A bloodmouth carnist theory of animal rights

Some weeks ago I was tremendously amused by a report of an exchange in which a self-righteous vegetarian/vegan was attempting to berate somebody else for enjoying Kentucky Fried Chicken. I shall transcribe the exchange here:

>There is nothing sweet or savory about the rotting
>carcass of a chicken twisted and crushed with cruelty.
>There is nothing delicious about bloodmouth carnist food.
>How does it feel knowing your stomach is a graveyard

I'm sorry, but you just inadvertently wrote the most METAL
description of eating a chicken sandwich in the history of mankind.

MY STOMACH IS A GRAVEYARD

NO LIVING BEING CAN QUENCH MY BLOODTHIRST

I SWALLOW MY ENEMIES WHOLE

ESPECIALLY IF THEY'RE KENTUCKY FRIED

I am no fan of KFC, I find it nasty and overprocessed. However, I found the vegan rant richly deserving of further mockery, especially after I did a little research and discovered that the words “bloodmouth” and “carnist” are verbal tokens for an entire ideology.

First thing I did was notify my friend Ken Burnside, who runs a T-shirt business, that I want a “bloodmouth carnist” T-shirt – a Spinal-Tap-esque parody of every stupid trash-metal tour shirt ever printed. With flaming skulls! And demonic bat-wings! And umlauts! Definitely umlauts.

Once Ken managed to stop laughing we started designing. Several iterations. a phone call, and a flurry of G+ messages later, we had the Bloodmouth Carnist T-shirt. Order yours today!

Bloodmouth Carnist T-shirt

By the way, the skull on that shirt is me, sort of. Ken asked me to supply a photo reference, so my wife and I went to a steakhouse and she snapped a picture of me grinning maniacally over a slab of prime rib. For SCIENCE!

This had consequences. An A&D regular challenged me in private mail to explain why my consequentialist ethics don’t require me to be a vegetarian.

I broadly agree with Sam Harris’s position in The Moral Landscape that the ground of ethics has to be the minimization of pain. But I add to this that for pain to be of consequence to me it needs to be have an experiencer who is at least potentially part of a community of reciprocal trust with me. Otherwise I would be necessarily paralyzed by guilt at killing bacteria every time I breathe.

The community of (potential) reciprocal trust includes all humans, possibly excepting a tiny minority of the criminally insane. It presumptively includes extraterrestrial sophonts, if we ever discover those. I think it is prudent and conservative (in the best sense of that term) to include borderline and near-borderline sophonts like higher primates, elephants, whales, dolphins, and squid. In principle it includes any animal that can solve the other-minds problem – which probably includes some of the brighter birds. I think this category can be roughly delimited using the mirror test.

For different reasons, the community of trust includes non-sophont human commensals. My cat, Sugar, for example, who shows only dim and occasional flashes of behavior that might indicate she models other minds, but has a strong mutual-trust relationship with my wife and myself. We know what to expect of each other; we like each other. This is a kind of reciprocity with ethical significance even though the cat is not sophont.

Another way to put this is to remember the Golden Rule, “Do as you would be done by” and ask: what animals have the ability to follow it, the right kind of informational complexity required to support it?

Cows, pigs, chickens, and fish are not part of my potential community of trust. They don’t have minds capable of it – the informational complexity required doesn’t seem to be there at all (though suspicions have occasionally been raised about pigs; I’ll revisit this point). Thus, their deaths are not intrinsically ethically significant to me, any more than harvesting a head of lettuce is.

Cruelty is a different matter. I think we ought not engage in cruelty because it is damaging and coarsening; people who make a habit of being cruel to non-sophonts are more likely to become cruel and dangerous to sophonts as well. Thus, merely killing a food animal is ethically neutral, but careless cruelty towards one is wrong and deliberate cruelty is evil.

(Nevertheless, I report that the above vegan rant inculcated in me a desire to stomp into a roomful of vegans and demand my food “twisted and crushed with cruelty”. I really don’t like it when people try to jerk me around by my sensibilities as though I’m some kind of idiot who is unreachable by reasoned argument. I find it insulting and want to punch back.)

These criteria could interact in interesting ways, and there are edge cases that need more investigation. I think I would have to stop eating pork if pigs could count the way that (for example) crows can – some pigs reportedly come close enough to passing the mirror test to worry me a little. I can readily imagine that pigs bred for intelligence might come near enough to sophont to be taboo to me. On the other hand, a friend who grew up on a hog farm assures me that pigs bred for meat are stone-stupid; according to her, it’s only wild pigs I should be even marginally concerned about.

Otters are another interesting case; they seem very playful and intelligent in the wild, occasionally use tools, and can form affectionate bonds with humans. I’d very much like to see them mirror-tested; in the meantime I’m quite willing to to give them the benefit of the doubt and consider them taboo for killing and eating.

There you have it. The bloodmouth carnist theory of animal rights. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go have a roast beef sandwich for lunch.

240 thoughts on “A bloodmouth carnist theory of animal rights

  1. Pigs bred for meat are stone-stupid, my wife, who spent summers growing up on a hog farm, also assures me.

    Which leads to an interesting ethical issue. Is it OK to eat the meat of something that is (deliberately) dumbed down, if a smarter near relative would not be acceptable?

    Assume for the sake of argument that wild boar are smart enough to mean that ESR would not eat them, should he therefore also not eat creatures which can mate with them and produce fertile offspring but are “stone-stupid”?

    [The fact that pigs make bacon should have nothing to do with ones decision]

    If the answer is that this consumption is OK, where does the line on the slippery slope get drawn? It seems to me that there is general agreement that it would not be OK to eat mentally defective humans (even if they are so mentally defective that they don’t respond to pain stimuli which even farmyard animals do) and probably one would object to eating dolphins or whales, even if they died by accident.

    Going the other way (if the answer is that this is not OK), then we have yet another slippery slope line. If we have dolphin species A that is smart and dolphin species B that is not smart, but A & B can mate and produce infertile offspring (mules) then should we avoid B? How about the mules themselves (assuming they turn out to be sufficiently stupid)?

  2. Human beings will act to preserve animal species with which we have a relationship. A predator-prey relationship is still a relationship. I suspect that our domesticated meat animals, along with our pets, have a better chance of survival as species than the wild animals with which we have no such relationship.

    If some day we spread out to other stars we will take our food crops and animals and our pets with us, unless PETA has its way. In that case we will inhabit our new worlds alone.

    I wonder if, deep down, that’s the whole idea.

  3. You wrote quite a bit about those added to the community of reciprocal trust, but what about the removal of humans from that community? What is the justification and standard for removing bullies, criminals, kafkatrappers and others and classifying them as enemies, or does your system of morals encompass enemies?

    What about vegans? ;)

  4. As for KFC, it is important to see these things the way they are. There are four ways of tricking people into craving food which is actually neither healthy nor particularly gourmet or well-done: 1) salt 2) fat 3) sugar 4) other “fast carbs”. (I filed umami under salt – but it may warrant a fifth category.) This is why donuts are the peak of addictive culinary drug-dealing, because they have all four. Salty carbs deep fried and added sugar. KFC is mostly salt, fat, and various carbs smuggled in through the back door. Sugar perhaps not so much. In my palate, KFC largely registers as salt and then some irrelevant filling. (Although umami arguably plays a more important role in KFC than in McD. Should I really make a fifth category?)

    My point is, eating KFC seems really orthogonal to eating meat. It has nothing on a half decent venison, or even whole chicken baked in a steamy Roman pot. (Duck too, it is my specialty. Just put an apple in it.) It is just salty stuff. I think believable KFC could be made from salt, soy, and breading and deep frying. Believable for people who like it, because they just generally like the salt. Salt likers may as well be vegetarians, there is hardly a difference.

  5. Otters and domestic ferrets have behavior that’s strikingly parallel; I’d be surprised but not completely shocked to find that otters could pass the mirror test, but they certainly follow the general pattern of carnivorous species’ having more personality and capacity for relationships. Is there any handy comparison of the eating habits of birds of various levels of intelligence?

    (Interestingly enough, it seems that the rest of the mustelids are solitary not because of any significant difference in emotional complexity but just because they don’t generally like each other.)

  6. @FrancisT If for some reason I ever outsource my moral compass, I think MZW and ESR are going to fill that void. I wonder if the two of them have ever met?

  7. Industrial farming of food animals *is* cruelty: kept in tiny pens or cages, fed unnatural diets, unable to exercise or exhibit natural foraging behavior, or even to not shit where they eat, shot up with antibiotics because disease spreads fast in close-packed animal enclosures, as well as growth hormones, oftentimes mutilated (as with chicken debeaking), etc. It’s also unsustainable, requiring enormous energy inputs and producing undesirable externalities (antibiotic-resistant microbes, hormones in our meat, milk, and groundwater).

    Animal husbandry is naturally expensive and resource-intensive. That’s why good quality meat is so hard to come by outside of America. But the American solution to the problem (industrial factory farming) is untenable.

    Add to this the growing body of scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of a plant-based diet, and vegetarianism becomes an atteactive option indeed. Thankfully, there is a movement within hacker culture and even the United Nations to promote a vastly more ethical and sustainable source of animal protein: insects. Farming insects for food is far less resource-intensive and cruel to sentient creatures than is farming cows or pigs at industrial scales.

  8. >I broadly agree with Sam Harris’s position in The Moral Landscape that the ground of ethics has to be the minimization of pain.

    If you don’t take care, you end up with universal boredom. Unless you define boredom as a pain – but it is not common to do so. Often hurtful pleasures get slowly regulated against – see “modern” playgrounds. Many pleasures hurt, before, during, or after, or when done wrong – or when done really right… I would be more comfortable with a pleasure-maximizing world that disregards pain – it would be more heroic. It would probably also be dumber and hand out many Darwin Awards too, so I guess I will need to refine this train of thought, OK.

    Hey, I am a dad, it should be actually my role to be obsessed about safety from pain even when it means potential boredom, because will someone please think of the children :-)

  9. >What is the justification and standard for removing bullies, criminals, kafkatrappers and others and classifying them as enemies, or does your system of morals encompass enemies?

    It does, but that involves ethical issues which are orthogonal to the ones I’m exploring in this post. I’m not willing for the comment thread to go there.

  10. >It does, but that involves ethical issues which are orthogonal to the ones I’m exploring in this post. I’m not willing for the comment thread to go there.

    Can you do an essay on that at some point? I’d like to read it.

  11. @Jeff

    >Add to this the growing body of scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of a plant-based diet, and vegetarianism becomes an atteactive option indeed

    If am not mistake, most of the evidence points roughly towards the “paleo” steak and broccoli salad.

    Basically, the problem is that we want some enjoyment out of food. With a plant based one it is going to be carbs, and that hurts more than other options.

    I don’t want to go into details now, so just quicly: insulin sensitivity / insulin resistance as really the most important stuff, leptin resistance, human growth hormone killing stored fat, testosterone regulating fat storage but requiring cholesterol intake, and basically we end up with the idea that of the foods that are actually enjoyable, steak, eggs and broccoli is better for us than an avocado spaghetti (made of wheat). TL;DR plant-based doesn’t really check out well with both ideal hormonal response AND enjoyability (which would mainly come from carbs).

    Source: for example the studies quoted in John Romaniello and Adam Bornstein “Engineering the Alpha” (shitty title, but well sourced).

    The rest are valid concerns. Especially the antibiotics stuff is seriously problematic in the long run.

  12. >Are the confined conditions that we raise most animals in carelessly cruel?

    Yes, but this may be only a small and relatively inconsequential wrong. The right question to ask is whether the “cruelty” in factory farming damages humans in the way that deliberate cruelty does.

    Note that there may be other kinds of consequential damage to humans from factory farming that don’t belong in this discussion – such as the risk of breeding antibiotic-resistant diseases.

  13. Reminds me of this

    “twisted and crushed with cruelty” – just add parsley and that’s flavor country.

    We’re the only form of life stupid enough to wring our digits debating which other forms of life are moral to consume. Does anyone ever fret over the poor heads of broccoli that never get the chance to go to seed? Is anyone here prepared to go to war to save the cow? Didn’t think so. Now shut up while I eat my steak.

  14. >If am not mistake, most of the evidence points roughly towards the “paleo” steak and broccoli salad.

    You are not mistaken.

  15. @Jeff almost missed it – are you really not aware that e.g. in Argentine it is really easy to find good quality steak? That is fairly far from the US. Or maybe you define good quality differently… I wouldn’t mind a vacío right now.

  16. >My point is, eating KFC seems really orthogonal to eating meat. It has nothing on a half decent venison, or even whole chicken baked in a steamy Roman pot.

    I agree. It’s nominally meat, but in practice a nasty ersatz of it.

  17. >Is it OK to eat the meat of something that is (deliberately) dumbed down, if a smarter near relative would not be acceptable?

    I think it is.

    We mainly want to be careful in borderline cases like this out of reasoned concern that our test prevent ugly, dangerous mistakes. So, for example, I think the flesh of brain-dead humans should be taboo because if it were not people might get away with slabbing their neighbors for dinner. Similarly for accidentally-killed dolphins.

    On the other hand, “is a different species from anything now in the taboo category” seems like a pretty good bright-line test. For this purpose your infertile mules qualify as a different species, and not taboo provided they fail sophont-mentation tests themselves.

  18. @esr ao
    Farm animals are often stupid because intelligent being need an environment that is challenging and diverse enough to develop functional intelligence.

    It makes a difference how you raise a pig or lamb. It used to be quite common to raise a he-lamb (?) like a dog. It was then useful to herd the other sheep.

  19. Somehow, this scene from “Futurama” seems on point:

    Bender: Who wants dolphin?
    Leela: Dolphin? But dolphins are intelligent.
    Bender: Not this one. He blew all his money on instant lottery tickets.
    Fry: OK.
    Leela: Oh, OK.
    Amy: That’s different.
    Farnsworth: Good, good.
    Leela: Pass the blowhole.
    Amy: Can I have a fluke?
    Hermes: Hey, quit hogging the bottle-nose.
    Farnsworth: Toss me the speech centre of the brain!

