In this episode, we talk with Jacy Reese Anthis about expanding the moral circle. Jacy is an animal rights activist and founder of the Sentience Institute.
Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker.
Will Jarvis 0:04
Hey folks, I’m William Jarvis, along with my dad, Dr. David Jarvis, I host the podcast narratives. narratives is a project exploring the ways in which the world is better than it has been the ways it is worse in the past or making a better, more definite future. I hope you enjoy it.
Will Jarvis 0:32
So hey, Jacy, how are you doing today?
Jacy Reese 0:34
I’m good. I saw your podcast on Twitter and really like the message. So I’m happy to be here. I really appreciate it. Thank you, Jason, it’s very kind.
Will Jarvis 0:43
Could you give us a brief bio, and just talk to us a little bit about what you’re interested in and kind of the big issues you’re trying to solve?
Jacy Reese 0:50
Sure. So from about 12 years old, I’ve been a utilitarian trying to maximize my positive impact on the world maximize utility, that led me immediately to bouncing round issues, I interned at give Well, when they were just getting started up, and I was doing my bachelor’s degree, I pretty quickly shifted towards animal issues felt that they were very compelling. And particularly the food system, the way animals are used and abused and, and the environmental and other impacts of that as well. And it’s sort of led me into a future oriented long term. How does social change succeed research angle? So right now, I’m actually working on my PhD at the University of Chicago, and continuing to do work with sentience Institute, a think tank that I found it on moral circle expansion that researches social movements in emerging technologies. Awesome. So JC, I want to go all the way back to when you were 12 years old? I find that really interesting. Did you just kind of have a moral intuition around utilitarianism? Or did you find a book like how did that happen? I’m really curious. Yeah, I think it’s intuition driven, though, at the time, I was what philosophers would call a moral realist. I thought the truth of morality out there in the universe was that utilitarianism was correct. I didn’t read a book, I hadn’t been exposed to academic philosophy in any meaningful way. I was reasoning, trying to reason from first principles about what good and bad is, I was one of those kids who would like go off on a tangent, whether that was video games, or blacksmithing. At one point, I really got into ethics, and then started thinking, Okay, how do we deduce from stealing is bad, protecting your family is good, what are the commonalities? What is kind of the truth to the matter? And it seemed like the well being of humans, and eventually of all sentient creatures, kind of seemed to be what it all boils down to, I could answer, you know, the tough moral questions, rather than I grew up in rural Texas. So most people, it was a fight of the idioms. You know, I would say, one, you would say the other, and you never really get anywhere. But maybe that’s how we can reason about it. more systematically, was was from this viewpoint of utilitarianism. I really like that. So you’ve got the framework of like utilitarianism, and then animals, you know, why are animals the issue that you’re interested in? I know, there’s a lot of suffering that happens to animals. I mean, this, I think this makes intuitive sense to most people, like they really sat down and thought about it, but in your day to day it gets completely glossed over. Yeah, initially, as a human, I was mostly thinking about human welfare. And it felt weird kind of uncomfortable to say that I would fight for another species, and you know, commend my time and energy to that, however, I was auditing philosophy, graduate seminar on the philosophy of consciousness, so on animal consciousness in particular, and all these different ways of approaching the question of who’s conscious and what’s not. And it seems like with all the kind of plausible views, there is nothing that put animal’s mental capacities, you know, their capacity to feel and these things morally matter, intelligence, language, that’s different. But the things that constitute sentience at its core, weren’t so diminished, that the numbers of animals didn’t vastly outweigh any any factor that you put on their level of sentience. You know, the in the food system in particular, there are over 100 billion animals at any given time, globally, around 90% of those have on factory farms in the US, that’s around 99%. We have some USDA data in the US on farm size that allows us to take a best guess that’s highly uncertain. And that seems like a really serious moral issue, you know, even with a discount rate of 10 100, or even more when it comes down animals. And then if you consider wild animals, those dwarfs the number of farmed animals. And even if you consider less popular, lower populations of animals, like animals use in laboratories, or even dogs and cats, they’re getting so few of society’s resources, and it’s so easy to neglect and abuse and, and cause suffering to them that I think there’s a good moral case to work on those issues, even above most human issues.
Will Jarvis 4:44
Very interesting. Very interesting. I’m from eastern North Carolina, and we produce most of like some huge percentage of the world’s pigs waterhog Farms. And, you know, you start reading about pig intelligence and you know, like, you know, the really the Really smart beings, and they’ve got all these like, pretty rich emotions and it’s in like In comparison, it’s tough to see a distinction between a pig and a dog, at least in my, in my head. And, and so that that’s one of the things that originally got me started thinking about these kinds of issues.But do you think, domesticate domesticated animals, animals live a lot worse than they did in the past? Is it better? You know, what, do you have a feeling on that issue? I know, there’s a lot of work that like, you know, I remember reading school about like Temple Grandin and how we can make things a little bit more ethical on the on the edges, right. But do you have a feeling on that?
