Similar to Mark Xu’s concerns about Meta-EA, and Lizka’s on IIDM, I see lots of work in farmed animal welfare, with no clear explicated path/Theory of Victory.

Obviously this could just be due to my own ignorance, but often I find asking dumb questions to be helpful in both learning and education, as I’m sure others have been confused about the same thing. 

So I’d be interested in seeing a sketch of what Theory of Victory people are either explicitly or implicitly drawing on. 

“Victory” here can mean many things, but in the spirit of high ambition, I’m interested in operationalizations like a) the complete end of factory farming or b) enough success to a point where all or almost all of the current EA farmed animal welfare folks willingly choose to leave the field to work on other projects (e.g., biosecurity, broad longtermism, s-risks, wild animal welfare, etc). 

Some toy examples I can imagine (Note these are very toy models, not to be taken too seriously):

1. (slow/no Transformative AI (TAI) baseline, Western hegemony). Assuming cost-competitive cultured or plant-based meat is plausible. We work hard on speeding up meat alternative timelines, while simultaneously pushing for broad support for welfare and antipathy towards factory farming companies. If/once meat alternatives are cheap and good enough, this in conjunction with large-scale disapproval of factory farming is enough to swing more and more legislation in our favor, eventually culminating in more and more countries banning factory farming outright. We all eat alternative proteins, factory farming legally ends.

2. (medium-term TAI) Something directly relating to AI. Assume mediumish timelines and good AI safety progress. If there is enough elite support for animal welfare, especially for people in decisionmaking positions for TAI (e.g. major AI scientists, all the heads of labs, AI gov folks), that any aligned plan for the future would not involve large-scale animal suffering. Magic happens, animals don’t suffer.

3. (slow/no TAI, technological/economic cornucopia in other domains). TAI itself turned out to be very hard, but progress in ML and other scientific domains accelerate. Plant-based meat stalls out at a high price point, and cultured meat continues to look too expensive to be directly competitive. But we do a really strong job of moral circle expansion, such that once the entire world is rich enough, people voluntarily stop eating meat and eat just as tasty but much more expensive alternatives.

4. (slow/no TAI, business-as-usual technological growth, no strong priors on hegemony). Plant-based and cultured meat fails to pan out, but EAs systematically explore a wide range of alternative protein options, eventually coming across several replacements that systematically go down in price over decades. Concurrently, people work on corporate campaigns, welfare regulations, carbon taxes, and other measures that systematically increases the price of meat. Eventually, the two curves cross, and a combination of economic and political pressures slowly phase out factory farming.

 

Of course, these models are far from detailed enough. That’s why they aren’t real Theories of Victory! And in some ways they are too detailed (I don’t believe in any of them that much). But I offer this question here in the hopes that others have substantially more detailed theories, especially people working in leadership organizations in EAA, or researchers working on animal welfare prioritization questions. 

Thanks to Lizka for first bringing this question to my attention, Saulius for Slack prompts in this general direction, and Neil_Dullaghan for verbally brainstorming this question with me. 

Note: An earlier draft of this post had a Theory of Victory with Chinese hegemony in mind. I was asked to take it down. I ask that other people also do not speculate on this public question with a ToV focused on Chinese hegemony, so I don’t have to worry too much about moderation.

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My assumption is that where effective animal advocacy has theories, they aren't explicitly modelling it around Transformative AI (TAI).

The theories of victory/change I have seen articulated online, IMO, fall into these buckets (I don't have a sense of how popular or far along each of these are):
 

Farm & Food level

Turn factory farms into humane farms (no requirements about total meat consumption, but implicitly less occurs since we can’t humanely farm at scale) so that total suffering in factory farms is below X. Tactics could include:

  • Undercover investigations, corporate campaigns, legislative bans on worst practices
  • Expand and improve animal welfare certifications
  • Make CAFO meat more expensive than more humane alternatives (via bans on cheap inhumane practices, regulating externalities, removing subsidies, corporate campaigns with most expensive reforms, meat taxes)
  • Shift dietary preference to animals easier to farm humanely
  • Genetically modify animals so they can be farmed intensively without suffering

Some ways it might turn out not to work:

  • If welfare reforms don’t actually reduce suffering, just shift production to some new form of equal or worse suffering
  • If people increase meat consumption because they think it is more acceptable
  • If it’s too hard to source enough “humane” meat  but meat demand continues, and model collapses

End meat eating (everyone gets protein from plants and pulses, becomes vegan). Tactics could include:

  • Make meat less cool - increase moral outrage via undercover investigations
  • Make plant-proteins more cool - Vegan movement building
  • Give animals legal personhood, protection from all exploitation, expand moral circle
  • Make meat more expensive than alternatives (via bans on practices, regulating externalities, removing subsidies, corporate campaigns, meat taxes)
  • Bankrupt animal farming. Pursue reforms raising the price of meat, divestment campaign, and the most expensive welfare reforms such that the animal ag industry goes bankrupt

