Social Security Act
-Passed the House 372-33
-Passed the Senate 77-6
-Signed into law by FDR
-Dem: Yes — 284 of 319 (89%)
-Rep: Yes — 81 of 102 (79%)
-Dem: Yes — 60 of 69 (87%)
-Rep: Yes — 16 of 25 (64%)
* * *
Fair Labor Standards Act
-Established minimum wage, 40-hour workweek, and restrictions on child labor
-Passed the House 291-89
-Passed the Senate by voice vote
-Signed into law by FDR
-Dem: Yes — 252 of 293 (86%)
-Rep: Yes — 30 of 78 (38%)
Passed the Senate by voice vote.
* * *
Prohibition of Discrimination in the Defense Industry
-Executive Order 8802
-Banned discriminatory employment practices by Federal agencies and all unions and companies engaged in war-related work
-Established the Fair Employment Practices Commission to enforce the new policy
-Signed by FDR
* * *
Desegregation of Armed Forces
-Executive Order 9981
-Established the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, committing the government to integrating the segregated military
-Signed by Truman
* * *
Clean Air Act
-Passed the House 276 to 112
-Passed the Senate by voice vote
-Signed into law by LBJ
-Dem: Yes — 204 of 256 (80%)
-Rep: Yes — 69 of 178 (39%)
Passed the Senate by voice vote.
* * *
Civil Rights Act
-Passed the House 290-130
-Passed the Senate 73-27
-Signed into law by LBJ
-Dem: Yes — 152 of 248 (61%)
-Rep: Yes — 138 of 172 (80%)
-Dem: Yes — 46 of 67 (69%)
-Rep: Yes — 27 of 33 (82%)
Note: This vote was an important moment in the history of the Republican and Democratic parties and was the major catalyst leading to the transition of Southern Democrats to the Republican Party.*
* * *
Medicare (Social Security Act Amendments)
-Passed the House 307-116
-Passed the Senate 70-24
-Signed into law by LBJ
-Dem: Yes — 237 of 293 (81%)
-Rep: Yes — 70 of 140 (50%)*
-Dem: Yes — 57 of 67 (85%)
-Rep: Yes — 13 of 32 (41%)*
* * *
Clean Water Act
-Passed the House 366-11
-Passed the Senate 74-0
-Vetoed by Nixon
-Nixon’s veto was overridden by Congress
-Dem: Yes — 151 of 161 (94%) (92 abstained)
-Rep: Yes — 96 of 109 (88%) (68 abstained)*
-Dem: Yes — 34 of 37 (92%) (17 abstained)
-Rep: Yes — 17 of 25 (68%) (19 abstained)*
Most economists lean Democratic:
From a 2003 survey of 264 economists
From a 2010 survey of 299 economists
The earth’s climate is extremely important, both economically and biologically. Most Democrats agree with the vast majority of climate scientists that humans have caused all or nearly all of earth’s rapid warming over the past 5-6 decades.* As of 2017, 78% of Democrats agreed that human activity is causing the warming while only 24% of Republicans agree* with the extremely strong scientific consensus.
But, isn’t there still a lot of uncertainty about what’s causing global warming? No. Climate scientists are roughly as certain that humans are causing the rapid warming of the earth’s atmosphere as they are in the basic science of plate tectonics.*
But, is scientific consensus really important? Maybe. One way to look at it is to consider artificial intelligence. Imagine if we looked at research papers of artificial intelligence researchers and polled them and found that 5% of them are warning that there is a high probability of robots taking over the world in the near future. That might be slightly alarming, right? However, if we look at that same information and talk to the same people and find that 97% of those papers and scientists are warning of a robot takeover, governments all over the world would be acting immediately to prevent this.
In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu argued that a separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers of government is necessary to prevent abuses of power. He wrote that, if a single body holds all of these powers, that body can abuse it, but, if the powers are separated, each can check the other. He wrote that the legislative branch alone should have the ability to tax in order to prevent the executive from imposing its will arbitrarily. The president can veto acts of legislature, and the legislature is divided into two chambers that each check one another. The judiciary, Montesquieu thought, should be independent of the other two branches and should only concern itself with laws regarding threats to public order and security.*
An example of this is the Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (aka, the “Clean Water Act”). This bill set a national goal of eliminating all pollutant discharges into US waters by 1985 while also making waters safe for fish, shellfish, wildlife and people by July 1, 1983. The bill passed the House by roll call vote 366-11 and the Senate by roll call vote 74-0 on October 4th 1972.* The Senate needs a simple majority of 51 votes to pass a bill while the House needs a simple majority of 218 votes to pass a bill.* So, the Clean Water Act easily passed both chambers of Congress.
