I'm late in replying to this forum, but I thank spindoctor very much for starting it!
spindoctor, thanks for the great examples of empathy for wild animals that humans can show from time to time. I agree with Arepo, of course, that people are too often biased to want to help cute animals -- rather than, say, ugly fish or slimy parasites. And of course, these acts only occur in extremely rare circumstances when the animal suffering happens to become salient
, when what's needed is a rational, comprehensive assessment of the cost-effectiveness of various options (in the long run, likely replacing nature
with happier uses of those resources).
Arepo wrote:what we might do about it varies according to what you think the net welfare of the biosphere is. If, like me, you expect it to be negative, the most realistic solution in the near future might be to just wipe out most or all the non-human life on earth once (if) our technology reaches the point where we can reliably do without it (not a very seductive solution - even I find it very emotionally unpalatable). If you expect it to be positive then the 'problem' of wild animal suffering becomes much less problematic. Sure, you'd like to eliminate suffering in theory, but (if you're a total utilitarian) you just want the highest net score, which might mean ignoring animal suffering indefinitely in favour of (for eg) haphazardly seeding the universe with life - almost the opposite conclusion.
Arepo, the fact that many people find unpalatable wiping out the biosphere is precisely what worries me: Humans have a multiplicity of things they value
, and few are as consistent as you in their commitment to reducing suffering. Many of the authors I’ve read who even address the question of wild animals come to the conclusion that humans ought not interfere with nature for intrinsic reasons – that nature ought to be kept pure, and that human manipulation just “wouldn’t be right.” I’m deeply worried by how common this position is even among vegetarians and vegans, as Jesper hinted. Just read the responses quoted here
, including on the page to which I linked at the bottom.
While I think promoting vegetarianism is probably a net plus for wild animals – at least it helps to combat general anti-speciesism – I do worry that most of the vegetarians so created will share the pro-pristine-wilderness position that’s so common among such circles. What’s really needed – as spindoctor put it so eloquently – is an organization that can make the explicit argument that humans have obligations to consider the welfare of wild animals. As Arepo noted, this includes weighing both the suffering and happiness of wild animals. Perhaps we’ll ultimately come to the conclusion that wild animals are, on the whole, happy (though I fear that the opposite is probably true
, especially since for most species, parents give birth to hundreds or thousands of offspring that die before maturity). But the point is that we need to make sure our technologically advanced descendants consider wild-animal welfare in general before blithely taking actions with potentially cosmic implications
for the amount of animal happiness and suffering that exists.
spindoctor wrote:But here's the key point I wanted to raise in defence of a lobby group for wild animal suffering. There isn't a kind of dialectical materialism that is slowly but surely leading us towards a greater recognition of the suffering of animals -- none of us can say what future humans will think on this issue. Perhaps, if we press for veganism and AR-consciousness, they will come to look on wild animal suffering as important. But perhaps they won't. Perhaps future humans will simply maintain the current distinction between animals in the human sphere of influence, which we should intervene to help, and animals in nature, which should remain pristine and apart. For that reason -- because this meme is NOT assured in the slightest of suceeding in the battleground of ideas -- I think spadework needs to be put in now to try to give it legs.
Wow, spindoctor, I couldn’t have said it better myself! I completely agree with all of the points you made above and subsequently. Yes, meme-space is big
, even among humans. As participants on online forums like this one, it can sometimes be hard to remember just how diverse human concerns are. And on this question in particular, if you take a representative sample of view on the matter, the “people shouldn’t interfere with nature” and “wilderness is intrinsically valuable” mindsets preponderate overwhelmingly.
Arepo wrote:I think there's a paper arguing that animals tend towards 0 for evolutionary reasons - it uses up energy to feel happy or sad - which seems highly plausible to me. Can't remember the citation off the top of my head, but I'll track it down if anyone wants.
I think you’re referring to Yew-Kwang Ng’s excellent “Toward Welfare Biology
” (which, by the way, also argues that the net amount of happiness vs. suffering in the wild is negative because there are far more non-surviving offspring than surviving ones).
Arepo and spindoctor, as a sidenote, both of you mentioned working to remove dairy from your diets, but this puzzles me. In terms of the amount of direct suffering per kilogram
caused by milk compared against all other animal foods, dairy should be your last concern, since a single cow produces 16-20 liters
of milk in a day. (A single egg contributes to a day of hen suffering
In any event, spindoctor, I agree with your idea of putting together a nice website (and, more ambitiously, organization) focused on promoting the wild-animal meme. What would you think of actually getting involved with such a project? Perhaps we could work together. I know a few others who are also interested in such an effort. Feel free to reply publicly here unless you’d rather write a personal message.