The Sentience Conference: glad to be human

Last weekend I spoke at and participated in the Sentience Conference in Berlin. This conference carried the wonderful motto “effective strategies to reduce the suffering of all sentient beings” (tell me, what is hotter than that?). The event was organized by Sentience Politics, an “anti-speciesist think tank” in the Effective Altruism community.

For those who are not familiar with it, Effective Altruism is a philosophy as well as a movement whose proponents apply scientific research and evidence to doing good. It’s about combining the heart and the mind to develop evidence-based strategies and tactics to reduce suffering. Topics that Effective Altruism as a movement prioritizes are: health (in the general sense, including the fight against malaria and other diseases), animal suffering, and potentially huge future risks for humanity (like artificial intelligence). A lot of attention is also given to meta-activism and meta-charities (like Givewell or, in our domain, Animal Charity Evaluators).

berlin
Photo by Cyril Schirmbeck

As some effective altruist ideas are different from mainstream thinking and can potentially stir up some serious discussions, three tips were given at the opening of the conference:

1. Be open.
2. Follow the evidence and the argument wherever it leads.
3. Consider the possibility that you are wrong (that the strategies you are pursuing are not the right ones).

I think these are excellent and apply for all of us at any time, no matter what we are discussing. But if there was any fear about people fighting about things they feel very passionate about, that fear proved (as far as I know) to be ungrounded. If we’re open minded, we can think and discuss freely, and disagree with each other without any nastiness. It’s one of the (many) wonderful things about human beings at their best.

While the content of the talks provided the intellectual stimulation that I love so much, at the same time my heart was warmed by the obvious commitment of the almost 300 participants present there. It is at moments like these, when you see so many people together to learn about helping others, that, in spite of everything we humans manage to get wrong and destroy, you feel glad to be human, and glad to be able to help in your little (or big) way. It is at moments like these that, in spite of the enormity of the challenge ahead of us, you know that all our efforts are, slowly but inevitably leading to incredible change… for all sentient beings.

Here are some highlight ideas for me…

If you want to test your own open mindedness, the controversial topic of “wild animal suffering” – which got quite some attention at the conference – might be a good one. It’s mainly thanks to my involvement in the Effective Altruism movement that I have come to see the suffering of animals in the wild as a very important topic. Should we help animals suffering from cold, hunger, thirst, natural disasters, sickness, parasites, or even… predation? And if we agree we should do something about it, can we? I’ll write about this fascinating topic some other time.

Being involved in the EA movement also helped me to re-appreciate the issue of suffering. In the vegan movement, concern about suffering (as opposed to concern about rights or autonomy) is sometimes frowned upon. “Welfarist” has almost become a term of abuse. We think we should be about rights and liberation first.
In the end, I think I want to be mostly concerned about the suffering of animals, while rights and autonomy to me are secondary. I would rather see an animal who is happy but not autonomous (e.g., chickens in a big yard, living out their lives), than entirely free animals who are living an often miserable life in the wild. Animals, in certain circumstances, may not know they are confined (for their own good). The concept of autonomy and freedom probably doesn’t mean to them what it means to us, humans. This is one example where it’s good not to anthropomorphize animals too much. Of course, this doesn’t mean we can use animals for our own purposes if we give them good lives.

A third idea I was confronted with again was that we can spare more animals with our wallet than with our own personal diet or consumption. One estimation is that with a one thousand dollar donation we can spare more animals than with a lifetime of being vegan. This doesn’t mean being vegan is not useful (indeed, I am guessing over 95% of the conference participants were vegan), but it means we shouldn’t lose sight of 1. the relative importance of being vegan, and 2. the difference we can make with our donations (or – if you don’t have money to spare – with our time/activism).

If you would like to hear a conclusion about what strategies work best, the best answer for now seems to be that there is a lot of uncertainty (because there is not enough research). In the face of this uncertainty, “strategic pluralism” seems to be a good approach. While not all strategies are created equal and some will undoubtedly be better than others, it is okay for now to let many of them thrive and see where they take us, until we have more evidence and information.

To prevent any of us from getting lost in strategy and overanalyzing things, without actually doing stuff, Nick Cooney, in his keynote address, told us to focus on doing rather than thinking. An idea in itself, he said, is worth nothing if it’s not executed. Both doing without thinking and thinking without doing are tricky. Ideally, of course, we combine the two, just like ideally we combine the heart and the mind, and become… effective altruists.

PS Videos of the talks should be online soon.

 

59 thoughts on “The Sentience Conference: glad to be human

  1. How fascinating! There is a lot about being a vegan that I am still learning but your thoughtful essays are so interesting and now, I have a rabbit hole to chase down- effective altruism.

    1. I’m trying to identify what about this essay is so disturbing for me. The “donate” sentence had a visceral impact – effectively it undermines the power of the individual and appears to dismiss the very nature of social movements. It may be that my veganism doesn’t save as many animals as your $3000, but the way I display my veganism has a powerful multiplier effect that is sustainable. Shoveling money to ransom animals is not.

      In addition, the subtle forced compartmentalization of animal suffering verses animal “rights” seems artificial, contrived and really just a zinger at those who are troubled by welfarism as a main strategy. The unsaid implication is that those that oppose welfare and single issue approaches don’t really care about the suffering of animals. Could it be that they (such as abolitionists) believe that a welfarist approach will not, in the long run, provide the most welfare?

      There is also something very depressing in the thrust of the essay, that only a subset of humans have the capacity to be compassionate and that only large organizations can save and protect animals. This may turn out to be true, but I’m not ready to believe it yet or stoop to that level of cynicism.

      When veganism becomes “secondary” a strategy it begs the huge question, “why”? Why should I eat cage-free eggs or avoid fois gras ? If one can’t tell the truth, that it is immoral and unethical to exploit and kill animals, there is no justification for their welfare. In my opinion, most people feel an innate moral responsibility to the protection of animals – hence the extreme discomfort we occasionally see when non-vegans interact with vegans.

  2. Thanks for this overview of the conference, Tobias! I am not sure what to say as what you are describing here seems to pretty much sum up my own perspective. Sigh… I would have loved to be at this conference. So many wonderful people to meet!

    Where would you recommend these one thousand dollars should go if one was to donate this amount today?