President Nixon then had an opportunity to veto this bill. As the Constitution notes, every bill that passes the House and Senate must be signed by the president in order to become law. If the president returns it with objections to the originating chamber, it must be voted on again and receive two-thirds vote from both chambers before becoming law.*
In this case, President Nixon chose to exercise that Constitutional privilege and returned the bill back to Congress on October 17th. Nixon chose to do this shortly before midnight on that day which would have been 10 days from when he received it. If he had waited until after midnight, the bill would have automatically become law (another stipulation in the Constitution). On being returned to the House, not all members voted again. A two-thirds vote of the entire 435 body would be 290. Their vote of 247-23 means that only 62% of House members voted. However, of those who did vote, 91% voted to override the president’s veto. In the Senate, the breakdown was 52-12, again a large majority of a subset of the Senate. Thus, the bill became law on October 18, 1972.*
I’ve largely stopped jogging outdoors in recent years. One reason is that I’ve been concerned for a long time about the air quality. It kind of defeats the purpose of exercising if you’re breathing in car exhaust and coal fumes.*
Arizona’s most recent air quality grade from the American Lung Association is, overwhelmingly, an F, mainly thanks to our cars and reliance on coal for electricity.*
From the American Lung Association’s 2018 Assessment*
We know from a 2013 MIT study that air pollution causes roughly 200,000 premature deaths in the US annually.* This isn’t surprising as we also know that air pollution increases risk of respiratory diseases, lung cancer, and heart disease.
What shocked me years ago as a psychology student was coming across various studies indicating different ways in which air pollution causes cognitive problems. It reduces brain mass, negatively impacts memory, and it’s associated with increased Alzheimer’s incidence.**
Reading this stuff, I would think back to times throughout my teens when I would ride my bicycle a hundred miles a week from Silly Mountain out to Crismon and back, praying that I wouldn’t get stuck at a red light next to that poorly-serviced 1970s station wagon. Or summers when I worked for my mom’s husband in road construction shoveling dirt from curbs while walking around in a black cloud of exhaust from the giant Caterpillar machines. I look back and wonder what permanent cognitive damage I unknowingly inflicted on myself.
These days, people are often surprised that I drive around in a Micro Machine. Seems to me that that’s the least I can do. Just like I think voting for people who oppose fossil fuels and support cleaner energy sources is the least I can do.
I think it’s this easy: Kids should be able to ride their bicycles and play outside without an increased risk of physical or cognitive impairment. It’s inexcusable and unconscionable that they don’t have such a guarantee in Arizona in 2018.
More fun this evening chatting with Chandler voters.
The first person I talk to comes out guns blazing. I don’t even knock on his door. He just pops out with a “Hey there!”
“Hey, I’m Clif. I’m with the Democrats. I’m collecting signatures for some local candidates.”
“I used to be a Democrat,” he says, “back when they were conservative. Now they’re for the homosexuals and abortion, and they’re against God.”
I say, “Well, you know, I’m not a big fan of abortion, but I think the Democrats have it right. Number one, strangely enough, making more restrictive abortion laws doesn’t actually reduce the rate of abortion.* It’s like Barry Goldwater said: ‘It’s always been around, and it always will be.’* Things we know that help reduce the rate of abortion, though, like increased access to birth control and sex ed are things Democrats are generally for.”*
“Well, that’s true,” he says, “and that’s why I’m not strictly for one side or the other. But, I don’t know why everything has to be gay, gay, gay now. You can’t turn on the TV these days without homosexuals in everything. You know, I believe in the Bible, and the Bible makes it totally clear that homosexuality is wrong. Take Sodom and Gomorrah: God sends angels down to Lot, and the wicked men of the city try to have sex with them. Lot offers them his daughters — now that part’s terrible — but the men want the angels.”
I say, “Yeah, but I would point out that there are different ways to interpret these things. There are people out there who believe — I’m sure — just as strongly in God and the Bible who don’t think homosexuality is bad. In that verse you mentioned, for instance, they might say that God’s problem with the wicked men was not that they were homosexuals but that they wanted to rape strangers. Maybe God is just against people who want to rape other people.”*
He says, “Yeah, there are a lot of people out there who want to distort the truth. They try to call people like me an extremist just because I’ve been married to my wife for 52 years.”
I say, “Well, I wouldn’t call you that. I would just say that I have gay friends myself who I care for a lot. They’re people who I think suffered because they grew up around people who told them that they were bad. They couldn’t change this ‘bad’ thing about themselves, so it made them deeply unhappy. I think that’s terrible.”
He then tells me a bizarre story about a handsome nephew who he says was turned gay by his mom and sisters who would dress him up like a girl, in dresses and makeup. I let that one go. I liked that the guy called his nephew “a real head-turner,” though.
