier than open grazing, but simulated bliss is still bliss.

        • Ever An Anon says:

          I don’t know about you, but opiate-soaked beef sounds more like something you’d buy in a Bangkok alleyway than part of a normal diet. I certainly wouldn’t eat it at least until there had been longitudinal studies on its effects.

          As for animals genetically modified to be pain insensitive or ancephalic, I’m not a farmer but that sounds like they’d take a lot of work to raise. Pain insensitive animals would kill or damage themselves constantly, while I’m pretty sure brainless animals would be completely immobile. It would almost certainly still be easier than culturing meat but also orders of magnitude more expensive than regular meat.

          Plus on a more practical level, opposition to GMOs is still high and these are some pretty sinister-sounding modifications. Getting the FDA and EPA to sign off would probably be a nightmare. And before that, management and the shareholders would likely be cautious of funding a lightning-rod for activists.

          • Adam says:

            The idea would be closer to certified organic produce or 100% pastured beef. There’s no way in hell you could ever feed a planet with it, but you can at least make well-off first-worlders with the ability to overpay for food feel less guilty about it.

          • Ever An Anon says:

            Right, but the locavore / free-range / organic food market and the GMO market are mutually exclusive. The whole point is showing how “authentic” and healthy you are.

            Who exactly would be buying this extremely expensive gross-sounding meat in quantities to justify it?

          • Adam says:

            There at least seems to be in this thread some demand for very expensive meat that never suffers. We have to be a representative sample of some reasonable submarket.

        • Psmith says:

          ” It might even be possible to disable whatever part of their brain causes them to feel pain or care about anything without disabling the part that allows them to eat food and get fat, though you run into the issue that pain-insensitive people have with accidentally injuring and killing themselves from lack of tactile feedback.”

          David E. H. Jones (Inventions of Daedalus) wrote a column proposing this very idea. If it were something like the old icepick lobotomies, I can’t imagine it would be terribly expensive.

        • Alex Z says:

          What about psychological suffering? Or is that covered by the same parts of the brain as physical pain?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Alex Z
            What about psychological suffering?

            I was wondering how we might protect anti-vegetarians from psychological suffering caused by knowingly eating a vat-grown steak.*

            But reading up the thread I see that’s not what you meant.

            * of equal quality

      • Alphaceph says:

        > I wouldn’t bet on being able to cost-effectively produce synthetic meat any time soon.

        Irrelevant, it matters how much sooner we can get to that point by putting effort into it.

        • Ever An Anon says:

          What do you think we’re doing now?

          The exact same technology to make cow-less beef would also be able to create replacement organs on demand as well as ideal tissue- / organ-scale models for biological research. It’s the whole reason anyone outside of developmental biology cares about stem cells in the first place.

          The marginal value of a $60 donation in a field with billions of dollars of grants approaches zero. Even “[L]Earning to Give” by becoming a researcher yourself wouldn’t really change anything because it’s such a hot field. You should donate time and money anyway, because scientific research has intrinsic value, but it’s not an “offset” by any reasonable definition.

          • Alphaceph says:

            > Even “[L]Earning to Give” by becoming a researcher yourself wouldn’t really change anything because it’s such a hot field.

            Right, but becoming a vegan also doesn’t really change anything; as demonstrated it’s completely swamped by the variable “date when synthetic meat is achieved”.

            Most people cannot become researchers in that field, but I suspect that if they organised themselves into a nonprofit they could target grant money specifically at synthetic meat production, rather than general advances in biology. This may involve waiting, or for example working on flavouring technology, texturing tech etc.

            In fact it seems that Sergey Brin’s decison to push this with his massive money cannon is what led to the first lab grown burger (that was held back by lack of money, not lack of knowledge – the techniques were all available but academia simply hadn’t bothered to put the time and money into it).

            But reading about it, it looks like there is a lot of work to do and I find it extremely hard to believe that there isn’t something you could do which would help.

    • Linch says:

      Is there a synthetic meat charity that you would suggest? Seriously question here, I don’t think we can stop a significant number of people eating meat any time soon and I would like to be part of the long-term solution.

      Also, consider using less mindkilly language in the future.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Does it have to be a charity? Find a company and invest in it.

        • Linch says:

          Hmm? Which ones would you suggest?

          My general impression is that companies tend to do a lot of different things, so it’s hard to know if my money is actually useful for my goals.

          Also, a publicly traded company means my marginal contribution is close to meaningless thanks to EMH.

          If it’s not publically traded, then for me to fund startups/privately traded companies with the sums I’m likely to donate, I mean, invest (say 5k) is probably more annoying than anything else.

          • Ever An Anon says:

            Why not group together with a bunch of like-minded EAs and start a fund to give research grants for work on tissue cultures?

            A couple hundred people kicking in a few grand or so is a reasonable amount of money. Not anything like government or even alumni money but it could buy a fair amount of equipment and reagents. Scale that up, get some breast-cancer-style fundraising going, you’d have a pretty solid organization.

      • Alphaceph says:

        > would like to be part of the long-term solution.

        http://www.new-harvest.org/get-involved/

        But be warned: I am no expert in this field and am just googling around.

        see also

        https://www.animalcharityevaluators.org/blog/beyond-meat-vs-new-harvest/

      • Michael vassar says:

        I have been investigating such options with some Boston area EAs. Unfortunately, EA resources are, due tip confusions within the movement, generally less with pursing than VC resources.

  27. Possibly Steve says:

    This might read like sarcasm, but it is intended as a genuine question:

    If you believe that animal suffering is inherently bad, why aren’t you desperately trying to pave over the world? There are billions of animals out there in the wild whose lives are nasty, brutish and short, generation after generation, and there is nothing you can do to help them. Quite a few of them even kill and/or eat other animals. Surely a flat and featureless earth would far superior to its current state, given your premises?

    (You consider the existence of wilderness a moral good? Maybe if you just eradicate all the lions (etc), and all the parasites and disease-causing microorganisms, and then field a fleet of drones that administer contraceptives to a carefully calculated percentage of the gazelle population, with veterinarians on call to handle any injuries reported by the drones…)

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Poor animals can’t win. Either it’s “Non-humans cannot suffer because they aren’t sentient” so treat them as badly as you like … or it’s “Non-humans can suffer so exterminate them”.

      This kind of thinking motivates me to donate to space colony development.

      • Daniel Armak says:

        Are you proposing space colonies full of cows and chickens?

      • Adam says:

        Still highlights some of the flaws in our thinking, though. I own four cats, for instance. I don’t let them outside currently, but I used to before one of them was killed by the neighbor’s dog. That has to be immoral on some level if we care about animal suffering. They were no doubt spending their entire days torturing whatever they could find just because it’s fun even though they’re perfectly well-fed, and of course, I have to feed them meat because it’s all they can eat, so some industry somewhere is grinding up chickens to feed my cats.

        Yet someone out there who feels bad about animal suffering is donating money to cat rescue.

    • Alphaceph says:

      Relevant evidence:

      (Warning, this is horrific)

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xdA9fvZqg0&t=0m30s

    • Linch says:

      If you’re interested in this topic, Google “wild animal suffering.”

      I do not want to link here because I’m not necessarily endorsing those ideas and I do not want wild animal suffering to be the face of EA (too many inferential gaps).

    • Oscar_Cunningham says:

      Presumably large-brained mammals have the most moral weight, and most of them aren’t wild.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        I wonder if whales consider humans intelligent, with such small brains. Elephants might give us the benefit of the doubt.

        • Chris Conner says:

          We humans have invented a quantitative measure that shows that we are actually smarter: encephalization quotient. Whales have never done anything like this, which proves that we are intellectual superior at the task of proving our intellectual superiority.

    • Urstoff says:

      Nature red in tooth and claw and asphalt

    • anonymous says:

      This is very debatable.

      I’ve heard arguments that – to the contrary – the majority of wild animals never encounter a predator, and that most of their lives consist of blissful happiness.

      No doubt animals experience diseases – so do human hunter gatherers – who suffer with diseases and a high child mortality. Yet the lives of hunter gatherers aren’t exactly hellish, in fact sometimes they are celebrated as wonderful. And surely they at least beat being held in cages destined to being butchered as soon as they finish growing up if not earlier.

      I need to do some research, but I’d just like to point out that maybe people here are taking the idea that the lives of wild animals are horrible too much for granted.

      It might be possible to make the case that the life of a premodern Plains Indian is not worth living, but it beats being an Auschwitz inmate.

      • John Schilling says:

        I’ve heard arguments that – to the contrary – the majority of wild animals never encounter a predator, and that most of their lives consist of blissful happiness.

        Considering their maximum lifespan and fertility (“breed like rabbits”), it is pretty clear that the majority of wild animals must either encounter a predator or starve to death, and by early adulthood if not before.

        It is certainly plausible that most of their life consists of blissful happiness. Particularly if evolutionary biology has wired them to think that playing hide-and-seek for high stakes is jolly good fun. But it’s still going to be a short life and the ending at least will be nasty and brutish.

        • Anonymous says:

          Ditto human hunter gatherers.
          Are their lives so horrible?

          “Considering their maximum lifespan and fertility (“breed like rabbits”), it is pretty clear that the majority of wild animals must either encounter a predator or starve to death, and by early adulthood if not before.”

          Well, I’ve tried searching Google for example of average known lifespans of animals in the wilderness. It’s an extremely quick and superficial search, but all example I can find show numbers much higher than the age of adulthood.

          (Edit: Douglas Knight just pointed out that these quote might be leaving out infant mortality, and he may be right, so I deleted all of them.)

          “the ending at least will be nasty and brutish.”
          I don’t see why more so than humans, especially in premodern societies.

          And anyhow, my central points are that:
          1 – Most of the life of animals in the wild is not spent suffering. Think of hunter gatherers for comparison.
          2 – The life of animals in the wild is longer than that of animals in farms. (Actually this one is debatable; I don’t know enough about it).

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I think you are misinterpreting those quotes. The pig one gives an explicit disclaimer that it is leaving out infant mortality. I think that applies to all of them.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        I’d just like to point out that maybe people here are taking the idea that the lives of wild animals are horrible too much for granted.

        I agree with you here. Estimating on such a wide, shallow generalization, a variety of good and bad experiences seems more likely.

        But on many such big generalized questions, I begin by wondering how could it ever be possible to get objective evidence? And whatever method of looking or testing might be tried … how does that method limit or bias the results the testers see? And through what media with what bias do we laypersons get our news of what the testers have seen (hint: popular media likes shock value).

        On the wild animal experience issue we could reality-check the media and Youtube by asking professionals who spend their working hours walking around in forests away from trails, or ask their associated veterinarians, or even ask taxidermists. But what may bias the answers those people give us?

    • Amanda says:

      If it was possible for me to eradicate all the wild animals on Earth instantly by pushing a button with no additional suffering or fear caused by my action of doing so, I probably would. I do think that most animals live lives that have net negative utility. But it’s not possible for me to do this.

      I also think that a lot of people have net negative utility lives, but I would leave it up to them to decide if they’d rather be dead and would be fine with providing a painless method of committing suicide to anyone who made that decision.

      I’m also fine with the idea of giving contraceptives to wild animals, but I worry that it just causes animals to evolve in a direction that makes it more difficult for us to keep track of them and prevent them from suffering. Currently, some cities have programs where they will pay for feral cats to be spayed and neutered. The cats are then released back outside, since feral cats don’t make very good pets. I think this is causing the feral cat population to evolve to be more fearful of humans, because the only ones that are reproducing are the ones who are so scared of humans that they cannot be caught.

  28. naath says:

    On the flip side the beef industry is destroying the amazon…

    Personally I experience too much social pressure to eat meat to actually give it up entirely (I’m aware that by not being part of the solution I am part of the problem); but I try to reduce the amount of meat I eat, and certainly don’t eat it at every meal. But then I *like* vegetarian food (which isn’t all vegetables!); maybe if my diet consisted entirely of bread and meat then switching to bread and quorn would be horrible for me.

  29. Arguments very good… Just thought I might note that beef is much more GHG intensive than chickens. I think a reasonably good solution where its easily available is wild meat. In Australia we have kangeroo meat which roams wild and emits no methane, and costs roughly the same or less than beef. Feel free to buy some roo meat off us rest-of-world!

  30. Vitor says:

    I think that many vegetarians / vegans are strict with their diet to achieve a feeling of moral purity. I am 95% vegetarian myself, and I just find the last 5% disproportionally hard. I still call myself a vegetarian, so other people will know how to treat me (I feel slightly conflicted about this).

    If you want to be fully 100% vegan, you need lots of special products: vegan wine (gelatin used to filter regular wine), vegan chocolate (tiny amounts of milk in regular dark chocolate, because few people care), etc. That last 5% purity is even harder to achieve.

    Based on this observation, I mentally order animal products along a primary-incidental axis spanned between two extremes:

    1) meat: the reason that animals get killed
    2) gelatin: used for wine, put into desserts etc, because it is plentifully available.

    If (1) was eliminated, (2) would disappear along with it, as factories substitute gelatin (and trace amounts of eggs, etc) with something plant-based that costs 3.7 cents more or something. The obvious strategy is therefore to avoid anything that is close to category (1). Things like eggs in baked goods are somewhere in the middle.

    Loosely applying this to my consumption choices has lessened the moral burden I feel considerably. I also think it’s important to show other people that most of them can get 90% of the way there before making any real sacrifices. The last 10% is something to worry about once the general population has reached the 90% mark.

    • Anonymous says:

      Have you considered ways of earning piety points that require less investment from you?

      • Vitor says:

        I would if I could flip a switch in my head that changed what issues I feel strongly about. It would certainly make my life easier 😉

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Yes, Rule of 80/20, ie 90/10. 100%, like 100% kosher, can be fun, but I think I get more productive stuff done if I’m not spending that much energy on food. Even avoiding all meat would take too much of my time right now, time away from protecting my scrap of rainforest.

    • Deiseach says:

      You can substitute beef and pork gelatin with seaweed extract (the next time you see carrageenan in a list of ingredients, that’s because it was originally extracted from the seaweed carrageen moss or Irish moss, though other species are commercially farmed).

      I know this because (a) seaweed was a part of traditional Irish diet in the past (b) evangelical vegan sibling – believe me, I know all about vegan chocolate for Christmas/Easter 🙂

  31. Vaniver says:

    this is counterbalanced by nobody except Gaston getting too many calories from eggs.

    Eggs are a component of many processed foods; cutting them out is considerably harder than cutting out meat for roughly the same reasons that buying vegan food is much harder than buying vegetarian food.

  32. Albatross says:

    From a pollution standpoint, I consider the most ethical form of meat consumption to be hunting. Farming requires the rabbits and deer to be killed to prevent them from eating the vegetables. But hunting requires a natural habitat. Hunting is also difficult enough that a hunting meat diet is almost certainly smaller consumption of meat. And hunted animals live natural lives right up until they die, usually when they are large. And by killing the animal personally the hunter avoids a lot of hypocrisy and has the opportunity to understand exactly how much suffering they are causing.

    I would donate to hunting groups because they acquire land to be set aside for hunting and they encourage meat production with animals that live full natural lives in nature.

    • nil says:

      Yeah, hunting is much better than any form of obtaining meat this side of roadkill. The death a hunter gives to a wild animal is probably less traumatic than any other way it could go out (albeit also sooner).

      And while I’m on the subject, if you live in a place where hitting a deer with your car is reasonably likely, I really recommend either learning how to field dress an animal or developing relationships with a couple people who have and are in a position where they could get to you within an hour or two. Depending on the impact and how quick you can get the butchering done, butchering a road kill can yield 60+ pounds of good meat, and will probably make you feel a lot better at what otherwise feels like a pointless waste of life.

      • jv says:

        I think the actual killing of an animal in a modern, humane slaughterhouse is more direct and quick. It is at least more regular. I’m learning to hunt now, and much of what they talk about is tracking the deer down after you got your first shot into the animal. Ideally, it drops dead, but not always.

        Perhaps the car ride there is the worst part.

        • John Schilling says:

          Tracking a wounded animal is the part of hunting that you absolutely have to get right. If you don’t find any fair game, or if you shoot and miss, you’ve still had an enjoyable day in the country. If you shoot and wound, and don’t finish the job promptly, you’ve caused real suffering.

          So, while it is relatively uncommon, any decent education in hunting will put disproportionate emphasis on that area.

        • nil says:

          Agreed. I was sort of clumsily mixing two different statements:
          – hunted meat is more humane than meat farmed through typical modern methods, because although the death might be a little uglier, the day-to-day life is probably better
          – death by hunter probably involves less suffering than most other deaths in the wild, which to my understanding usually involve starvation, predation, or some combination of the two.

          Coming back to this thread this afternoon, I realized that the second one really depends on what animals you were talking about. In the context I live, most people hunt white-tailed deer and the main predators are wolves and coyotes. I bet getting killed and eaten by wolves is a lengthy and really, really unpleasant experience for a deer…. but if you’re hunting rabbits, or living in an area where a big cat is at the top of the food chain? Maybe harder to call the bullet mercy.

          • LtWigglesworth says:

            I live in New Zealand, where there are no large animal predators (with the exception of humans of course!) and so if a deer/pig/goat is not shot by a hunter then it would likely die of starvation, disease, injury, or old age.
            So here a bullet is probably the most humane death they could have.

  33. baconbacon says:

    Eggs, milk and dairy are more problematic but as a few have mentioned visiting a small farm will show you that their animals are not being tortured. Getting enough meat for a year requires a small chest and one trip to a farm (if you are far enough away a few coolers and bags of ice is a good idea).

    Offsets in general are bogus.

  34. nil says:

    For me, rule one is to not eat pork.

    1.) It’s relatively easy. It sucks to give up bacon, but bacon’s not typically an ingredient–you’re usually just saying no to a side dish in that respect. I’ve been avoiding pork for about five years; the only area where it’s really been inconvenient is in pizza toppings. I think chicken is much more ubiquitous and would be much harder to avoid–the risk that I would cheat would go up dramatically. Plus, pork has a more distinctive taste, which I think has made it easier to develop a taste aversion of the sort that does the heavy lifting in hewing to a vegetarian diet. Finally, I can piggyback on the religious dietary restrictions.

    2.) Pigs are treated about as badly as chickens in objective terms, and they’re really smart. If you think an intelligent creature suffers more from confinement and boredom and/or you simply place a greater moral weight on the experiences of more intelligent species (a yes on both counts for me) then pork has got to go.

    Pig farming is probably the worst of the three for the local environment, as well.

    As someone who grew up on a beef cattle farm, I appreciate the note that beef cows live relatively humane lives–most of their time outside, with mostly unencumbered socializing and lots of space. Could be even better with relatively low cost, too–I’ve never worked the numbers, but I’m fairly confident the feedlot system adds much less value to beef farming than the CAFOs add to pork and chicken operations.

