Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

"The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?" - Jeremy Bentham
User avatar
Arepo
Site Admin
Posts: 1097
Joined: Sun Oct 05, 2008 10:49 am

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by Arepo » Sun Mar 07, 2010 3:55 am

DanielLC wrote:So living for twenty years and dying painlessly is bad, but living for eighty years and dying painfully is good?
Depends how good the 80 and 20 yearses would be and what the opportunity costs are :P
"These were my only good shoes."
"You ought to have put on an old pair, if you wished to go a-diving," said Professor Graham, who had not studied moral philosophy in vain.

User avatar
Gee Joe
Posts: 93
Joined: Tue Feb 09, 2010 4:44 am
Location: Spain. E-mail: michael_retriever at yahoo.es
Contact:

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by Gee Joe » Sun Mar 07, 2010 4:37 am

DanielLC, my point was that the deep abhorrence I have for p, where p is "an industry that raises -xxx- for their meat and keeps them so very happy until they're -xxx- years old", is not reason enough to deem p as morally bad, and thus follow to use utilitarian principles to balance it morally. And then you equate human resources to money. Money doesn't raise crops or care for farm animals; people do, human workmanship does, you clown.

DanielLC
Posts: 707
Joined: Fri Oct 10, 2008 4:29 pm

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by DanielLC » Sun Mar 07, 2010 5:02 am

Sorry I misunderstood.

Money is representative of the work people do. It takes the same amount of resources to create anything with a given price (ignoring externalities, taxes, subsidies, etc.).

If you prevented people from producing and buying meat they'd produce and buy something that they like slightly less.
What about supply and demand?
People will supply what there's a demand for until the profit drops to where you get the same amount of money for using a given amount of resources as with doing anything else.
Consequentialism: The belief that doing the right thing makes the world a better place.

User avatar
RyanCarey
Site Admin
Posts: 717
Joined: Sun Oct 05, 2008 1:01 am
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by RyanCarey » Sun Mar 07, 2010 10:04 pm

The notion of people arguing to improve meat industries rather than destroy them (the happy meat argument) isn't new. I think our best response to it is that it is the correct cause of action in a hypothetical situation in which happy cheap meat was available. However, happy meat is fictional, so this happy meat approach is no good for the real world. Although ideologically, it is fine, practically it is not.

NB: due to an moderating mistake, one of Arepo's posts was lost. Unfortunately, we generally can't reverse edits, we can only fix them by editing again. The exception to this is when multiple mistakes are made, or when serious vandalism occurs, in which cases we can call our tech-guru in order to revert the database to a previous healthy state.
You can read my personal blog here: CareyRyan.com

biznor
Posts: 12
Joined: Sun Mar 21, 2010 7:25 am

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by biznor » Sun Mar 21, 2010 7:59 am

To respond to the initial question that started this thread, there is a web-site that is advocating the abolition of all suffering--including that which goes on in the natural world. The idea is that eventually genetic engineering and nanotechnology will make this goal "technically feasible." It's a great site and I'd highly recommend it:
www.abolitionist.com
(It also has a bunch of other names, too but I find this one easiest to remember).

Here's an article that directly relates to the posted question: http://www.hedweb.com/abolitionist-proj ... ators.html

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Fri Apr 23, 2010 8:25 am

I'm late in replying to this forum, but I thank spindoctor very much for starting it!

spindoctor, thanks for the great examples of empathy for wild animals that humans can show from time to time. I agree with Arepo, of course, that people are too often biased to want to help cute animals -- rather than, say, ugly fish or slimy parasites. And of course, these acts only occur in extremely rare circumstances when the animal suffering happens to become salient, when what's needed is a rational, comprehensive assessment of the cost-effectiveness of various options (in the long run, likely replacing nature with happier uses of those resources).
Arepo wrote:what we might do about it varies according to what you think the net welfare of the biosphere is. If, like me, you expect it to be negative, the most realistic solution in the near future might be to just wipe out most or all the non-human life on earth once (if) our technology reaches the point where we can reliably do without it (not a very seductive solution - even I find it very emotionally unpalatable). If you expect it to be positive then the 'problem' of wild animal suffering becomes much less problematic. Sure, you'd like to eliminate suffering in theory, but (if you're a total utilitarian) you just want the highest net score, which might mean ignoring animal suffering indefinitely in favour of (for eg) haphazardly seeding the universe with life - almost the opposite conclusion.
Arepo, the fact that many people find unpalatable wiping out the biosphere is precisely what worries me: Humans have a multiplicity of things they value, and few are as consistent as you in their commitment to reducing suffering. Many of the authors I’ve read who even address the question of wild animals come to the conclusion that humans ought not interfere with nature for intrinsic reasons – that nature ought to be kept pure, and that human manipulation just “wouldn’t be right.” I’m deeply worried by how common this position is even among vegetarians and vegans, as Jesper hinted. Just read the responses quoted here, including on the page to which I linked at the bottom.

