Arquivo da tag: Effective Altruism

On Media and Effective Altruism

What is the kind of distortion you should expect if you are interviewed or go through media as a representative of EA?  
Here is my response (I’d like to write a version of this writing for the Effective Altruism blog) 
 
I’ve been interviewed/covered since I was 10 in many media. So I may have something valuable to share with EA’s on media distortion. When young I was interviewed in school with some of the other kids, and I’d notice that the TV show would come to the school already knowing exactly what they wanted us to say. They’d basically tell the teacher what he should inquire us about or lecture about, and the teacher would do so. Later they would interview us making questions hardly related to the class they were supposed to be covering, and even these questions would later be cut into a few seconds of something they already knew to begin with. I noticed that even the news part of TV is not news back then, it is pre-arranged fake reality. 
 
As an arrogant young teenager I refused giving further interviews when I was about 14, and I’d leave class if it was being filmed for some reason. 
 
Sometimes though you want to be filmed for some ulterior purpose. This happened to me when a movie director and producer came to me asking whether I would think it is a good idea that she made a documentary about me. More specifically, a documentary about the fact that I wanted to be cryopreserved when I died, “Diego Wants to Live Forever”. I was shocked and felt unsure about it. I sat down and told her I can only decide later on. So I asked people what they would do on Lesswrong, the World’s greatest rationality blog: 
 
I didn’t want to be filmed for filming sake. But there were ideas I could promote through the film, discussion of the Technological Singularity, Transhumanism, Immortalism, all topics unheard of in my native Brazil. Slowly those could be turned into discussion of GWWC and other Effective Altruist organizations as well, later. So all things considered I choose for it. The movie is yet to be released since it grew from a 15 to a 60 minutes documentary. The one thing I kept in mind throughout is that if my goal was to self promote, the movie would be terrible, since being a cryonicist in a christian country where no one else is makes you look completely insane. If I wanted to promote those ideas, I’d pay a price in my image, but attracting new interested people to those memes that surround cryonics (not to cryonics itself, I have no interest in promoting it) seemed to be worthy. If someone wants to interview you or film you, always consider it a personal image sacrifice for a cause, and see if the cause is worthy enough. You’ll never be depicted as you’d like to be. If you are not the writer, then the goal of the media is not your goal, check trade-offs carefully. 
 
After that I was featured on a TED talk. TED is libertarian media so they actually let you do what you came to do, and help you improve. The purpose of the TED@ event was to select people for TED global 2013. No one from my country got selected, but that didn’t matter, because the topic on which I spoke, Effective Altruism, got selected. TED curators are smart, and they had no reason to pick me over anyone to talk on TED Global about Effective Altruism, they did what they should, and invited Peter Singer to speak on behalf of the movement. Some media can really help you achieve your goals, specially if your goals don’t mind whether you are present or not, nearly always the case with Effective Altruism. If the media that wants you is TED like, go for it and don’t worry, they are there to help you. 
 
Later on were my so called 15 seconds of fame. This time I knew the distortion would be drastic, uncanny, absurd. The worlds second largest TV network (Globo) wanted to interview me for their Sunday show, the most viewed one. At the same time, Record, a smaller TV network was going to broadcast an interview with me. Basically, 40 million people would see me on TV. This is a massive amount of people, and I knew nothing I said could be immune from distortion, you don’t get to be the second worldwide without some manipulation skills. The interview was again related to the one thing I don’t want to get people’s attention to, cryonics. A man’s body was being held in the country due to a legal fight between sisters, since he wanted to be cryopreserved and only the daughter who lived with him wanted to send him to Cryonics Institute. That is what the media wants, they want to see half sisters fighting over a dead frozen body, that’s what gets most eyeballs, and I was a side dish given I’m the only Brazilian actually signed up for cryonics. 
 
Not long before I had found my memetic child, http://www.ierfh.org, an Effective Altruism/Transhumanism promoter institute, we were growing and producing a lot. Our purpose was broadcasting, and there would never be a chance of broadcasting the right things for 40 milion people. The question in my mind was, was it worth it to broadcast the wrong things?
 
I decided in favor of it. I tried to negotiate with the reporters so that my name would appear as “IERFH’s director” somehow. Something, a tiny tiny thing, that could connect that whole tragic comedy they wanted to broadcast as news to my actually serious work related to things I actually cared about. Of course this was to no avail. The major network displayed specifically the name they promised they wouldn’t (what am I going to do, sue a company worth tens of billions?) and the other one didn’t do what I asked, but at least also not the exact opposite. 

 

I had done my homework, I wrote a piece on cryonics connecting it to Transhumanism to attract those who googled about me or cryonics or both. The bridge was there. We paid Google ads to show up on top on Google for a few days. If there were similar mind’s we would lure them into talking to us and collaborating. I learned that 40 million is a massive number of people. It is so massive that though I nearly didn’t appear in one channel, and none of the links that I wanted them to provide were there, dozens of people came to me or to us in the next few days. Few had something to offer or knew what they were talking about. but it has shown me the power of big numbers. When people say no press is bad press, it’s because when you have massive numbers, those at the curve’s tail can be helpful for you. If it’s big enough, I recommend you do it, regardless of distortion. It’s those who see through that matter most.  

 

But for most press related matters, numbers are more mundane, in the low thousands, and trying to forecast the trade-off is worth it. Sometimes it is better not to do it. The recent coverage of Effective Altruism by Rhys Southan (with a distorted title by someone else, but keep in mind not even your interviewer has complete control over his writing), is a good case in point. I invite you to use it as proxy for how much you are willing to be distorted. Here are the parts of his article that mention my name: 

From this point of view, the importance of most individual works of art would have to be negligible compared with, say, deworming 1,000 children. An idea often paraphrased in EA circles is that it doesn’t matter who does something – what matters is that it gets done. And though artists often pride themselves on the uniqueness of their individuality, it doesn’t follow that they have something uniquely valuable to offer society. On the contrary, says Diego Caleiro, director of the Brazil-based Institute for Ethics, Rationality and the Future of Humanity, most of them are ‘counterfactually replaceable’: one artist is as pretty much as useful as the next. And of course, the supply is plentiful.

