Pay other people to go vegetarian for you?

post by jkaufman · 2013-04-12T01:56:59.745Z · score: 12 (15 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 92 comments

I notice that a large fraction of Effective Altruism people are vegetarian. This makes sense: in general Effective Altruists take moral issues seriously, even when that means changing your lifestyle. I'm not sure it's a good balance, though.

One way to think about this is to convert it into money. How much would I need to be paid to give up eating meat? All animal products? How much money would I need to spend on myself to be about as happy as I would be with less money but continuing to eat animals? I'd probably be willing to go vegetarian for about $500/year, vegan for maybe $2000/year.

It turns out you can probably pay to convince other people to be vegetarian much more cheaply than that. I estimate the cost of a vegetarian-year at $4.29 to $536 while Brian Tomasik estimates $11 with better methodology (which I looked at). This is by placing ads on facebook for a site where people can watch an animial cruelty video and ideally become vegetarian or vegan.

If you would get more than $11/year worth of enjoyment out of continuing to eat meat, why not give $11/year to convince someone else to not eat meat for you? Or give $50/year and be on the safe side?

(While you're giving money, you should probably give it to the organization that you think will do the most good with it, which I think is probably one of GiveWell's top charities. The nice thing about money as opposed to actions is that it's easy to redirect.)

I also posted this on my blog.

92 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by GDC3 · 2013-04-12T18:08:29.769Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I avoid meat (not vegetarian, just eat as little as I conveniently can) because of what I and my friends call the Stuffed-Animal-Principle. The idea is that it's bad utility function maintenance to allow stuffed animals to be abused. (Stanford burned teddy bears in the pre big game rally.) The idea is that stuffed animals are basically a technological superstimulus for empathy and you risk damage to your actual utility function by desensitizing yourself to that. (I don't have actual studies on the specific fact, but it makes sense with things that are known.)

Actual animal suffering is far more upsetting to actually witness. Mostly our society avoids this problem by putting it out of mind and just enjoying the results. We also do this for many problems that affect humans allowing them to continue and I really don't want to train my own ability and willingness to ignore suffering I'm complicit in just because it happens to not actually matter as much as it looks.

I have various friends who do meat limitation for this reason; one is even a full vegetarian. I have no idea how common it is though.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2013-04-13T04:05:30.001Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Hiding animal suffering probably makes us "more ethical". Vegetarians are usually people who were raised in cities. People who grew up slaughtering animals often can't even comprehend that someone else can have a problem with it.

comment by amcknight · 2013-04-13T08:22:01.898Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I can't figure out what you mean by:

Hiding animal suffering probably makes us "more ethical".

Do you mean that it just makes us appear more ethical?

comment by gwern · 2013-04-13T17:38:49.484Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I think his point was that, assuming that vegetarianism is ethical, hiding the abbattoirs etc may wind up increasing vegetarianism rates because when a sheltered meat-eater runs into them, they may be shocked into vegetarianism; while if everyone grew up raising their own pet chicken and slaughtering it themselves, no one would be shocked and they would all shrug upon seeing any video or photos.

I'm not sure this is true, since as the population urbanizes and specializes under economic growth, regardless of hiding animal suffering, people will inevitably not grow up slaughtering animals and will remain naively sensitive to suffering. So hiding then may increase the 'quality' of shock (more people who have no idea) but decrease too much the 'quantity' of shock (hidden means, well, hidden). But I have no idea how one would show this, and even if Goetz's suggestion turned out to be wrong, it's well worth remembering.

comment by GDC3 · 2013-04-14T08:20:16.972Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm aware of the opposite problem and I try to avoid being desensitized too. But it seems to me that city people frequently actively lie to themselves and each other in order to be willing to eat meat. I'm willing to give examples if you don't know what I'm talking about.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-04-12T04:44:38.175Z · score: 8 (16 votes) · LW · GW

If you would get more than $11/year worth of enjoyment out of continuing to eat meat, why not give $11/year to convince someone else to not eat meat for you? Or give $50/year and be on the safe side?

I would suspect that a person willing to give up all meat for $11 a year is probably already eating less meat than a person who would demand much higher amounts of money.

comment by jkaufman · 2013-04-12T11:21:38.251Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The $11 is via placing pay-per-click ads on facebook that get people to go to a page where ideally they become shocked and outraged at our treatment of animals. As far as we can tell these new vegetarians were eating like normal Americans before they saw the videos.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-04-12T12:45:26.190Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

As far as we can tell these new vegetarians were eating like normal Americans before they saw the videos.

I suspect they were not. People who have a more entrenched habit requiring greater life alteration to change it are less likely to give it up.

Of the people I've known who went vegetarian, I don't think any of them went from being big meat eaters to totally abstaining in a single step.

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-04-12T13:16:52.784Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Of the people I've known who went vegetarian, I don't think any of them went from being big meat eaters to totally abstaining in a single step.

I did that, although I don't really qualify for "people you've known."

comment by Utilitarian · 2013-04-13T05:49:55.897Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I used to eat a lot of chicken and eggs before I read Peter Singer. After that, I went cold turkey (pardon the expression).

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-12T13:54:21.525Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I want to say that I have decided to switch some of my regular fast food choices to fast food choices that do not contain meat as a result of reading this post and have added frequent reminders to my phone to help me incorporate this change. I also found while considering this that if you want to encourage people to eat no meat to earn money, you have to consider the effect of them just eating less meat to save money.

For instance, I found this idea interesting, but I was concerned about possible side effects of the decision, and then started getting into what seemed like the equivalent of bizarre ethical weeds way off of the original track of the argument.

Then I tried to take things back to the original more concretely and realized I may be able to save around 11 dollars a week just by switching my current choices at Taco Bell (which do contain meat) to Bean Burritos (Which don't, and are cheaper, and are comparably tasty) and after thinking about it figured that if the first offer was even mildly tempting, an offer which is more than an order of magnitude more financially tempting and requires significantly less effort on my part is a very easy decision to make, even just ignoring the ethics altogether.