While I think promoting vegetarianism is probably a net plus for wild animals – at least it helps to combat general anti-speciesism – I do worry that most of the vegetarians so created will share the pro-pristine-wilderness position that’s so common among such circles. What’s really needed – as spindoctor put it so eloquently – is an organization that can make the explicit argument that humans have obligations to consider the welfare of wild animals. As Arepo noted, this includes weighing both the suffering and happiness of wild animals. Perhaps we’ll ultimately come to the conclusion that wild animals are, on the whole, happy (though I fear that the opposite is probably true, especially since for most species, parents give birth to hundreds or thousands of offspring that die before maturity). But the point is that we need to make sure our technologically advanced descendants consider wild-animal welfare in general before blithely taking actions with potentially cosmic implications for the amount of animal happiness and suffering that exists.
spindoctor wrote:But here's the key point I wanted to raise in defence of a lobby group for wild animal suffering. There isn't a kind of dialectical materialism that is slowly but surely leading us towards a greater recognition of the suffering of animals -- none of us can say what future humans will think on this issue. Perhaps, if we press for veganism and AR-consciousness, they will come to look on wild animal suffering as important. But perhaps they won't. Perhaps future humans will simply maintain the current distinction between animals in the human sphere of influence, which we should intervene to help, and animals in nature, which should remain pristine and apart. For that reason -- because this meme is NOT assured in the slightest of suceeding in the battleground of ideas -- I think spadework needs to be put in now to try to give it legs.
Wow, spindoctor, I couldn’t have said it better myself! I completely agree with all of the points you made above and subsequently. Yes, meme-space is big, even among humans. As participants on online forums like this one, it can sometimes be hard to remember just how diverse human concerns are. And on this question in particular, if you take a representative sample of view on the matter, the “people shouldn’t interfere with nature” and “wilderness is intrinsically valuable” mindsets preponderate overwhelmingly.
Arepo wrote:I think there's a paper arguing that animals tend towards 0 for evolutionary reasons - it uses up energy to feel happy or sad - which seems highly plausible to me. Can't remember the citation off the top of my head, but I'll track it down if anyone wants.
I think you’re referring to Yew-Kwang Ng’s excellent “Toward Welfare Biology” (which, by the way, also argues that the net amount of happiness vs. suffering in the wild is negative because there are far more non-surviving offspring than surviving ones).

Arepo and spindoctor, as a sidenote, both of you mentioned working to remove dairy from your diets, but this puzzles me. In terms of the amount of direct suffering per kilogram caused by milk compared against all other animal foods, dairy should be your last concern, since a single cow produces 16-20 liters of milk in a day. (A single egg contributes to a day of hen suffering.)

In any event, spindoctor, I agree with your idea of putting together a nice website (and, more ambitiously, organization) focused on promoting the wild-animal meme. What would you think of actually getting involved with such a project? Perhaps we could work together. I know a few others who are also interested in such an effort. Feel free to reply publicly here unless you’d rather write a personal message.

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun May 02, 2010 7:09 am

A friend of mine made the following comment:
If the main reason for promoting concern about wild animals is to reduce the likelihood of humans creating huge amounts of suffering by the creation of new ecosystems (whether through new universes, seeding planets or something else) then it could be more effective to focus on "the problem of evil". Unlike the suffering of current wild animals the suffering of the inhabitants of these human-created eco-systems would intuitively seem like something the humans are clearly responsible for (compare how intuitive the "problem of evil" charge against god is). It seems like both people's intuitions about naturalness (or of "playing god") and about responsibility should favor the utilitarian action (forbidding such creation). On the other hand, when it comes to interventions in current eco-systems it seems hard to give people an intuition that we are responsible and intuitions about naturalness (or playing god) go against the utilitarian actions (intervening in current ecosystems).
An interesting idea indeed. I guess my main question would be, "What does it look like to 'focus on the problem of evil' apart from pointing out specific instances of suffering that particular actions would entail?" In other words, it seems to me as though the main way to implement the problem-of-evil strategy would be to highlight the wild-animal suffering that would be caused by directed panspermia, lab-universe creation, and the like, which is part of promoting concern for wild animals in general. I suppose the problem of evil could be a convenient rhetorical device or intuition-pump for such arguments, of course.