  20. what about beavers? I like them, they build dams.

    OTOH, I shocked more than one friend from outside my region of Italy when they discover we eat a lot of horse meat. Raw. Minced. With just some lemon on top.

  21. OK, finally commenting on the actual article :) Nice job of going from contractual ethics to a very modern and utilitarian take on virtue ethics or areatic ethics (“coarsening”). Nice to see you don’t consider virtue ethics as something automatically religious, magical, spiritual, karmic, irrelevant or outdated alongside with Aristotelean physics. Which philosopher influenced you in this regard? Philippa Foot? Or entirely an own product?

    I sometimes propose that at some level a large part of every other ethics is virtue ethics. In the sense that they are often about what an either good or rational person would do. It suggests rationality or goodness are virtues, “internal goods” worthy to have for the effect they have on us, not others, but it is rarely pronounced. (It would difficult to argue ethics with a theoretical person who would be glad to be described as irrational and evil. Contractualism can have a take on that, too, but a narrow one.) (In a non-supernatural way there _is_ karma – I have looked in the eyes of men working in slaughterhouses and I am not sure their looks reflected psychological health, not at all. You cannot have action with some reaction. I think I did see the “coarsening”.)

  22. @Jeff,

    I drive past way to many cows grazing on acres of grassland to stop eating beef because you say that our food doesn’t have enough space.

    One thing that I find interesting with regards to diet, is how much happier and balanced people on survivalist shows (suvivorman, dual survival, etc.) are after they’ve killed and eaten some animal.

    It just seems to me that this is and always has been a key part to human survival and subsistance.

  23. >OTOH, I shocked more than one friend from outside my region of Italy when they discover we eat a lot of horse meat. Raw. Minced. With just some lemon on top.

    Horsemeat is extremely taboo in English-speaking countries. The only explanation seems to be purely historical. I’ve heard it seriously attributed as a survival of the Britanno-Celtic cult of Epona.

  24. >Which philosopher influenced you in this regard? Philippa Foot? Or entirely an own product?

    Entirely an own product.

    >I sometimes propose that at some level a large part of every other ethics is virtue ethics.

    I think that’s backwards, and all ethics is consequentialism – sometimes with an un-obvious utility function. Recall from the OP that I consider absence of the virtue of kindness to be consequentially dangerous.

  25. Unrelated, but the mindless failhumor is too good not to pass on: http://dailyanarchist.com/2014/04/07/on-being-agorist/comment-page-1/#comment-757955

    On a more related note: This reminds me of the Kreelies in Schlock Mercenary.

    For the uninitiated Kreelies are roughly insectoid creatures that are not sophont when born, if left alone they remain non-sophont for life. If on the other hand they are infected with a specific microbe at a young age they develop sophonce.

    http://www.schlockmercenary.com/2004-06-24

  26. >The community of (potential) reciprocal trust includes all humans, possibly excepting a tiny minority of the criminally insane.

    And male infants.

  27. @ESR

    >Recall from the OP that I consider absence of the virtue of kindness to be consequentially dangerous.

    For the victim or for the actor? This is what is not obvious about consequentialism. Most discussions of consequentialist ethics basically just assume that if Jack robs Joe it harms Joe and helps Jack, Jack is actually better off in every possible sense. Or, often, that is disregarded at all, and only the harm inflicted to Joe is taken into consideratin.

    But if you think it may be actually in some way harmful for Jack to be coarsened by a habit of robbing and seeing people as objects to exploit, you are close to the original sense of virtue ethics. Virtue ethics is all about consequences to the actor, not the victim.

  28. My ex’s dad had a farm. I’ve been informed that chicken are both stupid AND mean and therefore deserve to be food. Works for me.

    I like KFCs because it’s comfort food for me…but I can’t take the grease anymore. I’ve never had a KFC Double Down but it is hilariously unrepentant.

  29. “I think I would have to stop eating pork if pigs could count the way that (for example) crows can”—Did you just logic yourself into a moral position opposed to eating crow? ;-)

  30. An interesting take on the subject. I’m a consequentialist too but I focus on the “reducing suffering” side of things without (artificially, I’d say) restricting those efforts to sentience except in terms of prioritization. If it has a nervous system, pain receptors and shows reactions of avoidance in the presence of external damage (i.e., pain) I find it a moral heuristic to avoid causing it to feel pain, even if it cannot reciprocate for lack of the other brain machinery needed for reciprocation. Thus, I’m a vegetarian.

    However since my focus isn’t on not eating meat, but avoiding suffering, I’m all for the eventual technological extinction of biological events after we perfected the means to upload the minds of all beings with minds. There’s no point in letting the inefficient and extremely cruel process of natural selection to continue running once it isn’t needed anymore. For more information on the what, why and how of that position, check this article:

    http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/suffering-nature.html

    And since this is the kind of counterintuitive consequentialist conclusion, I’m quite interested in reading your take on it!

  31. @Jay, I figured they either got along or somehow would annihilate each other in some sort of bizarre universe-wrenching expression of primordial re-combination, like electrons and positrons.

  32. >Did you just logic yourself into a moral position opposed to eating crow? ;-)

    Heh. I was already there. Corvids are in my taboo category. So are parrots.

  33. >@Jay, I figured they either got along or somehow would annihilate each other in some sort of bizarre universe-wrenching expression of primordial re-combination, like electrons and positrons.

    Not to mention lots and lots of ammunition cooking off.

  34. On the subject of crows:
    In my experience, crows have regional dialects. I lived in Irvine for not quite a year, and picked up some “crow” while on my morning runs. When I moved to NorCal, I had to learn “crow” all over again because the regional crows around Davis don’t use the same tones as the ones down in Irvine. I think crows like to play with numbers – they swap caw-counts back and forth when just hanging around as a flock. Crows will recognize individual humans independent of clothing, they will call their buddies when “crazy chick who eats lunch on the lawn is a half hour early,” and I knew one crow who would pick through a certain trashcan, ignoring the transparent Tea House cold drink cups, and select specifically (yet similar) Starbucks’ frapp cups, pull out the straws and drink the contents.

    And that’s my crow experience.

    Living on a farm now: Chickens are cruel and not exactly stupid, but definitely lacking in mammallian-style empathy of any kind. Make sure your scrapes and scabs are covered by cloth or bandaids before going into the coop. I have no ethical issues eating chicken.
    Goats are better, but while they rarely have any mothering issues, they nearly completely lack any kind of social empathy. Pity the poor goat who gets his or her head stuck in a stockfence. That’s target practice for all the other goats who feel like “Hey, it’s been at least an hour since I head-butted someone. Hey, look! Beavis got his head stuck! Party TIME!” Ducks are nicer, except for that whole gang-rape habit. Rabbits? Your basic meat rabbit is not much different from your basic cubie-farmed clerical worker in an urban environment. Sucks to say that, but they both have roughly equivalent survival skills.

  35. Morgan Greywolf on 2014-04-08 at 13:48:38 said:

    “Pigs bred for meat are stone-stupid, my wife, who spent summers growing up on a hog farm, also assures me.”

    That’s impossible.

    That would mean that the variation in intelligence in members of a single species has a genetic component.

  36. “Not to mention lots and lots of ammunition cooking off.”

    Cue a Howard Tayler drawing of lots of nice hot BLAM!.

  37. @Steve Johnson

    >That would mean that the variation in intelligence in members of a single species has a genetic component.

    Show any human population subjected to the same kind and magnitude and direction of artificial breeding practices and it will be more than a snark. I can totally imagine humans bred in an alternate universe for 15K years by cannibals as livestock are going to be dumb like a rock. Thankfully, it does not really say anything about ours.

    The closest thing this universe had is slavery – and intelligent slaves always commanded a higher price on the markets, making such dysgenic breeding attempts unlikely. (I have seen studies referenced of Ancient Roman slave markets of a factor of 4000 times price difference between Greek grammarians and unskilled laborers.)

  38. Which leads to an interesting ethical issue. Is it OK to eat the meat of something that is (deliberately) dumbed down, if a smarter near relative would not be acceptable?

    That reminds me of Douglas Adams’ famous (and ethically useful, as an example) “Cow bred to want you to eat it and be smart enough to tell you so plainly“?

    I’d say your question is definitely a “yes” – an interesting ethical question would be if it’s permissible to deliberately dumb down a sophont species by breeding, but I’m not sure that’s relevant for a borderline case; but that’s a different question.

    (If we decides the latter is unethical, we might decide the former is, at least sometimes, to the extent it encourages or requires the associated behavior, but once it’s done, I don’t see what the continuing harm would be. Much like vegans don’t seem to think that making “cows” extinct is an ethical problem – and that’s exactly what happens if we stop farming them.)

    Adams’ case is more interesting, but so far outside our experience that our ethical intuitions might be meaningless or counterproductive.

  39. Steve Johnson said: “Pigs bred for meat are stone-stupid, my wife, who spent summers growing up on a hog farm, also assures me.”

    That’s impossible.

    That would mean that the variation in intelligence in members of a single species has a genetic component.

    Yeah, yeah, I know you’re really talking about human beings.

    But remember that domesticated meat pigs are not – in this context – “the same species” as wild porcines, even if they can interbreed.

    They’ve been selectively bred – in part for being dumb and docile – for countless generations.

  40. > I can totally imagine humans bred in an alternate universe for 15K years by cannibals as livestock are going to be dumb like a rock. Thankfully, it does not really say anything about ours.

    That reminds me of a great short story “Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler, where humans on alien planet barely escaped such situation. It can be found in Don Wollheim Presents anthology, I don’t remember which year. “Bloodchild” won both Hugo Award and Nebula Award for novelette.

  41. This reminds me of a joke – how do you find the vegan at a party?

    (If no-one bites, the punchline is “Don’t worry, they’ll tell you” – but in the proper environment, the much more amusing punchline is “I found the vegan”)

  42. I’ve been informed that chicken are both stupid AND mean and therefore deserve to be food.

    The story i’ve heard is that farm chickens became a whole lot meaner when farmers started selective breeding for egg output, with the unintended result that the hens became in general more dominant.

  43. OK, I am now bleeding from five places on my right hand. I have tried to do the mirror thing before – it isn’t going to work.

    The problem with testing the intelligence of parrots is that they usually have no interest in cooperating. They are wild animals – even the ones that have been bred in captivity (for several generations) are genetically identical (more or less) to the ones in the wild.

    I have an Amazon named Merlin, much smaller than most amazons (a white-fronted spectacled amazon, but definitely 100 pounds of attitude in a five pound bag. I love the personality, but practically no people do.

    Anyway… he is so smart that it is scary. I could tell stories, but no one ever believes me – everyone assumes that I am just cherry-picking things that he happens to say in the right context.

    Sometimes when I am focused on something, he will say, “Hello. Hello. Say Hello.” or “…. Say it.” He says, “How are you? Good?” and “Are you good” and “Are I good?” and many variations. A couple of months ago, he said “How are you? Good? Say yup”. Ok, I expect practically no one to believe this.

    But here’s one you have to believe or call me a liar… Merlin knows what “Hello” and “Bye-bye” mean just like a person does. I have told him my name. When I go out, I say “Bye-bye Merlin” and just the last year or so, he has started saying “Bye-bye Brian”. I have NEVER said that to him.

    It just blows my mind sometimes – right on the border of language. One night I was pacing back and forth with an extremely bad headache. Merlin was just silently watching me. At one point, I said “You are a good bird” and he replied “I am”. My first reaction was an automatic processing of the language – he answered me. Then I thought “This is a freaking bird!!!”

    He knows how to swear – actually I guess I mean -when- to swear – not use bad words but.. If I drop something or slip trying to put the lid on the weird water container, or even just abruptly turn around in a certain way, he will say “Oh, shoot!” or “Shoot”. Or “Good” in a really sarcastic voice.

    Dogs pick up the names of things. Parrots are more into matters of relationship.

    It took him years to understand that when I say “I” or “me”, it means me, whereas when he says it it means him. He still doesn’t get the difference between being a “good” boy and feeling pretty “good”.

    (Interesting off-topic point: birds are a kind of dinosaur, evolved from (maybe the ancestors of) the small bipedal meat-eaters (much earlier in the game than T-Rex) – source Encyclopedia Britannica.)

  44. Am I the only one to believe that herefords (the cattle) have been bred to be so butt-ugly that it is ok to kill them? Maybe even doing them a favor? Horses, on the other hand, have been bred to look great.

  45. I am strongly considering writing/recording the song “My Stomach is a Graveyard”. (Wish I wasn’t so busy getting ready for qualifying exams. Maybe after the semester is over…)

  46. >But here’s one you have to believe or call me a liar… Merlin knows what “Hello” and “Bye-bye” mean just like a person does.

    Actually, that one is easy. Sugar has her own cat-language greeting sound, but she understands that “hello” is a greeting sound and sometimes tries to produce it.

  47. >I am strongly considering writing/recording the song “My Stomach is a Graveyard”

    You know there are already a couple such videos, yes?

    I would find it hilarious to perform death-metal growling in one of them. I could do that.

  48. @Brian That’s hardly difficult to believe after reading accounts of Alex the African Grey, who used English to express affection with apparent understanding of what he was saying.

  49. > You know there are already a couple such videos, yes?

    Then my work here is done.

    (In all seriousness, I did not know that said videos existed, and watching one them just made my day. It sounded even more like a bad metal band then I could have imagined.)

  50. Shenpen > KFC is mostly salt, fat, and various carbs smuggled in through the back door. Sugar perhaps not so much.

    A lot of the time (most of the time?) in KFC customers’ meals, the sugar is in the drink, there’s a ton of it. Even if the soda is sweetened with other things, the fat-salt-sweet -combination still tickles the brain and gets people to eat more of it, so the no-calorie drink tends to translate into more calories from greasy chicken (burger/taco/whatnot).