 

‘We’re actually very stacked out with people who have good mathematic skills, good philosophy skills,’ Robert Wiblin, executive director of the Centre for Effective Altruism, told me. ‘I would really love to have some artists. We really need visual designers. It would be great to have people think about how Effective Altruism could be promoted through art.’ Aesthetic mavericks who anticipate long wilderness years of rejection and struggle, however, would seem to have little to contribute to the cause. Perhaps they should think about ditching their dreams for what Caleiro calls ‘an area with higher expected returns’.

And the next paragraphs are the content from which he drew them, about a 1/4 of the whole written interview (the rest was simply discarded), I don’t  want you to assume beforehand that I find his a very degrading or very uplifting change in what I said. I want you to see for what it actually is, so you can judge for yourself if you would do an interview if you were in my place, Our cluster of ideas, from Transhumanism and Singularity to Effective Altruism and X-Risk reduction are becoming mainstream by the day. You may have to face similar choices to those I did. Rhys was actually very interested and from my experience, he distorted quite a bit less than what is usually done, so take this as a below standard level of distortion: 

When I was originally going to write an article about effective altruism, it was going to be about earning to give. My one hesitation was that I felt like someone else could easily write a similar article about earning to give, and I worried that made my “replaceability” very high. (And it turns out it was — someone had already written such an article.) Do you find yourself applying the concept of “replaceability” to other aspects of your life? Like could you consider the replaceability of someone you’re dating and the marginal improvement of happiness they bring to your life compared to someone else you could be dating?

 

That is a great question because Love, as very few things in life, is exactly the kind of emotion in which you can’t apply the logic or replaceability, or as we philosophers call it, counterfactuals. A great part of what love is is valuing a relationship. A specific one relationship that is built over time. Most songs about love, as Marvin Minsky reminds us, are about how the loved one could become anything, even a dumb psycho crazy nutcrack, and we would still love them. There are things that counterfactual reasoning can’t buy. For all others, there is effective altruism.

I suspect artists will tend to resist the effective altruism idea: there seems to be no place for them within EA, unless they happen to already be very successful, in which case they can earn to give. Do aspiring artists who want to do art full time pretty much have to give up that dream and change courses if they want to become effective altruists?

Artists are fighting in red markets. The things they make dispute people’s attention, and there are way more things available to pay attention to then there is attention to be given. Nearly all artists are counterfactually replaceable. This is why you feel they have no space within the EA movement. What I find interesting is that most of the early effective altruists come from a philosophy background, and the exact same is true of philosophy. Nearly no one reads academic publications by philosophers, and the area is so disputed it is hardly the case that anyone who left the profession would leave a significant blank behind that no one else could fulfill. Even then the EA movement thrives among philosophers, we should expect that over time, artists will find similar unusual paths to either conciliate their interests, or else shift their perspectives.

And related to the previous question, one thing that effective altruism does is put things in perspective, and artists and other creators of various sorts won’t like the perspective EA provides: by judging actions based on how much they improve well-being and decrease harm, the works of art, comedy routines and so on that people create turn out not to be that important after all. Devoting years of your life to writing a novel, for instance — while many see this as noble in some way — seems to be a horribly inefficient way to make a positive difference. Is there a way to reconcile effective altruism with artists’ beliefs that their creations are worthwhile contributions?

The short answer is no. Something will have to give, either effective altruist artists shift their art to promote altruism, like some friends of mine are doing here in São Paulo, or they abandon the artistic field. Art is a noble pursuit, and it should always be the case that a small subset of humanity is pursuing artistic expression and interacting with the world in that way. But I don’t think it will ever be the case that this subset will become so small that it would actually be worth it, all things considered, to choose to become a novelist instead of an effective altruist in some other area with higher expected returns. Not because the value of art is any less than people believe it is, but just because it is infinitely easier to understand the value of art, than to understand the value of saving the lives of hundreds of people who live across the ocean, or across the century. When I say it explicitly it may not seem that way, but hundreds of millions of people are able to see the value of art, and only very few, less than one in a million, if you consider the entire world, have already understood how much good they can create by being as altruistic as possible.

This is it, make your decisions accordingly and keep in mind that the media is part of reality, in a sense, of nature, it is not good or bad intrinsically. It has it’s properties just like gravity, which can help or hinder, and if you want to use it, you have to understand those properties and be prepared for them. 

Anúncios

On Media and Effective Altruism

What is the kind of distortion you should expect if you are interviewed or go through media as a representative of EA?  
Here is my response (I’d like to write a version of this writing for the Effective Altruism blog) 
 
I’ve been interviewed/covered since I was 10 in many media. So I may have something valuable to share with EA’s on media distortion. When young I was interviewed in school with some of the other kids, and I’d notice that the TV show would come to the school already knowing exactly what they wanted us to say. They’d basically tell the teacher what he should inquire us about or lecture about, and the teacher would do so. Later they would interview us making questions hardly related to the class they were supposed to be covering, and even these questions would later be cut into a few seconds of something they already knew to begin with. I noticed that even the news part of TV is not news back then, it is pre-arranged fake reality. 
 
As an arrogant young teenager I refused giving further interviews when I was about 14, and I’d leave class if it was being filmed for some reason. 
 
Sometimes though you want to be filmed for some ulterior purpose. This happened to me when a movie director and producer came to me asking whether I would think it is a good idea that she made a documentary about me. More specifically, a documentary about the fact that I wanted to be cryopreserved when I died, “Diego Wants to Live Forever”. I was shocked and felt unsure about it. I sat down and told her I can only decide later on. So I asked people what they would do on Lesswrong, the World’s greatest rationality blog: 
 
I didn’t want to be filmed for filming sake. But there were ideas I could promote through the film, discussion of the Technological Singularity, Transhumanism, Immortalism, all topics unheard of in my native Brazil. Slowly those could be turned into discussion of GWWC and other Effective Altruist organizations as well, later. So all things considered I choose for it. The movie is yet to be released since it grew from a 15 to a 60 minutes documentary. The one thing I kept in mind throughout is that if my goal was to self promote, the movie would be terrible, since being a cryonicist in a christian country where no one else is makes you look completely insane. If I wanted to promote those ideas, I’d pay a price in my image, but attracting new interested people to those memes that surround cryonics (not to cryonics itself, I have no interest in promoting it) seemed to be worthy. If someone wants to interview you or film you, always consider it a personal image sacrifice for a cause, and see if the cause is worthy enough. You’ll never be depicted as you’d like to be. If you are not the writer, then the goal of the media is not your goal, check trade-offs carefully. 
 