This was like a 20-minute conversation that I won’t recount all of here. It turns out that the guy doesn’t like Jeff Flake because Flake’s nephew apparently … neglected some dogs? The guy doesn’t like McCain because McCain is responsible for the shoddy condition of the VA apparently.
He talks about how you can’t have the Bible in schools anymore, but you can have the “yin yang.” I kinda regret not finding out what the “yin yang” is ….
Trump, though. There’s somethin’ about that Trump guy. He says, “Trump’s a guy who can’t be bought ’cause he’s already a billionaire.”
As I almost always do when I hear Trump’s name, I begin to vomit uncontrollably. No, I’m kidding. I just vomit in my mind. The mind vomit helps to cloud the mental image of Trump.
This ex-Democrat then says, “And the Mueller investigation — the Democrats are just dragging it out. It’s just a waste of taxpayer money.”
I start to say, “Well, the Republicans spent a lot of taxpayer money to investigate Hillary….”
He jumps in: “Well, it’s been good talking to you.”
Then, he kinda cocks an eye and says, “Good night and … God bless.”
“Thanks for talking to me!” I say. “Have a good one!”
One convert at a time.
“In conclusion, this article is the first to our knowledge to report that a higher proportion of household gun ownership at the state level is associated with statistically significant increased rates of nonstranger total and firearm homicides. By contrast, we found no robust, statistically significant association between household gun ownership and stranger homicides. Our findings thus challenge the argument that gun ownership deters violent crime, in particular, homicides.”
American Journal of Public Health, 104(10), 1912–9*
“Across the nine regions for the early 1990s (n = 9), household handgun ownership rates are positively correlated with the suicide rate (r = 0.59) and are not correlated with either the lifetime prevalence of major depression or suicidal thoughts. After controlling for major depression and suicidal thoughts (and any of the four additional control variables), handgun ownership rates remain significantly associated with the overall suicide rate.”
Injury Prevention, 8, 313–316*
“Individual-level studies (n=4) are reviewed that investigate the risks and benefits of owning a personal or household firearm. The research suggests that households with firearms are at higher risk for homicide, and there is no net beneficial effect of firearm ownership.
“Two groups of ecological studies are reviewed, those comparing multiple countries and those focused solely on the United States. Results from the cross-sectional international studies (n=7) typically show that in high-income countries with more firearms, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.
“Time series (n=10) and cross-sectional studies (n=9) of U.S. cities, states, and regions and for the United States as a whole, generally find a statistically significant gun prevalence–homicide association. None of the studies prove causation, but the available evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that increased gun prevalence increases the homicide rate.”
Aggression and Violent Behavior, 9(4), 417–440*
•There is no evidence for the ‘more guns less crime’ position.
•Guns facilitate suicides or homicides and increase the risk of violent death.
•It is the lethality of the weapon that is responsible.
•The idea that guns serve a protective function is an illusion.
Aggression and Violent Behavior, 18(6), 709–721*
“Between 1988 and 1997, the suicide, homicide, and unintentional firearm death rates among women were disproportionately higher in states where guns were more prevalent. The elevated rates of violent death in states with more guns was not entirely explained by a state’s poverty or urbanization and was driven primarily by lethal firearm violence, not by lethal nonfirearm violence.”
Journal of Urban Health, 79(1), 26–38*
“Among developed nations, the United States has the highest rate of civilian gun ownership, and the highest homicide rate. We examine whether the United States is merely an exception, or if a relationship between gun availability and homicide exists across all developed nations.
“In simple regressions (no control variables) across 26 high-income nations, there is a strong and statistically significant association between gun availability and homicide rates.
“Conclusion: Across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides.”
Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care 49(6), 985–988*
“Positive correlations were obtained between the rates of household gun ownership and the national rates of homicide and suicide as well as the proportions of homicides and suicides committed with a gun.”
Canadian Medical Association Journal, 148(10), 1721–1725*
“Over the 22 year study period household firearm ownership rates declined across all four regions. In multivariate analyses, each 10% decline in household firearm ownership was associated with significant declines in rates of firearm suicide, 4.2% (95% CI 2.3% to 6.1%) and overall suicide, 2.5% (95% CI 1.4% to 3.6%). Changes in non-firearm suicide were not associated with changes in firearm ownership.
“The magnitude of the association between changes in household firearm ownership and changes in rates of firearm and overall suicide was greatest for children: for each 10% decline in the percentage of households with firearms and children, the rate of firearm suicide among children 0–19 years of age dropped 8.3% (95% CI 6.1% to 10.5%) and the rate of overall suicide dropped 4.1% (2.3% to 5.9%).”
