About the author

I am the author, co-author, secondary-author, ghost-author, and non-author of articles, speeches, book chapters, and even entire books! The most recent can be found at LosingMyReligions.net. Currently, I am President of One Step for Animals; previously, I was shitcanned from so many nonprofits that we can’t list them all here. Before my unfortunate encounter with activism, I was an aerospace engineer who wanted to work for NASA (to impress Carl Sagan). My hobbies include photography, almost dying, and {REDACTED}. I live in Tucson with my soulmate and reluctant editor Anne, along with the occasional snake and scorpion.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Happy Wekend! AI Art Versions of My Three Favorite Pictures

Self-indulgant post alert.

Cropped to avoid the watermark (because as you know from Losing, I'm too cheap to pay). Accompanying song: Ben Fold's "Luckiest." Indeed.

Can you catch the common theme?

Enjoy!



And this is the only one I took, so here are multiple versions for you to vote on:

 


Thursday, December 8, 2022

More for Bryan Caplan and his misogynist followers

Song: “All Too Well” (10-minute version) (Taylor’s version)

Note: Not all of Bryan Caplan's readers are misogynists. At least two are actually thoughtful. But there are clearly whiney little losers who love Bryan because he helps them blame "uppity women" for their failures. 

Bryan's anti-feminist argument (which, honestly, should just be "don't be a jerk to Scott Aaronson on Twitter") is based on his straight-white-rich-over-educated-male view that "women have it easier." This is because men used to be drafted and (a few) work hazardous jobs. 

He seems to have missed the news that in 2022, women in the United States don't have the right to bodily autonomy

I wonder how anti-feminist Bryan would be if his daughter was raped and then forced to risk her life to carry the pregnancy to term and give birth to his child.

Because that is the world his fellow anti-feminists want and are building.

In case I'm not clear, here is a cut chapter from Losing My Religions:

I am writing this in Germany, where yesterday, I woke up to the leaked SCOTUS draft opinion overturning Roe v Wade. Anyone paying attention knew this was coming at least since Ruth Bader Ginsburg died; the theocrats’ fifty-year plan has paid off big-time.

Fuck.

It is 2022. We should be working to secure basic human rights for transgender people, and our concern for animals should be increasing. We should be expanding the circle of our moral concern. Instead, the Supreme Court has decreed that half our population no longer has the right to self-determination.

I knew this was coming as soon as Anthony Kennedy retired. But still, I am so goddamn angry. 

Update after Roe was officially overturned:

Alito, who wrote today’s “This is how The Handmaid’s Tale starts” opinion, cites – again, to support a legal decision in 2022 – Matthew Hale, a 17th-century “jurist” who had at least two women executed for witchcraft.

In addition to killing women for “witchcraft,” Alito’s hero Matthew Hale also wrote a treatise saying a husband could never “rape” his wife. This is because the woman is, for all intents and purposes, his property. She has no agency. She has no choice. 

Alito did not need to cite Hale in the original draft. He did not need to keep the Hale citation in the final opinion. His argument (such as it is) didn’t hinge on some obscure guy from hundreds of years ago. Hale’s obscene opinions from hundreds of years ago had no bearing on “giving the decision back to the states.” 

Yet knowing exactly what it meant, Alito and his fellow Christian Nationalists chose to cite Hale, holding him up as a legal mind who should determine our laws today.

And even though Hale’s witchcraft and rape assertions were clearly spelled out following the leak, Alito and his fellow Xtian Taliban all chose to keep Hale in the final decision.

They could have cited any of the federalists in U.S. history. They chose to cite a rape defender to whom women were wenches or witches.

Alito and Co. have made it very clear. Women have no agency. The majority of the Supreme Court of the United States believes women cannot choose to not have sex. They cannot choose if and when to be pregnant. They cannot choose to terminate a pregnancy. 

Their “legal” argument is simple: Women exist to serve the man and bear as many of his children as he chooses to have. 

They could not be clearer on this

The Handmaid’s Tale is not a “hysterical overreaction.” It is their playbook. It is their ideal.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Good Lawd White Boys, Can't You Hear Yourself?

Songs: The Best of Sade. Awesome.

Recently, I saw a tweet where a white guy said "I watch superhero movies for entertainment. I don't need representation."