But while I started thinking about this at all because you mentioned the moral argument side, I'm pretty sure I ultimately made my decision on the money saving laziness side. Considering this perspective does make "Cutting back meat from your diet to save money." seem to be cast as a reasonable and ethically/financially tempting middle ground for someone who did not want to move all the way to vegetarianism (for whatever reason).

Ironically, while I did move closer to your stated moral goal, I'm not actually sure if my reasoning was entirely rational. But it certainly seems to be less wrong then my previous decisions at the moment and I'm certainly curious what other people think of it.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-04-12T21:15:44.998Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

If you're somewhat motivated by moral arguments, but not prepared to go all the way, eat meat from big animals, like cows, and not small animals, like chickens. Also, if you are motivated enough, eggs are really bad.

There is an orders-of-magnitude difference between different kinds of meat, which means switching to entirely beef and dairy is almost as good as becoming a vegan. Sources: this, and this.

Also, if you are only sort-of motivated, watch some undercover factory farming videos. You should alieve in the consequences of your actions.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-13T12:55:29.229Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I watched one of the videos you linked, and I have to admit, the scenes containing "50% of all baby chicks tossed into a grinder." and "Flies eating a live pig." Were both pretty bad. But, honestly, I'm more troubled by the fact that I am not troubled by most of those video clips than I am actually troubled by the video clips.

comment by Adele_L · 2013-04-12T19:36:39.034Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's a similar idea, but one thing my partner and I have is a rule that if we eat mammals (we care more about mammals than other types of animals, although we may try extending this rule at some point), then we have to donate $50 to an efficient charity. Otherwise, we don't worry about it. The consequences of this rule is that we eat less meat from mammals, and we donate more. We also can feel good about donating, or not eating mammals, while also not feeling very restricted.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-04-12T21:24:04.926Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Eating more chickens (maybe fish too) instead of mammals is a very bad thing. They are smaller (than the mammals people usually eat, pigs and cows) and have less meat per individual, which means more individuals live under conditions worse than death and then get killed per pound of meat. Julia Galef and Brian Tomasik have done estimates of deaths per calorie and suffering per kilogram, and come to basically the same conclusions.

comment by SilasBarta · 2013-04-12T21:54:31.230Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Are all animal lives equal? I would think you need to weight for sapience or conscientiousness or whatever. By the metric of "lives taken of any kind per calorie" worms are a much worse form of of animal food, even though they have a very primitive nervous system.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-04-12T21:57:59.715Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think so, but with a difference of 2 orders of magnitude between how many cows and chickens you would kill per calorie, the numbers are most important in this case, I think.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-04-12T23:05:49.711Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If you're concerned about eating meat for ecological reasons, raising cows has more impact on the environment on a per-calorie basis.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-04-12T23:32:16.074Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not necessarily, at least if you're considering it on a negative basis. Allan Savory's work suggests raising cows (or similar animals) has a net positive impact if done properly in the correct regions.

(Not to mention there are more parts of the world suited to grazing than to farm agriculture.)

comment by evand · 2013-04-14T15:37:51.285Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Does he consider the climate change implications of methane from cows in that analysis?

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-04-12T08:21:35.933Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

My deontology module would complain if I spent money trying to get other people to sacrifice their own hedons for utilons, without being willing to do the same myself. It would complain so much that the guilt would feel worse than just eating unpleasant food all the time. And then with a vague goal of "probably donating enough to make up for eating meat" I would probably end up alieving that I had started eating meat just because I felt like it and the thing about saving money to donate was a rationalization, which would ruin my self-image as an altruist, and probably make me do less altruistic things in the future.

Givewell finds good charities for helping humans, but I think you can help a lot more animals per dollar, so if you are among the few who care about animals, you have a "comparative advantage" (stretching the meaning of term, I know, because it's not that others can't help animals with as small an opportunity cost as you, but that they won't) in helping animals. Low hanging fruit in improving animal lives have not been picked.

However, I'm not donating to animal-helping charities at the moment, because I think existential risk charity (actually, one existential risk charity in particular) has a higher impact.

But I still do occasionally argue with people I know in favor of vegetarianism. I've been somewhat successful. Of the people I have argued with in person for longer than an hour, one has agreed with me "eating meat is wrong," but said they would continue to do it anyway (and declined to watch the videos I suggested), one said they couldn't stop eating meat because they need it to continue being competitive at the athletics they do, but was pretty shaken (and also agreed "eating meat is wrong") (also declining the videos), one went from long-lapsed vegetarian to most-of-the-time-vegan, and one went from full omnivore to flexitarian, following my advice (based on these posts) to eat beef instead of chicken, eggs and fish. Edit: left out one, who as far as I know, is still eating meat and eggs unabated.

comment by blacktrance · 2013-04-12T17:50:36.461Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I suggest self-modifying to remove your deontology module.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-04-12T21:32:46.186Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If I was actually capable of self-modification like that, and the only other part of me trying to control what I did was my consequentialist module, I would do it, But really, that would increase the willpower costs of taking/not taking actions my consequentialist module wants to take/not take anyway, and make me less moral overall as a greater fraction of my motivations became selfish ones.

comment by pjeby · 2013-04-15T05:51:00.618Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If I was actually capable of self-modification like that

On our current hardware, you're not: removing the "deontology module" isn't really an option. However, you probably are capable of removing or changing the rules that your "deontology module" (probably not an actual module) is following. In order to feel guilty about things, you have to have experiences of guilt that have been associated to patterns of behavior, and such experiential memories are pretty open to being manipulated after the fact.

That aside, though, the reasoning you're using in your deontology appears to be based on faulty assumptions:

sacrifice their own hedons for utilons

What evidence do you have that they'll be sacrificing anything?

without being willing to do the same myself

This is assuming you are sufficiently similar for such an ethic to be meaningful.

