Monday, June 19, 2017

The Truth We Should Dare To Speak

Bad News for Red Meat Remains Bad News for Chickens
Anne Green & Matt Ball

Basically every animal we kill in the US is killed as part of our “food” system. This year, about nine billion animals will be born into and suffer on factory farms, their misery ended only by slaughter.

If we could convince every single person in the US to entirely give up beef, pork, lamb, and dairy – and replace every scrap of that with a plant-based food – the number of animals who will be brutalized on factory farms would remain...

... about nine billion.

The numbers are simple: if we care at all about suffering, the impact of our advocacy has to be measured by its impact on how many birds are being raised to be eaten.

Of course, actually looking at the facts shown by decades of consumption patterns clearly indicates that people have replaced red meat with chicken, causing vastly more suffering. Studies have shown this clearly as well.

What Ginny Messina wrote years ago is even more painfully true today: Bad News for Red Meat Is Bad News for Chickens.

For decades, there have been several problems with our advocacy, not the least of which is our lack of understanding (or memory of) basic human nature. Perhaps the most important insight is what won Herb Simon his Nobel Prize in Economics: People don’t make optimal or “perfect” decisions. Rather, almost everyone makes choices based on what is a bit “better” or “good enough.”

Yet just about every single argument we offer the general public – health, environmental, and even ethical – leads people to move from red meat to eating more chickens. Almost everything we say reinforces the trend that has led to the explosion in the amount of cruelty and suffering in this country.

Of course, various smart advocates have created endless rationalizations for pursuing their personal preference for advocacy. The most common is the need to be “consistent.” But consistency is utterly irrelevant in the real world. People have a nearly infinite capacity for cognitive dissonance. They love their dog or cat and eat pigs and cows without a second thought.

Other advocates create fantasies whereby getting people to question the ethics of eating red meat will lead them to adopt the full philosophy of animal liberation. But this could not possibly be more at odds with how people function in the real world. Having an entire class of meat widely vilified as immoral – veal – had no impact on overall meat consumption. More importantly, it did nothing to stop the continuing increase in the consumption of chickens.

Of course, we applaud the attempts to think outside the box, given our failures to increase the percentage of vegetarians or slow the rise in chicken consumption.

But we are horrified and appalled when people advance pet theories that we know with absolute certainty will vastly increase the amount of suffering on factory farms.

It might seem like harmless to create stories where a quirky new message will create a magical moral awakening across the country. But this is not an intellectual exercise. This is real life – and death – for birds being brutalized by the modern chicken industry.

The end of cruelty to farm animals won’t come from some mystical manipulation of the public’s thinking. It will come from an interplay of supply and demand driving and being driven by technological change. There is no cunning shortcut, no quick fix. The public won’t ever all become ethical eaters – we have to drive both demand for and supply of ethical, familiar foods that they will gladly eat.

Given all of the above and more, it seems inevitable to conclude that those of us who truly care about suffering and are working on the demand side must follow two straightforward guiding principles:

  • Avoid advocacy that has any possibility of leading individuals to replace red meat with chickens.
  • Promote a simple, incremental message that is accessible, sustainable, and maximally impactful on the amount of suffering in the world.

These may not thrill the ideologues or the clever contrarians. But these are the principles that follow from the historical real-world facts.

If you agree, please be a part of One Step for Animals work. Thanks!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

From New Scientist

Two good letters in response to an article questioning whether atheism is a religion.

From Alan Singlehurst, Shildon, County Durham, UK

As someone who likes to consider the big picture before diving into analysis, I was dismayed by Graham Lawton's article on atheism. What makes him think atheism is real? There's no word for people who disbelieve, even vociferously, in dragons, unicorns or fairies (would that be an a-fée-ist?). So why one for religion? Believers invented the whole concept of atheism to make non-belief seem perverse and unnatural.

Religion is entirely cultural; some people are conditioned by their family and community to believe strange things while others are not. An atheist is just someone who was spared this unwanted conditioning while their brain was maturing. Do they really need to be explained?

From Anthony Castaldo, San Antonio, Texas, US

I am a born-again atheist. I was born with no belief in God, strayed from that path as a child, then as a young adult returned to the true path. In truth, the first and third stages are quite different.