After that I was featured on a TED talk. TED is libertarian media so they actually let you do what you came to do, and help you improve. The purpose of the TED@ event was to select people for TED global 2013. No one from my country got selected, but that didn’t matter, because the topic on which I spoke, Effective Altruism, got selected. TED curators are smart, and they had no reason to pick me over anyone to talk on TED Global about Effective Altruism, they did what they should, and invited Peter Singer to speak on behalf of the movement. Some media can really help you achieve your goals, specially if your goals don’t mind whether you are present or not, nearly always the case with Effective Altruism. If the media that wants you is TED like, go for it and don’t worry, they are there to help you. 
 
Later on were my so called 15 seconds of fame. This time I knew the distortion would be drastic, uncanny, absurd. The worlds second largest TV network (Globo) wanted to interview me for their Sunday show, the most viewed one. At the same time, Record, a smaller TV network was going to broadcast an interview with me. Basically, 40 million people would see me on TV. This is a massive amount of people, and I knew nothing I said could be immune from distortion, you don’t get to be the second worldwide without some manipulation skills. The interview was again related to the one thing I don’t want to get people’s attention to, cryonics. A man’s body was being held in the country due to a legal fight between sisters, since he wanted to be cryopreserved and only the daughter who lived with him wanted to send him to Cryonics Institute. That is what the media wants, they want to see half sisters fighting over a dead frozen body, that’s what gets most eyeballs, and I was a side dish given I’m the only Brazilian actually signed up for cryonics. 
 
Not long before I had found my memetic child, http://www.ierfh.org, an Effective Altruism/Transhumanism promoter institute, we were growing and producing a lot. Our purpose was broadcasting, and there would never be a chance of broadcasting the right things for 40 milion people. The question in my mind was, was it worth it to broadcast the wrong things?
 
I decided in favor of it. I tried to negotiate with the reporters so that my name would appear as “IERFH’s director” somehow. Something, a tiny tiny thing, that could connect that whole tragic comedy they wanted to broadcast as news to my actually serious work related to things I actually cared about. Of course this was to no avail. The major network displayed specifically the name they promised they wouldn’t (what am I going to do, sue a company worth tens of billions?) and the other one didn’t do what I asked, but at least also not the exact opposite. 

I had done my homework, I wrote a piece on cryonics connecting it to Transhumanism to attract those who googled about me or cryonics or both. The bridge was there. We paid Google ads to show up on top on Google for a few days. If there were similar mind’s we would lure them into talking to us and collaborating. I learned that 40 million is a massive number of people. It is so massive that though I nearly didn’t appear in one channel, and none of the links that I wanted them to provide were there, dozens of people came to me or to us in the next few days. Few had something to offer or knew what they were talking about. but it has shown me the power of big numbers. When people say no press is bad press, it’s because when you have massive numbers, those at the curve’s tail can be helpful for you. If it’s big enough, I recommend you do it, regardless of distortion. It’s those who see through that matter most.  

But for most press related matters, numbers are more mundane, in the low thousands, and trying to forecast the trade-off is worth it. Sometimes it is better not to do it. The recent coverage of Effective Altruism by Rhys Southan (with a distorted title by someone else, but keep in mind not even your interviewer has complete control over his writing), is a good case in point. I invite you to use it as proxy for how much you are willing to be distorted. Here are the parts of his article that mention my name: 

From this point of view, the importance of most individual works of art would have to be negligible compared with, say, deworming 1,000 children. An idea often paraphrased in EA circles is that it doesn’t matter who does something – what matters is that it gets done. And though artists often pride themselves on the uniqueness of their individuality, it doesn’t follow that they have something uniquely valuable to offer society. On the contrary, says Diego Caleiro, director of the Brazil-based Institute for Ethics, Rationality and the Future of Humanity, most of them are ‘counterfactually replaceable’: one artist is as pretty much as useful as the next. And of course, the supply is plentiful.

 

‘We’re actually very stacked out with people who have good mathematic skills, good philosophy skills,’ Robert Wiblin, executive director of the Centre for Effective Altruism, told me. ‘I would really love to have some artists. We really need visual designers. It would be great to have people think about how Effective Altruism could be promoted through art.’ Aesthetic mavericks who anticipate long wilderness years of rejection and struggle, however, would seem to have little to contribute to the cause. Perhaps they should think about ditching their dreams for what Caleiro calls ‘an area with higher expected returns’.

And the next paragraphs are the content from which he drew them, about a 1/4 of the whole written interview (the rest was simply discarded), I don’t  want you to assume beforehand that I find his a very degrading or very uplifting change in what I said. I want you to see for what it actually is, so you can judge for yourself if you would do an interview if you were in my place, Our cluster of ideas, from Transhumanism and Singularity to Effective Altruism and X-Risk reduction are becoming mainstream by the day. You may have to face similar choices to those I did. Rhys was actually very interested and from my experience, he distorted quite a bit less than what is usually done, so take this as a below standard level of distortion: 

When I was originally going to write an article about effective altruism, it was going to be about earning to give. My one hesitation was that I felt like someone else could easily write a similar article about earning to give, and I worried that made my “replaceability” very high. (And it turns out it was — someone had already written such an article.) Do you find yourself applying the concept of “replaceability” to other aspects of your life? Like could you consider the replaceability of someone you’re dating and the marginal improvement of happiness they bring to your life compared to someone else you could be dating?

 

That is a great question because Love, as very few things in life, is exactly the kind of emotion in which you can’t apply the logic or replaceability, or as we philosophers call it, counterfactuals. A great part of what love is is valuing a relationship. A specific one relationship that is built over time. Most songs about love, as Marvin Minsky reminds us, are about how the loved one could become anything, even a dumb psycho crazy nutcrack, and we would still love them. There are things that counterfactual reasoning can’t buy. For all others, there is effective altruism.