Injury Prevention, 12, 178–182.*
“The US homicide rates were 6.9 times higher than rates in the other high-income countries, driven by firearm homicide rates that were 19.5 times higher. For 15-year olds to 24-year olds, firearm homicide rates in the United States were 42.7 times higher than in the other countries. For US males, firearm homicide rates were 22.0 times higher, and for US females, firearm homicide rates were 11.4 times higher. The US firearm suicide rates were 5.8 times higher than in the other countries, though overall suicide rates were 30% lower. The US unintentional firearm deaths were 5.2 times higher than in the other countries.
“Among these 23 countries, 80% of all firearm deaths occurred in the United States, 86% of women killed by firearms were US women, and 87% of all children aged 0 to 14 killed by firearms were US children.”
Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care, 70(1), 238–243*
“Household firearm ownership levels are strongly associated with higher rates of suicide, consistent with the hypothesis that the availability of lethal means increases the rate of completed suicide.”
Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care, 62(4), 1029–1035*
“The number of guns per capita per country was a strong and independent predictor of firearm-related death in a given country, whereas the predictive power of the mental illness burden was of borderline significance in a multivariable model. Regardless of exact cause and effect, however, the current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis that guns make a nation safer.”
The American Journal of Medicine, 126(10), 873–876*
“A statistically significant association exists between gun availability and the rates of unintentional firearm deaths, homicides, and suicides. The elevated rates of suicide and homicide among children living in states with more guns is not entirely explained by a state’s poverty, education, or urbanization and is driven by lethal firearm violence, not by lethal nonfirearm violence.”
Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care, 52(2), 267–275*
“Those persons with guns in the home were at greater risk than those without guns in the home of dying from a homicide in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 1.9, 95% confidence interval: 1.1, 3.4). They were also at greater risk of dying from a firearm homicide, but risk varied by age and whether the person was living with others at the time of death.
“The risk of dying from a suicide in the home was greater for males in homes with guns than for males without guns in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 10.4, 95% confidence interval: 5.8, 18.9). Persons with guns in the home were also more likely to have died from suicide committed with a firearm than from one committed by using a different method (adjusted odds ratio = 31.1, 95% confidence interval: 19.5, 49.6).
“Results show that regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home.”
American Journal of Epidemiology, 160(10), 929–936*
“Among high-income countries, where firearms are more available, more women are homicide victims. Women in the United States are at higher risk of homicide victimization than are women in any other high-income country.”
Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association, 57(2), 100–104.*
“This paper uses a unique data set to demonstrate that increases in gun ownership lead to substantial increases in the overall homicide rate.”
Journal of Political Economy, 109(5), 1086–1114*
“As compared with the controls, the victims more often lived alone or rented their residence. Also, case households more commonly contained an illicit-drug user, a person with prior arrests, or someone who had been hit or hurt in a fight in the home. After controlling for these characteristics, we found that keeping a gun in the home was strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide.”
The New England Journal of Medicine, 329, 1084–1091*
“Although the current study cannot determine causation, firearm mortality in its various forms is most commonly related to the prevalence of firearms and the percent of the population that is African American.”
Journal of Community Health, 29(4), 271–283*
“We observed a robust correlation between higher levels of gun ownership and higher firearm homicide rates. Although we could not determine causation, we found that states with higher rates of gun ownership had disproportionately large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides.”
American Journal of Public Health, 103(11), 2098–2105*
Do people in red-leaning or blue-leaning states have a bigger carbon footprint?
Just looking at data from the Energy Information Administration from 2014, it looks like red states do produce more CO2 per capita:
I wanted to better quantify this, though, so I ran the data through a Pearson correlation calculator.* Here’s the dataset in case you’d like to check my work:
And, here are the results:
As you can see, mathematically, as the proportion of a state that was Republican or leaned Republican in 2014 went up, so did the state’s per capita CO2 emissions. The value of R is 0.549, a moderate positive correlation. R2: 0.3014.
For the sake of thoroughness, I performed the same calculation for the Democrats. Here’s that dataset:
Here’s the resultant graph:
The value of R is -0.5593, a moderate negative correlation. R2: 0.3128.
Harris: Well, all of this segues rather nicely into our own moral horror of continuing to eat meat despite the fact that we are convinced ethically by the arguments against it. I mean, we have failures of impulse control, we have a long-running commitment to dietary practices that we find indefensible. In fact, we may be indistinguishable from this doctor in terms of the clarity with which we have ambled into evil.
Bloom: I think future generations will view us as analogous to slave owners.
I think future generations will view us as analogous to slave owners.
Harris: Well, that’s — you sounded like you said that somewhat tongue-in-cheek–
Harris: …but I think I know you might actually fear that prospect. Were you joking or you were…?
Bloom: No, no. It’s an easy exercise to imagine what a hundred years from now, what we do now will be seen as monstrous. The treatment of non-human animals is obvious. I think our indifference to the suffering of the very poor is another example. I could think of some other more controversial cases.