I was born with no mental models of how the universe works. As a child, I was taught a religious mental model of how reality works; and then as an adult came to understand that the religious model was so severely flawed it couldn't predict anything. In other words, anything can happen if God wills it, including the violation of every assurance by the supposed agents of God and the violation of every law of physics.

A universe with God in it is thus a universe with no rules at all: everything that happens is the whim of an intentionally unpredictable intellect with an intentionally incomprehensible plan that may result in horrors.

My atheism is not a religion, it is the rejection of all models of the universe that contain some intellect capable of literally anything. It is my claim that an incoherent model cannot be how everything works.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Guest Post: How about a Hero with Real Perspective?

Say there’s a hero. The villain offers the hero a choice between saving a loved one - parent, child, sibling, partner, it doesn’t really matter - and saving a building filled with hundreds of people. If they leave their loved one, they can save the building filled with people easily, with very little risk. However, they choose to try and save both, putting everyone in the building at great risk. Hundreds nearly die, but thanks to the magic of storytelling, everyone is saved.

Say there’s another hero. There is a tear in the fabric of spacetime that will destroy a starship filled with hundreds of people. The hero can seal off the tear and prevent the spaceship from being destroyed, but one of their loved ones is on the other side of the tear, and will surely be killed if they seal the tear. Rather than waiting until the last second and increasing the risk of destruction of the spaceship, they seal the tear as soon as possible, saving everyone on board the ship - and somehow through the magic of storytelling (for fairness of comparison) their loved one makes it out okay as well.

Which hero would you expect to feel guilty or conflicted about their actions, and which hero would ride off into the sunset, happy as a clam? Which hero would you expect to be treated by the narrative as pure and righteous, and which would be morally grey, or even an antihero? Which hero would you expect to be likable, and which one would be sour and distant?

Any experience with popular media will tell you that the first hero, the one willing to risk the building full of people for their loved one, is probably more likable, more righteous, and happier, while the second hero, the pragmatist ready to sacrifice their loved one to save their ship, is probably less likable, more morally grey, and more guilt-ridden.

But if you were one of the hundreds of people in the building or on the ship, or had a loved one in the building or on the ship, you’d probably feel differently. You’d probably say that the first hero should feel guilty for risking all the people in the building, and that the second hero is more heroic for protecting all of the lives of the people on their ship.

So why does popular media act as though your opinion - that perspective, those people - doesn’t exist?

Popular media tends to operate under the assumption that being pragmatic, utilitarian, and logical - being the sort of person who could sacrifice a loved one to save a ship - makes characters inherently bad and unlikable, and that pragmatic utilitarians should always be people who either live wracked with horrible guilt or who are already heartless bastards - or some unholy combination of both. They’re villains, antiheroes, antagonistic superiors, or at best a counterpoint from a teammate, to be proven wrong by the main hero.

And they are consistently proven wrong, either by the magic of storytelling proving their risk projections incorrect, incomplete information that means their plan would never have worked, other flaws or values - arrogance, an obsession with eye-for-an-eye punishment, what have you - that interfere with their judgement. Or they’re a villain that claims to be interested in the greater good, but really only cares about the greatest good for people who look and act like them, and fuck everyone else. And despite the fact that none of these things have anything to do with being a pragmatic utilitarian, they’re always used as cause to frame the utilitarian character as unfailingly Wrong, to create a moral of ‘and this is why thinking in terms of the good of the many over the good of the few is Bad and this way of thinking and no other reason makes you a Bad Person who will do Bad Things, and you should only ever do things that make you feel warm and fuzzy and righteous because those are Good things.’

Why do we care about this comic book logic? Because people learn from it. Everyday we see people act based on what makes them feel warm and fuzzy and righteous, on what benefits those closest to them and not the hundreds or thousands or millions of others around them. And this warm and fuzzy morality is really fucking harmful.

In the real world, the ultimate consequences of your actions matter, not just how good and righteous you feel at the time of your action. And because real life is not a convenient comic book or 30 minute episode, sometimes creating better ultimate consequences actually does require compromise rather than righteous idealism; while the ultimate consequences of warm and fuzzy actions are objectively bad for everyone.
In the reality we live in, we are in dire need of more media that acknowledges that basing morality on what makes a character feel warm and fuzzy and righteous is fucking selfish.

