Comment author: Jacy_Anthis2 06 August 2014 09:21:00PM 0 points [-]

"Reducing astronomical waste need not involve preventing human extinction—it can involve other changes in humanity’s long-term trajectory."

Glad to see this gaining more traction in the x-risk community!

In response to comment by Jacy_Anthis2 on On 'causes'
Comment author: Owen_Cotton-Barratt2 25 June 2014 01:30:00AM 0 points [-]

Did you read the first part of the post, on meanings of cause? I don't disagree that that could be the best intervention cluster. But I think if we're pursuing it, it should be for the right reasons -- this will help us to make the correct decisions when new evidence comes to light.

I entirely agree that improving animal welfare could still beat improving human welfare. That's exactly what I was saying in (vi).

Comment author: Jacy_Anthis2 25 June 2014 01:45:00AM 0 points [-]

I don't "see other things in the vicinity such as targeting value improvements where it's almost certain that at least one of them is better." That's where I was asking for better alternative subgoals to reaching value improvements.

I think we practically understand each other's points now though. Thanks for the discussion and clarification.

In response to comment by Jacy_Anthis2 on On 'causes'
Comment author: Owen_Cotton-Barratt2 25 June 2014 01:11:00AM 0 points [-]

I would put (iii) in roughly the same category as (v), though I think it's more unlikely in case of (iii) than (v).

There isn't really a tension between (vi) and (vii), although I can see why you might think there was. It's a distinction about our subjective probability distributions for how good the different causes are.

The way I see it, we are currently probing a space and know relatively little about it. We want to know global features -- which things are better than others, and which are best. Often we are better at distinguishing local features -- how to compare between relatively similar matters.

I think the arguments we've discussed show reasonably conclusively that animal welfare isn't the best instrumental goal -- because we can see other things in the vicinity such as targeting value improvements where it's almost certain that at least one of them is better. This doesn't tell us how to compare the things in this vicinity with the things in the vicinity of human welfare improvements. The contrast with human welfare interventions was firstly supposed to show how indirect effects matter, and second supposed to make clear that there was something unusual going on in the vicinity of the animal welfare interventions. It wasn't meant to make a direct claim about how to compare the two.

Comment author: Jacy_Anthis2 25 June 2014 01:24:00AM 0 points [-]

"I think the arguments we've discussed show reasonably conclusively that animal welfare isn't the best instrumental goal -- because we can see other things in the vicinity such as targeting value improvements where it's almost certain that at least one of them is better."

It seems the "improving animal welfare" interventions could very well be the best ways to improve those values. I think that's a key point where we disagree. I'd be interested in hearing what you think are better alternatives at some point.

If there are clearly better options for proxies related to "improving animal welfare," but not clearly better options for proxies related to "improving human welfare," then "improving animal welfare" could still be the better option of the two. Analogy: if we have two car races with five separate cars each, the worst car in one race could still be better than all five in the other.

In response to comment by Jacy_Anthis2 on On 'causes'
Comment author: Owen_Cotton-Barratt2 24 June 2014 10:10:00PM 0 points [-]

Neither (i) (although I think that's true) nor (ii).

Closer would be a modification of (ii): (iii) That improving animal welfare with interventions like vegan leafleting, public demonstrations, antispeciesism essays, or lobbying for farm animals seems "extremely unlikely" to be *the best way* of meeting the goal of making the long-term future flourish.

Personally, I'd more or less endorse (iii), though I'd replace "extremely unlikely" with "unlikely". Of course, the distinction between "good" and "best" matters a lot here. I don't think these things are bad, but I do think that we can do better.

The actual claim has another modification:

(iv) That setting out to improve animal welfare (in the short or medium term) seems extremely unlikely to be the best sub-goal to aim for to meet the goal of making the long-term future flourish.

--

One thing you said was:

"Most non-human animal activists see great value in helping farm animals now as well as potential impact on the far future."

I would argue that they should think the value in helping farm animals now, while it may seem large, is very small compared to the value they can expect to create in the far future (whether through this route or another), and should therefore not be a large component of their decision making (unless they find it useful for another reason, such as to sustain motivation).

Comment author: Jacy_Anthis2 24 June 2014 11:12:00PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the clarification. Claim (iii) with "unlikely" rather than "extremely unlikely" is a tenable view, and the specifics, of course, depend on other ways we can affect the far future. Do you think it's fair to put the modified (iii) claim in the same category as...

