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Jun 13 202323 min read 2

19

1 A world of black and white

It took a life span with no cell mate
The long way back
Sandy, why can't we look the other way?

Evil, by Interpol.

(Crosspost of this on my blog.  Not sure if this is the right sort of content to put on the forum--happy to delete it if people think that it's not really EA forum content). 

Small children often think of things in terms of good and evil. They read stories with clearly delineated good guys and bad guys, where one side is motivated purely by malevolence and hatred and the other is motivated solely by altruism. In Harry Potter, for example, it’s obvious who the bad guys are. They are simple encapsulations of vice; motivated purely by a desire to wipe out innocent people. They like to torture people, wantonly, while the good guys don’t and prefer to stun rather than kill. The bad guys are even sorted together, in house Slytherin.

The bad guys in Harry Potter can even be distinguished from the good guys by their outward appearance. Dudley, who bullies Harry a lot, is fat—while all the people who are good are thin and attractive. Voldemort is, uncoincidentally, a frighteningly pale, snakelike creature, with red eyes. Not the kind of guy you’d want to make out with. Crabbe and Goyle, like Dudley, are fat and dumb. Evil in Harry Potter is not complicated; it leaves a stain on the soul, corrupting and warping one’s physical appearance.

Harry Potter is complex in many ways. But its presentation of evil is rather one-dimensional—the bad guys just want to cause misery and eradicate a group of people. Evil is presented in Harry Potter as being something simple, obvious, something that poses no difficult ethical questions. You don’t have to think to decide whether one is evil—just look at whether they have red eyes and dumb, fat henchmen.

The same is true of many Roald Dahl books. In Matilda, for example, the main character is brilliant, while the villains are all dumb, brutal, and brutish. The Trunchbull smashes plates on the heads of children and puts them in disturbing torture devices. Matilda’s parents scorn learning and knowledge, preferring to watch the television like mindless drones. One of the heroes of the book is named Miss Honey—and is benevolent, meek, and inoffensive. This is true of most such books—the BFG, for example, has child-eating giants as the main villains.

As we get older, our view of evil grows more complex. We recognize that the world is complicated, that all is not black and life. The world is not divided into saints and Voldemorts. As one grows older, they read more complicated books, where the bad guys are not so clearly delineated.

My favorite book through elementary school was Ender’s Game. In it, the main character, Ender, wipes out an entire species of aliens. Now, humans were at war with them, and it seemed provoked by the aliens. But we later learn that the aliens didn’t understand what they were doing because their minds worked very differently from ours. History goes on to revile Ender, as we learn in the sequels, as is perhaps justified. Even though he didn’t know what he was doing—even though his actions all seemed justified at the time—an entire species of intelligent creatures capable of experiencing joy and sorrow, love and wisdom were wiped out by the actions of Ender.

In Ender’s Game, things are not so clear-cut. Ender is bullied by three people in the series: Stilson, Bonzo, and his own brother Peter. Ender kills Stilson and Bonzo—both by accident, both in self-defense, but kills them nonetheless. Peter goes on to bring about world peace. So who is the monster?

Intelligence is knowing that Frankenstein was the name of the inventor, not the monster. Wisdom is knowing that Frankenstein was the monster.

At each step of the way, what Ender does seems to be justified. He never knows that he is killing people, and he is framed in very sympathetic lights. He is the main character, and the reader cannot help but feel bad for him, and feel, most of all, that he is a good guy. They feel this even after he exterminates a civilization and kills two people. He ends up being remembered in history the way Hitler and Stalin are today. Now, perhaps the history is wrong, perhaps Ender really was misunderstood. Perhaps Ender is really good, and the historians are inaccurate. Or perhaps it is right—perhaps Ender, like Humbert Humbert in Lolita, is a monster disguised through good writing and sympathetic authorship into a saint.

Or perhaps, it’s more complicated than that.

As we grow older, we recognize that it is more complicated than that. The world is not nice enough to divide people neatly into saints and sinners. The world is a messy, convoluted place, where good and evil come in degrees, where good people do evil and evil people do good. Most of the masses are neither good nor evil, but easily lead along.