Jacy Reese 5:39
Yeah. When Steven Pinker released his most recent book, enlightenment now in 2018, I wrote an op ed in response to it saying, Yeah, the world is getting better. That’s a good case. But think about the animals, because it throws kind of a wrench and that whole optimistic outlook, namely, because of the advent of factory farming in the early 19 hundred’s, you know, the fact that the wartime economy spurred a growth of industrial agriculture in the US, which is now spread across the world, it was about in the 90s, when kind of, you know, China and other countries where we’re finishing up at least an initial industrialization of their food system. But because of that trend, things are a lot worse in terms of the sheer number of animals, and then their treatment per animal. So the fact that now, instead of a, you know, flock of chickens that produces eggs, and is eventually slaughtered for meat, you now have optimized birds being run for me to grow so much meat that, you know, they collapse under their own weight, suffer from a lot of genetic health issues. And then you have egg laying hens who lay over 300 eggs a year, Jumbo sized eggs that really wreak havoc on their reproductive system, it’s not a pleasant experience with the hormones and with the egg laying itself. So this sort of optimization and efficiency, in a sense of agriculture has made things a lot worse. I would say that in other regards, and then kind of the common, everyday understanding of animal welfare, things have gotten a lot better. You know, we talk about two moral circles. Usually, there’s the attitudinal moral circle, what people say, and there’s the behavioral motorcycle, what they actually do, and how society treats various beings. And attitudinally, we’re doing great, you know, the fact that it’s not the Medieval Ages anymore. Cat burning is no longer a sport, most people drowned upon. Exactly. They frowned upon the mistreatment of dogs and cats in people’s homes. If you abuse an animal on the street, that’s no longer seen as like, okay, that’s your property, you do what you want, it’s now that are a part of our moral circle in some important way. I think it’s the fact that there’s a disconnect the fact that the abuse of farm animals in particular, but other animals, as well happens behind closed doors, is the only reason why it’s able to survive and today’s moral sentiment.
Jacy Reese 7:48
I think that makes a lot of sense. I also feel like, I’d love to get your your thoughts on this, I get this feeling that I know someone that was on the C suite at Purdue chicken. And the big takeaway I got from him was that it’s so incredibly competitive. And it’s like perfect competition to create, like, you know, any of these meat products that and it’s gotten more competitive. So you know, there’s more pressure to like, do things that are bad, like, you make the chickens, they’re so huge, they only live for like 45 days, because you’re trying to meet the demands of the market, whether there used to be less competition. So maybe if you’re an independent farmer, and you just raised the chickens out in the pasture, you weren’t as worried about that. Do you think that’s a real effect? It definitely is, right now, in the kind of current US industry, it’s gotten to a point where if you can undercut somebody by one cent, you know, if they adopt a welfare policy, that just makes there’s a penny more expensive, then you’ve just swept the market out from them. Right. And that makes it interesting in terms of plant based foods and you know, veggie burgers and things like that, because while most of those are expensive right now, that’s because they’re catering to a niche population who’s interested in an organic, you know, kind of luxury labels. But if you can develop a plant based substitute that’s going to be able to be adopted widely, and it can undercut by just a penny, that means you’re you’ve beaten that market, and they just can’t get any more, you know, efficient, they can’t get any cheaper. So you’re able to maybe take over the market and that way, that’s the approach of a company calco now called rebellious foods out, it’s doing chicken nuggets and chicken nuggets or this magical food because they’re served in school cafeterias. And kids don’t really care what you’re eating, they get a salt and oil and protein and that they’re satisfied. And if it’s better for them, and if it’s opinion cheaper, it’s it’s it’s a hard sell to to ignore. If you’re, you know, doing the catering and a cafeteria, it has to get a lot of momentum. It has to get economies of scale going. But I think once that that virtuous cycle gets moving, we’ll see rarely rapid changes in those applications. Gotcha. And you mentioned a lot of the meat alternative products that are finally coming out. I when I first saw
Will Jarvis 10:00
The Impossible burger I was I was really excited. You know, this is not something I think about too much animal welfare and things of that nature. But I was really excited because it was an example of
Will Jarvis 10:09
using technology to make like, it’s not like an activist coming and braiding me, or braiding someone and saying, like, you need to do this because it’s wrong. It’s like, here’s the choice, it tastes better or tastes the same, it’s the same thing. But you don’t have to be a bad person, either. You don’t have to do these bad things to these animals. If you, you know, make this choice, it makes it easy.
