Hide table of contents
  • I think some forms of slavery and factory farming are two of the top five worst things that humans have ever done
  • All of my family and close friends eat factory farmed meat
  • I like to think that if my family or friends kept a slave I'd probably boycott meals at their place!
  • Why shouldn't I boycott events that serve meat from factory farms?

I want to be Benjamin Lay but it isn't easy.




New Answer
New Comment

1 Answers sorted by

  1. I think what Benjamin Lay did(never speaking with slave-owners except sneering at them) was not morally required. It probably was not even morally supererogatory.
  2. I also keep thinking that there is some tension between historical reference points used in EA and the current work done by EA organisations. We like talking about how Bentham and Mill had radical proposals on a lot of things including boldly asking England and France to unilaterally emancipate all their colonies. Benjamin Lay is another such example. On the other hand, the work EA organisations do focuses a lot on win-win or incremental solutions, not being confrontational, being realistic about our asks, and picking our fights strategically[1]. A lot of writing on EA community-building has advice like "avoid moralising", "don't alienate people" which is the exact opposite of what Benjamin Lay does.
  3. There was a recent attempt to create a norm against sitting at tables where animals are being eaten. It didn't go well. You can read more about the lessons learnt here.
  1. ^

     I should note that Bentham too picked his fights to some extent as he never published his writings on legalising homosexuality. His address to the French delegates on colonies also tries to frame emancipation as a win-win solution. But it's still very bold. In the context of or existential risks, it doesn't seem to me that people make as bold proposals to policy makers.

I wholeheartedly agree with points 2 and 3, but I don't understand point 1. 

I don't know much about Benjamin Lay, but casually glancing through his Wikipedia, it seems that his actions were morally commendable and supererogatory. Is the charge that he could have picked his fights/approach to advocacy more tactfully?

emre kaplan
To clarify, it wasn't morally supererogatory to boycott speaking with slave-owners. Often you have to speak with wrongdoers to convince them. Lay also did a lot of things that were great. I focused on the example in the question.
Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

It seems likely that if a present day friend had a slave you might decide not to spend time with them (or to call the police!) because slavery is highly stigmatized. But my guess is realistically if you lived in 18th century Dahomey you would have eaten meals with slave traders.

Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities