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Singularity 1 on 1: Give Up Eating Meat!

In this interview, Socrates talks with philosopher and IEET fellow, David Pearce for 85 minutes about everything from Utilitarianism to animal rights.


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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADavid Pearce is a British utilitarian philosopher who promotes what he calls The Hedonistic Imperative. David is also a co-founder of the World Transhumanist Association and a vegan who argues that we (or our future posthuman descendants) have a responsibility not only to avoid cruelty to animals within human society but also to alleviate the suffering of animals in the wild.

During our 85 minute conversation with David Pearce we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: why in his view philosophy is mostly a matter of temperament; Utilitarianism as his choice of flavor; why he decided to be a vegan; defining and measuring sentience; his definition of transhumanism and why philosophy has largely ignored it; The Abolitionist Project; the importance and impact of suffering; The Hedonistic Imperative; whether killing other humans can be permissible under extreme circumstances; Buddhism; his take on the technological singularity, mind uploading and the Hameroff/Penrose model of consciousness

My favorite quotes that I will take away from this interview with David Pearce are his two definitions of transhumanism:

“Technical solution to an ethical problem.”

“The use of technology to overcome biological limitations.”

(You can listen to/download the audio file above or watch the video interview in full. If you want to help me produce more episodes please make a donation!)

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Meat ought to be banned; the following book is a part-explanation of why:
http://www.foet.org/books/beyond-beef.html

Naturally, you'll have a dozen libertarians writing here about the rights of individuals to butcher and purchase meat. Henry Bowers will write that the heteropatriarchy needs meat to give it strength- or somethin'.
What's notable about Rifkin's book, though, is that (judging from the review) his emphasis is on human suffering, rather than the suffering of the actual cattle. In this respect he seems to be arguing from a completely different perspective to David. And one, to be honest, that I find rather more convincing.

Enough for me to stop eating meat? Probably not, at least not yet.
Right, in his book Rifkin wisely focused on an anthropic slant-- leave it to PETA to go beyond this.
BTW,
I cut down drastically on meat only because of reaching an age where meat has become more disagreeable; aesthetically, yes- however due to digestion rather than aesthetics. Plus it depends on the quality of the meat in question. Naturally the economics is based on quantity: providing meat at lower prices. But high quality organically-raised-- therefore quite expensive-- meat is in a different category. Remember, some consumers are v. wealthy (where the high-end food market comes into play in the economy) and purchase meat worth eating from a strictly non-ethical standpoint.
Such may not change the ethics of eating/not eating meat yet does introduce other factors which should be mentioned.

What has convinced me against meat are sundry doubts, some based on property conflict. This is one illustration: if a dog enters a hungry person's property, can that person slaughter the animal? From a libertarian perspective, yes:

i. The person is hungry.
ii. The animal is on the hungry person's property.
iii. Thus the prerogatives of the hungry person, whose property the dog is on, supersedes that of the owner of the animal because the dog has trespassed onto the hungry person's property; and by a strictly property-oriented perspective it is permissible.

An obvious flaw in a libertarian perspective on this emerges: who exactly owns the dog?: there's no objective answer. What I'd personally like to see is the expression on a Republican's face when told his pet was killed because of a property dispute. Comeuppance, Pete- turnabout is fair play.

Now, I'm more a writer than a thinker; after thinking about issues raised by the above [and others] illustration, admittedly not the best, it does appear it cannot be claimed eating meat is ethical in any way-- only expedient. For instance one can purchase $1 and 1 euro hamburgers at fast food restaurants. The burgers furnish low-cost protein, quickly. Yet how are any ethics whatsoever involved in 1 dollar/euro hamburgers? None anywhere.
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Economics is a valid discipline- but at this time still based on expediency, not morality.
"Economics is a valid discipline- but at this time still based on expediency, not morality."

This is a thought worthy of further attention, IMO. In fact, an even more fundamental problem with economics, in my view, is that it is a conflation of social science (based, as with all science, on the urge to understand and explain) and political advocacy. Once economics becomes prescriptive rather than descriptive, once it starts answering the question, "What should be done?" rather than "What are the principles that determine the likely consequences of certain policy decisions?" it ceases to provide useful insight into the nature of (economic) reality. It's not that the first question is illegitimate, rather that all too often it is unclear (even, I suspect, to economists themselves) which one is being addressed. For example, is Paul Krugman a seeker-after-the-truth or an advocate? One can be bother course, but the latter tend to be wilfully blind to the possibility that they are wrong, and this reduces their value as seekers after the truth.

Obviously, ethics should be expected to feature (implicitly or explicitly) in economics advocacy (e.g. whether policy decision should be based on the Austrian or Keynesian school) than in descriptive economics (where the question is rather which of these schools better describe reality). But ethics can also be modelled, in the sense that people's economic decisions are also, to an extent, ethical decisions. For example, "buy green" is to some extent an ethical decision, but one that has economic consequences, which an economic theory ideally needs to be able to handle.

A final point is that, historically, economic theory, and especially the Keynesian school, seems to be quite closely bound up with utilitarianism. And expediency, as long as it is marshalled towards good ends, is a fundamental utilitarian value.
And what is economics? John and Bob holding a conference to decide how much Peter will give Paul?