If we can acknowledge that a villain destroying buildings in order to save their loved one is evil and selfish and should be stopped, we should acknowledge that a hero being willing to sacrifice a building full of people for a person they love is evil and selfish and should be stopped.

People your hero will never meet matter. Hundreds of people in a building or ship or plane or thousands of people in a city or billions across the world love and are loved and matter as much as a hero and their loved ones. And pretending otherwise just lets us become more callous to those outside our scope of interaction, whose stories don’t get told.

Your hero shouldn’t risk the extinction-level event to save a person they love. They should kill the supervillain who won’t stop killing when there’s no other feasible way to contain them. They should do what they have to do to stop the horde intent on wiping out all life. And, for fuck’s sake, they should support the leader that doesn’t necessarily make them feel warm and fuzzy inside, because the feasible alternative is horrific and terrifying. (Not, you know, to draw any obvious real world parallels here.)

Your hero, faced with the choice between a loved one and their city, can choose to sacrifice their loved one out of the knowledge that everyone in the city is someone else’s loved one, and that those feelings are not more or less important than her own. Your hero can move past their grief not through isolation and angst, but by connecting with the stories and relationships of those she saved.

Your hero can put their mission ahead of their loved ones, not because they’re heartless, not because their hero identity is all they are now, or that they’re too dangerous to be around, but because they know that their love for the people in their life doesn’t make their loved ones better than the multitudes of people they have the power to save.

Your hero can be willing to make sacrifices (of themselves, of principles, of others) to save all of humanity - because of an unshakable belief that humanity has limitless potential to become better, to create a better world. Tell stories where such sacrifice is an expression of hope.

Because we should be showing people that heroes have the capacity to imagine and give a damn about the basic humanity and happiness of those beyond their immediate circle. And that’s the most hopeful thing I can imagine.

-Ellen Green

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

I Guess It Really Doesn't Go Without Saying

I figured I didn't need to explicitly point this out, but the deluge of attacks indicate that many people either aren't actually watching the Vox Voice video, or they're determined to prove Paul Simon correct ("Man sees what he wants to see, and disregards the rest.").

So I'll spell it out explicitly: If you actually watch and pay attention to the video, I never say anyone should actually eat beef. (Also note that the few minutes I actually speak was drawn from a one-hour wide-ranging interview.)

At first, I was disappointed with the headline Vox put on the interview. However, given that the video has been trending on YouTube all weekend, and is closing in on a million views, I have to admit that Vox knew what they were doing in terms of capturing eyeballs. Clearly, there is a hunger among people to do something to help animals that seems, to them, achievable and sustainable.

To me, the most important goal is that we find the message that reaches and inspires new people, rather than what gets us more "Likes" on our Facebook feed. Given that this year, the average American will eat more animals and cause more suffering than ever before, I'll take a million new people learning about how to help animals over being lionized by the vegan police every day.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Vox Voices Video

Here is the actual Vox video on YouTube (with over 400,000 views in its first 24 hours).

I might have titled it: "How the 98% can best help animals."

Again, it is important to note what I actually say, as opposed to what Vox put in there.

Thanks to everyone who has contacted me about it!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Note re: Global Warming to My New Fans from Vox

Thanks to everyone who has watched and shared my Vox Voice interview.

Just a few notes to the people who have provided ... unhappy ... feedback:

I didn't choose the headline, and nowhere did I actively encourage people to "eat beef." For those who actually watch the video (as opposed to attacking me based on Vox's headline), the facts actually presented are about relative animal suffering, and stand on their own. There is absolutely no doubt that eating cows causes far far less suffering than eating chickens.

For those who comment on global warming, please note several things:
  1. Eating a burger or steak is responsible for a relative handful of methane molecules, which have exactly zero impact on the climate*. 
  2. Eating a chicken leg or breast is directly responsible for actual days of torture for a chicken (the fraction of the chicken consumed multiplied by the total number of days the chicken suffers due to malformations, ammonia burns, broken bones, etc.).

  3. The impact of global warming on wild animals' suffering is unknown, with the expected value of its impact on suffering being zero. All wild animals suffer and die, regardless of if the climate changes or not.

It is beyond reasoning to contend that some abstract (and unrelated) future event allows us to partake in active cruelty (as I write about more here).