  51. @Brian I absolutely believe you. One pet shop I visited occasionally had a store parrot – I don’t recall the breed (I don’t speak Parrot, and the damned birds KNOW this.) This bird would mimic a variety of cellphone ring tones, and burst out laughing maniacally when people would do the Cell Phone Jerk Dance. He’d also say to more whacked out “polly want a cracker” babytalkers “YOU’RE FIRED!” (usually followed by “I DON’T WORK HERE!” along with the laughter.)

    And my sister in law’s parrot? He absolutely delighted in tormenting me.

  52. @ Christopher Smith

    Yeah… Alex was exceptional. The question is, how much was exceptional intelligence and how much was an exceptional desire to cooperate? ‘Course he was brought up to do this research. My bird is my companion.

    @ Chupacabramama

    Yeah… they can be amazing. My bird has (like most Amazons) an attitude like a very small Hells Angel. The are inappropriate pets for almost everyone. I worked at home a lot and now I am home almost all the time. Locking them in a cage and talking to them once in a while should be a crime.

    Merlin used to have no problem with me going to work (elapsed time: about 10 hours), but he puts up a huge LOUD fuss about me going down to do laundry. So when I do, I put him in the bathroom where he is less likely to be heard by other people in the building.

    Anyway, one day I was lifting him down from the shower curtain rod and I noticed that he was just totally relaxed, standing on my finger rather than holding on, until he was at the right height and BAM – he lunged out and bit my bottom lip – his upper and bottom parts of his beak not quite meeting in the middle.

    I had to be angry and spray the hell out of him with the water bottle, but I liked the fact that he deliberately set me up so that he could hurt me and show me who was really boss. Not that I want him to do it again, but I love the spirit. Most people would have just killed him if it happened to them.

  53. >@Brian That’s hardly difficult to believe after reading accounts of Alex the African Grey, who used English to express affection with apparent understanding of what he was saying.

    I have heard a similar report from a parrot owner – specifically that her parrot said “I love you” with apparent understanding.

  54. [As per request, copied from Google Plus comments on the post pointing to this blog article:]

    Wild pigs are both highly intelligent and generally inimical. If Larry Niven wanted to write aliens more scary than Kzinti, he could always do giant starfaring swine. FWIW even one of those little Vietnamese pigs can just about disembowel you unless you get their tusks out. And that horrible sound they make strikes such fear into people because it means he’s calling all of his really smart friends to come rip you apart, our chase you up a tree and keep you there until you fall out and then rip you apart, unless you too call lots of friends to aid you.

    Pigs should be eaten. They are our direct competitor on the food-chain in the natural state, and as tasty as they are to us, we are to them. They are actually the enemy and it is a good thing indeed that bacon smells so good.

    :-|?

  55. Horse meat is far less taboo as you travel west, here in the states. Extremely taboo, as ESR says, in the east, only very mildly taboo on the west coast.

    I’ve had horse meat once. Stopped at a taco stand a hundred miles or so south of Mexicali, and all they had was horse. Did a double take, then just said ‘hell with it’ and had some tacos. Delicious.

    Dog, monkey, dolphin (but not whale) would all be extremely taboo for me, with cat much less so (I sampled some smoked sausage made from bobcat once.)

  56. >If Larry Niven wanted to write aliens more scary than Kzinti, he could always do giant starfaring swine.

    I asked you to echo this comment here because it suggests a scary possibility.

    There are some criminally insane humans who are sophont but pure predators – they lack the behavioral capability to be part of a reciprocity network. In humans this is a rare, extreme psychopathology. But suppose we encountered sophonts who, for whatever instinctual reason, could form reciprocity networks with each other but not with us?

  57. >(I sampled some smoked sausage made from bobcat once.)

    I think I’d be willing to try that. Bobcats don’t seem even near-sophont and they’re not friendly to humans.

    Some of the larger cats I wonder about, though. Tigers, especially – very clever, adaptable hunters and one some occasions when I’ve seen them live I’ve gotten just a bit of the same sense of a near-sophont looking back at me that I do from elephants and dolphins and seals. Not as much as from an elephant, but something.

    (I like tigers. My wife thinks they’re my totem animal.)

  58. >Horse meat is far less taboo as you travel west, here in the states. Extremely taboo, as ESR says, in the east, only very mildly taboo on the west coast.

    I didn’t know that. Hm. Spanish influence?

  59. @ESR

    But suppose we encountered sophonts who, for whatever instinctual reason, could form reciprocity networks with each other but not with us?

    A little over halfway down the page on this has this concept in all it’s horrifying detail, wedded to the relativistic kill vehicle (R-Bomb) it gets even worse.

    http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/aliens.php

  60. But suppose we encountered sophonts who, for whatever instinctual reason, could form reciprocity networks with each other but not with us?

    Hope we have a significant technology and/or numerical advantage?

  61. Interesting actual content and great food for thought, but I must make a gratuitous smart ass response:

    “It’s OK. I crushed it without cruelty and haven’t let it rot. The entire earth is a graveyard so my stomach is achieving harmony with Gaia.”

  62. I’m sorry, but you just inadvertently wrote the most METAL
    description of eating a chicken sandwich in the history of mankind.

    Okay, I’m philosophically closer to the Vegan’s side, but this reply, the lyrics, and the T-shirt just made me snort Diet Coke all over the screen. Am I now officially a hypocrite?

  63. > I add to this that for pain to be of consequence to me it needs to be have an experiencer who is at least potentially part of a community of reciprocal trust with me. Otherwise I would be necessarily paralyzed by guilt at killing bacteria every time I breathe.

    Are you implying that you think bacteria can feel pain?

  64. >Are you implying that you think bacteria can feel pain?

    What is pain?

    No, I’m not being evasive. Bacteria can be harmed, whether or not they experience pain in the same way as animals with nerve cells and even if ‘experience’ isn’t a meaningful predicate for them. My real point is that you have to draw a boundary around the scope of your concern somewhere or you’ll end up with an ethical commitment that is impossible.

  65. Goodness gracious, is the grievance movement endless? Next thing ya know, there will be a Breatherian Czar on the federal payroll.

  66. Now that I’m in front of a real keyboard:

    @esr: You mention “reciprocal trust” and then list members of the set that have the potential to engage in it. You give a rough test which seems to be more highly correlated than definitive. Can you describe this concept a bit more. I know I’m coloring 2 little words with my own implications, but this seems to be an interesting test to use in utilitarian ethics.

    Incidentally, I recall a case (which I can’t find now — alas, my Google Fu has failed me) of a tiger that hunted down and killed the man who took her cubs. I’ve seen other animals exhibit revenge behavior on specific individuals, but this one was characterized by substantial separation in time and distance and substantial effort on the part of the tiger. That seems to argue for some kind of reasoning ability.

  67. >Can you describe this concept a bit more.

    The one time I visited Africa I went to a game park and was introduced to a family of elephants – semi-wild elephants, not confined but used to having people around. I walked up to the bull elephant. He looked at me. I looked at him. I reached down, pulled a tuft of grass out of the ground, and held it out to him. He regarded me gravely for a moment, curled up his trunk, took the clump of grass, and ate it. Then we quietly enjoyed each others’ company for a bit.

    By offering the grass, I told the elephant “Hello, I want to be friendly”. By taking it, the elephant said “I understand your friendly gesture and reciprocate.” It was a trivial bit of graze; I am certain the elephant understood it as a negotiation move, a signifying act from another mind. Near-sophonts can do this. (I’ve read a fair amount of elephant ethology.)

    A housecat (for example) cannot; a cat may learn that you intend to be nice to it by offering food, but the cat learns that by associating food with your hand, not because it understands that it’s being negotiated with. Some of the bigger cats may be bright enough to understand symbolic friendliness – I have that suspicion about tigers.

    The elephant and I established a bit of reciprocal trust. He got that I didn’t intend to hurt him, and I understood that he didn’t intend to hurt me.

  68. >That seems to argue for some kind of reasoning ability.

    Elephants have been known to take justified revenge involving planning and persistence over time, too. This implies a representation of “fairness” – that is, I may rightly kill a human that has harmed me, but I must not kill other humans. This is precisely the qualification required to form reciprocal trust networks – the animal models that humans will respond well to tit-for-tat cooperation/defection, and humans can have that confidence about the animal.

  69. >I think you’ve just proven that you are f***ing METAL

    You may note, if you wish, that I actually do enjoy some metal genres – mostly prog metal, technical metal, and the sort of Scandinavian death metal that borders on both. Liquid Tension Experiment, Dream Theater (except I don’t like their vocalist) Opeth, Riverside, Animals As Leaders, that sort of thing.

  70. @Thomas Blankenhorn

    You’re not a hypocrite. You’ve a sense of humor. If you enjoy trolling, you’d buy a few tee shirts to distribute to friends. Maybe to wear to a PETA rally.

  71. @Shenpen
    “The closest thing this universe had is slavery – and intelligent slaves always commanded a higher price on the markets, making such dysgenic breeding attempts unlikely. (I have seen studies referenced of Ancient Roman slave markets of a factor of 4000 times price difference between Greek grammarians and unskilled laborers.)”

    You might notice an eerie resemblance between Roman slavery and industrial wage labor. That is not accidental.

  72. I’d add in a reciprocity clause that it is acceptable to eat anything that would eat you if given the chance.

    And, that deals with the pig issue.

  73. @esr
    “But suppose we encountered sophonts who, for whatever instinctual reason, could form reciprocity networks with each other but not with us?”

    Remember Douglas Adams? The sophont aliens in the Hitchhiker guide identified with the whales/dolphins. They considered us the dangerous psychopaths. So, all the whales etc were rescued when the earth was destroyed, but they let humans behind.

    And if you want a suitable alien pig, search for Entelodont:
    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/2011/08/25/entelodonts-giant-killer-pigs/
    (not strictly a pig, but who cares when you run into one)

  74. From the OP: “Otherwise I would be necessarily paralyzed by guilt at killing bacteria every time I breathe.”
    Doesn’t suffering require a nervous system? Regardless, bacteria inflict pain to other beings, and only extremists would deny that self-defense is legitimate.

  75. I have heard chicken soup described as “corpse tea”. Very metal.

  76. >Horsemeat is extremely taboo in English-speaking countries. The only explanation seems to be purely historical. I’ve heard it seriously attributed as a survival of the Britanno-Celtic cult of Epona

    No too outlandish. Processed horse liver is popular in Austria. Hungary has almost the same general taste, yet it is fairly taboo. And yes, there are plenty of folk tales about horses who could fly, talk, eat embers of wood, and were in a way shamans (táltos) in animal form. Clearly shows an old, pre-Christian legacy of some kind of spiritual respect or worship of horses. The biggest possible respect to the gods or whoever back then was to sacrifice a horse.

  77. @Winter I am actually researching that idea – whether industrial processes existed like in a modern kind of breaking down a work to elementary steps and everybody doing one simplified step only, back in Ancient Rome, using slaves or oxen and classical machinery instead of steam. I am really trying to check if industrial organization is solely the product of a technological revolution or an older, general concept. Any input?

    BTW with breeding it had nothing to do. Neither.

  78. “Do you realize an animal DIED to make that steak?”

    “I didn’t realize there were any witnesses. Now I’ll have to kill you too.”

  79. @Shenpen
    “I am really trying to check if industrial organization is solely the product of a technological revolution or an older, general concept. Any input?”

    You might find that David Graeber says some interesting things about it. He also has references to other work in this direction.
    Warning: He will cite to Marxist economics

    Debt: The First 5,000 Years
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debt:_The_First_5000_Years

    What you might find interesting is a parallel linking finances (money) and armies (taxes) between classical times and modern times (post 1500CE).

  80. >You might notice an eerie resemblance between Roman slavery and industrial wage labor.

    Don’t be idiotic. Roman slaves had no rights at law; they could not even testify in court except under torture, owners could and frequently did use them sexually, and if they “unionized” it was called a slave revolt and they got crucified.

  81. >@Winter I am actually researching that idea – whether industrial processes existed like in a modern kind of breaking down a work to elementary steps and everybody doing one simplified step only

    The earliest recorded precedent for this was Venetian shipyards, using assembly-line techniques by 1500 and possibly as much as 400 years earlier than that. At the peak of production in the 1600s they could build a ship in a day. One of the reasons for the expansion of the Serene Republic down the Adriatic coast was the huge quantities of timber this required.

    Wikipedia reports an undated claim that the Chinese mass-produced agricultural implements, but I have no knowledge of this from other sources and consider it dubious.

  82. @esr
    “Don’t be idiotic.”

    I was writing about the socio-economics. But many people in Roman times had reduced rights. A father could kill his children with impunity. There was a client system that had a lot in common with serfdom. Slaves were at the extreme end as being legally considered as if “dead” as a human being.

    The aspect of slavery relevant to this discussion is the right of the employer/owner to all the economic output of the subject. The USA seems to go somewhat further in this respect than other countries.

    Graeber wrote a much better account of this.

  83. I wonder if vegetarian / vegan lifestyle is universal; could you be vegan and live a healthy life in colder climate (think: vegan Inuit / Eskimo)…

  84. @esr
    For Chinese history, you would have to go back to Joseph Needham’s work (or not, if you have a life)

    China production in the Shanghai region was considered to be industrial. Not sure about the era and the level of specialization. Probably not actually far before the start of the Western industrial revolution.

  85. @Jakub Narebski
    “(think: vegan Inuit / Eskimo)”

    :-)
    That would a joke on the common etymology of the word “Eskimo”.

  86. >The aspect of slavery relevant to this discussion is the right of the employer/owner to all the economic output of the subject.

    Remains idiotic. A wage laborer can own property and moonlight at a second job. If he were a Roman slave, the employer would even own the produce from his home garden. Your “Graeber” must be a tendentious moron.