(v) That improving human welfare with interventions like antimalaria nets, deworming pills, or cash transfers seems "unlikely" to be *the best way* of meeting the goal of making the long-term future flourish.

I take it you do put these in the same category as you say you are (vi) not making the claim: That improving human welfare is a better instrumental sub-goal for improving the long-term future than improving animal welfare.

But you also claim (vii) "In contrast, we do not have similarly strong reasons to think “improve human welfare” is definitely not the best approach." There seems to clearly be a tension between (vi) and (vii).

Could you resolve it?

In response to On 'causes'
Comment author: Jacy_Anthis2 24 June 2014 09:14:00PM 0 points [-]

I am glad you are considering far-future effects in terms of proxies like "increase empathy." I think this is a useful method. Also, I commend you for considering far-future impacts in general, as increasing our confidence in effecting them seems to have high potential upside for EA decision-making.

On the specifics of this post, I am unsure exactly what your claim is now - whether it's (i) that a happier non-human farm animal, all else equal, seems "extremely unlikely" to meet the goal of making the long-term future flourish, or (ii) that improving animal welfare with interventions like vegan leafleting, public demonstrations, antispeciesism essays, or lobbying for farm animals seems "extremely unlikely" to meet the goal of making the long-term future flourish.

(i) seems clearly true, but if you mean (ii), I think that's debatable and am unsure how you arrive at "extremely unlikely." Most non-human animal activists see great value in helping farm animals now as well as potential impact on the far future. I think strong evidence is required to reject their claims with such confidence.

For example, even Vegan Outreach, arguably the most short-run impact focused organization in the field, considers its impact in both ways: "In addition to influencing the diets of individuals, VO wants to change the ways that people view farm animals and teach people that farm animals are capable of suffering. VO aims to influence public opinion to affect long-term public policy." (http://files.givewell.org/files/conversations/Jack%20Norris%205-20-14%20(public).pdf)

Some organizations are much more explicit about their goals for promoting general antispeciesism sentiment and helping animals in the long-run, like Direct Action Everywhere (http://directactioneverywhere.com), and concern themselves very little (if at all) with individual dietary changes.

Now, this isn't clearly the best route to improving the long-term future, but I think it would take very strong evidence to say it is "extremely unlikely" and the point merits further consideration. I know my personal decisions could change with new information on these potential far-future effects.

Comment author: Owen_Cotton-Barratt2 07 June 2014 12:59:00AM 0 points [-]

Sure, that makes sense. I think that the post would only be likely to elicit that immediate response in someone whose major reason for supporting animal welfare was the large amount of short-term suffering that it could avert, but I will make sure to pay attention to the possible take-home messages when writing blog posts.

Comment author: Jacy_Anthis2 07 June 2014 01:01:00AM 2 points [-]

I'm happy to hear you state your views outside the post. They seem reasonable and open-minded, which was not my original impression. I look forward to reading more of your work. Always feel free to send me articles/ideas for critique/discussion.

Comment author: Owen_Cotton-Barratt2 07 June 2014 12:42:00AM 0 points [-]

> I think we'd all be happy for you to defend this assertion, since it is quite controversial within EA and the broader community.

I think you must be misreading my assertion, because I don't think it's very controversial.

I am here saying -- and not here defending (though I link to others saying this) -- that many short term welfare benefits to humans are likely to compound in a way that means that the size of short term benefit tracks the size of long term benefit.

I'm also claiming that, in contrast, with animal welfare interventions it matters much more how the benefit was achieved, because most of the indirect benefits will come through the same channel (better welfare outcomes from human value shifts, for example, may be much better than similarly sized better welfare outcomes from the invention of a comfier cage for battery hens).

Comment author: Jacy_Anthis2 07 June 2014 12:57:00AM 3 points [-]

If that is your assertion, I feel the post is misrepresenting your view as something much stronger (i.e human-focused causes have significant positive impact that non-human animal-focused causes do not, therefore human-focused causes are better). This is disingenuous and caused our negative reactions.

Comment author: Owen_Cotton-Barratt2 07 June 2014 12:32:00AM 0 points [-]

> Cost-effectiveness calculations are employed by every EA prioritization organization, and nobody is claiming they necessarily imply a higher priority.