Will Jarvis 10:30
What’s the current state of the art for that? Is it you know, how close are we to just cultured meat? That’s exactly the same one to one.
Jacy Reese 10:40
Are we close? How far off? Are we? Yeah, we’re really close in a lot of ways in the sense that like an impossible burger is really great. And if it were the same price, and the same convenience, you know, think of an airline where they just bring you out a meal with a burger, and then you’re not questioning what’s on it. It can do really well in that sense. However, you know, the devils in the details, and then the hard part is a getting it from you know, 95% summary to 100%. That’s a lot harder than getting it from, let’s say 60% to 95%. Yeah, it’s it’s it’s challenging to get those subtle cues, to think about this a lot with dairy, especially the more artistic areas where there’s like a grassy flavor to it or something. And that’s what a lot of the the micro Flora companies are working on. So the companies that are making egg and dairy proteins from micro organisms like yeast, companies like perfect day and clear foods. cultured meat is magical in that sense, because you by default get 100% similarity, it is the meat product. There’s some subtlety there in the sense of it grows in a different way. Do you need to electrically stimulate it the way that muscles are stimulated throughout an animal’s life. But those things don’t seem prohibitively difficult and said the issue there is cost. And again, it’s one of these things where they’ve brought it down from the $300,000 first hamburger in 2013. Mark post, you know, served it to journalists, and it was a big deal. And, and now people say oh, the price has dropped 1000 fold, because now it’s $300 for one of those burgers. But that’s going to be a really hard climb to get the rest of the way down. And there’s a lot of uncertainty around, for example, two growth factors that those cells are fed, which are very easy for our body to produce, because we’ve got that cellular machinery. But right now, we’re only being produced in the biopharmaceutical industry, where they’re okay with large costs. And they really care about perfect quality and these things, which is not how the human body works. And it’s not how animal bodies work. Um, so they’re kind of having to not reinvent, but drastically changed that supply chain to get a product that that suits the needs of food production. So you’ve got a lot of hurdles ahead. But But things are in a really good state. Now, I think for the next five years, we’re not going to see any, you know, super fast adoption, revolutionary product, culture, meats, not going to become a Walmart, you know, a stable quite yet. But after that point, and again, once you get those virtuous cycles going, you get a lot more revenue coming into these companies they can spend that they can get economies of scale, I think change will come very quickly. That’s great. That’s really exciting.
Will Jarvis 13:19
I wanted to move on a little bit. Now. I don’t know, have you been following the situation in Colorado, this this is actually really concerning to me, it seems to me that
Will Jarvis 13:27
animal welfare and, and
Will Jarvis 13:31
eating meat is going to become a cultural war issue very, very soon. And I find that to be that very bad. Because the second it becomes a, you know, commonplace culture war issue, they’re taking away our meat, right? This is really bad, then then it includes everything and, and the guy that goes in, he’s like, this impossible burger tastes the same. It’s, it’s, you know, half the price, I’m gonna take that. He’s like, heck, no, the democrats will, you know, they they’re making me eat this, you know, fake soybean or whatever. And you’ve got this huge issue. What can we do to avoid that happening? Because I think it would it would put the adoption much farther down the road. Does that make sense?
Jacy Reese 14:11
What do you think we can do? Yeah, I think about this in terms of the different routes that social movements can take to success. And it’s very different for different movements. I’m like, I don’t know what your views are on the current US climate policy. But just from the strategic perspective of like, let’s say you think the climate crisis is really bad action needs to be taken, we need to get the problem solved.
Jacy Reese 14:35
I think that needs to be a partisan issue. It’s just already set as a culture war issue. It’s already too late. It’s way too late it getting grants Exactly. So what they need to do is just pick it up and carry it on the shoulders of the left, make it the number one issue for a period of time where they can push through it, especially when they have more control over the houses and of course, the presidency right now with Biden. That’s a really challenging route in us, politics, US politics.
Jacy Reese 15:00
is very centralized, there are a few issues that take up almost all of the discourse. It’s not like European parliamentary system where there are all sorts of, you know, different issues being fought in government at any different time. If you’re a nice party and have some pet issue, and sorry for my background noise, that’s all it’s all good chicken.