I suspect artists will tend to resist the effective altruism idea: there seems to be no place for them within EA, unless they happen to already be very successful, in which case they can earn to give. Do aspiring artists who want to do art full time pretty much have to give up that dream and change courses if they want to become effective altruists?

Artists are fighting in red markets. The things they make dispute people’s attention, and there are way more things available to pay attention to then there is attention to be given. Nearly all artists are counterfactually replaceable. This is why you feel they have no space within the EA movement. What I find interesting is that most of the early effective altruists come from a philosophy background, and the exact same is true of philosophy. Nearly no one reads academic publications by philosophers, and the area is so disputed it is hardly the case that anyone who left the profession would leave a significant blank behind that no one else could fulfill. Even then the EA movement thrives among philosophers, we should expect that over time, artists will find similar unusual paths to either conciliate their interests, or else shift their perspectives.

And related to the previous question, one thing that effective altruism does is put things in perspective, and artists and other creators of various sorts won’t like the perspective EA provides: by judging actions based on how much they improve well-being and decrease harm, the works of art, comedy routines and so on that people create turn out not to be that important after all. Devoting years of your life to writing a novel, for instance — while many see this as noble in some way — seems to be a horribly inefficient way to make a positive difference. Is there a way to reconcile effective altruism with artists’ beliefs that their creations are worthwhile contributions?

The short answer is no. Something will have to give, either effective altruist artists shift their art to promote altruism, like some friends of mine are doing here in São Paulo, or they abandon the artistic field. Art is a noble pursuit, and it should always be the case that a small subset of humanity is pursuing artistic expression and interacting with the world in that way. But I don’t think it will ever be the case that this subset will become so small that it would actually be worth it, all things considered, to choose to become a novelist instead of an effective altruist in some other area with higher expected returns. Not because the value of art is any less than people believe it is, but just because it is infinitely easier to understand the value of art, than to understand the value of saving the lives of hundreds of people who live across the ocean, or across the century. When I say it explicitly it may not seem that way, but hundreds of millions of people are able to see the value of art, and only very few, less than one in a million, if you consider the entire world, have already understood how much good they can create by being as altruistic as possible.

This is it, make your decisions accordingly and keep in mind that the media is part of reality, in a sense, of nature, it is not good or bad intrinsically. It has it’s properties just like gravity, which can help or hinder, and if you want to use it, you have to understand those properties and be prepared for them. 

Two Discussions About Spreading Vegetarianism as a Cost Effective Meme to Make The World a Better Place

Pablo Stafforini: It is really, really hard to produce a convincing argument against same-sex marriage–almost as hard as coming up with a credible defense of meat consumption.

Diego Coelho Caleiro: Pablo, as a long time follower of thy’s anarcotranshumanism I would expect you to accept eating meat on the basis of increasing the total ammount of conscious animals in the universe. If it were not for our meat consumption, there would be far fewer cow brains hanging around…..

Pablo Stafforini::Diego, there are three problems with this argument. First, it assumes that non-human animals raised for food have on average lives with a preponderance of happiness over suffering. This assumption is highly questionable in light of the ap…palling conditions present in modern factory farms. Secondly, it ignores that other sentient beings would likely exist if the land and resources currently allocated to factory farms was given a different use as a result of diminishing demand for animal products. Finally, it neglects the effects of vegetarianism in raising public awareness of the significance of non-human animal suffering. Because most people are not utilitarians and subscribe instead to a common-sense morality that regards edibles as things devoid of moral status, the interests of non-human animals currently raised for food are not going to be taken seriously until humans stop eating such animals altogether.

Diego Coelho Caleiro: Though smart, I think those are insufficient reasons for anti-consumptionists. First, most

http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=125


countries that produce meat do not have particularly bad coditions for cattle’s life, at least no…t in Brazil, the main exporter. I would be shocked if Nozickian cows in Brazil would rather die… On the second, if there was no cattle, only a few tropical territories would comport other sentient beings, most grass farms would just be dedicated to agriculture. On the third, I think non-vegetarians build up a strong tribal hatred against vegetarians when they are confronted with the fanatical ones. People would be more friendly to primates if they didn’t connect that with having to abstain from their favorite chicken wing. Sure your arguments shifted my probability density distribution for “Against X For (meat-consumption)” but I do not think their strenght has tipped the balance.

Jonatas Müller Your second problem goes the opposite way for me: wild animals should in general have lives which, if not bad in average (they probably are), have some extremely bad parts, so I’d see their existence as a negative (and their destruction a g…ood/neutral side of cattle farming). Beef seems to be one of the least objectionable types (along with fish), while chickens and pigs have it much worse (both live in bad conditions, pigs may have more sentience and chickens more suffering per kg of meat). Raising public awareness to animal well-being seems to be the most important effect in avoiding meat.

Pablo Stafforini: The state of cattle is not representative of that of animals generally, since cows suffer less on average than do members of all the other major species raised for food:

http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/suffering-per-kg.html

On the second ob…jection, I refer you to the detailed investigation of Gaverick Matheny and Kai Chan:

http://research.ires.ubc.ca/kaichan/articles/Matheny_and_Chan_2005_JAEE.pdf

I’m not persuaded by your reasoning regarding the final objection. Do you really think it’s possible for the man on the street –as distinct from the sophisticated utilitarian– to take the interests of all animals seriously while he continues to eat some of them?

Jonatas, I fully agree with your final point: I am myself a vegetarian primarily because of the effects that public advocacy of this diet has on other human beings (though I didn’t originally stop eating meat for that reason). Concerning t…he second objection, it is unclear to me whether the sort of animals that would exist if factory farms disappeared would on the whole suffer more or less than factory-farmed animals currently do. (See the paper cited above for further discussion.) Of course, things become quite complicated if we treat vegetarianism as part of a package deal including a general commitment to minimising suffering, since such a commitment would also require us to alleviate the pain of animals in the wild.

