311 Comments

Review makes it hard to follow which points are the author’s and which are the reviewer’s. It raises some general points about animal welfare, but isn’t systematic or profound. It says that more animals are being farmed in the US than before, but doesn’t even tell us if it’s an increase or decrease per capita. Nor whether their average conditions have improved or worsened.

Expand full comment

If we're talking about animal suffering, it's much more important to know how many animals are being farmed than to know how many per capita.

Expand full comment

True, but if there are fewer per capita, that would at least be some sort of progress at the level of how much harm each person is doing.

Expand full comment

Anyone else click the link thinking it was going to be Dominion by Tom Holland?

Expand full comment

yup

Expand full comment

Yup, I was hoping for that one. But this was pretty interesting too.

Expand full comment

Yes.

Expand full comment

Yes!

Expand full comment

Same, and I'd love to see an ACX on that one. But I enjoyed this read, and the title is apropos to the subject (and of course, it also came first)

Expand full comment

Or a Sisters of Mercy music clip but the artwork would not match.

Expand full comment

David Foster Wallace was a Republican

Expand full comment

Link?

Expand full comment

He voted for Reagan and Perot.

Expand full comment

Wouldn’t a straightforward Republican have voted for the Republican candidate in 92?

Expand full comment

For sure. I don't think he was a straightforward down ballot Republican by any means.

Expand full comment

No he wasn't. He called conservative Christianity "a form of facism"; was strongly pro-choice; was a critic of Bush43 across the board; and just months before his death did a spring 2008 interview calling it "depressing" that John McCain as GOP nominee was adopting then-mainstream GOP policy positions.

Expand full comment

Well then it sounds like he was, and then he wasn't.

Expand full comment

Did he vote for Reagan as an 18 year old in 1980? Even a 22-year-old's political views aren't usually an accurate way to describe their political views for life. (Hillary Clinton famously campaigned for Barry Goldwater.)

Expand full comment

I think he became more liberal over time, but I don't think I would characterize the perspective adopted in his writing as particularly political in any direction. He was worried about fascism, surely, and he wasn't a fan of the religious right, and ordinary people in his writing are either noble savages or disdained. That said, some of his writing about say the dangers of casual sex, the importance of personal responsibility, the meaning of being an american seem tinged to me with a conservative perspective. As does his elegiac piece on John McCain, even though he is very critical of the man's policies in the present. I don't know that his perspective is Republican, but I don't think we need to imagine an alternative Republican David Foster Wallace. That's just David Foster Wallace. The Democrat David Foster Wallace is, idk, Ben Lerner.

Expand full comment

Reasonable points, and interesting interpretation!

Expand full comment

Any utility function has to throw out some aspect of the world, in order to be computationally tractable.

So unless you have this explicitly a-priori commitment to love as much and as broadly as possible, and this commitment supersedes other goals, you’re going to be cruel and uncaring about _some_ kind of suffering.

Perhaps the whole point of the day of rest is, “turn off the dopaminergic goal pursuit mechanism which inevitably turns your perception of the world into a cartoon, a false image, a lesser God”

When you believe there is only one thing, and that thing is Good, (ie the conclusion of all mystics), it seems obvious that animals deserve our love and compassion. The moment you adopt a specific goal, whatever that goal is, you necessarily become blind to anything which doesn’t seem to directly impact the goal.

So, computationally, we might see the first commandment as telling us to “Have no other terminal goals but the love of being itsel.” The second is to spend one day a week recognizing true progress towards the terminal goal, rather than advancing some instrumental subgoal, which, whatever it is, will lead to denial of the whole if it becomes your terminal goal, ie the thing you worship, ie your God. And the third commandment is, don’t invoke the terminal goal in order to advance any instrumental purpose, or you’ll confuse the two.

Expand full comment

I don't see how your 2nd sentence requires the 1st? Almost any system that balances competing priorities will end up sacrificing each of the priorities at times, in order to service other priorities. There's a lot of cases where we can fairly easily get 90% coverage on something we want, but that last 10% has to come at the expense of something else we want.

I'm going to guess that we agree that what I just wrote is also a description of functioning secular political systems. And when political systems adopt singular goals, they function as you describe, and thus take on the aspect of religions. And since according to mysticism, the ultimate Good can never be expressed in words or therefore laws, any such singular goal will fall short of ultimate Good, and the pursuit thereof will produce evil. (Even if the singular goal would be a perfectly healthy part of a multi-goal secular political system.)

Expand full comment

I don’t think the first sentence is a requirement for the second, so much as a hardening of it.

It’s not just that there are hard tradeoffs in the world outside of us, it’s that there are tradeoffs in how we think about the world, and even adopting an accurate predictive model about some subset of the world will distort your perception of other portions thereof. So even if you _think_ you know where you are on one tradeoff curve, you’re likely wrong about that, as well as ignorant about your position on numerous other trade off curves.

Expand full comment
Jun 28·edited Jun 28

>And why a helpless, harmless creature to illustrate the Christian way instead of a proud and violent predator?

Shouldn't "instead of" be "in addition to"? There are plenty of Biblical passages comparing righteous men to violent predators as well, especially lions.

Expand full comment

Be ye wise as serpents...

Expand full comment

"the bedrock of Scully’s generous spirit toward animals comes from a personal belief that all of God’s creatures deserve “whatever measure of happiness their creator intended for them.”"

So if you believe in evolution ...

Expand full comment

Joke: Ah, this is why there's so much overlap between people who support the lab leak hypothesis and people who don't support vaccines and masking! The creation deserves its happiness!

Expand full comment

The Noahic Covenant very explicitly gives all the animals to humans as food. Genesis 9:3:

"Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything."

You're not going to convince many Christians if you don't engage in good faith with the Bible passages you're referring to.

Expand full comment

I don't know if this is the point of view of the book as such, but I can imagine most of the points that the reviewer summarizes harmonizing fairly easily with this verse (and additionally the Mosaic laws the presuppose the eating of meat, and the narrative of God providing clothes of animal skins to Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness.) The book may be taking a particularly strong view that looks like a dogmatics "do not kill and eat animals" position when what the actual view the author is advocating is more, "Be as kind to animals as you are able."

There's some interesting (to me) intersection with capitalism and corporate identity in trying to apply this principle. For example, if you own a large chicken farm and you take home a year profit of $300,000 dollars, this author might argue that you could probably treat your chickens better and sacrifice half of that profit and that there is probably a moral imperative to do so. But Tyson Foods, as a publicly traded company, would experience a shareholder lawsuit if they decided that they were going to prioritize their animal welfare over the shareholder value.

Expand full comment

That's all fine. I object to the dishonest presentation of the Noahic covenant in Genesis. I don't know whether this point of view is from the book or the review. It says:

"Another interesting case to consider is that of the post-flood second covenant, where we are told of “the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.” Hmm, ‘all flesh’ sounds pretty unambiguous to me. Even more curious is a part in Genesis where it sure sounds like we are told to stop with all this meat eating"

And then he quotes from Genesis 1, which is much earlier than the Noahic covenant, which is in Genesis 9. This is dishonest. Yes, the verses it's referring to are there; but it's inventing an ambiguity that doesn't exist. In the Noahic covenant, God acknowledges that previously, humans had only been given vegetables to eat, and that now, they'll eat animals as well. It's super obvious and not hard to understand.

Genesis 8:20-9:17

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

“As long as the earth endures,

seedtime and harvest,

cold and heat,

summer and winter,

day and night

will never cease.”

Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

“But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

“Whoever sheds human blood,

by humans shall their blood be shed;

for in the image of God

has God made mankind.

As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

Expand full comment

And that's not even getting into Deuteronomy spelling out "eat these animals, don't eat those animals". https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy%2014&version=NIV

Expand full comment

Or Peter's vision in Acts 10 (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/acts/10).

Expand full comment

I agree with Matthew's point about the Noahic covenant, but it's important to note that Acts 10 only uses eating unclean animals as a metaphor. Peter isn't actually commanded to eat everything.

For the New Testament church, the conclusion of the first church council in Acts 15:28-29 seems more relevant than Acts 10.

"It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things."

Practically no one seriously worries about food sacrificed to idols anymore, except as a historical curiosity. But I think it's interesting to consider whether factory farms are sacrificing animals to the idol of capitalism. (I suspect Scully would endorse that interpretation.)

Expand full comment

I agree, and I had the same objection reading the review in the nomination phase, or primaries, or whatever it's called.

I think both the charm and the weakness of this review are that the review writer is grappling with a foreign way of thinking and the inferential distance is large. I doubt the writer understands which objections are strongest to Scully or his intended audience. But reading the search for common points of reference between them is nevertheless kind of interesting.

Expand full comment

Dominion doesn't argue for vegetarianism/veganism, it argues for treating farm animals with respect while they are still alive. That is no contradiction with your quote. There is clearly a call for responsibility in there.