  87. >I wonder if vegetarian / vegan lifestyle is universal; could you be vegan and live a healthy life in colder climate (think: vegan Inuit / Eskimo)…

    In fact, no. If you try to be a vegan in Tibet the cold will kill you; the plant food they can grow there doesn’t have enough energy density to support even a sedentary lifestyle, which is why the monks put yak butter in their tea. (I have tasted this; it’s pretty nasty.)

    It is just barely possible for moderns to get enough calories from a vegan diet in a temperate climate with cold winters, but only because we have cheap access to food crops that have been bred for energy density for 4000 years and heat our buildings.

    Whenever this question comes up, I remember the brilliant mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, who died in 1920 of diseases he contracted while weakened due to malnutrition resulting from trying to survive on a vegan diet in the climate of Great Britain.

  88. The Inuit/Yu’pik tribes were functionally pre-agriculture; they were hunter gatherers living on seals, fish, reindeer, wild fowl, polar bear, whale…etc.

    Polar bear liver has enough vitamin A to be toxic. The Inuit/Yu’pik have an adaptation that allows them to eat it without ill effect. They have another adaptation that allows them to mitigate the effects of scurvy. Laplanders have either the same vitamin-C deficiency adaptation, or evolved it in parallel.

    Of all the races of humanity currently extant, Inuit/Yu’pik are the ones who come closest to being a separate species because of environmental adaptations.

    Even with modern medicine (or perhaps because of modern diet…) they have odd nutrition problems, and have an infant mortality rate that’s…embarrassingly high.

    There’s a theory that I consider plausible that says that cooking is what jump-started human’s hypertrophic brain development, and cooking came from meat-eating. We really lack the teeth to eat muscle-tissue in the raw, and the gut to digest it (or most plants like grains and starchy tubers). The ability to eat raw foods requires enormous amounts of caloric energy.

    A theory about homo sapiens sapiens ability to outcompete homo sapiens neandertalensis that hasn’t been disproven yet, but may likely be, is that we could get by on many fewer calories due to our lighter frame and lower musculature; this was based on looking at the calories/kg needed by chimpanzees and bonobos and scaling them up to the typical 5’8″, 260ish lb Neandertal. (If you want a decent picture of a neandertal from the neck down, imagine the waist, core and trunk of a discus thrower on the legs of an NFL power-back…and then double the mechanical advantage.)

    The theory further posited that neandertals had problems with waste heat dissipation, and needed roughly 7,000 kilocalories per day as the minimum food level. Having been around serious weightlifters and bodybuilders? Yeah, I can imagine it.

  89. @esr
    “Remains idiotic.”

    Then trace back the concept of wage labor in history.

    @esr
    “Your “Graeber” must be a tendentious moron.”

    You can easily get an informed opinion. He is not exactly a recluse:
    http://www.thewhitereview.org/interviews/interview-with-david-graeber/

    But I know that our opinions on whether or not people are “tendentious morons” tend to complement each other. So, chances are high you do find him a “tendentious moron”.

  90. @Ken Burnside
    “There’s a theory that I consider plausible that says that cooking is what jump-started human’s hypertrophic brain development, and cooking came from meat-eating. We really lack the teeth to eat muscle-tissue in the raw, and the gut to digest it (or most plants like grains and starchy tubers). The ability to eat raw foods requires enormous amounts of caloric energy. ”

    Indeed, we as a species were made by fire. The idea is that our teeth reduced and skull increased because we had fire.

  91. >The theory further posited that neandertals had problems with waste heat dissipation

    That sounds like me.

    Seriously. I overheat before I run out of wind. No prize for guessing it’s because of the thickness of striated muscle I carry around. I suspect this is not uncommon among bodybuilders and power lifters.

  92. >Of all the races of humanity currently extant, Inuit/Yu’pik are the ones who come closest to being a separate species because of environmental adaptations.

    Kalaghadi Bushmen at least give them a contest. They have physiological adaptations for water storage, like a camel. Don’t know about infant mortality but they only have about a 60% fertility rate with non-Bushman populations.

  93. > (I have tasted this; it’s pretty nasty.)

    I am envious. Always wanted to try this and tsampa and similar Tibetan monk foods. Unfortunately the kind of Tibetan / Himalayan restaurants I find end up being unauthentic rip-offs. When the menu card overlaps 90% with an Indian restaurant and it is curry with curry and then some korma, you just know you are getting screwed with.

    >It is just barely possible for moderns to get enough calories from a vegan diet in a temperate climate with cold winter

    Is there a handy estimate for the delta calories burned for 1 hour in 1 degree colder environment, same clothing assumed? I’ve read somewhere that slowly getting used to not dressing up too much can he a valid way to control weight. For example I am comfortable with say a button-down shirt and suit type thin fabric jacket about down to 14C / 57F. 10C and I shiver in it. I have seen Brits walk around in the winter around -1C / 30F in it. Literally, no wintercoat in the snow. Everybody who did this was fairly thin and you always see obese people in huge stepped jackets in the winter, despite the natural insulation… worths a check.

  94. OTOH, I shocked more than one friend from outside my region of Italy when they discover we eat a lot of horse meat. Raw. Minced. With just some lemon on top.

    The video game company Spicy Horse (developers of Alice: Madness Returns) is named after a menu item that founder American McGee saw upon dining in Shanghai.

    So again, it seems to be just the anglosphere that has an aversion to it.

  95. About horse meat tabu: that probably depends on whether [perceived] majority of horses are riding horses or work horses.

  96. Seriously. I overheat before I run out of wind. No prize for guessing it’s because of the thickness of striated muscle I carry around. I suspect this is not uncommon among bodybuilders and power lifters.

    I think there are lot more factors than that. You’ve seen how I’m built. As far as athletes go, our body types couldn’t be any more different. Yet, I too do poorly in the heat, and freakishly well in the cold. My ideal temperature for running is around -10°F. I’ll go out in that in a mid-weight base layer and roll my sleeves up after the first mile. I once had a native-looking fellow (probably Tlingit but Inuit is a possibility) approach me on the streets of Whitehorse, gawking at how I was dressed, and shout “Aren’t you cold?!”. Also, I can submerge my hands in 33°F water for several minutes without great discomfort and without losing sensation.

  97. They’ve been selectively bred – in part for being dumb and docile – for countless generations.

    The most common fatal farm accident is to fall into the hog pen. Hogs are not docile.

  98. “I really don’t like it when people try to jerk me around by my sensibilities as though I’m some kind of idiot who is unreachable by reasoned argument. I find it insulting and want to punch back.”

    This.

  99. Okay, I’ve been hanging out here too long.

    Someone at the office was wearing a T-T-

  100. >You may note, if you wish, that I actually do enjoy some metal genres – mostly prog metal, technical metal, and the sort of Scandinavian death metal that borders on both. Liquid Tension Experiment, Dream Theater (except I don’t like their vocalist) Opeth, Riverside, Animals As Leaders, that sort of thing.

    Have you listened to any symphonic metal? That’s my particular favorite subgenre, specifically Nightwish, Epica, Within Temptation, and similar.

  101. What I meant to say was, someone at the office was wearing a T-shirt that said “My electricity comes from93 million miles away. Where does yours come from?”

    I wanted to tap her on the shoulder and say: “My electricity comes from the cold corpses of ancient beasts, brought up from the bowels of hell and burned in righteous flame!” and throw her the horns.

    Don’t get me wrong, if civilization is to survive it will be on solar energy. But that T-shirt was smarmy in an autistic, Sheldon Cooper sort of way.

  102. smarmy in an autistic, Sheldon Cooper sort of way

    It’s always impressive when someone hits both the ugly-unwarranted-insult and pot-kettle bells on one swing.

  103. >Have you listened to any symphonic metal?

    Limited exposure. Symphony X and a bit of Nightwish. Didn’t like it as much as I expected to from the label, and am not entirely sure why. Too much focus on the vocals rather than the instrumental work is certainly part of it. And none of it surprised me.

    I find more interest in virtuoso instrumental players like Joe Satriani, Angel Vivaldi, John Petrucci, and the like. Joe Stump’s “Night of the Living Shred” is playing on my Pandora channel as I type.

  104. “But I add to this that for pain to be of consequence to me it needs to be have an experiencer who is at least potentially part of a community of reciprocal trust with me.”

    I’m going to translate that into Dummy’s English as “…smart enough to be at least a pet.”

    Unfortunately, a lot of farm animals bred for food qualify, including chickens:

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

    And kosher animals. Cows especially (remembering my gramma’s cows.) I think this “taboo” of which you speak most farmers/ranchers probably overcome the discomfort of, either by accepting that there’s a difference between humans and “pet sophonts” (whatever term you want to use; “sophont” is tripping my spell checker) or by becoming cold-hearted bastards. I do recall reading a biography where the kids skipped a meal because it was their “pet” ducks (I think one of the kids was either Rick or Evelyn Husband.)

    I remember a very interesting joke about value-of-life confusion going in the unconventional direction:

    Lawyer: “Sir, this medical report you got from the hospital is rather interesting …fractured clavicle, bruised left kidney, broken right tibia, concussion, et cetera, yet you told the responding police officer at the scene of this rollover you had with your pickup truck and horse trailer that you were fine. Would you care to explain that?”

    Witness: “Oh, yes. Well, you see my beloved horse Tango was in the trailer at the time, and he was crying in the trailer for about three or four minutes before the police arrived. The cop pulled up behind me. As I was rolling down- well ‘up’ the window for him since my truck was upside down, he noticed Tango crying in the trailer, I think briefly examined his injuries, pulled out his revolver and shot him in the head to put him out of his misery. Now, you have to remember that this is a couple minutes after a major accident, and I don’t quite have all my marbles about me as he crouches next to my window and asks how I’m doing.”

    Lawyer: “You said you were fine?”

    Witness: “Oh yes, sir. At that particular moment, I was quite happy with my misery and didn’t want to be put out of it just yet.”

  105. >there’s a difference between humans and “pet sophonts” (whatever term you want to use; “sophont” is tripping my spell checker)

    “Sophont” is a term used in SF for intelligent aliens. It’s intended to be distinct from “sentient”, which just means “feeling” and confuses the issue. My cat is sentient but not sophont. Keeping a true sophont as a pet would be wrong, or at least in human terms very demeaning.

    I will further note that “smart enough to be at least a pet” is actually a pretty low bar. An animal can be dumb as rocks and still exchange mammalian intimacy signals with humans. Dogs and cats are well over that minimum.

    The difference between near-sophonts and pet commensals is this: the avoidable death of any near sophont is of ethical concern: “no man is an island” extends, I think, to elephants etc. Pet commensals, on the other hand have value only to the extent of their relationship to human beings.

    Even dogs grasp this difference; I know a Malamute who would never injure a human, is friendly to pet cats, but eats feral ones. That dog understands reciprocal trust. (Malamutes are very bright for dogs and this one is a genius Malamute…he may qualify as near-sophont.)

  106. …still preferable to some ways humans have been treated. You mentioned Roman slaves earlier. There’s also the type of rocket science where the first ever guided ballistic missile (the V-2) killed at least eight times as many people in its factories than in its targets.

  107. I realize that “smart enough to be at least a pet” isn’t quite as clear as I’d like. There are plenty of pets (reptiles, tarantulas, goldfish, etc.) who are pets beloved by their owners but themselves don’t have even the slightest inkling of reciprocal trust (I know a guinea pig that is scarcely above that level.) I do know of an animal that is famous for its ability to relate, is not a mammal (“mammalian intimacy signals” made me laugh, actually) and is also famous for being quite delicious. I’ve also had personal experiences with them, and they are capable of developing mutual trust relationships with humans (and other mammals) very quickly. It is the pigeon.

  108. My cousin-in-law worked on a ranch owned by a stockbroker. The owner would go over the records asking if this or that cow could last another year with special treatment before being sent to the slaughterhouse. My cousin-in-law thought it was funny. The employees weren’t nearly so sentimental.

  109. @Jakub: I regularly associate with a few vegans. They are quite well aware the their lifestyle is enabled by our highly productive economy and that they would likely be able to survive as vegans even a century ago.

    They are also highly rational people and do not make rhetorical emotional arguments except as jokes or smart-ass responses to disinguine questions.

    I would say their reasoning is based substantially in consequential ethics with a focus on the experience of suffering (sentience) rather than reasoning [can someone help me out with the proper form of the word "sophont" in this context?]

  110. The one time I fed an elephant, it was (in hindsight) more about the social interaction than the food. You might call it “reciprocal trust” but that feels like something of a force-fit to me.

    (I was 7 or 8, visiting the Belle Isle (“childrens”) zoo. The elephant was a young ‘un as well. There was a wall between us, and we could only barely reach each other. But there was a bush growing at the wall on my side where the elephant couldn’t reach it. So I stripped off leaves & green twigs, and handed them over the top of the wall, and the elephant ate them.)

    So I resemble ESR on this point at least: I have “fed the elephant.”

  111. >You might call it “reciprocal trust” but that feels like something of a force-fit to me.

    The relevant difference is that there was no wall. I could have been an actual threat to my elephant, and he to me.

  112. My understanding of Roman slavery is that while at law slaves had no rights against their masters, in practise they did own property, which their owners did not confiscate, and if they saved up their own market value they could expect their owner to manumit them rather than just take the money and cackle evilly. Manumission seems to have been common enough that almost any house slave could reasonably hope for it. (Latifundia slaves would of course be different; their owner would have been unaware of them as individuals, so there’d’ve been no chance to gain his attention and good will.)

    Wage labour goes back long before Roman times. The Bible, which is about 1000 years older than Rome, refers to wage labour many times, e.g. when requiring that wages be paid on time.

  113. I wonder if vegetarian / vegan lifestyle is universal; could you be vegan and live a healthy life in colder climate (think: vegan Inuit / Eskimo)…

    I don’t understand why this is relevant. Supposing that one were to conclude on other grounds that veganism is morally required, it would simply follow that it is immoral to live in climates where a vegan diet can’t sustain ones life, and people who are born there must move.

