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Singer: Self in Society Roundup 21

Nature policing, utilitarianism, dishonesty, parenting, Threads, transgender issues, Bronze Age posers, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
July 17, 2023; ported here on March 9, 2024

Nature Policing: Tyler Cowen has out a peculiar old paper arguing that people should, at least on the margins, try to reduce animal suffering by hampering predation. So, for example, humans could not reintroduce predators to a landscape, or kill more predators. An obvious problem that Cowen doesn't consider here: Predators help keep populations of prey animals in check. Is it really better to starve to death than to be eaten alive? A counter-argument is that prey animals are better off if people shoot them than if other predators eat them alive.

Singer and Cowen: Cowen interviews Peter Singer. Largely the interview is about Cowen challenging Singer's utilitarianism. For example, Cowen says we should treat animals much better at the margins. I agree with Singer here: "It's compatible with being a Darwinian to say we are a being who's evolved the capacity to reason, and reason can lead us to conclusions which can influence our behavior." I also agree with Cowen that ethics is intimately tied with partiality at some level. I see that as a feature not a bug. Singer, on the other hand, bites the utilitarian bullet and says he would side with aliens in wiping out humanity, if that increased overall utility. I think utilitarianism is wrong as a grand ethical theory; however, one doesn't have to be a utilitarian to see problems with factory farming of animals, something that concerns Singer deeply.

Virtuously Dishonest? One more about Singer. Cowen presses Singer on his 2010 paper with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek, "Secrecy in Consequentialism: A Defence of Esoteric Morality." To me, this seems like a straight-forward defense of lying. From the abstract: "[I]t does seem to be an implication of consequentialism that it is sometimes right to do in secret what it would not be right to do openly, or to advocate publicly. We defend Sidgwick on this issue, and show that accepting the possibility of esoteric morality makes it possible to explain why we should accept consequentialism, even while we may feel disapproval towards some of its implications." Bryan Caplan summarizes and criticizes that paper. One thing Singer and his coauthor rationalize, in the case of the infamous "organ donation" challenge, is murder. However, the coauthors also write (and this is a line Caplan does not quote) that, "in the real world," in which neither perfect secrecy nor the doctor's moral perfection can be assured, that "it is likely to be better to say, not only in public, but also as a matter of private advice, that no doctor should ever contemplate killing a patient who wants to live." I would say it's possible to be an honest (rule) utilitarian—to think that honesty has high utilitarian value—but that any version of utilitarianism that entails deceptively covering up a murder, or even lying to children about why they should act morally (as the authors also suggest), thereby reduces to absurdity.

Exercise: It alleviates depression.

Parenting: Stuart Ritchie: "A large twin study from 2021 showed that the shared environment might explain about 30 per cent of the overall differences in schooling, even in adulthood. . . . Education aside, though, there's little evidence from properly-controlled research for a strong influence of parenting. . . . [Y]ou can relax, focus on enjoying spending time with your children and creating . . . happy memories. . . ." This way of putting the point might be a little misleading, though. Parenting matters enormously, but, based on twin studies, within the normal range, differences in parenting do not seem to matter that much.

Threads: Aaron Ross Powell: "It feels like being trapped in the parking lot before an Ed Sheeran stadium concert, tailgating with the most boring people on the planet."

Ghate on Transgender Issues: The Ayn Rand Institute's Onkar Ghate and Nikos Sotirakopoulos evaluated Matt Walsh's film What Is a Woman? Ghate argues that the film is propaganda rather than a truth-seeking documentary. He points out that Walsh is looking for gender to give us assigned social roles rooted in religious tradition. Walsh thus falls into a sort of biological determinism. I think Ghate is less-good in trying to articulate a positive viewpoint here. As I pointed out last year, "woman" has a two-part definition, one pertaining to biology and one to psychology. ARI has also been excellent on immigration.

Internet Age Restrictions: Paul Taske has a good summary of the relevant issues. One point he makes is that age verification affects adults too, who must somehow confirm their identity to participate under the rules. I tend to think parents should make and enforce their own rules for their own kids regarding screen time and the like.

Bronze Age Pervert: Rosie Gray has out a discussion (via Cowen). The openly pro-fascist BAP is vicious. Here's something I Tweeted, "I find it somewhat humorous that some people take 'masculinity' to mean shitposting anonymously online. It's hard for me to think of less-masculine behavior. For starters, real men don't have to continually insist that they're real men." Here's one interesting detail in the article, one that tangentially links to Cowen's Straussianism (which he mentions in his interview with Singer): BAP was influenced by Strauss and intrigued by writing esoterically (I would say dishonestly). BAP also is openly Nietzschean.

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