One question not used in the final Vox video (only a few minutes of an hour-long interview made the final cut) was: Why should anyone care about animals when humans are suffering? My answer is that supporting the torment of chickens doesn't help anyone, human or non-human. No matter what we care about, we can significantly and profoundly reduce the amount of cruelty and misery by simply choosing not to each chickens.

If we care at all about reducing real and brutal suffering, we should honestly consider the facts and act accordingly.

PS: From Rob Wiblin:

Some people can't decide which is worse: the harm to animal welfare caused by eating chickens, or the harm from climate change caused by eating cows.

One kilogram of cow meat produces 35kg of CO2e compared with 5kg for chicken meat. Each broiler chicken produces some 1.5kg of meat and lives in a farm for ~2 months. So the trade-off is that sparing one year of chicken-life in a factory farm - and twelve chicken deaths - by instead eating cow meat instead will lead to an extra ~0.3 tonnes of CO2e.

For context, the global emissions of CO2e are ~8 tonnes per person - ~20 tonnes per person in the developed world - for a total of ~50 billion tonnes.

The World Health Organisation speculates that 5,000 tonnes of CO2e will cause the loss of one year of healthy life.

If this number is to be believed, avoiding the loss of *1* year of healthy human life from climate change would come at the cost of *17,000* years of chickens living in factory farms (100,000 chicken lives in total).

Even if climate change is significantly worse than that number suggests, that seems like an enormous amount of animal misery.

Keep in mind, like me, you can always just eat neither.

Also keep in mind how valuable it is to do these calculations so you can get these things approximately correct.

*Note: I'm not saying that all global methane emissions, taken as a whole, have no impact on climate (see my background). I'm simply noting that the minuscule amount methane caused by one burger or one cow will not have any impact. It is absolutely unfathomable to me that anyone would argue that we should actively torture a sentient being to avoid an additional handful of methane molecules in the atmosphere.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Something Good re: Greenpeace

Lord knows I'm not a fan of Greenpeace (1, 2). But this article in the Guardian by their Executive Director is very good. Excerpt:

So the distinction diehard carnivores need to make is not between cattle and chickens or pigs but between intensively farmed animals – which depend heavily on grain or soya and are therefore in direct competition with humans for land – and those that predominantly eat grass or, in the case of pigs, heat-treated swill from our waste food mountains. This means no industrially raised chicken and pork, as it is nearly all intensively reared indoors on animal feed. Factory farming is not only unacceptably cruel, but unsustainably inefficient.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How Vegans Hurt Animals

As I and others have noted many times, what we do with our example, our advocacy, and our donations is far more important than what we choose to eat. Yet few of us worry as much about the impact of our example as we do about the purity of our ingredient lists.

The first mistake many of us made is that we have poisoned the brand.

Of course, knowing what happens to animals every day, we are totally and completely justified in being angry.

Rage, fury, and even hatred – these emotions are entirely understandable.

But turning this fury onto people is not the way to have anyone open their heart or mind to the idea of considering their culpability and contemplating change.

This is dead-simple obvious to anyone who has studied psychology or surveyed vegetarians. (“How many of you stopped eating meat because someone yelled 'Go VEGAN, you MURDERER!'? Anyone?”) And yet for the three decades I've been an advocate, there has always been a segment of vegans who have built vast and elaborate rationalizations for basing their “activism” on screaming and hatred (and attacking anyone who is not sufficiently pure and dogmatic).

Thus it is not surprising that research at the University of Arizona's Eller School found that the general public thinks that vegans are annoying (to put it mildly). This recent survey found that vegans are viewed more negatively than atheists, immigrants, homosexuals, and asexuals. The only group viewed more negatively than vegans were drug addicts.

It is clear that the “vegan” brand is damaged beyond repair, yet many of us insist on pushing the vegan message knowing full well that the vast majority of the populace will reject it without consideration.

Even though most people oppose factory farms, and would be willing to take some step to cut back their support of factory farms, many vegans refuse to take the opportunities we have to offer up a constructive, achievable, and sustainable ask.

For example, when we're making a specific case about certain animals – e.g., that birds are brutalized horribly on today's factory farms, and in numbers far beyond any other species – many of us just can't help but end with a “Go VEGAN!” message, nullifying any chance we had of making a real connection and difference.