    1. hmm, you can find ACE’s recommendations on their page. i think a factor to consider may also be the added value that this donation can bring to an organization. for a small one it may make a much bigger difference than to a big one. and then there’s so many other factors… anyway, ACE studies this, i’m just guessing…

    2. Hi Vincent, there is no consensus about which strategy works best, and the 1000$-equivalent is a rather rough estimate. From my perspective, one key insight of the conference is that there are many roads to go for the same goal and it is hard to tell which one is most effective. Animal charity evaluators might none the less give you an idea where to donate your money in an effective way. Just start to donate on a regular basis. You can switch charities later on. http://www.animalcharityevaluators.org
      Also a highlight on the conference: The idea that muscle cells might be one day cultivated on an industrial scale. New Harvest is supporting research that might render this possible, as Development Officer Gilonne d’Origny has argued. Her presentation was only one of many on this conference, but her support for potentially disruptive technologies, despite their many obstacles, is really appealing.

      1. Any advice out there on what charity people struggling to feed their children should donate to?

        I just love the privileged scenario – giving to charity may be more effective than being a vegan.

        Who are vegans, and who do they think they are talking to? And do most vegans really care?

        1. Just followed the link to the Sentience Conference – “…reduce the suffering of *all* sentient beings” (emphasis mine).

          Looked at ‘program’ and made these observatons
          – speakers are predominantly white
          – speakers are mostly men.

          Also, from job/activity descriptions, got this impression
          – speakers are mostly middle-class.

          From the synopses of the talks, got this impression
          – very little discussion of/integration of human poverty, oppression, disenfranchisement, etc
          – no focus on reaching out to, involving, creating strategies relevant to and engaging for, the poor, oppressed, disenfranchised, etc.

          Question – who are these people at the Sentience Conference, and who do they think they are talking to?

          Question – why should the poor, oppressed, disenfranchised, etc, care what white, middle-class men say?

          1. leone, this movement (the effective altruist movement) is well aware of its lack of diversity and hopes to be able to do something about it.
            on another note, i’m hoping you’re not catching mr toad’s virus and are just going to be critical about just about everything? :p

            1. Ah, but I very much doubt that I have Mr Toad’s stamina. I’m much more likely to disappear for long periods (or perhaps permanently). Also, I don’t respond to every post/comment, so I can’t be seen as visibly critical of “just about everything”.

              Re “diversity”. It is perfectly possible to have many more black/ethnic and women, and still basically have the same song being sung. My last question is pertinant – why care what white, middle-class men say? You can have a good dose of black middle-classness, and a good dose of white feminism, and in the end just be tweaking things. What I am pointing towards is structural power and privilege – the source from which The Effective Altruism Movement gets its particular character. It is no accident that it is mostly white, middle-class with mostly male speakers at the conference, and those speakers didn’t integrate poverty, oppression, disenfranchisement, etc.

              Black intersectionalist vegan, Christopher Sebastian McJetters, has spoken about “decolonizing” ideas, etc, that we hold. Decolonizing meaning identifying, critiquing, and relegating the colonizing paradigms and ideas of those who have the structural power to establish and promote their sectional views. So, why should certain groups care what white, middle-class men say, and legitimise it by being the “diversity”, why shouldn’t they work through and say their own things? Why shouldn’t they wonder how people struggling to feed their children, get the privilege to choose giving to charity over being vegan? If the movement is serious about “diversity”, perhaps it could start by diversifying its assumptions.

              1. As a young African American vegan, I’d like to chime in on some of the issues raised by this post. Most social movements tend to be driven by the middle class, rather than the most marginalized. The leaders and participants in the American Civil Rights Movement, for example, were largely middle class and/or college educated. The poorest and most oppressed African Americans in places like Mississippi (which to this day has the kind of poverty most often associated with the Global South than what is supposed to be the richest country in the world) remained largely uninvolved, and were afraid to challenge the white status quo, because they had the most to lose from white retaliation. So the fact that the Effective Altruism movement is most middle class isn’t that surprising, since that is true of almost all social movements. The question involved with any social movement is how to make the changes filter down to the non-middle class, which is a trickier question. T

                One problem that I have noticed with Effective Altruism is that acts under the assumption that affluent Westerners live in social democracies that will fund certain services that make private charity superfluous. In Peter Singer’s TED Talk on the subject, I recall he used the example of how the money used to train a seeing eye dog for a blind Westerner could be used to cure blindness in dozens in children in Africa. Presumably, Singer assumes that this hypothetical blind Westerner will receive services from the government, but one would think that he’s lived in the US long enough to know that our social safety network is quite sparse, and what services a blind person can partake of are highly dependent on what state you live in, as well as your ability to pay for private services, which is often linked to race and class. Having that seeing eye dog provided by charity may make the difference between being a functional member of society and being homebound. I personally would love to have a Scandinavian-style social democracy in the US, but realistically, I know it’s never going to happen, at least not in my lifetime. While I do believe that giving money to distribute malaria nets and deworming kits to children in Africa is important, we do need to focus on poor and marginalized people in our own countries.

                That said, I don’t see any reason why Effective Altruism couldn’t be popular among non-whites. It seems like Singer has mostly targeted his appeals towards the “movers and shakers” and towards idealistic young (white) people in the university crowd. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want to diversify the movement and make it as successful and influential as possible, you need to find ways to disseminate the message beyond the ivory tower. Since the racial politics of Berlin are quite different from those of the United States, I can’t speak for the relatively monocultural nature of the conference in question. I do think that African Americans in particular would be interested in knowing that they could drastically improve outcome for children in sub-Saharan African nations through cheap and simple things like malaria nets and deworming, they just need to know that such programs exist. Perhaps it would be helpful to have Effective Altruism speakers who could make presentations at historically black Greek organizations, social clubs, librarians, colleges, and even churches (I know Singer doesn’t like religion, and neither do I, but churches are good places to recruit people for a cause like Effective Altruism). People have to know Effective Altruism exists before they can decide whether to support it or not.

                I know from personal experience that African American vegans and animal rights activists are out there. The question as to why white activists claim not to see them is quite simple; for the most part, African Americans are not socialized to be around large groups of white people, and vice versa. The United States is still a segregated country and I imagine the same is true for many European countries as well. Simply having the same interests and goals isn’t going to be enough to overcome the deep-seated anxiety that many African Americans feel when they realize that they’re the only person of their race in the room. So it’s quite possible for non-white vegan activists to be operational within their own communities, but under the radar of their white counterparts.

                1. thanks for your input leah, I agree with most of what you write.
                  I think often in history we can notice a trickle down effect, where ideas start with the the priviledged elites and then later reach the rest of society. Another way of seeing this is to say that with the privilege comes a certain duty: those with the luxury to do something, must do something.
                  Of course, the lack of diversity IN the movement may be a problem, because it could mean that the movement misses some viewpoints, concerns, interests – which I assume is what Leone means…

                  1. “trickle down effect”. I may well be misunderstanding exactly what you mean by this, Tobias, and if so apologies. However, I suggest you ponder this – ideas started off by the privileged, get taken apart and hammered into different ideas by the unprivileged. Ponder – not trickle down, but flooding up.

