It so happens that our third post is also the third post about the possibility of an asteroid collision, but not since the first international asteroid day was held yesterday, but since 2 months ago Peter Singer published a new book in which he also addresses the annihilation possibility, and speaks out about actively mobilizing caring people to regard this issue. Only that he calls for the exact opposite.
Undoubtedly, his status is in drastic decline within the movement (which is literally named after his own pioneering historic book) due to some very miserable statements he made over the years. However it was still surprising and disappointing that in his last book he not only made another significant step of disconnection, at least from the more radical activists, it seems that he lost contact with his own perceptions and with reality.
The book is kind of a manifest of the ideological movement he is part of in recent years called effective altruism, which basically asks people who wish to donate time or money to charities, to stop and think where their limited resources would do the most good possible, and accordingly it is titled The Most Good You Can Do.
In the following post we’ll refer to the rest of the book but currently we want to relate to its last extremely depressing part.
The chapter name is Preventing Human Extinction, and in it Singer lists some of what he refers to as extinction threats. He focuses on the option of an asteroid collision, mainly since as opposed to the rest of the risks he specified, humans can roughly estimate this risk possibility and can potentially prevent it. These two are crucial elements in effective altruism calculations, as the basic idea is how to reasonably choose the purpose which would produce the most good.
All along the chapter he deals with the question: Should we also be putting resources into developing the ability to deflect any objects that appear to be heading for us?
In our former post we pre-answered it, suggesting that one of the most effective altruism things we can think of is putting resources to stop the deflection programs.
Of course no one expects him to state publicly the basic fact that the best thing that can ever happen to animals is human extinction if he was asked a direct question. But he chose to bring the issue up and to place the assurance of his species survival as a highly significant cause, while counting out all the rest of the animal suffering from the effective altruism calculation.
And you don’t have to hold similar views to ours, mainly regarding the impossibility of a deep revolution in human society (and therefore our name), regarding the moral obligation towards all the suffering of all the species and not just the suffering of the species who humans industrially exploit, and of course regarding the demand to actively bring it and not passively wait for it, to think that human extinction is the best thing for nonhumans. As we wrote in our first post, many activists would press the button without spending a second of thought. Our criticism was that unfortunately they don’t spending a second of thought thinking how to create one.
Apparently, Peter Singer thinks that we must create the opposite button, one that would prevent stopping the suffering, the same kind which made him write the most important book in the history of the movement.
Already then the best thing for the animals’ sake, the solution who truly equally considers their interests, was human extinction. And it sure is now. 40 years after the publication of the animals’ manifest, still every day is worse than the day before.
We briefly covered the changes in consumption figures since Animal Liberation in the former post, please read it.
About a month ago, during an animal rights conference in Berlin, singer told his audience that in 1975 he was sure that a vegan revolution was about to happen once the ideas of his book would spread out. 40 years later and not only that a vegan revolution is not on the horizon, things are much worse. Every year consecutively since then, more animals were born into more miserable lives.
Even if singer’s naive forecast from 1975 would have come real, we would still think human extinction is the best thing that can ever happen to nonhumans (except of total extinction of every sentient of course) because of the many other ways humans torment the lives of every other species including each other, but at least then his stance would make some moral sense we would at least understand his stance. Given the current state of affairs, preventing human extinction is The Most Bad You Can Do.
Another disappointment came from one of singer’s main incentives for preventing human extinction – a reduction in the number of intelligent beings:
“The universe is so vast and so sparsely inhabited with intelligent life that the extinction of intelligent life originating on Earth would not leave a niche likely to be filled anytime soon, and so it is likely to reduce very substantially the number of intelligent beings who would ever live.”
First of all intelligence is not a moral criteria as he himself argued in Animal Liberation. When humans’ supposedly superior intelligence was used to counter his brilliantly presented arguments in Animal Liberation, he quoted Jeremy Bentham classic phrase (“the question is not can they reason nor can they speak? The question is can they suffer?”) and among other ways, proved to his opposers that they also don’t think intelligence is a moral criteria by entitling mentally defective humans with rights and defending them, exactly because intelligence is not a criteria for moral consideration, but rather being sentient. However that does not seem to be the case in this case as singer asks to defend intelligent life, not sentient life.
