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I am raising a duck right now. They make good pets and I hope it will help my children better understand food and the circle of life. I like to think that the duck appreciates me feeding it, and will not mind making the ultimate sacrifice so that I can enjoy a nice Magret de Canard.

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My sister once got her kids some chicks for Easter. I don't think eating them was the plan, but the dog went ahead and did it.

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The original comment is gone, maybe I lack context, is this a joke wooshing over my head?

I can't imagine any animal just gracefully accepting its death so someone can enjoy eating it. Animals go to great lengths not to be eaten. Their expressed preference tends to be not making the ultimate sacrifice so that someone can enjoy eating them.

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Except for perhaps ant species who share so much DNA with their nestmates and willingly die for the colony. But the original comment was about being so disconnected from our food supply while having a lot of choices of food. Those who are around barnyard animals seem to have less trouble eating them. Perhaps they have a different view of how little cognition is going on in a chicken brain. I am convinced my duck is living a great life, and not fearing death. She lives in the moment, and when the lights go out for her she will have no regret, and living longer would perhaps have mattered little because she has no awareness of time.

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Perhaps. Cows are much more intelligent than chickens though, and pigs are often compared to dogs. Other barnyard animals aside, perhaps it's true that living longer would have mattered little to the duck, and yet, as she lives in the moment, she will clearly strive her hardest to avoid death at all costs, as best she can with her little duck brain. Doesn't that mean something?

Indeed, ants are an exception, fair enough. Though they don't accept death so someone can enjoy eating them, they accept death to defend or benefit their brethren.

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It's better to have lived & lost than to have never lived at all.

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One could, hypothetically, raise an animal, and, you know, just not kill and eat it.

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Assuming that pigs & ducks would ever be raised in the first place if it weren't for their meat (a bad assumption IMO, in a 100% veg society I'd expect pigs to go extinct)..

One could not, hypothetically, raise an animal & let it live forever. I see the butcher's knife as being somewhat more merciful than cancer but that's also just, like, my opinion, man.

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Pigs are among the least likely species imaginable to go extinct lmao

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I worked with a woman that lived out beyond the exurbs of the Twin Cities she was raising two grade school kids and for the course of the spring an summer a pig. The pig became a pet to the kids but they were warned that pigs always run away in the fall.

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What would the world be without the asinine pleasure of tortured comparisons?

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In my opinion, to be clear, it would be stodgier and less fun. You, however, might prefer such a world; that is your right.

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At least we don't have to worry about comparisons being conscious enough to suffer. I hope.

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People here do not have this sense of moral disgust at an interesting literary analogy. If you wanted to convince people not to make comparisons like this, you could have done better than call us robots performing moral gymnastics. You're just antagonizing the community.

Scott, I think it was an interesting device.

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Everyone will be ok. X

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Do you think you could state clearly the rule that Scott broke? I try hard not to do anything that would hurt somebody's feelings, and I didn't even realize that was a possibility with this... maybe I'm just dense. But, obviously, you think he made a serious error. I'd like to be able to avoid anybody having that reaction to something I might write.

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I think the rule Scott broke is using something about Jews to make a point about bugs. I think some people find "comparing" an ethnicity to non-humans offensive. Avoid doing this if you don't want to upset people.

But, Matthew, you cater to the people who have their feelings easily hurt at your own loss. You'll avoid interesting arguments, entertaining hypotheticals and interesting literary devices. If Scott did not use this quote, I think the piece would be a little worse, not a little better.

And look at how dismissive Josh was. You don't really want to have an audience and comment section with people like this.

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I don't think being upset by comparing Jews to bugs can fairly be called being "easily" hurt.

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I'm not going to comment on whether Scott made an error in this instance, as I'm not Jewish, so can't really say whether it's hurtful to Jewish people, but as a general rule, if you would like to avoid hurting people's feelings, it is a good idea not to compare people of some ethnicity to vermin (rats, bugs, cockroaches), even obliquely. Comparing certain ethnic groups to vermin is a practice that has been historically (even in recent history) associated with some really terrible things, and if you are not sure if you can do it kindly, it's best to avoid doing it at all.

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Im Jewish. It wasn't hurtful to me and I don't know where one finds the "rule" Scott is supposed to have broke. But I am definitely after this whole post starting to wonder if there is such a thing as too rational.

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Scott is also Jewish, so has a J word pass

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> if you would like to avoid hurting people's feelings,

at a certain point here, this is a lost cause, unless you start with a standard of:

"i wish to avoid hurting the feelings of people who make a point of moderating their own emotions, and therefore avoid take offense where it isn't intended"

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You are sayimg you know u or someone has feelongs you know I am moderating? I think this is the last time i read the comments section. This whole thing has devolved into nonsense.

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Meant i not you. Bye folks. Silly.

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He didn't mean it the way you're taking it. For one thing, he's Jewish himself. For another thing, he's writing for us robots, so he doesn't say one thing and mean another like regular people do.

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Yes, please. There already are no places for us robots to go in the world where everything is considered "offensive" and no one is allowed to actually mean what they say and not some imagined "offence" behind it. Don't destroy the last of the few remaining places where one can just be rational without playing the tiring mind games that constitute 90% of communication that "normal people" engage in.

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Is this true, kind, and necessary?

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It's definitely unkind. I think you could make the argument that pointing out the PR issues with the comparison is both true and necessary, but given how needlessly antagonistic he's being I personally don't feel the need to cut him a lot of slack.

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Taking 'go' literally:

High vs low decouplers (I'm assuming you're a high-decoupler by the way you connotationally overloaded 'compare'): https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/8fnch2/high_decouplers_and_low_decouplers/

The absurdity heuristic can fail even on really absurd sounding stuff: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/atcJqdhCxTZiJSxo2/talking-snakes-a-cautionary-tale

And I guess something something Overton window and moral circle expansion?

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When taken out of context as "Scott compares Jews to bugs" it sounds bad, but I think it's eminently clear from the context that the comparison is being used to raise the status of insects, not lower the status of Jews.

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Perhaps. The unintended consequence (while not a big deal) is a funny nexus of tension that HE would be well equipped to examine. But it ain’t not there.

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Less of this, please.

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Seconded

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But will you live in the pod?

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author

I stayed in a capsule hotel once, it was nice.

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Is this a Moldbug reference -- the VR pods and bug burritos thing? Or something else?

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There's a meme about liberals wanting you to live in a pod and eat bugs. The title of this post is a reference to it.

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it's less about liberals wanting those things, and more about viewing them as necessary to avert climate disaster, so the whole meme is pointing at liberals' enthusiastic willingness to curtail individual freedom in the face of collective threat.

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Eating insects has other benefits, namely the very good nutritional value and the substantial lack of sugar and saturated fats - the Hitlers of nutrition

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(I pressed post while trying to go the last word, oh well)

I get that it is not morally relevant but it feels as if it should play some role in the individual decision process, like, giving up red meat is good for ethics, the environment AND yourself. This is different.