Jacy Reese 15:19
Speaking of. So I think that in the US, the other big route that you have available is just to dodge the federal government or at least dodge mainstream politics, I think what you’re speaking of is a culture where I think that’s more easily done with technology. So it’s sort of lining up well, that that might be the route to success. I don’t think it’s going to be like, I mean, so subsidies for factory farmers are a big issue, you know, it’s something like $30 billion
Jacy Reese 15:45
going towards, not the sort of farmers that you would hope subsidies would go to, not the small family, farmers or anything.
Jacy Reese 15:53
And that is a kind of pillar of factory farming that you could potentially cut down, I think that’d be really difficult. And there’s some tentative math that some economists have done, that suggested would only increase the price of, you know, a hamburger by a few cents or something, it wouldn’t be quite revolutionary change. So I think, well, I like to see people working on those issues and grabbing low hanging fruit. Most of it can go through that route, we’re gonna need technology that’s adopted by society as a whole, by companies that are against switching their supply chains, like school cafeteria, switching to the plant based chicken nuggets, we’re going to need a kind of science driven movement that’s being debated as a policy issue is okay, everyone agrees that we should switch to these things. How do we best do that? As policy walks? Not as let me run on this platform and try to succeed? Right, we’ve got some data, we one thing we started doing in 2017, is collecting nationally representative survey data on attitudes towards animal farming. And well, from 2017 to 2019, things kind of increased, it’s all kind of within margin of error. So it’s hard to say, Yeah, for the question. Whether you agree or disagree with the following statement, factory farming is one of the most important social issues in the world today, that started at 69% and 2017, which is great. I mean, you know, it’s a big tent. You know, people can say that for a lot of different issues. But it drops 20% to 49%, and 2019. And I don’t want to read the tea leaves too much. It’s it’s always hard with survey data. But one reason for that might be the the increasing polarization, the Trump era, where again, agree or disagree, it was a very centralized time, when people were focused on a few issues, and everything might have went off to the side. So I think technology, I think a side route is most important. I don’t like things that really strongly identify the left with animal farming, I think some of that’s inevitable. There’s a kind of underlying difference between the US political parties that we can’t get around. But we shouldn’t, you know, exacerbate that. That makes sense. And that brings up my next question, which I don’t see a lot in the animal welfare discourse, which I think would be a good to address for many of the reasons we just mentioned. It’s, you know, thinking about, okay, what can farmers do, like, especially animal domesticated farmers do once you know, we get to this point where self cultured meat is a lot cheaper, it’s a lot better. So they’re not resistant to it, because we don’t want them you know, we don’t want them all banding together, spending a ton of money to say, you know, we don’t want it we do not want this, you know, spending money on advertisements that cultured meat, it’s, you know, great in the lab, it’s terrible for you and, and putting things have you thought about that at all?
Jacy Reese 18:33
Yeah, it’s tough. because on one hand, it seems like if we were to get them on board, that would be really great. And right, having this again, like bipartisan movement, avoid that roadblock exam, I don’t know, if we can, the big challenge is that if people’s livelihood is animal farming is is not a protein, not not, not the Tyson Foods, that kind of meat processors, those can and to some extent, are pivoting, or at least now, including alternative proteins, but the people who are doing it every day, they’re just always going to be opposed to this, at least, you know, it would be a decade’s long project to get around that to, you know, get them all out of the industry, you get them all farming, both animals and plants or something like that. And by that time, you know, I think that’s sort of the timeline that we’re working with anyway. Right. That’s how long I hope it will be until we actually get it done. And the current status quo. So it’s, it’s it’s challenging, I think some efforts like providing a using the surplus of, of resources of financial resources, in particular, from these new products, because they just consume fewer resources overall, and allocating some of that to farmers who switch a few farmers who switch you know, putting them up in the limelight, telling their stories, trying to inspire some other farmers to switch. A big thing is generational and just like every generation, you know, many kids who are farmers don’t go into farming. I think that’s going to continue and encouraging that it’s tricky because in
Jacy Reese 20:00