Furthermore, even when we don't use the word "vegan" explicitly, we use arguments that, when heard in the real world, leads to many more animals suffering. When we argue health, what people hear is that chicken is much, much healthier than red meat. When we argue the environment, people note that beef is orders of magnitude worse than chicken. Even arguing compassion has pitfalls, as people generally identify much more with mammals.

Although these arguments can seem effective within our community, in the bigger picture, they lead to a lot more animals suffering. The push to replace red meat with chicken – supported by all our arguments – has driven the huge increase in the number of animals factory farmed every year.

However, promoting a poisoned brand and using counter-productive arguments are not even the half of it.

As has been found by a number of surveys, the vast majority of people who go vegetarian eventually go back to eating animals. More than four out of every five individuals who go veg eventually quit!

It would be bad enough to realize that we’re throwing away more than 80% of advocacy efforts. But it is actually worse than that. Everyone who quits being veg becomes an anti-spokesperson against making compassionate choices – a public (and often loud) example opposing taking any steps that help animals.

And why does nearly everyone who goes vegetarian go back to eating animals?

One main reason is that people don't feel healthy. Again, this has been a failing of many of us in the vegan advocacy community. We vigorously insist that all animal products are deadly poison, and promise that eating vegan will cure all our ills. We fail to give people a complete understanding of nutrition, and we also fail to provide them with a reasonable guide to what they can eat that they'll find familiar and satisfying, as well as easy to shop for and prepare.

So it isn't surprising that so many people revert to eating meat. But we go out of our way to make it even worse.

We continually police our little club, attacking everyone who isn't vegan enough, who isn't vegan for the right reason, who isn't outspokenly vegan. We rain our most awful fury on people who have taken steps to change their diet, but aren't yet “fully vegan” (“Dairy? Why are you pro-rape?!?!?”)

Now of course, this doesn't matter if all we care about is the exclusivity of our little club. And we've done a good job of that, given that the percentage of vegetarians has basically not changed in decades, with all the fluctuations within the margin of error.

But if we care even the tiniest amount about the suffering of farm animals, then we simply must admit that the outreach we vegans have done has been an absolute and utter failure.

The facts are stark, and they are brutal. This year in the US, more animals will suffer horrific cruelty on factory farms than ever before. This year, the average American will eat more factory farmed animals than ever before.

And for all the reasons outlined above, we vegans are culpable. We (and I include myself here) have poisoned the message of compassion, insisted on pushing a message we know people will automatically reject, and have undermined and driven away millions of individuals who have tried to join us. As Paul Shapiro and I have said for at least 15 years now: The greatest impediment to the spread of veganism is vegans.

Luckily, I believe there is a better way. I hope you will click and consider it.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Simply Give People What They Want

One of the commonest questions I’ve gotten over the past 30 years is how to convince a loved one – often a spouse – to stop eating animals. It is a difficult issue, and I’ve struggled to find a satisfactory answer.

Today, though, it is much easier to answer this question. The key is to change the issue from “How do I get my partner to believe what I do?” to “How can my partner’s diet cause less harm?”

One mistake I made early on was to think that the only diet worth promoting was exactly what I ate. Spicy Thai dishes, vegetable-stuffed peppers, quinoa and mung beans – making extended family eat meals like these led to upset stomachs, resentment, and an even worse opinion of vegans and veganism than they had already.

Contrast this with people who don’t care about pushing personal philosophy, but simply want their family members to eat fewer animals. For example, we have friends who make their family’s Taco Tuesday meals with Gimme Lean Ground Beef. No one has ever noticed the change – except, of course, the cows who haven’t been killed.

Currently, most people have a negative view of vegans and veganism. Sadly, this is partially because some vegans are like I was – pushing vegan food that others might find “weird” and “unsatisfying,” all the while convincing many people that veganism is an intolerable deprivation.

Humans have been programmed by evolution to want fatty and high-protein foods. Instead of pontificating about the dangers of fat and the protein content of broccoli, we should recognize that basically no one eats meat because they want animals to suffer. They simply want familiar, tasty, satisfying foods.

We are extremely fortunate to live in a time when we have the ability to put aside our personal preferences and simply give people what they want! I have seen this work over and over and over.