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I'm reminded of the story/ urban legend that when vegetarian Indians moved to England, they found that their diet was lacking in essential nutrients, because the English flour had fewer bugs in it compared to Indian flour. (I couldn't find a reference in a quick search.)

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founding

I'm not convinced this is relevant. There are other foods that are good nutritionally, but get processed with added sugars to sell better. why wouldn't this also happen with insects?

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It's just a few steps away from the obvious truth "Surely it would be worth to kill one insect to produce an immortality pill". Should insect diet turn out to be much healthier for us, it would make the ethical case for not killing insects a bit weaker.

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founding

sure.. but i mean, broccoli exists, but people only seem to eat it if it gets deep fried and dipped in sugar.. yes its an exageration, the point is just that there are lots of healthy foods that we somehow manage to make unhealthy. i dont think access or existence is the barrier.

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I agree, Candied Crickets will be in every grocery store if the West ever gets over it's insect eating taboo.

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It's an odd year, saturated fat is good for you again.

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It took me way to long to figure out your choice of picture for the post (rof13: Znegva Yhgure ng gur Qvrg bs Jbezf ).

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*slow clap*

Would eating worms be morally better or worse than eating insects? I'm not a vermologist, but I think some of the creatures we call worms don't even have brains.

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For anyone as lazy as me, handy link to convert that: https://rot13.com/

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Relatedly, it seems surprisingly hard to view the picture for the post I'm looking at. It doesn't show up in the email, or on the post itself. To view it I have to go to another page on the site that links back to this post. Am I missing something or is that just the way it is? It doesn't seem like the way it should me.

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Same here. It would be nice to have the picture above or below the headline. Also to quicker identify open tabs with ACX posts.

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Jake, I was feeling pretty smug about getting that reference myself. I was raised in the Lutheran Church. They tell me now that Luther probably didn't say "Here I stand, I can do no other" during that interview. Too bad, it's a really good line.

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But you can't just count every farmed animal as having suffered an amount proportional to its neuron count. Surely, factory farmed insects live a hell of a lot less long than factory farmed cows do, and thus suffer a lot less long. How do they compare in terms of [neuron count]x[lifespan]? Ideally we should also be multiplying by suffering intensity, but that's harder to judge.

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I did make the mistake of not thinking about this, but now that I am thinking about it, I think they might have roughly similar lifespans. See eg https://www.treehugger.com/how-long-do-chickens-live-4859423, which suggests broiler chickens are killed at 7 weeks old, and https://bugible.com/2018/03/20/how-to-farm-your-own-mealworms/, which suggests a few weeks to months for mealworms.

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But it would make a difference for mealworms vs. cows though, right?

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The question that comes to mind for me is whether or not the mealworms are suffering during that period of time. How much does farmed mealworm life differ from average, or even ideal mealworm life?

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Yeah, I think it's relevant that bugs are generally much more adapted to cramped, crowded, dank, dark conditions than larger animals. Those mealworms might feel fine their whole lives!

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The biggest issues would be (a) not allowing the animal to complete its life cycle and (b) the method of execution. When I've raised mealworms for other animals, the execution method was drowning, and they certainly do wriggle as if they're in distress (although what is reflex and what is agony?). Not sure how huge operations do it.

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They freeze dry them, at least the brands I've bought. I'm assuming the first step of this is IQF (send them through a stream of liquid nitrogen) because otherwise they would clump, which is not the case.

If I'm right, then current methods are as close to instant death as it gets. Otherwise, this could be easily implemented.

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We need a measure for net [pleasure-suffering]. All those neurons are not registering pain all the time.

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Also, while I think I can broadly sketch out what a 'good' or 'bad' life is for a cow, I'm not sure I can do the same for a mealworm. How possible is it that farmed insects are not 'suffering' proportionately as much as other farmed animals, because their requirements for a 'good life are much simpler and more easily met in a factory farm?

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I'm perfectly happy if mealworms are farmed to feed chickens, and then I eat the chicken. And the worms get their turn in the end:

Hamlet:

Not where he eats, but where he is eaten. A certain convocation of politic worms are e'en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service—two dishes, but to one table. That’s the end.

A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.

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I would think that would come out in the wash. It's not [neuron count] x [lifespan] that matters, because if the farming is ongoing, each time one mealworm dies it is replaced by another on the farm. So it's [neuron count] x [lifespan] x [#lifespans per unit time], but [#lifespans per unit time] = 1/[lifespan], so the second two terms cancel out and we're left with just neurons.

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I mean you really care about [suffering]/[calorie]. This comes out to something like [suffering]/[animal]*[animals]/[calorie], or [neurons]*[lifespan]/([calories/animal]).

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So what does this debate look like if it turns out plants qualify as conscious, as some scientists have argued?

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Then we'll just have to start eating hufflepuffs, as there's no question regarding their moral worth.

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I really wish I could like substack comments.

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You're funny

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A perfect example of why I'm glad we mostly don't have them. Silly throwaway references to hpmor are seasoning, not substance.

In the future, I will restrain my wit, for all of our sakes. 😆

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No you really don't.

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You can, in general. Even in this specific case, the functionality is still there, only hidden. There are ways to re-add it (the one I've found is here https://github.com/Pycea/ACX-tweaks - note that I do not use it and do not vouch for it).

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Surely only when we run out of muggles

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It's not a real food unless there's an associated scarcity.

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The problem is that the calories that we get from eating animals ultimately come from plants, so either we're eating the plants or the cows are. In fact, there are calories lost in that process from all the activity that the cows engage in before we eat them, so it'd kill more total plant-calorie for us to eat cows than directly eat plants. There's also the same question with fewer-small-plants (grass, hay, which cows tend to eat) versus the larger plants (broccoli for example, which humans tend to eat). Perhaps we should only eat leaves from trees? Or are trees more conscious, so indirectly eating grass is better?

Though we also have to ask what plant *suffering* looks like - perhaps conscious plants really enjoy being picked? The main problem with eating animals is the conditions that those animals are raised in, and I'm not sure that applies to plants. Factory farmed chickens clearly have horrible lives but corn plants on farm seem to have pretty nice lives, as far as plant lives go.

One alternative to either plants or animals is entirely lab-grown food (I presume we can fabricate sugar from raw materials at least), but that's a last resort since it seems like it would be quite inefficient and difficult compared to raising plants.

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I suppose I should I have made it more obvious I was asking facetiously...I think the whole debate is silly. I don't get the guilt over a natural part of life. We are inextricably linked into the food chain. We cannot convert heat or sunlight into calories ourselves. This forces us to consume something that can (or something that ate something that can). Everything we eat--plant, insect, mammal, fish--is alive. Some, possibly all, has some amount of consciousness.

Yeah, we shouldn't torture animals, but caring about the abstract suffering of mealworms or crickets (both of which I've raised) just smacks of bored overprivileged navel-gazing. And it reminds me way too much of eating disorder recovery, and people going vegetarian -> vegan -> oh wait no I can't eat anything because eating is immoral.