                    Also beware, your “trickle down” and “with privilege comes a certain duty” sound kinda like some sort of saviour complex (google ‘white savior complex’). It sounds like the white, middle-class man (or whatever) nobly taking on the burden to help the benighted and helpless.

                    And lack of diversity meaning some viewpoints are missed – no, what about those other viewpoints radically altering the whole understanding and objectives of the movement.

                    Why should any group help give the movement “diversity”, unless the movement welcomes the radical change to itself that that entails if the whole thing isn’t going to be just an exercise in tokenism?

                    1. well, you can pick all these terms apart of course. i think these are examples of things that go this way sometimes, and another way at another time. It’s not that a trickle down effect doesn’t exist, and it’s not that it always works. No use to generalize here.
                      Same re. responsibility. Yes, it could become a saviour effect, just like any helping can be, but that doesn’t mean it always is.

                2. “focus on poor and marginalised people in their own countries”.

                  Giving to charity rather being vegan – until people within the movement can really *hear* how privileged that sounds and how alienating it is, I say poor and marginalised are better off working within their own communities.

                  Like something that has come out of blacklivesmatter, how can white people be good allies – answer: shut up, sit down and listen. But white/middle-class/etc just ain’t going to find it easy to shut up and sit down, when their identities come with an unspoken presumption of entitlement to speak out and stand up.

                  1. Since this blog attracts an international audience, I’m not going to presume to know what your own racial or ethnic background is. However, people within a generally oppressed racial group are not homogeneous; in other words, there is more to their existence than being poor and non-white, and many within the group will not be poor at all. To go back to the example of African Americans, there are a large number of them who have disposable income to spend on Effective Altruism or any other sort of charitable giving that they might chose. Such people could easily spare money to buy anti-malaria nets, but choose not to, either because they don’t know the problem exists or because they choose to spent it on something else. For example, last year or so, there was a scandal when black prosperity gospel preacher, the aptly named Cleflo Dollar, demanded that each member of his congregation donate $300 to buy him a new private jet, because he felt his old private jet wasn’t luxurious enough for his tastes. While there was a lot of backlash, criticism, and mockery of the plan, Dollar was eventually able to acquire the money he needed for his private jet. Bear in mind that Dollar’s congregation is not made up of the poorest of the poor, but consists of middle and upper class blacks. If they have the money to buy a member of the 1 percent a private jet that he doesn’t need (and one could argue that no one needs a private jet), I see no reason why they can’t cough up a couple dozen dollars to buy anti-malaria nets. Of course, since this is a prosperity gospel church we’re talking about, they’d probably blame the children for having malaria in the first place. The poorest African Americans in Mississippi’s Black Belt may not have the money to donate to charity, but middle and upper class blacks in Atlanta certainly do.

                    I suppose there’s no way to know for sure about the exact demographics of who identifies as vegetarian/vegan; I don’t imagine that it’s the kind of question that would be added to a government census. However, if I was to take a guess, I would assume that it’s more or less consistent across the races, at least perhaps in the United States. The Seventh Day Adventist Church, the most racially diverse Protestant denomination in the United States, promotes vegetarianism/veganism to its membership as part of a healthy lifestyle, and so you see many black veg*ans coming from this tradition. Since these individuals have plant-based diets out of religious, rather than secular ethical concerns, they probably fly under the radar of most white, non-SDA vegans. The attendees at the Atlanta Veg Fest I attended were probably about 50 percent black, which reflects the demographics of the city itself. The Boston Veg Fest I attended in 2015 had fewer blacks (but still a good number), and more Asians, which also is indicative of the demographics of Boston.

                    This brings up the fact that there is a difference between the “professional vegans” who show up at conferences, blog, and do Youtube videos (who are almost entirely white) and the rank and file who are more diverse. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that white speakers will almost always garner more attention and more praise, even if there are people of color saying or doing the exact same thing, and this is true regardless of whether we’re talking about veganism or any other scene. This tendency has more to do with ingrained prejudices and discrimination than with the relative pros or cons of the scenes in question. As I mentioned in my previous post, the segregated nature of American society also means that white vegans and black vegans may have their own separate groups and only be vaguely aware that the other exists. The problem is not veganism, but racism and the failure to properly integrate American society. And let’s face it, not everyone on a plant-based diet wants to be an activist. It’s possible for a person to be vegan in their personal life, but devote themselves to a different social cause that is nearer to their heart. Rosa Parks, for example, was vegetarian for the bulk of her life (I don’t know if she was vegan or not), but that’s not what she’s primarily known for. Angela Davis is a vegan, and she’s about as radical as it gets, and the recently deceased Prince was vegan as well (he even wrote an anti-wool song).

                    I also don’t think it is true that veganism is necessarily a colonizing discourse. The term veganism may have been coined by a white man in the 1940s, but the concept of plant-based eating has been around for thousands of years in a variety of non-Western cultural contexts. India has a long history of vegetarianism, as does Buddhist and Taoist monasticism in China and India. I doubt that plant-based diets were found among groups like the Inuit, because the climate isn’t conducive for agriculture, but other indigenous tribes, such as the Cherokee and Choctaw did eat mostly plant-based diets; the idea that all indigenous people “worshiped the buffalo” is itself a colonial notion based on the fascination with tribes living in the Great Plains, as well as the fetishization of the “Wild West.” The only way I could see veganism being a colonizing discourse would be if people were being forced to adopt it, and given how the number of vegans remains consistent over time, that’s clearly not happening.

                    Unlike some of the other commentators, I don’t see a vegan world happening anytime soon, and I think that vegetarianism and veganism will be regarded as a pursuit for “eccentrics” of all races for the foreseeable future. This doesn’t make it wrong, since most progressive positions begin as a marginal opinion held by “eccentrics.” Since I’m already regarded as an “eccentric,” I’m not bothered by it.

                    1. nice example of Mr. Dollar! 🙂
                      i’m not among the people who are prone to see racism and racist issues wherever i look, but i would assume that in the US people of color are generally less educated and less well off, and the vegan demographic seems to be that it consists mainly of higher educated somewhat better off people, so i wouldn’t be surprised if there were less colored veg*ns than white ones, just like there are more female vegs than males.

                    2. I agree about the heterogeneity within oppressed groups. I have been using poor/Black/ethnic, etc as a rough means of talk about structural privilege, not because I see the world as simplistically divided up into these blocs.