Singer doesn’t explain why a reduction in the number of intelligent beings is a bad thing and it is far from being self-explanatory. If you consider the history of intelligent life on this planet, humans are the most intelligent beings (at least according to the conventional definitions and the criterions that singer means here) and they are also by far the most violent and oppressive beings.
Not by their physical abilities have they conquered and still cruelly role this planet, but using their intelligence superiority.
Intelligence played a key role in humans’ conquering of this planet and the subjection of its inhabitants to highly technological and sophisticated oppressive systems. Factory farming, the most oppressive system ever in history which caused the greatest amount of suffering, is a product of humans’ intelligence.
Intelligence is just like any other survival tool shaped by evolution, an ability that serves the selfish interest of those who have it, giving them an advantage over the rest. It has no intrinsic value , only an instrumental one.
It is absolutely morally insignificant if it doesn’t reduce suffering. So far, overall, it raised it by an inapprehensible degree. Therefore, if it has a moral factor it is a negative one.
Singer tries to avoid human chauvinism by saying “Earth-originating intelligent life” and not humans, still it is unclear what is the incentive to preserve the exact feature who enabled humans’ oppression over the rest of the species in the first place.
Humans don’t use their intelligence to reduce suffering, not even within their species, but to promote their own selfish interests. So even without considering the exploitative and cruel relations humans are maintaining with nonhumans, intelligence isn’t a peaceful, moral tool which is recommended to save. And when we do consider humans relations with other species, it is more than recommended to eradicate.
And one last thing regarding intelligence.
Singer adopts the broader and less common definition of the term Existential Risk from Nick Bostrom, the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, which means according to him, a situation in which “an adverse outcome would either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential.”
Bostrom refers to “dangers” for humanity such as an asteroid collision, and we have no expectations of him. But from Singer, of all people, we expected not to ignore the fact animals are already, and for centuries, suffering from Existential Risk which is mostly known as humanity. Humans are living existential risks for other animals.
You must be a speciesist or ignorant not to see that the adverse outcome had already happened and is constantly being reinforced.
What more than domestication, artificial selection, genetic intervention, social dissolution, total control of every aspect of the lives of billions of creatures every year is permanently and drastically curtail the potential of Earth-originating intelligent life?
Further in the chapter comes an even worse part.
Singer offers a calculation so his readers would know if donating to asteroids deflection programs is indeed the most good they can do with their money:
“Let’s say that bringing the project to fruition over the next decade would cost $100 billion. If we assume that it will have a useful lifetime of one hundred years, then there is only a 1 in 1,000 chance we will use it. If we don’t, we will have wasted $100 billion.
For this expenditure to make sense, we have to value preventing human extinction at more than 1,000 × $100 billion, or more than $100 trillion. How should we judge that figure? U.S. government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation make estimates of the value of a human life to determine how much it is worth spending to prevent a single death. Their current estimates range from $6 million to $9.1 million. If we suppose the collision will occur at the midpoint of the century, 2050, when the world’s population is estimated to reach ten billion, a figure of $100 trillion values each human life at only $10,000. On the basis of the U.S. government agencies’ estimates, $100 trillion does not cover even the value of the lives of the more than three hundred million U.S. citizens who would be killed. This suggests that if an extinction-size asteroid is likely to collide with us once in every one hundred thousand years, developing the capacity to deflect an asteroid would be extremely good value.”
While pretending to present a rational moral analyzation of the situation, since that’s the point behind effective altruism, he “forgot” something… more accurately about 150 billion things, for every given year.
Counting the value of human lives only by what is the economic cost of trying to save them and not even mentioning the costs others pay all along it, in our eyes totally dwarfs his past problematic statements such as the infamous Paris exception, that the most significant development for farm animals since Animal Liberation is McDonald’s agreement to “grant” battery hens a few more inches of cage space, the statement that some animal experiments are morally justified in the debate with Tipu Aziz at Oxford University, or constantly referring to vegetarianism as radical and mentioning it along with veganism as if they are synonyms, and the worst, coining the term a conscientious omnivore.
Every human has a tremendous price tag expressed in tremendous suffering of thousands of nonhumans. And that’s only if you count animals consumed as food. If you count animals consumed for food meaning every victim during every production process of every food item the number is significantly higher, and even that is only partial. Every consumption of every product has a very high price manifested in animal fear and pain. It is impossible to estimate the number of victims of every aspect of human life.