Holy jeebus. Is it really so hard to imagine that you aren't the entire world? 

Unreal

Just this year, women in the United States lost the fundamental right to bodily autonomy, with a bunch of white men in various states passing laws saying that if a woman is raped, she must carry the rapist's child to term. But yeah, women have it easier.</sarcasm>

Sadly, I understand it is some people's <cough>Caplan<cough> schtick to feed (some) straight white males' (fake) sense of victimhood. "I would have gotten that job (raise, promotion) if not for those uppity women!"

(And others are so eager to avoid talking about race that they deem their views the only "objective" view, with anyone who doesn't agree dismissed as playing "identity politics.")

[Edit: I came across this the morning this blog post published. And those are the experiences of a well-off woman in a movement of highly-educated well-off people. But of course, some rich white dude in academia can know it is easier to be a woman.]

My gawd, what arrogance it takes for a well-off straight white male to make proclamations about what it is like to be anyone else in our society. 

<sigh>


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Announcing One Step for Activists (unofficially)

Hi Friends,

Anne and I are happy to announce our new project, One Step for Activists, an advising / counseling / coaching service for advocates. (English- or German-speaking only.) We don’t charge but instead ask for a (tax-deductible in the U.S.) donation to One Step for Animals’ harm-reduction work.

This is a soft launch, only for you and your fellow blog readers. We will launch “officially” early next month.

Regular blog readers and those who have perused Losing My Religions know most of how I got to this point. You can find an abridged version on the site’s More page, beneath “What we can and can’t offer you.”

Two requests:

  1. Please reach out to us if you think you’d like to take part.
  2. Please provide any feedback or suggestions you have.

You can see more at OneStepForActivists.org. Please check it out!

Thanks so much!

Monday, December 5, 2022

Median Voter Theory

Song: Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way." RIP.


Note: The eBook files for Losing were updated today.
Please let me know if you see any typos or things to correct. TY.


If you take away anything from Losing My Religions (especially the anti-environmentalist chapters) it should be that priority #1 should be Winning Elections. Priority #2 should be Winning Elections. And #3 should be Winning Elections.

I know that everyone has specific issues they are convinced are most important. I do, too. But we are all wrong. No issue is more important than winning elections. The United States and the world are so very much worse because people on the Left didn't support Al Gore and Hillary Clinton. And because of the power of the Supreme Court and the timescales of climate change, this will be true for as long as I can imagine. Certainly as long as I'll be alive.

Note: I'm not saying this because I love politics. And SCOTUS really doesn't affect me personally; I'm a middle-class straight white guy in the wealthiest country that has ever existed. (OK, sure there are small countries "wealthier," but you get my point.) 

Elections matter for the people who aren't straight white wealthy folk. People need the government to protect and help them, rather than validate their personal concerns. 

This is a long way of saying: Everything we do and say should be to try to convince the median voter in important swing states and districts. Full stop.

And while Dems are feeling pretty smug, let's consider facts from this past election:

Democrats lost the nationwide popular vote by 3 points (48-51), along with control of the House. Working class Democratic support declined…..again (down 9 margin points). Hispanic support declined….again (down 11 points). Black support declined….again (down 14 points). Republicans got 40 percent of the Hispanic working class House vote and 45 percent among Hispanic men. They got 19 percent among black men

If this happens in 2024, the Republicans will have complete control of the government. Given their disdain for democracy, it doesn't seem unreasonable to imagine that will be the last real election. 


What is the story of these contrails??


Sunday, December 4, 2022

Bonus Sunday Post: Fight the Power (Language Warning)

I came across this post on a thread about being pressured to have kids:

Me and my S/O are very much planning a child-free life together but the familial pressure of:

"oh, just have one you'll LOVE IT!" (I personally hear this so often... do they not hear how objectifying they are? like a fucking baby is a table tennis set)

"just wait and see how easy it is when you have kids"

"you'll understand when you're a 'mother'... its hell at times but so worth it"

is VERY persistent AND gross and to me it's almost fucking incesty how fucking specific they'll want you to suffer with kids the way they did.