                      Rich blacks in the US could easily spend their money on charity like malaria nets – but wouldn’t a blanket statement that US blacks per se should donate to malaria nets be excluding to poor blacks? The statement in the conference was giving to charity is more effective than being vegan, it was made it in largely white and (probably) middle-class setting – this is excluding to all poor people, who may well not have the choice between giving to charity and being vegan.

                      As for plant-based diets I do not presume it is mostly a white, middle-class thing. And as for veganism being a colonizing discourse – it can have the effect of being colonizing if a group with structural privilege is getting the most airtime. Veganism as a discourse inevitably becomes infected with certain paradigms and prejudices in the context of that privileged group. And it is no accident if they dominate the public arena – conferences, blogs, youtube – that’s structural privilege and power in action. If veganism becomes a significant force, they will dominate the news shows, the news items, the documentaries, etc. And ultimately, they will be the face of veganism in the history books of the future.

                      I think the non-privileged should opt out of “veganism” now and build their own plant-based structures.

                      One of the reasons I have left veganism is because I am sick and tired of middle-class voices.

                    3. An example of how veganism can work with/as privilege is the phenomenon of the AR/AW/vegan movement being mostly women, yet the leadership and the most publically prominent theorists being mostly male.

            2. I like how being against veganism is described as a virus…..but I must say….I’d suggest the shoe is on the other foot. Veganism is a virus.

              1. the virus is in your inability to give constructive feedback, rather than saying everything is wrong wrong wrong and bad bad bad, as i have pointed out ad nauseam.

                1. Providing an argument against something *is* constructive feedback…..the fact that you don’t seem to understand that says more about your state of mind than mine.

          2. I’ve never quite understood your focus on poverty, oppressed people, etc……but I guess I may look at events like this from a different perspective than you in the first place. I don’t see them as serious events…..instead as a sort of chest-pounding exercise for the participants. This explains both the lack of women and the lack of diversity, we are a group oriented social ape with sexual dimorphism…..so we primarily associate with others in our “group” and vie for status within that group.

            When you ignore all the cultural elaboration we use to ordain our behavior with, human behavior isn’t much different than other social apes.

              1. Tobias, my comment provided a reasonable explanation of what Leone noted about the event in the context of evolutionary psychology. Is that a “oh boy” for you? Too far out of your comfort zone?

            1. Well, it is true that it is in our instinct to associate with people who are more like us, and even toddlers make that kind of discrimination… But it really depends on what ressemblances and differences we decide to focus on. For example, instead of focusing on skin color we can focus on common goals, and it would still work with our nature. Staying out of a group because of skin color is therefore more about society (nurture) than nature.

              1. The social groups human create aren’t always race-base and, in fact, race is usually incidental to some other factor like socio-economic status, cultural background, etc.

                But we are a social animal that organizes itself in groups….so until we become a different species we will continue to organize and conceptualize the world in groups. This tendency is, in part, what drives veganism.

                1. “…we will continue to organise and conceptualise the world in groups”.

                  Indeed! But not only because we are social animals, also because we are political animals. If your interests and my interests don’t line up, that’s when I say “too bad”.

                  “I’ve never quite understood your focus on poverty, oppressed people, etc”.

                  That confirms my impression, Mr Toad. Your persistent, if occasional, focus on cultural change already alerted me that *you* don’t focus on poverty and oppressed people. Cos if you did, you would address the fact that the big fuckers in this world don’t listen to poor, oppressed people.

                  We all speak out of our subjective position – I suggest that perhaps you speak culture because you don’t really need to speak poverty and oppression.
                  And that’s “too bad”, too.

                  1. Leone,

                    In a sense, all intelligent social animals are also political animals. In any case, I’ve never pretended to focus on poverty and oppressed people……but I still don’t get why you think that thinking about culture, or anthropology as a whole, is some how antithetical to poverty, etc……since I’m far removed from such things in life anthropology (and economics) are the only way I could think about and study poverty.

                    I “speak culture” because we are cultural animals.

                    1. Strawman, Mr Toad – I did not say that thinking about culture, anthropology, is “antithetical” to poverty.

                      I did suggest that *you* may not focus on such because *you* don’t need to, i.e. poverty, oppression, disenfranchisement are not things you feel as pressing under you and your community (and as you now say, you are “far removed from such things”).

                      I responded to your statement, “I’ve never quite understood your focus on poverty, oppressed people, etc”. Now the problem may be that I am never clear in what exactly I am trying to say – in which case your difficulty understanding is fair enough. But your statement followed a specific thread that began with me looking at structural privilege from the example of the conference, and so, I think, it was not unreasonable for me to interpret your statement as saying “how are these things relevant or pertinent?”. I am saying that are relevant, they are fundamental, because they are important to the people who experience them. The people who don’t experience them can relegate such issues – and that’s the politics. It’s the politics of this site. The objective is vegan critical mass, and yet how to make that mass inclusive of the poor, etc, is hardly ever addressed because (I think) the majority here just ain’t the poor, etc. In the same vein, I suggest, your focus on culture in tandem with your lack of focus on poverty is, perhaps, a reflection of your position, and so political in the same way. I say you don’t just speak culture because you are a cultural animal, I say you focus on it because you have the privilege to.

                      One of the major influences on my road to being an ex-vegan was seeing the classism embedded within the mainstream vegan movement. As I mentioned above, black vegan intersectionalist Christopher Sebastian McJetters has talked about decolonizing our ideas, etc. I see being an ex-vegan as a decolonizing exercise. Detaching something created by middle-class people, and trying to think again. Interjecting into a discussion a, b, c when (supposedly) middle-class people want to talk about x, y, z is also kinda a decolonizing act.

                    2. The whole vegan critical mass thing is obviously not something I subscribe to so form my perspective, yes, there is a bit of a “so what”. To me the people at the conference represent a particular demographic, namely a liberal middle/working class demographic, while the poor are another demographic. This, to me, doesn’t present any challenge as people will always operate within their particular social group…..an advocate that can transcend their social group doesn’t exist. Now if I understand things correctly…..I suppose what you’re suggesting is that veganism is inherently part of the liberal middle/working class and cannot operate outside of that social domain. That isn’t something I’ve thought about much……and obviously not something anybody has done any anthropological work on so I don’t have much to say to that end.

                      I still don’t understand why you think a focus on culture is at all related to a lack of focus on poverty, anthropology is the primary tool we have to study poverty and power relations in human societies. And its not that I don’t think about poverty, just not so much in this case, but when I do….its from the comfort of my library chair.

                      Colonization is not something that bothers me, in fact, I see it as the only way to achieve anything close to world-peace. But that is a much different topic.