I'm also concerned that in some cases, support for wilderness preservation and propagation doesn't diminish when people are reminded of the wild-animal suffering involved. For instance, the Panspermia Society's Panbiotic Ethics values the propagation of life as an intrinsic good, and I actually met someone who said that he agrees that wildlife contains lots of suffering but that humans should still spread life throughout the universe because spreading life -- not preventing suffering -- is the most important thing. And I worry about environmental ethicists like Ned Hettinger, who said: "Respecting nature means respecting the ways in which nature trades values, and such respect includes painful killings for the purpose of life support" (quoted in this piece). I'm not sure Hettinger would approve of spreading pain-free wilderness as a substitute for regular wilderness....

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun May 02, 2010 8:18 am

This forum provides an interesting sample of activist perspectives on wild animals.

I was amused by this comment from 'Pilgrim':
Well, if tomorrow we stopped all human activities that hurt animals, wild animals would still suffer a lot because of the way nature is. So I wouldnt necessarily say that we don't need to do a jot more research into how to alleviate wild animal suffering.

The way I view moral obligation was inspired by animalrightsmalta, back in the day, and it might help.
I think we have a moral obligation not to cause suffering to others, but we don't have a moral obligation to spend our time counter-acting the suffering caused by others.

So, people should be vegan, no excuses. Use, forced confinement and slaughter of farm animals causes too much suffering. However, its not our fault if others choose to be cruel and eat meat. We shouldn't feel morally obliged to carry out animal rights activism, and if we choose to then we are simply choosing to do a good thing, which is great.

If you are trying to look for a logical argument against trying to interfere with nature then you probably won't find one. I think what Alan Dawrst says in his article is sensible and true. I would have thought he would be smart enough not to write about subjects which make him seem crazy to the people he is trying to convince, like creating universes, but I'm sure thats all logical too.

However, if, like me, the thought of destroying nature, breaking food chains, laying cement over areas of grassland to purge it of life, and therefore purge it of suffering, causes you a lot of distress - then don't worry. We aren't obliged to go out of our way to prevent life, to stop spiders from hurting flies (something advocated, perhaps logically, by a new stream of activists). I think we have plenty of work for the rest of our lives if we just focus on ending human-induced cruelty.

If we ever do achieve the anti-speciesist world we are working for then perhaps then will be the time people look deeply into the rights or wrongs of destroying nature's cycles for the good of it's animals.
Personally, I think I'll choose not to stress myself out over this new wave of logic because I doubt I'll ever feel comfortable with destroying nature. I'll just carry on trying to end peoples' cruelty towards animals.

You may want to do the same.
_________________
The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who commit evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing
(The signature quote at the end seems a bit ironic in view of the comment that "we don't have a moral obligation to spend our time counter-acting the suffering caused by others.")

From KRITTER:
We need to leev nature to its bizness as much as we can.Its not always prity.But nature knos best.The only species we shood sterlize is our own.
And the participant who started the thread, Veganomante:
I realize serious animal right activists do take environmentalism as a logical consequence of their veganism/anti-speciesism. All of us here on the forum do, actually, I think.
I was encouraged by this further note:
There have been 5 major extinctions on these planet since the beginning of life. In-between there have been smaller extinctions. Climate has changed cyclically. Environments have changed drastically, and species have disappeared periodically. Up to 95% of life has been devastated on those extinctions. Even humans have gone extinct (homo neanderthalensis). The point is, for wild animals, life is always hard as hell. We, through science and technology, and our societies and our morality, have progressively made our lives better. And most probably, we'll continue to do so. Should we not extend a hand to wild animals as well?
And later:
In our case we're all for abolishing suffering, not merely exploitation. Though we might recognize some forms of suffering are destined to teach us about the ways of the world, we still go to great pains in order to minimize human suffering as much as we can. That's what we are doing with all types of medicine, at least. Medicine is not destined to abolish exploitation, is for abolishing suffering through improved health. And to extent this to other animals we should only invoke the argument for marginal cases, right?