  35. Jobin says:

    I think the accounting is almost impossible to do well.

    Suppose in the world there are two people who each meat. They have a conversation, and one of them convinces the other one to be vegetarian. So now one of them is vegetarian. The other one pats themselves on the back for convincing the other one, so from the offset perspective they are animal-neutral. So from a certain perspective, they are now BOTH animal-neutral, even though lots of animals are still being killed and eaten.

    To do offset accounting right, you need to keep track of how much meat everybody would eat in the absence of convincing. Its pretty difficult to avoid double-counting. So from the weird offset perspective, the vegetarian still has an animal-footprint because they were “convinced” while the meat-eater is animal neutral.

    • aphyer says:

      Would like to agree with this. (I actually read the article and then searched for ‘double-count’ in the comments, because it jumped out at me too).

  36. Oscar_Cunningham says:

    It’s probably worth mentioning that because of economic elasticity the numbers in this post all need to be multiplied by 0.3 or something. When you choose not to eat a chicken, this causes farmers to produce fewer chickens, but it also causes shops to lower their prices which in turn causes more people to buy chickens. On net you only save 0.3 chickens.

  37. Irenist says:

    This is a helpful post. I have a specific issue I’d like help with, though, if anyone cares to help:

    I’m conservative w/r/t bioethics: I’m a Catholic virtue ethicist. So I find “animal rights” rhetoric (as opposed to rhetoric about human duty to behave humanely toward animals) troubling, I find the generally extreme pro-choice views of a lot of the animal rights-adjacent community troubling, etc.

    However, I am sincerely horrified by cruelty to animals generally, and by factory farming in particular. I also worry about the environmental impacts of getting lots of calories from meat. So I’d like to donate some money to animal welfare charities–not so much pet welfare charities like the ASPCA, but charities working to reform or replace meat farming but without my donation furthering the “animal rights” rhetoric that I find morally objectionable.

    Are there any such charities? I’d be delighted to help fund research toward lab-grown meat, e.g., or to fund advocacy for Meatless Mondays (or Fridays, being Catholic…) or reforms to farming practices, etc. I can and at some point should research this myself, but I haven’t yet and don’t want to reinvent the wheel.

    (FWIW, I suspect there’s a lot of “red tribe dark matter” people that the average EA rarely encounters who have misgivings similar to mine, and as the “low hanging fruit” gets converted, addressing such concerns will perhaps become even more useful.)

    • Arioch says:

      There’s the Albert Schweitzer Foundation, who mainly work on corporate outreach and against factory farming and are very effective and evidence based:

      http://www.albertschweitzerfoundation.org/

      Their main downside (and the reason they’re not a recommended charity at http://www.animalcharityevaluators.org/ ) is that they mainly operate in Germany, which already has much stronger animal welfare laws than the US. As I live in Germany, I don’t consider this too big a black mark, but it does mean that if you live in the Americas the good work they do will (mostly) be quite a ways away.

      Personally, I’m hoping they do well enough to expand!

    • Jaskologist says:

      I was just learning about/reviewing Aristotle’s teleological view of the world, and I think this thread is a great showcase for the problems with abandoning that.

      Those of us who believe that different things have different purposes can comfortably say that you shouldn’t torture the chicken, you should let it run around, and it’s also okay to eat it, because all of these things are consistent with a chicken’s purpose (part of which is being delicious). When you try to reduce everything down to some single factor, while preserving the idea that people shouldn’t kill each other and not driving yourself insane, you go in some weird directions (eating whales was suggested as a joke, but it’s not actually absurd).

      I’m not convinced the project is sustainable. You can see people here trying to figure out if we should evaluate ethics based on number of neurons, types of neurons, calories per week of suffering, number of animals killed per calorie, size of animal, etc. There’s really no clear guide, the answers will take you in wildly different directions, and I don’t think people would actually like where they end up. At that point, it really doesn’t seem any less arbitrary than saying that humans are special and have moral weight that other things don’t.

      • Irenist says:

        Obviously I’m psyched for you to be learning about/reviewing the value of Aristotelian teleology and I 100% endorse your pointing out how this post reveals yet more problems with trying to calculate the ol’ utilons.

        However, I think a friendly caution might be in order:
        There are (at least) two kinds of teleology. I’ll call them intrinsic and artifactual.

        Artifactual teleology is the most familiar: it’s when the artisan’s purpose for the knife is that it cut things, or when Paley’s God’s purpose for chickens is to be delicious.

        Intrinsic teleology is the directedness of things to certain end states. An example of organic intrinsic teleology is an acorn’s genetically programmed non-conscious agenda to become an oak. Examples of inorganic intrinsic teleology would be the way chemical elements have certain properties, the way water “tends” to flow downhill, the way warmed ice “tends” to melt, etc.

        While ancient and early modern thinkers (Cicero, Paley) were delighted to try to figure out the “artifactual” purpose of a chicken in the mind of its divine Artificer(s) as “being delicious to humans,” that sort of thinking is something I’d strongly discourage because (a) absent Divine Revelation in some scripture, how do you know? and (b) because even if you did know, Paley has made it disreputable and it is (deservingly, IMHO) easily mocked.

        Of course, you can still look at a chicken’s intrinsic teleology–to hatch eggs, to wander around pecking bugs and feed with plenty of room, etc., and end up supporting humane farming. In particular, if you also look at human teleology (which ought, I think, to include the virtue of justice as part of the habitual character of a flourishing human), then you see that it is unjust for a human to torture an animal, and thus that it goes against our own intrinsic teleology to do so.

        Anyway, grateful to have a fellow traveler traveling in these parts. But do please give artifactual teleological surmises about organisms a wide berth? My humble suggestion, and of course YMMV.

        ETA: Of course, being domesticated, a chicken is kind of a human artifact, too. But that’s not what I’m getting at.

        ETA2: My comment upthread backing you up on abortion was, AFAICT, making a similar point to the one you’re making here: the longer and more honestly Scott thinks about this stuff, the more Aristotelian answers like teleology and virtue ethics will show themselves to need fewer sanity-preserving unprincipled exceptions. (Speaking of which, some open thread, I really want to comment about how it makes me so sad that Scott’s main exposure to virtue ethics has been “After Virtue” rather than Foot’s “Natural Goodness,” which is rather like having your only exposure to capitalism be an indictment of the USSR rather than that great Milton Friedman clip about the pencils: Scott’s “AV” review kept asking where the heck the positive case was, and having read it a while after it came out, I wish I had been able to say at the time “NOT in AV, and frankly not really in MacIntyre at all compared to a less “literary”/continental and more analytic/rigorous philosopher like Philippa Foot.”)

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Irenist
          the longer and more honestly Scott thinks about this stuff, the more Aristotelian answers like teleology and virtue ethics will show themselves to need fewer sanity-preserving unprincipled exceptions.

          More efficient I think to start looking for support for “utility begins at home”, or at least questioning the current idea that everyone in the world has an equal claim on one’s help (according to their need or whatever). Here’s the more traditional principle, that can take care of a few of his exceptions.

          2. The Law of Special Beneficence*
          ‘The union and fellowship of men will be best
          preserved if each receives from us the more kindness in proportion as he is more closely connected with us.’
          (Roman. Cicero. De Off. i. xvi)

          This used to be one of the main moral precepts; #2 of 8. How did that change, and need it? (And where did Lewis get those headers?)

          * Lewis, _The Abolition of Man_, Appendix.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            So Scott has the principle he needs at hand already!

          • Irenist says:

            @houseboatonstyx:

            I think (although I’m not sure) that the Newtonian Ethics post was sarcastic. I don’t doubt that utilitarianism or consequentialism can be fitted with epicycles along lines like “everyone knows their kith and kin best so charity is most effectively applied to them” or “it would be inefficient to give so much to the faraway poor/to animal rights that your own mental/physical health suffered and you were no longer an effective do-gooder.” But epicycles they would be.

            Worse, it’s still hard for me to see how a consequentialist avoids “give everything above subsistence (or what is necessary to maintain social standing at your job) to a malaria bed nets charity” without allowing not just an epicycle, but an unprincipled exception.

            Now, consequentialism is not alone in having this problem. Christianity has had a painful tension between Gospel poverty and quotidian family flourishing built in from the beginning. But although a common problem, it is a problem.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Irenist:
            “Christianity has had a painful tension between Gospel poverty and quotidian family flourishing built in from the beginning.”

            Not from the very beginning, right? In the very beginning, Jesus was returning to earth within the lifetime of his apostles, family flourishing was pointless.

        • Aegeus says:

          Teleology certainly needs fewer “sanity-preserving exceptions,” but does it still produce good results? Lots of philosophies can preserve your sanity. “Do what feels right” would be an excellent moral philosophy by that standard.

          The real issue is that the set of things that help people doesn’t match the set of things that give you the warm fuzzies for helping people, and I don’t think any philosophy can help you with that. It doesn’t matter if my moral philosophy is telling me “Factory-farming makes chickens suffer” or “Factory-farming makes humans not follow the virtue of justice.” Either way it’s creating a moral demand.

          Heck, it doesn’t even solve houseboatonstyx’s problem where people starving in Africa thousands of miles away outweigh your local concerns. Teleology and virtue ethics would tell you “Those people in Africa are unable to fulfill their telos because they’re starving,” or “The virtue of charity demands that you help starving people,” and you’d still be stuck with the same moral demand.

        • Jaskologist says:

          absent Divine Revelation in some scripture, how do you know?

          Well, I mean, don’t we have divine revelation in scripture? Also, it seems to me that artifactual teleology provides the essential basis allowing morality to be a real thing. Am I missing something here?

  38. Andy says:

    I’ve been thinking of switching my meat consumption from turkey to Platonic Spherical Cows, would they be more or less the same moral value?

    (133 comments, and I’m surprised nobody made the joke first.)

  39. FedeV says:

    I am not very convinced by that argument. You have to look at the amount of resources (mostly, water + energy + pollution produced) required to produce a certain amount of animal calories versus vegetarian calories.

    For example, via The Guardian:

    Meat production requires a much higher amount of water than vegetables. IME state that to produce 1kg of meat requires between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water whereas to produce 1kg of wheat requires between 500 and 4,000 litres of water.

    With water shortages being a very serious issue, and water being heavily subsidized by the government, meat calories receive a huge implicit subsidy. While chicken might cause more animal suffering than beef on one axis, on the axis of consumption they probably cost a lot less.

  40. Stefan Drinic says:

    The more SSC I read, the more I wonder why there is a comment section at all, when most of the disclaimers above the blog posts are something along the lines of ‘oh my goddddd stop saying dumb thing X it won’t go anywhere.’

  41. g says:

    On the moral significance of different brain size/sophistication: I find it somewhat plausible that cows might have 40x the moral significance per animal of chickens, but if they do it is probably for reasons that also give them much less moral significance than people. So probably *either* all these animals don’t matter very much at all, *or* they do and the differences (per head) between cows and chickens aren’t so large; so eating cows rather than chickens is probably not a bad move if it matters at all one way or the other.

    (Note 1: Of course it’s possible that there’s some thresholdy effect where some characteristic that cows have almost as much as people but chickens don’t have at all is hugely important. Note 2: I am not actually a moral realist and things like “it’s possible that X has much more moral importance than Y” are shorthand for things like “some people might consider, as might I if I gave the matter enough further thought, that X has much more moral importance than Y”.)

  42. Jaskologist says:

    What I want to know is when you’re going to bite the real bullet and turn against abortion. The vegetarian arguments, the Rawlsian veil, the expanding circle of empathy, concerns about overconfidence, etc, that you use to support other things all argue against it. From the outside, it’s very, very hard to believe that you guys would be pro-choice if not for the fact that this is one of the most sacred points of Blue dogma, and questioning it would entail a true break with the tribe.

    Seeing people get bent out of shape about chickens, but accept abortion really undercuts the moral force of your arguments. When do you finally shut up and multiply?

    • g says:

      Most non-vegetarian people eat a lot more animals than they abort foetuses, and they eat them for less weighty reasons (“because it’s a tasty meal” is surely much weaker justification than, to take a few examples of varying respectability, “because pregnancy and childbirth are dangerous”, “because I don’t want to be fat-looking when I go on holiday”, “because I can’t afford to support a child”, “because my parents will make my life miserable if they find I’m pregnant”, etc.).

      So if you are about equally concerned that first-trimester foetuses might be morally significant as you are that cows might be, that constitutes much more reason to oppose meat-eating than it does to oppose abortion.

      • Linch says:

        This is true. I think scope sensitivity is a huge part of it, plus the desire to convert more Blues that taking such a large anti-Blue political stance will be antithetical to. (See Scott’s earlier post).

        On the other hand many EAs care a lot about prison reform and even the death penalty, so there’s some inconsistency there.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Who said first-trimester? I’d be impressed if vegetarians agitated against even third-trimester abortions.

        • g says:

          Most abortions are first-trimester; most later abortions are for stronger reasons than the average abortion; most very late abortions are for extremely weighty reasons. In practice, “opposing abortion” mostly means opposing first-trimester abortion.

          My impression (which could of course be wrong) is that the typical reasonably thoughtful Blue Tribe member thinks something like this: very early abortions are morally unproblematic; very late ones are comparable to very early infanticide aside from (a) Schelling fences and (b) the fact that a late abortion may be relevant to a medical emergency in a way that an infanticide couldn’t be; in between there’s a sliding scale of seriousness; if we really have to choose between the mother’s life and the baby’s, we should at least sometimes choose the mother’s; so we want laws that unambiguously permit very early abortions and make later ones harder but still permit them in extreme cases.

          The actual structure of the law in most jurisdictions is, in fact, not very different from what that calls for.

          • Adam says:

            That’s roughly how I feel, even though I just called myself pro-life below. I definitely don’t think the cutoff is conception, but definitely not birth, either. I’d probably identify somewhere around 8 weeks when the cerebral cortex has enough synaptic connections that it’s at least conceivable that recognizably human experiences could be had. That mostly just leaves me opposed to late-term abortions, but they’re such a small proportion of the total and mostly for medical necessity that it significantly reduces the scale of the problem to the point that I don’t think it should happen but it doesn’t tremendously bother me.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Adam:
            You can call yourself pro-life, but the position you just laid out isn’t the pro-life position.

            The pro-life position is that human life begins at conception, and the Catholic pro-life position takes it so seriously that they say that you shouldn’t even try and stop a conception that might occur. Calling yourself pro-life, and not including caveats every time you do so, muddies the waters quite a bit.

            Perhaps that’s your intention. But if you are instead confused about what the actual position is, you might want to update.

          • onyomi says:

            Surveys have found that it is very common for two people to self identify as pro-life and pro-choice and yet have the same actual opinion on abortion.

            The vast majority of the population actually falls somewhere in between “all abortion from the moment of conception, regardless of health threats to the baby or mother, regardless of rape or incest are murder and should never be allowed for any reason, no exceptions” and “it’s okay for anyone to get an abortion at any time during a pregnancy for any reason, up to, and including right before the baby is born perfectly healthy.”

            Perhaps related: I think the majority of the population falls somewhere between “animal suffering is of no consequence whatever,” and “pure veganism is the only ethical choice.”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            You can call yourself a ham sandwich, but that doesn’t mean you are composed of bread and a cured pork product.

            I can call myself a Democrat, but if I am not registered as a Democrat, never give money to Democratic candidates, don’t vote for Democrats and I don’t agree with the policy positions most commonly identified with the party …

            The people who call themselves and act and organize around it believe in life at conception. The people who call themselves pro-choice that abortion before ~24 weeks should be entirely at the mother’s discretion and that after that it is determined in the way that is commensurate with needing to cut off a limb.

            24 weeks is now a Schelling point for the pro-choice position.

          • onyomi says:

            “24 weeks is now a Schelling point for the pro-choice position.”

            I don’t think most of my Facebook friends have gotten the memo.

            The hardcore, politicized members of the two movements may have such clearly defined lines in mind, but most of society does not.

            And I think, in general, defining the abortion debate in terms of the two positions as you’ve described them strikes me as similar to describing the debate on the appropriate size of government as between anarchists and state-owns-the-means-of-production socialism.

            So, are you an anarchist or a socialist? This is an unhelpful question because almost everyone in the US falls somewhere in between (though as an anarchist myself, it doesn’t bother me as much, but I’m also aware that my views on the question are extreme by the standards of my society).

          • Adam says:

            Well, my current Schelling point is 8 weeks, so most of the time, I just don’t call myself anything. Call it mood affiliation. I see the argument play out here and it looks like the people who call themselves pro-choice are going through horrible contortions of their own conception of what makes a particular creature deserving of the right to not be killed, making sure it doesn’t include a fetus, fitting theory to the way they want the world to be, so I call myself the other thing. Put me in the comments section of a religious advocacy website and I’d probably call myself the opposite. Put me in any average part of the world where people gather and I likely would never mention it at all. Ask my wife how I feel, ask my mom, my sisters. I don’t think any of them could tell you.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Adam:
            I agree with what I perceive to be your contention that the pro-choice position is less simple and more nuanced than the pro-life position. Is that an uncharitable re-statement?

            What percentage of people on the pro-life side do you think would be satisfied with abortion being OK up to 4 weeks (leaving aside the difficulty of even determining accurately 4 vs. 5 weeks)?

          • onyomi says:

            I think not just the pro-choice, but also the pro-life people actually represent a greater diversity of views than you might think, especially among the younger generation.

            Personally, I think abortion is deeply immoral if it happens any time after say, 4 weeks to a healthy baby and mother. Yet as a libertarian I also know that making things illegal that people are going to do anyway often has perverse effects. Yet also we might have to accept those effects at a certain point if it means fighting murder.

            Yet at the same time I think it’s not immoral, and certainly shouldn’t be illegal for a woman to get a later abortion in cases like this:
            https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-i-had-an-abortion-after-20-weeks/2015/09/20/174495cc-5e2f-11e5-8e9e-dce8a2a2a679_story.html

            (Her baby was effectively already dead in this case, but I could also see it as permissible in cases of extreme birth defects which don’t actually involve not having a brain).

            So I have misgivings about making it illegal, but if I were the despot-cum-legal expert charged with setting some national standard I would say something like “no abortion after 4 weeks except in cases of very serious health concerns about the mother and/or baby.”

            Does this make me “pro-life”? “Pro-choice?” In practice, I don’t use either term. I’d just say “it’s complicated.” But I can also easily imagine someone with my views describing themselves as either pro-life or pro-choice depending on how they personally interpret those rather nebulous and extreme terms.

