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History nerd, reader, writer. Main worries: Extreme poverty, X-risk, metaphorical X-risk in the form of a war that is not an existential risk to humanity as a whole but still kills me and everyone I know and possibly destroys civilization as we know it.

Not a vegetarian, but would like to do a serious long-term analysis of costs and benefits at some point, so if you have any really really good arguments for it that are not incompatible with a total-sum utilitarian the-repugnant-conclusion-is-not-all-that-repugnant perspective, I'm happy to hear them.


I am happy to read your arguments! Again, I do not intend to carry out a serious investigation of the topic until I have the time and energy to do it with full charity towards both sides and the ability to actually update, but I am glad to have evidence I can evaluate with more focus and in more detail when I do.

"You are assuming their lives are net util even if their lives may be miserable. (which I think is the repugnant conclusion? I've never really liked the framing of it either) Let's break this down."

Not quite. I am assuming their lives are not subjectively miserable even if they look like they are objectively miserable. That's what I mean by 'net util.' There are situations where people who look objectively happy commit suicide and situations where people who look objectively unhappy actively and strongly desire to keep living.

"Additionally, there are other negative externalities which you are not acknowledging[.]"

And there's additional positive externalities I'm not acknowledging! I would need to carry out a serious exploration of all the externalities and of the entire situation to feel comfortable making a decision on my own instead of trusting my most-trusted authorities, who eat meat.

"1. We don't care about qualia. We care about suffering."

I think it is possible for pain to exist without suffering, but I'm not sure suffering can exist without the-thing-I-am-labeling-qualia. I think that pain-without-suffering is possible either because the brain interprets pain in a non-suffering manner, or because there is nothing there to notice the pain - if I'm unconscious, there may be pain signals in my nervous system, my body may be flinching, but I do not suffer because I'm unconscious, so there's nobody there to suffer. These seem to be cheap examples that the thing is possible. I do not know whether or not it is true.

By "qualia," what I fundamentally mean is "the thing that makes pain into suffering and pleasure into joy." And I think I do require that in order to care about pain.

"The current conception of consciousness (correct me if I'm wrong any neuroscientists in the crowd) is that consciousness is the interaction of the thalamus and the cortex."

I am not a neuroscientist in the slightest and this is one of the things I would need to launch a serious investigation of when I launch a serious investigation, which I am not doing right now but which I agree is the highest launch-serious-investigation-priority once I have tried to figure out whether literally infinite positive and negative utility are relevant thanks to the existence of an afterlife.

"Some people live net negative lives and won't off themselves because they think suicide is a net neutral decision. (infinite bad and infinite good possibility after death) I don't see how them persisting is justification of net util."

And this is why I attempted to clarify (possibly in another thread?) that I feel that similar patterns persisted in classical antiquity, back before Hell and Heaven were common beliefs.

OK, back to the specific chicken welfare question:

"They are killed after birth because they are deemed worthless. I don't believe these were net util lives. I believe they were negative lives..."

I'm not sure if this helps, but I tend to think of comparing utilities across lifetimes as imagining serial reincarnation. Like, I-the-force-looking-out-from-behind-Bill-Friedman's-eyes lives through each life in turn.

But, in that case, lifespan matters. Two days of good life is two days of good life; two days of bad life is two days of bad life. Living for 2000 days in one body seems to me equivalent to living in 2 days in 1,000 bodies, except for how it changes the goodness or badness of those days.

But in that case - I mean, I don't actually know whether the male chicks' lives are worth living, because I haven't done the serious in-depth investigation required to know this, but if they were negative and female lives were positive, 7 years = 2556 days = each female outweighs 1278 males.

... But, also, I don't know if female chickens' lives are worth living! Or males! I do not know the answer and the investigation is on the queue.

I've just submitted two stories! Hopefully they've landed properly. Thanks for the form!

I can understand that, logically speaking, but it does not suffice to convince me. This is especially true because of the % of people who attempt suicide, don't die, and say later it was a giant mistake and they regret it. I could imagine a world in which people were usually or even often wrong both about committing suicide and not committing suicide, but it seems to me like a lot of added complexity.