Just think of your own situation as a citizen of whatever country you're living in. Would you prefer your government officials to treat you with respect as a fellow human being, or rather like an anonymous, faceless bag of tax money that is powerless and without recourse before their absolute will?

Expand full comment

I'm uninterested in the ethical thesis of the book.

A lot of people haven't read Genesis carefully, so they're likely to be deceived by the rhetorical sophistry about it in this review. I'm just here to correct that situation.

Expand full comment

This piece sounds more like advocacy then a book review.

Expand full comment

It's somewhat difficult for me to parse what is from the book and what is from the reviewer. I think ideally the two should be visibly separate to the reader, even if the reviewer whole heartedly agrees with every point the book makes.

A major flaw with Scully's (or maybe the reviewer's?) analysis is viewing the animal farming phenomenon as a failure of free markets. No, the market is working exactly as intended. Clearly the revealed preference of most consumers is for easy access to cheap and tasty meat, and this is prioritized over the suffering of the animals. I imagine most people respond positively to the idea of better living conditions for pigs; tell them that the outcome of legislating these conditions is the tripling of bacon prices, and that support collapses. If you want to convince people to end factory farming, you absolutely have to convince them to either a) pony up the (significant) extra cost for animal products, or b) stop consuming those animal products altogether. That circle must be squared, and it is hardly surprising persuasion fails in the face of economic incentives.

Also, I have to call out the bit on hunting elephants with "military grade rifles". This sounds exactly like the type of fallacious appeal anti-gun advocates who know nothing about guns make. I guess the spectre of military guns is supposed to be extra scary. Except the actual automatic rifles used by the military are far too small caliber for elephant hunting. Rounds like the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge are on the larger side for military arms, comparable to a civilian .308 round. Elephant rifles are typically in the .50-.70 caliber range. I tried to find the With Deadly Intent video cited, but none of the results had anything to do with hunting. It's possible people shot elephants with a 5.56mm/7.62mm rifle, but if so they are not very good hunters.

Expand full comment

The third way to gut factory farming is to have citizens vote on a law that says something like "farm animals have to be treated well". A majority may well think, "that sounds good", and pass it, having no idea what it will actually do or how much it will increase food prices. Something like that happened here in Massachusetts. The voters have spoken that chickens must be free range (otherwise, it's cruel). Egg prices are a whole lot higher, but there is no real pressure to repeal the law.

Expand full comment

Isn’t this a cool example of how a federation should work in the minds of the anti-federalists and their modern-day descendants?

Expand full comment

The same thing happened in California as well, as the review mentioned.

Expand full comment

I think it *is* a market failure on account of poor consumer information. Most people really do not have a good understanding of the heinous conditions of factory farmed animals, like, they know it's bad vaguely or whatever but have never and will never actually witness something like the pig mentioned in this review

Expand full comment

But customers aren't entitled to that information, if what goes on in those farms isn't illegal. I think that the point about revealed preferences stands. If most people truly thought that this was unacceptable, and not just had vague discomfort, then that stuff would be in everyone's face all day every day, shortly before becoming banned.

Expand full comment

There's nothing here about being "entitled" to anything-- one known cause of markets having inefficient outcomes is imperfect information. You could say the same thing about a dishwasher company's internal data on their dishwasher's expected lifespan. If they learn their dishwasher craps out much faster than their competitor's, I don't if I as a consumer am "entitled" to that info (or what precisely that would mean) but by lacking it I might buy the wrong dishwasher. This inefficient behavior, at scale, is a market failure.

I don't think revealed preferences is a great framework for understanding people on this because I think a typical person acts incoherently on the topic

Expand full comment

No one outside of the economist's version of the ideal spherical cow acts with perfect information. In the case of factory farms, the information is readily available and has been for decades. It's not secret or illegal to disseminate, unlike a company's internal memos. Real people in real markets act incoherently all the time. In this case, I suspect they don't *want* to know too much about how the sausage is made.

Expand full comment

>In this case, I suspect they don't _want_ to know too much about how the sausage is made.

<mild snark>

The consumer level version of plausible deniability? :-)

</mild snark>

Expand full comment

Well "markets working as intended" is an economists ideal spherical cow, and so to the question "is it working as intended?" The answer is "no, because perfect markets require perfect information". If consumers would want to pay more for less suffering, a perfect market would give them that. Companies hiding the amount of suffering done to the animals is distorting the perfect market (which is a theoretical construct), making it not function as "planned" (when the theoretical construct is used).

Expand full comment

And it is of course available now, e.g. pastured hens' eggs.

Expand full comment

I personally know seven different people (ex-wife, ex-wife's cousin, ex-wife's other cousin; ex-girlfriend, ex-gf's sister, ex-gf's mother; former best friend), not counting me, who were "forced" (pleaded with) to watch a documentary on factory farming conditions — and became vegetarians.

Yeah, most people don't tend to seek it out, but most people also don't tend to read books or think about what makes a coherent ethical system or understand the difference between anecdote and evidence; and, if you believe the data given in one of Scott's recent posts, also don't know if the Earth orbits the sun or vice versa, etc. etc...

...so I think this isn't really a case of "revealed preferences" so much as it is one of "revealed ignorance."

The data is out there about a lot of stuff that people don't know; but if, *when they encounter it,* they actually do go ahead and vote in laws about cage-free eggs or go whole-hog (so to speak) and stop eating meat altogether — well, /that/ also tells us something about their preferences.

I bet you $5 that in the majority of scenarios wherein this is put to the test, going forward, the outcome will fit better with "people do prefer to pay extra for clear consciences" than "they secretly don't care" or whatever¹.

I think we would also find that this sort of concern is a major driver of the expansion in the fake meat industry and the launching of cruelty-free brands / product lines, but I admit I have no real data on that. But my intuition is surely infallible!

.

---------------------------

••••footnotes••••

--------------------------

¹(In fact, something similar happened recently where I live: local grocery chain was found to have been buying from dairy farms known to be brutal; campaign launched; grocery stopped doing so, warned prices would be raised; AFAIK no one has cared about the extra 20¢ per carton or whatever it is.)

Expand full comment

> A major flaw with Scully's (or maybe the reviewer's?) analysis is viewing the animal farming phenomenon as a failure of free markets. No, the market is working exactly as intended.

Uninternalized externalities *are* a market failure. If I steal all your stuff and sell it for a profit, then even if all participants in the "selling Rothwed's stuff" market (namely the purchasers and myself) are happy with the outcome, it's still an inefficient outcome, because it doesn't take into account the damage to a non-participant, namely you.

Expand full comment

Ok but... animals are clearly not a participant in the market? Only people are. If you think animals are people, go with that line of thought I guess. But what you wrote here doesn't make sense.

Expand full comment

Re: "but... animals are clearly not a participant in the market": That's not a "but" — it's my whole point!

Animals aren't participants in the market, just as victims of theft aren't participants in the market for their former possessions (except insofar as they might try to buy them back). You don't have to believe that animals are people to believe that the massive harm they experience is a huge cost; and that cost doesn't figure into the market, precisely *because* the market participants don't experience it. That's a classic market failure: the market is producing an inefficient outcome because it has externalities (impacts on non-participants) that it doesn't take into account.

Expand full comment

I really do not grok you. People are the only participants in markets made by people. This isn't a profound observation, it's a basic statement about reality. I don't even know how any other system would work. Should we be asking the animals if they consent to be raised in hellish conditions and then slaughtered? Oink once for yes, oink twice for no? Is a sawmill a totally dysfunctional market because it doesn't take into account the cost to the trees? Or maybe a gravel pit because it ignores the impact to rocks?

Due to markets being composed of people as agents, the cost of animal suffering has to be taken into account by people. And there are ways to do so. People can buy more expensive animal products from producers that commit to raising their animals in humane conditions. Most people choose not to do so. It is not a market failure when people choose and then receive their preference, and it is not a failure if that preference is the opposite of your preference. People just don't care very much about the cost of animal suffering.

My whole point is that Scully, and animal activists like him, need to take this into account. It is not sufficient to just convince people that animal suffering is bad; most people probably agree to this in a void. What people really need to be persuaded is that animal suffering is bad and they should *pay more money* to lessen it.

Expand full comment

> People are the only participants in markets made by people. This isn't a profound observation, it's a basic statement about reality.

Agreed!

> I really do not grok you.

I'm really not saying anything complicated; it's just https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externality plus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_welfare .

> It is not a market failure when people choose and then receive their preference, and it is not a failure if that preference is the opposite of your preference.

Externalities *are* a market failure. Participants in the market are choosing and receiving their preference, but if their choices negatively impact non-participants, then the overall outcome is inefficient.