In both cases, the bit you're not taking into consideration is that trades can be non-zero-sum -- a win for you and the other person both -- in the case where you and your trading partner are sufficiently different in situation, values, motivations, etc. In fact, it might be unethical (in a strict utilitarian sense) for you to not make the trade, if you are sufficiently complementary to your potential trading partner.

So what you're dealing with here isn't so much deontology in a true moral sense, it's just cached guilt based on a simplistic idea of fairness (and perhaps a cached assumption that if you're getting something out of it, it's probably hurting someone and you should feel bad).

make me less moral overall as a greater fraction of my motivations became selfish ones.

Yeah... that part really raises my probability estimate for a cached guilt-tripping pattern. One thing I've noticed in a lot of people is that they're actually raised in such a way as to end up believing that they don't have any motivations of their own that aren't "bad", and then believe they need rules to make themselves behave properly.

The flaw in this logic is that if you aren't a good person, then why are you motivated to follow the rules?

This pattern is extremely common in self-defeating behaviors: we get taught our intrinsic motivations are bad, and that so we must follow some set of rules in order to have any chance of being a good person. Following these (usually extreme) rules, however, doesn't actually get all our basic human needs met, in part because we've learned those needs are evidence of our evilness or selfishness, so we don't even think of them as "needs"!

Then, because the needs don't get met, we experience strong and increasing intrinsic motivation to meet them in whatever way possible, until self-control fails... which then seems to confirm the original belief that our essential nature is bad and needs to be controlled.

But if the needs were recognized as valid and part of the same entity that desires to be good in the first place, none of this would be a problem: you could have good stuff for you and other people, now and in the future. (That is, your notion of utility would include terms for other people and for your future selves, not just the present-moment one who would like to indulge in something harmful to others or your future.)

In other words, our desire to be a "good person" (whatever definition we have for that) is just as much a part of our consequentialist brains' motivation as our desire for short-term treats at the expense of others or our long-term goals. Forcing all your conscious decisions to pass through admonitions to "be good" just proves this point, because if you didn't want to be good, there'd be no reason to admonish yourself.

That is, actually using this strategy proves that there's an error in a key factual assumption: that you don't intrinsically want to be a good person and desire to good things of your own, unrestrained free will.

Come to think of it, this is actually a bit like Friendly AI, in the sense that this particular kind of self-admonishment is like thinking yourself an UnFriendly AI that thus needs to be kept under restraint in order not to do something bad. However, if you were actually unfriendly, you would have no desire to restrain yourself!

OTOH, if you were Friendly, you might choose to voluntarily limit your options or precommit to self-restraint, on the assumption that you might contain bugs you can't detect, or if you are aware of bugs that cause friendliness-failure under certain conditions.

In the human case, that'd be like using rules to patch specific cases where hardware flaws result in underweighting certain factors at decision-making time. The catch is that while this is extremely useful for managing children in non-ancestral environments (e.g. schools), it's mostly not a functional strategy for a full-grown adult -- in fact it's a complete waste of one's self-control circuitry to use it as a primary decision-making strategy!

comment by blacktrance · 2013-04-15T03:30:43.889Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What exactly are selfish motivations?

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-04-15T03:42:44.644Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The desire to do things for my own enjoyment. Usually they are short-sighted too. Such as "Forget the work from home you could be doing right now, which could be making money for efficient altruism. Instead, look at pictures of cats on the internet."

comment by blacktrance · 2013-04-15T03:53:04.276Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What's wrong with doing things for your own enjoyment if you value them more highly than the well-being of strangers?

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-04-15T04:06:26.338Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The problem (from the perspective of the altruistic part of me) is that I'm trading off a lot of well-being of strangers for a little of my own well-being.

comment by blacktrance · 2013-04-15T17:53:41.171Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't the well-being of strangers a component of your well-being? (Assuming you care about them.)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-12T18:57:23.793Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

WARNING: The links for 'Low hanging fruit' are to some graphic videos of animal abuse.

Mestroyer, please consider editing this post to include a warning, or including a warning in subsequent posts.

comment by Lukas_Gloor · 2013-04-13T23:59:56.950Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think CEV / fAI will include concern for animals and things like not simulating or spreading wild animal suffering throughout the universe? If there remain doubts, then spreading memes for people to care more about animal suffering might be very important too!

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-04-14T03:43:27.829Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think most humans' volition does include concern for animals, and a CEV AI of the kind MIRI wants to eventually create would be an astronomically good thing. It would probably turn the light cone into computronium full of blissful posthumans, wiping out most if not all darwinian nature it ran into, just because you can tile the universe more densely with people if you put them in computers. Posthumans would be much more computationally expensive than the simplest minds capable of happiness, so they would be packed much less densely and there would be much less happiness than a utilitronium future, but still quite a lot of it.

Spreading memes for people to care about animals does indeed have the potential to be a very good thing, especially because it's potentially useful in all of the futures where humanity decides what happens, not just ones where AI is the biggest existential risk (or close to the biggest). But if you are donating small amounts of money relative to the money already going into a certain effort though, each dollar is probably roughly as effective as the last, so a small advantage in the effectiveness of one effort over another means that that effort is the only one you should be donating to. Unless you are very rich, you probably don't want to donate some money to one cause, and some to another.

And as it stands, I think something like paperclipping is the most likely future, though.

comment by mare-of-night · 2013-04-12T03:19:59.448Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If the utility of two people being vegetarian for a year is roughly twice that of one person being vegetarian for a year, and so on, then if they're contributing money to make more vegetarians, then they'll probably want to give a lot more than the cost of one vegetarian. In practice, the marginal value of a vegetarian year changes very slowly as the number of vegetarians increases, so if a consequentialist altruist is buying vegetarians at all, they're probably buying them in bulk.

Someone who did this might also become vegetarian or vegan themselves because it was useful for personally convincing others to do the same, or in order to feel more consistent. It would also be worth it for them to change their diet in addition to contributing money if their productivity, etc. didn't decrease by more than the cost of making another person vegetarian.

