Hail Temple, Buck

Two recent movies, Temple Grandin and Buck, depict the most inspirational real heroes I can recall. Temple Grandin and Buck Brannaman both pioneered ways to improve animal lives, by getting deep enough in animal heads to see how to avoid terrorizing them. Temple deals with cattle, Buck with horses. Terrorizing animals less also helps humans who deal with them.

Some lessons:

1) Neither is a purist. Both accept that animals often suffer, and are slaves of humans. Both work within the current system to make animals lives better, even if the result falls short of their ideals. Compromising with bad is often essential to doing good.

2) Though are similarly insightful, Grandin has a far bigger impact, as her innovations are embodied in physical capital, e.g., the layout of large plants, chosen by large firms. She has revolutionized an industry. In contrast, Brannaman’s innovations are embodied in human capital chosen by small organizations. While Brannaman is personally impressive, it is far from clear how much practice people like him have really changed. Capital intensity does indeed promote innovation.

3) Many doubt that we should feel bad about animal suffering, because they doubt animal minds react like human minds to force, pain, etc. The impressive abilities of Grandin and Brannaman to predict animal behavior by imagining themselves in animal situations supports their claim that cattle and horse fear and suffering is recognizably similar to human fear and suffering. I tentatively accept that such animals are afraid and suffer in similar ways to humans, with similar types of emotions and feelings, even if they cannot think or talk as abstractly about their suffering.

4) The fact that animals are slaves does not imply that animal lives have no value, or that nothing can effect that value. Slavery need not be worse than death, and usually isn’t. A future where the vast majority of our descendants are slaves could still be a glorious future, even if not as glorious as a future where they are not slaves.

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  • Albert Ling

    +1 for Temple Grandin! I saw the movie recently and it was such a great story and well made movie with quality acting that it made me search more stuff on her.

    Here are some youtube documentaries and footage:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46ycu3JFRrA

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wt1IY3ffoU

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fn_9f5x0f1Q

  • Matthew Fuller

    I am not being dramatic when I say, in response to this:

    “A future where the vast majority of our descendants are slaves could still be a glorious future, even if not as glorious as a future where they are not slaves.”

    Is a statement, while consistent with economics, is not consistent with most preferences. Why anyone would willingly create such lives is beyond me.

    There is no science of qualia yet but there may be and so when people of the future speak of evil, they may be thinking of kinds of existences we cannot fathom because we cannot yet think those thoughts. The future is very dangerous not because of death but because what dies today when we die is nothing compared to what we, the early seeds of future selves, will become. Speaking of slavery is as irrelevant as the fact that I eat meat. We truly are insignificant but it has a cure. Our present ignorance of what we are only magnifies the benefit of proving or disproving current conjecture about the self.

    • Konkvistador

      “Is a statement, while consistent with economics, is not consistent with most preferences. Why anyone would willingly create such lives is beyond me.”

      Ask the slaves. Ask the surfs. Better yet, ask your distant ancestors. Where they really that different from you? Personally I’ve found “poor people smile too” to be one of the most important insights/ideas that I have picked up from RH.

      • Konkvistador

        A comment I made in a LW thread (on a topic about slaves) might be relevant.

  • Tim Tyler

    I rather doubt whether there will be very many unwilling slaves in the future – that would be inefficient.

    • Konkvistador

      Indeed. Intelligence and natural selection will work their magic.

  • Trevor Blake

    “Cattle and horse fear and suffering is recognizably similar to human fear and suffering.” Therefore… yeah, thought so. Therefore nothing. It seems likely that critters with as many cells as I have fingers can move away from pain or lack of food or predators in a way recognizably similar to humans. Sympathy with other living things based on shared ability to suffer expands the pool far larger than is meaningful. Even if the pool shrinks to just primates, or just humans, or just attractive humans, there’s the myth of natural rights to deal with. What is the suffering of others to me? Stirner asked that long ago and a good answer remains available to be found. 

    My sympathies, based on preference, are based on shared ability to enjoy life. Animals playing seem more worthy of not being lunch than animals that don’t play. People with curious minds and a sense of humor and some attentiveness to their health & appearance catch my eye more than those who lack these traits. When I myself am dull I don’t like it, and I am more motivated to be awesome than to avoid trouble. There is no suffering after death but life is way cooler. Mine is, anyway. 

  • Mikem

    @Trevor Black,

    Wouldn’t the result of a selection based on your criteria just be animals with a mindless drive to play, regardless of their circumstances? I think such a species would appear to be truly idiotic, regardless of whether they were derived from animals or humans. Sometime play isn’t appropriate, and a being without the capacity for other kinds of behavior — and the corresponding mental processes — would seem limited to me, just as much as one incapable of play would be.

    With regard to design of habitats for captive animals, the traits that will be expressed in a truly intelligent creature will be elicited by and appropriate for the environment they are put in. Intelligent creatures should respond well to an interesting and healthy environment, don’t you think? So if one is concerned with an animal’s capacity for play, it seems worthwhile to consider the design of their habitats and how they can be improved to expand this capacity.

  • Mikem

    Trevor, I apologize for typing your name wrong in my last comment.

  • Matt

    I usually have a hard time thinking about animal rights and animal cruelty. I eat veal and don’t feel sad when I hear about someone’s dog that died. On the other hand, I would be sad if my dog died, and can’t watch videos of torturing animals. This post helped clarify my own thoughts. Thak you.

  • Scott H.

    Knowing I’m going to be food for my master would greatly diminish the “gloriousness” of my future as a slave.

    • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

      As things stand right now, when you die, you will be food for the bacteria in your gut. Bacteria that outnumber the cells in your body by about 10 fold and which you have sustained and carried around your whole lifetime.

      If they could speak, they would say “thank you”.

  • Matt Knowles

    A future where the vast majority of our descendants are slaves could still be a glorious future

    Yep, there’s something about you I don’t like…

    For many, freedom in harsh conditions is infinitely preferable to slavery in a comfortable environment.

    • Wonks Anonymous

      That wasn’t the comparison discussed above. He said a slave future would be “not as glorious as a future where they are not slaves”, but that if they were slaves there could be better vs worse conditions. And according to mathematicians there are multiple infinities, so your statement can be entirely compatible with this blog post!