> My whole point is that Scully, and animal activists like him, need to take this into account. It is not sufficient to just convince people that animal suffering is bad; most people probably agree to this in a void. What people really need to be persuaded is that animal suffering is bad and they should *pay more money* to lessen it.

Firstly -- many people *have* been persuaded to, if nothing else, eat less meat. See e.g. https://thehill.com/changing-america/sustainability/3747206-vegetarianism-is-on-the-rise-especially-the-part-time-kind/ .

Secondly -- those aren't really separate things. The more you make people aware of a problem, and the more you make them aware of just how bad the problem is, the more they're willing to do/accept in order to improve it. (Of course, this needs to be done respectfully, or else it can backfire: when PETA makes offensive comparisons, people's response is disgust at PETA rather than learning about whatever-it-is that PETA is talking about . . . which from PETA's perspective is probably just as well, because I don't think PETA knows what they're talking about anyway.)

Judging from this review, a large chunk of Scully's book is devoted not just to convincing people that animal suffering is bad in the abstract, but to showing them just how terrible factory farming is. If everyone were aware of these facts, I'd bet you'd see more people choosing to eat less meat and/or to take animal welfare account in their meat choices. (And you'd also see more support for laws and regulations to enable that. Rightly or wrongly, many people don't really trust labels like "free range" and "cage free" and so on, so they hesitate to spend extra money on something that they're worried might just be a scam. If they could trust that a given label genuinely represented something being better, they might be willing to spend more.)

Expand full comment

Actually, *as far as I know,* "cruelty-free" and "free-range" etc. products *are* becoming more and more successful.

I don't have hard data on this, admittedly, just vaguely recall reading about it + these products take up noticeably more shelf-space at the local grocery stores than they did five or ten years ago.

There was also a bit of a local scandal, a year or two ago, wherein the consumers had the choice "pay a bit more for local-store-brand milk & know they aren't doing business with notably brutal dairy farms — or the other way around, mutatis mutandis"; they overwhelmingly chose the former.

In other words — yeah, when folks are forced to confront the ugly reality, and the choice is made stark and clear to them, they tend to err on the side of slightly-more-spendy mercy.

Expand full comment

You might want to google the difference between "moral patient" and "moral agent" here, might clear up some confusions! :)

Expand full comment

> Also, I have to call out the bit on hunting elephants with "military grade rifles".

I agree. In general, military small arms seem to be optimized to incapacitate. If they manage to do so without killing their targets outright, that is a bonus, because it means that the enemy will need to spend resources on rescuing their soldier in the middle of a firefight, or else take the morale hit of having left one of theirs to die. Hunting rifles generally are meant to kill and also not subject to all sorts of trade-offs for a rifle meant for a firefight is.

Of course, a "military grade" anti-material rifle would probably work for killing elephants, but it feels like a non-central example of a "military grade rifle", where a central example is the AR-15. (And from the description of the scene, it certainly did not sound like they engaged the elephant from a kilometer away.)

Expand full comment

I'm not sure that that former bit is actually the case. I know of no design festure in any military small arms system that was chosen or developed so with the rationale "this will be less deadly and wound rather than kill!" — and in general, you *don't* want that to happen; a wounded enemy is not the same as a no-longer-dangerous enemy, and in the context of a small-arms engagement, the most important thing is not messing around with resources or morale but just /killing the enemy/ so that your guys are not in danger and the field is left in your possession.

The metaphor that comes to mind, for me, is that of a car: an engine that can just barely bring the vehicle up to the desired speed is going to be the most efficient choice of engine, absolutely — but since you often need to accelerate quickly, both at and below said speed: well, then, for safety and efficacy (and esp. in marginal situations) you need much more power than that minimum.

...Similarly, anything you do to make your weapons system less deadly is going to have the effect not just of turning a few quick kills into slow kills, but also of making some engagements losses that would have been wins, not touching the enemy at all when it would have been a major wound, etc.

Forcing a rescue in a firefight could be beneficial, certainly — but in the same way that just killing the first bugger would be (i.e., in either case the goal is "dead enemy"); and I think the morale-damage difference between "they're killing us, and quickly, right now!" and "they're killing us piecemeal, here and there, after we don't rescue some of us" is fairly insignificant...

...not that I've professional experience leading a team in combat, or anything, heh. But I *have* been in a (quite literal) "Mexican stand-off", and I know what I wanted then... (to be somewhere else, namely — but if not, to have the biggest and deadliest weapon!)

Expand full comment

note I meant to add above but forgot until just now:

• smaller caliber is useful for a number of reasons in a military weapon: you can carry more rounds of ammunition for the same cost in weight, for one; for two, a smaller-and-faster round will shoot flatter and be easier to control when firing quickly (at the trade-off point wherein it's roughly as lethal as a larger round — you can, of course, increase velocity until recoil is just as bad, if you wanted; but that isn't *necessary*).

Sometimes you still want a large projectile for stuff like penetration (heh heh), but in terms of your main infantry weapons system, the trend has been steadily-decreasing-caliber... not, though, out of a preference for wounding shots — AFAIK!

Expand full comment

I wrote a comment to quiet_NaN earlier on a similar note to yours, but it was eaten by substack I guess. Basically military ammunition needs to travel long distances, pierce body armor, and be stable under rapid fire. Hunting ammunition can be more powerful because it can shatter into pieces on impact without worrying about penetration and can take higher gunpowder loads. It's not that the military purposefully chooses not to kill with their ammo, they just optimize for different conditions.

There was a trend in the 60's and 70's to downsize calibers for military arms. Notably the American M14 firing 7.62x51mm and the Soviet AKM firing 7.62x39mm were very difficult to control during rapid fire. These were replaced (mostly) by the 5.56x45mm and the 5.45x39mm respectively. The US did consider using the larger 6.8x43mm during the early 2000's, as a compromise between the 5.56 and 7.62 NATO rounds, but I don't think anything ever came of it.

Expand full comment

That's a good way to put it: optimize for different conditions. If only I'd thought of that when I was typing the comment up, rambling ineffectually around the idea, last night... 😂

I *heard* that the Soviets actually ended up feeling the 5.45x39 was a bit too small — something about difficulty penetrating cover in Afghanistan? — but I don't know if that's true, and/or if it would apply to 5.56 as well; I think in general the smaller calibers have been successful, though(?).

Expand full comment
Jul 1·edited Jul 1

That's a common complaint with the 5.56, and a lot of armed forces continue to use 7.62 NATO weapons to some degree. The US had the opposite experience in Afghanistan - the enemy was often on a hilltop or ridge half a kilometer away, and larger rounds suffer more from air resistance at that range.

At this point, the smaller rounds have a lot of inertia behind them. The US/NATO and the Russians have hordes of rifles and ammo for the smaller calibers, and are resistant to use anything else that isn't significantly superior. So far, nothing has replaced the M16/5.56 and AK/5.45 families as the dominant infantry rifles.

ETA: The Chinese also use a similar size 5.8x42mm round.

Expand full comment

Thanks for the point about "military grade rifles", that's also something I don't like (though more because I'm interested in guns than anti/pro gun, I don't live in the US).

Expand full comment

Hey, not exclusively St. Francis:

"To believe that God made many of the lower creatures merely for prey, or to be the slaves of a slave, and writhe under the tyrannies of a cruel master who will not serve his own master; that he created and is creating an endless succession of them to reap little or no good of life but its cessation--a doctrine held by some, and practically accepted by multitudes--is to believe in a God who, so far as one portion at least of his creation is concerned, is a demon."

https://www.online-literature.com/george-macdonald/hope-of-the-gospel/12/

Expand full comment

Which, of course, She is. Most every animal who is born dies before being able to reproduce, of disease or starvation or freezing or ... Almost no animal lives to a ripe old age and then dies peacefully in their sleep.

Expand full comment

Well, technically the article I'm quoting is arguing that animals have immortal souls, specifically to avoid that conclusion.

Expand full comment

It always seemed to me to be a logical but ridiculous argument that for whatever has a soul, the greatest good for the greatest number would be to terminate that entity as soon as it was ensouled. The soul, being sinless, would then live in bliss with God.

So, for example, if life and ensoulment begins at conception, the number of begun and quickly terminated pregnancies should be maximized.

(Peter Singer ain't got nothing on me.)

Expand full comment

If that's how you think it works, then yes. Though I think the more philosophically-minded branches of many religions view life as at least partially a matter of growth and development toward the capacity for "bliss with God" in a fuller sense.

Others believe in Augustine's account of original sin, in which case all of those just-ensouled beings would actually go to Hell if you did that.

Expand full comment

I think that the hell thing can be worked around with baptizing the fetus before you kill it.

Of course, if ensoulment began at conception, this would imply that identical twins share a single soul. A more reasonable view might be that ensoulment happens once tissue differentiation has happened, when you can't easily split the fetus to create two of them.

