Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dear Xodarap

I'm writing here in response to a comment on my essay: The Alliance for Animals.

I appreciate your comments Xodarap. My thought experiment contained a large error. The size of the 1/300-millionth is at least four or five times larger than I cited above. But the experiment still seems to suggest a probable truth. Using the larger number, perhaps using any larger number, it still seems to me that a reduction of 1/300-millionth of the demand will have no effect on supply. 1/300-millionth of the demand has no effect on supply. Individual vegans have no effect on the meat supply. I am doubtful even about the cumulative effect of all the vegans in the US combined, which is apparently about 1/2 of 1 percent of the U.S. population.

Corporate outreach may be worth trying sometimes. On the farm animal welfare front, as THL notes, it isn't new, and the outreach efforts have been welfarist in nature. You write: "you can track how much effort you put into the boycott or whatever and then if the company changes you can divide how many animals were saved by how much work you put in to get cost-effectiveness... Groups like MFA and THL have had successes which are pretty astonishing, often on the order of $.20 per animal."

I dearly wish that astonished me. I wish I weren't so uncertain about the best method(s). It's not clear to me that cage-free is particularly significant; I'm inferring from your comment above that $.20 per animal refers to chickens. I suspect that cage-free chickens lead miserable lives. I don't think that suffering is an easily quantifiable phenomena. I worry that announcements heralding news that this or that restaurant or supplier has switched to cage-free eggs or meat encourages consumers believe that farming animals is OK when done humanely.

Based on what appears to me to be a parallel case, it may be reasonable to assume that the farm animal welfare movement is unlikely to achieve what it may hope to achieve through the promotion of more humane methods.

Antivivisectionists worked for passage of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act of 1966, P.L. 89-544, the earlier version of today's Animal Welfare Act. Prior to passage, conditions in many of the labs across the country were worse than you might be able to imagine. Minimum standards of care and use were stipulated, institutions receiving federal funds were required to meet the standards or risk losing their funding. Improvements were made.

But conditions in the labs are terrible. It is true that scientists are more constrained than they were, animals have to have a certain tiny amount of space and they usually have to be be given adequate food and water. Maybe, if you could take a monkey from 50 years ago and whisk him to this time, he might say he now had it better, but to the monkeys and other animals here now, like I suspect it is for the chickens in the better prisons, its terrible. Really terrible. I can't discern much progress on the animal rights front or even any less suffering in the labs as a result of passage of this legislation. And, the Act is always pointed to by the industry as evidence that they are humane.

Calculations regarding the number of animals "saved" as a result of the more humane methods being used in the labs might be possible, a number might be generated, but it would have little real meaning. Trying to determine the dollar amount spent to bring about the improvements experienced per animal seems pointless, even absurd to me.

I appreciate you pointing to The Humane Leagues' three reviews of social movements. (There are BTW, some really good scholarly efforts to trace the development of animal advocacy. Norm Phelps's The Longest Struggle is an excellent starting point. Anyone interested in suggesting a new direction for an existing animal rights organization has an obligation, I think, to familiarize themselves with this body or work.) Like THL's Reports on the efficacy of various images and messaging, I found the articles interesting but not supportive of THL's fundamental claim. I also found them somewhat misleading and self-promoting at times, ignoring the lack of conclusive data in the THL Reports. I found their conflation of "animal groups" and "animal activism" annoying and misleading.

The last "case study" was interesting. The take-home message was that the fight to make the world a safer, more humane place for children has been a long one that continues to involve efforts on multiple fronts. I was a special education teacher in a rural community; I appreciate people's efforts for children.

As far as the Kool-Aid is concerned, because of the continuing reference by THL to its Reports as substantiation of their claims about the number of animals they save, it is fair to characterize their beliefs as overly zealous or wild. I don't think there is evidence that their ideas about helping animals are better than average; the animal question is a very hard problem. When I see others swoon, otherwise smart people, it looks to me like they have had some sort of shared experience, a conversion so to speak. Perhaps something was slipped into their food.


Xodarap said...

Thanks for your response Rick.

It sounds to me like your criticism reduces to a classic "welfare versus abolition" debate, and way too much has been written on that already, so I won't comment apart from saying that I agree that if you think welfare reforms are useless, you probably won't like THL, MFA etc.

I do think it's misleading to characterize this as a critique of "effective altruism" – these groups have defined a goal, and are effectively meeting that goal. If you had said "THL is bad because welfare reforms are bad" I wouldn't have had much to comment on.

Rick Bogle said...

Hi Xodarap,

Which of my rants were thinking about when you wrote: "it's misleading to characterize this as a critique of 'effective altruism'"? I have criticized EA in a couple places recently. It seems sort of goofball to me. Did you see by any chance the article featuring Peter Singer in the current issue of the Lions's Roar (previously Shambala Sun) on EA?

Just curious Xodarap, how does the proposed give-away of the Alliance, an animal rights organization, square with THL's welfarist agenda? Even you must see the two organizations' contrary agendas.