Effective Altruism for Animals: Consideration for different value systems

Re­cently i’ve been giv­ing more thought to the is­sue of di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion in Effec­tive Altru­ism, and part of this pro­cess in­cluded won­der­ing how the Foun­da­tional Re­search In­sti­tute (FRI) had con­sid­ered is­sues around di­ver­sity[i] and in­clu­sion at its in­cep­tion. I didn’t ini­tially find what I was look­ing for, but I did hap­pen across this ar­ti­cle from Brian Tomisik ti­tled: ‘Rea­sons to Be Nice to Other Value Sys­tems’ (I recom­mend read­ing it be­fore pro­ceed­ing fur­ther).

I think there are fairly good rea­sons to be nice to other value sys­tems, and I want to con­sider whether Effec­tive Altru­ism for An­i­mals (EAA) re­flects this view from a foun­da­tional per­spec­tive. For a start­ing point I’m go­ing to con­sider the trend to util­ise an an­i­mal move­ment model based on a welfare /​ abo­li­tion di­chotomy. This has tended to re­flect the ap­pear­ance of welfare be­ing some­thing which isn’t re­lated to a cer­tain form of ‘abo­li­tion’ (namely the Abo­li­tion­ist Ap­proach). So in re­la­tion to this model, where Effec­tive Altru­ists do not fit into the Abo­li­tion­ist Ap­proach, and choose not to ad­vo­cate welfare (in an in­dus­try sense), then a good ques­tion seems to be how they fit into EAA and what this means in re­la­tion to the differ­ent value sys­tems that Effec­tive Altru­ists could util­ise.

To provide some back­ground to this ques­tion it is use­ful to look at the ori­gin of the welfare /​ abo­li­tion frame­work, some­thing which also pro­vides some in­sight into the for­ma­tion of EAA, as a num­ber of the group who di­vided the ve­gan move­ment (with the rea­son­able in­ten­tion of mak­ing it more effec­tive) are also as­so­ci­ated with Effec­tive Altru­ism. The cen­tral aim of this di­vi­sion ap­pears to have been to in­crease the scope of the ve­gan move­ment, how­ever, it could also be said this scope already ex­isted within the broader an­i­mal move­ment. For in­stance, the largest groups have tra­di­tion­ally in­cluded HSUS, CIWF, RSPCA, and all are con­cerned pri­mar­ily with welfare rather than end­ing ex­ploita­tion. Th­ese groups have oc­cu­pied an in­te­gral part of the mod­ern an­i­mal move­ment, and are closely al­igned with the form of welfare ad­vo­cacy with which the model was con­cerned. This is to say the adop­tion of re­duc­etar­ian or flex­i­tar­ian ap­proaches are a good fit with tra­di­tional welfarism (both ex­ist within car­nism /​ a frame­work of an­i­mal con­sump­tion).

In terms of the de­ci­sion to di­vide the move­ment, it is worth con­sid­er­ing whether it also ex­ac­er­bated some is­sues in re­la­tion to marginal­i­sa­tion, par­tic­u­larly where ‘welfare’ has re­flected main­stream so­ciety. For in­stance, the non-profit groups pro­moted by ACE are largely struc­tured on a fairly stan­dard­ised or­gani­sa­tional model, which is to say they largely re­flect the sys­tem of white male lead­er­ship (for in­stance we can look at the CEOs of suc­cess­ful profit mak­ing or­gani­sa­tions to note the com­par­i­son). If this as­pect had been con­sid­ered it is difficult to as­cer­tain where it has been ac­counted, be­cause the im­pact of util­is­ing a pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tem ex­plic­itly or im­plic­itly would need to be offset. Other­wise we risk the nega­tive im­pacts of pa­tri­archy (sex­ism and mi­sog­yny in their var­i­ous forms) ap­pear­ing within or­gani­sa­tions, and more gen­er­ally in the an­i­mal move­ment as a cost of this strat­egy. For peo­ple af­fected by this Carol J. Adams has en­gaged a pro­cess where is­sues can be re­ported.

When we fur­ther con­sider the situ­a­tion that a small group of peo­ple in the an­i­mal move­ment cre­ated a di­vide in the ve­gan move­ment (per­haps with refer­ence to the Unilat­er­al­ist’s Curse), it might fol­low that re­sources were equally di­vided along this ide­olog­i­cal schism, but there is no ev­i­dence of this be­ing the case, if it were the case then we could per­haps more eas­ily ne­go­ti­ate differ­ent value sys­tems in terms of greater par­ity of wealth and in­fluence. How­ever, the split seems to have led to fur­ther con­soli­da­tion of re­sources to var­i­ous groups weighted to­ward welfare, and we can iden­tify this to­day with var­i­ous welfare /​ re­duc­etar­ian or­gani­sa­tions such as HSUS, Mercy for An­i­mals, An­i­mal Equal­ity, The Hu­mane League, Pro Veg oc­cu­py­ing po­si­tions as the re­cip­i­ents of a vast pro­por­tion of move­ment re­sources. There is some­thing of a com­par­i­son here in re­la­tion to the dis­cus­sion within Effec­tive Altru­ism re­gard­ing an­i­mal shelters as the benefi­ciary of re­sources over farmed an­i­mal groups. When we look at the farmed an­i­mal move­ment then we can ob­serve how a small num­ber of welfare or­gani­sa­tions have ac­cu­mu­lated wealth and power[ii], whilst more ide­olog­i­cally di­verse groups are con­se­quently ne­glected in terms of both re­sources and con­sid­er­a­tion within EAA, and of­ten in the broader move­ment at large.