  114. I asked you to echo this comment here because it suggests a scary possibility.

    Even scarier, what if the sophonts who can form reciprocity networks with each other but not us are not aliens but human-created AIs? ET encounters look increasingly uinlikely as physicists close off solutions to the FTL problem. But machine intelligences capable of passing for sapient appear mere decades away.

  115. On symphonic metal: focus on the vocals wouldn’t be bad if the vocals had anywhere near the sort of complexity prog instrumentals have, as opposed to being pleasant-but-uncomplicated-solo-choirgirl stuff at best.

    I’m quite curious for links on the various subgroup adaptations mentioned, by the way. esr, I remember you mentioning you’ve heard the Bushman stuff in college, but if the rest of you have sources, I’d love to see them.

  116. >On symphonic metal: focus on the vocals wouldn’t be bad if the vocals had anywhere near the sort of complexity prog instrumentals have, as opposed to being pleasant-but-uncomplicated-solo-choirgirl stuff at best.

    Yes, that’s my complaint as well. If I have to tolerate vocals I’d rather listen to Pure Reason Revolution.

  117. > Horsemeat is extremely taboo in English-speaking countries.

    It seems to be hit-and-miss in the USA. My parents used to buy horsemeat when I was a kid in California in the 1960s; it was right there in the coolers with all the rest of the meat. My Dad said he used to buy horsemeat in Georgia and Florida in the 1940s and 1950s.

    I *like* horsemeat; it’s like beef, but much leaner. Unfortunately, I now live in an area where it’s not avilable.

  118. @esr:
    *> Bacteria can be harmed, whether or not they experience pain in the same way as animals with nerve cells and even if ‘experience’ isn’t a meaningful predicate for them. My real point is that you have to draw a boundary around the scope of your concern somewhere or you’ll end up with an ethical commitment that is impossible.*

    Ah, ok, you were using the word “pain” in the OP where I would have used “harm”. “Pain” to me (and I suspect to others, since at least one other person in this thread has raised a similar question) carries the connotation, at least, of “experience” being a meaningful predicate in some sense. But of course that just pushes the question back a step, to “what is experience?” I agree that the important thing is to be able to draw boundaries, regardless of which particular words you use to describe them.

  119. >I really like KISS, which, I imagine, puts me in a small minority.

    I thought a lot of their music was just trashy, pandering junk executed with slick precision. But Psycho Circus, the 1997 album, surprised the hell out of me. There were tracks on that I wanted to hear more than once. It seemed like a serious effort to up their game. I respected it.

  120. >Ah, ok, you were using the word “pain” in the OP where I would have used “harm”

    Fair enough; I would consider that a friendly amendment.

  121. I find your argument pretty weak. It is essentially an argument by definition — I don’t eat the following types of animals because I define them outside the boundaries of edibility based on a fairly arbitrary criterion — a mirror test.

    I think you are falling into the same error that it seems to me that most ethics and morals arguments end up in, which is to say thinking that there is some universal standard for ethics, rather than recognizing the amorality and non ethical nature of the universe.

    I think though there is a better descriptive argument of how people really think about these things, rather than what they say they think about them. I suspect you are in this category too.

    People are willing to allow the suffering of other creatures in proportion to their other-ness. There are many things that make things “other” whether it be distance in space, distance in category, distance in species, distance is visual characteristics, level of connection, degree of shared experience.

    Why could slave owners in the south beat the life out of black slaves? Because they were sufficiently other, black, different, didn’t speak the same language. Why can normal, decent people, be convinced to become soldiers and mercilessly slaughter “those damn Japs or Krauts, or VC” in a war? Why is fraternizing with the enemy such a dreadful crime? Why do people leave a hundred million dollars to their pet dog, when that same 100 million dollars would save the lives of millions of people in poverty stricken lands? Because those starving people are other, and the dog, while other in species, is extremely proximate in distance and shared experiences.

    Eating animals are largely the same. Animals are other-ed by a variety of mechanisms. Firstly they are of a different species, and they are usually ugly and dumb. They are also far away from your dinner table. And they are usually sold in a form that is very other than their original muscle and fat, and skin and face form.

    Not only are cows other-ed intrinsically, but the meat industry goes to some length to other them extrinsically too. We even other then with the words we use. We don’t eat cow, we eat steak or ground beef.

    So it is really a mathematical equation in our head. The cost to us of not eating (or whatever activity) verses the cost of using the other as food (or slaves or whatever) discounted for the various degrees of otherness. The discount on the otherness of cows is pretty large.

    I think we all, with the exception of psychotics, do not like suffering and death. There are good evolutionary reasons for this. Our sympathetic brain systems project the painful experience of pain and suffering in ourselves and those we care about onto even those we have “othered”. However, we discount it based on their otherness.

    This theory explains a lot of different things. Firstly why we feel good about eating cow, but bad about eating monkeys. Monkeys are much less other. Why will Eric eat roast lion, but not roast Sugar? Because Sugar is much less other to him. Why was there a freak out about horsemeat in pork in Europe? Because pigs are a lot less other than horses, which we, as a people, have an ongoing bond with. It also explains why we are OK killing the animal, but not ok with doing it painfully, or why we are ok eating a free range chicken, but hate the animal to suffer in a cage. We still discount it for its otherness, but the initial cost (death verses death plus a lifetime of suffering) is larger.

    There is a whole side to this also to do with memetic categorization of the utility of various other items. But I have rambled on enough already.

    BTW, I am not claiming this argument is right, moral or ethical in any universal sense. All I am claiming is that this is how people really calculate these things, regardless of what moral patina they might apply on top.

    However, I find an interesting argument for vegetarians is the total suffering argument. If your goal is to minimize total suffering in the animals, then you should be eating whale. They give the largest death to meal ratio of any option. Soybeans have a pretty high death to meal ratio, because when the beans are harvested, thousands of small mammals, reptiles, birds and other creatures are slaughtered by the automatic harvesting equipment. So a an acre of soybeans doesn’t have too much nutrition, but costs the lives of a lot of small animals.

  122. >It is essentially an argument by definition — I don’t eat the following types of animals because I define them outside the boundaries of edibility based on a fairly arbitrary criterion — a mirror test.

    It’s not at all arbitrary. It’s the most convincing attempt I’ve seen at testing whether an animal can solve the other-minds problem. Which seems to me to be a prerequisite for reciprocal trust. If you have a test you can convince me is better, I’ll use it.

    Your “othering” theory does not explain my principled unwillingness to eat squid or octopi.

  123. By the way, here’s something funny (or maybe sad): some AR advocates even go so far as to claim that wildlife documentaries violate an alleged right of animals to privacy! I’m not kidding: Google “animals’ right to privacy”.
    Egalitarianism, it seems to me, can lead to amazing degrees of folly (and misanthropy).

  124. Sorry to continue this off-topic sub-thread, but I just wanted to say that I like KISS becuase to me, it is “happy music”, despite the date-rape/cock-rock theme of most of the lyrics.

    The new Monster album is much heavier, more metalish and is more by adults for adults.

    In any case, what I think was a capacity crowd, more than 12,000 people, had a wonderful time when the Monster tour came to Calgary.

  125. @esr
    > Which seems to me to be a prerequisite for reciprocal trust.

    But that is just a different arbitrary choice — that you shouldn’t eat animals that might trust you. I presume you have enemies with whom you have no reciprocal trust. Would you eat them?

    > If you have a test you can convince me is better, I’ll use it.

    You are assuming your conclusion, namely that reciprocal trust is the boundary between friends and dinner. I don’t see how that is axiomatic at all.

    > Your “othering” theory does not explain my principled unwillingness to eat squid or octopi.

    Sure it does. Your perception is that squid and octopuses are a lot less “other” than most people do. It also falls into other things to do with memetic categorization, and here you are an outlier.

  126. A couple of things that come to mind.

    “Bloodmouth Carnist” t-shirts need to ship in sizes large than XL. 4-5XL, please.

    I eat animals. Primarily because most alternate sources of protein give me the raging shits. Secondarily, because they taste horrible to me. Meat, fish, dairy, nuts, berries, fruit. That’s it.
    Leafy greens tear me up even more than veggie protein.
    Potatoes and Corn are not ok, as they spike the hell out of my blood sugar.
    Actual Sugar? yeah, that’s not good either.

    And I have a policy of ‘anything that will eat me, I will eat right back.’

    So, yeah, no vegan/vegitarian food for me.

  127. Your “othering” theory does not explain my principled unwillingness to eat squid or octopi.

    You have tea with Cthulu from time to time, not too far away from squid.

  128. The grievance epidemic is likely a byproduct of extended affluence and permissiveness here in the US; and vegan hypersensitivity to carnivorousness is but one manifestation. Eric has found amusement and artistic expression in this episode, but the long term trend is neither funny nor trivial. Our North European ancestors evolved in a difficult climatic environment and imbued us with an innate problem-solving predisposition. Without real hardship to challenge us in modern civilization, we resort to inventing nonsensical problems in order to feed our need for struggle.

  129. As an aside, as far as ‘animals I will eat’.

    Anthing that meets the following criteria.

    1. Isn’t going to make me sick

    2. Isn’t against the law.

    3. Must Taste Good. Seriously, if it tastes bad, I’m not eating it, unless I’m desperate.

  130. It seems to be hit-and-miss in the USA. My parents used to buy horsemeat when I was a kid in California in the 1960s; it was right there in the coolers with all the rest of the meat.

    Wow, that must have been a very different California. Nowadays it’s even illegal in CA to sell a horse to someone outside the state, if the seller knows that the buyer intends it for human consumption! (By the way, I doubt the constitutionality of this ban. If, under Lawrence, states lack a rational basis to ban sodomy, then a fortiori they lack a rational basis to ban the consumption of horse meat, let alone the sale of horses for that purpose.)

  131. Ordering is still open – our shopping cart vendor doesn’t have an option for “Add $2 to the price if this option is selected.” We kludge around it with two listings.

    If you read the descriptive text on each listing, there’s a link to the listing for the other size range.

  132. >But that is just a different arbitrary choice — that you shouldn’t eat animals that might trust you. I presume you have enemies with whom you have no reciprocal trust. Would you eat them?

    Perhaps you weren’t reading carefully. The test I proposed is that we should not eat animal species who have the kind of sophont complexity required to join our web of trust. That doesn’t mean I think we should be lunching on individual species members who don’t.

    >Your perception is that squid and octopuses are a lot less “other” than most people do.

    On the contrary, I think I understand how profoundly alien to us they are in a way most people don’t. I’ve thought through some of the probable implications of the radical differences in their brain organization and sensory equipment. Did you know that cephalopod eyes don’t have a blind spot? Have you considered the implications for communication bandwidth of using chromatophores to communicate? They’re egg-layers – they have no wiring for nurturance, and probably none for intimacy.

    That is exactly why the (remote) possibility of communicating with them is interesting….

  133. > I eat animals. Primarily because most alternate sources of protein give me the raging shits.

    Also it might be hard to become vegan / vegetarian with allergy to soy (which is used by most or all substitutes).

    Nb. soy allergy is hard also on buying meat – most if not all packaged meat uses soy as filler and/or humidity absorber.

  134. interesting. that might explain why the meat from big chain stores leaves me feeling a lil queasy, but the stuff from the mexican butcher shop down the street does not.

  135. Interesting how Americans seem to have no problems with other people eating their horses…
    Most of the horse meat on sale this side of the pond comes from the US, by way of Canada. (The economy considers regulations as damage and routes around them…)

  136. These are not original, but:

    “No amount of animal suffering can possibly compare to the pain endured by a human forced to listen to some sanctimonious vegan endlessly prattling on about his diet.”

    “At least the animals have a chance to run away…the poor plants are helpless.”

  137. >Even dogs grasp this difference; I know a Malamute who would never injure a human, is friendly to pet cats, but eats feral ones. That dog understands reciprocal trust. (Malamutes are very bright for dogs and this one is a genius Malamute…he may qualify as near-sophont.)

    You see a lot of this sort of behavior in (livestock) guardian breeds. Pretty sure it’s an extension of pack behaviors and instincts, but it tends to take a very intelligent dog to make such fine distinctions as between ‘human’ (pet, through the two-legs part of the extended pack) cats and feral ones.

  138. Yeah, yet another expensive ethical imperative. Let’s make expensive veggie burgers instead of just making a hamburger.

  139. I think we should make organic, cruelty-free techniques mandatory for all meat animal raising.

    That way those annoying poor people won’t be cluttering up the butcher shop, and every mouthful of chicken or pork will be made more savory by the knowledge of all the millions of people subsisting on rice or oatmeal who can’t afford meat any more.

    Being an aristocrat is so much more fun when you can tell yourself you deserve to rule others becuase you’re so morally advanced.

  140. M. House
    > awesome. When I first checked, it only went up to XL.

    I find this spectacularly ironic given the effect the “Standard American Diet” has on the “Standard American Body.”

  141. Dietary ethics are a luxury of the well fed. Starvation makes you less choosy. Just ask the Donner Party.

  142. @esr
    > Perhaps you weren’t reading carefully.

    A very likely possibility…

    > The test I proposed is that we should not eat animal species who have the kind of sophont complexity required to join our web of trust.

    But you offer no basis for why that is somehow the basis for such a decision making process. Perhaps I can guess that there is a betrayal aspect of eating something that trusted you, but, in that case it needs to be on an individual person — all chimps don’t trust you as a whole, though one individual might. Truth is that a hungry pack of chimps would be happy to rip you to pieces and eat you for dinner. They don’t seem very trustworthy to me.

    If you want to go with some sort of Schelling point based morality then you need an actual Schelling point. Definitionally, if you tell me the Schelling point you are talking about I would say “Ah, of course, how obvious.” I don’t get that reaction about “animals are ineligible for dinner insofar as they are sufficiently sophant and other brain aware that they have the capability, as a species even if not as an individual, to enter into a web of trust.” Most people in the street wouldn’t have a clue what that means, never mind having the appropriate Schelling point reaction.