But what comes to mind straightaway is the indirect, remote connection between meat and other matters. #1 question: if slaughtering and eating meat is acceptable, then isn't abortion acceptable? Or if that wasn't a good parallel: if eating meat is acceptable, isn't war also acceptable? in fact there might even be a direct connection between war and eating meat. At least, it is entirely justifiable in exploring such a possibility (although too involved to go into here).
Expediency has meant in the past and does mean today more freedom. BTW, shooting illegal immigrants/undocumenteds is not inexpedient/impractical-- it is 'merely' totally amoral. Shoot undocumenteds, and word gets through to them not to enter a nation illegally. However shooting undocumenteds is thoroughly immoral. Other examples are readily available: using tactical nukes (e.g. atomic cannons) to end a war is not unthinkable; yet such would be unconscionable.
Which is why I brought up the gray area of killing someone else's pet to feed a hungry person. Where do we draw the line? Well, libertarians can't tell us much about this sort of a matter.. as they are doers not thinkers. Frankly, I don't know where to start-- but wont accept anymore that eating meat is ethical. A doer may say eating meat is moral, 'just do it' they could say, don't agonise over it. Henry Bowers probably would write of how God gives us dominion over animals thus, naturally, we can with a clear conscience eat meat. However, again, if a connection between slaughtering/eating meat and war does exist, then Henry's probable answer to the question is cast in some doubt.
Perhaps it hangs on this word "acceptable"? What does it mean to call something "acceptable" or "unacceptable"? What are we doing when we call something "unacceptable"? How are we changing reality?

Is the holocaust unacceptable? That is the historical event that most readily comes to mind as something one associates with Ultimate Evil, yet being a historical event, it is unchangeable. One can deny that it happened, and one can deplore that it happened, but one cannot make it unhappen.

Dangerous climate change, on the other hand, may be avoidable (perhaps), so perhaps by declaring it "unacceptable" we are actually doing something.

So where does meat-eating fit into this? If slaughtering and eating meat is *unacceptable*, what are you going to say to your local butcher? Those who murderously attack abortion clinics presumably have taken the notion of "unacceptable" so far that they feel their violence is justified. Perhaps they think they are Jesus throwing the money-changers out of the temple. Preserving purity and all that. Yet if you don't take ALL available means to prevent something from happening, then implicitly you are accepting it.

Now "ethical" and "acceptable" may not be quite the same thing, for example one may consider it *unethical* to eat meat but not so *unacceptable* that you will take all available means to prevent others from doing it. But again what does that actually do? Let's assume you don't eat meat yourself; what do you say to someone (like me) who does? How do you convince me to stop it? How hard should you try?

What is clear is that "expedient" and "ethical" are not synonyms: even in utilitarianism, the end has to justify the means. Shooting illegals may be "expedient" in a very narrow sense, but what would that do to the fabric of society? The taboo against killing is there for a (utilitarian) purpose: it must be breached only with extreme caution. So I agree that meat-eating being "expedient" doesn't make it "ethical". But my question again: how hard do you think you should be trying to convince people not to do it? How much of a priority is this?
"what do you say to someone (like me) who does? How do you convince me to stop it? How hard should you try?"

First off, when I write "meat ought to banned" (or "the Republican Party ought to be outlawed") it is to indicate a preference, not to make a demand. If you write "climate change ought to be taken more seriously", you are not demanding. But perhaps pablum such as "meat is immoral" would be the way to go. (BTW, why would I advise you personally not to eat meat? I haven't asked you to eat carrots, correct?)

At any rate, there's surely a linkage between slaughtering animals and war-- after all, war is directly traceable to eons of hunting; hunting preceded agriculture.

"But my question again: how hard do you think you should be trying to convince people not to do it? How much of a priority is this?"

It isn't a priority and it is up to consumers' families & friends to advise or 'convince'.

"Those who murderously attack abortion clinics presumably have taken the notion of 'unacceptable' so far that they feel their violence is justified...Yet if you don't take ALL available means to prevent something from happening, then implicitly you are accepting it."

Partly true: however since I do not actually demand the slaughtering and eating of meat cease, the above is an inexact parallel. I write "meat ought to be banned" not "abortion is genocide... let's protest outside abortion clinics and lobby to strike down Roe v Wade."
If you were to write, quite rightly, "spousal abuse [i.e. wife beating] ought not be tolerated", you are not demanding spousal abuse cease or actively protesting spousal battery- you are unequivocatingly opposed to it.
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Anyway, what we do is definitely not comparable to murdering/ threatening to murder/ advocating the murder of abortion clinic providers.

Actually some animal rights activists come pretty close. In fact more than close: I seem to remember some products having been laced by toxins by animal rights activists. Or am I mixing that up with something else? I'm pretty sure some of these guys resort to violence, and I'm not just talking about throwing red paint at people wearing fur coats.

The spousal abuse point is illustrative, but here again: suppose you learned that I was actually beating my wife. How would that affect our on-line relationship? Would you still be happy to have polite conversations about ethics? Surely it would at least give you second thoughts. So if the analogy was exact, that should make you at least somewhat reluctant given that you know I'm a meat-eater. We may not actively protest spousal battery - one cannot protest against everything that one would rather wasn't happening - but certainly we would be horrified if we walked down the street and saw it going on in public. We would want something to be done about it, urgently.

The point I'm really trying to get at here is that if we really have good reason to think meat-eating is unequivocally unethical then we might as well devise a strategy for getting rid of it, to the extent that it's within our power to do so. It may not be a "priority" in the sense of posing an existential threat, for example, but perhaps it's nevertheless worth doing something about it other than participating in on-line discussions? For example, I could start to make a conscious effort to reduce my meat consumption. I could read Rifkin's book. I could visit a slaughterhouse and empathise with the animals being butchered. Should I?

