Should we cull known reservoirs of COVID-19 such as minks and humans?

Denmark is engaging in a mass cull of millions of mink, individuals who are farmed for their fur, because they are a reservoir of COVID-19. Funnily enough, humans are also a reservoir of COVID-19, but the thought of culling humans to save humans is unfathomable (and rightly so).

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen became tearful when discussing (get this) the plight of the mink *farmers*. Apparently not so much sympathy for the minks themselves. Our desire to get get flesh, fur and secretions from non-humans is what produces most zoonotic pandemics in the first place, and yet it’s the farmed animals who are chosen to suffer and die first.

The problem with this whole thing is that none of the rationales we commonly use to justify doing what we do to non-humans would work if applied to humans.

“We need to eat them to be healthy.”

“We need to cull them to protect ourselves.”

“Their flesh and secretions just taste soo good.”

“I’d stop eating them but it’s just so inconvenient.”

Ultimately what it comes down to, whether people admit it or not, is that they just see non-humans as not being worthy of moral consideration as soon as our convenience or way of life is threatened. There is no reason for this. Non-humans can feel pain just like us, and some might even have a greater capacity to feel pain than humans. Should we cull humans to protect the interests of such non-humans with a greater capacity for suffering? No? Then maybe we should rethink how we view non-humans in the first place.

Danish MP Mette Frederiksen weeping, 26 Nov 20

The risks of a raw vegan diet

Once when someone found out I was vegan they asked me: Don’t you miss cooked food?

Some people conflate a raw vegan diet with veganism in general, and I know some people who follow a raw vegan diet over simply being vegan for health reasons. I’m quite critical of the claims made by proponents of a raw food diet, and wanted to make a comment on it. If you disagree, please let me know ASAP so I can change my mind.

One of the core claims of the raw food movement is that cooking destroys some of the enzymes and nutrients in food, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence behind this. Stomach acid destroys most of the enzymes in food anyway, and cooking food can often have a positive effect. For some examples:

Cooking tomatoes increases by five-fold the bioavailabilty of the antioxidant lycopene.

Cooking foods with beta-carotene (like squash and sweet potatoes) helps release their nutrients and makes them more absorbable.

Vegetables in the cruciferous vegetables family (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts) contain goitrogen compounds, which in excess can contribute to hypothyroidism – but they are mostly deactivated by heat.

A 100 percent raw plant-based diet has been associated with a lower bone mass (though note this is from 1 study with a not very impressive sample size).

I’d say the only saving grace of a raw food (vegan) diet is that it forces you to consume a whole foods plant-based diet, which is more nutrient and less calorie dense than say a diet with many processed foods. There is nothing wrong with a processed food per se, but they typically have fewer nutrients and more calories, which can be a problem.

Of course, for me veganism has nothing to do with health. I happen to agree that avoiding animal products and eating more plant-based whole foods are generally beneficial for health, but if it were the opposite, I wouldn’t start including animal products in my diet for the same reason I wouldn’t start including human products in my diet if it turned out that were a little healthier.

Update on my blog, podcast and Youtube channel

I’ve been a little quiet in the last few months as I’m in the final steps of completing my PhD. I’m finalising my thesis as we speak, and should be submitting it within the next month or two. Once I do, I’m excited to get back to making more blog posts and Youtube videos, and rebooting the Morality is Hard podcast.

I just want to thank everyone for their support so far. I recently hit 550 subscribers on Youtube, which is just incredible. My video on why I will never have children has reached 6,600 views, which makes it by far the most viewed piece of content I have ever made (more views than my thesis will likely ever reach, sadly!). Message received – antinatalism is a topic of interest to many of you. I will be doing more on this in the future. I have been overwhelmed by your support, and it’s clear that many people feel alone in their views on this – surrounded by a society where breeding is seen as the norm, and anything else is seen as odd.

In other plans, I will be doing a collaboration video on antinatalism in the near future, and I have some other collaborations lined up with other Youtubers to talk about ethics and philosophy. You can expect some videos on my research from my PhD, including the pros and cons of developing space technology, off-Earth mining and space colonisation. If you have any topics you’re burning for me to cover, please do let me know.