                    3. that last paragraph is interesing. i’d be interested to hear your thoughts, even if it’s off topic

                    4. Mr Toad.

                      “An advocate that can transcend their social group doesn’t exist”. I think that is probably correct. Also, something like the Effective Altruism movement that arises from and within a particular “demographic” can really only have more “diversity” in a tokenism type of what – the real inclusion of other “demographics” would radically alter it, which I doubt the original “demographic” would easily accept.

                      “Veganism is inherently part of the liberal middle/working class…” I think it is complicated. As has been mentioned, in the US the vegan/plant-based diet has a number of bases in the black population, so a black working-class person may be vegan from, for example, a religious angle. In the UK the influence of Rastafarianism may be a base for the vegan diet amongst the black population. Vegetarianism, historically, has had points in white working class history, but I rather assume that veganism is only something adopted by individual white working-class persons and it does not have bases within the white working-class population. I would speculate that the “liberal” component is significant especially amongst the middle-class. Mainstream, media-dominating veganism is predominantly middle-class, and their structural privilege may well mean that they keep and extend that position.

                      The rather weak link to the white working-class in the UK, and the strong link to the middle-class, was a factor in my development away from veganism.

                      Re poverty v culture – what I have said is not what you understand, but I will let it rest there.

                      “Colonization” – well, it’s a problem to those being colonized. But if you are hinting at a bit of realpolitik…

  3. About what we should do against wild animal suffering, I guess it depends on the situation: we wouldn’t want these animals to trust humans when there’s still hunters out there, and sometimes we have to allow animals to die so they won’t overpopulate or be unable to evolve because the less adapted ones would still be alive and able to reproduce (but in these cases, you can still put their suffering to an end by killing them). But besides that it would be a good idea to help wildlife. Preventing predation, however, wouldn’t be wise, because keeping predators from eating will make them starve, and predation is necessary in an ecosystem as it regulates population growth and push species to evolve (by not being killed or by being better at killing).

    1. Wild animals – yeah, that’s a very sticky topic for vegans. Even if animal agriculture, animal experimentation, etc, were stopped tomorrow, humans would still be impacting on wild animals. Humans would need to massively reduce their population and return to kinda hunter-gatherer lifestyle to effectively stop impacting on wild animals. Arrrghhh! The word “hunter”! A tiny population of hunters is just another set of predators on the landscape. But even hunter-gatherers can impact – google about human hunters and the extinction of mega-fauna.

      As for the idea of intervening to reduce the suffering that occurs regardless of humans – that’s the point where critics start saying that vegans are fundamentally death-deniers.

      1. Well, it’s not only vegans who help animals in distress, haven’t you heard of all the injured animals that were saved by humans? (Birds, squirels, and even bigger animals like foxes sometimes) But yeah we can’t and shouldn’t save everyone…

        1. Don’t think the issue is humans occasionally helping individual animals in distress. One of the talks at the conference was entitled “happy biosphere”, and looked at the use of the “CRISPR revolution in biotech” to create a “biology of welbeing” for humans and non-humans. This might be an example of some vegans being death-deniers – they just abhor the pus-y, pukey, end-in-death nature of life as we know it and want a genetically-engineered world where the lion lies down with the lamb and both are perfect and long-lived: a corporation-owned paradise, a brave new world.

          1. Don’t put all vegans in the same basket though… I myself believe that geneticaly modifying predators so they would eat plants won’t keep animals from killing each others, or even reduce the killing in the long run. Competiton over food can bring animals to kill each others, and with no predators to keep herbivore population low enough, there won’t be enough land and plant foods for everyone wich will create war over food and the wilderness would actually become more violent than it is (and in many already existing cases the herbivorous animals eat a bit of the others they kill, so there will be species that will evolve into predator, so it’s a lost cause to turn predators into herbivores). In short predators prevent more harm than they cause…

            1. So yeah I also think it’s a very dumb idea, and those who brought that up probably didn’t hink this through

              1. please don’t presume too much. smart people, who are used to think things trough, are thinking about this, realizing there is no solution at this moment.
                please keep an open mind

              2. Actually, your opinion about the people proposing to intervene in nature to reduce animal suffering is only based on what you SUPPOSE they consider a good intervention (genetically modifying predators). In reality, it is more likely to be about vaccinating animals against decease.

                If you want to have an informed opinion about the issue, this article from Vox is a good start: http://www.vox.com/2015/12/14/9873012/wild-animals-suffering

                The key paragraphs to invalidate your judgement:

                “Wild animal welfare is a new and unexplored field, so the most important actions we can take now are a) spreading the idea of helping wild animals, and b) researching possible interventions.

                Our first interventions in the wild probably won’t be dramatic. The negative consequences could be huge, so it makes sense to start small and test our ideas in an experimental setting.”

                1. First if all, read the vox.com piece – not sure how “informed” it is. For one thing, it didn’t touch on the one thing that would definitely improve things for wild animals – massive decrease in human population and activity.

                  If predators have their part to play, then surely disease does too. If you vaccinate animals, surely you would run the risk of over population.

                  As for contraception as a means of dealing with population, there is so much behind the simple contraception device. How is the contraception being produced – how is the process owned, what is the profile of the company/corporate owners, does the process pollute (and thereby create suffering for wild animals). And what of the other ways to deal with overpopulation – if animal predators are too nasty, why not controlled human “predators”?

                  Some might say there is an interesting picture here – vegans generally regard domestication of animals as problematic because it inevitably puts animals in danger if exploitation and abuse; (some) vegans see the ultimate answer as the elimination of domesicated animals through simple non-breeding; and yet (some) vegans want to partially domesticate wild animals (that is bring in some significant, purposive biological control by humans) by vaccinating them and giving them contraceptives to improve their lives.

                  You know many scientists are saying that we have left, or very soon will, the Holocene for what might be called the Anthropocene – an epoch where human activities have significant global impact on geology and ecosystems.Seems like some vegans want to make their concontribution to that…

                  1. leone, i think the vegans who are against domesticated animals are not the vegans who would be proponents of intervention in nature. the second group are people who put suffering above rights, so if animals don’t suffer in a domesticated context (well treated cats and dogs) there wouldn’t be much of an argument against it on that basis.
                    So i don’t think there’s a contradiction.
                    As for “significant global impact on geology and ecosystems” i’m not sure if i care if that impact is positive 🙂
                    (yes, yes, naive, blahblah. i’m talking long term, well thought through etc).
                    Anyway got a post coming up on this topic

                    1. Probably, didn’t express myself clearly – didn’t mean anti-domestication and wildlife-interventionist vegans as one and the same, meant it is an interesting picture that the vegan movement has so many elements where it basically is humans biologically controlling animals (non-breeding of domesticated species to eliminate them, vaccinating and giving contraceptives to wild animals to make them happier).