Under this view, creating a heaven-bound soul from embryonic stem cells might be really cheap. If baptisms have to be administered individually, that would be the majority of the cost, if they can be administered in bulk, that would scale much better.

Also, one could hedge against different religions being true by doing multiple initialization ceremonies. From my understanding, if relative A initializes a child in sect X and relative B initializes a child in sect Y, then both sects will consider that child to be a member of their sect, irrespective of the heathen ritual of the other sect.

From a utilitarian perspective, the eternal afterlife should dominate all earthly concerns. At present, the median cost of creating a heaven-bound soul in a first world country is immense, perhaps in the 100k$ range. Furthermore, the level of efficiency is low. Estimates on what percentage of people go to hell vary widely, but everyone agrees that living a life with the potential for sin is an important risk factor. Creating a conventional new human might be easily net-negative from an afterlife perspective, depending how you would weight eternal torment and eternal bliss.

As the grand-parent of this post pointed out, all of this can be avoided using modern methods of soul-farming. Leveraging economy of scale, I guess that one could lower the price of a soul to a dollar by modern biotech methods.

This seems like a really neglected area of EA. Might make a good impact evaluation for 2025-04-01.

Expand full comment

The problem is that there is wide disagreement among different sects on things like when ensoulment occurs and the efficacy of the relevant initiation rituals. For instance, if you believe in Augustinian original sin, and also credobaptism, none of this works until a person becomes old enough to believe in their own right, which presumably is some time after they are born.

Optimization for the views of one sect will end up creating either a pointless stem cell farm, or a Hell factory from the perspective of another.

Expand full comment

> From a utilitarian perspective, the eternal afterlife should dominate all earthly concerns.

I don't want to get too much into current events, so... If Valhalla (the best afterlife), can only be achieved through dying gloriously in battle (something people might not willingly choose), isn't it a positive good to start lots of battles (and thus force people into situations that they might not have otherwise chosen)?

Expand full comment

I like the idea of fresh souls as perfectly entropic, indistinguishable from background noise. Only through interaction with an environment can the soul gain information content.

Hm. If souls take information out of the system, that's like dumping entropy into the system. That explains original sin!

Expand full comment

Dollars to dog treats that Noem's autobiography was ghostwritten, and that she was too lazy to have read what the ghostwriter wrote.

The question remains whether this was intentional sabotage on the part of the writer, since the who point of political books is that nobody reads them, it's just a a way to pay off a favored politician, often through non-recoupable publisher advances.

Expand full comment

It does sound like it, yeah. There's an interview with her that also talks about a false statement about meeting Kim Jung Un. (Dog talk starts at 6:08, North Korea at 7:30) https://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/gov-kristi-noem-says-there-can-t-be-a-blanket-approach-to-jan-6-pardons-full-interview-213516869940

Expand full comment

She read the book outloud for the audiobook.

Expand full comment

The best theory that I heard is that they felt like the story was going to break over the campaign anyway, maybe some journalist was digging around, and they decided they better try to spin it in the book as best they could first. And it turned out there's just no good way to spin it.

Expand full comment

The dog-killing story is yet another example of the urban-rural divide. In rural America (like most of South Dakota), dogs that eat chickens are going to get themselves shot by somebody or another. Better to do it proactively than find out from your neighbor that he had to do it.

Expand full comment

Living in rural North Dakota, I am aware of this. Not to mention, life can be hazardous here for cats.

Expand full comment

I am a vegetarian urbanite, and I found myself not being overly shocked by that story when reading about it here.

If you raise animals for work instead of as pets, then killing the ones who underperform seems like a necessity. Of all the animals kept for profit, the dog who gets fed and eventually shot had a life well above the median.

I mean, the urbanite response to a badly behaved puppy would be to bring it to an animal shelter. The likelihood of it eventually being killed because the supply for badly behaved dogs is much larger than the demand seems pretty high, but at least that killing would happen off-stage.

However, Noem should have anticipated how the story would play with all the emotional urbanite meat-eaters who just respond emotionally to the Kindchenschema.

Expand full comment

I don’t think the story is shocking either. (I am definitely in the category “urbanite meat eater.”) I get the practical implications of a chicken killing dog. I think she made a mistake bragging about it, and I think she made a real mistake saying she “hated that dog.” Her choosing to talk about the goat is mystifying.

Expand full comment

Definitely a case of "Killing a chicken-eating dog is okay, but I don't want/can't do it myself, so I'll pass it off to a stranger, who will do it when I'm not around."

I suppose that's better than hiring a hangman, where one of the criteria was often that he's done it a lot, so he'll make a better show of it, and not mess it up.

Expand full comment

From the secondhand things I've heard, it sounded like she basically bragged about doing it, in a "look how tough I am" way. And killing a puppy just doesn't come across as tough.

You absolutely could present the story differently, as a regrettable necessity.

Expand full comment

I think the goal was to show emotional toughness, like Mother Nature culling the underperformers. But instead it came off as slightly psychopathic, because she hadn't established a capacity for empathy first.

Expand full comment
Jun 28·edited Jun 28

I thought that the main point was to give interviewers an excuse to have the "author" on and for book reviewers to write editorials on the politician before a campaign run. This 2014 interview is ostensibly about Clinton's memoir, but is better considered a very early campaign event:

https://www.npr.org/2014/06/12/321313477/hillary-clinton-the-fresh-air-interview

People needed a reason to give a long interview to HRC a year after she left office. The book gave them one. This isn't meant as some sort of criticism of Clinton, I just happened to find it very noticeable a decade ago. She also got some flack during the 2016 primary when someone actually reread some of her memoirs and found an anecdote about the staff at the Arkansas governor's mansion, who were prisoners from the local jail.

As an aside, inflation has completely changed the meaning of dollars to donuts(which I assume you're playing off of). A dozen donuts usually costs ~$15, so nowadays you'd want to bet donuts to dollars.

Expand full comment

Thanks for pointing out the "donuts to dollars" thing!

Expand full comment
Jun 28·edited Jun 28

I don't disagree with the point that Christians are called to be good stewards, but I should note:

1) Jesus is not documented in the bible as rescuing a sheep from a pit. He says in Matthew 12 that obviously you would rescue a sheep from a pit on a sabbath, and therefore the Pharisees shouldn't be mad at him for healing on the sabbath bc "How much more valuable is a person than a sheep!"

2) Moses was a shepherd, so I'm sure he rescued a lamb at some point, but it's not described in the bible, and the quote "You who have compassion for a lamb shall now be the shepherd of my people Israel”, only appears online in discussions of this book and is apparently pulled from the "Exodus Rabbah", which may be a 1000-year old midrash, but it isn't the Bible

Expand full comment

I read Moses/Lamb above and thought "I don't remember that". Your comment is happily nearly the highest hit for "You who have compassion for a lamb shall now be the shepherd of my people Israel." so that helped straighten things out!

Expand full comment

If god didn't want us to eat animals why did he make them taste so good?

Expand full comment

I've heard this argument several times, it's nothing but nihilistic hedonism with a bit of religion selectively sprinkled on top.

If newborn human babies tasted good, would you eat them?

Expand full comment

...it's a joke.

Other similar joke (spoken in pseudo disparagement of how women are showing too much skin): "If God had meant for women to run around with their breasts out, they would have been born that way."

Expand full comment

IME it's a "haha, only serious" kind of joke

Expand full comment

So you read Walter as satirizing the unabashed pro-meat-eating argument? Because his other comment along similar lines makes me think he’s sincere on this point.

Expand full comment

God made all sorts of sinful behavior enjoyable, so of course this argument taken seriously doesn't do much.

Expand full comment

When you peel my cold dead fingers off my cheeseburger, vegan boy.

Expand full comment

One can be against abusive factory farming without being against all meat-eating, for the same reason one can be against slavery but not against a society that broadly requires people to work for a living.

Expand full comment

Fixed it for you: "When you peel my cold dead fingers off of my CHEAP cheeseburger."

Expand full comment

UBI could ensure that cruelty-free cheeseburgers remain affordable.

Expand full comment

Sure, if we harvest the UBI-recipients.

Expand full comment

Good point, James.

Expand full comment

I thought this very well written. Who cares if it's advocacy? It's easy to read, while also morally significant.

"Let this be a warning to other authors — write just one little State of the Union address that exalts the War on Terror and your books might not get a lot of reach in more liberal, EA-adjacent circles."

Wow. If this is remotely true, that is the final nail in the coffin of my respect for the EA community. They are as corrupt as every other ideological movement. Group house orgies, cancelling members for politically incorrect language, and ignoring pro-animal books with enormous possible reach because of the author's completed unrelated politics? Absolutely sickening.

EA the idea is great. So sad it can't be run by people who care about actual charity more than their own trivial First World selfishness.

