Wirehead your Chickens

TL;DR: If you care about farm an­i­mal welfare, work on min­i­miz­ing ac­tual an­i­mal suffer­ing, not a hu­man proxy for an­i­mal suffer­ing.

Epistemic sta­tus: had a chat about this with a cou­ple of lo­cal EA en­thu­si­asts who at­tended the EA Global 2018 in San-Fran­cisco, and ap­par­ently this was not high on the agenda. I have only done a cur­sory search on­line about this, and noth­ing of note came up.

When you read about farm an­i­mal welfare, what gen­er­ally comes up is veg­e­tar­i­anism/​ve­g­anism, hu­mane treat­ment of farm an­i­mals, and some­times vat-grown meat. This em­pha­sis is quite un­der­stand­able emo­tion­ally. Cows, pigs, chick­ens in in­dus­trial farms are in visi­ble se­vere dis­com­fort most of their lives, which are even­tu­ally cut short long be­fore the end of their nat­u­ral lifes­pan, of­ten in painful and grue­some ways.

An an­i­mal welfare ac­tivist would ask them­selves a ques­tion like “what is it like to be a chicken in a chicken farm?” and end up hor­rified. Their ob­vi­ous solu­tions are those out­lined above: have fewer farm an­i­mals and treat them “hu­manely.” Less con­ven­tional ap­proaches that re­duce an­i­mal suffer­ing get an im­me­di­ate in­stinc­tive push­back, be­cause we would not find them ac­cept­able for our­selves. This is what I call the hu­man proxy for an­i­mal suffer­ing. Maybe there is a more stan­dard name for this kind of an­thro­po­mor­phiz­ing? Any­way, let’s list a few ob­vi­ous ap­proaches:

  • breed chick­ens with smaller brains, so they have less ca­pac­ity for suffer­ing,

  • in­ject a sub­stance that would numb farm an­i­mals to phys­i­cal pain,

  • iden­tify and sur­gi­cally or chem­i­cally re­move the part of the brain that is re­spon­si­ble for suffer­ing,

  • at birth, am­pu­tate the non-es­sen­tial body parts that would give the an­i­mals dis­com­fort later in life,

  • breed an­i­mals who en­joy pain, not suffer from it,

  • breed an­i­mals that want to be eaten, like the Ameglian Ma­jor Cow from the Hitch­hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Many of these are prob­a­bly way eas­ier and more prac­ti­cal than sham­ing peo­ple into giv­ing up tasty steak. But our moral­ity im­me­di­ately fights back, at least for most of us. “What do you mean, cut off baby chicken’s legs so it does not have leg pain later? You, mon­ster!”

Be­cause most peo­ple do not truly care about re­duc­ing an­i­mal suffer­ing, they care about a differ­ent met­ric al­to­gether, a visi­ble hu­man proxy for an­i­mal suffer­ing that they find im­me­di­ately re­lat­able. And so it ap­pears that there is vir­tu­ally no re­search or fund­ing into the real suffer­ing re­duc­tion, even though we know those will work. Be­cause they work on hu­mans already. Drug ad­dicts are quite happy while un­der in­fluence. Epi­du­ral works won­ders for tem­po­rary pain re­moval, and so does spinal cord in­jury in many cases. The list of proven but not eth­i­cally ac­cept­able ways to re­duce suffer­ing in hu­mans is pretty long.

If you are an effec­tive al­tru­ist who is con­cerned with farm an­i­mal welfare, what is stop­ping you from work­ing on find­ing ways to ap­ply what works but is not eth­i­cal for hu­mans to what works and re­duces ac­tual suffer­ing in an­i­mals?

No nominations.
No reviews.