[I]f you look at the numbers, we may be causing more suffering to nonhumans than ever before because we’re breeding for their meat.
Bloom: And, I do think, you know, it’s such — so many people eat meat everyone, just about everybody I know that it’s easy to make light of. But we’re complicit in the horrific suffering of many, many creatures. This may be — you know, our mutual friend Steve Pinker wrote a book on human moral progress and I think 99% of the book is correct, but I think that, if you look at the numbers, we may be causing more suffering to nonhumans than ever before because we’re breeding for their meat.
Harris: Yeah, let’s take the ethics of meat-eating more or less from the top. So you and I both agree that we are participating in a system that is on some basic level ethically indefensible. Factory farming is just a horror show. We both know that if we had to work in an abattoir, we would never stomach it. We would never do it. I know that I’m not going to go out and kill a cow to get my next hamburger, and I certainly wouldn’t immiserate one for every moment of its life on the way to the killing floor to get my next hamburger. And yet the fact that I participate in a system that does this knowingly more or less condemns me as a total hypocrite. That’s kind of the basic situation. Are there any other moving parts there you want to add?
Factory farming is just a horror show. And yet the fact that I participate in a system that does this knowingly more or less condemns me as a total hypocrite.
Bloom: I think ethically this isn’t a very hard case I’ve heard defenses of meat-eating, and they’re some of the worst arguments I’ve ever heard in my life: “Animals don’t feel pain.” “Humans have a right to do whatever they want.” “It’s natural.” You know, the arguments which wouldn’t be taken seriously in any other domain, arguments that are just born out of guilt and bad faith. So I think it’s clear enough that what we do to animals is wrong. You know, to some extent, we could ask ourselves, talking about the doctor and other cases, “What’s it like to knowingly do evil?” And I think this is what it feels like. We know what it’s like to knowingly do evil. All I’ll sort of nibble at around the edges is it’s not really hypocrisy. I think a nicer term for it is this word “akrasia” — it’s weakness of will. We know the right thing to do. We’re not shy about saying what the right thing to do is. We just can’t do it.
We know what it’s like to knowingly do evil.
Harris: Well, the question is — so let’s just expand the picture a little bit. One question is what would be the best way to change this. You know I’m someone who’s supportive of natural, grass fed, more ethically sustainable ways of raising animals insofar as it’s easy to do that. I don’t make crazy sacrifices so as to only get meat or chicken or eggs or milk that has come by the most ethical sources. Which is to say, I’ll go to a restaurant and I will eat like a non-vegetarian and not interrogate them about where they get all their meat.
But it seems pretty clear that the system could be improved significantly and make it far less horrible. These animals could have much better lives than they do and that would be a good thing and that demand for that kind of meat would probably be more effective than some percentage of people defecting as vegans or vegetarians. Obviously this is a totally tendentious and self-serving meat-eater sort of argument except it might also have the virtue of being true. Well, before we totally close the door to it, just take a peek across that threshold: Is there any merit in saying that one could more effectively help farm animals by being a conscientious consumer of meat?
I guess this is almost like the trophy hunters saying that they are in fact conservationists by going to Africa and killing some number of lions and paying for the privilege, they are in fact the best conservationists. There may be some merit to that argument too. Kindly either support or disabuse me of all that.
Bloom: I’m actually on the same page on this. Peter Singer, who’s of course very powerfully supported vegetarian movements, very much protested against the suffering of animals, has at different times has been sort of thoughtful on the issue of humanely-raised animals. His point, and my point, is that the badness of the act isn’t necessarily killing animals to eat them. It’s not clear whether that’s a bad thing, particularly if the animals didn’t exist prior to your intervention.
Harris: The thing is that, before we blow past that: I agree, though, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do it. In fact, I know I wouldn’t like myself if I became so callous as to be happy to do it. You know, if I just got into the hang of it. You know, “Killing cows horrified me initially, but once I killed a hundred of them, you know, I just didn’t really care because damn I love a good hamburger.” I don’t want to be that person.
“Killing cows horrified me initially, but once I killed a hundred of them, you know, I just didn’t really care because damn I love a good hamburger.” I don’t want to be that person.
Bloom: That’s interesting. That’s sort of a Kantian view. So Kant, at one point — this is probably a misinterpretation — but said, “Look — you know, animals don’t matter in their own right, but you don’t want to make them suffer because it will corrode your feelings towards humans. It’ll make you into a worse person.” And it’s interesting — I also would find it hard to kill animals just because I would have a natural repugnance towards doing it.