It's not that I'm exactly asking for advice - this is an ethics blog, not a personal advice service - but if we are to be serious about our discussions of ethics here then we need, from time to time, to consider how they might apply to our own (and each others' lives). You may be thinking that you don't know enough about me and my personal circumstances and priorities to give sound advice, or you may be disinclined to do so, but I'd certainly be interested in your (and others') perspective(s). It would help me to weigh how seriously I should be taking this issue, and also perhaps introduce a somewhat more operational dimension to our discussions here?
"I could visit a slaughterhouse and empathise with the animals being butchered. Should I?"

No- do not even know if eating meat is unethical; aesthetics are what changed my outlook-- the taste of lesser meat, the knowledge meat may not be for everyone, naturally.
Yet for starters the people who built this world ate meat, which is to be taken into account in comprehending its popularity. Aesthetically meat is revolting IMO, however economics is a tricky discipline. Again: writing "meat ought to be banned" is an academic exploration along the lines of Wesley perhaps writing "capitalism ought to be terminated", to put it v. simply; or Summerspeaker writing the same concerning anarchism. Do libertarians/minarchists actually say with a straight face govt. will be reduced any time soon? No, unless they're dopes they are talking for effect. "Get the govt. off our backs."
Everyone's backs?
It's safe to write when someone says something ought to be banned, they are exaggerating. As we all know, prohibition of alcohol did not succeed in America and was finished 80 yrs ago. But then (and you undoubtedly know all this) we cannot even say war is wrong. We may be convinced of such-- but one being convinced war is immoral is not evidence. War is still linked with economics as meat, alcohol, tobacco, guns (of course), etc, are connected with commerce.

"Is the holocaust unacceptable?"

From a cold-blooded ultra-darwinist perspective, no. The populations of Europe and Asia were reduced during WWII. If you read Mein Kampf you'll see this was one of Hitler's goals.
"but one being convinced war is immoral is not evidence."
I think this is where moral subjectivism comes in. To the moral subjectivist, whether or not something is immoral never comes down (exclusively) to evidence. Evidence tells us about expediency, and expediency (as in utilitarianism) may be morally relevant, but it is never the whole story. There is no "evidence" that utilitarianism is correct, though there may be evidence with regard to how effective it in achieving its own objective.

But prohibition is a good example precisely because it shows that some people were *not* exaggerating when they said that alcohol ought to be banned. So it's a question worth asking: should meat (in this example) *really* be banned, or is this just an expression, and if the latter, an expression of what? An aesthetic reaction? Again, to the moral subjectivist all questions must come down ultimately to aesthetics (informed, or not, by evidence), but there is difference between saying "meat ought to be banned" as an expression of revulsion, and saying it in earnest. Again prohibition (and people protesting outside abortion clinics) show that some people do mean this (kind of thing) in earnest, so it 's a question worth asking IMO.

By the way, "cold-blooded ultra-darwinist perspective" reminds me of a recent article (by George Dvorsky if my memory serves) about social darwinism, and how disastrous it was. But my point here is a different one. I am certainly not seeking to defend the holocaust from within some kind of ethical framework (ultra-darwinist, utilitarian or whatever). I'm rmerely pointing out that it happened, and it can't be unhappened. So again, to say "the holocaust is unacceptable" can be best regarded as an ethical statement, an expression of revulsion, or as you put it an "academic" statement (perhaps "exploration" hardly applies in this case, "statement of the obvious" possibly being closer to the mark), but it can already be made more *practically relevant* (without, in my view, losing any of its academic i.e. theoretical value), simply by adding the words "as a model for the future". We cannot change the past, but we can declare the holocaust to be unacceptable *as a model for the future*. And then we are saying something future-oriented, and (therefore) practically relevant.

Re "do not even know if eating meat is unethical", again from my moral subjectivist standpoint it is not even a question of "knowing", but rather a question of deciding, if such is important to you, what kind of ethical framework you want to adopt. From my utilitarian standpoint (with regard to ethics; moral subjectivism being my position on meta-ethics) it might still be ethical, in some cases, for a while at least. Certainly I'm not going to bring the meat industry to a halt by not eating meat myself and mildly encouraging others to do the same, and if I did it would presumably lead to immense human suffering and a huge shock to the geopolitical-economic system. But it may well be that (from my own utilitarian perspective) I should be doing more to reduce my meat-eating habit and indeed encourage others to do the same. I'm just not sure how much priority I should be giving this.
Since the second half of the title of this piece is "Give Up Eating Meat!" I can explore the issue without feeling excessively biased.

Square one is IEET is a technoprogressive site, thus even though I have doubts concerning practical matters, the rest of it isn't negated. That is to write, subjectively:

i. war is morally wrong.
ii. slaughtering/eating meat is morally wrong.

However practical issues come immediately into play. As you write:

"... it would presumably lead to immense human suffering and a huge shock to the geopolitical-economic system."

Take petroleum: millions of people are employed by petroleum-related industries. Tens of trillions, no one knows the exact amount in total, are invested in petroleum industries. Thus though petroleum-related industries are outmoded, we are stuck in the past economically. (It always returns to the theme of being trapped in the outmoded).
The same goes for meat industries-- and btw there's a link between meat and petroleum industries, although it would take an article to tackle the linkage. Also, war is conceivably relatable to both meat and petroleum industries. Such isn't a stretch, yet it is too complicated for a comment and needs to be researched before any documentation could be furnished. Nevertheless we know how matters are related- we just can't write here exactly how, why.