Their own quality of life would not be a significant factor in itself (though its effects on how much they accomplish would be), unless they value their own wellbeing more highly than that of others, or are more adversely affected by the diet than the typical person is (for example, it's more difficult to be vegetarian if one also needs to eat a low-starch diet for health reasons). If they're paying to encourage others to become vegetarians, and also believe that being vegetarian decreases the typical person's quality of life, then they must value the reduction in animal suffering more than the benefits the other person would get from eating animal products.

comment by aelephant · 2013-04-12T22:43:10.792Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Does eating meat require excessive amounts of animal suffering? I don't think so. The real problem isn't that everyone needs to become a vegetarian, it is the shocking and outrageous treatment of animals in the mainstream food production stream.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-04-12T23:12:14.982Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Even humanely farmed meat has far more ecological impact per calorie (in terms of fertilizer runoff, loss of arable land, aquifer depletion, fossil fuels, etc.) than a vegetarian diet. Unsurprising when you consider that every calorie of farmed meat requires about an order of magnitude more calories of agriculture to support it.

comment by aelephant · 2013-04-13T22:39:35.178Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

At least 1 of your negative impacts is false. Have you seen this TED talk? It seems that grazing cattle can actually restore deserts into grasslands, when for decades it was believed only the opposite could happen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-04-14T00:26:41.723Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's possible to raise cattle in this way, but that doesn't mean that if you buy beef, any of it will be raised in that way. If you buy cattle that's grazing at all, you're paying extra for it. It's not possible to satisfy more than a fraction of current demand with ecologically friendly grazing. It's not grazing I'm referring to which is resulting in desertification, but monoculture agriculture which is used to support the livestock.

comment by Lukas_Gloor · 2013-04-13T23:15:27.141Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Emphasis on the word can, I doubt that the majority of cattle are farmed in a more resource-efficient way than the plant-based alternatives. The video certainly doesn't establish that.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2013-04-13T03:58:18.455Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You're latching onto the emotional argument and ignoring what the post is about. It's an intriguing observation about consequentialist vs. virtue ethics, not about whether vegetarianism or meat-eating is good or bad.

comment by aelephant · 2013-04-13T22:46:20.977Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That part is interesting, but the author basically concludes in the 1st paragraph that people who take morality seriously are vegetarians. That implies that people who aren't vegetarians don't take morality seriously, doesn't it? Aside from that, another aspect that is ignored is that our actions don't exist in a void. The person I'm paying to not eat meat can see that I'm still eating meat. My family, my friends, my coworkers, etc. all can see that I'm eating meat. This also has consequences as far as influencing the opinions & future behavior of others.

comment by jkaufman · 2013-04-14T05:14:31.797Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The author basically concludes in the 1st paragraph that people who take morality seriously are vegetarians. That implies that people who aren't vegetarians don't take morality seriously, doesn't it?

Sorry, no? I've noticed that people who take morality seriously are more likely to be vegetarian than the general population, but that's very much not the same thing.

My family, my friends, my coworkers, etc. all can see that I'm eating meat. This also has consequences as far as influencing the opinions & future behavior of others.

But if someone else is a vegetarian instead of you, presumably their family, friends, and coworkers will see them not eating meat, and it should roughly balance out. Unless you think you have more influence than the people you'd be paying to advertise to and convert? (Which is quite possible.)

comment by Vaniver · 2013-04-12T02:27:58.886Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I get the impression that many people go vegetarian for care/harm and sanctity/degradation reasons. The first might be somewhat fungible, but I don't think the second is.

comment by JackV · 2013-04-12T13:34:10.416Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's an interesting thought, but it makes me rather uncomfortable.

I think partly, I find it hard to believe the numbers (if I have time I will read the methodology in more detail and possibly be convinced).

And partly, I think there's a difference between offsetting good things, and offsetting bad things. I think it's plausible to say "I give this much to charity, or maybe this other charity, or maybe donate more time, or...". But even though it sort of makes sense from a utilitarian perspective, I think it's wrong (and most people would agree it's wrong) to say "I'll kick this puppy to death because I'm a sadist/a modern artist/whatever, but I'll give more money to charity afterwards." Paying someone else to be vegetarian sounds at least as much like the latter as the former to me.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-04-12T02:44:00.321Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How would you demonstrate that you were actually doing it?

comment by jkaufman · 2013-04-12T11:11:04.346Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Keep a public donations page and list this there? Occasionally post about it on facebook?

What's your goal in demonstrating?

comment by Randy_M · 2013-04-12T14:54:09.432Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think he means the people recieving the money. As in, he isn't as convinced that an internet ad is proof enough of changing behavior. (In fact, that reminds me of the education post about mis-stating what the right goal for evaluating grants should be.)

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-04-17T19:21:07.110Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd go vegetarian for pay. I don't eat much meat, but I do enjoy it a lot and am reluctant to stop. If you're interested, let's discuss price by PM - I won't reveal my estimate of the cost but it is in the 100 USD/year - 1000 USD/year range. I could also go vegan but price will depend on how conscientious you want me to be about it.

Edit: Offer now withdrawn

comment by syllogism · 2013-04-16T05:19:46.408Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is very frustrating. The dollar values in the post are entirely meaningless, and now the discussion here is anchored around them.

comment by jkaufman · 2013-04-16T20:21:11.996Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Update on the dollar values: Vegetarian years for $11?

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2013-04-16T02:53:52.102Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

TL:DR - Assuming utility functions, if you value animals above the meat they produce, the utility from paying people not to eat them and not eating them yourself is always greater than paying people to eat meat and eating it yourself.

Here is why a person following a utility function couldn't get out of fulfilling these types of moral responsibilities by paying for them -

Killing an animal [K utils]

Eating an animal [E utils]... and the cost of acquiring the animal is included in this

So, for a "vegetarian", the relevant information is that util losses from killing an animal outweigh util gains of eating one. In other words...

K+E<0

To want to eat meat, you need to make K+E greater than 0.