And I think when people get older, when they grasp this complexity, they begin to relinquish their belief in true evil. They begin to think of it the way one might think of various other literary features in children’s stories—such as, for example, things always turning out well. In the land of fantasy, everything turns out okay. But in the messy, real world, it does not. Sometimes, horrible things happen to good people. Sometimes good people die, sometimes they suffer cruel, merciless fates, never knowing the kindness of the world.

2 The unbearable reality of evil

Hey, wait
Great smile
Sensitive to fate, not denial
But hey, who's on trial?

It took a life span with no cell mate
The long way back
Sandy, why can't we look the other way?

People often think that there is no true evil, just shades of gray. Continental philosophers like Nietzsche or Foucault often claim that good and evil aren’t real—they’re either naïve fantasies or power grabs on behalf of elites. Error theory is a popular view in philosophy, and says that all sentences of the form “X is wrong” or “X is evil,” or even “X is bad,” are all false.

But most people still believe in evil. Most people cannot relinquish this fundamental belief. David Friedman has remarked that though he does not think he can refute evolutionary explanations of our moral beliefs, he remains a believer in the objectivity of morality, because he cannot, as a psychological matter, give up his belief that some things are really wrong and others are right. I confess that I feel the same way. Even if I had no good argument for the objectivity of morality, when I reflect on various cases of wanton disregard for human life, I cannot help but believe that there is such thing as evil. A commenter on a recent ACX article recently described a story from Viktor Frankl that reminded me why I cannot give up my belief in evil:

In this passage, the prisoners were transferred to another camp. In their weak, emaciated condition, they were made to stand outside for several hours, clad in thin prisoner clothes, in the freezing winter rain.

And they were crying – for joy.

They were crying for joy because they could plainly see that the camp had no chimneys.

I could never get that image out of my head.

I do not think I will be able to get that image out of my head either. And until I do, I do not think that I will be able to give up my belief in evil.

I cannot give up my belief in evil when I read about the Icebox killers—WARNING: don’t read about them if you want to remain sane—and their sadistic torturing of people for mere sexual pleasure. They inflicted stomach-churning evil, perhaps enough to offset all the joy ever lived by the victims in their entire lives, for the sake of meager pleasure. When juries listened to descriptions of what they did, they fainted. And when I read about cases like that, I cannot give up my belief in evil.

The Nazis were evil. What they did to the Jews—to my people—were as pure an encapsulation of evil as one can find. When one reads about the Nazi crimes, it becomes abundantly clear that though those who carry out evil are not always purely evil—many of the Nazis would seem otherwise to be commendable people, apart from their horrifying crimes against the Jewish people and other victims of the Nazis—the view we have as children that there is such thing as pure evil is quite firmly founded. Evil is messy, but it is as real as anything. The people who reduced the friends of my great-great grandparents to ashes, who choked them to death on CO2, who otherwise would not seem to be particularly vicious, show just how messy evil is. Sometimes, the people who commit the most heinous crimes are not outwardly apparently evil. People often remark on how normal serial killers seem, on how shocked their families, friends, and spouses are to discover their sadistic killing sprees.

3 The banality of evil

Sandy, why can't we look the other way?
Why can't we just play the other game?
Why can't we just look the other way?

When we read about evil outside of fiction, it’s often in a history book. Reading about Jim Crow or slavery or the Holocaust gives one a clear picture of evil. But modern events are rarely described as evil—except occasionally mass shootings. The greatest contemporary atrocities do not leave the obvious residue of evil—they do not look clearly to us like evil. The modern Hitlers operate through efficient, well-managed bureaucracies, often carrying out atrocities on those far away or those we don’t have sympathy towards. In the 21st century, evil is banal.

When Bush and Cheney went into Iraq, it seems the lives of the enormous numbers of Iraqi people who would be butchered did not weigh much on their conscience. Beneath their lies about WMDs and amorphous platitudes, the lives of the Iraqi men, women, and children were an afterthought, a footnote. When Albright declared that the half a million Iraqi kids that we’d allegedly starved to death with our sanctions were a price worth paying, because of some vague notion that it had advanced our national interest, what she did was evil.

If she had seen their emaciated bodies, their sticklike arms, if she had heard them crying out to their parents as they starved to death, because the U.S. had decided to wage brutal economic warfare on them, unless she was a psychopath, she would not have dared to utter that statement. Anyone who has any concept of what the sanctions did to Iraq would be horrified and nauseated by such a statement. Albright no doubt had a whole host of reasons why the sanctions were good, just as the Nazis had a whole host of reasons why reducing the Jews to ash was good. But all those reasons crumble so completely in the face of the utter horror of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, such that uttering them becomes unspeakable, becomes a disrespect to the people who died, to the people who the speaker of the platitudes knowingly killed.