    • nil says:

      To some degree this cuts both ways. I’ve seen exactly one pro-life piece about “maybe we shouldn’t eat animals either” despite the fact that a great deal of pro-life rhetoric about abortion mills or quasi-virtue-ethics disgust over the scale of the practice could come straight from PETA.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Eh, nearly everybody treats human life as unique and deserving of special protection. It’s the ones who try to calculate QALYs for every living thing who are the odd ones out, and they look even odder when they start adding epicycles to allow for Roe v Wade.

        • nil says:

          My epicycle is “the value of human (and all other) life isn’t intrinsic, but rather related to their experiences and relationships” along with being relatively more concerned with suffering than actual killing. As such, the value of an unwanted fetus is very low, and certainly lower than the any of the mammals we eat. It doesn’t seem that any arbitrary to me than your speciesism.

          Your point about overconfidence is well taken, but your lack of consideration of the cost–the Cronenburgian aspects of having a person living inside you without your permission, something I weigh a lot more heavily than “not getting to enjoy pork chops”–is also pretty notable.

          (and before you ask, I don’t have any intrinsic objections to euthanasia or the death penalty, although in both cases I think it is very very important to get the details right to avoid horrible results. If it weren’t for virtue-ethics type concerns, I’d probably feel the same way about infanticide.)

        • Linch says:

          I’m trying to understand your true objection here, since in the comment above you were complaining about EAs being insufficiently theoretically rigorous.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I’m saying that prolifers aren’t being non-rigorous when they don’t worry about animal suffering; their assumptions and reasoning simply don’t point in that direction. The utilitarian and vegetarian arguments, on the other hand, do point towards being pro-life, if we draw them out to their logical conclusions.

          • Irenist says:

            Can’t speak for Jaskologist, but:
            Scott has admitted than on his materialist/consequentialist framework, he only preserves his sanity by “a series of unprincipled exceptions.” Not giving every cent he has to the welfare of Third World animals or something is one of these exceptions, and for “not have all my Blue/Gray Tribe friends hate me” values of “sanity,” I suspect (and suspect Jaskologist suspects) abortion is another.

            Compare somebody like your humble interlocutor here with my loopy Aristotelian metaphysics and my unfashionable virtue ethics. When I say that a zygote has a rational soul and a cow doesn’t, or that justice is foremost a virtue we exercise w/r/t our Near neighbors rather than Far people or Far chickens, the average LW/SSC/EA-adjacent person will understandably think I’m an obscurantist crackpot. Fine. I get that a lot, so maybe I am a crackpot. But I am at least a principled and consistent crackpot w/r/t my metaphysics allowing me to be pro-life and my ethics allowing me to allocate much of my charity to my local parish. Scott isn’t at all consistent in this way, and he writes posts like this whenever that starts to bother him, IMHO. For a rationalist, that seems like a big problem, and I admire Scott a lot for being bothered by it.

          • Linch says:

            To be more specific, you use “nearly everybody treats human life as unique and deserving of special protection” as a piece of evidence in the same chain of argument as an claim that EAs/utilitarians are lacking in rigor because they don’t follow (what you believe to be) the logical conclusion of their arguments.

            It does not make sense to use both as criticisms of EA.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Linch,

            Pro-lifers and vegetarians are operating from different premises. The usual pro-life premises are “killing people is bad” and “fetuses are people.” These do not logically imply vegetarianism.

            On the other hand, the various arguments for not killing chickens/not being racist/not being overconfident do tend to imply not killing human fetuses.

            It doesn’t cut both ways, in other words.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Jaskologist
            On the other hand, the various arguments for not killing chickens/not being racist/not being overconfident do tend to imply not killing human fetuses.

            That’s not always the case. Someone who supports not harming animals may be willing to harm animal fetuses as well as human fetuses.

          • Irenist says:

            Someone who supports not harming animals may be willing to harm animal fetuses as well as human fetuses.

            Yeah, but human fetuses are as sophisticated as lots of ADULT animals.

            Most animal rights-aligned utilitarians are at least sympathetic to Peter Singer-type positions, and thus tend not to have qualms about late term abortions. And there, I think, there’s a clear inconsistency: by whatever criterion one might oppose killing (or at least cruelly killing) a cow, one would have to oppose killing (or at least cruelly killing by tearing limb from limb) a third trimester fetus: AFAIK, a healthy late term human fetus meets every standard “personhood” criterion more than a cow. (I’ll grant Singer that an adult chimp meets his criteria more effectively. But a cow? No way. And vegans/vegetarians are opposed to hurting cows, too, not just chimps.)

            So either oppose third (and maybe second?) trimester abortions, or admit an inconsistency, AFAICT.

            ETA: I think most pro-choice sources put fetal pain at 24 weeks. So the post-24 weeks part of the second trimester is where I’d charge inconsistency here. And of course all of the third.

            ETA2: Let’s say someone shows up and proves me wrong, demonstrating the wit and wisdom of cows. Charge still stands: there is no way a post-24 week fetus is less of a “person” even by Singer’s criteria than a freakin’ chicken.

          • xq says:

            AFAIK, a healthy late term human fetus meets every standard “personhood” criterion more than a cow

            I think it all comes down to this. But is it actually true? You don’t make an argument for it and I don’t know enough to evaluate it. I have heard people make the opposite claim with equal certainty.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Irenist

            This was all pretty thoroughly hashed out in a recent blog entry (in which I was reduced to saying “I support abortion and eat oysters, but neither support nor eat zombies”). I’ll probably end up contradicting my old self here. But, briefly….

            (Well, first I don’t like words like person, sentience, soul, etc — all=the Emperor’s New Suit made of phogliston. I don’t like Singer. I haven’t studied what you mean by ‘sophisticated’, and refrain from the obvious cheap shot, so please excuse me if I’ve got it wrong.)

            May I take it as we might say, a ‘sophisticated’ piece of equipment: very complicated, very well designed, able to handle many subtle differences, etc etc. But a fetus in a womb has nothing for it to handle (and probably not the right brain fuel to run it, either.) It’s like a piece of equipment still wrapped up in it’s crate — except that it’s not even complete yet, it’s still being assembled, it doesn’t even have all its parts yet. Its ‘sophistication’ or whatever it ‘has’, is just potential; it doesn’t exist yet. It may never exist. We might say it’s a vehicle being assembled, getting ready for some driver who may show up later.

            An adult … mouse, let’s say … may have a simpler schematic, but the mouse is complete, and up and running. It’s got all its parts, it’s out there functioning in the world, doing mousey things.

            If a new house is being built, as soon as it’s been sketched and stakes and strings laid out, we can say “I’m going to look at my new house.” But it’s not really a house yet, and won’t do house-y things for quite a while. If someone says, “Hey, that’s my land, you’re trespassing!” and tears down a frame and beams and throws them off his land, that’s worth disputing — but you can’t sue him for the value of a whole completed house.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @houseboatonstyx

            Maybe I’m just pattern-matching to the things that have been on my mind lately, but that sounds like a reinvention of teleology. You’re basically saying a thing doesn’t have existence until it is fully capable of carrying out its purpose, and I think you’re even determining purpose in an Aristotelian way. Not that this is a bad thing; Aristotle was a smart guy!

            However, it seems like we could easily apply your argument to every child prior to puberty, as well as the physically disabled. The usual “what about when somebody is asleep?” rejoinder to claims that consciousness/rational thought/etc (as opposed to simply their potential) are needed to have personhood would also give trouble.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Jaskologist

            Okay, I was being hasty and sloppy with pronouns and maybe the mouse led me off track.

            Aiui, Irenist’s pro-fetus point was that even an X-week fetus was more ‘sophisticated’ than an adult chicken. Ie that the fetus has something called ‘sophistication’, and more of it, than the chicken. Zis mentioning the age of the fetus gave me the impression that the sophistication (which I described as a sophisticiated piece of equipment) was not completely developed yet. It lacked some parts, had no fuel yet, etc. It was not operational, and furthermore a fetus in the womb had nothing to use it on (nothing to react to, nothing to think about). I compared the incomplete sophistication=device to a ‘house’ that’s just a few pieces of the frame. It’s not a real house yet. (And I got kind of carried away comparing the destruction of that frame with an abortion.)

            By the time the mouse is up and running, so is its (simpler) sophistication=device.

            I don’t like Singer’s equating a newborn baby with a fetus. The baby is up and running, well, kicking and crying and hungry — and breathing. Sophistication be damned, this is a very different creature from the fetus on its umbilical cord floating in the womb. (And now it’s out, it’s no burden on the woman, and there are people who would like to adopt it, so to kill it would be very wrong — as Singer does say.)

            So now I’ve got the fetus and the mouse and the equipment all tangled up in an umbilical cord. I’m going to bed.

            (Jask, there’s a difference between a car that’s still being built and doesn’t have a motor yet, and a car that now runs and drives around, but the motor has been turned off for the night.)

          • Nita says:

            @ Irenist

            there is no way a post-24 week fetus is less of a “person” even by Singer’s criteria than a freakin’ chicken

            I’m sure most vegetarians would allow another person to kill a chicken if it was growing inside their body.

          • onyomi says:

            I just want to note that adult pigs are considered to be at least as intelligent as a three year-old human child, according to what I’ve read, so unless you think killing a three year old human child is no worse than killing an adult pig (or that killing an adult pig is as bad as killing a three year old), you have to admit human life holds a special significance for you (though one could argue that the potential for greater intelligence in the future somehow factors in).

          • Jaskologist says:

            3 year olds are able to converse quite well. I’m skeptical that pigs can do similarly well on a Turing test, but I don’t actually have much experience with pigs.

            Other things that have popped up in the thread that do not pass the experience test:

            -Babies are way, way more of a burden *after* they’ve exited the mother than before. Oh, how I miss sleep.

            -Fish suffer. As a long-time aquarist, I’ve seen many fish expire, and they are not having a good time in those last days. Yes, I know we draw distinctions between suffering and pain and can’t really know what it’s like to be a batfish, but that really just looks to me like making up extra terms so we can get the conclusion we decided on beforehand.

          • onyomi says:

            If you gave pigs human vocal cords, you might be surprised at what they could say… humans also have some parts of our brain specifically dedicated to learning human language, but the absence of that doesn’t necessarily indicate inferior intelligence in other ways.

          • xq says:

            I just want to note that adult pigs are considered to be at least as intelligent as a three year-old human child, according to what I’ve read, so unless you think killing a three year old human child is no worse than killing an adult pig (or that killing an adult pig is as bad as killing a three year old), you have to admit human life holds a special significance for you (though one could argue that the potential for greater intelligence in the future somehow factors in).

            It may not be intrinsically worse, but humans form emotional connections with 3 year olds, and killing one makes the people who were emotionally attached suffer. Also, the type of person who kills 3 year olds is not someone we want free in society.

          • Nita says:

            @ onyomi

            Uh, have you observed a three-year-old lately? This is a three-year-old.

            Apparently, pigs can tell other pigs apart, find and remember good feeding spots, learn who to follow to find food, understand mirrors and act sneakily. My 18-month-old niece can do all that (plus some language stuff we’re going to ignore for the sake of fairness).

            This is not to say I’m not impressed — both toddlers and pigs demonstrate impressive skills. But a 3-year-old is beyond their level.

            @ Jaskologist

            After they’re out, you can give them to someone who’ll take care of them. The issue with forced pregnancy is body horror, not inconvenience.

          • Irenist says:

            @Nita:

            I’m sure most vegetarians would allow another person to kill a chicken if it was growing inside their body.

            Sure. Heck, (most) vegetarians would probably “allow” someone to eat a chicken without wanting to invoke state violence against them. That’s an argument that abortion (or ornithophagy) ought to remain legal.

            But moral? Would it be moral to kill something as sophisticated as a chicken, cow, or maybe, just maybe a pig or a primate if
            a) it was growing inside you
            b) you happened to be able to carry it to term without serious health problems in your personal case
            c) in your personal case, you consented to the process that implanted it in you

            Never mind legal. Would that be moral, on the logic that leads some of us to be vegetarian or vegan?

            ETA: I propose that the fetus is akin (although without conscious rationality) to the dangerous escaped nanites in the ST:TNG episode “Evolution.” It was totally justified for Picard to want to kill them in self-defense, but once Data found a way to talk to them, it was obviously morally preferable not to kill them if at all possible. This is your basic “parasitic violinist/homeless intruder” abortion hypo. That hypo makes a good argument–and argument I think I may respect more than Scott–for abortion being legal. But moral? If there are other options? I’m unconvinced. And I think it’s especially hard coherently to maintain a commitment to the morality of it in a case like that if one is committed to veganism or vegetarianism with any of the common rationales, because then rationality (like the violinist of the nanites had) isn’t necessary for you to object to painful killing–you already object to causing pain and death even to irrational animals.

            ETA2: Bull wanders into my china shop and wreaks havoc. Am I legally entitled to shoot it? Yeah, probably. But ought I to kill it? Especially if I’m vegan?!

            ETA3: I’m not arguing about the legality of abortion here, or even trying to clutter up Scott’s blog with a debate about the morality of abortion considered generally. All I’m really asking is if it is ethically coherent for a pregnant vegan (not raped, no incest, no especial danger involved in this pregnancy) to get an abortion, and in particular a late term abortion, where the “animal” capacities of the fetus are inarguably 100% there. Maybe it is coherent. But with respect, I don’t see it.

          • Irenist says:

            @houseboatonstyx:

            I think your analogy is flawed. An infant or a prepubescent child is an incomplete adult every bit as much as a fetus, yet you don’t countenance killing them. And the nociception of the late-term fetus is every bit as much “up and running” as that in a mouse.

            If you want to compare the late-term fetus (or an infant, or a child) to a house, then a mere wood frame is the wrong comparison. A better comparison would be a newly built house that a family is already living in, but to which various additions are planned. The two car garage, the pool, and the upstairs addition to add another bedroom aren’t done yet, but the house is very much already “up and running.”

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – “After they’re out, you can give them to someone who’ll take care of them. The issue with forced pregnancy is body horror, not inconvenience.”

            To what extent is this body horror irreducable? To what extent is it being propogated by memes about pregnancies being a parasitic invasion? I am pretty sure they aren’t the sole cause, but it seems possible they are the primary one.

          • Nita says:

            @ FacelessCraven

            Is that a false consciousness argument?

            My personal opinion on this issue was formed based on biology, before I encountered any “parasitic invasion memes”.

            Unfortunately, due to the prevailing forced optimism about the facts of pregnancy and childbirth, some women end up completely unaware of the risks — and that is a much greater danger than any parasite memes. At worst, the memes can result in obsessive contraception or early abortion, but unattended home births inspired by the idea that childbirth is natural and therefore safe can lead to deaths of newborn babies and their mothers.

            Bonus: Did you know that you don’t necessarily need a uterus to sustain a pregnancy? It turns out that there’s nothing especially “life-giving” about female humans — the real trick is preserving your own life in the process (and a uterus does come in handy for that).

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – “Is that a false consciousness argument?”

            I hope not? Pregnancy and Childbirth are as natural as sex. We can observe how memes about sex make it seem filthy and disgusting and unpleasent. Masterbation has gone from “self abuse” to totally normal within living memory. I can see how people might latch on to the squickiness of masterbation or other sexual acts on their own, but that attitude doesn’t seem super useful or good, and I can see how social memes encouraged and inculcated those ideas and made them social norms.

            Descriptions of children as parasite horrors who ruin the lives of their parents aren’t hard to find. Should we encourage people to think of their children this way? Will that make them happier?

            “My personal opinion on this issue was formed based on biology, before I encountered any “parasitic invasion memes”.”

            Do you think that had nothing to do with the culture you are steeped in? I can entirely believe that this idea can be spontaniously developed in any culture, but I think ours inculcates and encourages it in a lot of ways, and thus makes it much more widespread. If this is a false consciousness argument, then I guess the best I can say is that it seems true to me.

            “Unfortunately, due to the prevailing forced optimism about the facts of pregnancy and childbirth, some women end up completely unaware of the risks — and that is a much greater danger than any parasite memes. At worst, the memes can result in obsessive contraception or early abortion, but unattended home births inspired by the idea that childbirth is natural and therefore safe can lead to deaths of newborn babies and their mothers.”

            All of which are way better arguments than body horror. then again, I’m pretty sure arguing for sexual continence at the expense of contraception and abortion doesn’t nescessarily involve encouraging people to be stupid about childbirth. In fact, it seems to me that the “natural childbirth” idea has a lot more to do with people seeing themselves as just another animal than it does with seeing pregnancy as a positive thing. People spent a lot of time and effort on improving the experience of pregnancy and childbirth before the sexual revolution, and various forms of “natural” birth exploded after it.

            “Bonus: Did you know that you don’t necessarily need a uterus to sustain a pregnancy? It turns out that there’s nothing especially “life-giving” about female humans…”

            …Ovaries?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Irenist
            by whatever criterion one might oppose killing (or at least cruelly killing) a cow, one would have to oppose killing (or at least cruelly killing by tearing limb from limb) a third trimester fetus:

            Essence vs accident. Pain of killing is accident: borrow from the future a general anesthetic acceptable to the AMA and the FDA. Then we can talk about the essence of killing either or both. Which we could go ahead and talk about now, that is, in some future blog entry. But I’ll be back in a few minutes with a more interesting Schelling point.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Irenist

            I apologize for the unclarity of my previous response; my bad, too many pronouns with unclear antecedents.

            I’ll try a different way to point out my, er, point. Rather than by counting neurons or whatever, I see birth as the most important Schelling Point and the most sudden (and visible). The differences between baby/child/adolescent/adult seem very small compared to the difference between a fetus and a newborn. Consider their experiences. No sight, floating, never felt a touch of anything except its own limbs so no conception of outside solid objects, never felt hunger or eating — no needs. Moving arms and legs in the warm fluid just for exercise, so to speak. Then comes birth canal, a traumatic experience itself for the fetus, who is now also immersed in and fed by fluids from a woman undergoing severe trauma and fear. Then an outside world where everything is different — well, now there IS an everything, though there’s never even been a thing at all.

            Then there’s poking causing pain, soon there’s pain of empty stomach which he’s never known … probably never known pain at all. His first action is kicking and screaming.

            This newborn is a personality quite different from the in-the-womb personality — a different ‘person’ (Singer go home, I’m talking language as she is spoke).

            This different personality can be grouped along with the robin or mouse: he’s another animal of the outside world, lively, anxious — engaged with outside things.

            (Btw, in this passage I’m not supporting very late stage abortion. I’m describing a ‘best case’ of fetus experience, ie late. Think how much more difference there must be between the newborn and an earlier fetus.)