    As i said before, we all are trying to find meaning in the universe, and grasp for some solid ground on which to build an edifice of morality or ethics. People have been doing it since before Jesus. But the simply question “why” applied to the axioms, especially complex, evidently reducible, axioms like the above, tears it down, and we realize there is no solid ground.

    Allegedly, John Von Neumann, on reading the Gödel Incompleteness theorem said he wanted to kill himself. I know how he feels when thinking about these things. Reality bites, and has a horrible way of shattering our smug assumptions about it.

    > On the contrary, I think I understand how profoundly alien to us they are in a way most people don’t.

    I know quite a bit about squid and octopuses, and they are fascinating creatures, though I think your desire to communicate with them is never going to happen — I don’t think they are smart enough to hold a conversation. Perhaps only higher order apes are capable of that level of intelligence. However, “other” comes in many different forms. “Smart” is a factor of otherness that you don’t discount as much as many other people do. And so the particular discount vector you use over-favors certain creatures compared to the vector others use. And of course part of that comes from the fact that you actually know a little about the animals. Most people have no idea of the peculiar characteristics of these creatures.

    FWIW, I am also pretty curious as to why various sea creatures including squid, dolphins and whales, actually are fairly intelligent. Intelligence tends to be a benefit in dense, high stimulation environments. It isn’t obvious to me why evolution would select for the large resources needed to support intelligence for creatures that live in the vast empty deserts of the oceans. You’d think all that would be needed is “if it moves eat it, unless it looks and smells like me, in which case have sex with it.”

  143. “if it moves eat it, unless it looks and smells like me, in which case have sex with it.”

    Sold.

  144. Oh, and one other thing about the cephalopod eye, I was aware that, unlike the mammalian eye, it does not have a blind spot because of the way the optic nerve bundle connects. It is a very useful fact to know when discussing evolution with a creationist. When they give you the whole “look at the human eye, how could it have evolved without an intelligent designer” argument, I like to point out that the designer was apparently flawed, since he did a better job on the octopus eye.

  145. ” Nowadays it’s even illegal in CA to sell a horse to someone outside the state, if the seller knows that the buyer intends it for human consumption! ”

    What are the specifics of this law. AIUI There are arguably good reasons not to allow (for example) former race horses, which tend to be very drugged up in ways that the FDA does not have any jurisdiction over, to become food.

  146. I prefer Sergeant Schlock’s moral compass. Four choices: eat it, kill it, make friends with it, or take a bath in it.

  147. My cats have been told that they are one disaster away from becoming prepper stew.

    They’ll make nice warm boot liners too.

  148. @Fluffy Girl in a Man’s World

    I believe the distinction between food on the hoof and food on the table is peculiar to English. It’s a result of the Norman conquest. People used the Saxon words when speaking with peasants who dealt with the live animals. People used the French words when speaking with the nobles who ate the meat.

    I believe Arthur C. Clark made this point in his story The Food of the Gods.

  149. >If you want to go with some sort of Schelling point based morality then you need an actual Schelling point.

    I think I’ve found one, and described it as such in the OP. Remember:

    Another way to put this is to remember the Golden Rule, “Do as you would be done by” and ask: what animals have the ability to follow it, the right kind of informational complexity required to support it?

  150. I would be surprised if there weren’t some downsides to the Cephalopod retina in a bright environment.

  151. @Jay: And Ovalkwik, at least, falls into three of those categories.

  152. I hope he kills it before he eats it.

    Bear Grylls sometimes straddles that line

  153. @ Jessica – “Gödel Incompleteness theorem”

    This was a humbling milestone in the abstract world of mathematics, and many have transmuted it’s significance into the realms of the subjective and the real. Conjecture is a reasonable endeavor, but absolutism is often dangerous folly.

    How many vegans would chose starvation over ethical fidelity? And how many generations until their memetic heritage is extinct?

  154. @esr
    > the Golden Rule, “Do as you would be done by” and ask: what animals have the ability to follow it,

    Point 1: I think the first part is a Schelling point that many would agree on, though I am less convinced about the qualifier. This is particularly illuminated in point 2 as to what exactly the golden rule actually means.

    Point 2: The golden rule is more complex that it seems on the face. Does it mean “do as you predict the other will do to you” or does it mean “do as you would want the other to do to you.”?

    More formally if E(s>A) denotes Eric’s action to situation s with respect to animal A, and A(s>E) denotes an animal’s reaction to situation s with respect to Eric, how should Eric behave in situation s? Should he act as E(s>A) or as A(s>E) or maybe even A(s>A)? (This is obviously a little circular, but you get the idea.)

    To put it another way, is it tit for predicted tat, or is it tit regardless of the respondant tat? I think that the Schelling point as people actually practice it is actually calculated as the predominant behavior over a series of tests, the level of predominance required being quite variable among tested individuals.

    Point 3: Were we to take the golden rule and apply it with regards to cows, we would not eat cows, because there are almost no circumstances under which a cow would eat us. Chimps on the other hand we do not eat, and, as I mentioned, they would certainly eat us in many realistic circumstances. So were our diet actually governed by the golden rule, it should perhaps be restricted to carnivores of sufficient size to be a significant threat to humanophagy.

  155. Oh, and I should say point 4, if you take the “sufficient intelligence to reciprocate the golden rule” then your rule would apply to those species, but tells us nothing about our behavior to the insufficiently intelligent.
    For example, with humans, if they have sufficient competence to make decisions for themselves, then they should do. However, we are not left free range on those insufficiently competent, on the contrary, it places a special responsibility on those sufficient capable to make decisions in the best interest of those others.
    You would therefore have to make the argument that it is in their best interest that we eat that dumb cow. FWIW, I don’t think it is impossible to make such an argument, but the golden rule with qualifier does not offer a guide.

  156. >Point 2: The golden rule is more complex that it seems on the face. Does it mean “do as you predict the other will do to you” or does it mean “do as you would want the other to do to you.”?

    I think both forms of the Golden Rule are clumsy attempts to express this: “Do what you expect will produce a stable cooperative equilibrium (e.g. Rapaport’s tit-for-tat)”. So you have take the behavioral capabilities of the entity you are interacting with into account.

    >Point 3: Were we to take the golden rule and apply it with regards to cows, we would not eat cows, because there are almost no circumstances under which a cow would eat us.

    I analyze it differently. Cows are outside the scope of the Golden Rule for exactly the same reason heads of lettuce are. The Golden Rule isn’t a counsel of altruism, it’s a prescription for dealing for entities that have both the power and can form the intention to injure you.

  157. @esr
    > The Golden Rule isn’t a counsel of altruism, it’s a prescription for dealing for entities that have both the power and can form the intention to injure you.

    Indeed, which is why it is moot with respect to cows. You need a different Schelling point to define your behavior with respect to those animals.

  158. BobW: There is at least one case in the canon where Schlock killed someone by eating them. Given the circumstances, it was definitely called for.

  159. @Jay Maynard

    There is at least one case in the canon where Schlock killed someone by eating them. Given the circumstances, it was definitely called for.

    I’ve read a great many references to Schlock Mercenary recently. Many from the same sources that referenced Sluggy Freelance.

  160. >Indeed, which is why it is moot with respect to cows. You need a different Schelling point to define your behavior with respect to those animals.

    We can’t have Schelling points with a cow, because it can’t solve the other-minds problem and model our intentions. That was my whole point in the OP! There are only some kinds of animals we can engage in ethical reciprocity, and those are the ones we should treat as ends rather than means, as we do humans. And thus not eat them.

  161. BobW: “I’ve read a great many references to Schlock Mercenary recently.”

    And well you should. Howard Tayler brings the funny every day without fail, without missing any, without any breaks at all, and has for over five thousand days straight. In the process, he’s built a convincing military-SF world with more than a little hard science to it. There are some things I’ll miss, but my daily dose of Schlock isn’t one of them.

  162. As far as ‘morality’ goes. meh.

    I don’t give a damn if it’s a ‘sophont’ or not. I have a -very- strong survival drive, and I would eat something else that was self aware in the blink of an eye if my survival depended on it.

    Now, if we’re talking situations where I have the luxury of choice, then I would prefer my food to not be intelligent.

  163. >I have a -very- strong survival drive, and I would eat something else that was self aware in the blink of an eye if my survival depended on it.

    Lifeboat scenarios are a poor guide to ethical conduct in more normal circumstances.

  164. >I find this spectacularly ironic given the effect the “Standard American Diet” has on the “Standard American Body.”

    I’m 30 inches across at the shoulder in a straight line, deltoid to deltoid. I have an 18 inch neck. It is 26 inches from my shoulder socket to my hip socket.

    Yes, I am -also- horribly overweight. but even if I was at my ‘fighting weight’ of 230 (back in the dawn of time when I was working on maxing my PT test in the army.) I’d -still- need a 4x, or a 3x at minimum, because an XL is too short, too tight across the shoulders, and the neck hole is too small.

  165. @esr
    > We can’t have Schelling points with a cow,

    Nobody asked you too. The Schelling point is an agreement among humans as to what is moral or not. You can’t have a Schelling point with Sugar or a squid, or a chimp or a human baby, but you moral sensibilities prevent you from eating them.

    Furthermore, the point I have made several times, some of the animals that you seem to think would share your moral/ethical framework, evidently don’t. Evident the pack of chimps intelligently planning an attack on you as you walk through the jungle, before you jump you, kill you and have you for dinner. I think that is probably true of all sufficiently large carnivores that meet your criteria for non-edibility.

    And, BTW with regards to the tit-for-tat game, one does not have to have a very high level of intelligence to learn the tit for tat game. Kick a dumb dog often enough and it will eventually bite you. Back off from a rattlesnake and it’ll probably leave you alone.

  166. @ESR –

    “Lifeboat scenarios are a poor guide to ethical conduct in more normal circumstances.”

    This is very true.

    However, when one starts splitting hairs about what/who does, and doesn’t count as ‘food’, it’s usually because you’re -in- a lifeboat scenario.

    I think it is a relatively obvious thing that in a non-crisis environment, all of us ‘bloodmouth carnists’ would tend to stick to domesticated meat animals by preference, with the occasional game animal as circumstances permit. When we start defining the ‘edge cases’ of what/who we will/wont eat, we’re widening our acceptable pool of choices, because our preferred catagories have been expended, and we need to eat -something-.

    Or, Ghu forbid, some -one-…

  167. >You can’t have a Schelling point with Sugar or a squid, or a chimp or a human baby, but you moral sensibilities prevent you from eating them.

    Have you actually been paying attention to what I wrote? I used the word “potential” for a very good reason that covers both chimps and human babies. We don’t have to guess that a human baby will become the kind of full sophont that can enter a reciprocal trust network; we know this to a very high probability. There is also convincing (though disputed) evidence that chimpanzees in contact with humans solve the other minds problem and develop language use.

    A cow is different because no matter what environmental stimuli you subject it to it’s never going to develop that kind of mentation. Nor is a dog or rattlesnake. To the limited extent rattlesnakes display tit-for-tat behavior it’s not because they’re capable of reflection and trust, only because they have some hadwired instincts about benefit vs. risk in threat situations.

  168. >However, when one starts splitting hairs about what/who does, and doesn’t count as ‘food’, it’s usually because you’re -in- a lifeboat scenario.

    I don’t think that’s true at all. Consider what you should do about a restaurant offering whale-meat steaks. Or even just plain old calamari.

  169. @ESR –

    You raise a valid point.

    in my personal instance, Calamari fails my rule 3. “must taste good to me”

    Whale fails both my rule 2, and my rule 3. “Must not be illegal” and “must taste good to me.”

    I would decline to kill ( for food, killing it to keep it from killing me is different ) anything that was endangered. I would also decline to eat, except for survival, anything that was endangered.

  170. @esr
    > Have you actually been paying attention to what I wrote?

    I believe so, but I could be mistaken.

    > There is also convincing (though disputed) evidence that chimpanzees in contact with humans solve the other minds problem and develop language use.

    There is also evidence that chimps living in close proximity to humans will rip their faces off too, and so their trust network isn’t all that reliable.

    You are confusing my small mind by switching around. Here you are advocating animal consumption based on the “smart enough to potentially share a trust network”, and I have said that this isn’t a Schelling point because it is not something that people would think obvious at all, it is Eric’s idiopathic construct. And furthermore it only tells you not to eat some animals, not what to do with animals that don’t meet its criterion.

    However this construct has nothing to do with our agreed Schelling point, the golden rule in its more expanded form of responding in line with predominant behavior in your interlocutor in a set of tests. As I have pointed out, much dumber animals than meet your “don’t eat me” criteria can pass the tit for tat test.

    So, to me you seem to be switching between something that is Eric’s idiopathy, and consequently your subjective judgement, and something that is agreed upon but doesn’t match your result set as to edibility.

    So which is it? Too smart to eat, or do unto others? Horses aren’t too smart too eat so you know that your first rule does not exclude horses, but doesn’t say if they are included. And horses can certainly respond to a tit for tat test (whether the mechanism is instinctual or cognitive doesn’t seem relevant to me), when the test is violence, and so consequently, by the golden rule, you shouldn’t eat them.

    Lettuce isn’t smart, and doesn’t respond to tit for tat, but it doesn’t taste good, so I wouldn’t recommend eating that either. Apples on the other hand are quite delicious.

  171. >There is also evidence that chimps living in close proximity to humans will rip their faces off too, and so their trust network isn’t all that reliable.

    One could cogently make the same argument about humans, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try to give humans the benefit of our doubt about it. I think chimpanzees should get that benefit, too.

    >And horses can certainly respond to a tit for tat test (whether the mechanism is instinctual or cognitive doesn’t seem relevant to me)

    It seems profoundly relevant to me. A horse can play tit-for-tat only in very limited, essentially hardwired ways. It has no ability to generate novel cooperative behaviors, nor does it understand symbolic friendship gestures in the way a human or (I believe) an elephant does. In a horse (or a dog, or a cat) there isn’t any there there; reaction, not reflection; no understanding that other minds exist looking back at you.