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Aug 08, 2010 2:45 am

Here is another forum discussion on the topic. As usual, the overwhelming sentiment is that nature should be left alone:

* "Nature does not need our help. Nature balances itself. It seems like you're placing human thinking, feeling and emotions into animals in nature. They have their own point of view."
* "Humans should just leave other animals alone. Just that."
* "Nature isn't cruel, it's nature, it has no concept of cruel. Cruelty is a man-made concept. Nature is life, and that's just how life is."
* "What I care about isn't just plain suffering, but rather suffering which I as a human participate in. Just as with Human Rights, I do not concern myself with situations in which people suffer because they choose crappy situations; I care about when crappy situations are imposed on others. I guess my real concern is freedom, not just happiness."
* "I can understand it would be nice for all suffering to stop, but I think it is wrong to interfere even more into nature and wild animals lives."
* "Animals in nature are doing just fine. They are meant to live in the wild."

I found this remark ironic:
Besides, us humans face danger everyday too. We get diseases, die in car crashes and airplane crashes, get killed by people with guns or knives, get mugged, fall and brake our bones, die in wars, etc.
Exactly, but then why do we have hospitals, vehicle-safety standards, police, doctors, and so on?

This remark was unsettling but at least honest:
I won't say I don't think nature is cruel, it is in that a lot of animals suffer. Nature is cruel as life is and I don't like to think about a lot of the stuff that happens naturally in the world. I don't think about it because I am vegan by nature and it upsets me.

[...]

I want nature to win.
Human beings make animals suffer due to the 'nurture' of society, that it is ok to do that. I am vegan because I want that attitude to end.

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Thu Dec 20, 2012 10:33 am

A friend asked me, Which ways of spreading concern for wild-animal suffering (WAS) should we focus on with an eye toward making a difference "on the ground" in the long term? I replied as follows.

IMO, the most important thing is to make sure post-humans don't multiply wild suffering into space, in sentient simulations, etc. This requires changing the long-term values of the culture so that not needlessly creating WAS becomes as obvious as, say, not needlessly discriminating against women.

If the future is determined by a "seed AI" that takes over the world, then it would be most important to influence the values of this AI. To do this, we might focus efforts on possible AI developers, although we don't know who will build the AI -- maybe the military or government of some country -- so diffuse value-spreading still makes sense here, with some bias toward those more likely to be influential on seed AI. I like the idea of reaching out to young people in math/science because they don't have the intense competition for their time and attention that current AI developers do, and in general, young people are more open to new ideas.

That said, measurements of effectiveness just based on number of people affected -- weighted by the influence of those people on others -- could be pretty decent. Culture blends across boundaries. Even science people read the NYT. Science people have spouses and friends who aren't science people. Etc. That said, I would prefer to focus on people more likely influential to AI when we have the chance. For example, LessWrong people might be more important than average to influence (although some can also be extremely stubborn, even compared with many other smart people).

If the future isn't determined by a seed AI that takes over the world but by regular democracy, etc., then diffuse value spreading is about equally good as targeted value spreading, although it remains true that science innovators will likely hold a large share of wealth in a post-human future.

User avatar
Hedonic Treader
Posts: 328
Joined: Sun Apr 17, 2011 11:06 am

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by Hedonic Treader » Thu Dec 20, 2012 1:49 pm

It is worth noting that the bulk of expected suffering that comes from a seed AI building a big future does not lie in wild animals or simulations thereof. It probably lies in the "suffering subroutines" department, or something other that does not match the phenotypes of wild animals we see now. If there is a meta-meme of concern for unpleasantness-over-pleasantness creation, and if we can spread that meta-meme effectively without pushing people in the wrong direction, it would have higher expected utility than addressing WAS.
"The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd to go on seeking it... Knife and pain are two words in surgery that must forever be associated in the consciousness of the patient."