                      You know a small influence on my road to being ex-vegan was having some contact with chickens and learning some things about them. Chickens are actually omnivorous – they are happy to eat anything from insects to mice and frogs, they will even peck at the bodies of dead companions. We have domesticated them to our purposes and brought them into our human world, but they actually have their own non-human world, and how do we deal with that? Perhaps before we cause them to go extinct (as some vegans plan), we might engineer them to be true herbivores. Or perhaps we could allow them the integrity of their world and stop being imperialists.

  4. Hi Tobias, I really appreciate your site. You said in this article, that we can “spare more animals with our wallet than with our own personal diet or consumption.” Can you explain this further? Is this in the sense of donating to farm rescues? Or donating to charities who aim to “convert” more people to veganism? While I would like to believe my personal choices make some difference, it really needs to spread to others to see real changes. Just wondering how I can leverage money to do that.

    1. hi amber, thanks for your feedback.
      this is about donating in general. assuming that a vegan spares the lives of say 1500 animals in a vegan lifetime, there has to be an amount of money that does the same, somehow. Usually it’s leafletting that is used as an example. with x $, you can fund x leaflets being distributed, resulting in x reduction of meat consumption. it’s not exact science, but it’s something.
      Of course, you can also make a difference with how you communicate, and with your time (activism). See also
      http://veganstrategist.org/2015/09/25/the-fetish-of-being-vegan/

  5. The numbers on “sparing” animals are all make-believe……nobody knows the actual numbers because the economic relationships are complex….where as veg-groups are using toy models to come up with the numbers.

    Economies are dynamic, when one actor in an economy does something….other actors may respond. In this case, some group of people reducing meat consumption may spur the development of a campaign to increase meat consumption in other niches or sectors….the net impact may be *more* meat consumption.

    So this sparing animals business is just part of the overall naivety of the vegan movement and a source of effectiveness. For the last couple of years there has been a persist belief by vegans that they are “winning” largely based on this sort of naivety, yet…….per person meat consumption increased here (the US) in 2015 and is projected to increase again in 2016.

    1. Mr Toad: it is true that “nobody knows the actual numbers” which is why every estimate on that number I have seen has been accompanied by the warning that it is exactly that: an estimate.

      Using “toy models” is an accusation economists hear a lot (although not in these words). Admittedly it is not always unjustified, however, you have to understand that it is absolutely useful to start from simple models and extent them peu à peu – with the extensions making the model more and more useful. This is the standard practice in economics, because it has lead us to understanding much more about the world around us, even though the road to knowledge is not straight, but a winding one.

      Your second paragraph is unfortunately very vague, but I suppose you assume that lower meat prices (due to more vegans and thus lower demand) might increase the meat consumption of the non vegans. However, in economics it is usually found that in such cases the supply reacts to changes in demands, so lower prices are probably only temporary (and even in the short run it is doubtful that that would increase overall consumption=. There might be other channels through which more veg*ans can lead to more veg*ans, e.g. if there are more vegans, it becomes more normal to be vegan, so the inhibitions to take that step might be reduced, and so on.

      Nevertheless, there are, of course, unintended consequences and we need to be very, very aware of them, consider and study them carefully. In fact, that’s the main thing economics can teach us (imho). However, a person who just assumes something that is theoretically possible but empirically unproven only because it fits his priors and who also thinks that everyone who doesn’t agree with him is stupid – well, that person is the opposite of a sceptic, even if he thinks of himself in these terms. (so do conspiracy theorists)

      Also, the vegan movement isn’t naive, at least not the part of the movement Mr Toad is referring to. ACE has considered elasticities in their “lives spared” estimates and people like Matt Ball have written a number of blog posts warning of unintended consequences (e.g. those from health arguments as they might lead people to substitute beef and pork with chicken, which would be a catastrophe)

      And finally, the long-term trend of meat consumption has been downwards in the US during the last ten year or so. This is due to meat reducers, not because the number of veg*ans has risen considerably.

      Mr Toad, I want to invite you to contribute constructively to the debate. Since you seem to think that vegan outreach is a bad idea, what would you suggest to do in order to decrease animal suffering? Should we focus on welfare improvements, philosophical considerations like raising awareness for speciesism, wild animal suffering? I am really looking forward to your ideas, although I found your arguments for why going vegan is not effective not very convincing. (but maybe you do have a point, in which case you are welcome to expand on that)

      1. Thx for your input Chris. Your final address to mr toad mirrors my thoughts exactly : maybe he has a point, but i didn’t discover what exactly it is, and he certainly has offered no constructive alternatives.

      2. Chris,

        Saying its “an estimate” doesn’t absolve what is being done, there are good estimates and there are bad estimates. The estimates here are based on toy models that are by no means representative of the real world as such they are terrible estimates…….just make-belief numbers to toss out. In terms of economics, creating a model that ignored well know factors may be useful for an educational exercise….but it would have little utility in predicting matters in the real world. If the veg-community was just using this as a sort of exercise I’d have no issue, but that isn’t what is happening…..the numbers are taken very serious and its repeatedly claimed that “vegans share X amount of animals” as if its a matter of fact. The fact that such a useless model is being taken seriously…..has consequences because people are using it to inform their actions. Only good models have predictive value…..and can provide insight into what would be and what wouldn’t be effective action. Bad models will routinely lead you astray.

        My second paragraph had nothing to do with supply/demand graphs, but that is another obvious factor. The meat industry is not going to stand around with their thumps in their butt…..and they haven’t. The meat industry in the US has, very cleverly, dealt with a number of head-winds in the US market over the last 2 decades…..and not only have they preserved their business but per-person meat consumption is starting to increase again. I don’t recall seeing a single vegan acknowledge increasing meat consumption…..let alone try to understand why its occurring. In terms of the “long-term trend” in the US, I think your interpretation is wrong and representative of the dubious yet widespread beliefs in the vegan community. Firstly the long-term trend has been up, but per person consumption did decline sharply in 2008 and 2009 and then stabilized in 2011 and is now increasing again. So the vegan interpretation of this data is magically there was a big jump in the number of meat reducers in 2008 and 2009…..and then that was it. People stopped reducing meat intake. Of course there is another rather obvious explanation which explains the sharp decline and timing……the large US recession that started in 2007 and lingered until 2009. I think this is a clear case of vegans trying to fit data to justify their movement…..and then have ignored the recent data that shows that their interpretation was wrong.