          • Ever An Anon says:

            By that logic, would MacDuff and I be fair game since neither of us were born? If going through the birth canal is what creates that “different personality,” as your vignette implies, then logically you should be able to terminate at any time after a cesarean section.

            I’m not pro-life, abortion serves an important societal function, but it’s weird and disingenuous to claim that there is a bright line of personhood / humanity at any developmental stage. Which ought to make sense because personhood isn’t a biological fact that can be tested for. It’s either a metaphysical principal or a legal fiction: in either case claiming to see it in nature is on the level of reading tea leaves.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            By that logic, would MacDuff and I be fair game since neither of us were born? If going through the birth canal is what creates that “different personality,” as your vignette implies, then logically you should be able to terminate at any time after a cesarean section.

            Heh, I didn’t either, and I’m told I’m peculiar. I’ve seen in some credible source, a remark that experienced maternity ward nurses can tell which babies in the nusery were Caeserian just by the way they act (or rather don’t act). “Quiet, still — it’s like they aren’t really here yet.” The change that happens suddenly in birth, happens gradually in the crib.

            I used the dramatic occasion to point out how extreme the difference in experience is between a fetus in a womb and a baby in the outside world. An earlier stage fetus would have an even quieter, less stimulating experience in the womb.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          The specialness of human life is precisely what utilitarians reject in my experience. They are the only people who are completely fine with killing 9 people to save 10 and suchlike things, which everyone else has misgivings about due to the sacredness they ascribe to human life.

        • Irenist says:

          Sorry. Wrong subthread.

    • Adam says:

      These are effectively the arguments that eventually convinced me. It makes me feel like a special snowflake on one level, the rarest of rare pro-life persons who is not only not religious, but fairly actively anti-religious, and against virtually all other conservative social policies. The logic is just way too compelling, though, and it seems like you either need to go to ridiculous contortions to justify abortion that would justify much worse things or just ignore the issue completely and support it because you’re culturally opposed to the other side who doesn’t and you think they’re anti-woman (which might even be true, but would have no moral weight in the argument).

      • I’m happy to see that there is someone who apparently made up his mind on this issue for reasons other than tribal motivations.

        However, if it was not mostly obvious and it took a while for the arguments to eventually convince you, that suggests that those tribal motivations are an influence on you anyway, simply not strong enough in this particular case to overwhelm reason completely.

        So you should probably consider the effects of those tribal motivations on all your other opinions (which doesn’t mean they are all wrong.)

        • Adam says:

          I think my biases are more anti-tribal than anything, as in I’m very likely to be highly biased against any position that seems to be widely held for tribal reasons.

          Honestly, though, I’m fairly agnostic on most hot-button policy topics. I originally studied policy science in grad school and the best conclusion I could draw from all of the studies out there is, no matter how shut and closed you think an issue is, doing one thing has worked somewhere at some time and doing the exact opposite worked somewhere else at some other time. I’m not a big believer in universal eternal laws of human social organization.

          Edit: Actually, even that can be explained by an anti-tribal bias, since most hot-button positions on both sides are held for tribal reasons, so I just don’t believe either of them and turn my attention to something else.

        • anonymous says:

          I’m another one – pro-life and vegan – and guess what – I’ve ALWAYS felt this way (while it took a while to change my eating habits towards veganism, I’ve always felt that veganism was a great idea).

          So not everything is about tribes.

    • stillnotking says:

      I would not personally get an abortion if I were a woman, but I don’t support having the state make that determination for anyone, either. That’s pretty much exactly the way I feel about eating meat.

      • Wrong Species says:

        “I would not support murder but I also don’t support the state making that determination for anyone”.

        Abortion is not just a personal choice, like tattoos or plastic surgery. There is a living thing inside of the woman. Maybe you don’t think that life is worth more than the woman’s choice. Make that argument instead of just assuming it isn’t important.

        • stillnotking says:

          Obviously I don’t think abortion and meat-eating are murder, or I would support laws against them.

          There is no real “argument” to be made as to the relative moral weight of fetuses or chickens. Since they can’t advocate for themselves, it depends on our essentially arbitrary emotional valuations. That’s the whole problem.

    • Your point is well taken, but I put much more moral emphasis the ability of women to lead fully autonomous lives in modern society than I do on people’s ability to eat tasty meat.

      • Jaskologist says:

        How does being able to eat what I wish not fall under leading a “fully autonomous life?” What to eat is a choice that confronts us multiples times a day, and most of us even have strong instincts urging us towards meat.

        • If you can’t have an abortion, you might have to give up the idea that you can have sex whenever you want, in any way you want. Many people think this is far more important to having an autonomous life than being able to eat what you want. This just reflects the fact that sexual desire tends to be a very strong desire.

          That said, I agree that restricting a person’s ability to eat what they want is objectively far more restrictive.

          • Deiseach says:

            Many people think this is far more important to having an autonomous life than being able to eat what you want.

            You won’t die from not having sex. You will die from not having food. If your values are skewed to “sex more important to my quality of life than food”, well – a short life but a merry one?

          • It’s not about sex. It’s about knowing that the consequences of choosing to have sex can have far more life derailing consequences than the consequences of choosing ot eat whatever you want.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Deiseach

            “You won’t die from not having sex. You will die from not having food.”

            The correct comparison is not having sex, versus not having meat. If given the choice between celibacy and vegetarianism, I think most people would choose the latter. Indeed, I’m fairly confident that there are quite a lot more vegetarians than celibates.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      @Jaskologist:
      When we contemplate the arguments against factory farming for eggs, it’s the chicken we are concerned about, not the egg. If the egg happened to be fertilized, but was freshly laid, we still wouldn’t count the egg as having great moral weight. At some point, very unclearly and hazily and gradually, the forming chick takes on more and more moral weight. This is the argument that pro-life advocates seem unwilling to bite.

      The logical endpoint of your reasoning starts to look like people being unwilling to bathe for fear of removing habitat for a variety of single-celled organisms.

    • mca says:

      The reasoning that leads me to conclude that animals (or at least higher animals) are worth caring about morally is the same reasoning that leads me to care very little about first trimester unborn humans. If you convinced me first trimester humans are sentient and capable of significant suffering, I would oppose abortion. I think it’s not even close to true that the logical conclusion of the “vegetarian arguments” is to oppose abortion.

    • Anonymous says:

      How do you convince a consequentialist that abortion is actually morally wrong?

      Put a single living sperm cell and an egg in a Petri dish. Put them reallllly close together. Now smash them.

      Fertilize an egg cell. Wait a couple months. Smash it.

      What was the difference? You only win this fight (with a Consequentialist, that is) by proving the existence of a reasonable Shelling fence for “suddenly the fetus is experiencing pain” or something of this flavor. Because then, one of those processes “causes” a “being” to “suffer” for some definition of those words.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Because then, one of those processes “causes” a “being” to “suffer” for some definition of those words.

        I’d like to borrow from the future, a new anesthetic acceptable to doctors for the fetus and made part of the abortion package (for any stage). So we could dispose of that part of the argument.

        For that matter, also a new abortion process that would not appear gory (or otherwise horrifying) to an abortion-opponent. Probably not possible outside Star Trek; beam the fetus to some much better, welcoming womb?

  43. Machine Interface says:

    This seems to neglect the important variable of the time it takes for a farm animal to reach killing age. The typical chicken farmed for meat lives only 6 weeks on average. The typical beef farmed for meat lives 36 months on average.

    On the moral angle, it isn’t clear if the “chicken suffer twice as much as beef” claim is made overall on the whole life of the animal, or simply as a measure of suffering at any given moment. If the latter, however, it would mean that it actually takes (3 years * 52 weeks)/(2 times the suffering * 6 weeks) = 13 chickens to equal the suffering of a single beef.

    Where this becomes critical however is on the economical and ecological angle: because it takes 26 times longer to create a beef than to create a chicken, it follows that it takes a lot more ressources, time and space to create 1 pound of beef than it does to create 1 pound of chicken — not to mention negative externalities like soil and air pollution by bovines.

    So while switching from chicken to beef may reduce animal suffering, it isn’t clear that this isn’t entirely cancelled by the extra amounts of *human* suffering it generates.

    For this reason, short of complete vegetarianism, some advocates of sustainable, efficient food instead are pushing for insect farming: because insects have a very short life-span, they turn out to be extremely efficient and profitable in terms of ressources in/calories out — and since insects have much simpler brain functions than tetrapods, it might be that their suffering would be fairly limited too.

    In that angle, it might actually turn out that killing a lot of small and short-lived animals is actually both morally and economically superior to killing a lesser number of bigger animals.

  44. Anonymous says:

    >This analysis neglects consideration of whether cows, being bigger-brained and more “evolutionarily advanced” than chickens or fish, might have greater moral value. I don’t know how to deal with that question, except that it would surprise me if they had more than forty times the moral value.

    It would surprise me if it wasn’t in the hundreds, honestly. Having been in contact with chickens I feel barely more remorse for killing them than I feel stepping on spiders.

  45. Cole says:

    I think you had your finger on the bigger problem with converting more people to vegetarianism “vegetables don’t taste good”. I’ve never really liked vegetables either, and then I traveled to India. The food was just flat out better for vegetarian options, it was cheaper and tastier. I became a de facto vegetarian for the time I was there, because the option was just more appealing.

    I don’t know what exactly caused India’s population to be so vegetarian (religion, meat availability, or just a food culture that has tasty vegetarian options), but it seems like it should be a much bigger area of study for those that care about animal rights issues. It is the largest most successful vegetarian culture, we could learn something from it.

    • James says:

      Yeah, I love Indian vegetarian food!

      I don’t know what exactly caused India’s population to be so vegetarian (religion, meat availability, or just a food culture that has tasty vegetarian options)

      I’ve always thought of it as being to do with India being a very poor country, and meat being expensive, but India is hardly unique in this respect, so I’m actually not sure that covers it.

      • Adam says:

        I thought it was required of Hinduism, isn’t it? I’ve only ever known a few Indians, but they were all vegetarians because of religion.

        • Tibor says:

          One could go one step further and ask how come a religion that recommends vegetarianism became so successful/developed there.

          For instance, in Europe, except maybe for the Mediterranean, vegetables are simply not an available option all year round (I mean prior to the 20th century), so such a religion would have a hard time there.

          • Deiseach says:

            I know we joke about sacred cows, but in Hinduism the cow does seem to be regarded as a very valuable animal. And they’re vegetarian, not vegan – so they do use dairy products (e.g. milk, ghee) and animal labour (ox ploughs), and that is part of why the cow is so highly esteemed: it gives food and work. So I imagine killing a cow for meat meals would be like killing a sheep for its wool – short term gain, long term stupidity (you get more value overall out of a live cow giving you milk, as you do from a live sheep growing wool every year, than you do from killing the animal).

            Complete veganism would probably require no cattle for either dairy or labour purposes, so I don’t know if it ever took off (okay, the Jains, but they’re a small and special case).

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            @Deiseach:
            I don’t think that can explain the different attitudes of Indians and Europeans. After all, Europeans also used cattle as plow animals and for milk. Killing a cow for its meat wouldn’t be like killing a sheep for its wool. It would be like killing a sheep for its meat, a perfectly ordinary occurence.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m not an expert, but I seem to recall that most branches of Hinduism consider meat-eating sinful to some extent. Most of their believers, however, do not consistently practice vegetarianism; perhaps because Hinduism is nowhere near as centralized, and therefore doesn’t have the same kind of religious law, as people from Abrahamic cultures are used to. It’s mandatory for some religious groups within it, though, as well as some derivatives. The situation within Buddhism is similar, though that’s more monolithic than Hinduism is.

          Jainism does mandate vegetarianism for its adherents, and as far as I know is generally successful in doing so.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          The reason most of the Hindus you’ve met are vegetarian is secretly racism. Brahmins are disproportionately likely to be vegetarian because of their caste’s concern with purity. They are also disproportionately likely to move to to the west (and show up in places where you’re liable to interact with them) because of their caste’s stranglehold on privilege and wealth.

      • Could it also be because India is a source of a lot of spices, and closer than Europe to the sources of others? Through most of history, spices in Europe were expensive, so although they were used they might not have become part of the normal cooking of the masses in the way they did in India?

    • Murphy says:

      Yep, if meat wasn’t so much more tasty I’d have no problem with being a vegetarian.

      Anyone who claims tofu tastes similar/good in any way is either deluded or a liar.

      • Nornagest says:

        There is such a thing as good tofu: I’m a fan of mapo doufu, for example. It’s just not a good meat substitute.

        (Lest I be accused of bias here, I’m not remotely vegetarian.)

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          I think Tofu has to be seen, at best, as a cheese substitute. As a meat substitute it just doesn’t cut it.

          • Irenist says:

            I think “meat substitute” as a goal is the root of a lot of the problems. During my vegetarian days, I was pretty content subsisting on lots of beans n’ rice-based dishes, curries with lentils, etc., where I wasn’t attempting to have the legumes not be legumes. (As Mexico has taught us, you can do A LOT with beans and avocados, which are some pretty hearty vegetarian fare right there, and not trying to be meat.) But every time I had tofu at home (i.e., not at a good Asian restaurant) or bought some godforsaken veggie burger, I always just felt deprived. But bean burritos with avocado? That tasted like it was meant to, and I never felt deprived. (N.B., this doesn’t work if, like Scott, you actively dislike vegetables. My wife is sorta sympathetic to vegetarianism, but “hates beans.” That’s a tough one.)

          • Matt says:

            Tofu is not an effective substitute for either and using it as nearly always ends in disaster.

    • Emily H. says:

      It definitely seems like there’s a “virtuous circle” aspect to it: more people are vegetarian (perhaps initially for religious reasons), so there’s a bigger incentive to make delicious vegetarian food, and because there’s more delicious vegetarian food, more people decide it’s not a huge sacrifice to eat vegetarian. The same thing has happened in the US/UK since the 60s or 70s: the more people become vegetarian, the better the vegetarian options in stores and restaurants become, which in turn makes it easier for a person like me who isn’t totally passionate about animal rights to be vegetarian.

  46. JDT says:

    Worth nothing that “free range eggs” are /not/ a scam in the UK and do actually imply a good quality of life for chickens.

  47. Quixote says:

    Humane eggs are not all a scam. The minimum requirements are minimal, but some farmers raise chickens in excess of the minimum requirements in ways that probably are enjoyable to the chickens. That obviously costs more, but if its important to you, you can pay that higher cost. Some additional diligence is required beyond just reading the packaging, but again, if its important to you, you can do that. If you are in a good neighborhood in a populous city, ethical eggs and even meat should be fairly easy to find.
    I think that to a large extent the opposition to ethically sourced animal products may come from people who started at vegetarianism and justified it through animal welfare rather than people who started at animal welfare and arrived at vegetarianism.

  48. J.V. Dubois says:

    There is one important argument that you ignored: eating cereals may not be that good either! See here: http://theconversation.com/ordering-the-vegetarian-meal-theres-more-animal-blood-on-your-hands-4659

    Basically the biggest problem not eating meat is that you kill large number of sentient beings (mostly mice) due to a phenomenon called “mouse plague” – basically mouse population suddenly shooting up sharply as a result of storing food in granaries. Most of these mice are killed using terrible industrial poisons, many other mice are starved and dehydrated as their mothers/fathers were killed and unable to care for them. As lives/deaths go, this has to be up there being horrible.

    In short, the topic is complicated even when trying to get the basic facts right (how many animals died, how many sentient being QUALYs were destroyed eating this particular food etc.). And we are not even scratching the surface of truly hard philosophical questions (as in some excellent comments higher)

    • Shixtan says:

      Obviously, this just makes grain-fed meat even worse. But I find it to be a pretty convincing argument for eating grass-fed beef and true free-range eggs

    • anonymous says:

      I want to know if this applies to potatoes as well.

    • Chris Conner says:

      That’s not a terribly good article. In the first place, it makes an argument that Australian beef relies mainly on rangeland and requires very little grain input, but that’s not typical. Globally, only about 9% of beef is fed by grazing (source). In an Australian context, it makes sense to say that the costs of raising grain don’t pass through to beef, but that argument doesn’t apply to the rest of the world.

      To be fair, the author makes it clear that he’s talking about Australian conditions, but then he makes a very poor comparison between costs of meat and plants. He calculates 2.2 animals killed per 100 kg of protein derived from meat. He then calculates that growing wheat causes at least 55 animal deaths per 100 kg of plant protein, a 25 to 1 ratio in favor of beef. But why try to compare beef to wheat in terms of protein when wheat isn’t very good at producing protein and nobody expects it to fill that need? I have never heard anyone advise a new vegetarian on their diet by saying “You’ll need to replace the protein you used to get through meat, so make sure you eat lots of bread.”

      A much better comparison would have been soybeans. They have a yield of about 2.5 tonnes per hectare, versus 1.4 t/ha for wheat, and soybeans are about 36% protein versus 13% for wheat. That’s 900 kg of protein per hectare, nearly five times what wheat produces. If soybean productions kills mice at the same rate that wheat does, then the apt comparison is 2.2 animals per 100 kg of protein for beef and 11 per kg of protein for soybeans.

      To make matters worse, farther down in the article, the author changes the 25 to 1 ratio to kilogram of food rather than kilogram of protein, and claims this applies to pulses just as it does to wheat. That’s completely unsupported by what’s presented.

      The best I can say for this article is that it’s reasonable to point out there are costs in animal suffering and environmental damage from growing plants just as there are in raising animals. But the author’s arithmetic doesn’t provide us with any kind of basis for making a useful numerical comparison.

      (Full disclosure: I am a vegetarian.)

      • J.V. Dubois says:

        I agree, the math is dubious and it does not fit well in a situation for most of the population. I was thinking about not posting the link, but it is a source even if it has flaws. However I still think its main point holds – almost everything people do has large costs for animal welfare. Turning large swaths of land to agricultural production with its own ecosystem is bound to have quite a large effect.

        So in the end we are really talking about scale of animal suffering we cause, not if we can evade it completely. The fact that there is almost no serious discussion if let’s say wheat is easier on animal well being compared to for example rice and that the whole focus is on meat suggests that there is something more going on. Eating meat probably produces more emotional connection, it is easier to think about poor animal being butchered as opposed to countless unknown creatures being killed as part of producing salad with tofu.

        But if we are at it there is another thing that I would like to say when it comes to animal rights. So far for me it seems that people focus almost solely on human vs animal interactions. If animal is made to suffer as a result of human action it is bad, but if it suffers “naturally” or from human inaction (e.g. it starves) then it is not of our concern. This moral reasoning is line with a moral system where humans are the only being with moral value – animals are valued only in so far as they affect our behaviour towards other people. If being cruel to animals can make you bad towards people, it is bad. But if we want to give animals moral value of their own, we can open a lot of new problems.

