Tobias Leenaert headshot

“Making Compassion Easier” – Tobias Leenaert – Author and meta-advocate – Sentientist Conversation

Find our Sentientist Conversation on the Sentientism YouTube here or on the Sentientism podcast here.

Tobias (@TobiasLeenaert) is an author & a vegan advocacy consultant. He blogs at Veganstrategist.org & wrote “How to Create a Vegan World”. He is the co-founder of ProVeg International. He is an Effective Altruist – thinking about the best ways to achieve a compassionate society. He also describes himself as a “Slow opinionist”.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” As well as the video above, the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple and here on the other platforms.

We discuss:
0:00 Welcome

1:28 Tobias’ Intro – A life of vegan advocacy

  • Setting up EVA, then “meta-activism” helping other activists be more effective

2:37 What’s Real?

  • Being confirmed as a Catholic & attending Catholic school because “that’s just what you do”
  • Defending rational & scientific worldviews
  • “I’m not the most devout atheist you can find”… there’s a possibility there’s “something more”
  • Could religious visions one day be made real through technology? Reincarnation, heaven, creation/simulation?
  • “Maybe religious ideas are perversions of what is technologically possible”
  • Science fiction
  • Hallucinogenics & “religious” experiences
  • The hard problem of consciousness vs. “it’s just what doing this sort of info processing feels like”
  • The echoes of religious ideas even for those who no longer believe. The Exorcist” movie

15:34 What Matters Morally?

  • Being raised as an ethical person. Volunteering at 12 yrs old
  • A teenage phase of being less morally engaged, then “it came back – especially with animals”
  • “That empathy was there always – without needing a system of rules”
  • Emotional & rational bases for compassionate ethics
  • “You can be a vegan sociopath”… decide rationally to act compassionately without feeling empathy

22:12 Extending moral consideration to non-humans

  • Loving companion cats and dogs at home as a child
  • Wondering what’s the difference between them & cows we eat
  • “If I can’t answer that question I have to stop eating animals”
  • Taking 10 years to go vegan even after that realisation
  • The power of taste preference… overcoming intertia
  • Making a bet to go without meat for a month. Then carrying on
  • Empathy, reasoning, then practice
  • “Making compassion easier”
  • Peter Singer’s shallow pond thought experiment
  • Anthropocentrism, sentiocentrism, biocentrism, ecocentrism
  • Wild animal suffering & artificial sentients
  • “I don’t see the point in going beyond sentientism – only sentient beings can suffer by definition”
  • The dangers of environmentalists granting moral consideration to species or populations that have no concerns & can’t experience
  • By definition suffering is bad
  • Sentientism as the only moral discrimination?
  • Environmentalism often being a veneer on anthropocentrism
  • Humans appreciating the aesthetics of the wild but not the suffering within it
  • Taking the perspective of the other
  • Imagine extreme suffering & you won’t philosophise – you’ll just say “please help me”
  • The most important interests & needs are the most common across species
  • Why even many vegans have a blind-spot re: wild animal suffering
  • Consequentialism, utility, virtue, deontology & care ethics
  • Do the general public care about wild animal suffering more than vegans?
  • “Many people have replaced god with nature”
  • Theodicies & the brutality of “nature”

46:55 The Future

  • It’s simple & obvious that we should stop killing & exploiting animals… maybe this century
  • Tech alternatives, awareness, behaviour, then norms will shift
  • “If people have to make too much effort – it won’t happen”
  • “We can create bliss for humans – but how do we do that for other sentients”
  • Decisions re: companion, liminal & wild animals. How many & how will they live
  • Population control, suffering alleviation
  • Re-wilding. Trophic chains and suffering levels
  • “We are the only ones who can do it… If you want a universe without terrible suffering… you need at least one intelligence to be raised to an incredible, advanced level.”
  • Toby Ord’s “The Precipice” doesn’t mention the human role in caring for other sentients
  • “That’s one reason we shouldn’t go extinct”
  • Alien & artificial sentience
  • “I would say we should not develop artificial sentience”… the chance of massive suffering is quite high

57:07 Vegan Advocacy

  • Risks of welfarist dead ends & ethics-washing
  • Incrementalism with a clear abolitionist goal
  • More aggressive tactics will become more fruitful as alternatives become easier

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Sentientism.info.

Join Tobias on our “I’m a Sentientist” wall using this simple form.

Everyone, Sentientist or not, is welcome in our groups. The biggest so far is here on Facebook.

Thanks Graham for the post-production.

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