I messaged them and suggested they read the two "Fight the Power" chapters in Losing My Religions. They messaged back within 90 minutes:

I have just gotta tell ya, reading those chapters you recommended made me feel so much better. It feels nice to hear from people like you. me and s/o live in a deep south "cow town" too lol. It sucks, but we're slowly planning a move out. thank you for making me feel less alone! i really needed that.

Made my day. This is exactly what I want for my book - to be as helpful as possible to as many people as possible.

Makes sense in Losing.

Things get better

Song: A Flock of Seagulls "I Ran (So Far Away)" If that video doesn't make you laugh, I don't know what will. If you know that song, this might freak you out.

From Bill Bryson's funny The Lost Continent, published in 1989:

I came across the campus of the University of Mississippi.... Young people, all looking as healthy and as wholesome as a bottle of milk, walked along with books tucked under their arms or sat at tables doing homework. At one table, a black student sat with white people. Things had clearly changed. It so happened that twenty-five years ago to the very week there had been a riot on this campus when a young black named James Meredith, escorted by 500 federal marshals, enrolled as a student at Ole Miss. The people of Oxford were so inflamed at the thought of having to share their campus with a Niggra boy that they wounded thirty of the marshals and killed two journalists. Many of the parents of these serene-looking students must have been among the rioters, hurling bricks and setting cars alight. Could that kind of hate have been extinguished in just one generation? It hardly seemed possible. But then it was impossible to imagine these tranquil students ever rioting over a matter of race.

Speaking of the South: Hushpuppies.
Mentioned in Losing, but this picture was cut.


Saturday, December 3, 2022

Another Brain Myth

Song: Patty Griffin's "Rain." Can't remember the last time we got rain here in Tucson. (Update: it rained this weekend!)

In Losing My Religions, I note that we need to kill the myth that we only use 10% of our brain. Here's another:

A powerful idea about human development stormed pop culture and changed how we see one another. It’s mostly bunk.

Lovely photo by my sister.
In front of the cottage where Anne and I spent our first weekend,
plotting our doomed marriage ceremony (as discussed in Losing).

Friday, December 2, 2022

Stomp Out Guilt (and a purpose of the blog)

Song: "Matches" by Sifu Hotman. One of those songs you have to listen to the lyrics.

<unnecessary>One thing I learned when writing Losing My Religions is that I'm not a very original thinker. For example, Yuval Noah Harari wrote about the Simulation Hypothesis a few months before I published the precursor to "Worst Than Hitler." The only unique idea (as far as I've been able to find) I have in the book is "Biting the Philosophical Bullet" (and the related "My Expected Value Is Bigger Than Yours"). ("The End of Veganism" is certainly not a common idea, although The Animalist has covered it too.)</ego>

There are a lot of interesting and insightful ideas out there on the intertubes. Trying to find them and bring them to you is one of the reasons I write this blog. This is important, IMO, because many of the good ideas are buried in an ocean of verbiage and highfalutin language. Someone who investigated Effective Altruism noted that it would take 80,000 hours to read what EAs have already written (let alone what is still to come). This is even worse if you add in EA-adjacent thinkers.

To be generous, they are in a doom loop, where longer pieces are valued more than concision and communication, leading to ever-longer pieces to impress the EA community.

<actual point>I came across this interesting series of posts about Replacing Guilt. (I've only scratched the surface of the entire discussion.) If guilt is an issue for you (e.g., if you've been raised Catholic, have perfectionist tendencies, etc.) it might be worth a skim.

In short:
  1. Guilt is bad*. It is negative and makes life worse than it need be, and it doesn't create any useful action that couldn't be motivated by a positive emotion.
  2. Guilt is often a symptom of an illogical approach to life. In addition to recognizing #1, we can change our view of decisions to minimize a reaction of guilt. 
Now, as per "Biting the Philosophical Bullet," my underlying philosophy, and thus goals, are different than the "Replacing Guilt" author. But I think his points are useful regardless of anything else. A few quotes:

Once we have learned our lessons from the past, there is no reason to wrack ourselves with guilt. All we need to do, in any given moment, is look upon the actions available to us, consider, and take whichever one seems most likely to lead to a future full of light. 
 
I hang out around a lot of effective altruists. Many of them are motivated primarily by something like guilt (for having great resource and opportunity while others suffer) or shame (for not helping enough). Hell, many of my non-EA friends are primarily motivated by guilt or shame. 
 