Expand full comment

I assume this is metaphorical language rather than referring to a specific incident of which the reviewer had knowledge. I think the reviewer is saying that EA communities tend to ignore ideas from (or areas of agreement with) people who don't broadly share their culture or politics, not that there was a specific meeting where someone shamed someone for mentioning this book or something.

Expand full comment

No kidding. I almost want to think ascend's comment is a joke (I smiled a little when they brought up orgies, which I guess is just proof I don't live in the Bay Area), but in the end it's clearly not written in the tone of a joke. The reviewer's comment on the book's reach, on the other hand, is very much written in the tone of a joke and is clearly a comment on polarization of information flow & "echo chambers" rather than anything really specific about EA. His whole point was that as a liberal he hadn't previously heard of the book!

Expand full comment

The reviewer was simply making a guess at why Scully's work is not better known in EA circles. This does not remotely constitute evidence, let alone proof, that they were deliberately ignoring him. The reviewer didn't even seem to be suggesting any such thing.

It really is unhealthy to get mad at stuff before taking a few minutes to think about it, and maybe do a little research.

Expand full comment

I just had the thought yesterday that someone could start a conservative vegan blog or podcast and call it Plant Based.

This review comment section feels like an appropriate place to share this insight. And if you're a conservative vegan would-be blogger or would-be podcaster, feel free to swipe it.

Expand full comment

This is a great pull - I would definitely listen to Plant Based, were it to exist.

Expand full comment
Jun 28·edited Jun 29

Just today, a left-winger published an article in the NYT that advocated using "based" and waving away it's right wing connotations.

>But my favorite new slang word is “based” — short for “based in fact” or “based in reality” and often used as a term of assent when someone states a controversial opinion. “Canada should join the United States,” one might say, to which someone else might reply, “Based.” It’s typically used for political subjects but it can have a wider social utility: “Luka Doncic should be the M.V.P. of the N.B.A.” “Based.”

>“Based” can have a more malevolent connotation in certain alt-right circles, where being based alludes to allegiance to a contrarian viewpoint. But to my ear, “based” is a perfect word, a necessary word, to describe the informational chaos we inhabit. The fact that being based in reality now qualifies as a compliment is evidence that kids like my son have come of age in a climate in which misinformation, hype and fraud are so endemic that exceptions are notable. For them, to encounter something based in reality is rare enough to deserve its own distinct shorthand.

The author wrote an entire nonfiction book about conservatives seizing power and instituting a dictatorship, so if he's using "based" it's fine for anyone to use it. He even contrasts "based" with 'misinformation' which usually code for right-wing populism.

Expand full comment

I didn't realize this was a likely etymology of "based"; if so, it's pretty complex because there is the earlier "faith-based community" and "reality-based community" spat. Has anyone looked into its etymology in more detail?

Expand full comment

The author is actually wrong about the etymology.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lil_B#Artistry

A rapper used it to mean "good" after he was called "basedhead" pejoratively, which was probably a reference to freebasing. Coincidentally the same rapper also promoted veganism. "Based" was then coopted by 4chan and similar sites where it was usually used in the phrase "based and redpilled" to mean a politically incorrect opinion or something else that ignored social norms in favor of honesty. That was eventually shortened to just "based".

Coincidentally, I always thought that the contrast between reality and faith based communities stemmed from a reporter that misunderstood a Bush aide (probably Karl Rove) describing American power in somewhat romantic terms. "Reality-based community" was meant to contrast with those powerful enough to create their own realities through action, not people who believe things out of faith.

Expand full comment

I did not know the term was derived from "freebasing." Thanks!

Expand full comment

It isn't. He has no idea what he's talking about.

Expand full comment
Jun 30·edited Jun 30

I thought "based" was meant to be the opposite of "debased"?

Expand full comment

Etymology is always somewhat inexact and some people may have used the term with that understanding.

However, it's generally accepted that Lil B was the first person to use "based" to mean "honest" or "ignoring pressure to say otherwise".

Expand full comment

And I think with the important implication that there is so much pressure that you'd have to be on crack to go against it and tell the truth.

Expand full comment
Jun 28·edited Jun 30

Well written and interesting. Far from convincing, too. "In fact, these people say, if we were to grant animals any moral status whatsoever it could lead to a slippery slope, and next thing you know you could be thrown in jail for swatting a fly. Scully bites the bullet here and says, nah, that slippery slope you speak of, it does not exist." I am sorry, but I see clear ways from more animal "rights" all the way to "thrown in jail for swatting a fly". But I can't see any argument from Scully or the author against that "bullet". - Noem was a fool to assume people would approve of taking out that dog. Hardly a puppy. - I want those cage-eggs back, at 1$ a dozen. Make those chicks pain-less/brain-less, if you can. Shrug.

Update: looking at those long trail of commenters on my obvious statement: A 10 foot-terror-bird seems less scary than a group of animal-righters. "You do not care for chicken welfare: 'Well, we don't care if you get burgled/murdered whatever - oh, and abhorrent you is certainly into child slave labor, too.'" - There is no slippery slope. Just a dark deep pit of misanthropy.

Expand full comment

Seconded. Far too many slippery slopes have actually been slid down to think one can safely discount them. One can't count on common sense arguments to prevent politics from enacting laws that flagrantly violate common sense.

Expand full comment

There are already some animal welfare laws, so you would think we are already on that slippery slope? Eg. If it is illegal to torture a cat to death, we are on the slippery slope to making it illegal to kill a fly?

Expand full comment
Jun 28·edited Jun 28

Many Thanks! Possibly. There is precedent, albeit from a group with only a small presence in the USA:

>Jain monastic rules have encouraged the use of mouth cover, as well as the Dandasan – a long stick with woolen threads – to gently remove ants and insects that may come in their path.

Expand full comment

As long as the Dalai Lama thinks it's ok to kill a mosquito when it's annoying enough, there do seem to be limits to how slippery that slope can be.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W083nSzx1Rc

Expand full comment

Many Thanks! That is a help, though I think he is from a different group than the Jains.

Expand full comment

You're welcome, though I didn't want to imply the Dalai Lama and the Jain are in any way related to each other - in fact, I still don't know who or what the Jain are, other than from what you've written in your comment. The Dalai Lama clip just popped up in my head as an example of a religious authority with extreme animal welfare views akin to hypothetical flyswatting laws.

Expand full comment

The existing laws are in place after much fighting against them. Those arguing against the slippery slope are arguing for less fighting, and therefore for sliding down that slope faster.

We already have too many laws preventing wild animals from being moved away from people, or otherwise bothered when they encounter them. Result: more attacks.

Expand full comment

It’s the worst slippery slope argument I have ever heard.

Wild animals being moved away is a rather different issue from treating livestock well.

Expand full comment

Are you poor?

Expand full comment

Are you rich? Paypal me the price difference to the eggs I have to buy nowadays by law ("Bodenhaltung" "ohne Kükentöten" Barn farming without killing chicks) - if you insist on enforcing your moral norms on others.

Expand full comment

This is strange. Surely, the entire point of moral norms is to be enforced upon others. And, if you endorse a general principle of people not enforcing these norms upon one another, then I don't see how you can in any sense rely on moral norms to protect *you*. Perhaps I can give you my paypal, you can send me the price difference I would suffer due to not breaking into your house at night and stealing your valuables. 😉

Expand full comment

I might find more in your house - those books won't sell for much. As a Caplan-reader, I'd feel much better if only the most essential norms are enforced by society. The color of my house, the sex of my partners, the upbringing of my children, the use of substances, ones pregnancy, and the way the eggs I buy were produced - are all not essential for society to regulate. Thus they should be as lightly regulated as possible. Burglary, theft, murder - I hope we can agree these are more justified to be regulated. I am willing to pay substantial money to be safe(r) from criminals. You wanna smoke crack in your room? Go ahead. You wanna eat your dog? I prefer horse, but your pick.

Expand full comment

> Burglary, theft, murder - I hope we can agree these are more justified to be regulated.

If animals have any moral value whatsoever, then the regulation of their good treatment is the same sort of thing as "burglary, theft, and murder," not the color of your house is. Of all the busybody regulations, this is the least busybody. The chickens are suffering for your slightly-cheaper eggs. If instead of chickens being tortured for your slightly-cheaper eggs, it was instead children being beaten so the farm owners don't have to pay for real labor, would you be so sanguine?

Expand full comment

I do care for kids - and as I am not chaste, I have a bunch. I don't care for chicks, unless human. If they were your size and you were theirs: They'd pick and eat you alive. Btw, yeah they are carnivore if they can. - But thank you for demonstrating to all how slippery the slope of "animal welfare" is, indeed. Mark the eggs correctly. And let people make their choices. Human rights are fine.

Expand full comment

>Of all the busybody regulations, this is the least busybody.

