Friday, March 24, 2023

The Amount of Suffering

Midnight Oil - "Beds Are Burning"

As I mentioned in Trends vs Numbers, there are approximately as many people enslaved today as in 1700.

Similarly, in The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander points out that more Black men are in the United State's carceral system today than were enslaved in 1850.

So again: while a lot of progress has been made on the percentage of people enslaved (starving, under-educated, etc.), there is almost certainly more severe human suffering today than ever before. (To say nothing about non-human suffering, of course.)

Thursday, March 23, 2023

I welcome our robot overlords, and you should too (1/2)

Radiohead - "No Surprises"
from OK Computer

This blog title is also a chapter in Losing My Religions - a chapter that hasn't met with a lot of love, although no one has explained to me how I'm wrong.

But pretty much every day, I'm given another reason to think that the well-off white males worried about AI are simply wrong. 

Below is the latest proof that we are not a civilized species. Just think about what this person is saying, forcefully, publicly, and proudly: children should go hungry unless they work in slaughterhouses. Just look at the children next to Huckabee.

Outside our silos re: AI risk (2/2)

As you know from Losing My Religions, I have a lot to say about the topic of AI. But even if I don't agree with everything, I ask that you please just read and consider this article about AI and opportunity costs. Thanks.

PS: ChatGPT's take on Losing:

"Losing My Religions" is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book that explores the intersections between religion, ethics, and animal rights activism. It offers a unique perspective on the subject and is likely to appeal to readers who are interested in the connections between different social justice...

Full chat; the second paragraph is pretty off, although the third pulls in information not in the book or on the book's website:

Second attempt says I grew up in Michigan (I grew up in Ohio) and was evangelical (was actually Catholic) and I don't really talk about "living in alignment with one's values":

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Please stop with insects (a compilation)

Green Day - "Whatshername"
A truly fantastic song - simple, tells a story, rockin' sing-along ending. 💘

In approximately this order:

Insects don't suffer. Sensing pain is not the same as suffering. Please don't anthropomorphize and don't look only at cherry-picked examples of behavior. Recognize that by default, we impart consciousness to just about anything that moves (or talks, in the case of AI).

Even if I'm wrong, insects are a harmful distraction from severe suffering that we actually can address. (More on the failings of classic utilitarianism. My current thoughts are in the "Biting the Philosophical Bullet" chapter of Losing My Religions.)

Tractability matters, not just big numbers. "I would rather light money on fire than give it to certain 'wild animal' organizations." If you truly care only about numbers, fund Christian missionaries.

Talking about insects causes actual suffering by Dr. Greger. Not only does it take away limited resources, it makes animal advocates look crazy.

Being realistic and sane actually helps animals.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Outsourced: The War on Boys

Billy Bragg: "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward"
Very old video (before the fall of The Wall)
"I'd give a week's pay to talk like you."

No, not that Benatar.

Ever since I heard him with Sam Harris, I've admired South African philosopher David Benatar for his bravery in honestly addressing questions that almost no one considers. Those who do examine those topics are slandered instead of engaged. In Losing My Religions, I link to the New Yorker article "The Case for Not Being Born," which goes into the thesis of David's book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.

Unfortunately, with his new book The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys, David has followed Caplan and decided to seek praise from the rabid misogynist mobs that thrive on the internet. There is an interesting review of the book I reproduce below, even though as a feminist (i.e., I believe women are human beings) I obviously don't agree with everything in it.

Before that, however, I want to emphasize one thing: David argues that men being drafted (in the past) proves discrimination against men. But this is the same as saying the fact that open homosexuals were not sent off to fight proves discrimination against straight people. Or that only men died in the early astronaut programs proving men were facing discrimination. Jeebus

By Hudson

This book is just one extended deepity, a concept thought up by Daniel Dennett. Insofar as anything in this book is true, it is trite. Insofar as anything in this book is profound, it is false.

Before I delve into the problems in this book, let me just say that I am not a feminist and am, in fact, quite critical of feminism. I purchased this book hoping that I would learn about varieties of discrimination against males that I had heretofore not considered. I reasoned that David Benatar, the controversial philosopher and famous antinatalist, would have some profound insights to share. I was wrong.