The benefits for util­i­tar­ian ori­ented groups gath­er­ing be­hind a sin­gle ide­ol­ogy are fairly nu­mer­ous from an or­gani­sa­tional per­spec­tive, where it is pos­si­ble to sup­port one an­other to equal­ise move­ment dis­course in such a way that groups re­in­force one an­other. So we could look at cor­re­la­tions be­tween as­so­ci­ated groups that dom­i­nate an­i­mal con­fer­ences, such as the In­ter­na­tional An­i­mal Rights Con­fer­ence, An­i­mal Rights Con­fer­ence and Sen­tience Con­fer­ence (in par­tic­u­lar). This also means that groups can global­ise un­der the same sys­tem, and this has hap­pened in re­la­tion to the Cen­tre for Effec­tive Ve­gan Ad­vo­cacy (CEVA), an ide­olog­i­cally re­duc­etar­ian or­gani­sa­tion that has cho­sen not to define the pa­ram­e­ters of the work it un­der­takes. This is an ap­proach backed by Peter Singer, Pro Veg, Fau­n­a­lyt­ics, An­i­mal Equal­ity, Beyond Car­nism, FARM Sanc­tu­ary, Good Food In­sti­tute and HSUS through their board of ad­vi­sors. It’s also worth men­tion­ing at this point that in­clud­ing Peter Singer as a board ad­vi­sor can make it difficult to raise crit­i­cal points in re­la­tion to or­gani­sa­tions, this seems to co­in­cide with peo­ple giv­ing sup­port on the ba­sis of an as­so­ci­a­tion with one of the most fa­mous peo­ple in Effec­tive Altru­ism. So to ar­gue against them in some way, is of­ten to ar­gue against the sup­port he gives to that or­gani­sa­tion, and es­sen­tially his judge­ment in do­ing so.

Even whilst this form of welfare /​ re­duc­etar­ian ad­vo­cacy has be­come the norm within EAA, it still re­mains that in 2016 ACE recom­mended both An­i­mal Ethics and the Non-Hu­man Rights Pro­ject, and nei­ther nec­es­sar­ily fit into the welfare /​ abo­li­tion cat­e­gory, or are they par­tic­u­larly re­lated groups. How­ever, the over­all pic­ture sup­ports a dom­i­nant dis­course that is a com­bi­na­tion of util­i­tar­i­anism and welfare, so given that in­fluence we ought to ask how it is that EAAs are work­ing hard to be in­clu­sive of other or­gani­sa­tions and value sys­tems. So one ques­tion might be the ex­tent ACE are work­ing with, and eval­u­at­ing groups that ex­ist out­side the welfare paradigm in or­der to in­cor­po­rate those is­sues of di­ver­sity. In some ways there has been a lit­tle progress in re­la­tion to sev­eral in­ter­views, the in­cor­po­ra­tion of some of the ideas as part of a sym­po­sium, and an ar­ti­cle this year, but it re­mains un­clear as to how im­por­tant this is to ACE or EAA gen­er­ally, and there is a vast dis­par­ity when com­par­ing the work un­der­taken with welfare or­gani­sa­tions, where is­sues such as these haven’t been in­cor­po­rated in a mean­ingful way.

We also might con­sider the im­pact that EAA backed welfare or­gani­sa­tions have had within the broader an­i­mal move­ment, and the pos­si­bil­ity that peo­ple who choose not to as­so­ci­ate with welfarism would also be­come dis­en­fran­chised with Effec­tive Altru­ism, or in­deed choose not to en­gage at all. Of course, we could won­der whether peo­ple would form their own groups, or at­tempt to ex­ist out­side this paradigm, though we could counter that ‘welfare’ has also be­come in­creas­ingly global­ised, so there is a con­se­quent difficulty in main­tain­ing al­ter­na­tive spaces. I be­lieve the im­pact of this into the fu­ture has been un­der-con­sid­ered in a similar way to how its ex­is­tence has been ne­glected. Given this out­come EAA is un­likely to at­tract lead­ing thinkers from differ­ent value sys­tems, and this could be ac­counted as a cost in the re­duc­tion of anal­y­sis from differ­ent per­spec­tives, and per­haps anal­y­sis over­all (whilst also in­cor­po­rat­ing the risk of re­plac­ing ex­per­tise with some­thing far less use­ful).