Depends on their consumption habits, where they live and for how long, the value of human life doesn’t range from $6 million to $9.1 million, but from couple of thousands of miserable creatures to dozens of thousands of miserable creatures. That is the calculation we expect a non-speciesist utilitarian to make. The lives of humans shouldn’t be saved, not because of the relatively low financial costs, but because of the extremely high moral costs.
Singer doesn’t even condition the defense of humans on – if humanity is willing to accept a solely plant based diet, radical changes in its consumption habits, and a drastic reduction of its population and its global spread. If he had really taken animals’ interests as seriously as he takes humans’ interests as he declares (even earlier in this book), he would have at least made this rather basic conditions which he doesn’t even mention.
It is hard to imagine a greater interest of animals than that an asteroid would wipe out this planet of suffering. A planet absolutely conquered by the species that he himself played such a crucial role in revealing its immeasurably cruel tyranny, the same species he is now asking to save.
And the worst part of the chapter is about future generations.
While considering whether to invest in preventing human extinction, singer argues that not only existing humans at the time the collision occurs should be considered, but also the loss of future generations of human beings.
And he proposes a question asked by the philosopher Derek Parfit to assist him:
Derek Parfit raises the question we are now considering by inviting us to compare three possible outcomes for the planet:
2.A nuclear war that kills 99 percent of the world’s existing population
3.A nuclear war that kills 100 percent
Parfit comments as follows:
(2) would be worse than (1), and (3) would be worse than (2). Which is the greater of these two differences? Most people believe that the greater difference is between (1) and (2). I believe that the difference between (2) and (3) is very much greater. … The Earth will remain habitable for at least another billion years. Civilization began only a few thousand years ago. If we do not destroy mankind, these few thousand years may be only a tiny fraction of the whole of civilized human history. The difference between (2) and (3) may thus be the difference between this tiny fraction and all of the rest of this history. If we compare this possible history to a day, what has occurred so far is only a fraction of a second.
Obviously we and Derek Parfit don’t leave on the same planet, not really.
What he calls peace is actually an endless and the most violent, unilateral and uneven war on history. In the real world, where animals live too, and not only humans, the first option is, without the slightest room for comparison, the worst one.
The second one is wonderful since it would reduce suffering in such a dramatic way for such a long time, better than anything that can be ever achieved with conventional activism.
And of course no need to elaborate about the third one. No more factory farming. Ever.
Parfit’s nightmare is our dream and yours too we are sure.
Singer again turns to the earlier mentioned Nick Bostrom, quoting him:
“Assume that, holding the quality and duration of a life constant, its value does not depend on when it occurs or on whether it already exists or is yet to be brought into existence as a result of future events and choices.”
And argues himself:
“This assumption implies that the value lost when an existing person dies is no greater than the value lost when a child is not conceived, if the quality and duration of the lives are the same. “
And the same Bostrom takes up Parfit’s statement that the Earth will remain habitable for a billion years and suggests that we could conservatively assume that it can sustain a population of a billion people for that period. That comes to a billion billion (that is, 1018 or a quintillion) human life-years.
The three of them “forget” that what is true for humans is true for nonhumans. Meaning we must also consider all the future animals that will be brought into existence, many solely to pleasure humans.
Seemingly the argument stays the same. Just as we think that the planet must be wiped out now because of all the suffering, we would think so in the future knowing that it won’t stop.
But when considering future beings, it is not the same in intensity, it is multiplied by the number of future suffering beings. The inverse argument of their argument is intensified nominatively to their estimation of number of future humans which is a billion billion. In other words, if there would be a billion billion future humans to consider when calculating the adequate efforts to prevent human extinction, multiply this billion billion with thousands of suffering animals per human that must also be considered when calculating the adequate efforts to promote humans’ extinction.
Their rhetorical attempt to strengthen the argument for preventing human extinction due to future humans, is the strongest case to annihilate humans. In the future, more animals would be brought into more horrible lives.
In the name of future humans, they are calling to save the planet, in the name of future animals we are calling to destroy it.
And finally singer’s analogy of history to a day from his response to Parfit’s question. Ironically not so long ago singer’s analogies were of the most encouraging ones, and this one is surly one of the most depressing thoughts we ever had.
The thought that all of the suffering that ever happened on this planet is just a tiny fraction of a second out of a whole day… How can you not do everything you can so that this second would never be completed?