Now, you're essentially proposing paying some money in order to Save an animal. Let S be the utility generated from not Killing an animal, as a function of how much you money you Pay.

S = -PK-P

Now it is true that you can generate a net positive utility by Paying sufficient money to offset K+E, and that's why this intuitively seems like a good idea...

K+E+S > 0 if P is large enough...

But here is the problem: since K+E is a negative number, not killing and eating is always better than killing and eating. In math terms -

K+E+S < S

for all "vegetarians". Therefore, no utility-maximizing agent who is currently a vegetarian is going to choose to start eating meat and paying others not to eat it.

At best, if they value animal lives above all other causes they might donate to, they would continue not eating meat and also not pay others to eat it.

The only person who would eat meat and pay for others to not eat it would be a person who 1) valued meat more than animals 2) valued animals more than all other causes they could donate to. This would be a very small set.

Still - this approach does work for humans, for the purpose of guilt-alleviation. It would probably be a net good if people started doing it - it is akin to carbon offsets,.

comment by jkaufman · 2013-04-16T20:28:35.213Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that killing a cow is K utils no matter who does it, but eating a cow is E_me utils if I do it and E_other utils if a stranger does it. If E_me > K > E_other, then my utility function supports paying for other people to not eat meat.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2013-04-17T01:05:44.214Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If E_me > -K, your utility function supports you eating meat, regardless of whether or not you are able to pay someone else to go veg. If E_me < -K then your utility function supports not eating meat, once again regardless of whether or not you can pay someone else to go veg. (Also you forgot a negative sign).

You wouldn't pay someone else to not eat meat unless that was the most utility generating thing you could do with your money. If your E_me > K and you would pay someone to go vegetarian, it means you are part of that "very small set" who values animals more than all other causes you might donate to while still not valuing them more than eating meat.

comment by Lukas_Gloor · 2013-04-14T00:19:20.141Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Wait, is the OP suggesting that the offsetting money should not go to the most effective animal outreach charities? Sure, I agree that "justice for different causes" has no place within consequentialism, but then why use the $11/year as a metric? Wouldn't it make more sense to just "purchase" the amount of utility of going vegetarian for a year by donating to the most cost-effective charity (from all causes)?

(That is of course assuming that "offsetting" makes sense within consequentialism. I think it only does so given a couple of assumptions for willpower, guilt, relief and so on.)

Additionally, eleven dollars per year won't buy you that many QALYs if donated to GiveWell's top recommendations. You'd have to value animal suffering at least two orders of magnitude less to claim that poverty-related causes dominate, and that's not even taking into account the multiplier effect behind animal charities (vegetarians creating more vegetarians) and the poor meat-eater problem).

comment by jkaufman · 2013-04-14T05:17:41.890Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You'd have to value animal suffering at least two orders of magnitude less to claim that poverty-related causes.

Value the suffering of 1 human over 100 animals? I would, and I think that's pretty common even among people who care about animal suffering. For example, upthread we have approximately 1:1000.

comment by Lukas_Gloor · 2013-04-14T13:44:41.831Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

OK, I see. I just find this hard to defend, at least if we specify that we're talking about the same intensity of suffering. But I guess that this is the point where people declare the ratio a "terminal value" and then the discussion is over.

What I do understand is that some people think killing adult healthy humans is much worse than killing animals, because there you can conceive a clear difference in abilities that at least plausibly seems relevant to the badness of killing. But then for anti-speciesism they should also agree that killing adult healthy humans is intrinsically much worse than killing cognitively disabled people or human infants.

(Also, if killing people is so bad because it violates preferences, then that leads to a handful of counterintuitive conclusions, e.g. having to care about preferences of those already dead.)

comment by kalium · 2013-04-14T22:45:13.227Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Killing adult healthy-minded humans (who want to live) is obviously much worse than killing non-sapient human infants. But historically attempts to single out a group of humans to assign moral value to have turned out badly, so we try not to do that.

comment by Larks · 2013-04-12T12:52:35.949Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I initially agreed with you, but am now concerned that changing other people's values in this way is inherently immoral mind-hijacking. Yes, in one sense you are just giving them more information. But the effect would not be the same if the information was merely listed, rather than accompanied by shocking videos, so it is not just information. Additionally, they've previously presumably decided not to look into the matter further,* in which case you are intervening in their mental family to undermine system 2 and support system 1. Certainly if people showed me such videos without my informed consent I would consider it hostile action.

*(if they had they were evidently unswayed by the videos and you will achieve less through repeated exposure than you might from someone who had never seen them before)

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-04-12T16:25:16.889Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

But the effect would not be the same if the information was merely listed, rather than accompanied by shocking videos

The effect would not be the same if there was less information, rather than more. The extra imagery adds additional information.

Assuming that the technology and videos had been available, would you have considered it immoral to show the citizens of Nazi Germany videos from concentration camps? People who might have decided to not look further into the issue of Jewish treatment within their country?

comment by Larks · 2013-04-13T11:31:46.033Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, that is a very good point. I think I was being biased by not caring about animals for other reasons, and thus searching for more arguments to agree with my position, rather than independently evaluating them. Mea culpa.

The obvious other care is with abortion. It might be that showing them gruesome pictures is the only way to make people care about infant beheadings and the murder to screaming children (note that this link does not contain images)

comment by Jiro · 2013-04-12T19:18:17.963Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think that if I were in Nazi Germany, it would be acceptable to forcibly show people videos of concentration camps to save Jews. However, if I were in Nazi Germany, it would also be acceptable to cheat, to destroy property, or even to shoot people in order to save Jews.

To a rational vegetarian who thinks that eating animals is as bad as killing Jews, it would be moral to do anything in order to prevent the eating of animals. However, such a variety of vegetarian is a menace to society from the point of view of other people who don't share in his ideology, and would (according to those other people) need to be stopped--and rationality doesn't really matter at this point; whether he is stopped would only be a question of who is more powerful.

