How many animals do you save each year by going vegetarian? Does factory farming make meat cheaper? Who’s more animal-friendly, Democrats or Republicans? Are well-funded animal rights lobbyists drowning out the voice of the poor old meat industry in public debate?
These are just a few of the questions Harish Sethu tackles on his blog, Counting Animals. Using the best data available, and being transparent about every step of his calculations, Sethu works to give animal advocates accurate, defensible numbers they can use in their arguments.
In our chat, Sethu will also cover a bit of the philosophy behind how to put a number on “how much good” our actions produce, and tell us how a rooster named Ghost changed his thinking about animals!
We have not yet begun to scratch the surface of how pathogens and other bugs can manipulate behavior. This is also a major cost of infection that many people don’t even consider; our personalities are no doubt shaped in part by our current and past infections and our microbiome.
In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins speculates that sexually transmitted infections, in order to spread as far and wide as possible, could increase the libidos of their hosts:
I do not know of any direct evidence that sexually transmitted diseases increase the libido of sufferers, but I conjecture that it would be worth looking into. Certainly at least one alleged aphrodisiac, Spanish Fly, is said to work by inducing an itch . . . and making people itch is just the kind of thing viruses are good at. (Dawkins 2006 pg. 247)
A bright woman of ninety, Natasha K., recently came to our clinic. Soon after her eighty-eighth birthday, she said, she noticed ‘a change’. What sort of change? we queried.
“Delightful!’ she exclaimed. ‘I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt more energetic, more alive—I felt young once again. I took an interest in the young men. I started to feel, you might say, “frisky”—yes, frisky.’…
Blackfish, a film about orcas in captivity, has stirred up a recurrent debate about using animals for entertainment. This tiny fraction of animals who suffer under human care in the service of entertainment is much more controversial than other animal uses that cause greater harm in aggregate. This could be for a variety of reasons, and here I’ll reference Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory, a framework for understanding moral reasoning. The harm/benefit calculation of animal suffering may not add up when the ends are as obviously unnecessary as entertainment. Liberals, those most concerned with animal welfare, tend to be more focused on harm/care but can also be concerned with purity (aka sanctity/degradation) in the form of what is “natural”. Eating meat is considered natural but using animals for entertainment (or shooting them for sport) is much more maligned. Moreover, animals used in entertainment are, almost by definition, charismatic and anthropomorphized, a recipe for identifying with those who are unfairly treated. Is this moral outrage the beginning of consciousness raising about animal treatment more generally?
One of Pinker’s central arguments is that a reduction in animal harm in films is indicative of this trend toward a reduction in violence towards animals. At the time, I made the argument that, because of more nonviolent social norms, people have become less tolerant of visible animal harm (as in films) and their reputation regarding harming animals (e.g. distaste for hunting, better treatment of pets, support for stricter laws concerning animal treatment). Unfortunately, humane use of animals in films is a case study in superficial regulation that does a better job of assuaging the guilt of consumers and polishing the reputation of producers than actually preventing animal harm.
Today I’m going on a Vipassana meditation retreat at Dhamma Dipa. It’s 10 days of silent meditation without reading, writing, internet, phone calls etc. I have less spiritual and more utilitarian reasons for embarking on this course than many people. It will certainly be uncomfortable but I’m interested in exercising my prefrontal cortex and learning techniques of self discipline and avoiding distraction that may help me be more effective. Also, I’m just quite a sensation seeking person generally and even if this doesn’t reboot my life it will be a deeply interesting experience (even if what’s interesting about it is how boring it is). Anyway, I won’t be on the blog, twitter or Facebook until late August. Hopefully when I get back I can make a video about the experience to post here.
In this blog, I first discuss the aspects of in vitro meat that are still potentially unethical. Then I talk a bit about how disgust, and the groups that are most disgust sensitive, may reduce the impact that in vitro meat will have on the reduction of animal suffering.
In the last blog, I made the case that there really wasn’t a good ethical reason not to eat mussels and oysters. As an astute commenter noted, I wasn’t really making a case FOR eating mussels and oysters so much as saying that the argument against lacked sufficient evidence from the perspective of reducing suffering. In this blog, I’m going to remedy that by outlining some positive effects that might result from the acceptance of oysters and mussels as ethical to eat if not defined as “vegan”. Specifically, I think that eating oysters and mussels 1) undermines the case that vegans are motivated by disgust and purity 2) offers some nutritional benefits that might make people more likely to eat (or continue eating) in a way that causes the least suffering.