I’ve now made a video version of this, which is available here.
When it comes to persecuted and minority groups, the vast majority of the population only supports a subset of these groups, and this bothers me. Here’s why.
Take for example a historically persecuted group, such as LGBTs, people of colour, and women (not an exhaustive list to be sure). Thankfully, many today are happy to accept that people should not be discriminated against for no reason other than simply having other sexual preferences or skin colour or gender.
But for the overwhelming majority, this concern seems to stop at the edge of the human species. Non-human animals are, today, significantly more persecuted than any human group. This is not to try to diminish other persecuted groups, but it’s a simple numbers game. Around 70 billion land animals are killed for their flesh each year.
And yet, if you tell someone that they should care about non-human animals because they care about LGBTs, people of colour and women, they so often laugh and say that animals are ‘just different’. This is the exact same excuse some humans make for not caring about LGBTs, people of colour and women. They’re ‘just different’. Since when is that an excuse to not care about a sentient being?
It’s not a case of intelligence either. Animals may be less intelligent than humans on average, but some humans are less intelligent than others. And yet those interested in equality claim that intelligence should not matter in the way we treat humans. So it’s not a case of animals being less intelligent than humans. It’s really just a case of ‘they’re different’. Using that in any other context in today’s world would be insane. How is it ok to use this excuse for animals? Can you imagine someone saying ‘I just like the way they taste’ about any other minority group?
If you’re vegan and are nodding sagely along to this, I’m sorry to say that (statistically speaking at least), you’re not off the hook. Most vegans I know who are rightly upset by the shocking cruelty inflicted upon animals don’t seem to think it’s a problem that animals in the wild also experience unimaginable pain. Consider for a moment what it would feel like to have fallen down a ravine and nearly die of starvation only to be slowly eaten by insects before you die. Wild animals suffer and we need to think seriously about this.
Even insects are ignored by many vegans. I once asked a vegan I knew whether she cared about insects, and I paraphrase, ‘Ew, no. They’re insects. They’re disgusting.’
If you’ve still agreed with everything I’ve said so far, I’m afraid you’re still not there yet. While I don’t understand all of the science behind it, there is a possibility that computers may one day be sentient, or even that programs today are already weakly sentient. I am not so overconfident as to say with 100% certainty that all computers today are able to feel pain on some rudimentary level, even though I think it is highly unlikely.
We’re not done. Even fundamental physics itself might be capable of experiencing something like suffering.
Who knows what next level there might be to this chain of unconsidered groups. In 200 years, what things that even the most ethical of our society do will be considered abhorrent?
It seems like the only logical way to think about this then, is to think about life in terms of sentience and capability of experiencing pain and pleasure, whether it’s biological or digital. A speck of dust doesn’t matter because it’s not sentient. Insects matter because they are likely sentient. A rock doesn’t matter. A computer program might.
If you accept that LGBTs, people of colour, women and all the other human minority groups shouldn’t be persecuted simply because ‘they’re different’, I invite you to expand your circle of moral consideration all the way.
These kinds of posts oblige me to write a certain disclaimer. I am in no way seeking to undermine the plight of other persecuted groups when I talk about animals or anything else capable of experience suffering, although I don’t think this does that anyway.
All suffering is bad. Let’s minimise suffering no matter what form it takes.