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Should Effective Altruism Take Abolitionism More Seriously? – Dhruv Makwana – Sentientism Episode 150

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

Dhruv is a PhD student at the Department of Computer Science and Technology, University of Cambridge. He has interests in psychology, philosophy and animal advocacy.

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.” The audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

We discuss:

00:00 Welcome
01:33 Dhruv Intro
02:25 What’s Real?

  • Born in India, moving to Scotland “A mix of two cultures”
  • Hindu temple at home, outside was “classic western materialism, science…”
  • @OfficialDerrenBrown ‘s “Tricks of the Mind”. Magic, charlatanism, #homeopathy , #religion, #GMO scepticism (e.g. Golden Rice)
  • Reading Michael Shermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things” at 12 yrs old
  • Finding school academically easy but socially hard “immigrant children willl know… feeling like half and half and the halves don’t really mix”
  • Culturally universal values: “There was this value of transcendence that was just missing… it would be really nice if god was real… I switched back and forth”
  • Celebrating #diwali when visiting India “I could see the appeal… but I couldn’t see any reason or logic”
  • “It’s not like the western materialists have any really great answers on how to live…”
  • Experiencing clinical #depression at Cambridge University
  • Discovering #stoicism & #nietzsche “a very positive nihilism”
  • The @philosophizethispodcast and @theschooloflifetv “self-directed, exploratory learning”
  • Existentialism “I couldn’t really follow the continental philosophers”. Camus’ “The Plague” made more sense during #covid19
  • A personal situation “which just did not seem amenable to being logiced out of”
  • A talk by @akalamusic
  • Going back to Indian religion & philosophy “there might be something here”
  • Reading the #mahabharata to understand the context for the #bhagavadgita
  • #arjuna , #krishna roles & responsibilities “why should I act if the fruits of my acts are not my own?”
  • Encountering #buddhism Graham Priest’s “Paraconsistent logics”
  • 2 weeks at a Buddhist monastery in Scotland “everyone had their own story… so much suffering… worse than mine”
  • Values of patience, generosity, loving
  • Practising #meditation & #mindfulness
  • “Let me just try things that seem to work”
  • The wisdom of hunter-gatherer cultures
  • Not dismissing or reifying any culture
  • “I accidentally moved to New Zealand”
  • Going #vegan (after growing up #vegetarian ) mainly for environmental reasons
  • Trying vegan pizza “this is fine”
  • @SimonAmstellNumb ‘s #Carnage documentary
  • @ed.winters Watching #EarthlingEd
  • Ethical & epistemological journeys developing in parallel
  • Meeting an activist community
  • Reading Peter Singer’s “The Life You Can Save” and #effectivealtruism
  • Sam Harris’ “Waking Up”
  • Identity & Derek Parfit
  • Physicist Carlo Rovelli’s “The Order of Time” & intepretations of quantum physics
  • “I have 4 extremely diverse points of view pointing to this very strange thing about notions of identity… the Buddha takes things one step further… this is one of the reasons you’re upset”
  • “Being troubled by open metaphysical questions is not because you don’t have an answer… it’s because you expect the answer”
  • A local #yoga group
  • “I stopped being bothered by these big existential questions”
  • Exploring from the outside & the inside (e.g. via meditation)
  • Cravings & suffering
  • Philosophy of mind: functionalism, materialism, #illusionism , #panpsychism
  • #dualism & non-dualism
  • Are fictional characters “real”?
  • Time as an abstraction of a gradient of #entropy
  • The movie “Tenet”
  • Consciousness as a statistical macro-phenomena?
  • P-zombies
  • #bayesian epistemology vs. Deutschian / Popper #CriticalRationality: putting reasons & explanation at the foundational level
  • St. Petersburg Paradox

53:00 Who & What Matters?

  • Inconsistency arguments re: moral exclusion
  • “Consistency seems like a good thing to aim for”
  • “Clearly animals count”
  • Kinship & transcendence “they are literally related”
  • “I use sentience… a fuzzy line”
  • Artificial or alien sentience
  • Plant sentience?
  • Blamelessness if we’re making good faith efforts to attribute sentience
  • Risks of ethical flattening if consciousness is all-pervasive “everything matters so nothing does”
  • Buddhism’s “ultimate reality & relative reality”
  • Pain vs. suffering & human capacity to mitigate suffering even when experiencing pain

01:03:03 A Better Future?

  • Criticisms of #effectivealtruism
  • Welfarism vs. abolitionism… end goals and tactics
  • #Greenwashing & #Humanewashing
  • Jeff Sebo and the psychological intuition re: rights
  • Motivated reasoning
  • Ex-vegans: “something leads them to eat some animal products and then their moral opinions change… that seems suspicious”
  • Not just ending animal exploitation but preventing it re-emerging
  • The wild animal suffering imperative
  • Welfarism is “unnecessary… and risky”
  • Logic of the larder, the myth of death without suffering, the intrinsic wrongness of killing?
  • “I believe in person-affecting views but I don’t believe in persons”
  • Individuals as “macro-phenomena”
  • Is existence better than non-existence?
  • “In the EA animal advocacy community it seems like people have said yes to welfarist approaches and no to abolitionist approaches (as tactics) – my conjecture is that… it should be ‘unknown’ to abolitionist approaches rather than ‘no’”
  • The limitations of welfarist tactics: high income countries focus (now changing); cultivated-meat optimism (also changing); over-scepticism about individual change advocacy (esp. elimination / veganism)
  • Reducetarianism: “More people will respond to the ‘reduce’ but they’ll do it by less – whereas fewer people will respond to the ‘eliminate’ but they’ll do it by more”
  • Outdated unfortunate caricatures of abolitionists
  • Risk of excuses & dead ends: reduction, “humane” animal farming…
  • Ideas for effective abolitionism: international rights based approaches to animal law (a Universal Declaration of Sentient Rights?); animal farm transitions;
  • “At some point all the pieces need to come together”
  • #transfarmation “one of my favourite ideas… often farmers are trapped in this industry” “There’s a win-win situation for everyone involved”
  • Economically self-sustaining interventions
  • Institutional land-holdings re: agriculture
  • Measuring human welfare via QUALYs and DALYs “well-intentioned but empirically and philosophically terrible”
  • Objective list theory
  • Biases re: loss and getting used to good or bad changes e.g. returning to hedonic set-points
  • A better approach: “I could ask you”
  • Happier Lives Institute “how bad is death and who is it bad for?”
  • Could helping people cope with suffering be an excuse for not fixing the problems (e.g. poverty, health) causing their suffering?
  • Trauma, stress and growth
  • Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics “Economies that are required to grow regardless of whether or not they make people thrive… we should be aiming for economies that make people thrive whether or not they grow”
  • The risks of environmentalism and degrowth movements “I’m comfortable, now everyone else needs to stop growing and find a different way to be happy”
  • Working with communities
  • Low-cost group therapy as an intervention can be highly cost effective “That’s a very surprising result… so illuminating… something that only the Effective Altruism movement could have produced”
  • The wellbeing and economic arguments for helping people suffering from depression “great if you care about the people but also great if you just care about the money”
  • Population life satisfaction as an indicator of whether a politician will get re-elected
  • Psychedelics and meditation “the science really needs to catch up” “clinicians will need to be able to take an ontologically neutral point of view” (re: seeing fairies, for examples)
  • Emergent Phenomenology Research Consortium
  • “I had no idea if that was working… but it did make me feel better”
  • “You need a really finely tuned bullshit detector”
  • The Aurelius Foundation, stoicism and previous guest Massimo Pigliucci

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

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Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

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