Diego Coelho Caleiro: Nice paper. “However, if chickens were made to have lives of reasonable worth, then as long as they had lives that were perhaps 10% as pleasant or valuable as the lives of wild animals, then chicken meat and egg purchases could increase the… net amount of moral value in the world.”
It tipped the balance against pork. I’m unpersuaded with chicken’s given their tiny brains, and if my position on consciousness were not based on this

http://www.biolbull.org/cgi/content/abstract/215/3/216

maybe I’d be willing to tip it for industrial chicken.
So bye bye pork, and let’s go for wild chicken…

Thor Ribeiro: I can even see the cow wondering in proper Elisabethan english, “Would it have been better, had I not lived at all?”

Leah McKelvie: Assuming that the Jonatas and Pablo are talking about lacto ovo vegetarianism and not a vegan diet, I disagree. The interests of nonhuman animals who are raised for food are not going to be taken seriously by people who merely give up eating their… flesh. In fact, that’s an indication that they don’t take their interests seriously at all.

Promoting something that reinforces speciesism is not only a bad idea in the long run, it doesn’t even make sense in the short run. It sends the false message that vegetarianism makes a significant difference in actual animal suffering. It often doesn’t. It can even increase it, if someone goes from eating beef to loading up on eggs and dairy, or goes semi-vegetarian and starts eating chickens or fishes instead of beef.

Jonatas Müller It may also be an intermediary step which may increase the chance for taking further steps. Though what you said applies to the acts of eating or not some meat, there are also the close acts of talking to people about it, making publicity, …eventually convincing legislators to make animal conditions better (with support from other “semi-vegetarians” or whatever they are called), discouraging use of animal furs, inventing in vitro meat or other meat alternatives, etc. These are all hard to quantify individually, but I think that together the people who take these actions can have a considerable result.

This may be even more powerful than being completely vegan, because if a vegan person has a non-vegan child, then all the efforts are in vain in a global sense.

Diego Coelho Caleiro: Let me disagree with Jonatian hypothesis here. As natural selection taught us, it is NOT always the case that the intermediate incremental steps towards a value-peak are better than their immediate neighbours. This is true meme-wise as wel…l. Just like the best order of ammount of appendix to have is (best) none (Intermediate) small (worst) very small, the best order of how much animal originated stuff could be (best) 0 (medium) current standards minus pork and industrial chicken and (worst) vegetarian that eats dairy and eggs.

We all carry an appendix because evolution sucks as a designer, maybe utilitarians ought to consider the possibility that we should all maitain a meat-eating life even though there are better lives in an ideal world.

In any case, both issues will be corrected by transhumanist technologies, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology, in the unlikely event that we survive the 21st century.

There is WAY more value at stake in terms of catastrophic risks f…rom human technology and natural causes than there is for vegetarianism. We just feel like discussing vegetarianism because feeding habits occupy large space of our savannah brains (take Kosher and muslim anti-pork as tribe determining examples)
I’ve delved into the discussion because it was intelligent and with someone I admired for long (Stafforini), that is, for fun.
But a real utilitarian should know better than trying to argue people out of their feeding habits and work avoiding actual cataclysm that could destroy 80% of earth’s biodiversity

 

Two Years Later, another Discussion Unfolds…

G Diego Vichutilitarian How about we are a social species, therefore we’d better share eating rituals. Evil meme-clusters have always thrived through making their members unable to eat things that other groups eat. I would not like Effective Altruism community to do the same. What do you guys think about private vegetarianism?

Here’s a simple choice: eat some meat (at the very least, thereby consume about 10 times its weight in plant matter – that which it took to produce it [and don’t forget the water consumption that went into its production], require a sentien

t being to experience suffering for almost its entire life [factory farmed meat], and pollute the earth with excrement the animal produced while it was alive) or eat some non-animal-based food.

You make this choice EVERY TIME you eat.

Lukas Gloor 

  • That strikes me as a very weak argument, Diego, as the reasons for veganis(his)m aren’t arbitrary dogma but instead about the very thing Effective Altruism is about.

    Jenna Gatto 

How much plant matter does a person need to eat over its life time to get all of the nutrients it needs, especially when you cut meat out of the diet? And if you think about it that way, if for every ounce of meat you eat does that mean you

 need to eat 10 times that amount of plant matter to get the same nutrients, and what type of resources went into that before it got to your kitchen table?
Not all animals we eat have suffered, and I know I’m “lucky” that a large majority of my diet comes from animals either I, my father, or my family hunts and fishes for me to eat, but is that still not a question of economic stability to be able to afford those products in the grocery store that are not factory farmed.
Human and pet excrement can not be composted for organic farming due to the amount of chemicals that we eat on a regular basis. If it is not composted it goes into a sewer somewhere. And while in NJ we are lucky enough to have systems that have been updated since the 1970s, I now live in a place where combined sewer outflows still predominately exist and therefore flow into local waterbodies. So if people cannot eat organically, which is still something that has a lot to do with education and social standpoint, we too are polluting the earth regardless of whether or not we eat meat.
Essentially you need to give up anything that has gone through a factory, and eat only things you can grow and hunt yourself to be able to live in a way that can live up to the statement you have made. And while I too wish this was possible for everyone, this is a much bigger step then the choices people can make at a grocery store, especially if they are not financially able.

Adriano Mannino ‎”Private vegetarianism”? WTF. From a utilitarian point of view, it’s very clear that we must promote *public veganis(his)m*. If you can convince just two people to go vegan, this already has *twice* the impact of your own private veganism. So influencing others (in order to establish/via establishing social norms) is much more important than your private consumption.

G Diego Vichutilitarian 

  • Okay, I’ll try one last controversial idea, then I’m done: People have very strong opinions (not at all rational) about eating, and sharing food. Those, it seems to me, are inscribed in one’s head at some point in life, just like swear words. We allocate prejudices in an emotional part of us. This is why swearing in other languages doesn’t feel weird.

My guess is that being vegan is sufficiently disconforting for you and people around you that 1)You lose more influence in other Effective Altruist goals than you gain by eventually causing vegetarians 2) This one I claim strongly (90% conf

idence): You spend a lot of cognitive energy on finding food, and specially on discussing food. If this energy was spent on charity evaluation, donatable work, or technology research, it would benefit all sentient beings much more.