Now, suppose that a vegetarian thinks that eating animals is only 1/1000 as bad as killing Jews. If it's okay to do otherwise evil things to save a Jew in Nazi Germany, then this vegetarian ought to be willing to do them to create 1001 vegetarians. So vegetarians should be shooting people right and left (or doing other inherently immoral things) if they think it advances vegetarianism enough.

Of course, it's not possible for a vegetarian to be absolutely certain about vegetarianism, and once he accounts for his own uncertainty about vegetarianism in the calculation, the possibility that he is wrong and will have committed murder makes it no longer palatable to kill people to create vegetarians even if you're creating lots and lots of vegetarians.

(And if he then reasons "okay, I shouldn't kill to create 1001 vegetarians, but my uncertainty about vegetarianism is so low that it's okay to kill to create a million vegetarians, that still doesn't work because he is also uncertain about what his uncertainty is.)

Doing an (otherwise) mildly immoral thing to create many vegetarians is similar, except that of course the acceptable bound on his uncertainty about vegetarianism is higher--maybe high enough that he actually could justify it. But then this brings in other considerations--if he can mildly hurt other people for vegetarianism, then others will also be able to mildly hurt him for their own pet causes, for instance, and things may be overall better off if nobody is allowed to hurt others for their causes.

comment by Raemon · 2013-04-12T19:45:21.538Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

As it turns out, I actually do think eating animals is approximately 1/1000th as bad as killing people.

I don't go around shooting people, a) it's a clear net loss to create a world where people kill for all their pet causes, b) it's pretty obvious that when you're trying to change a policy affecting the entire world, killing people will almost only hurt your cause.

"Don't kill people" is a pretty obvious moral schelling point that everyone can agree on.

It's dramatically less clear where lines are drawn with regards to emotional manipulation. The entire human experience is basically based around emotional manipulation (storytelling, fashion, advertisements, literature, tribal excitement at sporting events). Refraining from doing that won't cause the rest of humanity to stop, unless you're actively coordinating with people on a campaign to stop emotional manipulation.

So I'm not sure why I'd refrain from doing that, whatever my pet cause, unless my pet cause was removing emotional manipulation from humanity completely.

comment by Lukas_Gloor · 2013-04-13T23:54:37.398Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Don't kill people" is a pretty obvious moral schelling point that everyone can agree on.

So is "don't inflict suffering". At least some part of what people consider bad about killing is that it can be painful or that it causes sadness in others.

I find it interesting that when it comes to eating animals, people usually focus on killing, even though most veg*ans I know care primarily about preventing suffering.

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-04-18T05:41:52.612Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So is "don't inflict suffering".

I know zero people who would be capable of meeting that standard. On the other hand, "don't kill people" is pretty easy. Schelling points are about actual behavior, not professed behavior.

comment by Lukas_Gloor · 2013-04-18T13:15:44.833Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, thanks for pointing that out! In that case my example was indeed the opposite of one.

comment by Lukas_Gloor · 2013-04-13T23:44:33.752Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Being uncertain about one's uncertainty doesn't mean you shouldn't act according to your moral beliefs, the uncertainty can go both ways. You still have to assign probabilities in the end.

Assuming you attribute the same importance to reducing suffering, no matter in what type of being it occurs, it still wouldn't make sense to "shoot people left and right". People who care a lot about animals are already being branded as "extremists", you'd have more impact by going about it with a more thought-out strategy like e.g. movement-building and / or high-earning and donating to the best outreach organizations.

But then this brings in other considerations--if he can mildly hurt other people for vegetarianism, then others will also be able to mildly hurt him for their own pet causes, for instance, and things may be overall better off if nobody is allowed to hurt others for their causes.

What's the difference between a pet cause and a normal cause? Majority rule?

comment by Jiro · 2013-04-15T15:40:39.049Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You still have to assign probabilities in the end.

True, except that one's certainty about one's certainty is typically not a large number. If you think that killing one person justifies creating 1001 vegetarians, are you even 50% certain about that number 1001?

it still wouldn't make sense to "shoot people left and right".... you'd have more impact by going about it with a more thought-out strategy

Yes, but "it makes sense to shoot people" is shorthand for "the moral reasons that normally mean we should not shoot people do not apply here". It may still be impractical or suboptimal to shoot people.

What's the difference between a pet cause and a normal cause? Majority rule?

Not majority rule, just a cause with a similar popularity to vegetarianism.

comment by Lukas_Gloor · 2013-04-15T16:48:11.644Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that one has to adjust for certainty and overconfidence, and peer disagreement does seem like a good reason to downshift as well.

OK, I see your point about shooting, agreed.

Regarding popularity, if that's the only criterion then also fAI would be a pet cause. I'd say it also depends on popularity among which group of people. Out of the smartest and most rational people I know, the majority of those who are interested in doing ethics, ie. in figuring out what "being altruistic" implies, would agree that animal suffering counts just as much as human suffering. And the smart and rational people who disagree are mostly not interested in doing ethics (in this way), as they just claim that it is all about "what they care about", a selfish defense that could just as well be used to uphold racism or sexism.

So on the above grounds I'd object to vegetarianism being a pet cause.

comment by Jiro · 2013-04-12T21:33:04.910Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Something else to consider: Person X believes that gay sex, or maybe abortions, are immoral. Is it okay for him to show people pictures of those activities in order to shock them? As in the vegetarian example, the imagery adds "information".

But I would certainly classify trying to get someone to oppose gay sex by forcing them to confront how disgusting it looks (to non-gay people) as "immoral mind-hijacking". It doesn't add meaningful information. Technically, you could claim that someone wasn't aware of how disgusting it is and now that they know, that's new information, but that's not the type of information that's normally relevant to rational arguments.