Re the holocaust, it is quite complicated as well, though being European you are more aware of the threads leading to the holocaust. Actually "a model for the future"-- as you correctly wrote-- doesn't interest me first-off. First comes the threads that wove the holocaust. Too much to go into (and not quite on-topic, although the subject of meat is connected to the carnage of the holocaust and WWII as a whole!).
However ultra-darwinism, ultra social darwinism, is one important key: ultra social darwinism was an overarching framework of the 19th century; for another statement of the obvious. If you were to read Mein Kampf you would see how nothing original was included, Mein Kampf is a weaving together of threads of the 19th century.
One factor can be adjudged in a moral light: the notion that some individuals are inferior to others therefore some nations are to be considered inferior, is based on naturalistic fallacy.
Plus the Nazi programme largely failed-- only the population reduction part was a 'success'. Even there, twenty millions or so of the Axis were killed as well. Which it goes without saying wasn't the intention.
Funny how Hitler was vegetarian... but the strangest thing in connection with Hitler is his being considered crazy. A thorough reading of his life dispels that idea. If Hitler was crazy, he was crazy as a fox-- or wolf (Adolf means "noble wolf"). Though Nazism failed, Hitler didn't consider himself a failure when he blew his brains out. He had reduced the population of Europe 5- 10 percent; eliminating millions of Jews and Roma Sinti. By fighting the Battle of the Bulge, he delayed the Western allies from getting into Germany, so the Russians could meet the Western allies roughly mid-way in Europe to set the stage for the Cold War. Remember, Hitler prized war/conflict.
Hitler (him again) became a vegetarian after his beloved niece committed suicide due to his domination of her: he might well have associated meat with her corpse!
Of course, IEET being a technoprogressive site doesn't actually have a bearing on what is true, nor does it necessarily make it helpful to state "war is morally wrong" or "slaughtering/eating meat is wrong". In fact, the very fact that it is a technoprogressive site could suggest that this is a case of preaching to the choir.

What interests me, though, is the extent to which the practical issues have a bearing on the subjective moral ones, and I guess the key point I want to make here is that saying "slaughtering/eating meat is wrong" has practical consequences, and those consequences depend on who is saying it, to whom they are saying it, and in what context they are saying it. This is the heart and soul of consequentialist ethical systems such as utilitarianism: the moral worth of an action depends entirely on the consequences of that action, bearing in mind that speech is also an "action" in this sense. It has consequences.

So again my question comes: what are we *doing* when we say "slaughtering/eating meat is morally wrong"? How are we changing reality by saying this? How are we *trying* to change reality by saying it, and might there be more effective ways of doing so? Again, I'm being relentlessly utilitarian about this: I want to know what *works*.

For example, if the goal is indeed "academic exploration", then what precisely is the terrain that we are exploring? Is the statement "slaughtering/eating meat is morally wrong" to be seen as a kind of rite of membership of the technoprogressive community? (Hardly, since it would appear that there are plenty of technoprogressives who would not subscribe to it.) Is it a way of saying that slaughtering/eating meat has such appalling consequences that we really need to get rid of it, even if in truth we do have more urgent issues to attend to? In other words, a way of nudging the debate, and people's thinking and habits, away from slaughtering and eating meat, but in an appropriately non-intrusive fashion?

Part of the reason for my interest in this is that the extent to which I can consider my own personal meat consumption to be "ethical" is a genuinely open question for me, and I suppose I am not alone in this. If I were to become convinced that it wasn't, I would genuinely want to do something about it.
"Is it a way of saying that slaughtering/eating meat has such appalling consequences that we really need to get rid of it, even if in truth we do have more urgent issues to attend to? In other words, a way of nudging the debate, and people's thinking and habits, away from slaughtering and eating meat, but in an appropriately non-intrusive fashion?"

Close as we can get to the trajectory I'm aiming for; but also pure academicism at this time. Didn't realise until recently, for instance, how important SF is-- thought SF was trivial. In fact, didn't quite comprehend until recently what academia is.. if it can be described.
Preaching to the choir is correct; yet one might also write lingua franca. Now I do personally think meat 'is morally wrong'- however it is far too complex-complicated a topic to go into. Can you write a comment on why spouse and child abuse are wrong? You (hopefully) do think so albeit how would you back up the sentiment without going into greater detail than you could in comments? Thus you write 'spousal and child abuse are morally wrong.'

BTW, the one off remark yesterday-- on WWII and the holocaust being carnage relatable to meat-- wasn't merely facetious. Some wanted to do the 19th century over again in the 20th, and Hitler was one of them. The memes carried over from the 19th to the 20th century can't be reduced to nationalism, imperialism, racism [and sexism]. Countless memes can be mentioned as contributors to WWI and WWII, as well as to 1945- 2013.

Hesitated to write the paragraph yesterday on Hitler (that fellow again) however the majority think Hitler was insane; being he made an outsized contribution to modern history it appeared worth touching on. Because if anything, Hitler was ultra-rational (one might write); hyper-darwinism can be seen as rational*.. though by our lights devoid of justice, virtue. IMO it would be more accurate to write Hitler suffered from a personality disorder, he was too in control of himself to be considered clinically insane.
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Would it be mistaken to write both Hitler and Stalin (being relevant examples) regarded people as pieces of meat-- meat puppets-- to be manipulated and destroyed for what they conceived of as higher purposes? and that such a cold-blooded outlook is still prevalent in the 21st century? Dawkins was brave to question Hitler being considered wrong; we can certainly agree Hitler was evil.. but history is not the study of evil, who in history was evil. What we can write here (it isn't as if we are going on TV to make an announcement to the world) for sure is that such men, tryrants, lack a sense of justice.
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*you probably know Nietzsche wrote, "there are rational reasons for abandoning rationality."
Let's rather say that there are rational reasons for being sceptical of rationality. For abandoning it altogether, no. What would that do for us?