Another point to con­sider is where com­pet­i­tive move­ment as­pects may have be­come limited, po­ten­tially lead­ing to a de­cline in en­gage­ment. For in­stance, if EAA had the ap­pear­ance of con­sid­er­ing welfare as the best thing, and any­thing not as­so­ci­ated with it as sec­ondary, less effec­tive or in­effec­tive, then it can also diminish the re­quire­ment for counter con­sid­er­a­tion. Ar­guably we may already have reached the point that welfare has be­come the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive to the ex­tent that EA frame­works are un­der ap­plied, as util­is­ing that per­spec­tive would have be­come self-ev­i­dent. Fur­ther to this, meta-eval­u­a­tion is not con­sid­ered rea­son­ably im­por­tant by ei­ther GiveWell or ACE, and nei­ther by many peo­ple within EAA, so if we be­lieve there is at least some val­idity in re­la­tion to con­cerns raised, there is no refer­ence point to in­de­pen­dent sources that could lead to val­i­da­tion or in­val­i­da­tion.

Con­clud­ing thoughts.

I am un­cer­tain whether many EAAs would gen­er­ally recog­nise they were tread­ing on toes, but it might be one way to ex­plain how it lacks di­ver­sity. The best way to find this out is from peo­ple who don’t want to be in­volved with EAA and are crit­i­cal of it. If in­stead we re­ally be­lieve that many peo­ple in the an­i­mal move­ment aren’t in­ter­ested in ev­i­dence, ra­tio­nal­ity, or effec­tive­ness in re­la­tion to an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy then I think this is un­for­tu­nate, be­cause whilst some will not be, many would be in­ter­ested in im­prov­ing their ad­vo­cacy on be­half of other an­i­mals. It also might be that EAA (or EA) isn’t par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in ad­dress­ing these is­sues, prefer­ring to think about other im­por­tant ideas rather than foun­da­tional con­sid­er­a­tions. How­ever, this over­looks that with­out these ini­tial con­sid­er­a­tions it is very difficult to draw po­ten­tial con­clu­sions from EAA work in re­la­tion to what might be the best, or most effec­tive thing to do, if it isn’t based on a fair un­der­stand­ing of the var­i­ous ideas pre­sent in the an­i­mal move­ment.

Con­sid­er­ing some ways for­ward.

Meta-eval­u­a­tion – with the nec­es­sary scope to con­sider foun­da­tional is­sues.

Spec­u­la­tion – in terms of donat­ing to or­gani­sa­tions that have cer­tain val­ues com­pat­i­ble with EA and that could provide a counter-point to the dom­i­nant po­si­tion of util­i­tar­ian welfare groups within EAA and the broader an­i­mal move­ment. Given many peo­ple would not have the time to look be­yond ACE top char­i­ties there could be a stan­dard­ised form of offset­ting or hedg­ing based on ACE met­rics.

Democrati­sa­tion /​ ac­countabil­ity – EAA might con­sider whether the role of CEO at ACE could be limited in du­ra­tion, and the po­ten­tial value of ro­tat­ing this role. I am also un­cer­tain whether the ad­vi­sory board is suffi­ciently di­verse, and it ap­pears there is rea­son­able scope for im­prove­ment.

Model­ling – com­mit re­sources to mod­el­ling EAA in a way that is more in­clu­sive, whilst fos­ter­ing re­la­tions be­tween peo­ple who aren’t util­i­tar­ian or as­so­ci­ated with the welfare move­ment. In this way it might be the case that EAA doesn’t tread on toes as a mat­ter of course (for ex­am­ple, where non-welfare ‘abo­li­tion­ists’ are referred to as ex­trem­ist, fun­da­men­tal­ist, pu­ri­tan, dog­matic ab­solutists). I also think there could be some ad­just­ment around in­sti­tu­tional in­ter­ven­tion (par­tic­u­larly in re­la­tion to re­flect­ing cor­po­rate or­gani­sa­tion and hi­er­ar­chy[iii]) and in­di­vi­d­ual ‘main­stream’ mes­sag­ing, to fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion of so­cial move­ments which em­pha­sise shared mean­ings and re­spect­ful char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion that would also re­late to EA guid­ing prin­ci­ples.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tion and di­ver­sity – em­pha­sis on in­clu­sion at EA Global and re­lated events so that at­ten­dees can benefit from mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives.

[i] In this ar­ti­cle di­ver­sity refers to the in­clu­sion of peo­ple from tra­di­tion­ally marginal­ised groups who have been dis­crim­i­nated against, and also to the di­ver­sity of value sys­tems that are rea­son­ably com­pat­i­ble with Effec­tive Altru­ism. I do this be­cause both are im­por­tant, and one with­out the other could be to­kenis­tic in the sense women could es­pouse on be­half of a pa­tri­ar­chal move­ment, or we could have white men es­pous­ing on be­half of ide­olog­i­cal di­ver­sity.
[ii] ‘The con­cen­tra­tion of wealth leads to the con­cen­tra­tion of power.’ Noam Chom­sky.
[iii] Note for in­stance com­par­i­sons that could be made with the work of Robert Jack­all in the book ‘Mo­ral Mazes: The World of Cor­po­rate Man­agers’.