3) This is also true if it was used just to donate/develop in vitro meat, which fosters the same goals. I think it doesn’t feel the same because eating rituals, like swearing and politics, have highjacked part of our moral brain (safer for

 memes to be there). *META: this discussion is going to my old blog, if you’d like me to take off your name, please tell me now* 4) The timing doesn’t seem right to help farm animals yet. Too many humans suffering from Malaria, Schistosomosis, Tuberculosis, Ageing.

5) This one I claim mildly (50%): It seems to me that people who end up promoting eating rituals got stuck in the same way some atheists stop their intelectual life once they can forever battle against those who are not yet atheists. Sure 

you can spend a life vociferating against God, and sure, there is no God, but as Luke Muehlhauser said: “Atheism is just the beggining”. Becoming a vegan is awesome, it means you understand sooo much… but it seems to me to be just the

Adriano Mannino 

Diego, what’s your point? Opinions can be strong *and* absolutely rational and justified.
Do you have an argument against anti-speciesism? The issue has been debated for 40 years now and not a single halfway rational arg

ument in favor of speciesism has been produced.
Do you have an argument against consequentialism?
If not, then it’s obvious that “private vegetarianism” is utter nonsense.

Ah, now you’ve added a second and third comment. I’m afraid you are wrong. We are utilitarian anti-speciesists/vegans and not stupid. It’s totally false that we spend a lot of energy finding and discussing food. We don’t.

We do, of course, support in-vitro meat. But we believe that anti-speciesist meme-spreading has the greater marginal effect. And for psychosocial reasons, it’s very important to combine it with the spread of veg commitments. (Your “eating ritual” talk is totally misleading.) So long as people have no problem with continuing to eat food that causes unnecessary suffering to non-human animals, we have not succeeded in spreading anti-speciesism.

Read this: http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/veg-ads.html and this http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/suffering-nature.html, for instance.

And this:
http://masalladelaespecie.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/questions_priority_interspecies.pdf

<<8. CONCLUSIONS
We have seen that there is a wide difference between the number of humans and the
number of those nonhumans who are harmed due to their use by humans. Of course some of
the figures and estimations that have been considered here are obviously approximate, but
they are based on real data and seem to be reasonable ones. Figures concerning well-being are
more speculative: obviously so, since we lack any data which could actually make
experiences accessible. However, they are plausible enough to allow us to consider the
question in a fairly realistic way. Given this, it seems we can draw some conclusions from the
line of reasoning presented above.
By now, the main one is likely to be expected. No human activity directly affects
negatively a so high number of individuals as humans’ consumption of nonhumans does. And
we all can make a change here. Hence, in as much as we accept any of the different normative
criteria mentioned above (maximization, additive equality, maximin, sufficiency concerning
outcomes, as well as responsibility and equality of means or lack of oppression) we will have
to give up the consumption nonhuman animals.
In fact, the reason why this practice harms
so many animals is simply that each of us as individuals contributes to it. And, as it has been
argued above, the gains we obtain out of that practice do not compensate the harm nonhumans
suffer. There is a huge asymmetry between the enjoyment humans get from being able to
experience some tastes and the harm that nonhuman animals suffer due to it at an individual
level. This can be assessed in a very simple way. Consider the life of a trout in some fish
factory. Suppose someone eats that trout in one meal. Two things must be weighted against
each other here: (a) The cost of the difference between the enjoyment that the one who eats
this trout gets from that meal and the enjoyment he could get from eating a meal without
animal products. (b) The suffering and the deprivation of enjoyment which death implies that
has been inflicted on that fish. Suppose, for instance, that the meal lasts twenty minutes (that
is, 1200 seconds) and that the animal has spent close to twenty months in the fish-farm (let us
say 600 days). Suppose, also, that this trout which could have lived for some six or seven
years. According to an intrinsic potential account, this means that this animal suffers a
deprivation of five years of life. This means that the difference between a minute of the
eater’s enjoyment of that meal and a minute of his possible enjoyment had he chosen a nonanimal meal is equal to almost one month of suffering for the fish, plus a deprivation of three
months of life (assuming the intrinsic potential account). Or, that such a difference during a
couple of seconds of tasting is equivalent to a day of suffering plus the deprivation of more
than three days of life for the fish. Of course, if we assume an account of the harm of death in
relation to the maximum level of happiness the results are still more asymmetric. Similar
equations can be considered for other animals and other meals.
But there is an even more significant consequence that is suggested by what we have
seen thus far, which may affect us not just as potential consumers of nonhuman animals but
also as agents with the ability to transform our surrounding reality. We may think that we not
only have negative duties not to engage in unjust practices. We may also accept that we
should do something to stop them. If so, we should note that the conclusions presented above
entail that spreading an animal-free lifestyle is a far more efficient way of improving the
world than working to improve the situation in which humans are. This conclusion seems at
first paradoxical. But it is far from being some odd consequence which we can infer from
some peculiar theory. Quite the opposite, it follows from a wide range of positions that are
commonly held. In fact, it seems to follow quite naturally once we set aside our speciesist assumptions. This also suggests that challenging speciesism might be the most useful task we
can assume if we want to make the world a better place.>>

Adriano Mannino 

Speciesism is false. If we accept that, and given the enormous amount of domesticated and especially also wild animal suffering there is in the world, it follows quite trivially that anti-speciesist meme-spreading is more important than the..