Two issues I want to go into here: firstly spousal and child abuse, and secondly Hitler. Pleasant subjects they are not, but we need to tackle such from time to time if we are to be serious about ethics.

First of all to reassure you: if James were to send round one of his questionnaires and it were to include the statement, "spousal and child abuse are morally wrong", I would certainly check "strongly agree". I think they have no place in this world. I find the idea sickening. I know it happens, but thankfully I don't come into direct contact with it. I'm glad there are policy programmes (in spite of libertarian idiocy) aimed at eliminating it. I also think there are perfectly good utilitarian reasons to be opposed to it. Thus even in a short comment I can do better than simply writing "spousal and child abuse are morally wrong", which in any case would, again, be nothing more than preaching to the choir. The interesting thing would be to talk to someone who thinks these things can be justified, and see how they try to do it. Of course we could dig deeper into the "why" question - even in the context of comments (two or three of our comments and you virtually have an article anyway) - but I suspect we both have better things to do.

Now on to Hitler, I most definitely see value in questioning the assumption that he was insane, or even that he was evil. It is comforting to see him as some kind of raving demon, but such is to fail to grasp the extent to which the holocaust, and other evils associates with the Third Reich, was a societal phenomenon, and this to learn the deep lessons that need to be learnt if we are to have any chance of steering our way towards non-dystopic futures. For example, your point about the "cold-blooded outlook" of Hitler and Stalin (and Mao, don't forget Mao, just because the régime he built up hasn't yet collapsed doesn't necessarily make him a better person) being prevalent today is crucial. Hitler and Stalin were not Exceptionally Evil People, they were what happens when a particular personality type is exposed to certain influences and then acquire the means to leash unlimited power. The Germans, with their almost hyperactive immune response to any kind of demagoguery ("if someone claims to have a vision they should see a doctor") understand this very well: potential Hitlers are all around us, so we need to build in safeguards. It is only outside Germany that we content ourselves with demonising Hitler, and this makes us more vulnerable than they are today.

And a final point about social darwinism: the point I made in response to Dvorsky's article was that social darwinism may be fine as an explanatory theory, the problem was that it was then being applied normatively. It's essentially the same point as I was making above with regard to economics. I once asked an economist whether it was really the case that people acted as rational operators. His response: "Well if they don't they should."
"For abandoning it altogether, no. What would that do for us?"

Nietzsche did not write "altogether" abandon rationality. Nor did he write everyone would want/need to do so-- the inference is heuristics can often be preferable to reason.

"The interesting thing would be to talk to someone who thinks these things can be justified, and see how they try to do it."

One way to justify would be via corporal punishment:

'speak roughly to your little boy
and beat him when he sneezes
for he can thoroughly enjoy
the pepper when he pleases.'

Justice as you know is not synonymous with morality; justice is based largely on precedents; whereas morality is derived on that which is higher than precedence. One can possess morality without justice. Hitler (you'd never have guessed his name would be dredged up again) surprisingly did possess morality, a genuine evolutionary racist morality-- but little/no justice. And no prededence existed for him! Nor Stalin (who was if anything worse as a person than Hitler but didn't have to invade other nations to obtain resources).

"Hitler and Stalin were not Exceptionally Evil People"

Hard to say exactly; what can be said is they lived in what is in history books frequently termed the 'Age of Extremes', just say circa 1917- '89. Echoes of it continuing to this day. (Perhaps I should be a history teacher and not a futurist).

"if someone claims to have a vision they should see a doctor"

Yes, and BTW, a visionary is thought of as a positive thinker by the majority, when in fact a visionary might be-- to be obvious-- more of a fantasist than a rationalist.

I used to think of the world as rather exact-- now I think of the world as ball of rock spinning through space. There are no firm positions that I know of, merely trajectories. But then, that might be both obvious and preaching to the choir.

"It's essentially the same point as I was making above with regard to economics."

Yes. All I can write with confidence re economics is neither free market nor planned economies succeed... what has succeeded tolerably well: mixed economies. Libertarians are correct on freedom; unfortunately we have not nearly reached the stage in our evolution where [when] we can be free economically or in any other way. Good news is we do not have to be slaves either.

But you know all this, don't you?



"Yes, and BTW, a visionary is thought of as a positive thinker by the majority, when in fact a visionary might be-- to be obvious-- more of a fantasist than a rationalist."

In fact, I think one can overdo the neo-European phobia against visionary thinking. Visionaries may be fantasists, but that doesn't mean they don't have an important role to play. As you wrote above: SF isn't as trivial as one might think.

What goes wrong, IMO, is when one goes straight from vision to action without stopping to consider risks, or when one tries to impose one's vision on everyone else without stopping to consider whether one's vision is addressing a need that is universally recognised. But since we seem to have got stuck on Hitler, let's see how that might apply in the case of Weimar Germany. Nobody can deny that Germany was at the time in dire straights. Hitler proposed a vision that addressed a generally recognised need, albeit at the expense of minorities and neighbours. Where it went wrong was at the risk assessment stage. Germans became euphoric, and the rest is indeed history.

Lessons for the future? We must not allow our fear of visionaries to cut ourselves off from a vital resource of creativity and generation of solutions (but no "final" ones, please). But as you have written previous we must also take care to curb our enthusiasm - *before* taking irreversible action - and consider the risks. This would indeed appear to be an important lesson for contemporary transhumanists.
"What goes wrong, IMO, is when one goes straight from vision to action without stopping to consider risks, or when one tries to impose one's vision on everyone else without stopping to consider whether one's vision is addressing a need that is universally recognised. But since we seem to have got stuck on Hitler, let's see how that might apply in the case of Weimar Germany. Nobody can deny that Germany was at the time in dire straights. Hitler proposed a vision that addressed a generally recognised need, albeit at the expense of minorities and neighbours. Where it went wrong was at the risk assessment stage. Germans became euphoric, and the rest is indeed history."