That's ridiculous. (Writing from the USA) There is _way_ more support for, for instance, zoning laws, than there is for laws against factory farming. There are probably hundreds of busybody laws that have enough popular support that they've been passed and enforced. (Not that I'm in favor of busybody laws generally). Laws mandating free-range chickens do _not_ have that degree of support.

Expand full comment

"Only essential norms should be enforced" is a moot point because few people can agree on what's essential. Not for very long.

Expand full comment

Slippery slopes don't exist. Every law made by man can be unmade. If animal protection law got to the point of flyswatting, it will be reversed if and when its drawbacks exceed the law's benefits plus inertia from existing.

Expand full comment

There are problems when inertia from existing >>> possible drawbacks. If repealing laws is much more difficult than passing them, which seems to be the case, arguing for the slippery slope is quite reasonable.

Expand full comment

Inertia, too, is explained by balance of power (and human nature) and is no natural property of any man-made law. If inertia prevents the repeal of a law, then either that law's drawbacks aren't that great after all compared to its benefits/level of acceptance, or the society will build up enough anger (=political will) to result in either electoral or physical retaliation (=politcal power).

Either way, I object to the image of a slippery slope which implies a process outside of human control. I also want to believe that this isn't just mincing words - being aware of one's political power is the first step towards using it.

Expand full comment

Your comment about the difficulty of repeal, together with a comment on a YouTube video of Sabine Hossenfelder ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdqNJo6JScA&lc=UgwPzlE3KHv0PwlXWv54AaABAg ) reminded me of an analogy. Militant Temperance groups got alcohol Prohibition passed in 1920, and it was such a bad mistake that it was finally repealed in 1933, the one and only time that a constitutional amendment was repealed. Militant Vegans seem similar to me, with possibly similar effects. I'd expect a ban on industrial meat production to be circumvented by a similar fraction of the population. I'd expect smuggling, a boost to the Mafia, an analog to speakeasys, and a latter day Al Capone. I hope that this gets nipped in the bud before any actual bans get into law.

Expand full comment

Slippery slopes can be climbed too. The point of the metaphor is that it's much easier to go one way than the other.

Expand full comment

As a point of empirical observation, slippery slopes very much do exist. Cf. the "If you don't like same-sex marriage, just don't marry someone of the same sex" --> "Living as your preferred gender is a human right, and if you try to stop your children doing so, the state will take them into custody" pipeline, or the "Artificial contraception might, in some cases, be OK for married couples to use in order to responsibly space out their pregnancies" --> "Abortion is a human right" --> "Foetuses and newborn infants aren't really so different after all, so if you want to knock your newborn on the head, you should be allowed to" pipeline.

Expand full comment

These aren't slippery slopes so much as a tug-of-war where every inch of ground was vigorously fought for.

A slippery slope isn't supposed to be when a powerful group manages to win more than one victory in a row. It's when you end up somewhere virtually no one wanted because you can't stop slipping. We're getting strong transgender rights because the group of people who want that is large and powerful, not because we legalized gay marriage and then slipped down a slope of legalizing rights for no reason.

Expand full comment

Nobody in 2010 wanted parents to lose custody of their children if they were insufficiently "gender-affirming". Nobody in 1930 wanted partial-birth abortion. And yet, and yet...

Expand full comment

It doesn't matter if the new policy in 10 years is throwing virgins into a volcano; if that's what the group in power wants, it's not a slippery slope. That's just how policy normally works.

A slippery slope could be something like starting an arms race that no one wants to be in, but where everyone feels forced to keep up. One you initially slip down that hill, it's hard to stop.

Expand full comment

A slippery slope is a situation in which taking action A now makes it more likely to do B down the line. You don't have to not want to do B when you actually do it, you just have to not want to do B when you're considering doing A.

Expand full comment

I'll never forget the day they legalized knocking your newborn on the head if you feel like it. God damn those slippery slopes!

Expand full comment

Peter Singer, among others, has made a career arguing that such practices should be allowed.

Expand full comment

It's very disingenuous to pretend advocating euthanasia for infants with severe disabilities and suffering is the same as arguing parents should be allowed to "knock their newborn on the head if they feel like it".

Expand full comment

"Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus' health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled." https://jme.bmj.com/content/39/5/261

Expand full comment

I feel that for an alcoholic having just one drink is a slippery slope.

Do you think that alcoholics drinking habits and law making aren't comparable or do you think that the first drink isn't a slippery slope either?

Expand full comment

What proportion of laws, once passed, actually kick off slippery-slope cascades; and what proportion of alcoholics' first drinks lead to second and third (etc) drinks? You don't seriously mean to suggest that the numbers are comparable, do you?

Even laws that, to hear people yell and scream about them, will SURELY result in slippery slopes often fail to do so. Same sex marriage has been legal in some countries and U.S. states for decades now, and somehow we have yet to see polygamy or human-animal "marriage" legalized as we were solemnly warned would happen by opponents.

Expand full comment
Jun 30·edited Jun 30

I think that if you had continued reading my comment past the first four words, you'd know that I was talking about legislation, at most politics in general, but certainly not alcoholism.

Edit: I apologize for being unnecessarily harsh in my reply. No, I don't believe "slippery slope" applies to legislation to the same degree as to alcoholism, because alcoholism is not entirely within anyone's (individual or collective) control.

Expand full comment

A law once made has a constituency preventing if from being unmade. No matter how stupid it is.

In fact, the stupider and more evil it is, the more intensely that constituency will fight for it.

Expand full comment

As I explained in another comment, this has nothing to do with a "slippery slope" and everything with plain old power struggle. As long as "the constituency" is in power, the law will remain on the books, and extended if they so choose. If and when the law's opponents get the power to change or abolish the law, they can do so simply by deciding to do so. No irreversible processes are involved.

Expand full comment

With moral affairs (and this is a morality thing), that constituency lasts a really long time. I mean, how long does the constituency against murder last?

You can say that there's been a change in laws around s*x, and you would be right. That's gone back and forth for many centuries and through different societies.

We've had much change in the last little while. The effects will take some time to see. The change in US immigration dates back to the year I was born, and I am older than the median age of commenters here.

You're thinking of this as a two-sided fight, but it isn't. The ones arguing for more laws around animals are motivated. The ones arguing against are generally distracted by other things. If the laws get passed, then that constituency may in time become distracted, though I wouldn't bet on it. As long as they're not distracted, they will provide enough energy that lawmakers (who always are distracted by many competing constituencies) will be unlikely to put enough of *their* energy into repeal.

You have only to look at all the stupid and completely obsolete laws still on the books to realize that repealing a law takes more energy than passing one.

For that matter, a lawmaker gets very little in return for repealing a law. It's completely the opposite of e.g. passing a law to build a bridge. The pol can point to the bridge and say "I built that". What can he do if his accomplishment is to repeal a law?

Expand full comment

>With moral affairs (and this is a morality thing), that constituency lasts a really long time. I mean, how long does the constituency against murder last?

I never said that any given law *will* be overturned, just that it *can*. If a law has such a high net benefit that there is never any sufficient opposition to it, then it stays on the book. In a clear case such as laws against murder, that may well be until the end of all humanity. On the other hand, if society as a whole decides tomorrow that the laws against murder hurt significantly more than they help, then gone they are.

> The ones arguing for more laws around animals are motivated. The ones arguing against are generally distracted by other things.

Yes, that's exactly what my model is saying. The proponents are currently motivated and in power, so they get to make those laws. Should the situation reverse, the law might be reversed too.

> You have only to look at all the stupid and completely obsolete laws still on the books to realize that repealing a law takes more energy than passing one.

Yes, that's what I meant by "inertia". These laws may provide no benefit, but they also don't hurt sufficiently to motivate legislators to remove them. Again, legislative inertia can be explained in terms of political will and power.

Think of laws as a trait of cultural evolution: Just as in real evolution, a trait can stick with an organism indefinitely as long as it doesn't hurt its (or its species') ability to reproduce. A law stays on the books as long as its (perceived) drawbacks stay below a certain critical level relative to the power of those who want it changed/repealed.

Expand full comment

>You have only to look at all the stupid and completely obsolete laws still on the books to realize that repealing a law takes more energy than passing one.

>For that matter, a lawmaker gets very little in return for repealing a law. It's completely the opposite of e.g. passing a law to build a bridge. The pol can point to the bridge and say "I built that". What can he do if his accomplishment is to repeal a law?

Very much agreed. Personally, I particularly dislike the accumulation of "dead letter" laws for an additional reason. Such laws are still on the books, and are sometimes _selectively_ enforced. They give the party in power another _weapon_ against their opponents. In general, I think we have too many laws (writing from the USA). I really want laws to be either enforced (as uniformly as possible) or repealed.

Expand full comment

>As I explained in another comment, this has nothing to do with a "slippery slope" and everything with plain old power struggle.