I worry that guilt and shame are unhealthy long-term motivators. In many of my friends, guilt and shame tend to induce akrasia, reduce productivity, and drain motivation. 

[Goes on to say we should work so that the outcome is good enough - to the point of decreasing utility: "Half-ass everything, with everything you've got."]
 
 
Over and over, I see people set themselves a target, miss it by a little, and then throw all restraint to the wind. "Well," they seem to think, "willpower has failed me; I might as well over-indulge." I call this pattern "failing with abandon." [Many former vegans.]
But you don't have to fail with abandon. When you miss your targets, you're allowed to say "dang!" and then continue trying to get as close to your target as you can.
 
 
...Or imagine someone who thinks they should be smarter, and that their homework shouldn't be taking them this long, and who feels worse and worse as they work. In each case, the pattern is the same: the subject thinks there's something they should be doing (or some way they should be), and they're not doing it (or aren't being it), and so they feel really guilty. 

I claim that the word "should" is causing damage here.
 

In fact, as far as I can tell, the way that most people use the word "should," most of the time, is harmful. People seem to use it to put themselves in direct and unnecessary conflict with themselves.
It's ok to decide that the social/time costs outweigh the physical/mental costs. It's ok to decide the opposite. Neither side is a "should."

If you often suffer from guilt, then I strongly suggest cashing out your shoulds. Get a tally counter and start training yourself to notice when you say the word "should," and then once you're noticing it, start training yourself to unpack the sentence. "I should call my father this week" might cash out to "if I don't call my father this week, he'll feel disappointed and lonely."

[N]ever let a "should" feel like a reason to do something. Only do things because they seem like the best thing to do after you've thought about it; never do things just because you "should."

even among people who claim to be moral relativists: they protest that if they weigh their wants and their shoulds on the same scales, then they might make the wrong choice.

But this notion of "right" vs "wrong" cannot come from outside. There is no stone tablet among the stars that mandates what is right. Moral relativists usually have no trouble remembering that their narrow, short-term desires (for comfort, pleasure, etc.) are internal, but many seem to forget that their wide, long-term desires (flourishing, less suffering, etc.) are also part of them.

My advice is simple: notice when you're expected to try, and consider reframing. It's much harder to solve a problem when you're Expected To Do Your Best than it is to solve a problem when you're immersed in various subtasks, with the assumption that you're going to solve the problem buried implicitly and unconsciously in the context.

For example, consider exercise. Many people find it much easier to exercise in a context where the exercise is in the background rather than the foreground. Imagine someone who plays recreational soccer, sprinting up and down the soccer field up till the brink of exhaustion. Now imagine them not playing soccer, but just trying to sprint up and down the field up to the brink of exhaustion. They probably push themselves a lot less in the latter case. If "sprint up and down the field a lot" is the main goal, then at each possible stopping point, part of them starts trying to convince the rest that they've exercised enough for the day, and they must spend willpower to continue. In a soccer match, by contrast, the focus is elsewhere. They aren't constantly pinging themselves with explanations of how they've done enough sprinting for today. They aren't generating reasons why it's OK to stop here. They're trying to score a goal. Getting exercise is a background assumption, not a conscious choice.

Note: I still struggle with guilt in one area of my life. So I'm not some mindful, logical master.

*You should definitely feel guilty if you haven't read and reviewed Losing!

Yes, I know I used this pic a month ago!

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Meat Reduction Is Bad (At least the music is good)

Music: Paul McCartney's Fireman's "Electric Arguments" is really something. Worth listening to straight through. So much creativity in one person!


From a previous One Step newsletter, we see how meat reduction hurts animals:

One Step friend and great reporter Kenny Torrella has a new article up at Vox:

How Germany is kicking its meat habit

In the article, we learn how the focus on reducing meat consumption actually impacts animals:

“Germans are eating about the same amount of beef as they were in 2011, but far less pork. But because pigs are large — pigs yield about 124 pounds of edible meat on average in Germany — the steep decline in pork only resulted in a reduction of about one-sixth of a pig per person. However, the 12.5 percent increase in poultry consumption, which looks modest on the chart below, has resulted in almost one extra chicken farmed for each of Germany’s 83 million residents [every year].”