JUst so: probably the most concise explanation has been Hitler was one of the first to perceive Germany hadn't much of a future with the status quo. He did have a cogent vision though sans justice.
Strangely, justice is not as difficult to mete out as morality is; anyone with a heart can set up a kangaroo court to dispense an adequate justice. But try inculcating morality, genuine morality: extremely difficult if not impossible- best one could do is by way of situational ethics. Justice, based on precedents, is relatively settled... whereas morality is a moving target-- esp in mobile societies.

"we must also take care to curb our enthusiasm - *before* taking irreversible action - and consider the risks. This would indeed appear to be an important lesson for contemporary transhumanists."

Spot on. Transhumanism has done well for the short period it has evolved. Futurism hasn't moved as quickly as transhumanism during the five decades it has evolved.

Maybe because futurism is too vague. Futurism is basically saying, "I'm interested in understanding and positively influencing the future." Wonderful, but also a bit motherhood and apple pie. Whereas transhumanism is actually *saying* something: transhumanism is saying, "Humanist philosophy and ethics is no longer adequate; it is the right basis on which to build, but it now needs to be adapted, perhaps radically, to take account of the fantastically disruptive potential of emerging technology."

To which technoprogressivism is replying, "Yes, but not TOO radically, please."
You've got it just so again on all counts. At any rate, no harm can come from recommending vegetarianism. If the pro- 'life' want to call abortion "genocide", want to overturn Roe v Wade, why can't one write the opinion at IEET that producing/consuming meat is nothing more or less than immoral or at least amoral? Am not going to over-qualify statements in comments at IEET by writing slaughtering animals in sadistic conditions (you must have seen films of the treatment) is tolerable. In a full length article one could go into substantive detail, but whether it's casting doubt on the meat industry or defending utilitarianism, we can't go far with drib & drab comments.
What is mistaken about simply writing "meat is immoral" and leaving it at that? Meat industries wont go bankrupt due to a minority suggesting meat is immoral. Too many consumers want the quick protein offered by meat (and those $1; 1 Euro meat sandwiches). We both know the world will remain a carnivorous world indefinitely.. never wrote meat will be banned- wrote meat ought to be banned.
-----------------

My conscience is clear: if Americans refuse to communicate, there's no purpose in attempting save for courtesy's sake. Something, btw, you might not realise, though: when you visited LDS, it was practically a Potemkin Village; they were not going to show you much of the negative side. LDS and MTA are decent people-- but their reputations are better than they are.
"What is mistaken about simply writing "meat is immoral" and leaving it at that?"

The issue, for me, is not so much whether it is "mistaken", as whether it is helpful. In fact I *don't* know that the world will remain carnivorous indefinitely, and I don't really think I want it to. So in that sense, perhaps writing "meat is immoral" *is* helpful, since it reminds us of the possibility that we could decide to stop slaughtering/eating meat.

"whether it's casting doubt on the meat industry or defending utilitarianism, we can't go far with drib & drab comments."

Which begs the question, of course, why we bother at all. Just for the fun of it? For me, not quite. I could go back to writing full length articles and getting Kris to publish them, for sure, and yes I guess I would influence more people on that way, but to me it all seems a bit random. How do I even know what people are interested in, and more particularly would be looking to me for advice/thoughts on? At least in the comments section I am having a discussion, I can read my interlocutor's (or interlocutors') comments and get a feeling for what interests them, and what they think, and what therefore might be worth saying.

CygnusX1 suggested a while back that I write an article about Wittgenstein, but is that something I really want to do? "Why understanding Wittgenstein is important for transhumanism." I suppose I could.
Great arguments against eating meat, I couldn't agree more...

...yet I am not going to stop eating meat. I love it, and I feel better after a good steak or grill, of course with beer and cigars.

We are still humans1.0, aren't we.
But couldn't one just as easily write:

"Great arguments against spousal abuse, couldn't agree more..but I won't stop beating my wife. I love it, and I feel better after it, especially after a good night's drink and gambling. We're still humans1.0, aren't we"?

It kind of begs the question why one bothers to comment on an ethics blog at all. Ethics has to be practical, something we at least might be willing to practise, at least to some extent, in some circumstances, in our daily lives, otherwise it's all a bit pointless, isn't it?

Humans1.0 we might be, but we are still capable of developing ideas about who we want to be, and changing our habits accordingly. The only question in my mind (and it's admittedly quite fundamental) is: how far, how fast, and in which direction?
Don't know if producing meat is expedient, however a case can be made that eating meat can often be so. Think of a workman who has a wholesome meal with his family at night, but for lunch he doesn't want to eat at a restaurant. (Because it may be too expensive and/or he isn't dressed for a posh restaurant; and he might not want to take the time). Thus he purchases two burgers and a coffee at a fast food joint, giving him adequate protein plus a lift from the caffeine in the coffee.
Quite expedient.
Yet with morality, as you know, it gets probematic. Are the resources used to produce meat worth it? Is treating animals sadistically (as they are treated) worth it? Again: does a linkage between meat and war exist?
Am not going to criticise Giulio's comment because I do eat meat but not every week; only eat it all because when someone invites me to their house for dinner it is usually considered impolite to refuse the meal offered. Can't very well say to the host/hostess:

no thanks, I don't want the veal, I brought a vegetarian dish. Oh, and forget the salad- it's not organic.. I have my own organic salad here in the valise. For dessert the organic flan with crushed organic pineapple 'n cashews on top. Water? No please, here's my bottle of ion-filtered Vichy artesian mountain spring water.