Harris: But I certainly don’t take the Kantian view that they don’t matter in their own right; I think they they certainly matter in their own right to the degree that they can suffer or be deprived of happiness or due to the degree that their conscious. So, for instance if we could raise anencephalic animals, so brainless cows who have by definition no experience but they’re just basically — synthetic biology is the ultimate case of this, or synthetic meat is the ultimate case of this —
Bloom: Growing meat in a test tube.
Harris Yeah growing meat in a test tube. There’s obviously no ethical problem with that.
[G]rowing meat in a test tube. There’s obviously no ethical problem with that.
Bloom: So I’ll plant my flag in a couple of things. First thing, you know there may be problems with killing humanely-raised animals, but that’s a hard case, and I think it would be such a step up to move up to humanely-raised animals from what we have now. It would cost more and there’s issues — there’s sort of a classist issue about encouraging people to do this. But I think that’d be such a moral step because I think what goes wrong in what we’re doing now isn’t killing the animals, it’s causing the suffering, causing the pain.
Harris: But don’t you think — so I don’t want to let us off the hook too quickly there because each one of these stations you blow past makes it that much more likely that you’re going to get your Thanksgiving dinner with a full spread and a turkey harvested one way or the other. My first ethical concern is, I mean, forget about the details of how horrible it is for the animals and what changes we might make there. If you know that you would find it ethically repugnant to kill an animal and to kill animals day after day so as to secure your protein, you wouldn’t want to live this way. You’d much rather pet a cow than kill it with a stun gun or by any other method. If you know you’re that kind of person and you wouldn’t want to be any other kind of person, doesn’t it seem just transparently unethical to be willing to delegate that process to others and just keep it you know out of sight out of mind and go on eating meat however raised?
You’d much rather pet a cow than kill it with a stun gun or by any other method.
Bloom: If you find it morally repellent to kill animals, yes. If you find it morally repellent to kill animals if you were the killer, then you shouldn’t be demanding other people do it for your sake. On the other hand if you just find it repellent or unpleasant, that’s kind of different. I might be pro-choice but not have the stomach to do abortions. I may not have the temperament to be a prison guard, but that doesn’t mean that to be consistent I have to be against prisons.
Bloom: On the other hand, if I said to be a prison guard would be morally repellent, then I should be against prisons. If it’s morally repellent that implies there’s a better alternative and I should be…. So, it depends. If you believe that killing the cows — those humane cows — is wrong for you to do it yourself, then that really does raise an issue with your belief about eating meat in general. On the other hand, if you just didn’t have the stomach for it, that’s kind of a different case. I don’t think that should stop you from eating meat.
If you find it morally repellent to kill animals if you were the killer, then you shouldn’t be demanding other people do it for your sake.
Harris. Right. Well, I think I come down on the side of it being wrong — what complicates it for me is there’s the pleasure to which I’m marginally attached. Yeah, I like eating meat certainly some of the time. I’m a little squeamish about it at other times. But I also just have this feeling that we don’t understand human health and nutrition enough. The fact that there’s any controversy at all about what human beings should eat so as to be healthy, I find to be an incredible scientific embarrassment, the fact that you can have debates about carbs and protein and fat consummated in good faith by experts and there’s still some uncertainty here is an amazing state of our current situation in science.
The fact that there’s any controversy at all about what human beings should eat so as to be healthy, I find to be an incredible scientific embarrassment.
But my concern is that there is enough uncertainty and my brief experience of 6 years as a vegetarian convinced me that it’s hard enough to be sure you’re getting everything you need — or at least it was then — that I’m leery of doing it for health reasons and, when I think about raising kids as vegetarians, and especially as vegans, then it begins to look like a poorly-controlled science experiment. I see people who are raising vegan kids and now I’m going to hear from them. You know, they’re going to be outraged that I have any doubt whatsoever that you could raise healthy vegan kids but–
Bloom: You’re going to get an email from my sister.
Harris: But I have significant doubts on that score, and there’s certainly no biological or evolutionary guarantee that this is an easy or straightforward thing to do. And when you know you have to supplement B12 and who knows what else, you really should be supplementing so as to get things right. And so part of this is just laziness, not wanting to have what I eat and what I feed my kids become such a life-consuming project as a vegetarian or vegan where I have to be absolutely sure that I have all the dials tweaked appropriately. It’s just easier to eat meat sometimes and fish sometimes and be reasonably sure that I’m getting everything that a human needs to get.
[T]hat laziness, given the magnitude of the suffering we’re imposing on non-human animals, that laziness is a horrible thing about me.
But that laziness given the magnitude of the suffering we’re imposing on non-human animals, that laziness is a horrible thing about me. That laziness is not justifiable if you actually look closely at the details.