G Diego Vichutilitarian 

1) ($6000)/(917+238) = $5.19 to create a new vegetarian. *Terrible calculation which does not factor work-hours of the gigantic veg-crowd, and most important, opportunity cost due to disconfort caused (which I admit is not measurable)* 2)

 The paper you indicated has the same issue….. Also , it calculates based on obviously false assumptions, like that the life of a trout is one of suffering. Or that farm cows (which when a child I took care of often) are suffering all the time. They may suffer when dying, when being vaccinated (so do we), when being separated from children-cow (so do we). 3) We agree that factory farming sucks, and I don’t eat pigs on that basis (unless in discorforting situations) 4) Paper also uses “deprivation of years” as indicator of suffering, but clearly an animal does not suffer if it does not exist anymore, for this one, the Logic of the Larder argument works. 5) I’d suggest, as life advice not related to Veg, that one link is maximum one can send per discussion and expect being read, though I made an exception here 6) I am also in favor of being a vegetarian, say, twice a week, something which preserves some animals, does not activate neuro-triggers of morality, and spreads the word, without causing unconfortable discussions in which people feel attacked, and assassins, which sometimes happens with non-vegans in discussions. 7) You argue a good case, and if the facts you pointed out were true (if the paper was mostly true) I would follow to your conclusion. I suggest we agree on opinions of the form “If XYZ is the case, the world should do WFP” we are disagreeing over XYZ being or not the case. 🙂

Adriano Mannino 

Ad 1): The crucial figure, calculated in the above link, is this: We can prevent about 100d of suffering on a factory farm by donating a single dollar (!) to the Humane League or to Vegan Outreach (the actual number may be several times hig

her). Which human-related cause trumps this? Please tell me.
1.1) Most suffering (by *far*, see 
http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/suffering-nature.html) occurs in nature. That’s why anti-speciesist meme-spreading is likely to be extremely effective in the long run. Animal farming seems doomed anyway (in-vitro meat is just around the corner). But we have to hurry up and put anti-speciesist memes in place in order to ensure that we will abolish wild animal suffering when we have the technology to do so (this is an argument for targeting powerful people too). If we also factor in the urgent need to prevent future (Darwinian) panspermia and terraforming, we’ve got a good candidate for the title of the most important ethical issue.

Ad 2): The paper is not based on these assumptions. It does say that any kind of animal farming is based on/reinforces speciesism (which is true and which provides a strong reason to oppose it). Also, it’s a fact that *the vast majority* of farm animals are factory farmed and have terrible lives.

Ad 4): Whether we accept Logic of the Larder reasoning or not, animal farming should be abolished. Speciesism must go and we can’t credibly argue against it if we support slaughtering non-humans for trivial purposes because people wouldn’t even dream of subjecting humans to this kind of treatment. If we focus on suffering, then the Logic of the Larder does not apply; if, on the other hand, our focus is a happiness/suffering balance, then it does apply but the conclusion that we should abolish factory farming still stands: Opportunity costs. With the resources that go into animal farming we could be creating many more (and happier) sentient beings. And as I said, we absolutely need anti-speciesism in order to save the gazillions of animals that are suffering in nature. But we can’t promote it if we accept practices that people would never accept and would in fact consider most serious crimes (!) if done to mentally equivalent humans (“human farming”).

Ad 6): Why should we shy away from activating morality-triggers? Anti-speciesism is a very basic moral meme and it’s important that more and more people understand and accept it as that – and more and more people do, there’s some data suggesting that the number of vegans has been increasing exponentially. (By the way, if for whatever curious reason you’re not ready to join the cause, *at least* abstain from hurting it by describing what we’re about in terms of “eating rituals” etc.) An ethically similar historical struggle was anti-racism. Would you have suggested not activating morality-triggers there as well? And I hope you realize that it’s simply unavoidable that there will be uncomfortable discussions and that (some) people will feel attacked. I totally agree that we should try to minimize negative emotions, though, and my tone of voice is usually different from the one I’ve chosen here. But you’re a fellow rationalist and I was – quite frankly – shocked by the “private vegetarianism” proposal, which strikes me as extremely irrational and harmful (given utilitarianism, which, I take it, is a shared premise).

Ad 7): As far as I can see, you should follow to the conclusions. Or you should provide better arguments to block them and prove us wrong.

The Importance of Wild-Animal Suffering www.utilitarian-essays.com

Adriano Mannino 

Addendum to 1.1): Anti-speciesist meme-spreading is important for in-vitro meat as well. We shouldn’t underestimate the challenge of getting society to accept this “unnatural” product (compare the tragic fate of genetically modified food in

 Europe). If people accept that species-membership is no reason for discriminating against sentient beings and to consider their well-being less important, they will be much more willing to switch to in-vitro meat and promote it structurally. It’s extremely important to speed this process up.

G Diego Vichutilitarian 

1) On Wild-Suffering. Sure, wild suffering is awful, and I hope for less of it ASAP. I don’t think the best avenue for getting anti-speciesism is to start by changing to veto-this-food people’s eating habits, because I think that is pretty

 fucking hard. There must be lower hanging fruit out there. 2)If there is one thing I can claim being really immensely good at, it is dodging lone-bystander bias. I am the first transhumanist,immortalist, cryonicist, and perhaps singularitarian in my country (185 000 000 people), and I fought against accusations of crazyness and social stigma from a very early age.You should consider VERY INFORMATIVE *that means, a lot of bits, or the equivalent of a large N study* that despite having done all that, I have not managed to establish dietary restrictions under socially constraining situations (going out with friends, visiting girlfriends family etc…) This is not only non-pork or non-redmeat situations, but also trying to implement a kurzweil slow-carb diet. It is just massively, massively hard to summon the energy of fighting this battle every meal out. And I am, along with the science of positive psychology, and Shawn Achor, of the opinion that we have a single candle of willpower. When we burn it, it burns for all things we may need willpower to, and we are short of that amount. We have to learn to divide the candle wisely, for if it burns up we enter “what the hell mode” and if it doesn’t, there is only limited quantitites of it.