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I don't fully disagree with you, in fact; there really isn't much point in worrying about insect suffering when you can barely get idiots like the commenter quoted by Scott to care about obviously conscious beings like dogs; but I think that shows why the argument here is necessary — if you don't, you'll just get people going "hurr durr but what's the difference between a chicken and a bug?!". As if you couldn't make the exact same argument against caring about killing *humans*.

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There is at least one criterion that rules most humans in and the vast majority of animals out, which is the criterion of negotiation. Humans are at least capable of negotiating in good faith.

Why does this matter? Because something that can't negotiate in good faith is something you can *only* coexist with from a position of strength; it is a permanent enemy if you cannot defeat it and you have different goals, the same way a paperclip maximiser is. There is *no way* to treat flies as equals - you can, at best, make them your pampered slaves.

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I havn't come across this argument before, and I find it deeply interesting... on the face of it its a light bulb moment for me (but that might be because I have only just come across it) ... off to search the interwebs for a more thourgh (can never spell that) discussion of it. Thank you!

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The terms "ramen" and "varelse" (in conjunction) might find you something (though probably not everything around this); they're borrowed from the sequels to Ender's Game (which in turn borrow the words themselves from Swedish), which go heavily into the idea of what makes coexistence with aliens possible or impossible. "Ramen" are those aliens that you can understand and deal with; "varelse" are those you can't.

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Yes, the moral calculus required to care about this at all, and then the idea of applying actual numbers to it, are both beyond my grasp. I don’t care at all about a single mealworm’s suffering, and a trillion times zero is still zero. And I just can’t shake the feeling that trying to prevent the suffering of little critters whose not-suffering is apparently indistinguishable from their suffering is...not actually an effective use of one’s resources.

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I think you're right that there's a dark side to this amusing piffle, which is that there *are* people (with eating disorders) who are capable of internalizing it as some degree of social approval of their distorted thinking.

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I think it's hard to draw a line - if we agree that all moral people need refrain from is torturing animals, what counts as torturing animals? Many of the more persuasive arguments for refraining from animal consumption basically amount to arguing that factory farming is animal torture. That's more persuasive to me than most of the other arguments, and eating high welfare animals that get adequate space and social interaction is an alternative solution.

Of course, this reasoning doesn't just apply to mammals and birds - asphyxiating in a massive pile seems unpleasant for fish, some argue we should kill them painlessly (less stress also means the fish tastes better apparently), for much the same reason that people think we shouldn't boil lobsters alive.

Not torturing insects seems achievable since I don't think they have very complex desires, a Bug's Life notwithstanding.

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I mean, most guilt and moral concern is about natural parts of life - attack, spite, revenge, and hatred are all natural parts of life, and people might still reasonably think it's a moral improvement to engage in them either somewhat less, or under different circumstances than they actually do.

This is obviously a debate that is only possible to have in a place of extreme privilege, but just because one needs privilege to think about an issue doesn't mean that the issue shouldn't be thought about.

I think one of the values of this sort of discussion is specifically to *stop* the slide you mention in the last sentence, to help people think about the issue in harm reduction terms rather than purity and bans.

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"I think one of the values of this sort of discussion is specifically to *stop* the slide you mention in the last sentence, to help people think about the issue in harm reduction terms rather than purity and bans."

I'm not getting why this is a debate that comes from a place of privilege, rules around food have been part of many moral/religious traditions for millennia. Furthermore, this is an area where the industrialization of life has made revolutionary changes in the underlying material conditions, so taboos that come down to us from the pre-industrial era are not going to address the salient aspects of a situation where some portion of humanity is dealing with the problems that come with having too much food, rather than too little.

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Yeah, I don't buy that this necessarily *does* come from a place of privilege, but I was replying to this comment: "caring about the abstract suffering of mealworms or crickets (both of which I've raised) just smacks of bored overprivileged navel-gazing."

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> a natural part of life.

Like life-changing injuries and agonizing diseases?

> We cannot convert heat or sunlight into calories ourselves.

We also "cannot" travel faster than 20mph, or fly, or breathe underwater, or communicate across thousands of miles, except that we now do all those things because we decided they were worthwhile.

Look, I love eating meat and I'm not going to stop, but it sounds like you're just making an argument from nature.

The vegetarian -> eating disorder connection is interesting and probably worth talking more about.

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"We also "cannot" travel faster than 20mph, or fly, or breathe underwater, or communicate across thousands of miles, except that we now do all those things because we decided they were worthwhile."

... and we found energy sources that let us build machines to do those things, the use of which now threatens the existence of human civilization. I agree with you that an argument from nature is not really useful here, because we have been modifying nature for thousands of years, but I don't see why that means we shouldn't consider the moral and ethical dimensions of how humanity supports its existence.

"Look, I love eating meat and I'm not going to stop..."

I was a ovo-lacto-vegetarian for eight years in my 20s. I started eating meat again in the full knowledge that I could not justify doing so within my moral framework. I eat meat because biologically, I'm an omnivore and I like eating it, but I can't deny that my choices have a deleterious impact on both myself (I was a lot trimmer when I was veggie; I'm biologically attracted to energy dense foods, which is an impulse that is now evolutionarily maladaptive in a world flooded with high-fructose corn syrup) and, more importantly in a moral context, other people now living and not yet born.

I'm not sure that this is a question for which quantitative analysis is the right approach, but "Bob" bless Scott for trying to think it through.

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> I started eating meat again in the full knowledge that I could not justify doing so within my moral framework.

I'd offer then that your actual moral framework is different from whatever stated moral framework you violated. This is just semantics, but to say that you knowingly, continually violate your own moral framework gives a worse implication than reality.

Since you have concerns about energy usage and the fate of humanity, I'm guessing we have different predictions about nuclear energy. For me that's an entirely separate issue, but I can see why for you they might be the same issue.

> I'm biologically attracted to energy dense foods

Meat can be pretty energy-sparse, no? If you measured calories/satiety, lean meat would rank below most carbs and fats

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"to say that you knowingly, continually violate your own moral framework gives a worse implication than reality."

That's very kind of you to say, but I was born a monster in a monstrous world. If we actually took our moral frameworks seriously we would never stop throwing up. Took me about 20 years to stop being entirely paralyzed by that realization and even now, I'm not sure what to do. I try not to be a dick.

I would love for nuclear energy to pan out and some of the new designs are intriguing. If any nation had managed to establish a repository for its spent nuclear fuel over the past 70 years, I would be more sanguine about its prospects. Unless & until that happens, I'll oppose generating more high-level waste.

> Meat can be pretty energy-sparse, no? If you measured calories/satiety, lean meat would rank below most carbs and fats

Fair enough, but lean meat tastes terrible.

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Well, to add to the weird, it’s possible to use spinach leaf vein structure as a scaffold to grow cultured meat cells into a piece of meat. Presumably, the result of that is never sentient.

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Some people, for example Jains, aim to avoid killing anything - including plants - so they only eat fallen fruit. In Jainism its called Ahimsa fruitarianism. (I don't know if he was being ironic or what, but notable dictator, evil despot, and all round bad guy Idi Amin claimed to have become a fruitarian while exhiled in Saudi Arabia.)