Bloom: There’s also a middle ground. I mean we don’t want to be in a position of saying, “Well, I couldn’t live if I gave 80% of my money to charity; therefore, I’ll give nothing.”* And to some extent — I share your concerns about living a vegan or even a vegetarian lifestyle, but I think then plainly if you restrict yourself to ethically-raised animals, plainly that’s much, much better and there there’s no health concerns. People could live just fine off of chickens who didn’t suffer as opposed to those who did. The question then is to how to sort of mandate such shifts, either a radical shift to making everybody vegetarian or vegan or a more moderate shift of you know making people eat animals that didn’t suffer as much. And I think there is an interesting difference between first-order and second-order prohibitions. And there’s actually speaks to some broader political issues.
So it occurs to me talking about this with you that I would be very reluctant to try to commit to only eating ethically-raised animals. It would be very hard and inconvenient. I’d have to embarrass myself at restaurants — I’d have to be that guy, and I don’t want to be that guy questioning the waiter and having other people roll their eyes. And you know I accept that that’s an awful excuse for participating in the suffering of animals, but there it is.
I’d have to be that guy, and I don’t want to be that guy questioning the waiter and having other people roll their eyes. And you know I accept that that’s an awful excuse for participating in the suffering of animals, but there it is.
However, I would be in favor of legislation….
Bloom: …that restricted — said you have to have all your animals ethically raised.
Harris: Absolutely. Yeah.
Bloom: By analogy, I don’t think I have it in me to donate a huge amount of my money to help the suffering poor, but I’d be in favor of taxes that took my money and redistributed in such a way. And so the first order versus the second order contrast is very different. I think we’re in favor of policies because it takes it out of our hands because we know we’re not unique, we know we’re not the one sort of sucker opting out while everyone else gets to eat the meat or keep the money. And some of this speaks to the limit of individual free choice and why sometimes we’d want to choose to be constrained in certain ways.
Harris: Yeah, I think that’s a great point it’s a point that has arisen on other topics for me just the utility and just the fundamental difference of a systemic change as opposed to having to wake up every morning and rely on your own heroism and commitment to some sort of internal discipline. I think the biggest changes for us morally just across the board as a species and as a civilization will come at the second-order level. It can’t be that we just get every person to fully optimize his or her ethical code so as to be impeccable. We need legal and institutional changes which enshrine our better judgment there. So I think that’s true but we can obviously we can’t keep killing and immiserating animals with a clear conscience until some benevolent despot passes that law for us. We can’t abdicate personal responsibility here.
[W]e can’t keep killing and immiserating animals with a clear conscience until some benevolent despot passes that law for us.
Bloom: No, we can’t. I think every person — this isn’t what I want to say it’s not meant as an excuse — but every person living, every person listening to this now probably from the affluent West has to live a significant burden of guilt for all the things that they’re doing and all the things they’re not doing and all the things — and if you don’t live with that burden of guilt, you’re either a saint or you’re a moral ignoramus. You’re either a saint because you’re doing all the right things or you’re somebody who is morally blind to the harms you’re causing and the good things that you should be doing and you’re not.
Harris: This is a dangerous conversation to have had because we’re going to hear from some deeply unsatisfied people, unsatisfied about our ignorance of just how easy it is to live a happy healthy life as a parent feeding nothing but vegetables and a few well targeted pharmaceuticals to your kids and just the flabbiness of our commitment to our own ethical insights.
[I]f you don’t live with that burden of guilt, you’re either a saint or you’re a moral ignoramus.
Bloom: Then again, maybe people didn’t start off thinking we’re really good people anyway.
Harris: Maybe I’m burdening us with too much self-flattery here. So just to make something truly constructive of this, I want to keep the conversation open, I’m inviting the vegetarians and vegans among our listeners to send me the best resources they have. So understand that I am convinced of the moral case. And the question is how to idiot-proof vegetarianism and/or veganism. This is another wrinkle we’re walking into here because vegans I think will say some vegans will say that merely being a vegetarian, which is to say being willing to eat eggs and dairy products, that is not an ethical place to stop on this slippery slope, that, in fact, hen-laying chickens and milk producing cows suffer as much as any animal. Is that something that you understand to be true or do you think that vegetarianism is a fully defensible ethical position?
Bloom: It’s a case-by-case thing. I think that the vegans are right about eggs and milk and all the problems revolving around that. I think some forms some certain types of shellfish, there isn’t a moral issue because they don’t have — they’re probably not sentient. All I would say is that right now we’ve confessed to living terrible lives. If people could persuade us with somewhat less terrible lives that would be a sensible progress.
I think that the vegans are right about eggs and milk and all the problems revolving around that.