Thank you.

Preparing for the unimaginable

How can we predict and prepare for unexpected events that we may not have even thought of yet?

I gave a talk on some of the work I do as part of my PhD and discuss how we can predict and prepare for unexpected events known as black swans.

Thanks to UNSW and the UNSOMNIA team for helping me put this together!

If anything positive comes out of COVID19, I hope it’s that we will have better disease control protocols and public health around the world – but also that we might use this unexpected event to think about how we can prepare for future unprecedented events.

See my talk “Preparing for the unimaginable” online here:

On the relationship between a parent and a child

I made a similar point in a video a few weeks ago, but I want to reiterate and expand upon it for two reasons. One, this is so prevalent in most (possibly all?) societies, and two, it’s extremely toxic and harmful.

Consider the relationship between a human and their biological child. Many people would agree that this child should be extra respectful and subservient to their parent, to a point that would seem deeply questionable if you were to propose this relationship between any two other humans. In some ways, and to an extent, there are some valid reasons for this.

At a certain age, a child is not able to make informed decisions for themselves. For example, a 6 year old’s opinion on what to have for dinner shouldn’t matter as much as their parent’s opinion. But if this is the rationale, then naturally it should stop applying at a certain age. Many countries start granting people ‘adulthood rights’ from the ages of around 16-21. I’ve always thought these ages were fairly arbitrary, but let’s take 21 for sake of argument. At 21 years of age, a child’s opinion on most topics should matter as much as their parent’s, because they are both independent, sentient adults.

If a person is legally and morally recognised as being able to make their own choices about alcohol, property ownership, sexual relations and everything in between, then it surely doesn’t make sense anymore for their views on things like preferences and moral values to be valued less than the views of their parents, in both the eyes of their parents and society. Of course there will still be some exceptions on opinions about factual matters where the parent might be more informed, but by the age of 21, there will naturally be some factual matters that the child is more informed on. Their view on those matters should get more weighting than their parents. But typically, they don’t.

Some common excuses used by parents to extend this subservient relationship longer than it could be reasonably argued that it should include ‘but I own the house you live in’, ‘but I pay the bills’, ‘but you’ve had a good life’, ‘but I raised you’. In what way are any of these things relevant to the way in which one should treat another living, sentient human? None of these provide any justification for mistreating another human.

To take the antinatalist approach, no child asked their parent to be born. In most cases, two humans made the decision to bring another human in to existence. When they make this decision, they should surely be responsible for their wellbeing. Anything less than a good life, within reason of the parent’s control, is wrong. And so the above examples aren’t justifications for anything, because they are the bare minimum for what should be expected of a parent.

Can you imagine this justification being used in any other scenario? For example, ‘it’s ok that I treat my spouse less than perfect in some cases, because I own the house they live in and gave them a good life’. The fact that a human happens to be the biological child of someone stops being relevant at the legal adult age, and possibly earlier (or maybe later), since I don’t trust governments to have coincidentally all arrived at roughly the best age for this.

So what’s the ideal outcome? People should be seen as being on the same level as their parents once they reach a certain age in almost all aspects. Parents should not see themselves as somehow higher, more deserving of respect or anything else from their child than the reverse. It makes no sense for a child to respect their parent more than the parent respects their child.

We live in a society where people think that one should respect their parents beyond how much they respect other adults of the same age. Many justifications for this are similar to those I’ve mentioned above. But as I also said above, these are the bare minimum for how children should be treated by their parents anyway, so why should it be seen as making someone more worthy of respect?

To go back to the point about children not asking to be born – (granted my view might deviate a little here from some other antinatalists, as I’m glad that I was born and exist, however, this isn’t relevant to the point I’m about to make) Having a child without their consent and expecting them to be subservient to you for even 21 years, let alone their whole lives, is deeply ethically questionable. You are creating a power situation that ultimately benefits you. It may benefit the child as well, but it may not, and in general I don’t think you can justifiably set up a power relationship that benefits you with any other human just because it might benefit the other individual.