I was absolutely implying this! That was a fundamental part of my system, which went unspoken and which I am happy to defend.

And it's why I pointed out that you don't seem to have even semicommon mass suicide in the classical world, before the rise of Judeo-Christian beliefs on Heavenly and Hellish fates, when people think of the afterlife as grey fuzz if they think there is an afterlife and when culture often considers it morally heroic to commit suicide, rather than sinful. It seems more common, then, but even then it's very rare, almost always only in cases where people have strong predictive reason to believe things are about to get much worse and not going to get better, even though they don't know about the hedonic treadmill.

(I think the most common case is 'we're about to be captured by an extremely cruel enemy, tortured, maybe killed, maybe worse, almost certainly enslaved if we survive' - and even then I don't think most of the population of sacked cities kills themselves first, it's just something you hear about a noticeable minority of people doing, in what is basically the worst situation that can happen.)

And evolutionary pressure against suicide is what I presume produced the hedonic treadmill. "Whatever happens, on the macro scale you will be happy slightly above the suicide rate" seems like a great thing for evolution to engineer in, and I'm not really surprised it did.

Yeah, IIRC both G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis wrote about how anyone can just say "the future will agree with me," as a way of getting support for your ideas, but nobody really knows about the future and probably everyone is wrong because the future will be more complicated than anyone thinks, and so arguments from the future are bad logic and invalid. (I think that Lewis's is a bit of the Screwtape Letters and that Chesterton's essay is in "What's Wrong With The World.") So I endorse this complaint.

But I didn't include that in my description because I do in fact think veganism will take over the world once the technology gets far enough, so that wasn't my true objection to the story.

(Part 3 of 3, threaded because I want to discuss different things you bring up in different places.)

"You said you feel threatened by a piece like this which paints the current treatment of animals as something that will be viewed as horrific in the future and understand you may contribute in a small way to that? What do you make of the current treatment of animals in our society? (I'm very open to hearing your thoughts, even if they may be very different than my own)"

I appreciate it!

For clarification: I would not describe myself as "feeling threatened" in the sense of "my position is unstable," so much as I would say that I felt, as of the time I read the story some hours ago, as "threatened" in the sense that someone who was being subject to extortion might feel threatened; that is, threatened meaning having been made the subject of a threat. I do not rationally expect anyone is going to burn down my house - but that was the kind of reaction I had.

I do recognize that, as I eat meat and consume dairy products, I am engaging in a potential evil. My opinions on this are complicated, but I have not stopped doing so.

To begin with, I am a total-sum utilitarian; that is to say, I do not think the repugnant conclusion is repugnant. Creating people who would prefer to live is doing them a favor. Creating someone on condition he later die for you is ethical as long as he would agree that, yup, existing had totally been worth it, and as long as his life didn't cause enough suffering (in side effects) to counterbalance it. So for this reason, I default to non-vegetarianism.

There is still the 'factory farming is uniquely terrible' argument! I have a great deal of sympathy for this argument! However, I think the case is weaker than it seems.

First, I am not in fact convinced that animals have qualia? Like, that is kind of a weak argument, just multiply the probability that animals have qualia by the total sum of the utility conditional that they do and go on from there? But - we really don't understand where consciousness comes from or how it works and I don't really know that there's anything actually inside a chicken's skull capable of suffering. So I do want this point made before I go on with the second, more important one:

I believe in the hedonic treadmill; that is, that people vastly overestimate and underestimate how much their happiness will change based on predictable factors (see https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/03/23/the-price-of-glee-in-china/ for a recent extreme case). I know enough history to know that the past was really extremely horrifyingly terrible - and, yet, mass suicides are not a common feature of life at any period in history, even those periods where nobody believed in a morally-relevant afterlife. Mass suicides did still happen occasionally, but (a) only under really extreme circumstances and (b) by people who did not know about the hedonic treadmill. So while I have no doubt that factory farming is worse for animals than conventional farming (other than the doubt of whether or not the animals are morally relevant), the question of "is it literally worse than death" is a much harder one.