Benatar structures this book in a way that, at first glance, seems designed to minimize any enjoyment readers derive from reading it. He spends the first 20-30 pages of the book telling us what he is going to tell us. I realize this is an academic book, but this is just incredibly boring and unnecessarily protracted. I was seriously depressed 20 pages in at how slow he was moving. The original insights and good points in this book could easily be condensed to 25 pages. Benatar treats his audience like we are complete morons. He responds to the most inane criticisms of his positions that, as far as I know, no one has actually made, and spends pages upon pages refuting these, dare I say it, strawman arguments. Unfortunately he does not address what I consider to be good criticisms of his book, such as the fact that it is dull, uninsightful, misleading, and unimportant. The first half of the book details the disadvantages of being male. I did not read this book in order to learn that it sucks to live a few years less than women on average. I read this book to perceive how men are being unjustly discriminated against. Amusingly, he then goes into how many, but not all of the disadvantages males face are due to discrimination (again, why talk about disadvantages not due to discrimination at all?), but then completely fails to make persuasive arguments for causal linkages between disadvantages and discrimination. For instance, in discussing male life expectancy, he points out how much money is spent on breast cancer research and how little is spent on lung cancer research, all the while ignoring the fact that people are far less inclined to donate to a cause to help people when they feel that those individuals are responsible for their problems. People with lung cancer are often blamed for their states due to the link between tobacco products and lung cancer, while most if not all view breast cancer victims as just that, victims.

Benatar essentially makes the claim that just under half of sexual assaults are by women by stating that some studies show that sexual assaults committed by women account for 2% of the total, while some suggest they account for half. He then concludes that it is reasonable to the assume the answer is somewhere in the middle. Except he never actually evaluates how good the studies are he is drawing from. I would often look at the references only to find that the study making a controversial claim was like 30-40 years old, while the study he cites confirming common knowledge was more recent and had been replicated repeatedly. He seems to just treat all studies equally and doesn't take the time to weed out studies that made errors and drew faulty conclusions. Worse, he repeatedly discusses the "uncertainty" surrounding a variety of questions due to "conflicting" studies when some studies are quite clearly less reputable than others.

He makes the claim that men are subject to more violence than women, and argues that this suggests there is discrimination against men. Except he also fails to consider that men are statistically more violent themselves, more likely to commit violence that results in violence against them, more likely to exact revenge, less likely to be deterred by more minor punishments, etc. These qualities provide reason to think that the greater violence directed against males is not evidence of discrimination. Benatar fails to provide any evidence that violence is frequently committed against men as a result of them being men.

One of the biggest wastes of time in the entire book (and there are many) is the section on how men are discriminated against because they are often conscripted into armies. While I agree that this is sexist because men who do not want to join the army and are forced to fight in a conflict that could cost them life or limb are suffering when many women would be adept at fighting alongside them, one simply must inquire how frequently this happens today, considering liberal democracies have abolished the draft. Benatar apparently addresses the criticism that this is merely a past form of discrimination and not applicable by essentially responding "So what? The point is that men have been discriminated against." Yes, except you misled me and other readers into thinking that you were addressing contemporary sexism against men, and this simply does not qualify. Indeed, reading over 20 pages that Benatar spends boringly arguing about every minute point in goal of showing that women are adept at serving alongside men in contemporary armies was pointless. His rationale in doing this was to show that women can be effective in combat, therefore there is no rational argument for excluding them, therefore military drafts should conscript both men and women into combat. This doesn't even serve to make any point for his argument, as no liberal democracies have drafts, and those countries that do have drafts are almost certainly discriminating far more against women than men in various other ways. Moreover, few countries are engaged in wars at the present - warfare is at an all time low. Lastly, if you really want to go into the history of discrimination between men and women, there is an even clearer case that women have borne the far greater share of suffering resulting from discrimination. I'm not sure that is a wise avenue for Benatar to take.

