01 May, 2017

Speaking at the APA Conference

Recently I attended the American Philosophical Association's Pacific Division Meeting in Seattle, Washington, where I gave a talk on effective animal advocacy. It was my first academic philosophy conference, though I've had periodic philosophy-based meetups with small groups of non-academics over the years.

I loved the experience. Going to each of the talks was much more fun than I think even other attendees found it, mostly because in my everyday life I interact mostly with people who have very little interest in philosophy.

I've given talks about effective animal advocacy several times in the past five years, but this was my first time speaking to a crowd of philosophers. I was nervous at first, but after attending a talk on the first day on a study concerning everyday intuitions about utilitarianism, my nervousness quickly faded. His talk was absolutely terrible, and it really made me feel much better about how my talk would go a few days later.

Most talks were good, despite that early outlier. Yet the best experience was always in the Q&A section. I really got into the spirit of delving into each topic, even when the session was about issues that I've never read up on before. There was a plethora of ideas that I was able to experience one after the other, and it was a breathtaking experience.

I especially enjoyed the Society for the Study of Ethics and Animals sessions, where Nicolas Delon, Ramona Ilea, Jeff Sebo, Toni Adleberg, and myself spoke about effective animal advocacy. The Q&As for these sessions went on for hours, with many of us meeting up for drinks or dinner afterward to continue the discussion. The biggest takeaway for me actually came from the Q&A session after Toni's talk, where issues surrounding intersectionality amongst cause areas were discussed. Toni wrote a follow-up blog post after the conference that touches on this issue, and I really feel that it is one of the most important blog posts that Animal Charity Evaluators has ever published.

I'm still thinking a lot about the intersectionality angle and intend to post something on it on the EA forums once I've fully fleshed out what I think.

Of course, not everything about my trip to Seattle went quite so well. Walking around the city really sucked whenever the person in front of you was a smoker, and that happened at least once each day for 5+ minutes. There were homeless people on every corner; it was quite heart-wrenching to see. Some had beautiful signs created asking for money -- one in particular was exquisitely drawn and had flowers weaved through the edges. I was quite impressed by her cardboard sign. But the people I decided to give money to were instead the ones that I thought others would be less likely to help. One man reeked of alcohol and could not speak coherently at all; I bought him dinner in a vegan restaurant. Another was walking around at 3 a.m. completely sober asking if anyone would give him enough money for a beer; I handed him $8 not knowing how much that would buy him.

I walked a lot late at night there. It was interesting seeing the people that were out that late. As I passed one person, he seemed to ask if he could borrow a cigarette from me. I replied saying that I had no cigarettes to give, to which he replied confusingly. It was several minutes later that I realized he was not trying to take a cigarette from me; rather, he was offering to sell me a cigarette. I'm assuming this code for a drug of some kind, but I guess I have so little experience with this kind of thing that I didn't even understand what they were trying to do in real time.

I also walked quite a bit around town during the afternoon, visiting as many different vegan places as I could. (Shout out to the Veggie Grill!) Many of my fellow streetwalkers during lunchtime were dressed up as various anime characters due to Sakura-Con, which was happening just next-door to the APA conference. I was staying at the Hotel Max, which also housed a number of cosplayers for the anime convention. It was fun going up and down the elevator with these cosplayers, especially when I could recognize who they were dressed up as.

But by far the best part was being able to be around so many people that are even more into philosophy than I am. It is such a great feeling to be the dumbest person in a room with respect to a field as deep as philosophy. Being able to discuss all kinds of different topics from session to session was an amazing experience, and I definitely want to experience this again in the future. I fell in love with philosophy when I was doing my undergrad at Spring Hill College, and going to this APA conference reignited that love by giving me the chance to think, discuss, and argue about a wide variety of topics in such a short time span.

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