If the planners who authorized the bombing that killed ten percent of Laotians had been in Laos, had witnessed the bombing, had heard the tearful reports from parents who lost children to the bombs falling from the sky, delivered by the most powerful military on Earth, if they had any conscience, they would have immediately demanded an end to the bombing. But because they sat in comfortable rooms, making their decisions without having to witness the utter devastation that they reigned down on helpless children, they signed off on evil.

Evil is not just something out of a history book, it is something going on right now. Most people seem to accept that Putin is evil—that his deliberate action to bring about the deaths of millions of people and gamble with the fate of the world for personal gain is a pure encapsulation of malevolence. Putin, just like our guys, has a whole host of justifications. And just like our guys, if Putin had to witness the Ukrainian families blown apart by bombs, if he had to explain his decision to authorize them, he would be unable to do so.

We sell arms to the Saudis which they use to bomb hospitals, schools, and busses in Yemen. The entire country has been reduced to smithereens by the unspeakably brutal Saudi coalition. About half a million people have been killed, around 20 million are on the brink of starvation. When asked to justify such a decision, people will appeal to the meager economic benefits—a few thousand jobs created in the making of the bombs.

If you had to explain to the family of Amal Hussein, who starved to death as a result of the Saudi-induced famine, that she had to be starved to death because it created a few jobs in the Midwest, in the richest country in the world, you would quickly realize that that pitiful excuse—just like the rest of our idiotic and vile Saudi apologetics—does not cut it.

Our decision to arm the Saudis is evil. When we put the interests of starving children behind those of American workers, we are doing something deeply evil. And the fact that politicians treat that as a legitimate rationale shows how deep the rot goes.

And then we come to the most ubiquitous example of evil—the consumption of meat in the horrifying factory farms. I remember when I first thought about the morality of eating meat, it was at a summer camp. I thought about it for five seconds, and concluded that animals couldn’t be very conscious. If they were, then we would of course have abolished meat eating already. I assumed that because evil only exists far away in both space and time, what we did to animals couldn’t be that wrong. And because of that flimsy rationale, I set the topic aside. As a result of this stupidity on my part, hundreds of extra animals lost their lives, after being born into a world of unimaginable cruelty, never knowing compassion or joy.

The things we do to animals are literally torture. We chronically sleep deprive chickens with cruel, artificial lighting, combined with stringent space restrictions, resulting in them only getting a few hours of sleep each day. When we do the same to prisoners, we call that torture—chronic sleep deprivation violates the geneva convention. We systematically starve millions of hens every year—killing around 10% of them, because it increases egg production. If we did this to prisoners, we’d call it torture. We’d also call it torture if we forced prisoners to live in tiny cages, unable to turn around, with the falling, acidic feces of other prisoners falling onto their eyes, skin, nose, and mouth, with too little space to turn around, subject to vicious castration and mutilation, all with no anesthetic. The factory farms are mechanisms of perfectly brutalized efficiency, seeing the suffering of animals as an irrelevant fact of the world, rather than something to be avoided. Because of our failure to abolish the factory farms, more suffering is inflicted annually on animals than has perhaps ever existed in human history. Factory farming is humanity’s greatest crime.

But factory farming is the perfect instrument of brutality because it operates without any one person being especially evil. Consumers are generally in the dark about the horrifying mistreatment they cause; workers are often low-skilled immigrants who just want to feed their families. The higher-ups probably have to be pretty devoid of conscience, but even they can figure out some excuse for why what they’re doing isn’t wrong—if they weren’t doing it, someone else might be, and plus, eating meat is natural—right?

Factory farming is the model of how brutality operates. For evil to operate efficiently, the people doing the worst things must be disconnected from what they’re doing. The consumers never have to witness the chickens who sit in cages with the rotting corpses of other chickens, unable to ever move, whose flesh they dine on. And this is by design. It is Moloch who runs the factory farms. This is not to suggest that individual consumers do not make things worse and are not responsible for the harm they cause, but instead an explanation of why it is that nearly the entire population is willing to individually cause tens of thousands of extra animals to be tortured over the course of their lives. It is only when we are disconnected from evil that nearly the entire population can inflict it so readily.