Benatar downplays differences in male and female innate psychology when it makes men look bad, but plays it up when it defeats feminist arguments. For instance, he endorses the claim that women tend to have smaller standard deviations in intelligence and thus fewer idiots but also fewer geniuses (something I agree with), but he calls into question claims that men are innately more aggressive than women are (something that is also true). This is just obnoxious.

Benatar makes some truly petty claims. He spends an inordinate amount of time complaining about how male prisoners are not afforded the same privacy from the opposite sex that female prisoners are. For instance, male guards cannot see female prisoners nude, while female guards can see male prisoners nude. This is absurd, because prison is already violating one's privacy and is not supposed to be enjoyable, so even if a few male prisoners were bothered by this, that doesn't mean that it should be addressed. If anything, I would rather women than men see me nude in prison, because there is a far smaller chance that they would sexually assault me, whereas there have been a handful of instances where male prison guards have raped prisoners. Female prisoners are not allowed to be seen naked by male guards because of the threat of rape. They are very vulnerable in that situation, and many men would take advantage of that. Which brings me to a nice segue in Benatar carrying on endlessly about women raping men. Anyone who thinks that there is a moral equivalency between 30 year old women having sex with 14 year old boys and 30 year old men having sex with 14 year old girls is delusional. Benatar even talks about women forcing men to copulate, which is seriously such a rare occurrence that one wonders what the point of talking about it is. Does he draw any meaningful conclusions about it? No. He just points out that it happens. Yeah, many things physically possible have happened. Does that mean that it is all worth mentioning? No. He even wastes paper complaining about urinals in male bathrooms and how we have less privacy as a result.

Benatar then discusses the issue of custody of children in divorce cases. Women win far more often. Can we draw the conclusion that men are discriminated against? No. Men attempt to get custody of children far less often, children more often want to be with their mothers, and women are probably more suitable candidates for custody more often due various female tendencies that males more frequently lack. Benatar has to prove that there is systemic discrimination here, but from his armchair he can do no such thing. He instead says that we should inspect this matter further. He makes this claim a number of times, which is annoying, because he is the one claiming there is rampant sexism against males. Why is it so hard to prove if it is there? Where is the empirical data? He makes the claim that mothers are statistically more likely to exact violence upon their children than fathers are. However, he then proceeds to inform us of the obvious likelihood that this is explained by the fact that mothers are around their children far more often. What use does this piece of information serve? More investigation is needed, he asserts. Actually, I really don't think more manpower is needed to study these insignificant questions. There are far more important social problems meriting our limited attention.

Let me also take the opportunity to say that Benatar is a dreadful, uninspired writer. He evidently thinks that maintaining the calm, logical, clear writing style of the logician is optimal. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of readability and enjoyability. Emotional investment and display, even in nonfiction work (for instance, see Lawrence Lessig's appeal at the end of "Republic, Lost"), show how important the author feels the issue at hand is, and can be inspiring to the reader. Of course, I would find it incredibly difficult to feel emotionally invested in asserting Benatar's claims, because they are so trite and insignificant, so perhaps the blame really lies there.

Benatar asserts sexism is displayed in homosexual males being targeted for violence more frequently. Aside from the obvious rejoinder that there are more gays than lesbians, Benatar completely ignores the fact that gay males tend to be more outspoken about their sexuality. He also ignores the fact that the primary perpetrators of violence, males, frequently find gay sex to be repugnant but oftentimes do not see lesbian sex that way. Sexism, then, is not the obvious cause of this asymmetry in hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation.

Oh, and here is a little gem from the book. pg. 154: "It cannot be the case that women are discriminated against when they are underrepresented in good jobs, but men are not discriminated against when overrepresented in undesirable or dangerous jobs."

That is just a patently false assertion.

Oh yeah, the book is littered with typos as well, indicating that this is not really a finished product. Oddly, the conclusion of the book is not a conclusion, but is instead more or less an argument against feminism, as opposed to, say, an grand finale on the state of male discrimination. I actually think it was one of the books strong points, along with the penultimate chapter on why women should not receive affirmative action, but this has all been said before and far more eloquently, such as in "The Blank Slate" by Steven Pinker. In fact I felt like the end of the book was completely ripped from Pinker's brilliant tome.

