16 October, 2013

Speciesism and Human Rights

This entry was originally posted on the AnimalCharityEvaluators.org blog. It is reposted here for reference only.

Each year, Blog Action Day organizes bloggers across the world to write on a single topic to raise awareness of an important issue that impacts us all. Last year, the topic was on The Power of We, for which I wrote a short post on how effective altruism magnifies our power to accomplish good.

This year, the topic is Human Rights. While Effective Animal Activism [now Animal Charity Evaluators] does not focus on human rights issues specifically, I feel that this nevertheless marks an excellent opportunity to talk about why human rights, as a concept, does not do justice to the nonhuman persons that also deserve consideration, and how this principle affects our activism.

Our world is not ideal, and many humans are currently oppressed. But I suspect “human rights” is a poor concept to apply when we talk about the proper consideration of these oppressed peoples’ interests. It may be true that many oppressed peoples have uttered the phrase “we’re human, too,” but they did so just as wrongly as when Susan B. Anthony wrote that two million black men (“the lowest orders of manhood”) were inferior to fifteen million white women. We should not improperly denigrate other worthwhile causes while we work on our own, and when people speak of human rights, they perpetuate the misguided idea that what counts is whether the subject is human. It is no more right for today's activists to claim that oppressed humans deserve to not be oppressed because they are human than it was for Anthony to claim that white women deserved the vote because they were white.

Peter Singer’s excellent essay, All Animals Are Equal, really hammers in this point, but speciesism nevertheless remains a problem for many activists. Even some in the effective altruism movement have speciesist tendencies, which is quite unfortunate.

For animal activists, combating speciesism aims toward an important goal, but it isn’t always effective. Meme-spreading is worthwhile depending on the cost involved. Refraining from framing oppression in terms of human rights doesn’t cost us very much, but arguing with a dedicated speciesist who isn’t already convinced by the easy arguments may be a waste of time.
How We Should Act
As important as anti-speciesism may be, there is another side to this issue: respecting other causes while working on our own.

It was wrong when Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton resorted to racism to help their cause, and it is wrong when today’s human rights activists resort to speciesism to help theirs. But it is also wrong when we, as animal activists, resort to methods that harm other causes.

This is why we should take care when we choose how to go about advocating for animal welfare. There is divided opinion on whether veg*n activists should use health arguments, but hopefully we can agree not to use body-shaming to promote veg*nism. Addressing size discrimination might not be a priority of effective altruism, but that’s no reason for animal activists to make the same mistake Anthony and Stanton did when they resorted to racism to help their cause.

“Human rights” is the wrong concept to apply because all of us are important, even if some of us have it worse than others. We can do our part by respecting all subjects, even while concentrating our efforts where they will be most effective.

14 August, 2013

Humane League Labs

This entry was originally posted on the AnimalCharityEvaluators.org blog. It is reposted here for reference only.

One of our top two rated organizations, The Humane League, has recently introduced Humane League Labs, an initiative aimed at original research on veg*n advocacy effectiveness.

We’re very excited to see The Humane League expand into this space. Although our current recommendation for them is solely due to their direct veg*n advocacy work, we feel that effectiveness research combined with direct advocacy is potentially more effective.

We look forward to collaborating with The Humane League as their new project matures. At the moment, we are already in the design phase of our Humane Education Study, in which we will be working directly with The Humane League and other organizations on determining the effectiveness of humane education presentations.

Open discussion on studies performed by Humane League Labs are encouraged in our forum, such as the recent discussion on their leafleting study. We will be providing updates as these studies complete.

It is very encouraging to see groups taking an active interest in research, and we encourage all readers to keep an eye on Humane League Labs to learn about effective advocacy tactics.

09 July, 2013


Jack at home.
We first met six months ago. He was friendly and cute; inquisitive and demanding. By our third meeting, he had me give him my full attention, playing with toys and petting him continuously. Soon afterward, when I became his housemate, I would feed him twice a day and sometimes share a bed with him. We interacted daily -- him by purring, me by talking. We had become not just housemates, but close friends. Family.

This morning, he woke me up by jumping atop me, and then curling up against my head. I stroked his fur before even opening my eyes. Two hours later, while at work, I received news: Jack had died.
It was a wholly unexpected death. He was at the vet getting his teeth cleaned. He never woke from the anesthesia.

A sudden death like this is especially upsetting. He was only six years old. Far too young. I already feel the lack of him in my life, and I only just got the news an hour ago.