- Dr. Alfred Velpeau (1839), French surgeon

User avatar
RyanCarey
Site Admin
Posts: 717
Joined: Sun Oct 05, 2008 1:01 am
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by RyanCarey » Thu Dec 20, 2012 7:59 pm

Yeah, Hedonic Treader - this meme is Effective Altruism?
You can read my personal blog here: CareyRyan.com

User avatar
Hedonic Treader
Posts: 328
Joined: Sun Apr 17, 2011 11:06 am

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by Hedonic Treader » Thu Dec 20, 2012 8:51 pm

RyanCarey wrote:Yeah, Hedonic Treader - this meme is Effective Altruism?
Could be! Or anything that slightly shifts people to hedonistic utilitarianism from other forms of altruism. My problem is that I never really know if I end up annoying people or convincing people. But if we had a solid method of marginally increasing acceptance for utilitarianism-type morality (anti-speciesist!), it could do more good than focusing on WAS specifically.
"The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd to go on seeking it... Knife and pain are two words in surgery that must forever be associated in the consciousness of the patient."

- Dr. Alfred Velpeau (1839), French surgeon

User avatar
peterhurford
Posts: 391
Joined: Mon Jul 02, 2012 11:19 pm
Location: Denison University
Contact:

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by peterhurford » Fri Dec 21, 2012 8:45 pm

Hedonic Treader wrote:But if we had a solid method of marginally increasing acceptance for utilitarianism-type morality (anti-speciesist!), it could do more good than focusing on WAS specifically.
I remember a talk with Brian where we both mentioned how people can be convinced of utilitarianism but not convinced of effective altruism (see "Helping Along 'Shallow' Utilitarians" and "Why Are Some Utilitarians Not Also Effective Altruists?"). Thus I've preferred the direct antispeciesist approach of veg ads. WAS might work too but I worry about it not being actionable in the same way veganism/vegetarianism is (behavior change is a great way to inspire belief change). Though I could see the meme change in favor of gay marriage being an example for WAS to follow.
Felicifia Head Admin | Ruling Felicifia with an iron fist since 2012.

Personal Site: www.peterhurford.com
Utilitarian Blog: Everyday Utilitarian

Direct Influencer Scoreboard: 2 Meatless Monday-ers, 1 Vegetarian, and 2 Giving What We Can 10% pledges.

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Tue Dec 25, 2012 9:29 am

Thanks, Hedonic Treader! This is something I wonder about myself a lot, so I have several things to say. I've broken my reply into a few parts to avoid making it horrendously long/confusing.

First, let me share a slightly redacted email exchange with two friends from mid-Oct 2012:
[Friend1:]
As you've commented, it seems as though most future suffering will be experienced by simulated subroutines of man-made computer programs. I don't see a reason why these subroutines would resemble existing wild animals in much detail. I also think that the transferability of concern for wild animals to concern for non-animal subroutines would be low relative to the transferability of general empathy. The strongest argument for spreading concern for wild animals that I see is that basically nobody is doing it, so that the marginal value (in transferability) may be higher than the marginal value of (in transferability) trying to spread general empathy.
[Brian:]
When I contemplate the future, the only thing I can seriously imagine working on besides WAS is suffering subroutines, sentient simulations, etc. (call them SSSS). Alternatively, maybe I'll find someone who wants to work on SSSS.

The tricky thing is to figure out what to do about SSSS now. I agree that the issue isn't insurmountable. At the very least, one could study economic drivers toward SSSS, how plausible SSSS according to different theories of consciousness, etc. That said, what matters most is spreading empathy and concern for suffering, because the factual details will fall into place later.

Just as veg*ism may be something of a gateway drug for WAS, WAS may be something of a gateway drug for SSSS. Even if not, one of the most salient ways to describe SSSS is that it would increase WAS (for example, simulations might contain wild animals). I think similar groups of people will be attracted to WAS and SSSS. Also, sometimes you need something concrete like WAS to keep people from thinking the problem is hopeless and giving up.

The reasons listed above are relevant, although one can also muster arguments against focusing on WAS directly.

I'd be glad to hear further thoughts.

BTW, it seems to me that antispeciesism is very closely tied with SSSS, such that working on antispeciesism and working on empathy for SSSS are almost the same. Some of the quickest antispeciesists are sci fi readers, and probably some of the quickest people to care about SSSS are antispeciesists.
[Friend2:]
My intuition about suffering subroutines is that they're pretty unlikely. Sentient simulations seem more likely, but if they were anthropomorphic, I think mainstream people would be concerned about them. It seems more useful to promote antispeciesism (and general concern for sentients) without focusing on the specifics. Prediction is a tricky business, with a lot of hidden assumptions. On the other hand, if you weren't specific, the cause of preventing future suffering would probably be too vague to catch on.