This is not a victory, of course, and is why One Step for Animals promotes animal-focused harm-reduction advocacy.

We can only make real progress when we focus on actual animals.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Robert Wright on Science, Meditation, and Nirvana

Song: the hilarious "Record Lady" by Lyle Lovett. 

Bonus: More fantastic magic (via my Dad, whose birthday is soon). 

Somewhat related: In Defense of Being Alone.  


More from Why Buddhism Is True 
I have found this to be true (when my antidepressant is working well):

There’s something ironic about the zone I was in. Science, in its displacement of traditionally religious worldviews, is sometimes said to have brought on the ‘disenchantment’ of the world, draining it of magic. And you would think that a meditative discipline devoted, in some sense, to tamping down the influence of feelings on perception, to fostering a view of sober clarity, would only abet that tendency. But [another author] says meditative practice can lead to the ‘re-enchantment’ of the world, and I know what he means. After that first retreat, I felt like I was living in a zone of enchantment, a place of wonder and preternatural beauty.

No, that’s not the same as entering a zone that is magically impervious to causation. I was still reacting at least somewhat reflexively to the causes impinging on me. Still, one source of the enchantment, I think, was that I was spending less time reacting, less time having my buttons pushed, and more time observing – which, as a bonus, allowed for more thoughtful responses to things. I assume that living in the unconditioned would be great, but living in the less conditioned can be pretty great, too.

This picture is in the color paperback of Losing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Woke, Fragility, and What Is Necessary to Make a Real Difference

tl;dr: The goal is to be antifragile and thus able to thrive and make a difference.


Several notes as preface:

In one of his books, Nick Offerman notes that he doesn’t understand why “woke” is an insult. Would you rather be asleep? Especially when there are real structural issues even today? (Just one example.)

I know I’m a straight white middle-class American dude. But that doesn’t make my opinion worthless. Opinions are worth considering regardless of the person’s race, gender, or sexual orientation.

If only people who agree with you are allowed to have an opinion, how strong can your argument really be? Isn’t that like election-denying Republicans, “I’ll accept the results of the election if I win”?

Finally, I’d like to note: I only want happiness for everyone. </preface>


A story as I remember it:

Anne and I were at the commencement of a top-rated (and extremely well-endowed) liberal arts school. One of the speakers was a graduating senior who was the first in her family to go to college. She told the story of how happy she was to be able to go to this magical place on a full scholarship – beautiful grounds, great programs, a supportive system, and the full resources of five of the best schools in the entire country. It wasn’t a dream come true, because it was more than she had ever dreamt.

It didn’t last. Relatively soon, she “learned” how everyone is racist, how she and her family had been discriminated against and exploited, and how students, faculty, and staff  were assaulting her with “microaggressions.” She raged for much of her speech.

Now, after four years at the best school in the country, she had gone from ecstatic, excited, and enthusiastic to anxious, angry, and accusatory.

Here was a young woman who had a rare chance to be in a far better position than the vast majority of people in the world. She could have left with the education, credentials, understanding, and contacts to succeed beyond her wildest dreams as a 16-year-old. 


Instead, elements at this school had taken this passionate and joyful young person and broken her. I can’t help but think she would have been better off going to UCLA or even the University of Arizona.

And at this country’s elite schools, this is not an isolated incident.

Of course our society (and humanity as a whole) is racist, sexist, transphobic, classist, etc. This is why we need to strengthen our children to be able to deal with the world as it is. We have the understanding and ability to help young people become antifragile. That will allow them to thrive in an unfair world and help change it for those truly suffering.  

Instead of building up our best and brightest, some choose to beat them down with a steady water torture of the world’s horrors, until they have been programmed to think everything is irredeemably horrible – even when their own situation is awesome.

This is also the point of the Greta Thunberg chapter in Losing My Religions.

PS: I see imperfect parallels with animal advocacy. As Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer noted, “In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.”

The world is objectively hell for non-human animals. I have seen this overwhelming, unnecessary, and intentional cruelty break many sensitive, empathetic souls. This reaction is entirely understandable.

But only dwelling in the horrors – which I did for many years – does not help. As I talk about in the chapter “The End of Veganism” in Losing My Religions, only documenting and “bearing witness” to brutality actively hurts animals.