Why, if this is book is so bad, am I giving it 2 stars?

1. I assume there are books that are worse that it would simply be unfair to equate this with.

2. Benatar actually does provide a few interesting insights that I had not considered before. For instance, I found his argument persuasive that the common view that circumcision is permissible without anesthesia to correctly demonstrate a double standard when few in liberal democracies would permit anything analogous for females.

If you are interested in contemporary sexism that causes untold suffering, I recommend you read "Half the Sky" by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (or Dunn-Wu... as Benatar calls her). "Half the Sky" is a brilliant book that is empirically driven yet infused with emotionally powerful anecdotes. If you read that book before or after reading this one, the comparison would likely make you laugh, cry, or both.

Monday, March 20, 2023

“More than a memoir” + Kindle Unlimited (1/2)

R.E.M. "Untitled" (from Green)
A fantastic, beautiful love song
"I made a list / of things to say / but all I want to say..."

Losing My Religions is now available as part of Kindle Unlimited (free for members). If not a part of KU, the download is only $2.99.

From Amazon:

As many reviewers have noted, the book is entertaining, funny, and a page-turner, but it is also a series of well-constructed arguments about what is true and what is important, many of which I have found personally relevant to my life in the month or so since finishing the book.

As a long-time follower of Ball, I was surprised to find myself learning and being convinced of new things about ethics and about life, and I am even more in awe of his bravery to continue to pursue and speak the truth even when it comes at great personal expense, as the book can attest. Few people have a life so worth reading about and learning from.

Can't recommend highly enough. Please write a sequel when you lose your next religion.

Bonus, also from Amazon:

I love a good memoir and this one did not disappoint. Matt Ball’s writing is entertaining, poignant, and colorful. Highly recommended! A great read.

Our Pi Day Pie and Why the Internet Should Live (2/2)

Basically this recipe with less sugar, along with walnuts and ground flax (you can't taste either - Anne didn't know I had "funkified" the pie at all.

Also: This video cracks me up.

And my favorite commercial plane:

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Straight white men are the real victims

Dar Williams - "As Cool As I Am"

The great feminist conspiracy. #BryanCaplan

The newly-elected members of the majority party in the House.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Two Excerpts: AI & Suffering

 Beth Orton - Unwritten

From the brilliant Suffering Focused Ethics by Magnus Vinding, which might be the most important philosophy book. Here is a bit of his discussion explaining why there is an asymmetry between pleasure and pain (and why, as I discuss in Losing My Religions, you can't offset suffering with happiness):

To get a clearer sense of the scope of the asymmetry in potential between happiness and suffering, we can imagine a situation in which we are offered ten years of maximal bliss at the price that we must experience some duration of the very worst states of suffering. How much such suffering would we be willing to endure in order to attain this happiness if the alternative were to experience a neutral and untroubled state of consciousness? Many of us would reject such an offer completely. 

Some, however, will be willing to accept the offer (at least while they are in a position where they have not yet experienced these very worst of states). Yet how big a sacrifice would such people be willing to make? Would they be willing, from the outset, to endure a full hour of the most extreme suffering? Perhaps even an entire day? Some might go as far as saying an entire day, yet very few, if any, would be willing to push the scale to anywhere near 50/50. That is, it seems safe to say that a great majority of people would firmly reject ten years of the most extreme suffering in order to attain ten years of the most sublime happiness.

This is obvious if you think about having kids. We know several couples who have happy children and could have had at least one more (probably) happy kid. But they in no way did anything "wrong" by not having another kid; they are certainly not moral monsters. 

Contrast that with anyone who chooses to knowingly bring a child into the world who would probably have a painful, unhappy life. 

Alleviating suffering is good in a way that creating happiness isn't.