        To stay on topic of rats/mice, I googled that there may be around 5 billion rats in the world. Rats live in a very dark, Malthusian world – with their really fast reproductive systems they quickly fill any natural limits for their population growth – a limit which itself varies quite a lot depending on season of the year and other circumstances. It is safe to say that every year there are untold billions of rats of various age dying all the time, mostly probably from starvation and related sickness. Only those strong and lucky enough survive. And all this is utterly invisible to us (and animal activists). And we are talking about species that is heavily affected by human actions. There are countless suffering animals around the world and most people even see it as a natural order of things and ideal to strive for. Which is in stark contrast with how we see humans. I don’t think many people would see lions eating children as a state of nature we should seek to preserve.

        But in the end I do not have a good answer for any of this. I see animal rights and animal well-being as an important topic, but I fear that we did not even scratch the surface when it comes to possible issues.

        • Chris Conner says:

          I agree, the math is dubious and it does not fit well in a situation for most of the population. I was thinking about not posting the link, but it is a source even if it has flaws. However I still think its main point holds – almost everything people do has large costs for animal welfare.

          Agreed, the article does point out that consequences of your diet are a lot more complicated than simply asking “Is there meat on my plate?” Once you realize that, the complexity is staggering. Which animals count, and how much do they count? How much do different forms of suffering count? How does wheat compare to rice in terms of rodent deaths? Soybeans? Maize? What if we got all our protien from nuts, instead? Does no-till agriculture versus conventional tilling make a difference? Do mouse plagues happen everwhere, or only in some climates? What about differing trasportation distances?

          Aaaaah! Nearly everyone is going to run away from this sort of accounting screaming.

          The fact that there is almost no serious discussion if let’s say wheat is easier on animal well being compared to for example rice and that the whole focus is on meat suggests that there is something more going on. Eating meat probably produces more emotional connection, it is easier to think about poor animal being butchered as opposed to countless unknown creatures being killed as part of producing salad with tofu.

          I think “something else going on” would also include:

          — Butchering an animal is central to producing meat, and there are no plausible ways to get meat without killing animals. The death of field mice, on the other hand, seems to be incidental to growing wheat. Even if you realize that it’s going on, it’s easy to imagine that you could change the way that grain is grown and stored to mitigate the problem. People are less inclined to attach moral significance to an activity’s consequences if they seem incidental to the activity rather than central to it.

          — People want simple answers, and “don’t eat meat” is a simple rule to follow. When I became a vegetarian, I decided on “no meat, lard, or gelatin” because that rule saves me from having to make a lot of fiddly decisions, and I’m not even doing it for moral reasons. If you are someone with moral aversions to animal suffering, having a clear bright line separating what you can do from what you can’t makes it much easier on your conscience.

          — Purity is a strong component of morality for a lot of people. Things you put in and on your body count more for purity than things that you never come in contact with or even see.

          — If you start to think about incidental animal deaths due to growing wheat, it won’t be long before you realize that your non-dietary choices carry animal welfare consequences as well. Which spatula kills fewer animals as a consequence of its manufacture, the nylon one or the silicone one? Wait, do I have to consider transportation to the store as well? What about the packaging? The marketing? Aaaaah, it’s too much accounting again!

          — And of course there’s good old signaling. “I am displaying my morality by not eating meat” is easy to signal. “I am adhering to a complicated schedule of moral weights and consequences that, in order to minimize harm to animals, dictates a particular diet that includes meat, eggs, dairy, and plants” is impossible to signal without inflicting a three-hour PowerPoint presentation on your audience, and that is animal cruelty in itself, so it’s self-defeating.

          To stay on topic of rats/mice, I googled that there may be around 5 billion rats in the world. Rats live in a very dark, Malthusian world – with their really fast reproductive systems they quickly fill any natural limits for their population growth – a limit which itself varies quite a lot depending on season of the year and other circumstances. It is safe to say that every year there are untold billions of rats of various age dying all the time, mostly probably from starvation and related sickness.

          I guess I’m more optimistic than you on the lives of rats. Humans generally find that their lives contain more happiness than misery and that life is worth living, as shown by the fact that most of us don’t kill ourselves. The capacity to experience happiness and misery is presumably due to selective pressures on reproduction, and rats also live with these pressures. So they probably have this capacity as well, and experience lives that are net positive as well. I doubt that rats are able to contemplate killing themselves, but if they could, I don’t see why their genetic endowment would make them want to any more often than it makes us want to.

          I see animal rights and animal well-being as an important topic, but I fear that we did not even scratch the surface when it comes to possible issues.

          Yup.

    • satanistgoblin says:

      You are aware that cows and chickens also eat grains and do not photosynthesise, right? And have to consume multiple calories for each calorie of meat produced?
      Your argument is bad and you should feel bad.

      • John Schilling says:

        Except that nutrition is not simply calories.

        Most calories, coarsely defined, are nutritionally useless to humans. Heck, most calories are useless to animals; neither a man nor a cow can digest a lump of coal. But the cow can at least digest cellulose, and there’s not a green plant to be found that doesn’t have plenty of that to work with. Quite a few green plants that have nothing but cellulose, and other indigestible-to-humans crud.

        And the choice of plants isn’t arbitrary. Much of the world’s nominally-fertile land is not well suited for sustained growing of human food crops, but does moderately well with cellulose-rich grasses and the like.

        And then there’s all the fun deficiency diseases you get to die from if all you have are calories. Protein is the big player here. Humans can convert calories into at least some forms of protein, but we’re not terribly good at it. There are plants and animals both that are better. But, as would be expected when dealing with two different processes, there are no plants (or, obviously, animals) that are maximally efficient at both photosynthetic calorie-generation and calorie-to-protein conversion.

        It’s not my area of expertise, but the last time I looked into this the most efficient method I could find for turning a hectare of sunlight, rain, and soil into well-fed humans was a whole lot of corn/maize for maximum photosynthesis, and a few dairy cattle to efficiently round out the protein requirements. A few leafy vegetables. Soy and rice isn’t a bad mix either, but soy is more of a jack-of-all-trades foodstuff and for maximum efficiency you really want the specialists.

        Mind you, this isn’t a prescription for the standard American diet. A lot more corn and a lot less meat – but not zero meat. And the farther you get from first-rate farmland, the more meat climbs back into the mix. And if you want certified expert opinion, Cornell University has something to say on the subject as well.

        (There are probably better references, but I’ll admit to bias on the grounds that my mother was a Cornell-educated nutritionist. AFIK it is purely coincidental that her father’s farm became a straight corn-and-dairy operation a few years after she graduated. The part where the pigs tried to eat me may have had something to do with it as well. Mmm, bacon…)

  49. If you care about animal suffering you can’t use deaths as a proxy for badness because a cow has to be alive for a much longer time before it can be slaughtered than a chicken. According to this analysis you need 1 cow, 1 pig, 6 chickens, or 3 turkeys to be kept alive to sustain a typical American’s mean eating habit. Since I count the suffering of a pig about five times as much as a cow and a cow 5 times as much as a chicken I tend to go with chickens on environmental grounds when I’m eating out but sometimes eat beef anyways.

    Mostly I just try to buy cruelty free meat when I’m cooking for myself.

    • Brightlinger says:

      This seems like a very important distinction. It’s interesting that “plausible” estimates of the value of cow vs chicken suffering (although my “plausible” is now anchoring-biased by your 5-to-1 figure) are actually close to break-even, suggesting there’s not much to be gained from eating different types of meat.

  50. Adam says:

    How does this analysis change if you include the environmental impact of raising cows? The beef industry requires a lot more resources to produce the same amount of meat. The big push for chickens was that we could create a lot more chicken meat than cow meat, for the same amount of resources. The moral relevance of animals begins to get weirder when compared to the moral relevance of feeding humans.

  51. ButYouDisagree says:

    A big problem with ethical offsets for vegetarianism is that it tries to do away with an active Schelling point. The problem of animal suffering is enormous. But because it seems like we have a huge obligation, if we dwell on the size, people just feel guilty and do nothing. Luckily, we’ve already decided on what allows you to discharge your duty: if you stop consuming animal products, you’ve done your part. (This solution has the added bonus of working on agent-relative moral theories, not just consequentialist ones.)

    I worry that publicizing ethical offsets for vegetarianism will cause your readers to think, “Even though animal suffering is a huge problem, it doesn’t even require that I stop eating animal products!” And then they feel like there isn’t a duty to do anything about animal suffering.

    If this post causes more donations to effective animal charities, that’s great. But I worry that the people inspired to donate would have been willing to stop eating animal products, too, if you acted like that was the minimum obligation, but in addition here are some awesome organizations that people should totally give to.

    As an aside, have you tried Gardein products? I like them more than Beyond Meat.

    • Urstoff says:

      I think there’s a significant number of people out there that consider animal suffering an issue but will never stop eating meat (like myself). In that case, these ethical offsets sound rather appealing. I don’t know at what point donating to such charities becomes supererogatory (if I donate $100 and thus have a net positive benefit, am I in the clear?), but I do know that there is a 0% chance I will ever become a vegetarian no matter how many factory farming videos I watch. I imagine there are many other people in the same boat.

      • ButYouDisagree says:

        Are you less likely to donate to effective animal charities because you face pressure to stop eating animal products? If so, are there many people like that? Are there people who are more likely to donate to charities because they face pressure to stop eating animal products?

        I definitely think there are a lot of people who are less likely to stop eating animal products because they hear about offsets, even if they don’t actually contribute to charities.

        I’m not super confident about the sizes of these groups, but it seems plausible to me that “even/especially if you’re a meat-eater, consider donating to these organizations that work against a really important problem” is a more effective message than “for 60 cents you don’t even have to think about animal suffering.”

  52. Alex Z says:

    Slight tangent: where can I find the best argument that animals have moral value? Ideally something that does not presuppose consequentialism would be best.

    I have limited time to devote to this so please dont recommend a whole book or some such.

    • Adam says:

      Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives a good and very short overview that is actually just an overview and not an advocacy piece.

    • ButYouDisagree says:

      You don’t have to be a consequentialist to think that outcomes matter. Virtually everyone agrees that if an action has bad consequences, that counts morally against that action. And virtually everyone agrees that human suffering is a bad consequence.

      To make the step to animal suffering, consider what makes human suffering bad. Is such suffering bad because of facts about the life it occurs in? Or is it bad because of its phenomenal quality, e.g. intensity and duration? Many people are drawn to the second view. In that case, other facts about the sufferer’s life, e.g. their psychological and physiological traits, don’t seem relevant. And this implies that despite non-human animals’ psychological and physiological differences from humans, their suffering counts as much as humans’.

      If you want a defense of extending moral concern to animals that doesn’t look at consequences at all, Tom Regan is a prominent advocate of animal rights

      • Alex Z says:

        Thanks. While far less certain of my moral beliefs than I used to be, I am for the most part a deontologist. So there are indeed certain actions which have bad consequences (even really bad consequences) which I find nonetheless morally unproblematic.

        EDIT: Thanks a lot for the article. It actually engages with my view on the source of rights which makes it very useful to me.

  53. Vincent says:

    “These numbers are high, but not impossibly so. For example, the Humane League spent about $50,000 convincing school districts to switch to cage-free eggs and have “Meatless Mondays” at their cafeterias; this resulted in about 3.2 million fewer meat-containing lunches, meaning several hundreds of thousands of chickens saved.”

    That’s ridiculous. Hundreds of thousands of chickens were not saved. The chickens were still raised, bred, and killed, they just weren’t sold to those particular school districts. They were sold to someone else, or perhaps they were processed into other industrial food products. Large markets have several tiers of customers that will pay more or less per, in this case, chicken. If you convince a top-tier customer, say, your neighbor who shops at Whole Foods, they shouldn’t eat chicken, then there’s still plenty of demand at other tiers, i.e. deal-shoppers at Wal-Mart. There is always somewhere you can sell dead chickens.

    Small reductions in demand do virtually nothing to accomplish the goal of reducing harm to animals. At best you’re hurting one corporate sales rep’s commission check and making a barely noticeable dent in the farm’s top line. Capitalist enterprises and markets evolved to weather demand shocks like this *all the time*, shocks way bigger than some two-bit charity can generate.

    This sort of sloppy reasoning is why I’m not an effective altruist. You’re handing over your responsibility to help the world to other people who are better at deluding themselves than you are.

    • Urstoff says:

      Does that apply to being vegetarian to? Someone’s going to eat this chicken, so it might as well be me.

      • Adam says:

        If we succeed with friendly AI, there will eventually be 1e52 potential chicken-eaters out there, so really, very nearly all the return we could reasonably expect to achieve from our present actions is to ensure that AI’s utility function includes consideration of chicken suffering and ensures future humans don’t eat them.

      • Vincent says:

        People are vegetarians for all kinds of reasons. If the only reason you don’t eat meat is because you don’t want animals to suffer, then you really need to open your eyes because suffering is absolutely everywhere and all you’re doing by not eating meat is to allow yourself to close your eyes tightly to that ubiquity out of a belief you’re ‘doing your part’.

        There is no fair share of the burden that you can shoulder. You cannot buy your way out of culpability. Believing you’re not participating by not buying or eating meat is similarly short-sighted. Our entire world and everything in it is built on the backs of others’ suffering. Anything you do is going to be a half-measure at best.

    • Matt says:

      ” There is always somewhere you can sell dead chickens.”

      Absolutely not, at some point you raise less chickens. If 50% of americans stopped eating any animal the price would fall and quantity produced would fall. Farms would not maintain the exact same output.

      • Vincent says:

        If 50% of Americans stopped eating chicken, we’d export chicken to countries that will eat our chicken.

        Globalization means that most every good will find a buyer. That’s the whole point.

        Sure, a very sharp drop in demand will cause some suppliers to go out of business. But you’re kidding yourself if the Effective Altruist desire for quantized effect is satisfied here, $X for Y chickens saved. You can’t save a chicken with any amount of money you’d care to spend except by buying the chickens that are raised before they are killed or paying farmers not to raise them or other forms of subsidy.

        • Carl Shulman says:

          “If 50% of Americans stopped eating chicken, we’d export chicken to countries that will eat our chicken.”

          This is claiming chicken supply is completely inelastic, in disagreement with every economist and the fact that investors won’t buy feed, water, and factory farming buildings and equipment when the market price is lower than the cost of those inputs.

          “Economists produce estimates of how much less is produced for each unit that stops being demanded when buyers leave the market for reasons other than price. This is called the cumulative elasticity factor. Their estimates usually depend on collecting data about price, production, and consumption in the real world, and creating an economic model to explain what they have observed. For instance, if a person who normally ate 10 hot dogs per year decided not to eat any and as a result 6 fewer hot dogs were produced, the observed cumulative elasticity factor for hotdogs would be 6/10 or 0.6.

          Estimates of elasticity for meat as a whole are not readily available, because economists tend to focus on smaller segments of the industry, for example specifically on beef or on chicken. Even when they are available, they tend to vary widely. For example, ACE uses estimates of the cumulative elasticity factor for chicken that range between 0.06 and 0.7. Our estimates of the cumulative elasticity factor for fish range from 0.15 to 0.62.”

          https://www.animalcharityevaluators.org/research/foundational-research/effects-of-diet-choices-on-animals/#second

          “But you’re kidding yourself if the Effective Altruist desire for quantized effect is satisfied here, $X for Y chickens saved. ”

          The effect they’re promoting is not saving individual chickens, but preventing chickens from being created.

          • Alex Z says:

            Right. But in practice farmers make production decisions based on very noisy data. I claim that <50 average meat eaters becoming vegetarians will be swamped by the noise in the data.

    • “Small reductions in demand do virtually nothing to accomplish the goal of reducing harm to animals. ”

      I don’t follow the argument. Reducing the demand results in a lower price, which results in a decrease in supply and an increase in quantity demanded by other consumers. The new equilibrium is at a lower quantity than before, although not as much lower as you might expect if you looked at only the initial change.

      A point another comment by someone else made quite a ways up the thread.

    • Deiseach says:

      My cynical side says the school districts were more interested in the monetary savings from meatless meals than they were about animal rights/suffering.

      I agree that small-scale movements like this probably don’t make a huge difference (so the schools in one part of the USA didn’t buy our chickens? Okay, we’ll sell them to the Army or prisons or hospitals or other large institutions needing to feed lots of people as cheaply as possible) but on the other hand, if it’s to get big enough to make a dent, a real dent, in the market, then it has to start somewhere.

      I don’t know how well a campaign would do or how long it would take to make most Americans go meatless. That’s the question, isn’t it?

  54. Corwin says:

    Solution to the suffering of farm animals :

    WIREHEAD ALL OF THEM

    Problem? solved.

    There, i fixed it. forever

    • Michael vassar says:

      Simple approximations to this would include optimizing music for their consumption, and would probably improve profitability as well. Also, What temple Grandin does.

    • Ever An Anon says:

      There’s a discussion of this upthread. If you can think of a better way to do it we’re all ears, but it’s not exactly a trivial proposition.

    • Amanda says:

      I agree that this is the best idea. I have no idea how to actually do it, but I like it in a moral sense and I would be willing to pay a lot more for meat created from wireheaded animals.

  55. Michael vassar says:

    It’s confusing to me that there could be any doubt that in expectation cows are more like 100X the moral weight of chicken.
    http://reflectivedisequilibrium.blogspot.com/2013/09/how-is-brain-mass-distributed-among.html
    Brain mass might possibly be morally relevant, but expecting ‘animal count’ to be morally relevant is like expecting heavier ‘objects’ by ‘object count’ to fall faster.

  56. Michael vassar says:

    Some cage free eggs actually specify the space per chicken. Usually at the EU standard of 350 hens per acre. Animal advocates sometimes say that 50 hens per screen is the humane maximum, but human population densities can be much greater than 50 humans per a screen without distressing the humans, so I find this very far from compelling. If I struedied he advocates more I would consider their claims in more detail, but for now, I don’t.

  57. John Schilling says:

    I think it is a shame that what is probably the most important part of this piece is left to the first footnote. Because this always happens.

    Like most people, I don’t have any moral qualms about painlessly killing any food animal this side of a whale. If it’s not specifically self-aware, and aware of its own past and future, replacing Happy Cow N with Happy Cow N+1 is morally neutral. Also like most people, I genuinely want the cows to be happy – and from my experience on ranches and dairy farms I know that they mostly are, but there’s room for improvement, and then there’s all the chickens. And yes, I understand that when GloboAgriCorp slaps a “free range” label on a package of chicken, there’s a good chance it’s a scam.