    It appears to me that you consider this changing the subject only because you don’t notice – or underweight – that crucial difference. A near-sophont can follow the Golden Rule in novel situations because it has a representation (however dim) that you are an entity like itself. A rattlesnake can’t do that, which is why a rattlesnake cannot be part of my trust network.

  172. @Fluffy girl
    Chimps eat human babies.

    And I agree with your point that moral rules are inherently arbitrary. Everyone must decide for her/himself where their border lies.

    There are no universal laws. But there might be “laws” of human morality. They will be different from whatever might function as morality in squids, dolphins, or chimps.

  173. nor does it understand symbolic friendship gestures

    Where does the Nose of Peace fit into this? My ferret has generalized this to nose-bumping my finger identically to how she would my own nose if it were close enough.

  174. >Where does the Nose of Peace fit into this? My ferret has generalized this to nose-bumping my finger identically to how she would my own nose if it were close enough.

    The Nose of Peace is Lorenzian incompleted aggression – I could hurt you but I stopped. It doesn’t require any ability to solve the other-minds problem – we see it even in very old, very primitive mammals. Your ferret’s behavior, on the other hand, is pretty sophisticated and does suggest other-minds awareness and possibly even symbolic behavior.

    When I wrote to Jessica of near-sophonts generating tit-for-tat behavior creatively this is the sort of thing I intended.

  175. @esr
    > It has no ability to generate novel cooperative behaviors, nor does it understand symbolic friendship gestures in the way a human or (I believe) an elephant does.

    It doesn’t understand them in a human way, but no other species does, nor can, because they are not human. However horses clearly recognize the people in their lives, they frequently show affection, connection, fear, hostility. They often respond to affectionate acts, and often engage in affectionate behaviors. They are certainly not automota, though they are undoubtedly less sophisticated than higher order simians. You for sure know that Sugar recognizes, interacts with and has affection for her keepers, often in novel and interesting ways.

    > A near-sophont can follow the Golden Rule in novel situations because it has a representation (however dim) that you are an entity like itself.

    This is a curious way of looking at things — the fact that some dumb animal, such as a cow, doesn’t recognize you an entity like itself means that you can in turn reject it as an entity like yourself. To repeat my earlier example, when we have a human who is mentally incapacitated, we do not think that that diminishes their rights, or decreases our responsibility to act in a unilaterally moral way toward them, in fact, it means exactly the opposite.

    Again, to say that you cannot eat certain animals does not mean that you can eat others, any more than saying that you cannot kill babies means that you can kill adults. Even if you accept your argument as a whole, all it demonstrates is what you cannot do, not what you can do.

    To be clear, I am not a vegetarian. I just don’t think you are making a very good argument. I think that nature is red in tooth and claw and I accept that I am an animal, part of that natural order of things. My morality certainly encourages me to reduce the suffering I cause in others, mostly because my sympathetic nervous system rewards me for thinking that way. And I certainly think in terms of degrees of otherness when measuring that selfsame suffering.

    But I can still look in the mirror and see a violent, self preserving, instinct and hormonally driven animal onto which I have applied a veneer of civilization, and a thinner veneer or rationality. That is what I am, and what everyone else is. I’d rather look into the maw of reality and deal with it, rather than hiding under a self justifying patina of morality built on a tower of smoke.

    As a matter of fact, it is the very thinness of the veneer or rationality and civilization that makes it the most important of all to defend those things.

  176. >You for sure know that Sugar recognizes, interacts with and has affection for her keepers, often in novel and interesting ways.

    Recognizes, interacts, has affection for – yes. Jay Maynard and other regulars who have met her will certify that Sugar is a very nice cat, very good at recognizing friendly behavior from humans and reciprocating it. Way over on the right-hand end of the emotional-intelligence range for cats, and surpassing a not insignificant percentage of humans.

    But. Sugar doesn’t have a lot of capacity to generate novelty. Her niceness is all hardwiring and operant conditioning – if you know any animal ethology you can see down to the bottom of the neotenization and mammalian nurturant behaviors it recruits. There is something easily recognizable as love in her behavior, but only the dimmest and most occasional flickers of self- or other-awareness.

    My FTF encounters with near-sophonts have been different. The harbor seals below Dunvegan castle, my elephant buddy in South Africa, dolphins playing in the wake of the Messina ferry…in all these encounters, there was something looking back at me, a sense of awareness and reflection and presence that I don’t think Sugar, as much as I love her, will never emit. (No, I didn’t get it from my one close-up with an octopus.) The seals and the elephant, definitely – and I think the dolphins too – knew when they looked at me that something like them (and not like a fish or a rock) was looking back. I strongly suspect I’d detect the same awareness in the gaze of a sea otter, but have had no opportunity to check.

    >This is a curious way of looking at things — the fact that some dumb animal, such as a cow, doesn’t recognize you an entity like itself means that you can in turn reject it as an entity like yourself.

    This is exactly the test I’ve been proposing all along, for which the mirror test is an approximate implementation! Are you just figuring that out? Sure, it would be nice to have the creature tell me that it has an inner life like mine. but I can’t expect that unless we can find a common language in which to communicate abstractions.

    >To repeat my earlier example, when we have a human who is mentally incapacitated, we do not think that that diminishes their rights, or decreases our responsibility to act in a unilaterally moral way toward them, in fact, it means exactly the opposite.

    This is because we regard a mentally incapacitated human being as a defective example in which sophont capability has been contingently broken. That is different from an animal in which it is necessarily absent.

    >Even if you accept your argument as a whole, all it demonstrates is what you cannot do, not what you can do.

    This seems like plain sophistry, since I got to my categorization exactly by asking towards what creatures we have ehthical duties (e.g. to refrain from eating them).

    >As a matter of fact, it is the very thinness of the veneer or rationality and civilization that makes it the most important of all to defend those things.

    Which we do in significant by thinking about ethical questions and reasoning to conclusions. This is not a “tower of smoke” any more than the fact that we have eyes implies everything we see is illusory.

    Without such reasoning, what counter have you against PETA’s “A cat is a pig is a dog is a boy”?

  177. “I analyze it differently. Cows are outside the scope of the Golden Rule for exactly the same reason heads of lettuce are. The Golden Rule isn’t a counsel of altruism, it’s a prescription for dealing for entities that have both the power and can form the intention to injure you.”

    Cows don’t start with an intention to injure you, but they are bigger than you, have horns and they know it. Don’t mess with them. It would seem that the Golden Rule applies to cows pretty well, along with many other dumb animals.

    To me, it appears that the Golden Rule is an evolutionary adaptation that appeared long before humans (and our morality) came on the scene.

  178. “At least the animals have a chance to run away…the poor plants are helpless.”

    Also, all the animals eat other living things. Plants (other than Venus Flytraps and their ilk) are the only completely innocent life in existence. And veg(etari)ans single them out for consumption!

    I find ESR’s “they have at least the potential to be in a web of trust with me” definition interestingly similar to Objectivist theory of why humans have rights that don’t extend to animals. If you can reason with The Other, you should do so. But animals that are not capable of reason cannot be reasoned with.

  179. Forgive me, but this discussion really has degenerated into “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.”

    Eric is free to speculate about the potential sophancy of various species in the animal kingdom, and no concrete resolution is likely to be forthcoming anytime soon. Consequently, he will follow his own ethical compass in a personal context, and the ongoing debate is just mental exercise.

    Jessica is correct that subjectivity is a poor basis for moral/ethical foundations, and is clearly enjoying ripping Eric a new one.

    Heaven forbid, but I agree with Winter. “Everyone must decide for her/himself where their border lies. “

  180. >To me, it appears that the Golden Rule is an evolutionary adaptation that appeared long before humans (and our morality) came on the scene.

    I think that’s true. What we see in humans (and to a limited extent in near-sophonts like elephants) is reasoning about nonaggression, rather than simply acting out instinctive responses that tend to follow a Golden Rule heuristic for optimality reasons. (There are game-theoretic reasons for this heuristic that I touched on in Homesteading the Noosphere; they’re also the substratum of private-property institutions in human societies.)

  181. @TomA
    > Jessica is correct that subjectivity is a poor basis for moral/ethical foundations, and is clearly enjoying ripping Eric a new one.

    What a curious characterization. I was trying to have an open and honest discussion about Eric’s point which I find unconvincing. I enjoy it insofar as I enjoy dialog with any honest actor, but why exactly is that ripping him a new one? I think Eric is more than capable of wearing big boy pants, in fact I think his interesting retorts demonstrate exactly that.

    I find it disturbing that discussion has to be characterized in terms of battle rather than seeking an honest resolution.

    > Heaven forbid, but I agree with Winter. “Everyone must decide for her/himself where their border lies. “

    I often agree with Winter. He is a very smart and insightful man. I’m not sure I entirely agree with that statement, though I don’t exactly know why, because I haven’t thought about it a lot.

  182. >I find ESR’s “they have at least the potential to be in a web of trust with me” definition interestingly similar to Objectivist theory of why humans have rights that don’t extend to animals. If you can reason with The Other, you should do so. But animals that are not capable of reason cannot be reasoned with.

    Allowing for some minor differences in language and presuppositions, these theories seem identical to me. Which is interesting; looks like some Objectivist got there before I did.

  183. @ESR

    Any theory on how the This-Is-A-Sopohnt flag gets frobed?

    Also, cats routinely do the Nose Of Peace with fingers.

  184. @ Jessica

    Your argument has been honest, and fair, and strong, and convincing. Eric has beeon defending an ethical position that only makes at the individual level. It is way too subjective to have merit as a global premise, as your Godel reference makes clear. It’s not often that anyone gets the better of him, but you don’t have to rub it in.

  185. @Winter
    > There are no universal laws. But there might be “laws” of human morality.

    In fact there are. If you abstract three levels away from individual moral acts (act -> specific reason for the act -> generalized reason / personal ethics -> formal reasoning mode) you arrive at six abstract forms of moral reasoning organized in a hierarchy so that for an individual to arrive at and become able to consistently use form ‘n’ requires him to have first arrived at form ‘n-1′. These were identified by psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg in the 1960′s, are psychometrically sound and have been experimentally confirmed all around the word. Check here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Kohlberg%27s_stages_of_moral_development

  186. > Heaven forbid, but I agree with Winter. “Everyone must decide for her/himself where their border lies. “

    This in no way invalidates what ESR is saying. Of course we must each decide this for ourselves. Pretending otherwise is a delusion; for instance, a Catholic can say “the Pope decides”, but the individual chooses whether he will be a Catholic (and a lot of people who claim to be Catholics clearly disagree with the Vatican).

    ?You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice?
    ?If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice?

    Meanwhile, we can argue the merits of where to draw the line and attempt to persuade each other. But some will insist on enforcing their decision on the rest of us.

  187. One more quickie.

    @ Jessica – “Winter. He is a very smart”

    Agreed. That’s kinda why we are all here.

    Note to Winter – That was a very libertarian notion coming out of your noggin.

  188. @ esr

    Is your position essentially that you do not eat animals that are self-aware (what is sometimes called self-conscious?

    This is easy to say, but is be hard to determine. It seems to me to be what the mirror test is basically about. Although I have little to base this on in relation to dogs, I think that dogs aren’t really self-aware but (some) parrots are.

    Once I put some sort of treat out for my parrot (whom I frequently called “the little boy” and “my boy”). He asked three questions because the first two times I responded in a way that sounded affirmative but were not words/noises he had heard before. He asked: “For me?”, “For the little boy?”, “For Merlin?”

    Merlin sure seems self-aware but, on the other hand, he definitely understands the concept of substitutable words.

  189. >Jessica is correct that subjectivity is a poor basis for moral/ethical foundations

    Do you think the mirror test is subjective?

  190. @ ESR – “Do you think the mirror test is subjective?”

    There is way too much variability and error potential in a real world application of the mirror test as a determinant for a global ethical foundation. If it were easy (or even reasonably feasible), some researchers would likely have already established a strong basis for classifying some non-human species as sophont. And even then, you would still need broad societal acceptance of the findings in order to establish social mores on that basis.

    As a libertarian, I want my ethics to be based upon firm premises, not conjecture and disputatious, single test results.

  191. >Is your position essentially that you do not eat animals that are self-aware (what is sometimes called self-conscious?

    Very close to that. I’ve tried to stay away from the phrase “self-aware” because it’s hard to see how to test that even in principle. I prefer to concentrate on arguably equivalent predicates that seem easier to test – e.g. behavioral evidence of other-minds awareness.

    Besides not eating animals that seem other-mind-aware, I think we ought to be careful about cases where an animal’s behavior exhibits a suggestive degree of problem-solving ability, causal reasoning, or even the most basic time0binding.

    >Although I have little to base this on in relation to dogs, I think that dogs aren’t really self-aware but (some) parrots are.

    I agree with all three implied claims. I think parrots are interesting because they show a particularly large swing between apparent cognitive ability in the wild and when in contact with humans, a swing which moreover increases in individual parrots with age.

  192. The rule “don’t eat animals that have at least the potential to be in a web of trust” (self-aware, sophonts and near-sophonts) is based on treating individual based on their species. Which is a sane solution.

    I have read a SF netfic (I don’t remember the name, and I have lost URL, but I got it from KatSpace reviews) with aliens that treated each individual on case by case basis. If it can communicate, don’t eat it. They didn’t have the concept of species.

    Though I do wonder when such strategy can be valid outside SF, i.e. under what circumstances it can be evolutionary stable…

  193. @esr
    >Which we do in significant by thinking about ethical questions and reasoning to conclusions.