Cost-effectiveness is one of the classic tools used in prioritisation, and at least in theory a higher level of cost-effectiveness should exactly imply higher priority. Now the issue is that we don't trust our estimates, because they may omit important consequences that we have some awareness of, or track the wrong variables. But when people bring cost-effectiveness estimates up, there is often an implicit claim to priority (or one may be read in even if not intended).

Comment author: Jacy_Anthis2 07 June 2014 12:42:00AM 2 points [-]

"Cost-effectiveness is one of the classic tools used in prioritisation, and at least in theory a higher level of cost-effectiveness should exactly imply higher priority. Now the issue is that we don't trust our estimates, because they may omit important consequences that we have some awareness of, or track the wrong variables."

I totally agree.

"But when people bring cost-effectiveness estimates up, there is often an implicit claim to priority (or one may be read in even if not intended)."

I would agree with the point in parentheses, but often it's just brought up as one factor in a multitude of decision-making criteria. And I think that's a good place for it, at least until we get better at it.

Comment author: Owen_Cotton-Barratt2 07 June 2014 12:21:00AM 1 point [-]

Hi Jacy,

Thanks for your comment and the link to your own post, which I'd not read. I'm glad to see discussion of these indirect effects, and I think it's an area that needs more work for a deeper understanding.

I'm a bit confused by your hostility, as it seems that we are largely in agreement about the central point, which is that the route to long-term benefits flows in large part through short-term effects on humans (whether those are welfare improvements, value shifts, or some other category). I'm aware that this is not a novel claim, but it's also one that is not universally known.

I'm particularly confused by your opening sentence. Could you explain how this is harmful or dangerous?

A couple of replies to specific points follow, so that we can thread the conversation properly if need be.

Comment author: Jacy_Anthis2 07 June 2014 12:34:00AM 2 points [-]

Owen,

I appreciate that you're thinking about flow-through/long-term effects and definitely agree we need more discussion and understanding in the area.

My "hostility" (although it isn't that extreme =] really) is primarily due to the propagation of the assumption that "human-focused causes have positive significant flow-through effects while non-human animal-focused causes do not." We have a lot more research to do into questions like this before we have that sort of confidence.

So the danger here is that impact-focused people might read the post and say "Wow, I should stop trying to support non-human animal-welfare since it doesn't matter in the long-run!" I realize that your personal view is more nuanced, and I wish that came across more in your post. The possible flow-through effects: (i) promoting antispeciesism, (ii) scope sensitivity, (iii) reducing cognitive dissonance, and many more seem perfectly viable.

Hope that makes sense.

Comment author: Jacy_Anthis2 06 June 2014 10:19:00PM 2 points [-]

Although I generally encourage dissenting opinions in the EA community, I think the idea expressed by this post is harmful and dangerous for similar reasons as those expressed by Brian and Peter.

1) "Some have argued for estimates showing animal welfare interventions to be much more cost-effective per unit of suffering averted, with an implication that animal welfare should perhaps therefore be prioritised."

This seems to be a misrepresentation of the views held by many EAs. Cost-effectiveness calculations are employed by every EA prioritization organization, and nobody is claiming they imply a higher priority. They are only one of many factors we consider when evaluating causes.

2) "Moreover, if it could achieve a lasting improvement in societal values, it might have a large benefit in improved animal welfare over the long-term."

I am glad this sentence was included, but it is relatively deep in the post and is one of the strongest reasons EAs advocate against factory farming and speciesism. I posted my thoughts on the subject here: ( http://thebestwecan.org/2014/04/29/indirect-impact-of-animal-advocacy/ )

3) "The upshot of this is that it is likely interventions in human welfare, as well as being immediately effective to relieve suffering and improve lives, also tend to have a significant long-term impact. This is often more difficult to measure, but the short-term impact can generally be used as a reasonable proxy. ... "

I could replace "human" with "non-human animal" welfare here and the argument would be just as valid. It's a grand assumption to think this applies to human-focused causes but not others. If you have further justification for this, I think that would be an interesting post.

4) "For many types of human welfare intervention, we can use the short-term benefits to humans as a proxy for ongoing improvements in a way that is not possible – and may be misleading – when it comes to improvements to animal welfare."

I think we'd all be happy for you to defend this assertion, since it is quite controversial within EA and the broader community.

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