some sense like having more farmers would be a good thing, you know, industrialization as in a lot of bad things to agriculture, right. But in particular, for factory farming and for those sorts of farms, getting people out of there, I do think that you know, the the quote, unquote, humane animal products, the things that aren’t factory farms, which again, 1% of animals in the US don’t live on factory farms. But that 1% is going to be a group that is pushing against factory farming products, because it’s a common enemy, it is also hurting their business, if that makes sense. Can you talk a little bit about moral circle, like what is what is the moral circle and thinking about expanding it a little bit? Sure. So to start on politics, where we were talking about, you know, a lot of social and political movements over the past several 100 years, we could categorize as moral inclusion movements, so taking some group and bringing them from outside humanity’s moral circle, or at least to kind of the mainstream moral circle, and in enveloping them in that the kind of first moral circle expansion movement and modern society was the British anti slavery movement, and taking people who were literally regarded as property and moving them into the category of legal persons. And only now you know, 444 100 years later, people are starting to do that with animals try to get them into the category of legal persons. But the moral circle was laid out by Hiroko ease on the second century stoic philosopher, you know, our moral circle as humans starts with our immediate family, it goes out to relatives goes out to the village, eventually, it’s all of humanity, and even animal kind was being discussed at that point. William Harpole lucky in 16 hundred’s, a historian, wrote about this going from
Jacy Reese 21:41
the Romans who saw gladiators as a perfectly legitimate treatment of people to now over many centuries later seeing it as barbaric, and referenced that by the circle, having expanded, Hercules didn’t talk about the moral circle, expanding over time, just talked about it as a static thing. So that was kind of the first mention of expanding one. And then now Peter Singer, you know, a big advocate of animal rights, very famous, has wrote a book in 1981, called the expanding circle, in which he talked about in more detail. And now it’s become more of a part of common parlance. We’re only now a colleague of mine, who’s a philosopher and I are trying to co author a paper that lays it out in philosophical detail, what the moral circle is, and how it expands over time, for example, is it is a gross expansion? Is it just kind of in total, more included? Or is there some concept of net expansion? You know, if we’re some we’re losing some members of the moral circle, you know, think of religion and deities and spirits, and ancestors, all those are less included now than they used to be? Can we say that our moral circle has not expanded. So there’s a lot of nuance to be had. But ultimately, it’s just this intuitive notion of whom we give moral, legal, social, political consideration. Gotcha. Is it? Do you have a feeling that it’s
Will Jarvis 22:58
people are, you know, humans are getting better, in some sense, like morally better? Or do you have a sense that it’s we get richer, and so we have more capacity to care?
Jacy Reese 23:09
At bigger levels? Yeah, it’s a good question. And a long standing debate among historians. And historians are always hesitant to touch on causality. So in some sense, still hasn’t gotten resolved. I mean, maybe it would never actually get resolved in slavery has been the biggest discussion. Many people have argued that slavery was kind of unprofitable, and the period right, the decline there. It’s a rich debate. And and I don’t think there’s a clear answer. But I think there’s enough of a notion with with timing, with the arguments cited, you know, the the policymakers who finally passed abolition, which I believe today might be the anniversary of the British
Jacy Reese 23:47
version of slavery.
Jacy Reese 23:49
With that, they were citing moral arguments. They were doing it even when their personal interests were invested in, you know, the slavery industry and whatnot. So it seems to have been, at least to a large extent, morally motivated. That being said, you know, when it comes to the history of the moral circle expanding, would I say that economics or other forces played a larger role? Maybe economics, I mean, economic growth has just been crazy. History is very much a hockey stick, you know, starting with the industrial revolutions, and in the 1700s. So I think that has created huge impact. I think when you have to have moral progress with no technology or economics involved, it can be very slow, you know, abolition took a long time, civil rights took a long time. Yeah, there’s a book I was reading recently on how the NAACP was working on anti lynching and the very early 1900s, the 10s and the 20s. And building up the momentum that Oh, in the 50s and the 60s were they able to take to the national spotlight and get word versus Board of Education, and that sort of thing past where as a technology, you know, you look at personal computers and how quickly they were adopted or smartphones or now maybe electric cars and renewables
Jacy Reese 25:00
Energy. Some of that’s going slowly. But it’s certainly going a lot more quickly than historical decades long, entirely moral movements. Definitely. That that’s really interesting. And I’m wondering, there’s a great paper, it’s, it’s a couple of researchers, they’re fairly related Jonathan Hite, I can’t remember their names. But they wrote a paper called the ideological differences in the expanse of the moral circle. Do you think there are some hard coded differences between people across the political spectrum in how they think about the moral circle? So the main findings of the paper were that, you know, the more conservative you are, the more you’re focused on, you know, kin, altruism, your family, and then like country and up? And then if the more liberal you are, the more the wider the the circle of moral concerns is, do you think there are hard coded kind of differences? There’s, there’s it’s kind of, you know, the social imprinting you get? Yeah, it’s always hard to say hardcoded, because the US political spectrum itself is somewhat arbitrary. Other contracts, but you just don’t see that access, at least not as the most important one, right? However, in the current US setup, it is true that conservativism is hosted with a range of issues that are kind of moral circle ish. Social dominance orientation is very common, and explains a lot of the variation and all sorts of human psychology and actual behavior. And that’s, you know, much higher, it’s kind of the view of, should some parts of society dominate, be hierarchical be above others? I think the kinship thing definitely in the nearby. I mean, I think of the people I grew up with, you know, in East Texas, who many of them were extremely compassionate, caring people, most of them had a very small morals, their narrow focus. Yeah, maybe it was, you know, caring about the local forests, which was environmentalist, it was writing for ecosystems, but it was right nearby, it wasn’t the kind of climate change movement that the US liberals tend to care more about. So yeah, I think it’s there. I think it’s important. I think there are other axes that like make,