I think we should emphasize WAS as an example of the broader principle of preventing suffering in sentients. Sort of like how a lot of organizations have general statements of purpose.
[Brian:]
I agree that the optimal strategy is to combine the general philosophy you're trying to advance with something concrete for people to latch onto. Our general principle is antispeciesist concern for massive amounts of suffering by organisms regardless of whether we've caused that suffering. The specific application here and now is WAS. The application in the future might be SS or SS. Jonah makes a good point that we should keep the big picture in mind in our presentation and not dwell entirely on WAS alone. But being too vague doesn't seem so good either. Kindergarten teachers tell their students to care about others' feelings, and probably that's a good thing, but it's not clear if it's the optimal thing in terms of steering the future in a good direction. (OTOH, I do wonder whether shows like Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood have unexpectedly large impacts on empathy by later adults. Dunno.)

My intuition about suffering subroutines is that they're pretty unlikely.

Me too. But are they unlikely enough to offset their potential scale? There I'm less sure.

Sentient simulations seem more likely, but if they were anthropomorphic, I think mainstream people would be concerned about them.

Yes, that's precisely why I think discussions about "robots rights" and such may not be the single most important topic. There's already quite a bit of writing about it, and when the robots become human-like, these moral dilemmas will be mainstream. My biggest concern is about suffering by non-human-like minds that might still be conscious.

Simulations of the world might include simulations of WAS, and in that case, spreading concern for WAS would again be useful. Even if there's a bias in the simulations toward "higher" minds like those of humans, keep in mind that a single simulation of nature with its 10^18 insects will be comparable to many millions of simulations of just the humans on the planet.

It seems more useful to promote antispeciesism (and general concern for sentients) without focusing on the specifics.

I think we can give specifics as examples without claiming they're accurate, and we ask people to envision their own future visions. Just like WAS, thinking about specific scenarios gives you something useful and concrete to do with your imagination while you wait to see how the future develops.

I think AE should emphasize WAS as an example of the broader principle of preventing suffering in sentients. Sort of like how a lot of organizations have general statements of purpose.

Yup.

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Tue Dec 25, 2012 9:33 am

Here's an email I sent to some friends on 23 Nov 2012:
B1 and B2 are two parts of Brian's brain.

B1: Futurism stuff is super important. The magnitudes of computational suffering in the future could be orders of magnitude higher than the amounts of wild-animal suffering by biological organisms.
B2: Yeah, but the long-term future is so uncertain. We would barely know if we were making things better or worse by our actions.
B1: Maybe, but if the probability of making things better is even 1 in a million or 1 in a billion more than the probability of making things worse, it will be worth it when you multiply by the magnitudes of suffering at stake.
B2: Ok, that's a good point. But what do you propose to do to make the probability of bad things ever-so-slightly lower?
B1: Well, we could talk about how it would be bad if there were astronomical amounts of computational suffering.
B2: Yes, that's important, but isn't it obvious that that's a bad thing? In other words, pretty much any group of people working on a friendly AI would realize it. Even Eliezer worries about producing massive suffering a little bit.
B1: Ok. What if we focus on something slightly less obvious, where the low-hanging fruit hasn't already been picked?
B2: Well, how about the suffering of wild animals in simulations, etc.? People today favor spreading life without a second thought about what this means for quintillions of organisms.
B1: Hmm, yes. It would be good to make people think harder about that fact, especially since status-quo bias and the sentiment that nature can do no wrong are so prevalent among even elite humans. That seems like a glaring hole in people's moral sensibilities.
B2: Yup.
B1: Here's another idea that's not totally obvious: What if we encourage concern for artificial sentients that aren't so human-like?
B2: That's good too. On the one hand, I suspect moral debate on that topic might arise on its own, because there aren't status-quo bias and nature preservationism getting in the way. On the other hand, there will be more expected artificial sentients than there will be animals, so even smaller improvements may matter more.
B1: And the causes feed into each other. Antispeciesism is one of the building blocks of concern for artificial sentients. And people who care about artificial sentients may be more likely to care about wild animals?
B2: Yeah. I think there could be room to work on both of these issues. For example, jumpstart the wild-animal topic now, and once that movement is established, say in 5-10 years, then begin thinking more about the artifical-sentients topic. And you can always keep a foot in both worlds to some degree.
B1: Sounds good. In general, it seems that I may have the most utilitarian leverage by being the "angel investor" in new projects/movements. Once they become more established, other people can take over more of the funding and maturation.
B2: Yes, that sounds reasonable, as long as the projects that you start have roughly comparable expected value. If there were one single cause that you thought was way better than the rest, you should work on that forever to the exclusion of everything else.
B1: Point taken.
B2: Great.
B1: Well, thanks for the chat, B2.
B2: My pleasure.