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> One alternative to either plants or animals is entirely lab-grown food (I presume we can fabricate sugar from raw materials at least), but that's a last resort since it seems like it would be quite inefficient and difficult compared to raising plants.

There's a Finnish company that synthesises protein using air and solar power:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_Foods

By 2025 they predict it to surpass South American soya as the cheapest source of protein. I'm quite excited about this because my biggest worry with animal agriculture is land use. Fields of solar panels take up much less land per calorie even than crops for human consumption, let alone animals, which enables a huge amount of rewilding.

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Er, come again?

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https://www.sciencefocus.com/news/plants-are-they-conscious/

I haven't really looked into it, but I've heard of it. No idea how serious this is.

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Then you just calculate the expected suffering value of all your options and minimize, same as now... except no one gets to pretend their hands are *entirely* clean, which might actually make the debate easier and less factional.

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“What's the problem Earthman?" said Zaphod, now transferring his attention to the animal's enormous rump.

"I just don't want to eat an animal that's standing here inviting me to," said Arthur, "it's heartless."

"Better than eating an animal that doesn't want to be eaten," said Zaphod.

"That's not the point," Arthur protested. Then he thought about it for a moment. "Alright," he said, "maybe it is the point. I don't care, I'm not going to think about it now. I'll just ... er ..."

The Universe raged about him in its death throes.

"I think I'll just have a green salad," he muttered.

"May I urge you to consider my liver?" asked the animal, "it must be very rich and tender by now, I've been force-feeding myself for months."

"A green salad," said Arthur emphatically.

"A green salad?" said the animal, rolling his eyes disapprovingly at Arthur.

"Are you going to tell me," said Arthur, "that I shouldn't have green salad?"

"Well," said the animal, "I know many vegetables that are very clear on that point. Which is why it was eventually decided to cut through the whole tangled problem and breed an animal that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly. And here I am."

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I almost typed "you're probably not joking but this reads like a parody" but before hitting Post I had my doubts and now I'm genuinely not sure if this is serious or meant as mockery of over-serious animal rights types.

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Do you come here often?

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lmao.

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This is Scott following his thoughts down the randomly selected rabbit hole of the day.

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Completely serious arguments said with a silly tone.

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Diffractor, you hit the nail on the head. The combination is what makes these sorts of discussions fun--and sometimes very funny.

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"Most people are only about as moral as the average of the other people they hear about and interact with."

Very well put.

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I think if you extend this out it implies that the most moral person on earth never speaks to anyone else.

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Or perhaps there is a glorious self-contained set of 5 or more equally super moral people who are out of contact with the rest of society. In which case...how 'moral' can they be when viewed in terms of the Bodhisattvas who hold the door of enlightenment open for the rest of us? Hmmm...

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Alternative: everyone has a natural moral setpoint, but instead of being absolute, it's calculated relative to their view of society and especially the people they interact with a lot. So the morality level of everyone in a group of friends will be correlated, but they won't converge over time, because some people prefer to be more moralistic than the group, and some less.

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Well, reclusive ascetic monks being held as paragons of virtue in many cultures is probably relevant here.

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Also the least moral.

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I'd say that, if taken to the extreme, this implies that everyone is equally moral.

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"Most people" instead of "all people" takes care of that problem.

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"about as moral" rather than "as moral" also helps.

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yes, if you misinterpret a rough descriptive heuristic as an ironclad logical law, you get weird-sounding results

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You know several religions have saints who walked themselves up and never talked to anyone. And recluses have a certain cachet in our society, at least if they are rich or artistically talented. So I think you're actually right there.

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So every time I hear Shylock make his case I flash back to the “The Rockford Files” 1977 episode:

Evelyn 'Angel' Martin : Y'know Jimmy, I've got some feelings too. "If you prick me, do I not bleed?"

Jim Rockford : That's Shakespeare!

Evelyn 'Angel' Martin : [Condescendingly] No it's not. Vincent Price said it on the Hollywood Squares.

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Tyler Cowen contended, in an interview with Peter Singer (I think), something like: eating wild-caught fish is relatively more ethical because fish die horribly *anyway*, so you're not killing them in a way that's much different than how they'd be killed in nature. Getting bit in half by a sea lion or a shark isn't really worse than getting hauled into a boat and having your gills cut.

Would similar logic apply to bugs, which often die violently naturally? Is the life of a farmed and consumed mealworm that much different?

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A similar logic might certainly apply to hunting bugs, but farming them brings up population ethics issues.

You're not comparing an animal living out its natural life vs. an animal being raised on a farm. You're comparing an animal not existing vs. being raised on a farm.

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I think this argument misses the Repugnant Conclusion argument.

If farmed animals have bad but non-negative life experiences - eg, if they would prefer to exist than not exist, if they could understand and make the choice - then it's better to farm them, than to cut short the lives of wild animals.

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I'm not sure this is correct. Population ethics is hard. But if instead we could farm *humans* that have bad, but non-negative life experiences would it be better to farm them than to hunt wild animals? And if so, would it not be even better to let these humans live full healthy lives and go back to hunting wild animals as a food source?

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What is a "bad, but non-negative" life supposed to mean? I think the problem with this approach is that people don't/can't really conceive of a net-zero life. For one thing, lots of people who seem miserable prefer to stay alive, while lots of people whose lives seem mostly fine commit suicide. So you'd need some alternative test.

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Presumably a "non-negative" life means a life that is just tolerable enough to not drive the majority of people to suicide, which does seem like a pretty low bar - arguably a concentration camp would qualify.

I think we should be very careful before deeming a life not worth living, because it's basically a justification for killing them. while there are situations in which this may be moral (as euthanasia proponents argue), it's important to recognise that this is very subjective and that people may not be the best judges of whether their own life is worth living.

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Belief in the afterlife conditional on your actions matters a lot here also. My devout Christian grandmother was pretty miserable in her last years, but suicide was so far outside of her acceptable options that she would have doubtlessly endured even much worse suffering. This is one of the topics where human intuitions vary so greatly that I suspect a broad agreement about what counts as "worth living" is out of reach.

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It definitely is subjective. The general argument against suicide is that you may not deem your life worthwhile now, but you're likely to change your mind in the future. Lacking a reasonable expectation of improvement seems to be the distinction between euthanasia and suicide, although the afterlife does complicate things. Obviously it's preferable to this world, but for some reason God's very insistent on us staying here until he decides our time is up - pragmatically, this may just be because otherwise the afterlife makes suicide seem too appealing, and death cults tend not to last long compare to religions that prohibit their followers from killing themselves.

As a Christian I'm against suicide and euthanasia, but there's a grey area of prolonging life that doesn't really seem to serve much purpose except life for life's sake, and I think it's perfectly Christian to decline treatment if the costs outweigh the benefits. I'm probably indulging in the naturalistic fallacy.

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I personally think that respecting what people currently alive value is the best solution to population ethics, since ultimately population ethics is just asking "how many children should you have" and I think the only correct answer to that question is "as many that you want and can care for". I can't speak for everyone alive today, but I think we generally want there to be people in the future (since even with contraception available people still have kids) but in wealthy countries we generally prioritise high welfare over high numbers. That's not a universal, but it does suggest we'd prefer to create a future of high welfare, free-range humans rather than a future containing a larger number of factory farmed humans.