One advantage of eating meat comes to mind: if a portion of meat is rancid, one can tell. But the odor of a vegetarian/vegan dish is not always a giveaway as to its rancidity.

"I could go back to writing full length articles and getting Kris to publish them, for sure, and yes I guess I would influence more people on that way, but to me it all seems a bit random. How do I even know what people are interested in, and more particularly would be looking to me for advice/thoughts on? At least in the comments section I am having a discussion, I can read my interlocutor's (or interlocutors') comments and get a feeling for what interests them, and what they think, and what therefore might be worth saying... CygnusX1 suggested a while back that I write an article about Wittgenstein, but is that something I really want to do? 'Why understanding Wittgenstein is important for transhumanism.' I suppose I could."

Perhaps wait a couple years, maybe (conceivably) things will be a bit different. Right now I don't feel like talking to anyone- esp. in the Midwest; they are incredibly thickheaded. (And the people who say 'but I went to Madison and...' are thick as well. Madison is no more representative of the Midwest than Austin is of the South). Is it v. difficult to communicate in Europe?

"Is it v. difficult to communicate in Europe?"

I think it's difficult to communicate everywhere, Intomorrow, if by "communicate" you mean "changing minds". Not in the sense of, "There's a cool new exhibition at the Fine Arts Museum." That kind of communication is easy. But if you mean something that is actually going to require a fundamental shift in a person's way of looking at things, then sure. That's one reason why I think it's important to be clear about one's motivation: what is one trying to communicate, and why? To what purpose?

Re expediency, morality and the lunchtime burger, a good place to start might be to ask, "What will happen if I eat that burger again tomorrow, and what will happen if I don't." E person might, for example, decide that, even from a perspective of morality, eating the burger will be best, but he might also decide to take some other action to reduce his dependency on meat in the longer term. Talk to his fellow workers about it, talk to the place he gets his burger from and gently suggest they add a line in veggie burgers.

Same with Giulio: next time he enjoys that good feeling after a steak or grill, he might gently reflect again on those "great arguments against eating meat", and consider what might be more "ethically correct" (for want of a better expression) ways of getting that pleasant feeling.

It's important to avoid an excessive sense of urgency about these things. Nobody needs to stop eating meat NOW. But it must mean something that I thought of this thread as I munched on my ham sandwich just now. It means I'm allowing myself to be influenced, to become aware of the option of changing my habits away from eating meat.

Still not sure how much of a priority this is, though.
@Peter re "But couldn't one just as easily write: "Great arguments against spousal abuse, couldn't agree more..but I won't stop beating my wife...""

What can I say, of course you are right. But humans are omnivore animals, and we are products of thousands of generations of meat eaters. We may be persuaded that eating meat is bad, but our bodies disagree.

I know that my PC will stop working without power, and I know that my body will not work well without meat and many other things. I look forward to synthetic meat and all that, and I am determined to stop eating animal flesh as soon as it becomes a viable option, but it is not a viable option for me at this moment.
Humans are omnivore animals, that is correct. Yet not eating meat does appear to be a viable option for probably millions of vegetarians, pescetarians and vegans around the world. So if we're looking for reasons to carry on eating meat, we need to do better than that "my body will not work well without it". With sufficient care, it will work just fine.

Not that we necessarily need to look very far: "I've got better things to do than trying to change my meat-eating habits" is already more plausible IMO.
"what is one trying to communicate, and why? To what purpose?"

In mid-America-- South, Midwest-- it is a question of communicating at all; that is, genuine communication. The reason is apparent: one salient reason is they concentrate v. hard on commerce (obviously) to the exclusion of most else. Such does make sense from a sheer economic perspective.. but it is more to preserve the status quo than to progress.

Progress counts for little in the interior here- because the majority ultimately repose their faith in deus ex machina solutions. IMO it is entirely foolish to think Jesus or flying saucers will save them. Materially the status quo is *tolerable*, although not being a scientist it is impossible to foresee what we are doing to the biosphere-- that is where things get dicey.
There's no way to have the sort of discussions we are having at IEET and other h+ sites. At universities in the few relatively progressive bubble communities it was actually slightly better in the '80s. Today too many youths only know what their parents/peers tell them. For instance if their parents are rightists (who dominate), youths think eating meat is correct and vegetarianism is akin to communism.
Due to the Space Race, space interest groups were still on many campuses in the '80s, to inform students and get them involved.. accompanied by a minimum of propaganda. It's difficult to avoid the conclusion change-- positive change-- derives from violent dispute resulting in
dislocation -> eventual change. If so, Giulio, the spirituality you promote is rather superficial.

I'm waiting for 'bots to communicate with; again: real communication.

"There's no way to have the sort of discussions we are having at IEET and other h+ sites."

Well no, obviously. But does that really mean we have to wait for 'bots for real communication. I think not. But we need not only to seek to understand those with whom we seek to communicate (that you clearly have begun to do), but then try to figure out how the knowledge you have, and which they apparently lack, can help them.

For example, "IMO it is entirely foolish to think Jesus or flying saucers will save them." Yet apparently they are quite comfortable believing that they will. But they are kicking the can down the road: not only are we destroying the biosphere, at the individual level times are a-changing and some of the good stuff is passing them by. Living in a time warp can be comfortable, but it's a shallow and suffocating comfort, *and part of them knows this* (albeit not the part of them they necessarily want you to see).

