Michelle_Hutchinson comments on Why Animals Matter for Effective Altruism - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 24 August 2016 10:41:36AM *  4 points [-]

Recognizing the scale of animal suffering starts with appreciating the sentience of individual animals — something surprisingly difficult to do given society’s bias against them (this bias is sometimes referred to as speciesism). For me, this appreciation has come from getting to know the three animals in my home: Apollo, a six-year-old labrador/border collie mix from an animal shelter in Texas, and Snow and Dualla, two chickens rescued from a battery cage farm in California.

I wonder if we might do ourselves a disservice by making it sound really controversial / surprising that animals are thoroughly sentient? It makes it seem more ok not to believe it, but I think also can come across as patronising / strange to interlocutors. I've in the past had people tell me they're 'pleasantly surprised' that I care about animals, and ask when I began caring about animal suffering. (I have no idea how to answer that - I don't remember a time when I didn't) This feels to me somewhat similar to telling someone who doesn't donate to developing countries that you're surprised they care about extreme poverty, and asking when they started thinking that it was bad for people to be dying of malaria. On the one hand, it feels like a reasonable inference from their behaviour. On the other hand, for almost everyone we're likely to be talking to it will be the case that they do in fact care about the plight of others, and that their reasons for not donating aren't lack of belief in the suffering, or lack of caring about it. I would guess that would be similar for most of the people we talk to about animal suffering: they already know and care about animal suffering, and would be offended to have it implied otherwise. This makes the case easier to make, because it means we're already approximately on the same page, and we can start talking immediately about the scale and tractibility of the problem.

Comment author: thebestwecan 25 August 2016 06:03:42AM *  2 points [-]

I basically agree with this. Some feedback on this post before it was published suggested that I add even more content justifying animal sentience. I pushed back on that for reasons you mention, but still wanted to include the quoted section because (i) even if most people agree with animal sentience when asked, it's a different matter to "appreciate" it and recognize the implications for cause prioritization and other moral decisions, (ii) some people in the EA community have noted skepticism about animal sentience as the main reason for not prioritizing animal advocacy (although this happens less as time goes on), so I wanted to directly confront that.