Jack loved attention.
It is harder, of course, for those who knew him longer than I. I was only the latest in an ever growing family who cared for him. Katherine is distraught. Many others have already expressed their deep sympathies. But I'm worried most about Jasper.

Jasper has been by Jack's side for years. They have not been apart for more than 24 hours in years. They have been constantly in each other's presence for 364 days each year since 2008. But Jasper is a cat, and so does not know English. He cannot view the body. I do not know how to explain to him that his adoptive brother has died.

This is a sad day for me. More so for Katherine. But for Jasper, it will be mostly confusing, I think. Which is a sad situation all its own.

Jack in the box.
And to Jack, whose consciousness has now passed, let me say that I am sorry your life has ended. Death is the most terrible of all evils. We must do what we can to combat this foe, and in your name I will take a small step by donating $250 to Vegan Outreach, one of the two most effective charities listed on Effective Animal Activism that help to avert the unnecessary suffering and death of non-human animals like Jack. According to the best research we have, this should help to alleviate between 15 and 25,000 years of nonhuman animal suffering. I trust Peter Hurford's estimate the most, which says that my $250 donation should result in approximately 17,280 total years of suffering averted.

In the meantime, I must comfort Katherine and try to get across what has happened to Jasper. This is not a fun day.

Jack and Jasper wishing me a happy birthday earlier this month.

Goodbye, Jack. You are loved. You are family. <3

17 June, 2013

Singer on The Why and How of Effective Altruism

This entry was originally posted on the AnimalCharityEvaluators.org blog. It is reposted here for reference only.

(NOTE: This post was made under Animal Charity Evaluators’ previous name, Effective Animal Activism.)

The concept of effective altruism is one of the most important aspects of what we do here at Effective Animal Activism [now Animal Charity Evaluators]. It isn’t enough to just do good; it also needs to be effective. That’s why we break down the most cost-effective strategies for reducing animal suffering, identify organizations that actually implement those strategies, and conduct research on ways we can be even more effective.

We also realize that not everyone is familiar with the philosophy of effective altruism, and that’s why Peter Singer’s recent TED talk on The Why and How of Effective Altruism is so powerful. Singer gave an impressive demonstration of why effective altruism is important for anyone interested in maximizing the good they can do with their donations. He even specifically calls out Effective Animal Activism as the best resource for finding the most effective animal welfare organizations.
Whether you’re interested in a basic overview of effective altruism or looking for a great video to introduce your friends and family to why you care about effective giving, Peter Singer’s TED talk is a great place to start.

20 March, 2013

A Five Year Hiatus

I've never gone for five years without posting something on my blog. At least not since 1994, when I was only thirteen years old. And yet, somehow, I'd gone for five years without seeing my sister, Anh.

Life is complicated, I guess. Everyday stuff gets in the way of connecting with family, unless you make the conscious choice to make them a part of your life. So, without ever really meaning to, I just went for five years without seeing my sister, who, coincidentally, was born in 1994, also when I was thirteen.

So there I was, standing downstairs waiting patiently while I was told a surprise lay in wait. Before I knew it, a woman strode into the room with a huge smile on her face. Is that...? Could it be...? I was caught completely by surprise. The shock was utter and extreme. She was eighteen; I last saw her when she was (coincidentally) thirteen. The difference was amazing.

My sister Anh is now an adult. This means many things, but most of all it means that I had to get to know her all over again. Even though she is the same person I knew from before, she is no longer a child, and that makes far more difference than I remember thinking it made back when I was thirteen.

The surprise visit lasted nearly a week, and it was amazing. We traveled through DC, VA, and MD, doing stuff like sightseeing and board games. It was a great deal of fun.

I love my sister. I loved her as she was when she was young, and I love her still today. Though she is now in Alabama again, far from where I live, I'd like to ensure that I no longer go through another such five year hiatus. It might take extra effort to continue such a long distance relationship with my sister, but I suppose that's what the internet is for. In the meantime, I'm off to facebook to see what Anh's up to.

02 January, 2013

A New Year

I've never been much of a fan of new years' celebrations. I never put much stock into it as a holiday, and I've never done anything particularly memorable on such a day. Well, other than a y2k prank I did by turning off the power in a house party at midnight on December 31, 1999.

Yet today I am nevertheless looking forward to the new year. Times have been especially hard on me lately, and after my car was towed this morning, it's just been somewhat demoralizing. Life has good times and bad times; at the moment, I merely need to ride out these lows until I can do a bit better in the coming year.

I realize this doesn't make for a particularly interesting blog entry, but it helps me to say such things in a public space like this, so I'm posting it anyway.