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I agree. But if you solve population ethics in this way, it is not sufficient morally that your farmed animals have net positive life experiences. Once you have decided to create them, they presumably deserve the same moral consideration as any other animal of their type would.

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Arguably, high welfare animal farming meets most of an animal's preferences better than living in the wild (food, shelter, safety from predators - at least until the end), so giving them the same moral consideration that we give other animals of their type doesn't rule out all animal farming.

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This is about where I come down. The co-evolution of these species with us through what we rather chauvinistically call "domestication" conditions the question from the start. I put the question to myself as "Having brought this animal into existence, will it live a good 'cowy' or 'chickeny' or 'piggy' life?" I don't know if I can know what that is but it seems reasonable to guess that a factory farm creates a bad life for its denizens.

I have enough spare income that I can buy meat & dairy from farmers who seem to me more likely to bring that good life about for their animals, but I also won't go to the co-op for a special trip just to get a gallon of milk (Bucky Fuller's assessment that the replacement value of a gallon of gasoline exceeds a million dollars when all costs are properly accounted for has been haunting me recently) and I haven't verified any of that for myself, I'm just trusting in reputation. I also have no control over what the restaurants I order from do in this regard.

In some respects I've given up on trying to rigorously assess this since we Americans live lives that lead so far into ecological overshoot that we're rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic at this point.

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You answer your own question - yes, humans existing as not-tortured livestock is better than humans not existing at all, but it's vastly inferior to humans living free and happy lives.

Moral options are weighed against alternatives, not just as absolutes - the same course of action may be morally virtuous when it is the least bad option available, and morally repugnant when it is the worst of good options.

In this case, no one is proposing that we just artificially increase the wild population of animals living happy live as an alternative to having these animals in factory farms - the money for that option isn't available, and if it were it could certainly be put to better use. Th options under discussion are factory farming vs. not.

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The money for the other option is only not available if you don't make it available. Instead of eating farmed food, you could eat hunted food and also pay additional money to have someone humanely raise additional animals not to be eaten.

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Right, I'm saying that the current conversation is a practical policy discussion, not a free-ranging hypothetical discussion, and therefore is bounded by how likely a policy is to actually get implemented.

Insect farming is unlikely but in the realm of medium-term possibility, because it has pragmatic as well as moral value. Your suggestion is hugely impractical at scale, so it's not in the realm of probable policies.

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And by impractical I mostly mean expensive, to be clear.

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It is totally possible for you to pay for an insect sanctuary that houses as many insects as the number you would have otherwise paid to eat. If everybody did this, insect sanctuaries could totally exist at scale.

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Look. Population ethics is hard. But one of my principles is that once you have conditioned on which set of beings exists in the world, you are obligated to find the arrangement in which the aggregate utility of those beings is as large as possible.

So you might not be obligated to create new bugs and put them in sanctuaries. But once you have decided to create new bugs to farm, you then need to consider whether or not it would be better in aggregate to put those bugs in sanctuaries instead and go eat something else.

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There’s also the issue that some insects are eusocial, which I figure increases the probability that they are capable of suffering.

On the other hand: I’ve recently seen the argument that bee hives have some basic capability of “withdrawing consent” in the sense that if a hive doesn’t like their situation they can take up and leave. I haven’t taken the time to see if this is both universally true of bee farming and how bad it can get before a hive decides to leave.

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Bee hives don't really vary that much, so what would be bad enough to make them defect, and where would be better for them to go? Unless bees bully each other, I can't think of a situation where it makes sense for one bee to leave but not the entire hive.

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I can tell you from the experience of my father that be hives vary quite much if you take a closer look:

- The vary in character, e.g. how easily they get angry/agressive by different stimuli (motor tools, bad weather, sweaty person).

- They wary in economics: some do much more breeding, some block even the place for breeding with honey.

- They differ in patience: feeding them with sugar-liquid, in some hives a lot of them drown, in others none. At a closer look it is because the next ones coming are so impatient, that they push some of the first ones into the liquid.

These points are not depending on the enviroment, but they are consistent for the live of the hive, while another hive standing at the same stand behaves differently.

I never heared of hives settled hives leaving their combs, but individual bees sometimes visit other hives, and if one hive has a problem (eg. bad or no queen) they can and often do move to another hive in the neighbourhood.

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Why would eusociality increase the probability that they can suffer?

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Yeah, I also don't see how that follows, except through a naïve assumption that eusocial = more human.

Eusociality often involves tolerating suffering for the benefit of the colony - bees and ants often need to sacrifice their own lives to protect the queen. If anything, this would suggest they're less likely to suffer than flies and butterflies, which would benefit a lot more from strongly avoiding unpleasant stimuli, since if they die that's it, evolutionary line dies with them.

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If anything it would seem to reduce it, if the hive is the conscious entity and regularly loses individual parts then individual deaths probably don't matter

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On the other hand, sometimes it would be valuable for a eusocial insect to signal a need for care.

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Even if we grant both that insects can suffer* and that we care about it if they do (I reject both of these independently)...It's pretty unclear to me that insects on a factory farm have it any better or worse than regular old insects anywhere. You note this point, but don't really follow it. If being an insect is suffering, then why don't we have a moral duty to not only not factory farm them, but also kill all the insects everywhere, so they don't suffer anymore? On the other hand if you take that being an insect is not inherently suffering, we certainly create a lot more by farming them so you get Nozick's old vegetarianism argument.

* Do pain receptors count as "suffering"? I don't really think so. Does it make sense to care about a being that probably doesn't even have a continuous self, even if it does suffer? If so is their suffering additive? Insects are far less distinct from one another than humans, so remember your own Answer to Job.

Anyway, as a neuroscientist: neuroscientists have no clue how consciousness works, so we aren't gonna get more information about how it is to be an insect any time soon XD

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See https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/jbR9XrZbsqCsnR3vy/thoughts-on-the-welfare-of-farmed-insects

I agree it's possible that killing all insects everywhere is the right thing to do, though I would want to know a lot more, and right now it's both impossible and ecologically disastrous.

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I don't think that article addresses the issue he raised very well. The author himself states at the top that it's just "general considerations based on theory" and he presents no actual evidence to make me think factory farmed insects would have any worse a life than wild ones, just that there would be a lot of them.

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> I agree it's possible that killing all insects everywhere is the right thing to do

If this might be so, why stop with insects?

What's the argument that says "killing all insects everywhere may be the right thing to do, but killing all mammals is clearly not."

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Ahh, i guess the argument (listed below) is a belief that insects seem to spend the majority of their time suffering, whereas mammals don't

I'm not really sure what the evidence for this would be, but even if we take that at face value, Killing all the insects probably _would_ kill all the mammals and species which depend on them.