You could also say "well, some disgust isn't rational, but the disgusting aspect of animal slaughter is a different kind of disgust which is rational", but you'd be hard pressed to come up with an argument for why the two kinds of disgust are different that doesn't amount to a direct argument for vegetarianism that could be expressed without involving disgust at all.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-04-13T00:02:53.514Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In the case of gay sex and abortions, the disgust is the person's emotional response to something that isn't the most important (to the image provider, and perhaps to the providee too) part of the action. Dicks in butts (because anti-gay people always talk about gay men, never lesbians (probably because if they did they wouldn't get the desired response)) are less important to them than adults being able to do something they really want to do with their own bodies. Tiny bloody fetuses having been killed aren't as important as people's lives not being ruined by children they can't support, or people dying in childbirth who could have been saved by abortion.

On the other hand, piglets getting their testicles ripped out without anesthetic (and similar bad things that happens to animals) are the most important thing about eating meat.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-04-13T00:56:12.284Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Retracted cause this doesn't really work for the abortion example. It does for the gay sex one though. For the abortion one, I guess I won't condemn abortion based on some universal principle of how arguments should be conducted.

comment by Jiro · 2013-04-13T01:57:02.739Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it works for the gay sex example either for the reason I gave: in order to say that using disgust is good in one example and bad in another, you need what amounts to a separate argument for vegetarianism anyway. "That's the most important thing about eating meat" is not an undisputed fact, it's something that is only believed by vegetarians. Non-vegetarians wouldn't agree with it.

This turns it into circular reasoning: You should be vegetarian because of disgust. You should accept disgust as an argument for vegetarianism because what it shows is "the most important thing". And you only believe that that's the most important thing if you're already vegetarian.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-04-13T02:07:26.128Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Most of the fence sitters it's aiming to convince care a lot more about things besides "icky dick in butt" though.

And most of the people I've argued with don't take the "animals aren't people, I don't care about them at all" route, so if they understood the scale of the problem, animal suffering probably would be important to them, and not a distraction from the big important issues.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-04-12T09:59:46.916Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If paying for advertising costs only $11 per vegetarian-year, paying money directly to people is probably a bad idea.

If you would get more than $11/year worth of enjoyment out of continuing to eat meat, why not give $11/year to convince someone else to not eat meat for you? Or give $50/year and be on the safe side?

I don't understand what "be on the safe side" is supposed to mean in that sentence.

comment by jkaufman · 2013-04-12T11:15:10.126Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"If paying for advertising costs only $11 per vegetarian-year, paying money directly to people is probably a bad idea."

Right. I was suggesting the advertising, and sloppily describing it as paying people to go vegetarian.

"I don't understand what 'be on the safe side' is supposed to mean in that sentence."

If you have doubts about the $11 number, which is reasonable as it contains quite a lot of guesswork, you might say want to give more to increase the chances you're giving at least enough to make a vegetarian year.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-04-12T12:11:48.033Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you have doubts about the $11 number, which is reasonable as it contains quite a lot of guesswork, you might say want to give more to increase the chances you're giving at least enough to make a vegetarian year.

Why should "giving at least enough to make a vegetarian year" be the goal?

comment by Larks · 2013-04-12T12:42:55.784Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Because we're comparing to maybe going vegetarian yourself. Yes, it might be that both are silly, but this post is just arguing that one dominates the other.

comment by diegocaleiro · 2013-04-15T03:31:57.878Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You are a gentleman and a scholar. Now please shut up and take my money.

comment by TitaniumDragon · 2013-04-16T19:54:15.194Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The problem is that animal cruelty is not a rational reason to become a vegetarian. If we are willing to manipulate people into making choices that we deem morally superior, shouldn't we at least be doing things which encourage rational behavior?

Vegetarianism isn't really rational in the first place - someone going vegetarian in the United States has little positive impact on starving people anywhere, and the US isn't actually struggling that badly with the environmental impact of farming. Moreover, eating meat is an efficient means of getting a broad swath of nutrients and helps to ensure that children are proper fed balanced diets - people who eat meat are not terribly likely to be malnourished, while a lot of vegetarians and vegans do it "wrong", especially people who are bandwagoning.

It strikes me as a means of pretending that you are making a positive difference without actually having a positive impact on people in general, and probably having a net negative impact by encouraging terrorist groups like PETA.

comment by jkaufman · 2013-04-16T20:42:22.337Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Vegetarianism isn't really rational in the first place"

You're throwing around "rational" in an unhelpful way. The question at issue is: does going vegetarian make the world better? There's a good argument that the number of animals living on factory farms is proportional to the number of meat eaters, so if you value the suffering of animals then decreasing the number of people who eat meat should be helpful.

"probably having a net negative impact by encouraging terrorist groups like PETA."

PETA may sometimes get classified as terrorists but they're clearly not what most people will think of when they hear "terrorist"; they don't go around blowing things up. This is the noncentral fallacy. While I think PETA isn't going about things well, if you value the suffering of animals I have a hard time seeing how "maybe encouraging PETA a bit" can outweigh many fewer animals living on factory farms.

comment by aelephant · 2013-04-16T22:34:57.561Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Just because many animals are living on factory farms doesn't mean that they have to. I would rather use my money to encourage things like free ranging chickens, grass fed cattle, etc. than to be someone proudly paying others to "Do as I say, not as I do."

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-04-16T22:54:55.867Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How about non-proudly paying people to do it?

Admittedly, since it's not an efficient way to purchase fuzzies, you probably shouldn't do it unless you think it's the most efficient way to purchase utilons, which is not a conclusion I personally endorse, but you'd still probably be getting a significantly better rate per dollar on reduction in harm to animals and the environment.

comment by aelephant · 2013-04-17T23:11:46.662Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think we're thinking about it differently. The rate per dollar calculation is so linear. I'm thinking of things more like an ecosystem. Yes, at this moment in time you would get a better return on your investment, but there are costs to that decision that aren't taken into account in the equation. There are also benefits to the other path (investing in local, sustainable, ethical farming) that show up down the line as the movement picks up momentum. There are also potential harms to vegetarianism, such as vegetarian parents starving their children to death.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-04-18T01:22:10.455Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's a pretty fringe harm.