    And like most people, there’s very little I can do about this in isolation. This is an issue that calls for collective action. We need organization that will stand up and say, “This is what Free Range means, and this is the label you get to put on your product if it is the real deal, and these are the millions of people who won’t buy your stuff if it doesn’t have that label”. And if it’s the FDA that’s going to do this, we still need someone on the outside to look over their shoulder because regulatory capture.

    But whenever we talk about this, the somewhat complex problem of farm animal suffering is “simplified” to the non-problem of farm animals being killed, and every organized effort that could be working towards a useful end gets redirected towards the impossible, undesirable cause of farm animal elimination. The suffering of some cows is recognized only for its value in providing carefully-edited, grossly misrepresentative propaganda pieces for a movement that can accomplish either nothing of substance or the extinction of all cows, happy or not.

    I hunt when I can, I prefer beef to chicken for my farmed meat, and I prefer free-range to not even though I know it’s a scam as often as not. I’ve got other causes on my agenda so I’m not going to be leading any reformed, rationalist movement to reduce animal suffering, but if someone else wants to take up that cause you know what you can expect from me. From past experience I expect I’ll mostly be hearing from people who want to tell me that Meat is Murder, and that just makes me want to take down my rifle and decide what animal to shoot today.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Here is such an organization.

      • John Schilling says:

        Thanks, that’s the sort of thing I’m looking for. It seems like right now they don’t have the scale to offer me much beyond “Hey, you know Whole Foods is good about this sort of thing”, which yes I already knew. But their ambitions are larger, which makes them potentially helpful in the future.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          What do you mean by “scale”? Whole Foods is a big company with lots of suppliers. Isn’t that scale all by itself? Most of the problem of expanding is the customers wanting such endorsement. I can imagine that while it deals with many farmers, it deals with few retail outlets, and it may be difficult expanding to others with different needs. For example, its process might be expensive, acceptable for Whole Foods, but not other outlets. But at least it has a definition.

          It’s not just that Whole Foods is endorsed by this organization, but each piece of meat is labeled with a score. It’s not that Whole Foods is vaguely good but one can look up how good, which a lot of other people in the comments doubted.

          • John Schilling says:

            For reasons including the fact that the nearest Whole Foods is about fifty miles away, telling me that you have found someone to individually categorize and evaluate every piece of meat for sale in the vast edifice that is Whole Foods is inadequate to guide my ethical omnivorism. It is, as I have said, a step in the right direction.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            So you don’t mean anything by “scale.”

    • HeelBearCub says:

      @John Schilling:
      Aside from feeling outrage that others are outraged, I endorse everything you are saying. (Except I don’t hunt, but that has more to do with not having the support structure for hunting that I would need. I can expand that if you want.)

      The argument that I would love to see explored is whether carnivorous predators have the “right” to healthy and fulfilling life in the wild. I’m guessing someone has done it, but I haven’t seen it. It seems to me that as soon as you start exploring this question, you quickly start knocking down arguments that impose an absolute moral value on animal happiness. As always, I find that the most fruitful consideration of issues around rights will explore how various rights are in tension with each other.

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t think there’s any good reason to treat carnivores differently. Wild animals without predators die from starvation and disease instead. Do you know any reason to expect an animal to prefer either of these deaths to death at the hands of a predator?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Anonymous:
          What, then, is the difference between a wild animal predator killing an animal and a human killing a similar one?

          Remember, I made this comment in the context of caring about eliminating cruelty in farming, but still not considering eating meat to be necessarily morally wrong.

          If its ok for a wild animal predator to kill a deer/rabbit/mouse/bird, why is it not OK for humans to kill a cow or chicken?

          Of course, we don’t want that same argument to apply to us in the context of aliens deciding to farm us for food. Clearly then there are countervailing arguments, and these arguments are necessarily in tension with each other.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Well, for one thing, we have more choices.

            For another thing, marginal I hope, a hungry predator can and will finish killing its prey. A rifle hunter has less motive to do this, and tracking a wounded animal may mean going through humanly-difficult terrain (and human noses cannot track very well /understatement).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @houseboatonstyx:
            But that is a relativistic argument, not an absolute one, isn’t it?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Er, probably … but with some absolutish premises. This (humanish*) animal typing thinks the relative facts are what’s important in shopping for her dinner. This less-humanish animal digesting lunch is happy that some other featherless bipeds seem to be using “Don’t cause unnecessary pain [to anyone]” as a premise, and counting us non-humans in.

            Though defining ’cause’, ‘unnecessary’, and ‘pain’ appears to need a lot of relativistic thinking.

            * humanish is not a typo

  58. Lyle Cantor says:

    > This analysis neglects consideration of whether cows, being bigger-brained and more “evolutionarily advanced” than chickens or fish, might have greater moral value. I don’t know how to deal with that question, except that it would surprise me if they had more than forty times the moral value.

    This is a rather large hole. And lampshading it doesn’t seem useful. A cow brain is about 500 grams, a chickens is about 4. If we go by brain mass a cow is about 125 times more valuable. If a neocortex is needed to have moral worth, cows are infinitely more valuable. When you don’t understand what gives rises to the attribute you value and that attribute you disvalue, you are not in a good position to make these kinds of high-resolution trades. Not eating meat entirely seems like the conservative move. Assuming 50 chickens are worth more than one cow is the type of thing that could backfire catastrophically once we learn more about brains and our values.

    This trade is deliciously counterintuitive. But the deliciously counterintuitive is a memetic spice that should be approached with some degree of distrust.

    A pond snail has about 11000 neurons. Suppose you found a tribe whose members ate about 50 snails a day. Would you try to convince them to switch to one or two Long-finned pilot whales per year for the whole tribe? A Long-finned pilot whale has about 37,200,000,000 neurons in its cerebral cortex alone – about 30% more than a human.

    • Irenist says:

      When you don’t understand what gives rises to the attribute you value and that attribute you disvalue, you are not in a good position to make these kinds of high-resolution trades.

      Indeed. Without a good theory of where qualia, intentionality, and rationality come from, you might as well argue that cannibalism > eating chicken because maybe p-Zombies.

  59. Yildo says:

    1. This seems like the opposite of advice you would get from the point of view of carbon footprint. Cows produce a lot of methane in their digestion, which is more potent than carbon dioxide for global warming. Switching from red meat to chicken reduces carbon impact.

    2. This argument assumes that the moral unit is the organism rather than the cell. All multicellular organisms including you and me are composed of billions of cells which are also independently alive. Why not assign moral value to individual cells instead?

    • fire ant says:

      1.: Yes, that would probably shift the balance more toward chicken, if you count the negative moral value of climate change effects.

      • Milan says:

        And there we also have the problem of finding a proper ratuo of human lives to chicken lives, since global warming projected death rates are in the millions afaik.

    • Groober says:

      Yes – I eat a small amount of meat in order to minimise environmental impact of my diet on the planet. My conclusions is that chicken is better than dairy or beef per kilo (although the quantities differ) and I’ve tried to act in this direction.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      2. Because cutting your hair and similar acts have no moral relevance.

      • Nornagest says:

        Your hair and nails are dead tissue; they wouldn’t have any moral relevance even if we did attach worth to individual (living) cells.

  60. Jiro says:

    At some point, people here, either Scott or commentors have suggested:

    * Killing wild animals (if you think their lives are negative) or breeding pigeons (if you think their lives are positive)
    * Eating whale meat, for the same reason as preferring cows to chickens
    * Having fewer children to reduce the amount of meat eaten by future generations
    * Opposition to abortion on similar grounds to supporting vegetarianism
    * Meat-eating offsets
    * Granting ethical considerations to simulations or to hydrogen atoms (This one was a few articles ago)

    These all have two things in common:
    * Most vegetarians would be appalled by them.
    * They are not good ideas if you are a vegetarian based on purity or signalling considerations and just think you are concerned about animal suffering.

    Conclusion left to the reader.

    • Nero tol Scaeva says:

      They are not good ideas if you are a vegetarian based on purity or signalling considerations and just think you are concerned about animal suffering.

      Could it be that vegan/vegetarians are some breed of vegan/vegetarian deontologists?

    • anonymous says:

      I think that the point about whale meat was a joke.

      • Jiro says:

        It’s a joke because because of the very effect I’m referring to. It’s funny because it shows incongruity–the incongruity between vegetarians’ stated reasons for being vegetarian–which would lead one to conclude that whale meat is much less bad than chicken–and vegetarians’ actual reasons–which we know lead to strong disapproval of whale meat.

        • anonymous says:

          I thought that the butt of the joke was Scott’s simplistic assumption that all animals matter equally (and that you can measure the morality of a diet simply by counting animal heads), not vegetarianism or environmentalism.

          The reasons for whale meat being worse than chicken meat are independent of vegetarianism, and they are fairly obvious (whales are an endangered species and chicken aren’t; furthermore whales are a much more sophisticated and intelligent animal than chicken, and thus closer to humanity in the way it suffers).

          There is nothing in vegetarianism regarding whether or not all animals matter equally, or which animal matters more (a vegetarian doesn’t eat either whale or chicken, so the matter doesn’t concern him).

          • Jiro says:

            The same argument applies for whales as applies to cows–even though the whale is more intelligent and sophisticated, that only gives it X times more moral weight, and X probably isn’t going to be large enough to make up for the fact that there are many times more chickens killed per serving than whales.

    • Carl Shulman says:

      “Having fewer children to reduce the amount of meat eaten by future generations…These all have two things in common: Most vegetarians would be appalled by them.”

      This seems like the odd one out in that list. There are correlations between vegetarianism, environmentalism, and environmentalism-based antinatalism.

  61. zz says:

    Discussion question:

    I currently eat soylent, which I DIY. I source my protein from whey and get the cheapest stuff I can find that’s put-into-my-body quality, which means I’m driving demand for cows in horrible conditions.

    Before I did soylent, I did this paleo thing wherein I ate about 3 pounds of vegetables and some grass-fed beef every night. Let’s assume the least convenient world in which the cows were raised by farmer Salatin (as featured in The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and killed as humanely as possible, etc.

    Which diet is more animal friendly? The de facto vegetarian one, which almost certainly supports keeping cows alive in factory farms, or the omnivorous one, which almost certainly supported killing cows that had lived as pleasant a life as a cow could reasonably expect.

  62. Shmi Nux says:

    Due to a much larger environmental footprint of beef per calorie, by switching from chicken to beef you are funging today’s chicken suffering against future human suffering. Which is a bonus if you hate people.

  63. Ivan says:

    If all meat eaters were conscious about what they were doing I think all these issues would be moot (and so I applaud your dialogue).

    Are you aware of what goes into producing your food? Would you be able to do it yourself (slaughter an animal) in a conscious way? If so, good for you, I respect and fully support your choices.

    If not, well then you’re delusional.

  64. Sebastian H says:

    This intersects with a huge problem in EA/utilitarian thinking.

    If you subscribe to the utilitarian line of thinking that leads to Eliezer’s AI risk arguments (i.e. even a vanishingly small chance at saving bazillions of future lives from being cut off before they are born translates into a moral urgency to spend a lot more on AI risk), there is a much more certain cause that you are overlooking which is easily available–being VERY anti-abortion.

    So far as I can tell the number of AI risk promoters/people who publicly worry about AI risk who are also strongly anti-abortion are essentially zero. In fact the number of utilitarian ethicists who are strongly anti-abortion appears to be very small. In order to justify being pro-abortion using just utilitarianism, you have to have concluded that the average aborted life would have been on balance negative. That is difficult to justify, as the number of people who seem to believe that their own life (no matter how crappy it may seem from the point of view of a middle class US citizen) wasn’t worth being born is tiny (as is the number of people who wish that their children had never been born).

    Or if you take a slightly different fork on the utilitarian calculus (call it the ecological disaster fork) where you treat animals as having high enough moral worth that humans are actively bad for the net suffering in the world, you should take a very strongly, extinction path-for-humans, stance in which forced contraception/abortion should figure prominently. The number of utilitarians who take this stance is also very small.

    This suggests that utilitarian ethics is being used more to justify priors, rather than reason to moral conclusions, and/OR that utilitarian calculus has some sort of limiting factor on analyzing future lives which lets the limit of their effect on present decisions approach zero at some distance from now to the future which isn’t being explicitly recognized (which would be relevant for the pascal’s mugging feature of Eliezer-style arguments).

    • Murphy says:

      Your logic is flawed.

      Utilitarians often don’t count future-lives with some exceptions for courses of action likely to lead to a large number of reasonably close future people suffering horribly, like the prospect of your grandkids suffering terribly due to your current actions.

      AI Risk: even if you ignore future-lives and only count the 7 billion living humans worrying about AI and similar X risk is pretty reasonable. 7 billion lives is a lot. Even if your odds are 1 in a million of them all being killed by something it’s worth quite a lot of investment to avoid that.

      Utilitarianism and abortion: you seem to be neglecting to include changes in utility for the mother and any other family members. Though even if that didn’t outweigh it, as I mentioned above, utilitarians don’t all count future-lives.

      Forced contraception/abortion: If you actually believe that and have goals rather than acting out of empty symbolism then no, you shouldn’t do that at all because the chances of you actually convincing a non-trivial number of people is tiny. It would be like investing all your money in a charity which throws it into a furnace. An obvious waste of resources.

      • Sebastian H says:

        This wasn’t an argument against AI risk. If you accept the future lives argument used in AI-risk arguments, it has strong implications for abortion. So far as I can tell these implications are never actually translated into the abortion argument. It also offers enormous more certainty per action (abortion definitely cuts off an enormous number of future lives, the number of current actions which can definitely effect AI risk are unknown but almost certainly tiny).

        I’m not ignoring changes in utility for the mother and other family members. In order to overcome a utilitarian argument against abortion under utilitarian terms you need to show that the NET utility of being born is negative–something which almost no one believes for a first, second, third, fourth or fifth child. Perhaps at some point (10th child? 12th?) you get there, but for the vast majority of abortion cases that won’t be true.

        This is a bullet which is almost never bitten. That doesn’t mean that strong utilitarians HAVE to be anti-abortion, but the fact that they almost never are strongly suggests that something is getting weighted very strongly in the utility function or in a non-utilitarian moral calculus which isn’t being explicitly addressed, or that they are using utilitarianism to justify their priors, rather than reason to conclusions.

        • Murphy says:

          OK, let’s go just with utilitarians who count future-people-utility.

          You’re also implicitly treating it in terms of individuals.

          Lets consider 2 scenarios.

          1: A woman has a baby at 20 and has no more children, the child lives a nice utility filled life.

          2: A woman aborts one fetus at 20 and has a baby at 25 and has no more children, the child lives a nice utility-filled life.

          Why should a utilitarian consider the first scenario better?

          Indeed if the second scenario involves the mother finishing college first and getting into a stable relationship before the birth it could involve a significant number of additional utilions for mother, child and some third party.

          Alternatively lets try 2 more scenarios.

          1: A woman has lots of sex and eventually gets pregnant, has a non-personally-traumatic abortion and later dies childless.

          2: A woman lives a life of abstinence, never gets pregnant and later dies childless.

          Why should a utilitarian consider the first scenario worse?

          Indeed the first may have a happier life with all the happiness utilions for all the sex.

          From the utilitarian viewpoint you personally don’t matter, negate your existence in time and replace you with someone who gets more utilions points and we’ve got a winner.

          Very few utilitarians are quiverfuls trying to have as many kids as possible or similar but I think that may be down to the obvious dis-utility of everyone going too-crazy on the old reproduction front on a limited planet.

        • Carl Shulman says:

          Plenty of total utilitarians say it is better to have more children ceteris paribus (although not necessarily the best thing to do with those resources), but that it is too demanding an ask, especially because it leads to less good than comparable sacrifices.

          http://www.philosophyetc.net/2015/08/a-distant-realm-rethinking-procreative.html

          “This case then brings out that (contrary to, er, just about everyone currently working on this topic) there isn’t even any fundamental deontic procreative asymmetry. All else equal, it’s wrong to prevent good lives from coming into existence, just as it’s wrong to bring bad lives into existence. In everyday circumstances, we’re not obliged to procreate because not all else is equal — it would be hugely demanding, most obviously for the gestating woman, but I think there’s also some plausibility to the idea that people have a moral prerogative, not easily overridden, over their genetic material, which makes it difficult for morality to demand that they create a biological child. But these reasons are specific to human biological procreation; they do not advert to bringing people into existence in general (which would include bringing unrelated people fully-formed into a distant existence where they won’t impact upon the agent’s life at all).

          I conclude that the widespread belief in a fundamental procreative asymmetry is a result of people’s failure to recognize these contingent (even if perhaps humanly universal) confounding factors. Even the abstract form of the standard case introduces confounders, by contrasting a putative negative duty (do anything but this: procreate [given that the kid would turn out miserable]) with a putative positive one (do precisely this: procreate [given that the kid would turn out happy]). This is not the way to test for a fundamental normative asymmetry between good and bad possible lives.

          By contrast, when we control for confounders by considering a simple case like Distant Realm, there no longer seems to be any fundamental asymmetry. (Do your intuitions agree?) You’re not obliged to procreate, but that’s because your claims and interests matter, not because the possible future person’s interests don’t.”

          This is the stance that says “give 10% of your income” rather than “give everything until you are in poverty”.

          http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/05/10/infinite-debt/

          And if you can save the lives of dozens or hundreds of poor children in Africa for the cost of raising a child yourself, it will be very easy to buy ‘offsets’ as in the OP.

    • Froolow says:

      I think this is a reasonable comment and it should be debated, but I don’t think it is a knock-down argument in the case of vegetarianism (it may be in the case of the AI risk argument, I’m not sure because I think that that AI risk argument is bunk for other reasons)

      (Also just to note there’s a comment thread where Jaskologist raises this issue in a slightly different way below, in case you want to see replies to that too)

      Following on from your logic, I am not just interested in protecting potential lives *post* conception, but also *pre* conception – anyone who is not constantly reproducing is committing pretty much *the* moral sin because they are not creating more humans to experience hedons. The only exception would be if you could prove that the marginal child you would bear would have a lower than zero quality of life (overall, and once corrected for their descendants, which is an exceptionally high bar to clear). For sure, contraception is a moral evil at least the same order-of-magnitude as abortion and many more people use contraception than get abortions, so you should oppose condoms at least as strongly as you oppose abortion.

      Since most people would find this a ridiculous conclusion (some people might not, to be fair), it must be that we care more about *actual* lives than *potential* lives (possibly at some appropriate discount rate). The slogan is that we care about “Making people happy” rather than “Making happy people”. That then collapses into the standard debate of when a foetus becomes a person, which is sort of orthogonal to EA.