Which suggests something like 'in order to support the existence of beings with net-positive utility, it is necessary for there to exist beings with net-negative utility'

This fact that 'net positive beings require beings with net-negative utilty) (assuming insects exist with net-negative utility, which i still doubt but i'll grant for the sake of argument) ends up being something like a "justification" for the darkness of the physical universe in general: sure, large portions of history look pretty awful, and some people do live horrible lives. But the current state (which has a hard dependency on those awful things) has so much goodness, joy, and positivity that it effectively justifies both the awful history, and the awful state of affairs for some unlucky people in the present.

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> killing all insects everywhere may be the right thing to do, but killing all mammals is clearly not.

I'll bite that bullet in the sense that I do actually suspect that if you fully take everything into account killing all wild animals everywhere (only keeping pets and other animals for which we can guarantee their well-being around) ends up being the right thing to do.

Right now though, for larger animals, the harm from factory farming both completely eclipses and is much easier (as in: not completely impossible) to solve than the harm from animals suffering in the wild.

For insects I'm not convinced they cross the threshold into being morally relevant agents as opposed to little biological robots, but if they do, I suppose the same argument holds.

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The Cruel Angel's Thesis bleeds through

a portal like your pulsing blood

So, boy, stand tall and embrace the fire of the legend

Embracing the universe like a blazing star!

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Get in the fucking insecticide sprayer mecha, Shinji.

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I like my Earth like I like my coffee... covered in bees!

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Doesn't the existence of e.g. acetaminophen (or general anesthesia) demonstrate that "pain" is a central-nervous system experience that has bupkis to do with the existence of nociceptors per se? Which is to say, if you don't have a consciousness in the first place, you can't experience "pain" in the way we think of it, regardless of the messages your peripheral nerves are sending, so inferring consciousness from the existence of the receptors is begging the question in a big way.

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sorry, I meant "inferring the experience of pain from the existence of the receptors." Bah.

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> inferring consciousness from the existence of the receptors is begging the question

This is a pretty good counter-argument!

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Agreed. For me, and I think probably all humans, suffering depends on mental states. I have felt pain, as in the sensation of physical pain, many times without suffering. Sore muscles from a good day's manual labor is a positive experience for me, and I'm not alone in that. Similarly, people frequently choose other life options that frequently result in physical pain (extreme sports, hiking in the woods, BDSM) that obviously makes them happier or that they prefer to not having those things.

What causes me suffering is far more about negative mental states. In fact, watching someone else get hurt, especially close family and friends, is one of the most suffering-inducing experiences in my life - despite the fact that my physical pain receptors are not activated at all! Sure, there are some straight up agonizingly bad pain, like getting a limb chopped off or being badly burned. That's certainly also a type of suffering, but it's a non-central example of pain receptors firing, at least by volume.

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"crop farming is probably net positive, because ... suffering being swiftly over".

That idea worries me a lot. Every creature suffers; suffering is part of life. That quote sounds like an argument against the existence of life - in general.

I'll admit to being new around here; apologies if I'm poking at old wounds.

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Newness has nothing to do with it - it's a hard question! That having been said, see https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/06/28/survey-results-suffering-vs-oblivion/

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I would also add there's a difference between "a life that includes suffering" and "a life where the suffering outweighs everything else".

Being against lives that include any suffering at all is strawman negative utilitarianism, and I agree it's pretty bad.

Being against lives that have more suffering than happiness seems potentially reasonable - I wouldn't want to bring a child into the world if I knew they would live in constant pain and basically never have any happy moments.

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If you choose suicide because the suffering outweighs the happiness - for you - I'm fine with that (in principle).

Using that argument to justify killing others, people or insects, who may not agree with your assessment, is a totally different matter.

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But we're not talking about killing others here. We're talking about whether or not it is morally permissible to bring others into existence knowing that they will live under certain (presumably bad) conditions.

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The original quotation was about justifying use of pesticide to kill insects *to reduce suffering of the insects*.

I'm not sure making it about bringing others into existence changes things - only those who exist can have opinions about the quality and value of their own existence. To presumptively decide for them seems wrong.

There's the classical philosophical question whether it's better to have many people at a low standard of living and comfort, or a few at a high standard.

It doesn't seem an easy question, but any answer needs to consider the viewpoint of the people involved, and only living people have viewpoints. Observationally, very few people choose suicide because their living standards are low, which seems to hint at an answer.

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But even when we're talking about killing, are you opposed to, say, euthanizing pet dogs that are clearly suffering from terminal diseases. Like if the dogs could clearly understand the situation and communicate their preferences to us, we should probably go with that, but given that they cannot is it impermissible to use our best judgement?

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I concede that my ethical system doesn't have a defensible answer to that. Probably I'm not smart enough to work it out - if it's even possible to get a "correct" answer.

Do animals ever commit suicide? If they do, that might be an argument in favor of euthanizing your suffering pet. If they don't, against it.

Evolution never promised us a fair universe. Ethics and morality are human inventions - I'm pretty sure animals don't give them a thought. So there's no reason to think there *is* a "correct" answer.

I suspect that we, and whatever follows us, have to decide what we *want* the answer to be. And I'm pretty sure I don't want the answer to be "exterminate all life is a good idea".

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Fairly certain animals do not commit suicide. The common vertebrate reaction when sick or injured is to find a dark, isolated place to hide, and most will die in such a position if given the chance. I'm overgeneralizing, but I have seen cats and dogs and ducks do this. Unlike humans, animals generally don't help each other- if you get hurt, you're on your own. On top of that the wilderness is such that if you're miserable enough to want to die, you're probably about to die anyway.

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I'll take another stab at this.

Humans have ethics because ethics helped our ancestors cooperate, and thereby outcompete other tribes.

So maybe we're wrong to extend moral instincts to entities who can't cooperate with us. Maybe our feelings that we ought to care about animals and insects are simply an overapplication of something that's really only appropriate for people (or AIs or EMs or aliens) who can reciprocate.

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Be careful using where moral instincts came from as a guide. Eventually they trace back to evolutionary fitness, so if you follow that logic to its conclusion you'll have to decide that the fundamental moral imperative is to spread your genes over as much of the universe as possible.

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I get that argument, but if enough humans care about animals, cooperation with them will require that you also act as if you care about animals. The guy who keeps eating other people's pets is not going to be in the tribe for long.

Of course, this is an argument for valuing dogs and cats over basically everything else.

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What about entities that predate on us? I mean, in the hunter-gatherer state, tigers will stalk and eat humans, with little evidence that they try to minimize the amount of humans they eat versus rabbits or whatever the tiger equivalent of tofu is.

Should hunter-gatherers nevertheless have an elaborate moral theory that includes minimizing tiger suffering? (Maybe even after they acquire technology and need not suffer predation people should deliver to the tigers X victims a year, so they don't suffer from a diet they find boring.)

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The existence of death implies that anyone born will automatically suffer infinity years of no longer being alive. Is it therefore better to not be born?

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No, because at least if you're born you get a finite number of years of being alive!

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Well, sure, but a finite number minus an infinite number is minus infinity. So if maximizing the number is the *only* criterion, and the maximum number is zero -- there you go. Nonexistence is better.