If you really want to communicate with these guys, my advice is this: make them aware, in small and subtle ways, of *what they are missing out on* because of their delusional beliefs.

For example, what do you think Henry might be missing out on?
"does that really mean we have to wait for 'bots for real communication."

For real communication, maybe so.

"But we need not only to seek to understand those with whom we seek to communicate (that you clearly have begun to do), but then try to figure out how the knowledge you have, and which they apparently lack, can help them."

Doesn't work in Mid-America; as for W. Europe, you could explain how it is.

"If you really want to communicate with these guys, my advice is this: make them aware, in small and subtle ways, of *what they are missing out on* because of their delusional beliefs."

They are convinced they are not missing out on anything- on the contrary, they think those of us who don't believe Jesus will save us are the delusional ones. I can offer no evidence they are *wrong*. None.

"For example, what do you think Henry might be missing out on?"

What comes to mind right-off is Henry may feel guilt. About what, is none of my business... but then, he thinks others' behaviors-- no matter what the behaviors are-- is his business.
That was what I meant by the main doubts are not per se regarding his metaphysics or even his abstract morality (standards). Rather, legal and day-to-day matters both mundane and significant. His being opposed to gay marriage seems extremely petty in the year 2013. Henry is probably not using abortion as a wedge issue- yet he is shilling for people who divide et imperia. Now, he is comprehensive in his understanding of Catholicism, and since catholic means orthodox, it is a nonstarter to suggest he is wrong by his own lights. That would be saying:

"you are wrong because you are rigid."

Orthodox is rigid.
Question is not why Henry is orthodox, question is why does Henry feel he must convince us to be orthodox? Safe to say such is why he blogs here- to attempt to convince us of the rectitude of orthodox thought (plus spirituality) and behavior. True, the NT does command Christians to proclaim the gospel to the multitudes around the world. But yet again- why us in particular? Did God ask him to witness to us at IEET?


"I can offer no evidence they are *wrong*. None."

So why do you think they *are* wrong? There must, surely, be a way to tell that story in such a way that they can at least better understand your point of view.

Take Henry again. Clearly there is a lot we don't know about him, but my guess is that there is something that draws him here, perhaps a sense, which he may be repressing, that after all we may be on to something. And that could easily feel to him like God asking him to witness to us here. How else can he explain, in a way that is consistent with his beliefs, why he keeps coming back?

All this is highly speculative, of course, but if there is any truth in it at all then it must be telling us something about how we could communicate with him. In fact, we *are* communicating him, not so much because he may be reading our comments, as that we are trying to understand him. Similarly, you are communicating with those you live amongst on the Midwest: you are trying to understand them.

Of course you are correct that W. Europe is not Mid-America. It is more secular, and also more pluralist. (Here in Brussels the most common sign of overt religiosity is the headscarf.) But the basic challenge of trying to convince people of something when they think you are the one who's delusional is universal. Rigid thinking is not the exclusive preserve of the religious; in fact, it is a basic survival mechanism.

Ultimately I think there's no getting around the fact that communicating with people whose thinking (on a specific issue) is rigid involves a lot of listening, both to the words and what lies behind them. It can be frustrating, because while we are doing all the listening, and they are just repeating the same old same old, *we* feel like *we* are not being listened to. But it *is* real communication - just of a somewhat one-sided variety.
"So why do you think they *are* wrong?"

I do not think they are wrong: it would probably be better to live a clean life.. but the thought occurs one must get it while one can (quite common as you know) whatever 'it' is. If one does not believe in Heaven the thought also occurs no need to feel guilt for living an unclean life however, naturally, one defines clean/unclean.
Practical matters in politics are what mainly concern me with such as Henry. Regarding war and peace; sickness and death,
the issues Henry goes into here appear increasingly petty- and perhaps a bit meanspirited as well.
But what *does* it mean to "live a clean life", and why would it be better to do so?

In my case, the thought has certainly occurred that I don't need to feel guilt for living the life that *I* want to live, rather than the life that somebody has told me I should be living, and I have found that very liberating. Naturally, I don't regard my ideas about how I want to live my life as "unclean", but by the same token I don't need some delusional nuthead telling me that Jesus will return to convince me to live "clean", by my own lights. And if that is *their* basis for living a "clean" life, then they have built their house on sand.

"they think those of us who don't believe Jesus will save us are the delusional ones."

Yes, of course. They think *we* are the ones who have built our houses on sand, and are waiting (with baited Schadenfreude) to see the floods sweep them away. And it's a narrative we've been told - and they've been told - time and time again: put your faith in the Lord, and your house will be built on rock; anything else is mammon, and of the devil. But it's a lie, and you know it.

They may be comfortable in their delusion, but it is they that are vulnerable to flooding.
Clean, one might suppose, is whatever one's conscience informs one clean is. Beyond that, it gets fast; we'd have to write a book.
Henry may think I'm opposed to him and the Church if he were to think about it. But I don't know him (and he is right not to reveal himself- he's no fool). Re the RC Church and churches in general: it's best to reach a modus vivendi-- they can have their hierarchies, their wealth; in return they let us do what we want.
Indeed, and one of the glories of secular democracy is that, on the whole, they do. Such is not the case, of course, in many parts of the world.

Re "clean", one might rather put it like this: clean is whatever one *chooses to define* in to be. The conscience can perhaps be seen as set of mental habits dictating what one thinks is right and wrong, and one never loses a habit. One can, however, alter the circumstance in and extent to which a habit is triggered, and in this context I have found simply writing downs ideas about how I want to live to be extremely helpful.
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