      I don’t think we’re epistemically overconfident about the suffering a foetus can feel – we have a pretty good model of what stages of development a foetus goes through, so I believe the experts when they tell me that foetal suffering isn’t a relevant concern. Even if they were off by a couple of orders of magnitude I’m not sure it would make a difference.

    • ” In order to justify being pro-abortion using just utilitarianism, you have to have concluded that the average aborted life would have been on balance negative. ”

      Not in the sense you are using it, I think.

      Suppose I believe (as it happens I don’t) that each additional person makes other people worse off—the central claim of the population movement fifty years ago. Then it might be the case that the aborted life would have been positive in that that life was worth living, but that the net effect of that life would have been negative.

      • Sebastian H says:

        Yes, that is the other possible prong of the fork. But if that is true, there are all sorts of other implications regarding the necessity of reducing world populations do political implications for non fetuses which very few utilitarians seem willing to sign up for. And that obviously doesn’t apply to The Pascal mugging style AI risk arguments that want to count all possible human beings until the heat death of the universe.

  65. Cadie says:

    I would like to be a vegan – it meshes with my values – but find that the personal cost is far too high, given that I have digestive problems and a vegan diet leads to either insufficient calorie intake or constant discomfort alternating with pain and inability to work or be productive much of the time. I care about animal welfare, and am willing to inconvenience myself for it, but not to the point of doing my body and mental state serious harm. Reducing or eliminating meat consumption is great for those who can, but for those who rely on animal foods for health reasons or because they can’t afford a vegan diet, I don’t think adopting such a diet anyway is at all a reasonable thing to ask of them.

    I haven’t looked into the donation offsets very much; will be doing so now. I’ve been modifying my diet to eat more pork and beef and almost no chicken anyway, and fewer eggs all purchased locally from farms I know are genuinely cage-free and reasonably humane. Avoiding chicken and eating fewer eggs is an inconvenience I can live with and my health seems unaffected.

    What about dairy? I’ve heard conflicting things about this… is making an effort to eat more dairy products and less flesh food a good swap for the animals? Does it matter if the milk is organic and/or locally sourced from more humane dairies?

    ETA: From the standpoint of maximizing food available for humans, in a theoretical/future world where there’s even distribution, a MOSTLY vegan diet with a small amount of meat would probably be ideal. This is because there is some land that can’t reliably be used for crops but does support animal life, and eating some seafood doesn’t reduce plant food availability. Only a little bit of non-animal food can be “grown” in the ocean, some kelps and algae.

    • anonymous says:

      If you need easily digested vegan calories, try instant mashed potatoes in large amounts.
      Pour into them olive or coconut oil, if you need further calories.
      Instant mashed potato is better than ordinary mashed potato because it’s easier to eat in large amounts, while unlikely to cause digestive discomfort.

      Also these particularly healthy chips:
      http://jacksonshonest.com/collections/potato-chips

      To greatly improve digestibility of grains and legumes, soak them overnight and then cook them much more thoroughly than usual – twice the usual cooking time if necessary (just remember not to “char” anything because it releases nasty chemicals).

      Or, with legumes, try ones that have been “shelled” or “hulled”, that is to say, have had their outer layer removed. This makes them more digestible.

      Visual examples with hulled lentils and peas:
      http://i.ebayimg.com/00/s/NjAwWDYwMA==/z/iskAAOSw34FVDdOK/$_35.JPG
      http://img.21food.com/img/product/2012/8/31/sub181887-16420370.jpg

      Also, consider avoiding “whole grain” rice or wheat, and instead try pearled barley or hulled millet as brown rice substitutes – and consider cooking them for a longer time to improve digestibility.

      A vegan diet *should not* be a challenge to digest.

      • DensityDuck says:

        The issue is when people with no idea how to cook (and no idea that cooking is even a thing beyond “put in pot, heat ’til hot”) decide that they’re going to be “vegetarian” or “vegan”. And so they go to the store, grab not-meat off the shelf, make some limited effort to produce edible food (mostly consisting of sauceless pasta with steamed broccoli) then decide that vegetarian life sucks and go back to meat.

  66. Nero tol Scaeva says:

    Why not fish instead of chicken or beef? I’m not sure about the implications (e.g., cost, sustainability, suffering) but eating beef as your sole source of meat seems pretty unhealthy.

  67. Brian Slesinsky says:

    I’m not taking this too seriously, but since my girlfriend is a falconer, I wonder how to calculate the offset for that. If it’s a passage bird then it would be hunting in the wild anyway, and falconers generally make sure their kills get a quicker death than they would in the wild, not to mention that falconers have a freezer unlike wild birds resulting in less meat waste. But is it really waste if some other animal eats it? And if you think about it, nothing is really wasted since even rotten meat is being eaten by something.

    Deciding what calculations should be in the spreadsheet, let alone what weights they should have, seems nearly impossible. Environmentalists at least agree that we should try to avoid destroying natural habitat. Animal rights reasoning could probably be used to justify any conclusion.

  68. Elissa says:

    It’s also (in many places) not too difficult or expensive to buy eggs from chickens raised on pasture, which means at least 25 square feet of outdoor space per chicken.

  69. Matt says:

    I think Footnote 4 is a major consideration for fish vs mammals. If you believe killing an animal is less wrong then murdering a human, you implicitly accept that moral status matters. Even if a chicken is close to a cow, the approximation that 1 animal =~ 1 animal, breaks down when considering species vary order of magnitudes in neural complexity as you change class. How many chickens are 1 million microscopic zooplankton worth? Or a million sea Sponges or jellyfish with no CNS? I’d say not even one. [Not denying the ecological importance though.]

    I’d say a concerned vegetarian can eat fish with much less analysis. As the fish get smaller and provide less meat per animal they approach non-consciousnesses and the terms roughly cancel, similar to cow vs chicken. So a vegetarianism doesn’t need to agonize over salmon vs anchovy because there’s a close moral harm/kg.

    I leave with this SMBC comic on optimal animal consumption: http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2393

  70. HeelBearCub says:

    First, consequentialism. From a consequentialist point of view, “is it okay to cause a good thing to happen even if…” always gets answered yes.

    I’m surprised that this hasn’t been brought up already. Doesn’t this argument completely fall apart when you contemplate the inverse?

    “Is it okay to cause bad things to happen if …” always gets answered no in a consequentialist framework.

    You can’t selectively apply consequentialist reasoning only when you like the answer.

  71. Pete says:

    Apologies if this is a well answered point, and I haven’t read all the comments so it’s possible that it’s been mentioned above, but doesn’t this logic allow you to murder people so long as you donate enough money to save X lives where X is enough to offset the suffering caused by the murder?

    Ironically, reading Scott has made me less and less utilitarian over time.

    I also have a problem with referring to cows as more “evolutionarily advanced” than chickens, even in quotes. It’s a meaningless term imo.

      • Pete says:

        Thanks. This was exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. It was such an obvious point that I knew Scott must have thought of it. Not sure he really gives a satisfactory answer though.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I think it’s because Scott is seeing how many extreme actions have to be taken to be a consistent utilitarian and instead of abandoning it, he still tries to argue in favor it. For many of us, it’s very unconvincing.

  72. Good Burning Plastic says:

    This analysis neglects consideration of whether cows, being bigger-brained and more “evolutionarily advanced” than chickens or fish, might have greater moral value. I don’t know how to deal with that question, except that it would surprise me if they had more than forty times the moral value.

    Well, for starters a cow has over 100 time the brain mass of a chicken.

    • John Schilling says:

      But less brain mass than a human infant. I have a modest proposal for connoisseurs of red meat who want to edge their way towards veganism…

  73. Tibor says:

    I was going to mention almost all of the footnotes…then I found out they were already part of the article. Still, let me elaborate a bit:

    1. I am not sure the free-range egg regulation is the same in every country. I would expect the EU regulation to be more, well, regulated. That is usually bad, but in this way could be considered good. I am not so much opposed to regulation that only says “if you want this label on your product you have to obey these rules, otherwise you can still sell it but without the label (although I think quality checking private companies that sell the results of their research and commercials to products they are not evaluating would – and to some extent do already – do the job more efficiently than any government body in my opinion). It could be a placebo, but I think that when I buy free-range corn-fed (I mean the hens are corn fed) eggs in Germany or the Czech republic (the regulation is EU-wide, so it does not make a difference), they taste, or at least look a bit better than the caged eggs that are not corn-fed.

    2. I can definitely recognize a difference between “bio” chicken and a “regular” one (and not just on a price tag). The bio chickens are not fed with hormones and get to actually run around and their meat tastes and even looks differently (they are more yellowish and have bigger bones). I could probably see the difference between bio beef and regular beef as well, although I would not expect it to be that huge (while the bio beef is really very dear) since cows are not treated as bad as the chicken.

    3. I personally do not have a problem with animals being killed, they are killed in nature as well and often in a very gruesome manner (it is hard for me to imagine a worse death that being digested alive by a snake, perhaps save for methodical torture which humans however only tend to apply on their own species). Then again, before the snake swallows them, they don’t live in more or less a concentration camp all their lives. So to me, a clean solution is not to stop killing animals, but to make their lives better before we do so. I think that the bio meat is more or less addressing that (and it is probably healthier than hormone infused chicken from an industrial farm). It usually costs about twice as much as regular meat (and I don’t know how it is with farming subsidies…pretty much everything agricultural in the EU is extremely subsidized and regulated, it is a horrible system and I don’t have the nerve to go through all the regulatory paperwork to find out whether the bio farms actually end up with more subsidies than the industrial farms). A regular meat to bio meat conversion would cost quite a bit. Possibly less if everyone in the EU were not so much against GMOs and the stuff were legal here, but still probably significantly more than regular meat. Rule of a thumb – it costs twice as much as non-bio. So if your goal is not to stop animal killing but only the suffering prior to that, it gets more expensive. Then again, it comes with some benefits – you end up buying higher quality meat.

    Btw – “Bio” is the same as “organic”, but here the term bio is much more widespread…both are equally stupid, but I will try not to start a rant about that 🙂 )

  74. DensityDuck says:

    Dude, we mutilate cows all the time by removing their horns. (That’s what the “polled” in “polled Herefords” means.) And putting nose-rings in bulls is not just a fashion statement. If you want to say “yeah but what we do to chickens is worse”, you’re right, but it’s not as though we don’t surgically alter cows to make things easier for us.

  75. DensityDuck says:

    Never mind, asked and answered.

  76. grort says:

    What about health concerns? At some point I absorbed a health message saying “avoid red meat”.

    • Evan Þ says:

      I’ve heard that message too, from a practicing dietitian in my family. FWIW, she also says vegetarianism or pescatarianism is probably healthier than either red meat or poultry.

      • Tibor says:

        What I heard ( 🙂 ) is that while theoretically, poultry > red meat in terms of health, it is not true if we are talking about the kind of poultry that you buy regularly in the supermarket. It would be true of chicken raised on a farm without hormone-enhanced food and stuff like that. But since cows are not pumped by these things so much, they end up being the healthier alternative. But I am no expert.

  77. Deiseach says:

    a meat-eater with a little pocket change to spare can bask in near-unlimited moral superiority even to their most scrupulously vegan friends

    As someone with an evangelical vegan/animal rights activist sibling, almost thou persuadest me 🙂

    Re: fish – do fish really have enough brain to be considered able to suffer? That they would feel pain when being caught and killed, yes, but can farmed fish really be considered to suffer in the same way, not even talking about the same amount, as battery hens?

    Re: pasture-fed beef – Irish dairy and beef cattle are pasture-reared, only being brought indoors and fed on silage etc. for the winter (I don’t know if you ate meat when you were living over here and if so, how it compared to American meat) so the American feed-lot model doesn’t hold true. If you want to argue, I’d say that intensive pig rearing is probably worse (not as bad as hens, not as good as cows). It’s also pretty bad for the environment (there is constant argument about pollution of ground water and rivers and lakes from the run-off of slurry from the high level of pig-farming in the Midlands and border counties).

    Re: eggs – are there not the same requirements in the USA about labelling on egg cartons as here? The relevant legislation is this and if you’re labelling your eggs as “free range”, you have to be licenced and comply with the regulations, which even for “free range” (and there are three levels of this: free range, free range – traditional, and free range – total freedom) sound stricter than the ones you’ve given:

    (c) ‘Free range’
    This term may only be used where:
    (i) the stocking rate in the house and the age of slaughter are in accordance with the limits fixed under (b), except for chickens, for which the stocking rate may be increased to 13, but not more than 27,5 kg liveweight per m2 and for capons, for which the stocking rate shall not exceed 7,5 m2, and not more than 27,5 kg liveweight per m2, (ii) the birds have had during at least half their lifetime continuous daytime access to open-air runs comprising an area mainly covered by vegetation of not less than: — 1 m2 per chicken or guinea fowl, — 2 m2 per duck or per capon, — 4 m2 per turkey or goose. In the case of guinea fowls, open-air runs may be replaced by a perchery having a floor surface of at least that of the house and a height of at least 2 m. Perches of at least 10 cm length are available per bird in total (house and perchery), (iii) the feed formula used in the fattening stage contains at least 70 % of cereals, (iv) the poultryhouse is provided with popholes of a combined length at least equal to 4 m per 100 m2 surface of the house.

    There is also a voluntary standard run by An Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) which again licenses producers and is even stricter.

    Obviously Big Ag in America gets away with more than over here! (Even though a lot of EU countries – including ones you wouldn’t expect, like the Netherlands, have failed to comply with the requirement to do away with traditional battery cages by 2012).

  78. Echo says:

    “Use Ethics Offsets By Donating to Animal Charities”
    Man, the pope should really get into this market. It could be quite indulgent.

  79. Max says:

    TL:DR. Why should I care about animal suffering when there is so much human suffering? And I dont even want go into suffering in Indian slums vs First world problems “suffering”

    And those animals are raised for human consumption. They are food, they wouldnt exist otherwise. And without food guess what? -more human suffering

    • Psmith says:

      “Content warning: discussion of animal suffering. If you don’t care about animal suffering, this post is probably not for you. There is no reason to read it anyway and loudly complain in the comments.”

  80. Your point 1 suggests that if your maximand is total utility, eating animals that you were given a tolerably pleasant life is a plus, not a minus. So perhaps the optimal strategy is to spend your money creating better sources of information on the treatment of animals so that people who share you views can pay farmers to provide them with animals whose lives had net positive utility.

    • DensityDuck says:

      As I said in an earlier comment. A valid answer to “farms suck!” is “make them suck less”.

    • Tibor says:

      This a good argument. I always found it quite strange that in a sense, the end goal of many anti-animal suffering activists is genocide. Farm animals are essentially artificial species that only exist because we use them and they would cease existing if we stopped doing that.

      As I posted above, I think that the “bio” farming can be a good alternative for someone who cares about animal suffering but is not entirely opposed to the idea of killing animals for food (on a tangent – I am not sure why raising animals for fur is that bad…provided that the meat is also used, I don’t see how that differs from regular farming, that said I find fur coats to be rather distasteful looking, but that is beside the point :)). Unfortunately, there is also a lot of ideological baggage attached to the bio industry. Using GMOs would be a great way to reduce the necessity of using excessive medication for animals and pesticides and fungicides for plants. This could make non-industrial farming cheaper, reducing the price of meat labeled as bio, thus raising both the meat quality for customers and decreasing te amount of suffering of an average farm animal. I think that in this the situation in the US, where GMOs are legal is better than in the EU (where recently the head of an EU panel that was also to advise on the GMO questions was sacked after saying that there is nothing wrong with them…I could look it up if someone is interested in the story). As long as anti-GMO remains a religion in the EU, things are not likely to change much though.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Tibor:
        While I generally find the GMO hysteria du jour to be irrational, they don’t decrease biocide use in farming across the board. Right now at least, they tend to increase herbicide use and decrease pesticide use. I know you said pesticide use, which is correct, but leaving out the effect on herbicide use leaves an incorrect impression.

        • Tibor says:

          I did not know that. How do they increase the herbicide use?

          • DensityDuck says:

            Since your GMO crops are immune to RoundUp, you can just hose the stuff all over the field instead of having to narrowly target the weeds to avoid the crops.

          • Deiseach says:

            That’s part of the opposition to Monsanto: they produce “RoundUp Ready” seed, which means that you can spray their pesticide (which they manufacture) but only their pesticide on their seed (which is copyrighted out the wazoo).

            This increases yields because the crops don’t have to compete with the weeds, but you can’t use any other seeds (because the RoundUp would kill them) and you can’t use any other pesticides (because the GMO crop is only engineered for RoundUp resistance).

            So if you commit to GMO crops, you’re committing to “I will buy all my seed and all my pesticide for ever after from Monsanto” (because if any other company tries to make a generic RoundUp knock-off, Monsanto will haul their asses into court).

            Never mind that spraying pesticide everywhere naturally results in it being blown (because the wind is a thing) outside the fields and onto either neighbouring farms (which are screwed if they don’t also have the GMO RoundUp Resistant crops) and wild flowers etc. which has a knock-on effect on wildlife which would feed on the wild plants.

            So you pretty much end up with all the farms nearby needing to use RoundUp Ready seed and RoundUp pesticide or else they’ll be outcompeted on productivity by the neighbour who uses the RoundUp seed and pesticide and their own crops are vulnerable to the RoundUp spray blown around.

            Myself, I also think the “But GMO crops are proven safe for human consumption!” isn’t really that knock-down proven yet; after all, humans have been consuming wheat for millennia, yet coeliac disease is a real thing. If GMO crops become a really mass human food, what effects might they have in a hundred years’ time? I think it is too early to say “Oh it’s perfectly safe and anyway, humans have been cross-breeding strains of plants and animals for the whole of agriculture, this is exactly the same thing!”

          • “which means that you can spray their pesticide”

            Roundup is a Herbicide.

            ” but only their pesticide on their seed (which is copyrighted out the wazoo).”

            Patented.

          • Tibor says:

            Deiseach:

            I don’t find the “you have to use their product” as a very good argument against GMOs. If they give you a bad deal, it creates a strong incentive for their competition to create something similar. Maybe this is not possible because of the patent. But then this is a good argument against patents, not against GMOs.

            By the way, there are even “natural” GMOs. There is this wasp that carries this virus which overwrites the genetic information of those infected by it (butterflies, actually). http://www.newsweek.com/gmo-butterflies-made-naturally-parasitic-wasps-373541

            Also, on a much more modest level, turning a wolf into a chiwawa is more or less the same process, only longer (one could argue that you are not injecting particular genes from an entirely different species, but there is nothing like a “chicken gene” or a “human gene” in the sense you could not eventually get it by natural mutation and recombination within the species. GMOs just make this process faster and more directed.