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They already suffered not being alive for 14 billion years. At least this way they get a break.

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Hmm. Not sure anyone can suffer the loss of what he's never had. So if you're never born at all, I'm not sure we can claim you've lost infinity years of life thereby. On the other hand, once you *have* been born, traditionally we *do* claim you're in a position to lose years of life if you die -- there are ample precedents in morality and law. Now generally in the practical world we only say you've lost years of life if you die "before your time" and we're a little fuzzy about that, but roughly the traditional threescore and ten.

But on the other hand, existential dread -- which is surely among the more painful afflictions of consciousness -- will exist if you *ever* die -- and moreover it's sharpest point *is* that it is eternal. If you were told you would come back to life after death, exception a short 24-hour hiatus for a good defrag of your consciousness and changing the oil, most people wouldn't fear death at all. Even if you were told you would be dead for 100 years, but the reborn, I don't think it would be scary. It would be...strange, if you were told the internal were a million years, or a trillion, but still probably not nearly so bad. So it is precisely the loss of infinity years which cause the dread.

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That problem is to do with people suffering existential dread while they are alive, not with any suffering they will undergo while dead. Better philosophers than me have suggested ways of coming to terms with the former.

The existence of spiders causes dread to arachnophobes - it is not a moral evil on that account.

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>Being against lives that include any suffering at all is strawman negative utilitarianism

This is mildly interesting as a case where a strawman of one family of positions is a roughly central member of another (or maybe it's just a weakman - by your present standards - in the same family). I am against lives unconditionally, as a position almost-but-not-quite downstream of a failure (or success?) to adequately delimit the notion of suffering. I'm not sure this admits formulation as utilitarianism, but if it does, it's definitely negative utilitarianism.

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You wouldn't be the first to notice this. For certain utility functions "exterminate all life" does in fact balance the checkbook, even if I would prefer the superintelligence not do that.

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Sure. I'll argue that if your utility function says "exterminate all life everywhere" is a win, you *by definition* have a profoundly bad utility function.

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I mean you're not wrong!

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My utility function is different from what a utilitarian believes is the total aggregate utility. If the expected total aggregate utility until the end of time is negative, then eliminate all life is the only correct choice under this moral system. The idea of there being more suffering in the world than happiness, seems reasonably plausible to me.

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Please rethink that. The utility function you describe sounds like a good candidate for the definition of "evil".

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>I'll argue that if your utility function says "exterminate all life everywhere" is a win, you *by definition* have a profoundly bad utility function.

You say you'll argue, so please do. What are the criteria for what determining the adequacy of a definition of "evil", such that the above utility function satisfies those criteria?

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Evil is a socially evolved concept. "Evil" is what we have decided is bad for society. Our definition of "society", plus our beliefs (correct or mistaken) about what is good or bad for it, generates our definition of "evil". Elimination of all life is bad for society under almost any definition of "society".

I have an extremely low opinion of academic philosophy (ref: https://mugwumpery.com/?p=746),

and I'm reasonably sure that there is no logically correct definition of "evil" (or for most things philosophers argue about).

Ethics and morality are human traits that evolved via natural selection because they helped our ancestors cooperate and thereby outcompete other tribes. As such they shouldn't be expected to be logically consistent or "right" or "wrong"

in any absolute sense.

Humans have instincts about these things - those instincts are modified by culture (which itself is subject to evolution),

and to a lesser extent by reason.

Because we're human and care about more than just propagation of our genes, we say that our rules either "work" (we like the outcomes) or they don't (we don't).

I think those who try for more than that are wasting their time (and ours).

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As I understand it, meta-ethics is all about considering your actions in the light of a bunch of different ethical systems. It seems plausible that a superintelligence might follow some kind of combination of different ethical systems rather than just one. It's also plausible that the superintelligence might pick which ethical systems to consider, and their relative weightings, by looking through a corpus of ethical discussions such as, say, this thread.

So every time anyone write a comment that takes a crazy ethical system seriously, it increases the weight which will be applied by the superintelligence to that crazy ethical system.

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This sounds just like Roko’s basilisk with extra steps

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I do think crazy ethical systems are a profoundly underappreciated source of existential risk.

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I'd say it's Roko's basilisk with fewer steps. It at least avoids the whole "and let's face it, *you* probably one of the simulated copies right now, so you'd better get to doing some of that acausal bargaining right now" step of Roko's basilisk which was the most insane part.

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Something like this was the first idea which popped into my mind after reading the paragraph. I am not very versed in ethics [etc.], so nothing deep here, but I just could not be reminded of one of my favorite child-time books, Adventures of Captain Wrongel (Priklyucheniya kapitana Vrungelya) by Andrey Nekrasov, where Admiral Kusaki, chairman of the “Society for the Protection of Whales” explains [translated by Deepl]:

> "Our common goal," he said, "is to protect cetaceans from extinction. What means do we have for achieving this noble goal? You all know perfectly well, gentlemen, that the only effective means is the extermination of cetaceans, for with their extermination there will be no one left to die out. Now let us consider the case that became the subject of our discussion: Captain Wrongel, the question of which is on the agenda, as he himself admits, had a full opportunity to destroy the sperm whale he met. And what did this cruel man do? He shamefully withdrew from performing his high duty and left the poor animal to die out as much as he pleased!"

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I'm generally against the existence of life. I think the world is an intensely, unimaginably, horrific place and I suspect that beliefs to the contrary are mostly lies we tell ourselves to feel better.

I find it very hard to balance suffering with pleasure. Can we torture one person for a week if it will somehow magically give a billion people a wonderful, exciting, pleasurable experience for a week? I find it very hard to say yes to that. And the real world is even worse. There are multiple people being tortured right now, and there aren't a billion having the time of their lives.

Ursula K Le Guin's short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas resonates quite strongly with me. (Freely available and only four pages long.)

http://sites.asiasociety.org/asia21summit/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/3.-Le-Guin-Ursula-The-Ones-Who-Walk-Away-From-Omelas.pdf

Now, unfortunately for me, and fortunately for all those who vehemently disagree with me, I don't have any means of destroying the universe. And I think absent a Big Red Button that ends it all in one go, there's not much I can do to act on my anti-life beliefs. I think killing one person, even if that person lives a life of suffering, is almost always immoral because of the second-order effects of the murder. Mass murders and genocides are horribly immoral, and they would be even (especially?) if their motivation was the reduction of suffering.

But if the superintelligence came along and for some reason took my ethics as its template... I think I could trust it to figure out a way to kill us all nicely, and I think that would be a good thing.

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I've spoken with other people who think this, and I think the persistent disagreement I have with them/you largely comes down to personal experiences of the relative intensity of happiness and suffering. Some people have a very hard time believing that any positive experience can outweigh a non-trivial negative one (and maybe for some people it can't). But if I had the option to extend my life for a year, during which I would be tortured for a week, I would do it. Life is pretty good, at least for some people a lot of the time.