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Tue Dec 25, 2012 9:45 am

Email to friends from 22 Dec 2012:
My main sentiment is that WAS is the best thing to do right now (next few years) because the momentum is already building and we already have our organization. With the other stuff like SSSS we'd have to start from scratch. Now, this argument be a sunk-cost fallacy except that I think that even without those factors, WAS would be at least tied with all the other options on my list. There's a reason I gave it priority among the things that I talked about the most for the last few years, and now that our wild-animal organization has finally arrived (after ~3 years in the making), I think it's time to execute on it and see where it can go. A few years from now, either it won't have done much or else it will be a huge success with increasing interest, and either way, I'll consider moving on to other things then.

Other smaller reasons to do WAS now:
  • SSSS needs more thinking about before I'm ready to dive into it. Given that I work full-time, this is going to be a slow process. Of course, other people could work on it more, but it's also true that as you get older, you learn a lot of things just by osmosis, and focused study can't necessarily do the same, because it doesn't teach you things you never knew you never knew. So sometimes just waiting on an idea until it's hatched is the best approach. Of course, you do need to do some study of the topic, so I hope I can do a little of that, and maybe my friends can do more of it over the coming years.
  • WAS is the most concrete of the possible things to work on and, IMO, the most likely to turn into something really big. If I had to bet on a cause that would make you famous, it would be WAS rather than the others. Not suggesting it's likely you'll be famous, since most startups like ours don't hit the jackpot, but it's remotely possible.
  • Along similar lines, I think WAS is the least likely thing to fail, so it'd probably look better on your resume than the other things.
Influencing AI people ties in with WAS meme-spreading and is potentially not even different from it. If we want to influence the powerful, the first thing to do is expand our base of supporters, rather than try to do the influencing work ourselves. This is often true. I always used to win Monopoly against my grandmother because she saved her money, but I spent everything I had to buy as much property as I could right from the beginning. He who owns the most property (i.e., has the biggest base of supporters) wins. So presumably targeting AI people would be part of either WAS or SSSS work. I agree that in a few years, once we've picked the low-hanging fruit and built enough momentum that the WAS movement is self-sustaining, we could change course and encourage people to focus on SSSS more explicitly.

What if life in the wild isn't that bad? Well, I think it is when you consider the dying baby insects, etc., but even if it's not, encouraging concern for WAS could still be the best thing, because even if life in the wild were net positive, there's TONS of room for improvement. We should still try to dissuade post-humans from spreading wildlife, because they could be spreading much happier things, and we should still support efforts to help wild animals. It's just that some of our near-term policies (e.g., encouraging habitat reduction) would be not so good, but the memetic value would still largely be there. In any event, it seems extremely unlikely to me that the expected balance of happiness minus suffering is positive, and in any event, promoting the topic of WAS will encourage more researchers to explore the question and come up with their own answers.

As far as whether we should just promote utilitarianism, I do wonder about this. It's comparable to WAS and SSSS in my list of future possibilities, although I really don't know how best to do it. As you suggest, I think WAS and SSSS are pretty decent ways to implicitly promote utilitarianism, because even if people don't realize it, the mindset that underlies wild-animal-welfare calculations is utilitarian, and this will shape the way people approach similar problems going forward. I think a big reason why I was utilitarian before I knew the philosophy existed was because I had heard other people make arguments along utilitarian lines in the past (e.g., cost-benefit comparisons, risk analysis, opportunity cost, etc.), and those concepts became part of my common-sense approach to decisions. That's promoting utilitarianism even when people don't know the word.

Also, promoting utilitarianism in the abstract runs the risk of not getting people to follow through on anything. You might create a lot of philosophers instead of a lot of activists. I think promoting WAS as part of utilitarianism is ideal.

Should we research what is sentient? I agree that it's largely good to lean on others for this research, because unlike with ethical values, facts are objective and will eventually be figured out by future scientists. One exception is that doing sentience research could have PR value. In fact, promoting this as one way to help wild animals in the near term might be a decent strategy. E.g., one way to help wild animals that we can do right now is study more whether insects can suffer. So it's not a bad idea, but IMO it should be done as part of a bigger-picture memetic movement.