You could still argue that, even if these arguments were persuasive, I should avoid eating meat anyway, just on the off chance it's a moral catastrophe. My response to that really just is that I am uncomfortable around Pascal's Mugging arguments and while I feel that I should probably investigate them I don't feel that I am compelled to obey every request that goes "Change your behavior or be at fault for a moral catastrophe!" I feel that being shaped like that is bad, because then anyone can just extort you effortlessly. Low-probability arguments that might be important are going on a queue based on probability, where I investigate one at a time as I have time. Right now I'm trying to figure out which religion is true, if any. Next on the queue is a Serious Long-Term Investigation Of Animal Welfare, but I expect it will take a while to get there.

If you want me to unpack anything, I'm happy to do that! Alternatively speaking, if you'd like to provide me with material for my eventual investigation, I'd also be happy to add it to the list. But so far I don't have any specific plans for changes to my behavior.

(Part 2 of 3, threaded because I want to discuss different things you bring up in different places.)

"Also, the goal for a piece like this isn't just to convince people to go vegan. It's also to make vegans reflect about their own engagement on the issue."

I believe that the EA writing contest was established to fund the creation of art that would persuade people who are not currently EA of EA causes and make them think more highly of EA. Insofar as I am wrong, I am wrong; insofar as I am not wrong, art-for-rallying-the-base is not actually bad, but is off-topic for the contest.

I am perfectly willing to have a long, point-by-point disagreement with you! I'm going to divide it into three threads, though; one for the actual argument about veganism, one for a side note about your second-to-last paragraph, and one for the meta-argument about pointy persuasion vs nice persuasion. This post is for the last; that is, for the statement:

"There is a place for delicate and tender art, and other art should be more pointed and direct."

I'm going to disagree. I think that, in terms of 'ideological art', there is a place for art that persuades by attempting to convince someone that you are on their side, and a place for art that persuades by attempting to convince someone that they really should be on your side, and a place for art that rallies and inspires people who are already on your side, and a place for art that genuinely instructs on a basis that has nothing at all to do with persuasion.

But I don't think there's a place for 'pointed and direct' art in terms of persuading people. I think that most persuasion is marginal, and comes by a long series of individual debates at the end of each of which the person you're talking to feels "Yeah, that was a good point, you're a decent person." I think "Guided by the Beauty of our Weapons" (https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/03/24/guided-by-the-beauty-of-our-weapons/) is instructive here, but especially the quote,  “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then they fight you half-heartedly, then they’re neutral, then they then they grudgingly say you might have a point even though you’re annoying, then they say on balance you’re mostly right although you ignore some of the most important facets of the issue, then you win.” But central to this is the step from fighting you to fighting you half-heartedly, and there is no way to get someone to take that step by offending them.

In my worldview, people largely change their minds via positive affect ("I like these people and these ideas, I want to associate with them") and negative affect ("those people are jerks, whatever they're for, I'm against"), and most argument consists of first subconsciously deciding what you want to believe, then steadily trying out arguments until you find one that you can buy, and - it's not that you can't be truth-seeking, I try to be truth-seeking, but I try with great difficulty, aware of what I desire to be true and aware that what I desire to be true does not systematically correlate with what is true. Biases are hard, and one of the biases is "I am biased to dislike people who are mean to me, them and everything they care about." And I think that when you get someone's back up, they are then harder to persuade to the cause that offended them, for quite a while until the effect fades.

I play role-playing games. I often think in terms of - dice rolls, probabilities. And one common mechanic in D&D and similar games is that each time you make a roll to succeed against a particular condition - some spell or poison or magical effect - you get +1 to the next roll to keep resisting it. Because you've fought it before and you can throw it off. Scott Alexander likes the cowpox metaphor; unpersuasive arguments for cause A inoculate you against potentially persuasive arguments for cause A, because you've already dismissed argument A. In that context, the EA community picking arguments for the sake of persuading people needs to be choosing not only for what will persuade some of their potential audience, but for what won't offend any of their potential audience, because every EA story read as 'an attack by EA on us' will make every person who has that reaction harder to persuade of EA in the future.

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