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Yeah, I'm not sure if that's the case with me. My life is pretty amazing. Nothing seriously bad has happened to me, and I get joy out of the smallest things and easily shrug off the small-to-medium hardships I do encounter with minimal suffering. I think creating more of me would probably be a good thing but I'm not certain.

I'm afraid I really can't wrap my head around your opinion about torture + life extension. I don't even know how to frame my objection. Like, my best guess is that you're mistaken and you just don't realise how horrible torture would be, but I realise it's pretty poor form for me to claim that so I'll try and take your preference at face value.

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I mean, torture sounds real bad, and I would bet that during the torture my decision would be different. Maybe after the torture, too. I just don't endorse the idea that (for me personally) a temporary experience of pain should outweigh all the positive things I experience over a much longer period. But all that is just bean-counting... the point is that for me (and apparently for you) the good parts of life heavily outweigh the bad ones. So if it would probably be good to make more of you, why would it also be good to end the existence of life? Do you think it's for some reason impossible to create a future in which most people/beings have good lives?

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> So if it would probably be good to make more of you, why would it also be good to end the existence of life?

Because I think I'm probably one of the most fortunate people in the world. I'm comfortable for money, I enjoy my job, I have supportive friends and family whose company makes me very happy, I have green space near me but also easy access to a beautiful city, I'm white, male, tall, strong, high IQ, have no history of mental illness, and as I mentioned above I have a very positive outlook on life. If all people lived like me then I wouldn't be in favour of ending life.

Well, maybe I still would because of animal suffering. I don't tend to go on about wild animal suffering, but I do think it's plausible that the majority of wild animals have net negative lives. Anyway, let's put that aside and focus on people.

> Do you think it's for some reason impossible to create a future in which most people/beings have good lives?

Not literally impossible, but I think we'd be lucky. And even if all people could live lives as happy as or happier than mine, how long will it take to get there? How much suffering for how many people do we deem as acceptable to sacrifice for our hopes of a bright utopian future? Also, I notice you said "most". I've already said I find it very hard to trade off one person's suffering with another person's happiness. "Most" people living good lives isn't good enough if some people are enduring terrible hardship.

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> And even if all people could live lives as happy as or happier than mine, how long will it take to get there?

It might take hundreds or thousands of years to get to a point where almost all people (and hopefully animals) live very happy lives. But thinking in deep time, those thousands of years could still be a drop in the ocean.

And yes, we might fail. But trying and failing to improve things isn't much worse than giving up and obliterating it all in advance.

> I've already said I find it very hard to trade off one person's suffering with another person's happiness.

This is more or less a Rawlsian maximin view? I find it hard to sympathize with, partly because it relies on specific intuitions about individual identity that don't hold up to much scrutiny. If it's okay for someone to trade off pain now for happiness later, why isn't it okay, in creating a new person, to trade a small chance of that person having a bad life for a larger chance of a good one?

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@Parrhesia, above, seems to agree with you. There's a vast ethical gulf - which I think you're both ignoring - between deciding for yourself, vs. deciding for others.

You've made an evaluation of cost vs. benefit and decided life is bad. But you're not entitled to ignore the fact that others make the same evaluation and come to the other conclusion. What makes you right and them wrong?

To decide for yourself is one thing - to force your decision on others is a totally, completely different thing. And a matter of good vs. evil.

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I don't ignore that gulf; I bite the bullet: I don't think freedom to make decisions about your own life is a fundamental right.

In practice, freedom is important. The _feeling_ of having your freedom taken away is an unpleasant feeling and can constitute suffering, so we shouldn't do that to people. But in a philosophical thought experiment where we can remove such things from consideration with a Big Red Button, it's morally neutral.

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>But if the superintelligence came along and for some reason took my ethics as its template...

It's worth noting that whatever superintelligence comes along will be the work of people, and will receive (some modification of) their ethics as template. The window of opportunity is not closed to you here.

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I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. That I should get a job in AI to try to enact my ethical will?

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Not that you should, but that it is (still) possible to do so.

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Although my initial message was neutral on whether or not you should proceed with this, I will add that I advocate this approach.

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Wow, that's really depressing. You have my sympathy. Does it help at all to know that I feel exactly the opposite. That I think there are billions having the time of their lives. And that I'd resent you pushing the red button?

I read the LeGuin story. There is a truth that suffering can lead to greater joy. I remember fondly these boy scout week long canoe trips up in the Canadian wilderness. There were long bouts of shared misery; portages with heavy packs/ canoes through swarms of bugs, cold, day long, rain drenched paddling. And yet after it was over, I loved it.

Have you read "A Saucer of Loneliness" by T. Sturgeon?

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I appreciate the kind words, but I'm not sure I understand what's prompted them. My opinion of the world might be that it's a terrible place of great suffering, but my experience as one of its most fortunate inhabitants is fairly positive.

Your point about tough experiences leading to joy is a good one. I, too, have embraced many pursuits that on the face of it have seemed unpleasant, and have taken great delight from them. I think the word "suffering" is quite thorny. For me, when I'm cold, wet, in pain, getting bitten by insects, fatigued from walking long distances in rough terrain with heavy loads, there is rarely true suffering. There's adversity, sure, but it's something I can put my back into and become stronger as a result. I think if you can teach people this mindset that's potentially a very high-impact intervention, because you can perhaps reduce suffering without changing people's material conditions. But I'm not sure if there's a reliable way of teaching it.

Of course, I don't know what's going on in other people's heads. Maybe orphans in war zones with no access to clean water don't suffer as much as I imagine. But if that's the case it's very hard to get particularly motivated to make the world a better place. Why should I help people if they are already content?

I haven't read that story. Are you aware of somewhere I can read it free?

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Re: what prompted them. Your first two sentences. I find life, the universe, and everything to be amazing. Anyway I'm sorry for reading you incorrectly. I couldn't find a free copy of the Sturgeon short story. It's something I found useful when I was in a depressed mood. "Oh here's someone more retched than me." knowing that helps. A bit like reading "Notes from Underground" by F. Dostoevsky, but less depressing.

OK maybe here, but it will be a big download of volume VII. Not just the short story.

https://diversidade.acessibilidade.ufpa.br/un0lmys3oapj/04-lionel-feil/1556434243-a-saucer-of-loneliness-volume-vii-the-complete-s-S7IXf6ZM5hgV.pdf

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> I'm generally against the existence of life. I think the world is an intensely, unimaginably, horrific place and I suspect that beliefs to the contrary are mostly lies we tell ourselves to feel better.

And in another comment:

> My life is pretty amazing. Nothing seriously bad has happened to me, and I get joy out of the smallest things and easily shrug off the small-to-medium hardships I do encounter with minimal suffering.

Jesus fucking Christ, what an insufferably arrogant attitude. "My life is worth living, but there's no way those poor people in Africa could ever enjoy their sorry lifes. It would be best to put them out of their misery."

What can I tell you? Maybe get out more. Lift your gaze from your navel.

Not kind, but necessary and true.

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They do seem contradictory. I had to read carefully to be sure both comments were made by the same person.

Life satisfaction seems to have a lot more to do with expectations than with living standards. I don't think poor Africans are much less happy than rich Americans.

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