        And as I said to Tobias, the fact that you folks don’t seem to think that reasoned criticism provides constructively to the debate stays more about your state of mind than me. In terms of alternatives, I don’t think veganism is a sensible position to begin with so my objection is deeper than just disagreeing with vegan advocacy. And I’m not going to stand here and pretend I have all the answers in regard to the philosophic issues regarding animal and human interaction……this is a very immature field of philosophy. And I’ve decided to not attempt to try and discuss philosophy here, as such my comments have been focused on any strategic value vegan advocacy, etc may have in promoting a societal shift in our relationship with animals (to that end, I’m perhaps 80~90% in agreement with vegans) since this is at least (mostly) a point of shared interest.

        1. There are definitely, at least ex post, “good estimates”, but I’m not sure there is such a thing as a “good” model. Rather we always have the currently “best possible” model. It is interesting that you mention unrealistic models as “educational exercises”, because all the models you learn about in your first econ course at university and about which (at least good) lecturers tell you that they miss important factors, were once the state of the art. We have improved our knowledge by extending these models or developing new ones, but in order to do that, somebody first had to develop the basic model in the first place. With the benefit of hindsight we now condem these earlier models as “unrealistic” or “simplistic” and we are right in our judgement, but people in one hundred year or so will doubtlessly think the same about what is the current state of the art.
          I also think your psychological analysis is wrong. The lives saved estimates are part of a rather recent attempt to professionalize the reduction of suffering. This trend is not confined to animal activism, rather it is a whole philosophy called Effective Altruism. These people are not the ones who like to pat themselves on the back, but rather the ones most likely to question their own prejudices. That others might take their estimates at face value is perhaps understandable (when those “others” are not trained in scientific methods), but frankly not the fault of the people who make these estimates, at least as long as they have made it clear that their estimates shouldn’t be taken at face value. My impression is that in the case of GiveWell that problem is a lot larger (think of all the “you can save a human life for X dollars” statements in the media, although GiveWell staff always emphasis that their estimate perhaps shouldn’t be taken literally), but I have never seen anyone blaming GiveWell for that.

          The reduction in meat consumption during the last years do indeed leave room for different interpretations, and “long term” trend was maybe not the right choice of words. On the other hand, meat consumption was already lower in 2007 relative to 2006, so it seems that the trend predates the economic crisis. But I think we can only speculate whether we deal with a temporary phenomenon or not, and I don’t see the point of that.

          The rest of your post is just beating about the bush. I respect your wish not to discuss philosophy, but that’s also not necessary. In your first post you alluded to reasons why it is plausible to assume that vegan advocacy leads to more animals being used for food, without stating these reasons. Anyway, that was a positive statement, not a normative one, and is thus (at least in principle) an empirical question. I asked you to make your argument explicit, but unfortunately you didn’t do that. You only said that the meat industry might react by trying to increase meat consumption, but before I react to that, I want to ask you whether that is your argument? You are wrong when assuming that I don’t value “reasoned criticism”, but unfortunately that is not what you have provided. You have just said that certain things might be the case, without giving an argument for why it should be like that. Russel’s teapot “might” exist as well, but I don’t see how this type of discussion is helping anyone, except if somebody had categorically stated that it is absolutely impossible that veganism COULD have negative unintended consequences, which as far as I know nobody has done.

          Btw, I am saying all that, because I am looking forward to information that challenges my opinions. I am also not a vegan, so I have no personal stakes here that could be in the way of understanding. I do suspect, however, that vegan advocacy is probably the best way to help the animals.

          1. Chris,

            In terms of modeling, there is a significance difference between developing a model around the status of current knowledge and building a model that ignores significant and obvious issues. The former is only known to be erroneous as knowledge developments, the latter is known to be poor from the start. The models being used to “count animals” are poor, they ignore rather obvious factors…..and as such are little more than educational exercises. But that isn’t how they are being presented….and definitely not how they are being interpreted in the vegan community.

            And, no, meat consumption in the US didn’t decline in 2007….the decline started in 2008. The US data on meat consumption follows the status of the US economy…..but I’ve never heard any vegan note this obvious fact and instead you have interpretations that really make little sense. As I pointed out, why would meat reduction happen rapidly in one year and then stop?

            I find it ironic that you suggest my criticism isn’t reasoned because I didn’t justify a statement I never made, I never suggested that its plausible that vegan advocacy leads to greater meat consumption, what I said is that industry will respond to developing trends and the end result *could be* higher overall meat consumption. I was making a general point the dynamic nature of markets, namely, the meat, etc industry is just not going to stand around while vegans encourage people to stop buying their products and the introduction of vegan ideology into the market place could have the opposite impact as vegans expect…..nothing precludes that. For example, a growing trend in meat reduction in higher socio-economic families could motivate new campaigns to motivate increased consumption in poor/working class families which, due to their much larger size, could easily offset the reduced consumption of the other demographic. All I’ve argued is that its *possible* that vegan action in the market place results in the opposite of what is intended, again, nothing precludes that. To know what was happening, you’d have to rigorous track market behavior, consumer sentiment, etc…..which is just not something vegan advocates are doing.

            And in the sense of the above, it just seems that few vegans appreciate how industry, etc has responded to their rhetoric and how they may respond to potential future acts. Vegans seem to behave as if they are engaging a rock rather than a dynamic industry that employees some of the best marketers around.

            1. There are a lot of things to say about that, so I hope I will manage to keep it short.

              Look, I know that the whole modelling stuff is not easy to understand for people who have never done social research. A good model does not only have to make good predictions [in our case, usually its more about explaining what we have observed], but also needs to be as simple as possible. Think of a map: due to its smaller scale it leaves out a lot of details you observe in the real world, but the alternative is not to make a map at original scale, since it would not be very useful. In the same way, you can add as many extensions as you want to a model to make it slightly more realistic, but it would not only make the predictions less and less precise, but mainly be of little use since nobody could understand it thoroughly. (My econ 101 prof put it this way: being unrealistic is a feature, rather than a bug of a model.)

              The bottom line here is that you can, if you are willing to do that, attack every model by finding even an implausible yet theoretically possible mechanism it is not incorporating. That is not very scientific though.

              Now, in your last post you have, for the first time, mentioned a mechanism by which the effect you claim might come about. I do not consider your argument very plausible (more about that later), but nevertheless I’m grateful to you for clarifying for the first time what you mean. The problem is that it is not enough to know that a possible causal mechanism exists, we also have to know how to model it. There is a lot of social behaviour we don’t know how to model, so your criticism from your fist paragraph would apply to a lot of economic models. (if you don’t believe me google a paper named “ten billion dollar bills on the sidewalk” by Michael Clemens, who not only is a respected scientist, but whose models (or rather those of the studies he mentions in the paper) are also taken extremely seriously in economics and increasingly in the political sphere, although there is a whole lot of issues they don’t take into account. And that is only one example of what is standard in science.)