Increasing the number of vegetarians is also effectively an investment in sustainable, ethical farming. You can only make the raising of live animals for their flesh so resource efficient, the floor on resource consumption is still going to be above that for farming produce.

You could invest in the research on vat meat, which could bring the floor down a lot lower than is possible with live animals, but it'll probably be decades before it reaches a point where anyone would want to eat it.

comment by aelephant · 2013-04-21T04:43:46.183Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to take about resource efficiency, we should probably start by eating what we produce. A quick Google turned up this report that 40% of the food produced in the US is thrown out as waste.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-04-21T13:01:06.314Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You know, I read that back in college, was properly outraged, resolved to eat all the food I served myself for every meal and never serve myself more than I would eat from then on, have done so ever since, and then proceeded to forget my original reason for doing so? That figure had passed out of my mind until you brought it up just now.

That said, the efficiency gap, while large, is still considerably less than that between raising meat and produce, so a person would actually be wasting fewer resources if they were eating only produce and served themselves a 40% excess beyond what they could eat and then threw it way than if they were eating a meal where meat constituted a significant proportion of the serving, and took only as much as they could finish.

comment by TitaniumDragon · 2013-04-17T08:51:22.153Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

PETA is without question a terrorist organization. They act as a front for recruitment for terrorist groups such as ALF, they give money to such groups, they support their activities, they send out large amounts of propaganda, they have significant overlap in membership with said terrorist groups and put terrorists in leadership roles... the list goes on. They DO, in fact, go around burning stuff down, commit arson, and I know on at least one of those occaisions left their dog locked up in their truck on a hot day while they were out "liberating' rabbits (who mostly ended up hiding under their hutches anyway). They have destroyed scientific research in pursuit of their insane ideology.

They oppose the use of genetic engineering to improve food crops, indeed destroying specimens of GMed plants in their terrorist activities, and try to terrorize people into believing GMed plants and animals are more dangerous than anything else we eat. They promulgate scams like organic foods, and thus are considerably worse for the environment and society - there's a reason why GMed foods are cheaper, after all.

PETA is a terrorist front organization, and obviously so to those who are familiar with them, their history, and the people involved with them. They are without question evil, and I oppose them quite strongly. And you should too, if you actually believe in a better future. PETA doesn't.

Factory farms aren't a bad thing anyway. Animals aren't people. I eat them. They are delicious. If they are produced more efficiently via factory farming methods (and they are; if they weren't, then factory farms wouldn't exist), then whatever. Killing them is much worse than everything else that happens to them, and in the end, I don't really care. They aren't randomly being "tortured". They're being kept in stark conditions in order to be produced more efficiently.

I'm not really for someone going out and just randomly hurting animals for no reason, but I'm okay with things that cause harm to animals which actually have legitimate purposes. Factory farming has a legitimate purpose.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-04-17T09:11:33.466Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

PETA is without question a terrorist organization.

It is possible (and preferable) to give reasons why you don't approve of PETA and why you like eating animals without inflationary use of the term 'terrorist'.

comment by TitaniumDragon · 2013-04-17T09:55:14.007Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

A terrorist is someone who uses terror in order to coerce a reaction out of people.

PETA's propaganda's purpose is to horrify people into not eating meat.

PETA's funding and relationship with ALF has the purpose of terrorizing scientists, agribusiness, and other groups that they want to cause harm to by threatening to or actually destroying research, burning down buildings, destroying crops, freeing animals, ect. They give people who have engaged in such activities leadership positions, portray it as a reasonable response, give them money, recruit members for them, ect.

Ergo, they are a terrorist front group. I felt that this was pretty clear from the whole "they do in fact go around burning stuff down, commit arson" and I threw in the dog thing because it was from a personal encounter with such "activists" (they tried to "liberate" the rabbits from a rabbit farm down the street during the summer; the guy who noticed their truck with their dog locked up in it came back with a baseball bat to smash in the window to let the dog out after passing it twice, but they had taken off by then). And arson, murder, and jaywalking constructions are always fun. Their association with various ecoterrorist groups, and comembership with such lovelies, and funding... well, it all speaks for itself. But its usually good to say it out loud.

It is entirely appropriate to label people as terrorists when they are, in fact, terrorists. Its like calling a member of the KKK a white supremacist; it might be a [i]negative[/i] term, but it is also without question a [i]correct[/i] term and a [i]descriptive[/i] term. A lot of people are unaware of the fact that PETA is, in fact, a terrorist organization, so I generally feel obligated to mention it.

Unless it is site policy not to use the word terrorist, in which case I will... probably fail to remember the next time it comes up, and then get in trouble. Ah well.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-04-17T10:32:01.823Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A terrorist is someone who uses terror in order to coerce a reaction out of people.

The set of people who do that is not the same as the set to which 'terrorist' applies. In fact, it isn't even a superset.

Unless it is site policy not to use the word terrorist

There is no rule. Just a general tendency to think less of the contributions of sloppy thinking. In fact political advocacy of this kind is somewhat discouraged in general due to the near inevitable nature of such conversations.

comment by TitaniumDragon · 2013-04-17T12:27:35.053Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Is it? Or do we simply not call some such organizations terrorist organizations out of politeness?

I suppose one could argue that the proper definition is "A non-state entity who commits criminal acts for the purpose of invoking terror to coerce actions from others", which will capture almost all groups that we consider to be terrorist groups, though it really depends - is a group who creates fear about the food supply for their own ends a terrorist group? I would argue yes (though one could also argue that this is equivalent to crying fire in a crowded theater, and thus a criminal act).

comment by TimS · 2013-04-18T02:26:19.950Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

crying fire in a crowded theater

Legal nitpick - the issue is falsely shouting fire

comment by jkaufman · 2013-04-18T01:56:29.455Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Arguing about definitions isn't very useful. Discussion is much more likely to go in a positive direction if you point to specific actions and describe why they're harmful.