Some ways it might turn out not to work:

  • If the number of people not eating meat does not increase in response to these tactics
  • If we’re wrong about how moral circle expansion works
  • If there aren’t tractable ways to bankrupt animal ag


End farmed meat (meat comes from plants, cell-cultures, funghi, algae, etc). Tactics could include:

  • Invest in alternative proteins (mock-meats)
  • Pass legislation making it easier for consumers to identify these products as substitutes for meat
  • Make animal meat more expensive (via bans on practices, regulating externalities, removing subsidies, corporate campaigns, meat taxes)

Some ways it might turn out not to work:

  • If investment in alternative proteins doesn’t improve the axes consumers care about
  • If alt proteins can’t scale
  • If people don’t switch from meat to alternative proteins

 

Hybrid approaches

  • Costly welfare + alt proteins: Use welfare reforms to increase prices on conventional meat so alternative proteins are competitive, people buy these instead of meat and causes a reduction in the number of animals farmed. Some ways it might turn out not to work:
    • If welfare reforms don’t increase prices, or don’t increase them enough to cause switching to nonmeats. (Jayson Lusk probably has best work on this so far)
    • If alt proteins don’t scale
    • If people don’t switch from meat to alternative proteins, especially at any price
  • High welfare + alt proteins: Use welfare reforms to reduce worst suffering of farmed animals until alternative proteins are competitive,people buy these instead of meat and causes a reduction in the number of animals farmed. Some ways it might turn out not to work:
    • If welfare reforms don’t actually reduce suffering
    • If alt proteins don’t scale
    • If people don’t switch from meat to alternative proteins
  • Make veganism cool + end farming: Ignore welfare reforms unless they increase costs to the point of bankruptcy or increase opposition to animal farming, abolish farming, make animals legally persons, make veganism cool via movement building and/or alt proteins. Some ways it might turn out not to work:
    • If the number of people not eating meat does not increase in response to these tactics
    • If we’re wrong about how moral circle expansion works
    • If there aren’t tractable ways to bankrupt animal ag

Meta level

Inject evidence and reason into the animal advocacy movement

  • Tracking progress, estimating impact, prioritising asks, changing behaviour & beliefs based on evidence is relatively new to the farmed animal movement.
  • Create new organizations with this approach at their core
  • Provide research that influence existing orgs to adopt this approach
  • Go work for existing orgs and change their approach

Inject animal advocacy into the evidence and reason movement

  • Create scholarships, departments, labs, prizes for scholars & scientists to research FAW issues
  • Raise the profile of animal issues in the EA & Rationalist communities

Inject animal advocacy into policy sphere

  • Create FAW ombudsmen, ambassadors, envoys in national and regional governments and supranational organizations likes EU and UN
  • Get FAW people to try staff these positions


Inject animal advocacy into philanthropy sphere (maybe less needed given EA funding overhang)

  • Shift Open Phil’s/Farmed Animal Funders's/FAIRR's funding allocation towards the interventions in line with the theory of change
  • Create more things like Open Phil’s FAW department/Farmed Animal Funders/FAIRR


Inject animal advocacy beyond Anglosphere

  • Movement building abroad, especially where animal farming is concentrated


It’s unclear what percent of the problem we think each of these could actually solve alone. Not all farms can be made humane, not everyone will eat alternative meats, not everyone will give up meat eating. 

What level of suffering are we willing to accept? 0 animal lives at risk of suffering? Total animal suffering to be below X amount? A y% reduction in total animal suffering relative to a 2010 baseline? 

In all paths it’s not obvious whether to focus on one sector or many.  Should we focus on the animals where most of the suffering is occurring- plausibly shrimps or insect farmed for animal feed? Or move all egg-laying hens out of cages and into free-range or egg-replacers and go gung-ho on that until we stop making progress? Should we focus on any suffering so long as it is easy? (do cage-free hens, then do whatever is easier for fish, then whatever is easiest for insects, etc even if it is not tackling the largest sources of suffering which are harder to solve?).


 

I don’t know if I buy any specific theory of change as being particularly useful, but my impression is most people in the animal welfare world are working under something like scenarios 1, 3, or 4 on your list, but not in any deeper detail than you have here. It also doesn’t seem like you have to have a Theory of Victory if you think corporate campaigning is highly cost-effective and otherwise making progress on animal welfare issues is hard.

The closest thing I’ve seen to something explicit and detailed is DxE’s Roadmap to Animal Liberation - https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YN7KpuShiZItqVuQtWv6ykrjrNv6rAnmjVOcsofRj0I/

3 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:01 PM

Oof at the two downvotes immediately after posting. 😅

Sigh, here you go:
 

Sorry I wasn't fishing for upvotes. Please retract your upvote if you didn't originally want to upvote, thanks. :)