Yes, the power struggle is a very large part of the process, but there _are_ effects from a slippery slope too. Initial intrusions by new laws affecting new domains wipe out Schelling points. If we start with a Schelling point of "What is done to an animal within a private building by the owner or agent of the owner is no business of the government." and then _break_ that Schelling point, it is much harder to regroup and prevent further intrusions, and stop the slide.

Expand full comment

A Schelling point is a concept perceived and employed by humans, and so falls under human interaction, and so (in legislation) under power struggle. Can you think of a factor in legislation that cannot be fully reduced to human interaction?

Expand full comment

Many Thanks!

>Can you think of a factor in legislation that cannot be fully reduced to human interaction?

No, of course not. As you said, legislation occurs via human interactions. ( Albeit there are some technological aids, even just email, and these may slightly favor one side or the other. )

My point is that the viability of a Schelling point is a specific _kind_ of human interaction. If one side is aided by coordinating around a Schelling point, and the other side manages to destroy it, then _further_ victories by the side that destroyed the Schelling point are now easier, which is exactly what is meant by calling the slope "slippery".

This is pretty common. To pick another sphere of legislation: Both the income tax in general and the alternative minimum tax were originally sold to the public as only going to affect millionaires. Putting these taxes in place at all broke a Schelling point (for the income tax, requiring a _constitutional amendment_). _Once_ they were in place, they got incrementally expanded till they applied to (for the income tax) the vast bulk of the population (and for the AMT) a substantial fraction of the population.

"Give them an inch and they'll take a mile" is an old chestnut for a good reason.

Expand full comment

You can get the toothpaste back into the tube, too...

Expand full comment
Jun 29·edited Jun 29

Everything can be a slippery slope, but nothing has to be. The first major step on the slippery slope of animal welfare was not animal welfare but human welfare. We decided that some creatures - humans - have intrinsic rights once they are born that are not allowed to be violated. The line is pretty arbitrary in between humans and other creatures and was not really there for the longest time. (since no one had real moral rights apart from people of your own tribe) Prior to human rights slavery and various atrocities against other humans were absolutely fine and normal. Maybe we should not have stopped these practices because that put us on a slippery slope....

Expand full comment
founding

Is it even a slippery slope? The prohibition on fly-swatting seems to me to be directly implied by Scully's argument, with no further steps necessary-- at least, if Scully offers some sort of limiting principle that keeps it from meaning that, our reviewer does not pass it along to us.

Expand full comment

I consider modern factory farming and the intrinsic morality of eating animals to be orthogonal. The former, I consider monstrous. The latter, not only OK but positively good. I approve of hunting where the population of game is large and one eats what one kills. I dislike discussions in which these two things are conflated.

(Also, I'm not a utilitarian and will probably ignore any stuff about utility functions.)

Expand full comment

The amount of deer meat a forest produces is much smaller than the amount of beef a factory farm produces, so "only eat hunted meat" would be almost identical to "don't eat meat" for the majority of the population. (Though it would vary a lot on the individual level - some people are more able and willing to hunt than others.)

As a vegan I'd be pretty happy with that state of affairs - a world where hunting only exists for population control would be about the minimum amount of cruelty you can get without large scale ecosystem engineering.

Expand full comment

Right, I'm aware of the practical import of a norm such as "only eat hunted meat." (And, to be clear, I don't espouse that norm.) Also, I'm not focusing on any macro outcome regarding who eats meat when. I'm simply making the narrow point that I believe both that eating meat is good in itself and factory farming is monstrous. What a better system would look like is a different discussion.

Expand full comment

It wouldn't just have to be hunted meat; you could eat meat that was raised in a way that wasn't cruel. No sores and tumors, no broken bones or living in blood and feces, able to carry out their God given capabilities of running and jumping and doing everything else good pigs do, and then a quick pneumatic piston bolt to the head; sounds ethical to me.

Expand full comment

How many people actually do this? Strictly restrict their meat consumption to these "ethical" sources? In practice these people would have to be vegetarian in many social settings (dining out, travel).

Expand full comment

I do this. I just tell people i'm vegan since theres almost no daylight between the two positions in practice if you don't consume animal products which aren't certain to be ethically sourced. You're not going to be able to do this if you haven't been vegan first imo. Depends what you consider ethical though. For me its pretty much nothing

Expand full comment

I don’t know how many people do this, but you certainly could do it. If we had a name for it, people might sign up. Euphovore or Ethovore or something. I’m not strict about it but when I have a choice in meats I always go with beef, because I believe beef production is much more ethical than pork or chicken production currently is. Sometime I eat chicken because I’m less sure about how much suffering, but I haven’t bought pork in years.

Expand full comment

FWIW, at least if you live in coastal California it is not hard to get non factory farmed meat and eggs. Farmers markets, CSA type arrangements, boutique purveyors who will deliver every so often to a pickup point near you... there are lots of options. Personally I don't have ethical objections to meat eating but this is how I mostly source meat for hedonistic reasons: it costs about 1.5-2x standard supermarket meat and tastes more than 2x as good.

Some places will ship further afield too-- I regularly order chicken from Pasturebird for example and have been very happy with them.

Expand full comment

What is true of animals that if true of humans would make it OK, according to you, to hunt them for meat? Keep in mind if you make everything true of A true of B, A = B.

Expand full comment

We don't need to identify particular characteristics of different species that make hunting OK. Predation a pervasive fact of living ecosystems, prior to any human choice. The burden of proof lies in the opposite direction.

I am a member of the human species and not others. That is a crucial indexical fact, to me. It's far more important than any logical observation about A=B.

Expand full comment
Jul 4·edited Jul 4

Lack of species membership is an answer, except that depending on how you define "species" - for example, whether you can interbreed - you'd be committed to saying that beings with a slightly different genome but identical subjective experience to humans are ok to hunt. If that's not true, you haven't answered the question.

Would you stand by that or do you have a better answer?

Expand full comment

Luckily, there is no such ambiguity around humans, so your observation is irrelevant. Moreover, as I said, I don't bear any burden of proof on the matter, so your objection is doubly irrelevant.

Expand full comment
Jul 4·edited Jul 4

As the term is standardly understood, the "burden of proof" is on the person making the claim. For example, if I claimed that hunting animals for meat is wrong - which so far, I have not - I might make the following argument:

P1. If it's wrong to hunt humans for meat under ordinary circumstances, and you can't name the relevant difference between humans and animals, it's wrong (for you) to hunt animals for meat under ordinary circumstances.

P2. It's wrong to hunt humans for meat under ordinary circumstances

P3. You can't name the relevant difference between humans and animals

C. It's wrong (for you) to hunt animals for meat under ordinary circumstances.

The argument is valid, so you would need to reject one of the premises to reject the conclusion. I imagine you'd either want to reject P1 or P3. One thing to be said in favor of P1 is that we agree animals are conscious beings who can be benefited or harmed, so it seems prima facie wrong to do things to them that would be very evil to do to humans. Identifying the relevant difference would defeat this.

I don't know why what happens in nature would shift the burden of proof.

Expand full comment

lol

Expand full comment

The reaction to the Kristi Noem dog incident struck me as incredibly stupid. I think a large number of Americans have IQs that drop thirty points anytime a cute puppy is involved. If she were torturing the dog for fun, that would be bad. She wasn't. Should anyone who puts a dog down have to get permission from the general public before doing so?

(And for the record, I'm a conservative who doesn't care if people in other countries want to eat dog or cat meat. I don't want to do either of those things, but I think it's stupid to attribute special moral status to "cute" animals.)

Ultimately I just don't think there's a good argument for vegetarianism (on a moral basis) if you're a conservative trying to convince other conservative Christians. Both the Old and New Testaments are quite clear about the approval of meat-eating. Now, can you make an argument that we shouldn't have factory farms? Sure. But that seems like a bit of a motte-and-bailey. And at some point, a farmer (or, more realistically, a giant conglomerate) has to make decisions about just what the trade-offs should be between animal welfare and meat at a reasonable price.

Also, if you want a more clear distillation of the author's points, here's an old National Review article he wrote: https://www.nationalreview.com/2013/10/pro-life-pro-animal-matthew-scully/ . In the piece, Scully calls himself "not a churchgoer," although he quotes quite a bit from Catholic teaching. I would guess that the vast majority of left-of-center vegans won't be persuaded by his criticism of abortion, and the vast majority of right-of-center pro-life people won't be convinced by his apologia for veganism.

Expand full comment

The Noem thing is fake news + expert worship. Fake news because everyone seems to neglect to mention the part where the dog was attacking humans. Expert worship because, if Noem had taken her dog to a Properly Credentialed Professional to have it put it down, no problem, people do that. But since she took the problem into her own hands, she gets blamed.

Expand full comment

How does it seem like a motte and bailey? What is the motte and what is the bailey?