Let’s start seeing children as their own independent sentient entity that is worthy of just as much respect and wellbeing as their parents are.

A 2 metre asteroid has a 0.5% chance of hitting Earth this year

A 2 metre wide asteroid has a 1 in 200 chance of entering Earth’s atmosphere on November 2 this year. The most likely scenario is that it will blow up in the atmosphere, causing some damage at the surface.

The Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia in 2013 caused ~1,491 human injuries and some property damage (mostly shattered windows). This was 20 m wide, so we can expect less damage than that, but still some kind of damage.

There’s not much we can do about it now except monitor it to better understand up the impact probability, and where it would hit if it did.

Segue – Look at the headline and first paragraph of this Channel 7 News article.

“Astrophysicist weighs in on asteroid zooming towards earth” sounds scary, and “The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is monitoring an asteroid that appears to be on a direct collision course with earth.” sounds like we’re a bit fucked.

Asteroid impacts are no laughing matter, and I think we should be more worried about them in general than most of the public is (you’re more likely to be killed by an asteroid than a shark), but this kind of click/scarebait in news is frustrating.

News outlets are barely held accountable for misleading or false information, let alone clickbait, and that needs to change.

Stop saying ex-vegans were definitely never vegan

This post is prompted by the recent news that Miley Cyrus is no longer vegan, which she revealed on Joe Rogan’s podcast, but is a response to the consistent trend I see of people claiming that a vegan who stops being vegan was never a vegan to begin with. I want to talk about why that doesn’t make sense.

Let’s clarify the claim people are making. It goes something like:

If someone seems to be an ethical vegan (vegan because they think animal exploitation and/or suffering is wrong), but at some point in the future they start eating animal products again, then they were never an ethical vegan to begin with, they were just plant-based (meaning they didn’t eat animal products but were never an ethical vegan).

First, I don’t think this is how human minds work. We are not perfect rational actors, and we do weird things that don’t make sense all the time. We also change our minds a lot. I think it is absolutely possible for someone to fully believe that purchasing animal products is wrong, and to later change their mind on that. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s possible to change your mind in the opposite direction (indeed, that’s how most of us became vegan). It might seem unfathomable to me to consume animal products for pleasure again, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible.

Someone told me that they would die before eating animal products again. I note that Cyrus said something similar. If someone says that they would die before being friends with someone of another race, but then they reject their racist ways, does that mean they were never really racist, or has their character changed?

Misinformation, pressure and a lot of other factors lead well meaning people to think and do some strange things which are against their prior values and beliefs.

I don’t know the specifics behind Cyrus’ backflip, and to be honest I don’t care, but it seems disingenuous to say that she was definitely never vegan. Maybe she actually was never an ethical vegan, and only promoted ethical vegan and animal rights messages because it suited her image. But to say this is definitely the case without proof doesn’t make sense.

Let’s say it’s impossible for someone to be an ethical vegan for 10 years and then start eating animal products again. If that were the case, there would have to be a way to tell whether someone is plant-based, not just vegan, in a way that doesn’t require the retrospective judgement. To put that another way, how can you tell that a current ‘ethical vegan’ is actually just plant-based, if they haven’t started eating animal products again?

What’s the effect of the vegan community thinking that all ex-vegans were never really vegan to begin with? I have no idea. Maybe it makes the community look dogmatic and off-putting, or maybe it encourages people to not change their mind. But I know that it just doesn’t make sense, unless there is something I’m missing.

Preparing for the unimaginable

How can we predict and prepare for unexpected events that we may not have even thought of yet?

I gave a talk on some of the work I do as part of my PhD and discuss how we can predict and prepare for unexpected events known as black swans.

Thanks to UNSW and the UNSOMNIA team for helping me put this together!

“Do you lie awake at night worrying about volcano eruptions, asteroid impacts, global pandemics, evil robots, or nuclear warfare? Have you spared a moment to consider that there might be existential threats humans can’t even imagine? If anything positive comes out of COVID-19, it’s that we will have better disease control protocols and public health around the world – but also that we might use this unexpected event to think about how we can prepare for future unprecedented events. What can we do today to prepare for the unimaginable?”