            If someone calls for testing the particular GMOs more before they are distributed, it may be a reasonable argument. But most of those who oppose them tend to do so for views that can hardly be described as anything else than religous. Come to think of it, it is quite funny that the people who oppose GMOs and those who oppose stem cell research tend the be on the other side of a political fence.

          • Chris Conner says:

            Deaseach said:

            So if you commit to GMO crops, you’re committing to “I will buy all my seed and all my pesticide for ever after from Monsanto” (because if any other company tries to make a generic RoundUp knock-off, Monsanto will haul their asses into court).

            Monsanto’s patent on glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, expired in the US in 2000. There are many, many competing producers of glyphosate-based herbicides. (Source.)

          • Deaseach said:

            “So if you commit to GMO crops, you’re committing to “I will buy all my seed and all my pesticide for ever after from Monsanto” (because if any other company tries to make a generic RoundUp knock-off, Monsanto will haul their asses into court).”

            Chris Conner replied:

            “Monsanto’s patent on glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, expired in the US in 2000. There are many, many competing producers of glyphosate-based herbicides.”

            This struck me as an interesting example of the power of stylized facts. Deaseach’s version makes a much better story, so people who see it (not necessarily from her) are likely to remember it and repeat it. It fits what they want to believe, so they are unlikely to check to see if it is true.

            It would be interesting to compile a collection of such, ideally covering a wide range of ideological and other views—”facts” that lots of people believe, that fit the views of those people, and that are easily demonstrated to be false.

            Widespread medieval witch burnings.

            Columbus thought the world was round and his critics thought it was flat.

            Medieval food was overspiced to hide the taste of spoiled meat.

            The Chief Seattle Speech

            others?

          • Tibor says:

            David: Well, there is this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_common_misconceptions on Wikipedia. It does not contain GMO patents but it mentions Columbus (although I am not sure how that fits the pattern of something what people want to see as a fact because it reinforces their worldview…maybe only in the sense of “people in the past were so stupid, we are so much smarter today”).

            Otherwise, I like your idea. And the rationalist community seems like the kind of people who would like it too – and able to provide wiki-like platform on rational wiki perhaps? Although I am not sure if it is not dedicated to epistemological information only. In any case, it would be nice to make a list of “common politically charged misconceptions” one could use to false-check all the factual claims people make (and it is not all too impossible that I believe some of these false claims myself) and to link other people to when they mention them.

      • Deiseach says:

        Thank you for the corrections, David Friedman. Observe the deleterious effects of meat eating over decades on the human brain! 🙂

        (Or posting too late at night after not enough sleep). Yes, herbicide not pesticide (very obvious stupid mistake on my part) and patented not copyrighted (ditto).

        Monsanto should sue me for libel, nicht wahr?

      • Steve says:

        “I always found it quite strange that in a sense, the end goal of many anti-animal suffering activists is genocide. Farm animals are essentially artificial species that only exist because we use them and they would cease existing if we stopped doing that.”

        By this logic, distributing contraceptives to humans is also genocide. There’s a pretty huge difference between ‘killing a bunch of sentient beings that already exist’ and ‘not bringing a bunch of sentient beings into existence.’

        • Nornagest says:

          I think the objection is not so much with causing a bunch of individual animals not to be brought into existence, as with causing a species of animal to pass out of existence through lack of motive to keep it around. Giving contraceptives to people doesn’t have this problem, because people usually want to keep reproducing even if they don’t necessarily want to reproduce right now.

          Doesn’t make sense from a hedonic utilitarian perspective, though, at least not without adding a bunch of epicycles. Which is fine by me, since I’m pretty sure hedonic utilitarianism is wrong, but I imagine Peter Singer would disagree.

        • I think his point is that abolishing meat eating doesn’t just reduce the population of particular subspecies of animals, it reduces it to close to zero. If someone came up with a drug that produced intense pleasure and sterility, such that freely distributing it could be expected to reduce the human population to zero in a century or so, it wouldn’t be absurd to describe that as genocide.

        • Tibor says:

          Well, I guess others answered for me, but I would just like to confirm that their interpretation of my interpretation of the word genocide was correct 🙂

      • Michael says:

        “Genocide” comes with a lot of negative connotations that I don’t think apply here.

        We’re precluding a massive generation being born into lives of incredible suffering, in favour of a much smaller generation being born into lives that are worth living. If that’s genocide, then we’ve officially found the one acceptable form of genocide.
        (Would you consider philosophers who oppose the Repugnant Conclusion to be genocidal?)

        That much smaller generation is either the happy milk-cows of a vegetarian world or the much-reduced number of humanely raised cows in a world like David Friedman proposed, in which we buy cruelty-free meat. (As I question whether it’s economically or environmentally viable to raise cows at our current level on consumption without the efficiency of factory farming.)

        • Tibor says:

          I admit that I used the word genocide partially for the dramatic effect.

          It mainly comes from a discussion with a vegan whom I asked why he was vegan (I understand reasons for vegetarianism, did not understand reasons for veganism) and when he explained to me that his concern was about animal suffering (uncluding using cows for diary milk), I pointed out to him that if we don’t do that, there won’t be any cows (well, probably there would be a few left in the zoos or something), because (maybe only most species of) cows do not exist in the wild and would not be able to survive there. He replied that it would perhaps be good because they produce a lot of greenhouse gases and so it would help fight global warming. I was a bit confused whether his reasons for veganism was then that he cared about quality of animal lives or about global warming, but since he gave me an impression of someone being rather dogmatic, I did not want to press the matter further.

          In any case – I think it is hard to argue that the farm animal’s total utility is negative regardless of the conditions in which the animal lives before being butchered and therefore vegetarianism (with veganism and extending the logic to diary animals and hens it is even more difficult). If the cows would prefer to live and then be butchered rather than not having ever been born, then raising them for meat seems at least from the utilitarian perspective morally better than not (also, their meat provides additional utility to humans). I know cows cannot make such decisions, but suppose you were given a choice between living for 20 years of a relatively careless life and then being shot in the head and not having ever been born (also, suppose there is absolutely no way you can escape your fate if you choose the first option…unless you die even earlier because of a disease or something). I would choose the first option (especially if, like a cow, I could live in blissful ignorance until the day they shoot me).

          Now, if the choice was between living a few years as a prisoner in Dachau and never being born, my answer would probably be different. But it is then a good arguments for trying to improve the living conditions of farm animals (also one reason why I am kind of supportive of the “bio” meat and all) but not for vegetarianism/veganism.

          • Nornagest says:

            (maybe only most species of) cows do not exist in the wild

            The wild ancestor of the domestic cow is the aurochs, which has been extinct since the 1600s. Several other bovine species have been domesticated, and wild relatives of most of them are still extant, such as gaur, yaks, and water buffalo. Some are endangered, though.

          • Linch says:

            Personally, it’s clear to me (over 90%) confidence that the relevant moral unit is the individual, not the species, so if a)cows have moral worth and b)cows live net negative lives, then forcing individual cows to suffer in perpetuity is institutionalized evil.

            I’m actually really ambivalent about whether animals dumber than pigs have moral worth, though a lot of other utilitarians (who are not me) believe that the important unit of moral worth isn’t whether animals could think, but whether they can *suffer.*

            I’m confused by people who believe groups have value over individuals. (This also propped up when I hear intrinsic, rather than just instrumental, arguments for language preservation. If people aren’t willing to speak the language, surely it means the language has outlived its usefulness?) Will such a belief imply that an Earthquake in Iceland is a much greater tragedy than an Earthquake in Sichuan?

          • Michael says:

            I completely agree with you that if an animal lived a happy life, it’s fine to kill and eat it at the end of that life.

            “But it is then a good arguments for trying to improve the living conditions of farm animals but not for vegetarianism/veganism.”

            This is our point of disagreement. Precluding that suffering may not be as good as reversing it, but it’s sure better than letting it happen.

            Since this improvement hasn’t yet happened, (and I’m personally skeptical that it ever will) until animals live lives that are net-positive, refraining from eating them is still the right moral stance.

          • Jaskologist says:

            If individuals are the relevant unit and species are not, should we stop worrying about endangered species? Whatever dies out is going to get replaced by individuals of some other species. Often, they are endangered precisely because some other species turns out to be better at living in their habitat than they are. Preservation of the spotted owl involved shooting a lot of barred owls, and they’re not even really different species.

          • Linch says:

            Jaskologist: That will be the natural conclusion of my beliefs, yes.

            I do have some degree of moral uncertainty about this issue, and a lot of these claims are contingent on current unknowns about animal cognition, capability of suffering, etc.

          • Tibor says:

            I should attack my own example…Imagine you have a farm of human clones who would have never been born. They are harvested at a random time in their life for organs (when their “normal” copy needs them), otherwise they spend their lives in the middle of Siberia and never come in contact with the outside world. They are killed painlessly in their sleep and never learn that his is not a normal way to live. Apart from that their life is fine, in fact, they do not have to work and just have to keep themselves reasonably healthy (I added the organ donor twist after remembering hearing about a film with the same plot).

            Now, following my previous argument, I would have to declare this as a good thing, at most we should try to improve their living conditions. However, somehow I cannot endorse that and the whole idea just seems abhorent. I cannot explain why within the utilitarian framework, however. So either is my utilitarian reasoning wrong, or this is another example where utilitarianism fails to adhere to intuitive morality, or to put it more harshly, where utilitarianism gives a wrong answer.

            Jaskologist:
            I think the reason we care about extinction of other species is not really moral. Existence of various species of animals simply makes us happy, we can see them in the zoo or in the forests, we can be bewildered by them in a nature documentary and so on. At the same time, there is probably a level of hoarding 🙂 You simply do not want to lose any possibility. You will not see the vast majority of species, you will not even hear about them. But the thought that they are gone forever fills people with the same kind of feelings as any loss of opportunity.

            Michael: I think that since the goal of animals living lives they would prefer above non-existence is by no means unreachable, you are unnecessarily settling for a suboptimal solution. At the very least one could try to convince people of eating meat only from farms where animals are treated well by some measure. There are farms where the cows get to go out every day (during summer) to walk around more or less freely and eat grass, then they come home for the night, are fed some more and in the morning they are milked (and diary cows need to be milked to avoid health problems, so I doubt it is something that makes them suffer in any way, maybe it is even pleasant for them). Then they are killed – in a much more humane way than most animals die in the wild, also later. If an animal life is worth living in the wild, then it is much more worth living on a farm like this (yes, you cannot “roam free”, but most animals do not do that anyway and when they do it is driven by necessity, not desire to see the world or anything). A life in the wild is gruesome enough to give one quite a low bar for what is ethical farming already and while (most?) industrial farms probably do not meet that standard it is not so hard to reach it. If you argue that life in the wild is not worth living, you end up arguing for wiping out wildlife. That would be quite an original worldview. I doubt you would get anyone (beyond the “Nuke the wales” initiative :)) ) to support it though.

    • Leonard says:

      Right. If you have a source of meat from farm animals that are being raised in a humane way, then Scott’s recommendations reverse. That is, you should be eating chicken > beef > veggies.

      Also, if chicken utils are really comparable to human utils, you should start trying to convince vegetarians to stop it, because they can and should increase world utility by demanding humanely raised chicken meat. There might even be a charity to try to convert vegetarians, which you could give money to offset eating factory-farmed meat. One wonders how much money it would take to convince the marginal vegetarian to give it up. 6 cents per year?

  81. Let’s say that someone hires me on craigslist to kill his wife and children for a million dollars. I do so, because I’m sadistic and find it amusing. As penance, I then donate $500,000 to a top-ranked EA charity.

    … am I a good person?

    • Linch says:

      Killing people is bad. Donating to a top-ranked EA charity is good. 2 Discrete Events.

      Whether a *person* could be good or bad is a category mistake.

      • Personne says:

        Then : Is this a good moral choice ?

        If we leave in one of the wealthiest countries, we can kill someone around us and steal money from them, and then use this money to save more lives in the third world.
        Why don’t we do it ?

        • Adam says:

          You could just kill old rich people who are about to die anyway, right before they’re going to bequeath everything to a dog or an art museum or something, and send all their money to AMF instead. Surely, that one is okay.

        • Linch says:

          The flippant answer is that your question basically reduces to a trolley problem, which has already been discussed ad nauseam.

          The more serious answer is that you probably shouldn’t because:
          a)you’re likely to go to jail
          b)it’s likely that your time in jail+reduced employment prospects means less EV, in terms of total donations than if you worked a normal job and donated instead
          c)something something civilizational structure something something social contract mumble mumble.

          I’ve argued before that as a practical matter, you should aim to maximize your utilitarian obligations but satisfice your other obligations. Ie, you don’t have to be the best lover or the best parent*, but you should strive to be an adequate one before you use your excess resources for improving the world.

          *or friend, or neighbor, or law-abiding citizen

    • Nero tol Scaeva says:

      Let’s say that someone hires me on craigslist to kill his wife and children for a million dollars. I do so, because I’m sadistic and find it amusing. As penance, I then donate $500,000 to a top-ranked EA charity.

      … am I a good person?

      You should probably donate the whole $1 million, because good or bad you’re going to jail.

    • Matt says:

      Absolutely! As your moral adviser, I suggest you save 2 lives in Africa for $2.95 and come out 1 full metric utilon and a cool $999,997.05 ahead.

  82. Le Maistre Chat says:

    1) “Eat beef, not chicken”

    What do you say to Hindus? Besides “Ha, your religion is illogical”?

    2) If utilitarianism is true, why care about the categorical imperative at all?

    • Irenist says:

      1) With the honorable exception of Scott himself, “ha, your religion is illogical” is usually as far as it goes.
      2) Well, some utilitarians use deontology or even virtue ethics as heuristics within an overall consequentialist framework. Also, obvious hypocrisy makes a cause harder to sell to other people, since most people do believe in some version of the categorical imperative–so there’s a pure effectiveness issue, too.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Ah yes, rule utilitarianism. Which I think of as admitting that the utilitarian calculus is beyond a human mind. You need a heuristic (what Burke called “prejudice”) in favor of the rules set down by a superhuman source of knowledge, be it an omniscient being or the sum of human tradition.
        As far as effectiveness, most people believe in God too, but Western vegetarians seem to have no interest in them. Like, I don’t think a vegan consciously thinks Hindus are unethical for eating dairy products, but it’s a logical consequence of veganism being the only ethical diet.

    • Linch says:

      “Drink milk, don’t eat eggs.” is probably a more applicable algorithm for Hindus (a plurality of them are already vegan or vegetarian anyway).

  83. Baby Beluga says:

    It’s worth noting that ethics offsets run the risk of double-counting. For example, if Alice spends $0.06 to convince Bob to go vegetarian, and Bob goes vegetarian as a result, they can’t both claim credit for all the animals saved by Bob’s vegetarianism.

    Of course, it’s not like a factor of two changes your analysis much, as you point out. Just an interesting thought.

    • Matt says:

      Its OK – utilitarians mostly don’t ever do any math anyway.

      • Wrong Species says:

        But they use words like logic and rational, which is what people who are good at math do. Therefore, they are using math. QED

      • Zebram says:

        I actually made a special scale in my garage to measure moral value. It measures it in picoutils. Watch for it to appear on Amazon in a month.

  84. Michael says:

    I’d appreciate it if you didn’t semi-endorse the Katja Grace article as you have on here and tumblr.

    While you present a much better reasoned version of the argument here, her article is complete garbage. It’s shameful to see a smart person present a new version of the bias-supercharged arguments vegetarians hear constantly, that all amount to “whatever I need to tell myself so that I don’t have to eat a single veggieburger.”

    Her conclusion ends up as something to the effect of: “weirdly enough, you can offset unchanged meat consumption by donating three cents a year to deworming.”

    How unsurprising that her argument ends up telling her to go do exactly what she was doing already. (minus three cents)

    By contrast, I appreciate your own stance. The world needs more people who can accept that they’re doing something wrong but don’t have the strength to change. I still eat fish, but know I shouldn’t. If everyone did that, we could work together to find ways to make vegetarianism practical. Instead the average meat-eater just cognitive dissonances up a way to find that vegetarians are the real bad guys. (PETA’s evil, at least I don’t shove my views down others’ throats, grain farming kills more animals than meat farms, etc.)

    On a minor note, It sounds like you were going about your vegetarianism attempt totally wrong. Vegetarians don’t eat double the vegetables, they find ways to replace the meat portion of their meals. You aren’t replacing a burger with a second helping of carrots, you’re replacing it with a veggieburger made from lentils or chickpeas or black beans or beets or mushrooms.

    • Nero tol Scaeva says:

      You know what? You can take your veggie burger and STUFF IT with lettuce because you can’t have a real burger without lettuce.

    • Tibor says:

      I have some sympathies for vegetarians (although I do not really have a problem with the killing of animals itself, despite the fact that I find it commendable to try to improve their life quality) but perhaps you should try to be a bit open minded yourself.

      There are people who simply do not consider animal suffering to be a problem at all: “Farm animals are just products made for us humans, their suffering is entirely irrelevant.” While you may disagree with that (I do too, although not as much as you do), it is too hasty to jump into conclusions like you do: “Obviously, everyone considers animal suffering (or even simply killing animals for food) as a bad thing, so whoever is not a vegetarian is a hypocrite and needs to make up excuses to justify his obviously wrong conduct.” They may be bad people from your perspective, but they are not necessarily hypocrites.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        I think the issue here is with people that buy into vegetarian premises and then “chicken out” of actually going vegetarian.

        • James says:

          Yeah, they could at least beef out. That would only have 1/40th the negative effects of chickening out.

        • Tibor says:

          Well, it depends on how much you buy into it. Supporting vegetarian ideas for ethical reasons is not necessarily a discrete trait where you either do so or don’t. Suppose that being a vegetarian suddenly becomes very costly for some reason. I would expect many vegetarians to drop out from vegetarianism. That means they value strict vegetarianism less than the now increased costs of being one. But I can value the elimination of animal suffering to a point where I am willing to give up a few dollars a month to reduce it, not enough to stop enjoying the benefits of meat eating. If I acknowledge that fact, I am not a hypocrite either. Scott seems to be that kind of a person.

      • DensityDuck says:

        It’s also pretty limited to say “the only way to minimize the suffering of animals is to NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES MAKE THEM DIE”.

      • Michael says:

        I think you may have misunderstood my argument a bit. I agree that a huge number of people think it’s totally acceptable to harm food animals, my argument is that I suspect probably about 80% only believe that because that’s what it takes to justify their eating habits.

        I’m saying that I wish there were MORE hypocrites. I wish people, instead letting cognitive dissonance persuade them eating meat is fine, acknowledged it was wrong but did it anyway. That way instead of vegetarians facing a hostile world, they’d face a sympathetic world that’s just waiting for cheaper, tastier vegetarian fo