    But any reasoning has to start from universal premises. Perhaps you have done this too, but I often find the ramblings of religious people interesting. Often their logic is impeccable, they argue their case very well indeed, and their conclusions are totally wrong. Why? Because the premises they start with are nonsense. If I make certain assumptions I can make a very convincing argument for communism, the surveillance state, and sterilization of the poor. I don’t agree with those positions, but they can be argued from some fairly small, though incorrect, axioms.

    Which is why I find your non-edibility criterion: “other aware, and consequently capable of entering into a web of trust, regardless of whether they actually do enter a web of trust” extremely non obvious, which is why I am banging on about Schelling points. The golden rule is more of a Schelling point, however, it is also a perfect illustration of the problem with Schelling points as a solid ground for moral frameworks, namely that people may agree on the banner headline, but examine it in any detail of the precise meaning and your tower of agreement turns into a tower of Babel.

    You can build an argument on “other aware etc…” premise, but until you make a case that this is somehow self evidently valid, which I don’t see above, tower of smoke seems the right description.

    But obviously you don’t have to convince me.

  194. A concept of free market ethical behavior.

    Declare your ethics openly, live by them, and live by the consequences of them.

    Likely as not, the feedback you get from others will either be reinforcing or damaging. You then have a choice to make; either steady as she goes or you make a course correction. In evolutionary terms, that which works best will endure.

  195. @esr
    >Without such reasoning, what counter have you against PETA’s “A cat is a pig is a dog is a boy”?

    I wanted to address this separately, because I think it is a really interesting question.

    I think in a sense the question betrays your true feelings in a sense. Again the true nihilism of the universe seems to grate against some inbuilt sensibility we have that the universe should make sense, that it should be fair and rational. But I think it is very similar to that “common sense” thing. Common sense is often quite correct, only though, insofar as it is dealing with common things. For example, the idea that matter is a smooth infinitely divisible thing is perfect common sense, because to the degree that our common experience allows is, it absolutely is infinitely divisible. We don’t deal with matter on an atomic scale, not without the tools of technology.

    I think we grasp for a moral framework for much the same reason, within our common experience, and more specifically a fairly deeply embedded memetic framework that has been with us since we were non linguistic, it is deeply embedded into our psyches, possibly even into our phisiology, that there is such a thing as right and wrong in some absolute sense, which is to say, a sense that the universe itself supports.

    For example, the huge majority of people I know believe in the westernized idea of Karma, which is to say “what goes around comes around.” People believe this despite the massive amount of evidence to the contrary. They believe it not based on the evidence but because it is what they want to be true, what they think “ought” to be true.

    Getting back to the “what to say to PETA” question though… The answer depends entirely on what effect you want to have with your argument. Is your argument to convince the PETA person of the correctness of your case? Well then there is nothing you can say. True believers are not convincible.

    However, there is another goal that might be attained, the dual goal of undermining the PETA person’s certainty (which might manifest in a change of heart at a later time) or to make a case for the benefit of a third party. It is for this reason, BTW, that I have previously made the case for “there is no god” aggressively in the past. Because it can have these two effects.

    This brings us to a really interesting question, I think. What makes for a convincing argument. Now please note my question is not “what makes for a correct argument”, arguments can be convincing and wrong, unconvincing and right, or the various other combinations. The fact that this is true is evidenced by that whole body of work called “logical fallacies” which are essentially a corpus of common arguments that are both convincing and wrong.

    For example, ad hominem and mockery are both extremely effective rhetorical techniques, even though from a pure logic point of view they are entirely irrelevant. On the flip side, the fact that your interlocutor actually agrees with or disagrees with the conclusion is generally weighed far more heavily in an argument than the logical correctness of your case.

    As I am sure you know there is a whole science associated with this called rhetoric, so perhaps if your goal in the argument is the second then rhetoric is rather more important than logic. But insofar as your question is actually about logic, I suggest that you go with the “I’m an animal” speech that I put in one of my previous comments. It has the advantage that is is absolutely true and correct, and completely aligns with the reality of the universe. Decorate it with rhetoric as much as necessary to convert correctness into convincingness.

    I am very interested to hear what other people have to say about what makes an argument convincing irrespective of its correctness.

  196. “I am very interested to hear what other people have to say about what makes an argument convincing irrespective of its correctness.”

    Anything that confirms someone’s pre-existing bias will be utterly convincing. Confirmation bias is a hard mountain to climb, if you’re trying to change someone’s mind.

  197. Is-Ought Gap.

    But I add to this that for pain to be of consequence to me it needs to be have an experiencer who is at least potentially part of a community of reciprocal trust with me. Otherwise I would be necessarily paralyzed by guilt at killing bacteria every time I breathe.

    So, if superhuman-level AIs do come into being and we are far too dumb for them, would they be justified in maximizing paperclip production by grinding our bones down?

  198. >So, if superhuman-level AIs do come into being and we are far too dumb for them, would they be justified in maximizing paperclip production by grinding our bones down?

    What does it matter what I think? By hypothesis, my ethical judgments are irrelevant to them.

  199. @ Jessica – “what makes an argument convincing irrespective of its correctness.”

    I don’t think they are separable, unless the intent of the proponent is persuasion or deception, e.g. politicians, con men, CAGW fanatics, etc.

    In terms of a legitimate dialectic, I would include the reputation of the proponent, the soundness of the premises, the logic and thoroughness of the argument, and the body of supporting evidence. And its always helpful if the preposition is reasonably testable.

  200. Allowing for some minor differences in language and presuppositions, these theories seem identical to me. Which is interesting; looks like some Objectivist got there before I did.

    Objectivist ethics (at their root, setting aside some of Rand’s more emotional curlicues) can be translated to “Anyone who can play the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma should play it for its own self and ends” and “In the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, cooperate as possible because it maximizes return, retaliate as necessary against the defectors.”

    Rand doesn’t quite cover why you should maximize your returns beyond the fact that the more you maximize your returns, the more you can maximize your returns. There’s a point at there being something deeper (John Galt’s line, “There will be no values for me to seek after that – and I do not care to exist without values”, explaining on what circumstances he would commit suicide), but Rand’s never able to get quite past her assumption of the tabula rasa of the human mind to explain where those ultimate ends could come from.

  201. >Rand’s never able to get quite past her assumption of the tabula rasa of the human mind to explain where those ultimate ends could come from.

    Alas. That part isn’t even hard. We’re evolved survival machines. QED.

  202. Who is this MZW? The problem with triliteralisms is that there only 17576 to go around.

  203. >Who is this MZW? The problem with triliteralisms is that there only 17576 to go around.

    Michael Z. Williamson, aka “Mad Mike”. SF author, libertarian, gun nut, and all manner of other good things.

  204. Among the “other good things”, I feel compelled to mention two here:

    Mad Mike drinks, and appreciates, seriously good booze. If you’re fortunate enough to have him offer you some, be thankful – and treat it with the respect it will most assuredly deserve.

    If you’ve seen a picture of a girl with a cute pink AR-15, that’s his daughter Morrigan. She’s grown into a lovely young lady, and you could do far, far worse than to have her cover your back.

  205. >We’re evolved survival machines.

    Actually, Rand’s grounding of ethics is based on the idea that the fundamental alternative that exists is being ‘alive’ and ‘not alive’, so yes, her ultimate ends are based on us being survival machines.

  206. @The Monster

    Also, all the animals eat other living things. Plants (other than Venus Flytraps and their ilk) are the only completely innocent life in existence. And veg(etari)ans single them out for consumption!

    Plants are not nearly as inoffensive as you make them out to be. A thorny bush that got established in an off corner of my yard seems to have poisoned the ground around it to kill the grass. Trees shade out their competition. There are many examples. Vegetable aggression is very real.

  207. >Trees shade out their competition.

    Or deliberately poison the competition. Black walnuts are well known for it. Look up ‘juglone’. Some things are unaffected, but things like apple, tomato, potato, peppers, asparagus, cannot survive too close to a black walnut (or butternut) tree, or anything grafted on black walnut rootstock. And the death zone extends out when the tree grows….

  208. >Alas. That part isn’t even hard. We’re evolved survival machines. QED.

    Reproduction machines, of course our really extreme K-type strategy (basically, the whole idea of being a sophont is to fly off the extreme end of K) moderates it, but still.

    I have a suspicion that the “survival machine” explanations are essentially romantic, especially when it comes to Rand – who doesn’t find the idea of being a tough-ass, resourceful, clever survivor appealing? And it is so easy to derive the superiority of everything we like from that, from IQ to courage. It is so easy to see everything we admire as a survival trait. It is romantic.

    But if we face the reality of being reproduction machines, we have to accept the harsh truth that most the qualities we admire in the people we admire don’t worth crap with regard to evolutionary game score, compared to some stinking poor, illiterate 19 years old stud in some third-world favela who already has like 3 kids with 3 different women and at that point he might as well die young and still win.

    This is what I loved about Children of Men despite that movie being the most ridiculous set of silly left-wing cliches I have seen for a long time. But I find this idea very realistic that the most important person ever is a mother with a baby. This is how it really worked.

  209. >I have a suspicion that the “survival machine” explanations are essentially romantic,

    Huh? “Reproduction machine” and “survival machine” aren’t as distinct as you think. You have to survive to breading age before you can breed. The pre-sexual-maturity period of humans is longer than most animals’ whole lifetime – also meaning that if your parents aren’t pretty good survival machines you’re in trouble.

  210. Not to mention, that in practice it’s not merely humans competing with humans, but human societies competing with human societies. The traits we admire in capability—strength, IQ, martial skill, &c.—are useful in both cases; most of the traits we admire ‘morally’—courage, honor, benevolence, protectiveness—are there to make societies work. These did show up via evolution, else they wouldn’t be here. And therefore, they did aid humans in surviving and reproducing, at one point.

  211. I think “evolved survival machine” is an excellent descriptor of all living things extant. In this regard, two new theories in foundational evolutionary science are worthy of note.

    The first concerns primordial reproduction by elemental (non-biological) molecules as a potential life origin theory.

    https://www.simonsfoundation.org/quanta/20140122-a-new-physics-theory-of-life/

    The second is that viruses co-evolved with cellular life forms and were/are instrumental in forcing mutation/adaptation cycles via an ongoing survival-of-the-fittest warfare.

    http://www.science.org.ge/moambe/5-2/118-126%20Prangishvili.pdf

  212. @TomA
    “The second is that viruses co-evolved with cellular life forms and were/are instrumental in forcing mutation/adaptation cycles via an ongoing survival-of-the-fittest warfare.”

    I think you underestimate the role of virii in the history of the earth. By far the bulk of genetic information on the planet (DNA&RNA) is virii (viruses) and it is continuously recycled through the rest of the organisms:
    http://www.nature.com/nrmicro/journal/v5/n10/abs/nrmicro1750.html

    And virii might have originated in two different ways: Bottom up and top down
    http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/the-origins-of-viruses-14398218

  213. >You have to survive to breading age before you can breed.

    True – but the kind of survival skills that come accross as romantically admirable – Rand was essentially a romantic writer – tend to blossom well beyond puberty. Intelligence, common sense, problem solving skills, physical fighting prowess, work ethic, whatever.

    But wait. Do you mean the ability to keep kids alive is basically a huge overlap between survival and reproduction? Basically survival skills combined with a kind of small-team leadership?

  214. > Do you mean the ability to keep kids alive is basically a huge overlap between survival and reproduction?

    “Overlap”? From an evolutionary standpoint, “reproduction” is “survival”, or at least a huge subset of it.

    For sexually-reproducing species, the critical question is “How many girls can each woman birth, that stay alive long enough to become mothers themselves?” If that number is greater than 1, population can grow. If it is less than 1, population falls.

    The above assumes that by doing so, they also produce enough boys that live long enough to keep the women in the baby-production business and do the dangerous, yet important, jobs like hunting animals that can kill people. The men do the dangerous things because individual men are quite dispensable. The loss of, say, 10% of a tribe’s adult males need not have any effect on the aforementioned critical question, as the surviving males can easily handle impregnating the fertile women. The loss of 10% of the tribe’s fertile women means ~10% less people in the next generation.

  215. Staunch vegetarian here, but appreciate that you have put in a detailed explanation. I do have a question though :

    “Cruelty is a different matter. I think we ought not engage in cruelty because it is damaging and coarsening; people who make a habit of being cruel to non-sophonts are more likely to become cruel and dangerous to sophonts as well.”

    Do you believe that the state should ban cruelty? I am asking this because my understanding is that according to classical liberalism, as also libertarianism, any mutally agreed upon transaction between two willing individuals that does not cause *direct material harm* to a third party, should be legal? You sure talk of animal leading to material harm, but it seems rather indirect to me.

  216. The least suffering per pound of meat is blue whale.

    The food with the most nutritional value per serving is calf liver.

    Rice requires the graunching of frogs in the harvest process, unless you process by hand.

    Vegtards are just passive aggressive pussies about their slaughter. I embrace mine. I’ve even waterboarded a cow with beer before slaughtering it.

  217. >Do you believe that the state should ban cruelty?

    No, but that’s because I’m an anarchist – I don’t want there to be a state to ban anything. I will reinterpret this as whether I think the web of contracts that would function as law in the kind of libertarian anarchy I want to live in should ban cruelty to animals.

    No. Not all kinds of wrongdoing belong within the scope of the law. I think sophonts have a right to go to hell in their own way, including damaging themselves for fun, as long as they don’t infringe the rights of other sophonts.

    That said, I would prefer a society that condemns and shuns people cruel to animals to one which (other norms being equal) does not.

  218. >Guess badger’s off the menu.

    Damn. I had no idea.

    Not only is ratel off the menu, this means other mustelids with comparable encephalization ratios may be, too. I should probably already have gone to heightened scrutiny based on otters.

  219. Years after becoming an internet meme for being really kind of badass, the honey badger still finds a way to surprise me with its awesomeness.

    And that, in itself, is pretty badass.

  220. > My real point is that you have to draw a boundary around the scope of your concern somewhere or you’ll end up with an ethical commitment that is impossible.

    Why is this a problem for objective ethics?

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