For example, I was once working with MBA students at the University of Arizona on marketing research into attitudes about vegetarianism / veganism. After preliminary research, they created categories for individuals; one category was “hard core meat eater, will never consider changing.” On the last day of the research project, the owner of the local veg restaurant brought in “chicken fingers.” One of the students who had listed himself as “hard core / never change” exclaimed, with genuine surprise, “Hey, I could eat this!”

Ellen, who has never eaten “real” meat, would take Boca chicken nuggets to events in high school. These nuggets – never labeled “vegetarian” – were always scarfed down immediately. Once, a Science Olympiad teammate saw Ellen eating a nugget and exclaimed in shock, “Ellen! You’re eating meat!!” They couldn’t believe the nuggets were entirely plant-based.

So if you live with a meat eater, don’t try to convince them to “go vegan.” Just feed them what they want! If they don’t like Gardein’s Ultimate Beefless Burger, try the Beyond Burger. If they don’t like Beyond’s chicken strips, grab Tofurky’s! Tofurky’s sausage not a hit? Try Field Roast’s next. And I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like Gimme Lean’s sausage or Tofurky’s deli slices. There are so many “roasts” out there that you’re sure to find one everyone loves! My homemade seitan and gravy has satisfied the holiday demands of hard-core meat eaters, leaving everyone happy – especially the animals!

In the end, it is easier to agree on food first and worry about details like philosophy and purity later. We only care about the bottom line – that people aren’t eating animals, regardless of their reasons.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Language and Consequences (2017 Update)

Many activists appear to love internecine debates about language. Fights over the word “vegan” seem particularly addictive. Nearly every vegan has an opinion regarding the definition and use of this word, but the fundamental goals of those individuals often differ. Given the disparity of underlying motivations, it is not surprising that there is much disagreement.

For many, “vegan” is an end in and of itself. The only thing that matters is using the word “vegan” and glorifying veganism.

On the other hand, many activists are concerned with the real-world consequences of the words they use. These activists don’t want to use a specific word because they like it or because it captures their particular worldview. Rather, consequentialist activists choose language that influences the actions of those who currently eat animals. In this case, words only matter in as much as they actually reduce suffering.

For the group that is primarily concerned about consequences, there are a number of studies to influence optimal messaging. For example, there is much to learn from Faunalytics’ large study of former vegetarians and vegans – which showed that more than 4 out of every 5 people who go veg eventually revert back to eating animals. A key strategic take-away from this survey is that people who change rapidly are less likely to maintain that change; those who take incremental steps are more likely to maintain that change.

Another key lesson is that former vegetarians point to their inability to live up to the demands for “purity” from the certain portions of the veg community. The angry, judgmental attitude associated with the vegan community has driven away even highly-motivated, dedicated individuals, as we can see in this article.

Marketing research done in 2015 at the Eller Business School of the University of Arizona also provides a number of insights. Each of the four investigative teams of MBA students found that the general public views “veganism” as impossible, and “vegans” as annoying. (2017 updatenew survey finds that the only people viewed more negatively than vegans are drug addicts )

The University of Arizona restaurant and grocery store research group found that non-vegetarians are less likely to order a dish or buy a product if it is labeled “vegan,” compared to if the same product has a non-veg label (e.g., “vegan burger” vs “black-bean burger”).

We also have a number of recent data points, as new companies enter the marketplace and existing companies move into this space. What these firms have in common is a desire to reach new, non-veg individuals, rather than appeal to current vegans (a market so small it is within the margin of error). For these companies, non-vegetarians are their path to profits and success. The more companies succeed in having new people buy their products, the fewer animals will suffer and die.

This article discusses the trend, and their lead graphic – a sign at Target (above) – shows the conclusion reached by profit-motivated companies seeking to reach non-veg audiences. Their marketing research shows that “plant-based” is the phrase that will reach new people.

Forbes magazine has a new article that explicitly addresses the debate about language. Of course, there are still those who are primarily and personally concerned with trying to alter the perception of the word “vegan.” But the major up-and-coming companies – such as Hampton Creek Foods and Beyond Meat, which are seeking to reach new people right now, as well as the existing multinationals moving into this space – have all clearly chosen “plant-based” as the way forward.