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Tue Dec 25, 2012 9:50 am

peterhurford wrote:Thus I've preferred the direct antispeciesist approach of veg ads. WAS might work too but I worry about it not being actionable in the same way veganism/vegetarianism is (behavior change is a great way to inspire belief change). Though I could see the meme change in favor of gay marriage being an example for WAS to follow.
For a full discussion of this, see "Don't 'Raise Awareness'" and the comments therein. There's too much to quote here, but I very much do see gay marriage, etc. as examples of how raising awareness alone can change a culture, probably permanently. I said:
In any event, it's easy to underestimate the power of raising awareness. Consider the civil-rights movement. Part of the reason for greater tolerance toward blacks was due to enforced change (e.g., required desegregation of schools), but as far as I know, a decent part of it was purely an intellectual/cultural shift in social consciousness. Once something like that takes hold, it seems hard to imagine going back. Similar for women's rights, gay rights, and the rest. If we can do something analogous for wild animals -- making it conventional wisdom that the suffering of animals in nature is no more acceptable than the suffering of humans from cancer or starvation -- then wild animals will be on the agenda, and future electoral debates will include this as an issue.

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Tue Dec 25, 2012 10:03 am

Last words for now.

As noted above, I think it's pretty likely I'll work on both WAS and artificial sentients during my lifetime. I think both of the causes are important enough that one doesn't dominate the other, and I there are diminishing returns to each. Each has its low-hanging fruit that should be picked.

It's not 100% obvious to me that suffering subroutines entail more expected suffering in the future, because as I've suggested, industrial-use reinforcement-learning algorithms probably wouldn't need to be sentient, so I don't know if suffering subroutines will be an issue at all. It's just that if they are an issue, their scale could be quite a bit bigger than nature simulations. But I don't think nature simulations are trivial, either. AIs would run lots of nature sims to learn about science and history and predict what sorts of minds might have evolved elsewhere in the universe. So you have industry (running possibly-suffering subroutines) vs. science (which would likely focus on the sentient simulations). In general, there are more industrial computations than scientific computations, but the industrial ones are also less likely to be sentient.

Finally, Hedonic Treader, would you be interested in working on the artificial-sentients issue at some point in the future? Would you like to start an organization a few years down the road and collaborate? (Yes, I'm not kidding. :) ) I would guess I'll be ready in ~5-7 years depending on how the WAS movement takes off.

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Lobby group for wild animal suffering?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Thu Dec 27, 2012 3:22 pm

I wrote some additional thoughts about what sorts of message an SSSS organization should adopt. For example, should we use popular films like The Matrix in our outreach materials?
My general sentiments on this topic, borrowed from David Pearce quoting Margaret Sanger, are that “the more radical the message, the more conservative the dress.” Almost everyone knows about The Matrix and sci-fi movies, and I hope they won’t rule us out as just one more sci-fi group.

It’s fairly straightforward that human-like AIs -- even human-like sims like in The Matrix -- shouldn’t suffer. The point where we actually need to have an impact on people’s views is more on the antispeciesist end of artificial sentients -- i.e., minds that might be animal-like or insect-like or even of another type that we still have reason to think might suffer. As far as I can see, this is really the main point that we’re trying to get across: Examine suffering algorithms in general and make sure we’re not running them, whether for computational purposes or in sims. IMO, it might be better to only talk about the non-human-like ones except when we need intuition pumps or ways to hook people in to the cause, because if we talk about human-like stuff, people will already think they agree and might not hear what’s new about our message.

One reason I like the animal cause so much is that it’s challenging people’s attitudes -- speciesism and, with wild animals, the notion that nature is good the way it is. Those are big points of leverage in changing how people feel and act. With artificial sentients, there’s almost less to do, because people already probably agree with us for the most part. Where that may not be totally the case is with the animal-like or really alien minds.

Another thing to mention about an SSSS organization is that the problem space is really hard. Ecology is challenging enough, but with SSSS, you might need to have a pretty deep grasp of neuroscience to know if what you were researching / funding was useful. Of course, as with the WAS cause, we could reach out to students and encourage them to explore the topic, but it might be harder to evaluate what they do. Not impossible -- only that it would require sophistication on our part. I need to do more exploring of the topic myself before I feel qualified in recommending where to begin, unlike for WAS, where things are more straightforward.

Post Reply