              In our case, it is very possible that we can in principle extent one of the current models to take into account the mechanism you propose, however, we would have no numerical input to inform it. We can only speculate by how much every new vegan changes the allocation of the meat industry’s marketing budget. I really wish we had the data, just like I wish we had a lot of other data about vegan advocacy, but as far as I know, we don’t.

              As I said, I don’t even find the mechanism you propose particularly plausible, though theoretically possible. If the meat industry wants to increase its production and revenues, it can do marketing anyway, whether animal advocates have succeed in “creating” a large number of vegans (or vegetarians or meat reducers) or not. And in fact that is what they have been doing all the time. The meat industry has not waited for vegans to come along and challenge it. But no matter their marketing budget, more vegans (or vegetarians etc) mean less demand for their product. The only mechanism I can think of by which more vegans in one social group can create a larger meat consumption overall is if veganism becomes closely connected to identity, so that others might be less willing to become vegans or reduce meat, or even eat more meat, just because they consider themselves members of a different social group. I think we should take that possibility seriously (although I don’t know of a way to meaningfully implement it in any model, unless we have quantitative data), but it has little to nothing to do with marketing budgets. However, the meat industry could use its marketing budget to discredit animal activism. In any case, I find the fact that the meat industry is reacting to activists a very encouraging sign.

              I cannot get rid of the feeling that we are having a strawmen discussion here… Actually, I could have skipped all of the above, because I only want to ask you one thing: do you really prefer no model to a model with high uncertainties? If so, why? Or is it all much simpler and you are just not terribly concerned about animal suffering and thus, as Tobias suggested, will contradict anything animal activists do or say? At least I think some of the things you wrote are things that you wouldn’t have written if you had critically questioned your own prejudices.

              1. Chris,

                Your response on modeling is largely a straw-man….so I agree about the straw-man discussion = ). Firstly I’m entirely familiar with mathematical modeling, secondly never did I suggest that models need to incorporate every possible variable to be useful. You’re also ignoring the very issue, namely, what makes a good vs bad model? That, of course, depends entirely on what you’re trying to do…..and my claim here is that if you’re trying to make useful predictions about how individual actions impact the economy then these models aren’t useful. They are mere rhetorical toys.

                In terms of whether you could model what I discussed, that is largely irrelevant to my point, if the model leaves out important variables and as such fails to be predictive….its not a useful model even if “its the best we can do”. In this sense I’m more arguing against the attempt to model this interaction as a whole than for developing a predictive model….the possibility of doing so is unlikely. So to answer your question, yes, I prefer no model to a model with high uncertainty……since the latter can easily lead people astray that aren’t familiar with the shortfall of modeling dynamical interactions. And I’d argue that this is precisely what has happened……as we have a situation were supposedly the number of vegans, etc has increased yet per person meat consumption increased in 2015. Obviously something is going on here, something that *is not being predicted by the model*.

                And the mechanism I mentioned, which was just one example of many, wasn’t about marketing budgets. Any business with large capital investments is going to be supply focused and there is a very good reason why they may not invest in more marketing “anyways”, namely, the marginal unity to doing so is too low. But reduction in one niche could shift the unity of increased marketing spending. I have experienced this in business a few times, namely, were reduced demand in one sector increased the unity of investment in others and spurred action that not only thwarted a reduction in output…..but increased it.

                The last part of your comment is little more than an ad hominem.

                1. I just wanted to add, in terms of the mismatch between what should be happening if the model is correct (or vegan thinking as a whole) and what is actually happening…….this sort of event would sound alarm bells in any good management/executive team. They would want to know where they went wrong, they would try to discover want was happening the best they could, etc……and this is the exact opposite of what is happening in the vegan community. And I think, partly, its because these “counting animals” sorts of models are being taken as a matter of fact and have displaced the real world.

                  One of the themes of my comments here are that the vegan community is highly ineffective in part because there is little to no engagement with people outside of the community……and instead the focus is on socially reinforcing discussions within the community.

                  1. Thanks for the clear response to my question. In that case, we can only agree to disagree, because I do prefer a highly imperfect model (and therefore an uncertain estimate) to no model (estimate) at all. So do many (probably most) economists, or the Clemens paper I mentioned above (among many others) wouldn’t exist. So does GiveWell, so it remains a mystery to me why you are only critisicing vegans and not the Effective Altruism movement as a whole.

                    (For the record, I have strong reservations about the models myself, for example the way wild-caught fish and farm animals “saved” are summed up, although “saving” means something completely different in that case. But in general I think modelling can be useful)

                    I do agree 100% with you that the way these numbers are communicated might often be very misleading. But that is not, in my view, a reason to stop modelling. Rather it is a reason to start communicating better. Again, that problem is not unique to “vegans”: every now and then there are newspaper headlines that an economic institutes predicts the economy will grow by, say, 2.1 percent this year. They don’t even give a confidence interval. The same is true for IMF “predictions” and the like. I think it would help, if in secondary school people were not only told what science has found out, but also how it has done that, but I digress…

                    The fact that a vegetarian or vegans saves X lives (if it is true) does not contradict increased meat consumption. (btw I checked the USDA numbers and you were right and I was wrong: in 2007 overall per capita meat consumption did still rise) One important missing variable here is their share within the population. I don’t know of a reliable statistic that says that the number of vegans has increased notably, as you assume in your comment. (Although anecdotal evidence suggests strongly that veganism has become more visible)

                    I’m not sure vegans are too little concerned with the outside world. Large organisations do nothing else than trying to reach out to companies or convince non-vegan individuals. If you mean only activists, at least within EA there seem to be a lot of discussions between the animal and other activists.

                    About your meachanisms: I understand what you mean, theoretically. But you have not yet proposed a concrete mechanism that is also plausible. I don’t have experience in marketing, so it is absolutely possible that I’m missing something there.

                    As to “ad hominem”, you may be right: I wanted to find out, where you are actually coming from. Nevertheless, you are no stranger to using ad hominems yourself, as some of your comments on this blog prove.

        2. Disclaimer – I don’t really know what I’m talking about.

          Now genuine question – how do exports figure in all this?

          As far as I can see, US beef and pork exports (to certain countries at least) have continued to rise. So, is it possible that while vegan advocacy may have some effect at home, overall business stays the same, or increases, by looking abroad. Also does anyone know how much US-based investment is going into overseas animal agriculture – so if you don’t grow them at home, grow them abroad and profit?

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