I understand, and have written about, how inviting and even intoxicating it is to worry about words and defend definitions. It feels great to be part of an elite club, and ego is one of the most powerful drives, spawning the most amazing rationalizations. But if we care more about animals than ideology, and if we want to have the biggest possible real-world impact, we need to set aside our ego and use the most inclusive and persuasive language possible. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Against Reducitarianism

From this interview:

VS: What do you think of reducetarian outreach?

The reducetarian approach is rooted in one vitally important psychological insight: people are more likely to attempt and maintain a change that seems achievable, rather than something that seems far beyond where they are now. This has been shown over and over again – not only that the more realistic a change is, the more likely people are to attempt it, but also that the more stepwise a change, the more likely people are to maintain that change.

But as currently embodied, the reducetarian movement misses another important psychological truth (as discussed by Dr. Gordon Hodson): goals must be not only reasonable and achievable, but clear. “Eat less meat” is not a clear goal. Reach out to just about anyone considered to be a likely target for dietary change and ask them to “eat less meat,” and they will almost universally reply, “Oh, I don’t eat much meat.”

They often add, “Just chicken.” Of course, "chicken" is "meat," but that is just not how people see it. When I give talks, I ask, "Who here has been told, 'Oh, I don't eat much meat. Just chicken.'" Everyone raises their hand. This is reality, and rather than insisting on the "truth" ("but chicken is meat!") we should adjust our advocacy accordingly.

In addition to all the arguments against red meat, we know that nearly everyone cares more about mammals than birds. And of all the factory-farmed animals brutalized and killed for food, the vast majority are birds. As Professor of Veterinary Science John Webster has noted, modern poultry production is, “in both magnitude and severity, the single most severe, systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient animals.” Combine this with the fact that it takes more than 40 chickens to replace the meals produced by one pig, and more than 200 birds to replace one cow, everyone who “eats less [red] meat” and replaces even a little of it with birds is causing a lot more suffering.

Like doctors, our first duty as advocates should be to “do no harm.” The initial test we should run on any potential campaign or message is, “Is there any chance that my efforts will actually lead to more animals suffering in the real world?” Unfortunately, I think the “eat less meat” campaign might fail that test.

Luckily, there is a better way.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Letter to Senator re: AHCA

Dear Senator Flake and Staff,
I was shocked and appalled when the House passed the AHCA. Every Republican who voted for that bill made it clear that they value ideology over their constituents. Representative McSally has lost my vote, and I will be actively supporting their opponent in the next election. I desperately hope that you and your colleagues in the Senate will see sense and stop this bill before it can harm the people of Arizona.
The ACA literally saved my life. Every analysis has shown that AHCA would take healthcare away from tens of millions of Americans, leading inexorably to countless deaths. No matter how many times Republican leaders have said that the bill will protect pre-existing conditions, we know that is a lie. The House didn’t even wait to see a new CBO score before passing the AHCA – they didn’t value American lives enough to look at even the most basic analysis of its consequences.
I was in the audience when you were on Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me in Phoenix. You have made it clear that you are not a blind partisan.
I’m pleading with you, Senator Flake, not to make the mistake that Arizona’s representatives in the House did. This is a life or death decision, and the one I will remember above all others when I’m at the voting booth in 2018. Please vote NO on the AHCA.
Matt Ball
Tucson, AZ

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Rerun: Why Keep Working and Hoping

E found this song - how can you top the lyrics?



The reason that I'm not a nihilist
Is some day I wanna live like in Star Trek
And I know that we'll never build starships
Until we tackle poverty, war, and hardship
So we fight overnight and over lifetimes
Organize for that warp drive
And of course I realize
That we're a long way from it
But what better reason to start runnin'? [literally]

No friction; no flame
No struggle; no progress
No sweat
How many times do we have to win
'Til you realize that we are not lost yet?

There is no Superman in that phone booth
There is no rewarding our faith
There is no one who can save us
So it's a good thing we don't need to be saved

There are no starships in low earth orbit [yet]
No aliens to save us from ourselves
There is no voice willing to speak for us
So it's a good thing we know how to yell

There is no chosen one, no destiny, no fate
There is no such thing as magic
There is no light at the end of this tunnel

So it's a good thing we brought matches