Re: GENE/SOC: Playing Devil's Advocate

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Sun Apr 30 2000 - 21:29:13 MDT

On Sun, 30 Apr 2000, Michael S. Lorrey wrote:

> wrote:
> >
> > Every day, billions of animals die in suffering and pain
> > as their desperate struggles to escape a predator fail.
> >
> > Nature is screwed up. It's a bloodthirsty, vicious world. We should be
> > able to do better.
> >
> Predation is not a 'problem'. Its a solution. It weeds out the weak and
> ill and aged. It is THE instrument of evolution. Predation IS nature at
> work. Predation is most certainly NOT bloodthirsty. Predators do not
> kill more than they need to, and viciousness is a human sentiment.

I would agree with Michael on the semantic issues but I have to agree
with Hal on the "moral" issues (realizing of course that "morals"
are also a human invention).

A "reasonable" moral principle in my book is "Thou shalt not cause
pain or suffering, if the pain or suffering is 'reasonably' avoidable."
The structure of nature "currently" does not allow humans to eliminate
pain and suffering, but we *could* by growing meaty biofoods and feeding
them to carnivores around the world. Now, Michael will scream that
this upsets evolution, to which I can say "simulate it". There is
no "real" pain or suffering in simulations.

> Animals are not concerned with being mean, or causing pain and
> suffering, they are interested in FOOD. The only reason you don't feel
> the same way about herbivores is that plants can't make noise to object
> when they are eaten or flee from their consumers, even though studies
> have shown that plants object just as much to being damaged or
> destroyed.

Plants may have a "chemical response" to being eaten by insects or
other sources, but that is distinct from pain or suffering in
higher animals that require pain sensing neurons and brain
systems that receive those signals and create an awareness in
the psyche. The information content of the "pain" response
of a plant is much less than the information content of the "pain"
response of an animal.

> Eating plants versus eating animals is ethically no different, both
> are harvesting the body of another living thing for one's own sustenance.

That depends whether you place a "value" on the information content
of the material being consumed. Animals have a higher sentience
quotient (information content) than plants, so consuming an animal
destroys more information than consuming a plant.
> Its rather hilarious for me to see people who are both vegetarians and
> who claim they are environmentalists but express disgust for the laws of
> nature, they don't see the inconsistency.

Michael, I am primarily a vegetarian, not however on the basis of
disliking the laws of nature, since I like you view them (currently)
as a necessary means to an end.

I'm an down-to-the-bones rationalist and simply despise the inefficiency
of consuming energy sources derived from carnivores. After all they
require 10x the solar energy per kcal that plants do. There is nothing
in the meat of a carnivore that could not be produced much more efficiently
in a solar powered bioreactor (given sufficient programming). Given
(in my book), the ethical concerns over the qualitative difference between
the pain and suffering involved in consuming carnivore derived food,
herbivore derived food and plants themselves, how can you (rationally)
justify consuming the least efficient sources of energy?

> As I've said before here, when people started talking about having skin
> of solar cells to eliminate the need to eat, that I expect when such
> people are created that they'll pretty quickly form a PETOP, the People
> for the Ethical Treatment Of Plants. They'll call vegetarians inhumane
> butchers and disgusting bloodthirsty immoral barbarians. But thats only
> because they are now thinking like plants....

Not if they are really "rational". For with plants the information in
the genomes really *is* sufficient. You don't need any learned behaviors
or cultural informaiton. So rationalists, wishing to maximise the
information content available per unit of energy, will argue for the
elimination of plants and the production of sentient beings that can
directly use the available energy sources.


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