Most people would never beat a dog to death, even if it were enjoyable. But through the normalized eating of meat, they inflict far more cruelty on animals every year than even the most brutal and sadistic dog abusers.

4 How people carry out direct acts of evil

You're weightless, semi erotic
You need someone to take you there

Theists often wonder why terrible things happen to good people. But much more interesting is why apparently good people do evil things.

I remember reading an account of Rwanda a while ago. I remember reading about ordinary, normal community members—mothers, fathers, and grandparents—going in an instant from playing a baseball game against the Tutsis to hacking them to death with machetes. In the blink of an eye, seemingly kind people would begin to hack innocent people to death.

I thought my opinion of humans’ capability for evil could not get lower. But reading that, it got lower.

Humans do not just carry out evil when wrapped in a veil of secrecy, anonymity, and disconnection. Humans, when given the appropriate social incentives, are willing to hack innocent people to death with machetes. And then after that, they go back to being normal.

And this tendency is not limited to dramatic political acts—we know, from the Milgram experiment that most people are willing to torture others because a well-dressed man in a lab coat instructs them to do so.

If I were a Christian, this would be where I’d remark that we live in a fallen world.

Because I’m not though, I can only react with visceral horror at man’s innate tendency to do evil. I know of no god to which to pray, so I can only give the response that seems appropriate—vowing to attempt to eradicate such evil from the face of the Earth. Tears are not adequate.

And I know that if I were born in a different time, raised in a different way, there’s a reasonable probability that I would have supported some gravely evil practice. Very few people are willing to admit that in Germany, they might have been Nazis, but we know that many people in Germany were Nazis. This is not because of peculiar features of German genetics, but instead because lots of people would do evil in the right circumstances. I think I am less likely to participate in evil than most, but I think I almost certainly could have, in a different time and place, supported some unspeakable evil.

For 16 years, I did carry out unspeakable evil, as I ate factory-farmed meat regularly. Why did I do this? Pretty much the standard reasons; I never really thought about it. When I did, I didn’t give it the seriousness that it deserved. I never thought hard about whether in eating meat, I could be complicit in horrifying evil.

I also saw animals as nothing more than meat. I did not consider their interests, just their utility to me. This is how many atrocities are carried out—people’s moral circles are limited so as not to include the victims of their acts. It’s no mystery how the Hutus hacked the Tutsis up, or how Albright happily signs off on the deaths of half a million children; they just don’t see their victims as important. When one only sees their ingroup as really mattering, as a result of social conditioning, atrocities committed against the outgroup become tolerable if the ingroup’s interests demand it.

Perhaps asking how atrocities are committed is asking the wrong question. The historically anomalous feature is not atrocity but modernity, and our current attitudes opposing all atrocities everywhere. Most people in the modern era at least profess some vaguely cosmopolitan ideals. Even nativists and populists would oppose going to other countries and slaughtering and enslaving them. But doing so was routine throughout most of human history—it’s described by the bible as having been done by the Jewish people lead by Moses:

And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand of every tribe, them and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war, with the holy instruments, and the trumpets to blow in his hand.

And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.

And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.

And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.

10 And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.

11 And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.

12 And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho.

13 And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.

14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.

15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?

16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.

17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

If one sees benevolence and caring as the default, this being advocated by supposedly holy texts is hard to stomach. But if one sees the default as cruelty and violence, and sees our modern cosmopolitanism as the historically anomalous thing, it is no mystery how people sign off on evil. Our modern belief that everyone has some rights and shouldn’t be mistreated is mostly a farce; we profess it with our lips, but frequently violate its tenets when it’s in our interests. Seeing others, even our enemies, even far away people, as important is a very modern phenomenon—much like computers or ubiquitous access to lots of music.

But just as our having had fir in distant evolutionary past leaves residue in the form of goosebumps, so too does our not-too-distant past of cruelty leave remnants. When one goes beneath the surface, they discover that most do not take their ideals particularly seriously. The same tendencies that led people to happily send Jews to the gas chambers or slaughter innocent people of a neighboring city did not just disappear—they manifest themselves in modern apathy, a willingness to tolerate evil and participate in it.