Jacy Reese 26:57
bringing in conservatives and, and having a just ignoring the technology, but just saying we have to be a big movement that make it really valuable. You know, Matthew Sculley, for example, who was a bush speechwriter, spoke to conservatives and invokes different terminology and different kind of moral appeals that was really valuable even for people who were across the political spectrum. I mean, one finding by some researchers at Stanford, young vocal and Rob Wheeler and a few others, is that if you present liberal policies using conservative appeals and conservative rhetoric, that, at least in some contexts can be more effective than pitching those liberal policies, using a liberal kind of discursive toolkit, which I think is really interesting, you know, that’s one of the main moral foundations findings is that conservatives appeal to all six moral foundations, liberals mostly appeal to only three of them. So in some sense, it’s another way in which like the the US political spectrum is stacked and is distinct across the categories is that the conservatives have a broader base that they make full use of when it comes to elections and general political fights across the aisle. That’s really interesting. And it seems really important to keep in mind when you’re working on these issues, because I see this problem with some social movements where if you get, you know, you’re stacked on one side of the political spectrum, and then you decide scoring points is better than actually, you know, moving the ball forward on the movement. And so can you describe what are some successful social movements? And what do they have in common with others, other successful social movements? I know unsuccessful is more difficult, because there’s a wider range of how you can fail. You know, what does success look like? And and what are some common themes you’ve seen? Yeah, it’s interesting that you asked that right now, because we have a synthesis of our social movement case studies that we’ve done at sentience Institute, I believe we’ve done about five or six on that we’re drafting right now and will hopefully be out within the next month. So we’ll have some more detail on but one, one, the biggest overarching story that, you know, I used to be, you could say more traditional kind of vegan activists researcher, but I also care about the issue, right and thought that by the numbers, if you want to maximize the number of animals helped handing out these leaflets and running these online ads, where you can show people you know, a video, like meet your meet on about the cruelty route system, get a good proportion of them to you know, pledge to go vegetarian, or look up the URL on the back of the the leaflet, and they’ve done some tracking of these things. And it’s painful, because of the scale of those things, you know, handing out hundreds 1000s of leaflets a day. Well, you know, many, many individual activists have handed out a million in their career. That’s huge, like that can do a ton of good, but I’ve drifted away from that. And and it’s part in large part because of looking at history and seeing that rather than individual you know, consumer behavior change, institutional change seems to be a lot more effective. So when you use individual change it
Jacy Reese 30:00
needs to be for like a specific goal. So veganism shouldn’t be like the end goal, it’s a nice thing that you can do to help a lot of animals. And that’s wonderful if that’s how you choose to make an impact. But it should be seen as a means towards ending factory farming. So in anti slavery, for example, to return to that there was a boycott of sugar. But it was very targeted intended to apply pressure to very specific institutional stakeholders, to the specific companies to the specific politicians to motivate the abolition, essentially, the slave trade, and then slavery as an institution itself. I think we’re seeing a similar thing play out in environmentalism where plastic straws aren’t that important. The big issue, right, right. You know, if we got rid of, you know, the waste of fishing nets, if we stopped fishing fish and produce, sell cultured fish, we could do vastly more good. But plastic straws are just so accessible, they’re so easy to stigmatize. They’re so easy to kind of fight over on social media or in in restaurants, let’s say. So that’s another example. Yeah, I would say that, in general, institutional changes is the number one takeaway from historical social movements. Gotcha. That’s true. So does that look like you know, McDonald’s? So let’s say McDonald’s? I’m not sure I don’t know about their meat policies at all. But to say they have a pourraient policies, is it you know, pressuring the CEO, is it like boycott McDonald’s? Like, what does that look like? in practice? Yeah, those are those have been employed. The big story with kind of institutional reforms, and you talked about the you talked about this earlier, with the kind of perfect market that happens in animal agriculture, you have to kind of get everyone on board are very big producers. So the way it worked with cage free eggs, which saw huge successes in 2015, up to 2017 interest was in large part because Carl Icahn wanted to do something for the Humane Society of the United States, you wanted to help out. And