By way of introduction, I wrote a long response to some questions on my recent Youtube video which I thought might be of interest. I’ll just throw up the original comment and my response.
They were arguing that an individual being vegan doesn’t do anything (at all) for animal suffering, and were arguing in favour of advocating for systemic change (replacing capitalism with socialism was the example they gave previously).
“Also i dont think that its possible to be perfectly moral.
Does your being “vegan” contribute something to reducing animal suffering?
Probably not. You as an individual, your choice to be vegan has zero effects on the industry.
So your individual choice to abstain from eating meat and consuming animal products. Isnt really rational in that sense, just like it is not with voting. I mean your vote alone doesnt decide elections.
So if you want really signifact changes you should advocate for a total system change. Just being an individual vegan only strokes ones ego and thats it.”
“It depends on what you mean by moral of course. To take the utilitarian view, being perfectly moral might be something like doing the optimum thing for reducing suffering and increasing wellbeing at all stages of your life. Sure, probably impossible, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for as much as possible.
“Does your being “vegan” contribute something to reducing animal suffering? Probably not. You as an individual, your choice to be vegan has zero effects on the industry.”
What makes you say it has zero effect? Supply elasticity shows that 1 fewer product purchased will lead to somewhere between 0 and 1 fewer products produced. The true number depends on the product and context, but usually it’s around 0.5. See the below quote from a paper I coauthored (here).
“But the purchase of one fewer animal product does not necessarily result in the production of one fewer product. Estimates on effects that changes in consumer behaviour have on the number of animals raised (or killed, in the case of wild-caught marine animal consumption) for food must account for the sensitivity of the market to changes in the quantity of animal products demanded and supplied (i.e. the price elasticities of demand and supply). Using elasticity estimates, ACE estimates that one person consuming 30 fewer land animals will result in 1.8 – 21 fewer animals being farmed, and one person consuming 232 fewer marine animals results in 35 – 144 fewer being killed (ACE n.d.d).”
If you extrapolate your view that it has zero effect, it implies that the same number of animals would be farmed regardless of how many humans are born, which doesn’t make sense. This is an economic effect that is quite well studied. I wouldn’t expect it to suddenly not work for specifically animal products.
I also disagree that voting has no effect. See the below from here.
In short, you have a small chance of making a huge difference. Elections are decided by 1 vote from time to time.
“The estimate of the value of voting being $5,200 USD as calculated by MacAskill is briefly described here.
Political analyst Nate Silver, Professor Andrew Gelman (Statistics) and Professor Aaron Edlin (Law) calculated that the odds of an individual changing the outcome of the 2008 USA presidential election was, on average, around 1 in 60 million, which is a low probability, but we have to also look at the potential impact.
Estimating simplistically that the benefit per person of the $3.5 trillion annual US budget being spent 2.5% more effectively ($1,000 per person per 4 year election term), the benefit that you would expect to receive personally over an election term based on your vote is 0.0016 cents. However, looking at the benefit received by all Americans ($1,000 multiplied by 314 million), the expected value of voting is $5,200 ($314 billion of value multiplied by a 1 in 60 million chance of swaying the outcome).
This is further simplified by the fact that the policies of parties aren’t always opposite, and there is significant overlap, however it does demonstrate that the value of one person voting, when spread over the population of a country, can be big.”
You said: “So if you want really signifact changes you should advocate for a total system change. Just being an individual vegan only strokes ones ego and thats it.”
Couldn’t you apply your same reasoning to systemic change as well? It’s unlikely for one person advocating for systemic change to have an effect? Why would this be any different? Couldn’t you argue that just being an individual socialist advocate only strokes ones ego and that’s it? I wouldn’t argue that, but it feels like you might, if you were consistent.”