The fact that many people are willing to work in the factory farms or carry out crimes like the My Lai massacre shows that we have not outgrown evil. I’d imagine that some that work in factory farms know that it’s evil but don’t care. Others don’t know it’s evil—they have some puny excuse about how it’s the circle of life. People who eat meat are the same; many think it’s wrong and do it still, but others don’t know that it’s wrong.

We would not have survived as a species if we were opposed to evil across the board. Those who took a dramatic stand against members of their tribe who are cruel to others for gain are not likely to pass on their genes. So we are not opposed to evil across the board. Most people are willing to do evil if it’s sufficiently convenient. And nearly everyone is willing to participate in grave acts of evil if it’s out of sight out of mind.

5 Effective altruism as caring about the good

You're coming with me
Through the aging, the fearing, the strife
It's the smiling on the package
It's the faces in the sand

You didn’t think I’d get 5,000 words into an article about animals, good, and evil without talking about effective altruism, did you?

I think most people don’t care very much about doing the right thing. Oh, they say they do. But as economists like to tell us, you learn more from people’s revealed preferences—what they do—than what they say. Talk is cheap, action is expensive. When most people are willing to torture others to appease an official-looking man in a white lab coat, it’s hard to believe they care a lot about being good.

I’ve had a lot of conversations about eating meat. Most people I’ve chatted with have eventually agreed that eating meat is seriously morally wrong. About half have been convinced that factory farming is the worst thing ever. And yet most of them do nothing. They do not care very much about avoiding complicity in mankind’s greatest crime.

It is not abstract considerations of good and evil that motivates most people. People are motivated by strong emotions and passions. People are motivated to resist the workings of their political opponents by pure rage—hatred for what the other side does. The culture war is a war because both sides despise the other and treat it as a zero-sum game. One can get really worked up about the things being done by the other side that perhaps harm a few thousand people, but no one seems to care much about the millions of victims of the Saudi coalition.

People often are also motivated by emotions of caring. People fight and die for their families and friends because they care about their families and friends. People die for patriotism—they care about their country. But very few are motivated by the abstract ideals of good and evil. People are not willing to be sacrificed at the altar of an abstract notion like morality. People are motivated not to cheat on their spouses, for example, by care for their spouses, but not by the idea that doing so would just be wrong.

But there are lots of people who are motivated by morality in the abstract. They care about doing the right thing, not just because the right thing corresponds with what they care about, but because it is right. And I think this is the fundamental idea behind effective altruism, and explains why so many people love it and why others hate it.

Now, certainly not all people in effective altruism care about doing the right thing abstractly. Many of them are seduced by the smart people, interesting questions, and talk of AI that might end the world. Similarly, lots of people who aren’t EAs care about doing the right thing in the abstract. But I think that the basic idea of EA is to subordinate our personal whims, our personal values, to doing the right thing.

It’s really hard to get emotionally attached to Longtermism. It’s hard be excited about dedicating one’s life to reducing existential risks by .00001%. But work on Longtermism is not, as some critics allege, because of apathy. It is instead because of a fundamental care about doing good—not doing what feels good, but doing what is actually good. Longtermism is popular in EA because so many EAs care about what is right in the abstract.

And this is why the critics hate EA. They hate it because it runs afoul of the various morality-adjacent causes that they care about. The conservatives don’t like it because it says that we shouldn’t just focus on problems in our own country—instead, we should focus on doing what is right, wherever the good would be done. Effective altruism says that we should subordinate ideals like patriotism to the good, and those who value patriotism more than the good hate it.

The left-wingers don’t like it either. It tells them to, rather than doing things that make us feel good—like helping marginalized groups in the U.S. who are the victims of systemic oppression, the type of oppression that gets left-wingers really worked up—actually do the most good. If BLM is doing much less good than malaria nets, then we should distribute malaria nets rather than donate to BLM.

If you read the critics of EA from the left, they are, as Richard says worried “that if [effective altruism] spreads it could do “grievous harm” to them and their movement.” The social justice activists, just like most people, subordinate the good to their pet issues—in this case, social justice. And EA is reviled because it says that we should do what’s right even if it is apolitical and inflames no one’s passions. The left-wing critics of EA complain that it valorizes billionaires—saying that becoming a billionaire is a good path to do lots of good. They care more about EA running afoul of social justice platitudes than about whether it provides good advice about how to do good.