the thing that they asked him to do was to help with McDonald’s and help get McDonald’s on board with cage free eggs. It also kind of caught the industry off guard, you know, these retailers started making these commitments because of these negative pressure campaigns. And because of people like Carl Icahn, and that led to just a cascade where then the smaller companies had to follow suit, you know, once you can isolate KFC doesn’t have this policy, but Burger King, you know, Taco Bell, and all these other companies do, it becomes John’s, it’s a bit tricky there, because some of them are owned by I guess, yum brands. But nonetheless, McDonald’s getting that kind of gets you the rest of the industry. Now, it’s more challenging, because they’ve been doing a lot of negative campaigns against kind of this whole group to get better policies for chickens raised for meat. One of the issues there is the chickens raised for meat are there’s no single equivalent to cage free eggs
Jacy Reese 32:46
are not raised in cages. They instead have a host of breeding issues and health issues and space issues. You know, they could use more space, even though they’re not kept in cages because it would bruise them. So what do we do now? Well, it turns out that it’s really challenging because Tyson Foods and some other companies know what to expect. And they’re applying pressure from the other direction on McDonald’s and all these other companies saying, don’t you know, if you commit to this policy, we’ll leave you out to dry, we’ll supply everyone else and and you can’t can’t do it. So we’re not sure where it will go next. But yeah, historically, it’s been pressuring the CEO. I mean, a lot of environmental and animal activists have applied very direct pressure going to people’s houses, protesting outside of them, including some illegal activity. Negative billboards, criticizing the TV ads, investigations have been the number one kind of moral force and pushing against factory farming, starting from the early 2000s. Just getting on the evening news. Now we’re at the point where, if you’re an activist out there trying to raise awareness for animal welfare, you can bring up Hey, have you seen those investigations and how cruelly those animals are treated? Right, virtually everyone in the US will will have seen it in some form over the past, you know, decade or so. And so yeah, it’s it’s effective. I think we’re now reaching a point where, again, we maybe need to pivot to technology, and other kind of policy approaches, but but nonetheless, it’s had a big impact so far. That’s great. That’s really interesting. I like that idea. Because it, it shifts the sales challenge to you know, maybe there’s 100 stakeholders, and at these big food, you know, let’s say all the big restaurant chains in the US versus, you know, 300 billion in the US if you went and talk to everybody individually, and tried to change their habits. A little bit more straightforward. So I wanted to move on a little bit and talk about let’s see.
Jacy Reese 34:37
Are you down for some overrated underrated? Sure, kind of I stole this from Tyler Cowen. So veganism, overrated, underrated. I know we’ve talked about it a little bit. Do you want just a one word answer? I can give a sentence or two. As long as an answer to veganism, underrated general population among vegans overrated. Gotcha. That makes sense.
Jacy Reese 34:58
As with most kind of moral
Jacy Reese 35:00
movements and I did right on the inside. Temple Grandin, overrated underrated. Part of the challenge here is that cows actually represent a very small portion of animals raised for food. Because they’re so large, they produce so many calories, so many servings per animal. So anyone who’s focused their work on helping cows is going to have less impact than you would expect, if you aren’t considering that. Additionally, there’s this concern about complacency. And then the fact that if you make really small changes, which are improvements for the animals, and I applaud that they can reduce the impetus for further progress. I think Tableau Brandon’s work has done that to some extent. However, in general, I think there’s more evidence, this is another thing we see throughout social movements, that there’s more momentum than complacency. So overall, you know, I’d say Tumblr, Brandon has probably been net positive if I had to guess. But overrated just because that’s the go to animal welfare activist, whereas the corporate campaigners who got cage free eggs fast had much more of an impact on the animal’s lives. Gotcha. And do you do you think cage the cage free eggs requirement? Is it? Because I remember reading some articles and those going on some people saying this is really not that big of a change? Do you think it was like that’s if you consider that a pretty big win? I think it’s a pretty big win. I think there are a lot of momentum based reasons to think so like it was our first big victory of this kind of farmed animal movement. It built connections with not just companies but journalists and donors, it got many cat and dog donors to start donating to farmed animal nonprofits, build the momentum that mercy for animals used to, which is a very large farmed out organization to spawn the Good Food Institute, which is now the number one organization working with food technology. And they were partly able to do that, because of the momentum they’d gotten from cage free eggs and other sources, like undercover investigations. So I think that’s really powerful. Um, there’s, I think the main debate to be had is in the negative impacts of cage free hens. So for example, the fact that they stir up a lot of dust and kind of ammonia, and it kind of reduce air quality. So I think there are downsides. I mean, it’s uncertain how that all adds up. But I think overall, it’s better for the ends. And it’s definitely better for social progress as a whole. Gotcha. That’s great. Effective altruism, overrated, underrated.