It isn’t primarily the giant conglomerate who has to make that decision. It’s society (through the government or through market pressure). The conglomerates will treat animals as badly as they can get away with.

Expand full comment

"Factory farms are bad" and "eating meat/milk/eggs is bad" are two different things. I know there are some people who are in favor of eating animals only if the animals are raised/killed in a sustainable, humane way, but everything we get in this review is basically about how awful factory farms are, without really considering the arguments about any meat eating at all. If you attempt to argue for veganism (and not just opposition to factory farming, where I think Scully is on much stronger ground) to Christians, I just don't see how that argument goes very far at all.

Expand full comment

Ok, I see. But I read the review as being about opposing cruelty to animals, not about opposing meat eating as such.

Expand full comment

>in a sustainable, humane way

Regardless of whether someone favors one, the other, both, or neither, "sustainable" and "humane" are weird constraints to combine. The criteria for them are completely different. They reflect completely different _kinds_ of goals.

Expand full comment

Isn’t “meat at a *reasonable price*” itself a bit of a motte and bailey with “eating meat ever”?

If the farm / giant conglomerate cannot produce meat at $X/oz without factory farming, that has no bearing on whether or not factory farming is immoral or ungodly, because affordability of meat is tangential to the arguments that decry the practice as immoral and ungodly.

Expand full comment

No one requires the amount of meat Americans currently eat per capita. Cruelty in the service of gluttony is not erased by talk of the price of food.

Expand full comment

No one requires pictures of Mohammed. Blasphemy is not erased by convenience.

Expand full comment

Indeed. It's like how slave-grown sugar was cheaper back in the 18th century than non-slave-grown sugar. Didn't make slavery any more moral.

Expand full comment
Jun 28·edited Jun 29

>Should anyone who puts a dog down have to get permission from the general public before doing so?

It's called "shoot shovel and shut up", not "shoot shovel and broadcast to the entire country". Don't draw attention to your exemption from the child labor laws, don't draw attention to that time you shot a puppy.

Expand full comment

It would seem that Republicans and dogs are a match made in clickbait heaven and social media hell. MItt and Seamus, and now Noem and Unnamed Puppy. The lesson would seem to be: if you're a Republican politician and you must have a pet, get a cat. Or a goldfish. Only the very, very partisan are going to make a scandal out of "Flippers died of old goldfish age and we flushed him down the loo" 😀

Expand full comment

Good review. As for the question, "Is it holy to capture baby monkeys and serve their brains to tourists in Indonesia in search of an exotic delicacy?" Yes, yes it is. For reasons I won't go into, slaughtering lambs is an essential part of sheep husbandry; it kind of doesn't work without slaughtering lambs. And if we eat baby sheep, it's fine to eat baby monkeys. Life is hard.

Expand full comment

What a fine example of a non sequitur.

Expand full comment

Well, both points were about baby animals. Not sure if anyone is practicing monkey husbandry though.

Expand full comment

Can you go into it? Sounds fascinating. I can't imagine why, but I can imagine the answer will be intriguing.

Expand full comment

I believe most shepherds can't afford to slaughter their grown sheep very often so they depend on lamb meat for protein/income. Of course, in the developing world this may not matter and I was speaking more generally. Perhaps a stronger argument: if you dissect our specific taboo against harming human children (as opposed to the general taboo against harming people), it has to do with how children are uniquely innocent and defenceless. But all animals are innocent and defenceless, or at least near-defenceless against humanity. So I don't see why it would be more objectively cruel to eat a lamb then a fully grown sheep.

Expand full comment

This doesn't seem like an essential part of sheep husbandry?

And I also don't think all animals are innocent and defenceless. I wouldn't last long against a bear, and some animals hurt other animals or humans quite often.

Expand full comment

It is essential for poor shepherds in the developing world and that's essential enough to make me look askance at some universal moral rule against eating lamb. As far as bears go, they are collectively at the mercy of the human race. Do you think we'd have any trouble exterminating them if we tried? But if that is not satisfactory for you, I can retract that argument and argue that domesticated herbivores are definitely not able to defend themselves from being slaughtered and eaten, as we see every day in slaughterhouses worldwide.

Expand full comment

I think I would make another argument, which is that we generally try to not hurt other people that did not hurt us, and that animals generally do not hurt us, so we should try to not hurt them. We also take into account the capacity for people to learn and grow, but animals can have less of that so putting down a dog or horse that hurt humans make sense, but factory farming makes less sense (until you get into "but actually small children are mining cobalt in Africa for your smartphone and animals aren't even paid" but also animals farmed to be eaten are housed and fed without expecting any work from them except at the end, so maybe there's a kind of deal here? I don't know. I kind of agree with the repugnant conclusion for an animal that lives most of his life in pain with no space and illness but for a cow in a field where she has some space? Kind of sounds like a good deal?).

Expand full comment
Jun 29·edited Jul 4

I'm a confirmed anthropocentrist, so I think animals have zero rights, and I reject the moral case for vegetarianism. But I do agree with improving conditions for livestock. Hopefully lab-grown meat will obviate the need to kill livestock at some point. If it is tasty and safe and economical, the taboo against it should evaporate in time.

Expand full comment

Do you mean reject the repugnant conclusion? I would interpret saying "it's still better for the animals to live with no space and illness than to not exist" to be accepting a kind of repugnant conclusion (something at least similar to the classic.

Expand full comment

I would think anyone who ever learned the word “prion” would not think it was fine to eat baby monkey brains.

Expand full comment

Are monkey brains especially prone to have prion diseases compared to other brains? If that's true I'll update. But of course OP and me were discussing the moral valence of baby monkeys, irrespective of food safety.

Expand full comment

“Especially prone” is doing a lot more work in that sentence for you than it is for me.

I am not an ethicist of the EA or utilitarian cast or an ethicist at all, so my moral calculus can easily accommodate avoiding doing stupid things if possible, and as best one can given human frailty.

If the deliciousness of brains for you clouds the discussion, maybe it can be placed on more neutral grounds with reference to the utter idiocy of a practice popular in recent years, called “deer breeding”. Whose bubba practitioners have been irrefutably responsible for the movement of Chronic Wasting Disease into my state. And who then bitch when the state has to come in to cull their “herds” with their marvelous out-of-state DNA.

Expand full comment

1. I never said food safety is outside of my moral calculus. I never said I would personally eat monkey brains. I said OP and I were discussing the moral valence of (living) baby monkeys and I guess I am forced to repeat it. 2. "Avoid doing stupid things if possible" is a fine moral rule. "Don't accidentally do something stupid" is not a good moral rule. "Don't be more ignorant than some random person online thinks you should be right now according to some obscure timetable" is also not a moral rule worth speaking of.

Expand full comment

Honestly I was too squeamish to read your whole back and forth. Sadly your last sentence goes right over my head, which makes me know you are in good company on this sort of subject.

Expand full comment

Mature sheep meat, which is mutton, has a very strong taste, it's even describable as "gamey". Consumer tastes have moved to preferring meat without such strong tastes, so lamb meat is now preferable - I can't remember the last time I saw mutton for sale.

A lot of the lamb meat for sale is actually from hoggets, which are older lambs, after the spring lamb supply ends:

https://www.butchersfridge.co.uk/blog/lamb-hogget-and-mutton-what-is-the-difference/

Spring lamb: This is lamb from animals that are between three and five months old. Spring lamb is usually available from April to June, and it has a pale pink colour and a mild flavour. It is very tender and succulent, and it works well with delicate spring vegetables.

Hogget is the meat of a sheep that is between one and two years old. Hogget has a stronger and richer taste than lamb, but it is still tender and juicy. It also has more fat and marbling, which adds to its succulence and aroma. Hogget can be cooked like lamb, but it may need a longer time or lower temperature to avoid toughening.

Mutton is the meat of a sheep that is over two years old. Mutton has a deep, gamey flavour and a dark red colour. It is also very tough and chewy, so it requires a long and slow cooking method to make it tender and moist."

Most Irish sheep farmers raise sheep for meat rather than wool, so sending lambs/hoggets (depending on which is the better price at the time) for slaughter is the normal course, with the majority of meat being exported.

As for the baby monkeys, I suppose it depends - are they being raised as domesticated animals, or hunted from the wild? Is all the monkey meat used, or just the brains as a tourist gimmick? While people still eat meat, there is a move against perceived cruelty/luxury for the sake of it food items, so veal and foie gras are being campaigned against and there is some success in getting bans passed. The same might come about for baby monkey brains, especially if it's not really a traditional dish but something faked up for tourism. There seems to be some controversy over whether it ever happened or where:

https://www.culinaryschools.org/blog/raw-monkey-brains/

I can certainly see some establishment deciding "well if all these rich Western idiots want monkey brains, sure, let's get it for them" without it actually being a 'native dish'.

Expand full comment