EA says that all the causes that are adjacent to morality—that allow us to feel like we’re doing the right thing, when we’re really just serving some ideal that relates to morality but is not morality—should be subordinated to doing the right thing. It says that the sensibilities of us well-off westerners are less important than getting the animals out of the factory farms, safeguarding the future, and making children not die of malaria. This is unpopular because most people do not care about morality in the abstract—they only care about their morality adjacent pet issues.

Distributing bednets is not an exciting goal. No one wakes up wanting to do it especially. No one cares about insect welfare because of deep personal sympathy toward the plight of arthropods. Instead, EAs care about the quadrillions of suffering insects because they think they matter. And EAs think that the fact that something matters is a sufficient reason to care about it.

6 Final thoughts about evil

And we'll lay in the lawn
And we'll be good

Now I'm laughing at my boredom
At my string of failed attempts
Because you think that it's important
And I welcome the sentiment

I think we’ve resolved most of the puzzles about evil. Why do people engage in senseless evil? Because they don’t care about morality very much. For people to engage in evil, it must not bother them. So evil gets done only when people are conditioned not to care about their victims or when people do not see their victims. EA is hated because it is devoted to doing good, rather than doing some goal adjacent to doing good. The aim is not to preserve traditional values or achieve social justice or anything else other than just doing good.

The reason the Hutus could hack apart Tutsi children was that they saw them as nonentities—beings that did not matter. They saw them the way the Nazis saw Jews, the way Albright saw Iraqi children, the way most of us see factory-farmed animals.

But it’s difficult to dehumanize a group that can scream, cry, and beg for their lives to such an extreme degree. There’s a reason that the Nazis switched from guns to gas chambers—it wasn’t just cost. Shooting those the Nazis regarded as undesirable took a heavy psychological toll on them, so they switched to more efficient, industrialized methods. Methods that made the killing less direct, that made the Nazis not have to look into the eyes of those they exterminated. Similarly, there’s a reason that working in the meat industry takes such a heavy psychological toll. Humans have innate sympathy, and it is hard to senselessly torture and murder without provoking any psychological distress. Not because we care about doing the right thing abstractly, but because we empathize with the victims.

But how do we get people to care about doing the right thing abstractly? Is there a way to instill values in people that would prevent them from being willing participants in the Nazi atrocities? I am pessimistic about such a possibility, but I think we can give part of the answer. We can explain why morality is worth caring about, even if most people are unlikely to listen.

Now, the simple answer to why morality is worth caring about is that one should care about doing the right thing, almost by definition. It’s bad when bad things happen, so people should try to avert them. But on a more fundamental level, there is a reason to extend sympathy to all—to care about everyone.

I care about doing the right thing—about morality in the abstract—because I do not want to be complicit in atrocity. Whether the atrocity is being carried out against those I care about or those too alien for me to empathize with, I care about what happens to them because it matters. I care about preventing suffering to farm animals, even when I don’t feel any great ability to empathize with them, because I care about avoiding complicity in evil.

I know that there were many people who were willing to kill Jews despite knowing it was wrong, because they did not care about it being wrong. They did not care about right or wrong, just their own particular values. I do not want to be like them, and to not be like them, I must oppose evil in all its forms. Whether the evil is carried out to those that look like me or those that don’t, if sentient beings are being tormented, killed, mutilated, and slain, I care about it. And I care about it because it matters.

 


 

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Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:34 PM

(Crosspost of this on my blog.  Not sure if this is the right sort of content to put on the forum--happy to delete it if people think that it's not really EA forum content). 

Only skimmed it, but I think this is definitely a type of content that we love to have on the forum! 

"When Albright declared that the half a million Iraqi kids that we’d allegedly starved to death with our sanctions were a price worth paying, because of some vague notion that it had advanced our national interest, what she did was evil."

Life is web of hobbesian traps. Albrigth perfectly knew that access to international markets allowed Saddam Hussein to become formidable in the late nineties, and that lead to war in 1991. If allowed the same kind of access, a new war would be likely.

At the end the US had to decide between brutal containment or outrigth invasion, and history has proven that Albrigth containment, instead of Bush invasion was the right policy. 

The example is specially unfortunate, because in this particular trolley problem, both policies were tried, and we know who was right.

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