I’ll conclude with what I have said and written many times – but only because it was one of the hardest lessons of my life. I believe it applies to anyone who wants to make the world better:


It is not enough to be righteous, or even a dedicated, knowledgeable advocate. The animals don’t need us to be right, they need us to be effective. In other words, we don’t want to simply “win an argument with a meat eater.” It isn’t about winning. Instead, we want to open people’s hearts and minds to making compassionate choices.


To do this, we must be admirable. Regardless of the sorrow and outrage we rightly feel at the cruelties animals suffer, we must strive to be what others want to be: joyful individuals with fulfilling lives. Only then can we do our best to really make a real difference.


Can't get enough plant-based chicken!


Monday, November 28, 2022

"Infinite capacity to rationalize"

Song: The incredibly beautiful and exceptionally sad "A Man I'll Never Be." It is especially heart-wrenching to know that Brad Delp, the singer, killed himself.


As mentioned, One Step got a donation earlier this month from a new donor with the note that it was from having read Losing My Religions.

In our correspondence, he pointed to a book club debate (1, 2, but I strongly advise you to not go there). In the "debate" on animal ethics, there are so many words that say nothing at all. In the end, though, Bryan Caplan, being a straight white overly-educated upper-middle-class male, basically said that ethics = whatever he feels like ("intuitions").

Of course he does. 

And of course, his intuitions say non-human animals don't matter.

Of course they don't.

He gives this example to "prove" the "flaw" in vegetarian reasoning:

A: It is wrong to cause an enormous amount of suffering, for the sake of relatively minor benefits for ourselves.

B: So if the only way for me to build a swimming pool is to bulldoze a den of mice, causing them to horribly suffer, it is wrong to build my pool?

A: Perhaps I overstated.

B: Indeed.

That's the level of "logic" and "argument" Bryan brings to this discussion: it is just fine to support factory farms because ... he wants a pool.

This is, obviously, a perfect example of Cleveland Amory's truism: "Man has an infinite capacity to rationalize, especially when it comes to something he wants to eat."

As I document to some extent in Losing, there is plenty whack-a-doodle-dee-doo on the vegan side of things.  But to my mind, nothing is as bad as "Eating meat is fine because ... pool."

Card from Tom Scholz, who basically is Boston.


Sunday, November 27, 2022

“Is the West saying Africa should remain undeveloped?”

Song: Africa


No matter what happens in the election in Georiga, the majority of people in the United States will remain absurdly rich by global standards.

Yet people in the west will continue to exaggerate the future threat of climate change while ignoring the current crushing global poverty.

A follow-up to this, from The Economist:

In the rich world the big energy challenge is how to make the supply cleaner. In Africa the problem is how to generate more energy. Average consumption per person in sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, is a mere 185 kilowatt-hours (kWh) a year, compared with about 6,500kWh in Europe and 12,700kWh in America. An American fridge uses more electricity than a typical African person. Low energy use is a consequence of poverty; but it is also a cause of it. If Africa is to grow richer it will need to use a lot more energy, including fossil fuels. Yet its efforts to do so put it on a collision course with hypocritical rich countries. The rich world is happy to import fossil fuels for its own use, while at the same time restricting public financing for African gas projects intended for domestic use. “Is the West saying Africa should remain undeveloped?” fumes Matthew Opoku Prempeh, Ghana’s energy minister.

More (and this might be the most important idea I link to all year):

The Obvious Climate Strategy Nobody Will Talk About

Economic growth and technological innovation have saved tens of millions of lives from climate extremes over the last century.

This is a great way to understand an individual's motivation. If they really care about climate change because of the suffering it is causing and will cause, they will fully embrace rapid action to protect the world's most vulnerable, as discussed in that article. Economic development, nuclear power, carbon capture and sequestration.

But those who have opposed nuclear power, don't promote rapid economic development in the developing world, and vilify adaptation and mitigation proposals -- well, then you know they aren't truly motivated by reducing suffering. They are just adherents to a religion that wants to force everyone to adopt their personal views, no matter who suffers, not matter who is left in poverty.

(There is a good parallel with vegans who vilify plant-based meat and attack clean meat. They only want others to adopt their specific views and diet, rather than helping animals.)