Adriano Mannino 

So that’s Brazil? What about the “gigantic veg-crowd” that you mentioned above? It should make veg life quite easy. I know some Brazilian vegetarians and vegans and they seem to be doing OK. 😉
Actually, there’s been a big debate within the

 animal rights movement about whether there is lower hanging fruit. One might think there is – but I have come to accept the conclusion that there is not. Animal welfare reforms are very costly and don’t do too much in the end (and my country – Switzerland – is the paradigm example). I don’t think we can avoid promoting veg eating (and an expansion of veg agriculture and the veg supply) if we are to promote anti-speciesism. (Incidentally, animal farming is also one of the primary causes of global warming, which might increase global catastrophic risks. And it probably also increases the planetary biomass and thus the amount of wild animal suffering – which might well be the main reason to fight it. Furthermore, animal farming is co-responsible for world-hunger: 1kg of meat = up to 10kg of soy and other plant food that could be eaten directly.) As I said, people who get the anti-speciesist meme *will want* to avoid products based on animal exploitation. Also, you shouldn’t underestimate the positive psychological and social effects of behavioral veg commitments – they greatly assist meme-spreading. Last but not least, veganism has become *very easy* to practise in many countries. In Switzerland it’s basically a matter of which shelf you go to in the store (and you can get veg food in every restaurant). As for social difficulties, I think there are easy ways to minimize them and to even make being veg a fun experience. For one thing, there is a growing consensus among young and rational people (i.e. within most of my social circles) that there’s an ethical imperative to go veg. Many of them can be converted very easily – and if you’re not the only one doing it, it’s fun (and psychologically positive!), you can try out new stuff, offer to cook for non-veg people etc. And I think it’s possible to talk about it in a friendly and non-antagonizing way to non-veg people. So is it really a “battle” that needs to be fought out every meal again? Not in my experience. And if you encounter people who don’t respect your dietary choices (!), why don’t you tell them that they should go fuck themselves? OK, let’s make an exception for the girlfriend’s family. But otherwise there’s really no reason to waste time with stupid people. (That’s bad quite independently of the veg question anyway.) And if you spend time with the right folks (namely young and intelligent people), the veg thing should be no problem and you should find many great and low-cost (in fact, almost free) anti-speciesist influencing opportunities.

I congratulate you on standing up for transhumanism etc. I agree with all those causes (though in part only for instrumental reasons, e.g. I don’t think that death per se is a problem, I think the abolition of suffering should be our focus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolitionism_(bioethics)http://www.hedweb.com/abolitionist-project/reprogramming-predators.html – so I’m with the Pearcean brand of transhumanism/transanimalism, not with Bostrom or the Singularitarians), but I believe that spreading anti-speciesist memes as fast as possible and making sure that technology will be used to abolish (wild) animal suffering too (which might well be the dominant factor in the utilitarian calculation!) is *even more important*.

I agree about willpower and the candle analogy. But as I said, it’s quite difficult for me to believe that it’s “so fucking hard”, socially. Also, I’m not sure whether you have granted the issue enough priority. We might disagree about what the most important thing is, overall, but I don’t think utilitarians can reasonably disagree on the fact that anti-speciesist/veg meme spreading and donating to animal charities is very important and cost-effective indeed. *At the very least*, I believe, one must admit that anti-speciesist meme-spreading is more important than the poverty-related causes that www.givingwhatwecan.org promotes. I wonder whether your assessment of how hard it is to be veg would be different if you had granted the issue higher priority? And if it does deserve higher priority, then it also has a greater claim to the willpower-candle.

Abolitionism (bioethics) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Abolitionism is the bioethical school and movement that endorses the use of biot…See More

Adriano Mannino 

One last point. You write: “Steering Transhumanists and Singularitarians as close as possible to their dreams…”
Unfortunately, there are many transhumanists who are speciesists or even egoists (they’re especially numerous among immortali

sts and cryonicists, a bit less so among singularitarians, but still to an alarming degree – see the irrational reactions of the Less Wrong crowd when confronted with anti-speciesist arguments or considerations in the philosophy of personal identity that undermine egoism). I’m not saying you are one of them, but the quote could certainly have been made by them: It’s about achieving “our dreams” etc. I am *deeply morally opposed* to those guys. It’s not about “our dreams”. It’s primarily (if not exclusively) about abolishing suffering in an impartial and objective way. So let me be frank: I wonder whether your opposition to prioritizing anti-speciesist/veg meme-spreading had anything to do with an understanding of “what it’s all about” in terms of “our/my dreams” rather than in terms of the best possible impartial minimization of suffering (and, maybe, the maximization of happiness).

David Pearce 

When are we ethically entitled to harm another sentient being? The Transhumanist Declaration (1998, 2009)
http://humanityplus.org/philosophy/transhumanist-declaration/
boldly expresses our commitment to the well-being of all sentience. Payi

ng for nonhuman animals to be factory-farmed, exploited and killed so we can eat their flesh is impossible to reconcile with such a commitment.

Of course we’re all prey to weakness of will. But does giving up meat and animal products really call for heroic self-sacrifice? Humans are not obligate carnivores. Our only excuse is not just lame but weak-minded: “But I like the taste!”

Transhumanist Declaration

humanityplus.org

G Diego Vichutilitarian 

I suggest we have a fundamental disagreement over what should be preserved. I think our values should be preserved. Values that can only be states in language, thus only formulatable by a species that commands language. I think that the values that should be preserved are some mix of Yudkwosky’s CEV: “That in which we would agree if we grew smarter and stronger togheter.” and David Lewis’s dispositional theory: “Lewis offers that X is a value to you (roughly) if and only if you would desire to desire X if you were perfectly acquainted with X and you were thinking and deliberating as clearly as possible about X.” I am doing a masters on what that would be. I do not think that negative utilitarianism is the best form of it. Personally,emotionally, I am a positive utilitarian, increasing positive feeling as I go about. I think some form of simple utilitarianism is probably the best pragmatic approach (for it maintains agreement among those fighting for the worlds good, without in-group out-group bias and stupid minor disagreements unworth fighting over). If new persons would arise whose commant of emotions, intelligence, cooperation, friendliness, and love are greater then our own (augmented humans, aliens, computers) I would gladly ascribe them the task of determining which values we would like to preserve. While this does not happen, I’ll do my best to understand things that we value, summarize them, and improve quality of CEV, or reduce the existential risk of permanently curtailing our values. Yudkwosky’s Fun Theory is very bad (probably his life lacked fun), Bostrom noticing that Flamboyant displays are great is very good. Richardson and Boyd noticing Double Inheritance in culture is very good, and Seligman and the Positive Psychology crowd have been assessing a lot of useful info, with PERMA being the summit of values we currently have. I’ll try to build on the shoulders of those giants, and output a serious well build, wide list of which values we should preserve, and why. Wish me luck! Thanks for the discussion. You too David!