And from Ezra Klein's latest column on artificial intelligence:

The stakes here are material and they are social and they are metaphysical. O’Gieblyn observes that “as A.I. continues to blow past us in benchmark after benchmark of higher cognition, we quell our anxiety by insisting that what distinguishes true consciousness is emotions, perception, the ability to experience and feel: the qualities, in other words, that we share with animals.”

This is an inversion of centuries of thought, O’Gieblyn notes, in which humanity justified its own dominance by emphasizing our cognitive uniqueness. We may soon find ourselves taking metaphysical shelter in the subjective experience of consciousness: the qualities we share with animals but not, so far, with A.I. “If there were gods, they would surely be laughing their heads off at the inconsistency of our logic,” she writes.

Bonus re: Nukes (2/2)

From Matt Yglesias' latest mailbag:

Nelson Barnes: I have read that you believe more nuclear power plants would be good. Aren't you concerned about the nuclear waste that is piling up?

I’m not. Particulate air pollution kills tens of thousands of Americans per year, a bit more than a thousand per year die of cold exposure, and several hundred overheat to death per year. Nuclear waste, by contrast, is responsible for zero deaths per year. Increasing the volume of zero-emission energy would be very good.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Build a level playing field / Compassion is not zero-sum

Aimee Mann - How Am I Different

Ezra Klein has a recent podcast with Richard Reeves (a father to three sons) entitled The Men - and Boys - Are Not Alright. (Despite my criticisms below, the podcast is worth listening to.) 

To start with, they discuss the educational gap between boys and girls. On its face, this would seem to perhaps support people like Bryan Caplan's contention that society is biased toward girls. But upon being pressed by Ezra, Reeves admits that this education gap is mostly between children of color, especially Black boys and girls. 

So it isn't, as you'll see claimed by some conservatives and their incel followers, that "the bitches just hate men." Instead, it is actually an issue of poverty and the criminalization of Black boys and men

This, of course, leads to another area where Ezra pushed back. When Blacks are arrested at a higher rate, conservatives are quick to claim that this is because of something inherent in Black people (men and boys in particular). 

Similarly, for decades conservatives said that women just couldn't hack college, or athletics, or being a cop. (They still say this about computer science.) But now, when it seems as though some males are falling behind in some areas, conservatives are quick to blame "the system" as set up by "feminists." 

(Men aren't, of course, falling behind in terms of income. And here, conservatives also blame women - they aren't ambitious, they value family, they prefer lower-paying jobs.)

I would have liked Ezra to push back on the contention that boys' brains develop more slowly than girls'. I'm not saying this isn't true (I'm no blank-slater). But I don't know how we can know that for sure. 

As I've noted before, if you dress a baby in stereotypical boy or girl clothes, people treat that same baby differently. This differential treatment starts when still a baby! How can you tease out the nature signal from the nurture? 

If, in our sexist society, boys are raised to value physical activities (e.g., sports) while girls are raised to value intellectual activities (e.g., school), how can we say that boys do worse (on average) in school because of their brain development? 

What about the fact that boys and girls don't seem to differ in the same way on standardized test scores? In this case, conservatives are quick to claim SAT math scores "prove" that boys are inherently better at math.

So to be clear: According to conservatives, when boys do worse in school, it is the system's fault. When boys do better at math, it is because boys are inherently better.

I am not saying that the system is set up perfectly to allow boys to reach their full potential. For example: there are many fewer male teachers in public schools than several decades ago. This, along with the incredible incarceration and unemployment rates of young Black men, leaves boys - especially Black boys - with fewer role models for societal-approved success. However, the declining number of young men working with boys is because of systemic racism and the even lower value our society gives to public-school teaching - because it is considered "women's work."

The facts don't support blaming feminism for the current plight of some boys and men. Instead of spending our time attacking "feminists," what we should and can do instead is to recognize and address* society's systemic racism and sexism.

Yes, it is easier to complain about mean "feminists" on Twitter. And it will earn you quick praise from the many angry young men eager to believe their failures are because of "the bitches." There are tens of millions in the United States who go about their days believing society is biased against white males in favor of inherently inferior women and Blacks.  