Jacy Reese 37:17
underrated as a whole. I mean, I wish is never going to happen, at least not in the foreseeable future. But that, just as companies kind of check the box for sustainability, I wish they checked the box offer, did we do our cost effectiveness estimate for positive impact in the world? That would be wonderful. I it’s not as succinct as as sustainability is. However, you know, there are challenges and in some ways, it’s overrated. Again, within the movement, as most things are, it’s kind of seen as a panacea. I mean, one of the challenges is there’s kind of thick and thin are Martin Bailey of effective altruism. So in some sense, you can’t disagree with it, it’s doing more good, it’s better. But in a stricter sense, with a specific set of causes and things like that. There’s definitely a tendency to be overconfident. I know many of us were back in the early days and in the, you know, early 2000 10s. But right now, I think it’s it’s hit its stride more so. And I appreciate that it’s been focused on animal issues and long term issues that are really important. That’s great. And I think, act, just the act of trying to do better is is really important. So just like ineffective watches, like, we’re going to try to do good in a more efficient manner. Like just actively, you know, making that happen. I think it’s a really good idea. Yeah, we’re just having a name for it. I mean, that’s what I hear from almost everyone who I talked to, and who gets involved with it is like, Oh, yeah, I’ve been thinking of this when I worked for this nonprofit. And so I was having these problems. But just the fact that now there’s a label and a community has done a lot for bringing in resources and coordinating people, but also just that individual, like, there’s a name to put to this feeling I had to call. Yeah, it’s great.
Jacy Reese 38:55
I’ve got one last question for you. Jc What if people want to help animals, particularly factory farmed animals? What’s the best thing to do? What’s the best way to people? And I know that’s very broad, because people have different skill sets. But in general, what’s the best thing people can do to help? Yeah, I think getting involved in some way I always encourage people to get involved in, in the community and a movement and that can take many different forms. The Humane League has a lot of local chapters around the US most major cities, if you live in one of those joining up and going to protests or signing petitions or things like that is wonderful. If you can do it specifically in food technology. Even better, you know if you can volunteer for organization like the Good Food Institute or something like that, that’s wonderful. I think you know, diet change is great. And it’s something we can all do. It’s it’s not a this or that with the with the activism itself. And if you can cut out factory farmed chicken products and fish products, because those animals are so small and treated so poorly, and still show a lot of the evidence of sentience that we see in pigs, cows, you know, dogs and cats cutting out those products can
Jacy Reese 40:00
would be really important. And I know there’s some debate with, you know, climate and and whether, you know, red meat products have more of an effect on that. But when you try to crunch the numbers and look at the kind of specific impact of a serving of each food, it seems the animal welfare impact is larger is more significant and, and is more easily avoided, you know, because it’s always tricky with climate software as if you’re not eating the chickens, you’re not making the chickens suffer, which is really great. direct effect, they’re excellent. Um, are there any, you know, parting thoughts you’d like to leave people with? And where can people find your work? I think that in terms of progress studies and thinking about the world getting better, it’s good to turn that into a future orientation. And think about the ways in which, for example, Steven Pinker and better angels of our nature talks about these, like five forces, five better angels that have led to progress. And think about which one of those will persist and which ones won’t. So for example, with technology, we haven’t touched on one of the kind of the big downsides or reasons to not focus on that yourself, which is the fact that lots of companies are wanting to do it, they’re wanting to make money. Technology is monotonic, you know, kind of, we only get more technology in the absence of civilization catastrophe. So the moral progress is more contentious, less certain. And it can be good to get on that side of history. So I think just extending that and you know, once you’ve kind of figured out that, hey, the world’s getting a lot better in a lot of important ways, that sort of macro historical view, can give you much better insight into what to do with your career and how to have a positive impact in the long run. So I’d encourage people to take that historical view and, and turn it into a future oriented view as well. Yeah, in terms of where people can find me, I’m on Twitter. I don’t tweet as much now because I’m neck deep and a Ph. D. program. Always happy to get emails and stuff from people, my emails on my website and everything. So happy to hear from folks. Excellent. Well, thanks, JC. I really appreciate it. Thank you for having me. Well,
Will Jarvis 41:57
well, that’s our show for today. I’m William Jarvis, and I’m Will’s dad. Join us next week for more narratives.
Join the discussion