Also, for people like Caplan et al.,  I realize:

The more you invest in a set of beliefs -- the greater the sacrifice you make in the service of that conviction -- the more resistant you will be to evidence that suggests that you are mistaken. You don't give up. You double down.

-Malcolm Gladwell, The Bomber Mafia

But while well-off white men (like Caplan) will continue to thrive, nothing will really improve for much of society - and indeed, it will get worse - until we want to lift up everyone.

* As Malcolm Gladwell makes clear in his three-part education miniseries of Revisionist History (starting with "Carlos Doesn't Remember") trying to deal with racism and inequality through college programs is simply too late. High School is too late. We have to start improving the lives of those born into poverty even before they are born.


Wednesday, March 15, 2023

On Being Looksist

Dan Bern: "Rolling Away"
For the "Andi McDowell" line.
And the "dog" section is fantastic. And we're having Indian today.
OK, all his commentary is hilarious.
Just listen - you won't regret it.

Every day I'm amazed*.

Anne and I recently had a conversation with a younger friend who was getting back into the dating scene. They asked what Anne and I thought about how they should present themselves in terms of physical appearance. The question was basically, "Should I try to look better than I normally do?"


As I explain on pp. 161-164 of the ook-bay, Anne is not only my soulmate, but shockingly similar in background, beliefs, and nature. (“They say you shouldn’t marry yourself. (Or a foxier, more-mature version of yourself.) But it worked out damn well for me.”)

I'll be honest. If she had looked like Chris Evans or Amy Schumer - two attractive people who seem like they'd be cool to hang out with - we would not have wed a week after our first "date." 

But here's the thing about how I "normally" look: Anne makes me more attractive. And she makes me want to be more attractive (and aesthetically pleasing).

It isn't "Now I'm married I can become a fat slob." I want to make her life as wonderful as it can be, and that includes my appearance. I don't really care how my hair looks or how I dress - I want those to be as close to optimal as possible for Anne's pleasure. 

Also, I want to be as strong as possible and as fit as possible to have as many active years with her as possible.

Honestly, there wasn't any "real me" before I met Anne. 

*To counter Anne's inevitable comment about using a picture from when she was in her 20s: I'm amazed that someone so smart and thoughtful and athletic and beautiful chose to be with me 30+ years ago. And to show how she remains aesthetically pleasing, here's a brand-new picture at a few months short of 60:

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Free Book Bye-Bye

Hi Friends,

We've removed Losing My Religions from Apple books, and the eBook version has been taken down from Barnes & Noble. On Friday, March 17, we'll be removing access to the free eBook versions at

By having the eBook version available only on Amazon, it can be a part of KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited (which will hopefully happen soon). Hopefully, this will help it reach more people.

Hopefully hopefully hopefully.

In the meantime, the eBook Amazon is now on sale for $2.99.

The large, B&W paperback is still available at Amazon, and the smaller, color paperback is still at B&N

And we have copies of both versions here we would be happy to send you.


PS: Happy Pi Day!

Birthday Pie!

Monday, March 13, 2023

A note to my friends also w/o a tribe

Lyle Lovett - "Her First Mistake"

I recently came across a (mostly) good post on tribal politics that really struck a chord with me. 

As documented in Losing My Religions, I was fired for quoting what a celebrity said about vegans. Also, a national conference (that had previously elected me to their self-important "Hall of Fame" banned me). 

The publication of Losing has led to another wave of vitriol. This time, the attacks are from those angry that I dare question the "We're destroying the planet" "We're all going to die" narrative in the climate catastrophe movement

(This isn't meant as a "Woe is me, I'm so persecuted rant" like all the multi-millionaire "comedians" whining about "cancel culture." Despite continual professional failures, I'm so well-off it is embarrassing.) 

This is just another example of how it has basically become impossible to have a good-faith discussion about any topic. Everyone has chosen their team and defends all of that team's positions at all costs, including considering any evidence and facts that might not be to their side's liking. 

This was brought home at the end of the tribal politics post referenced above. After making very insightful comments, Friedman hops into his camp, dismissing the impacts of a full meter of sea level rise.