Harris: I’m not satisfied with the mirror confession because I think it’s — just step back from being ourselves for a moment and just look over our shoulders at what we’ve just confessed: We are two people who have admitted to participating in a system that is not only — and sometimes objectively — bad but perhaps so bad as to be the kind of thing that will be on the short list of embarrassments to our descendants, so that you look back at the excesses of the Middle Ages and you think how on earth could those people have behaved that way — they’re burning witches alive — witches didn’t even exist — but you know they’re burning their neighbors alive for imaginary crimes. What the hell was going on? And we’re both conceding that the way we raise and treat and consume animals year after year is probably that order or analogous to slavery. And yet we’re to some degree blithely participating in it and not really signaling much of a willingness to change.
So, let me perhaps throw you to the wolves here. I’m going to signal my own willingness to change and so get ready, you know, now your reputation is destroyed. (laughing) You know, “I don’t know why I had this guy one my podcast.” Moral monsters like you just don’t belong on my podcast, Paul. But I’m appealing to my listeners vegan / vegetarian to send me some streamlined information on how to idiot-proof this process and the clearest argument that you can do this without obvious deficits in your health, and I’m signaling my willingness to explore this, whether this is going to be my posting my pre- and post-blood work to my blog, I don’t know, but I’m going to investigate further.
But, the parenting responsibility does change it for me a little. Experimenting on myself on the order of a decade seems different than you know having a 19-month old who I have to figure out whether or not she should eat chicken. In any case, to make something constructive out of this rather than just reap the whirlwind, I want the conversation to continue. Send me good information and I will post it to my blog.
Bloom: Well fine, Sam. You seem to be out-moral-signaling me here. I’d also like to add that I would be highly receptive to any instructions that people have about living a more moral life with regard to eating of animals. Please send them to Sam. And Sam will keep me appraised on what he hears. And I will tell you for total certainty I am not going to post my fucking blood work on any blog.
Harris: Why not? What? You’re sheepish about your cholesterol?
Bloom: My blood work is my blood work. In the age of social media and Internet, some things are sacred.
Harris: Right. No, I think it would be an interesting experiment to run. I’m sure you know many people have done this but to see just how things change over the course of, I don’t know, three months or so. I’m just, you know — I certainly did become anemic last time around and no doubt 20 people tell me how I was an idiot and how I could have easily supplemented my way out of that problem. In any case, I’m willing to experiment with this and — do you know if Singer or anyone has spent time on how to engineer the second-order changes that would really be helpful if not creating a vegan earth, creating one that won’t be an embarrassment to our descendants?
Bloom: It’s not a literature I’ve studied. I know singers weighed in on the benefits of a laboratory-raised meat and other alternatives like that. You know he’s — there are some vegans — I think there’s an irrational school of vegans — who would object even to laboratory-raised meat. But I can’t capture that the moral arguments for that and I won’t try.
Bloom: Tofurkey. I think that the best progress will be made by using the tools we’ve had with some success for other cultural and social changes, like you know people quitting smoking are putting their money into retirement savings and so on. I think some of the techniques that the Nudge people are on about Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler and others might have some success in this domain. And I think in the end, legislation would do a world of good. Sometimes we need a Leviathan to help us be better people. But having said that — I know it’s a cop-out for me to say, you know, “Stop me before I kill again.”
I think in the end, legislation would do a world of good. Sometimes we need a Leviathan to help us be better people.
Bloom: So, you know, I won’t necessarily wait myself for legislation before becoming a morally better person.
Harris: “Pass a law before I kill again.” That’s even worse.
Bloom: That’s right.
There are a few good studies that may help us figure out what to do about abortion. In a recent study, researchers at the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization found that making abortion legal neither increases nor decreases abortion rates.
In another study, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine found that making birth control widely available did reduce the abortion rate by 62–78%.
The aforementioned Guttmacher/WHO study echoed those findings.
In a 2006 study, WHO researchers estimated the number of maternal deaths worldwide from women obtaining illegal abortions to be 68,000. Millions more women, they say, have complications, many for the rest of their lives.
To me, these studies are sufficient to direct us in forming reproduction-related policy. However, I recognize that a lot of people are uncomfortable with abortion based on religious beliefs. The contention of people basing their opinion of abortion on the Bible seems generally to be that a fertilized egg has the same status as a person. If a zygote is a person, then the commandment to not kill must surely apply.
The closest thing in the Bible that I can find related to abortion is a passage from Exodus 21, verses 22-25. Here is the direct quote from Jehovah from the New Jerusalem Bible used on Catholic.org:
If people, when brawling, hurt a pregnant woman and she suffers a miscarriage but no further harm is done, the person responsible will pay compensation as fixed by the woman’s master, paying as much as the judges decide. If further harm is done, however, you will award life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stroke for stroke.
No indication here is given of the stage of development. The fetus could have been 8 weeks along or 8 months along. To reiterate: if the fetus is killed, Jehovah demands a fine; if the mother is killed, Jehovah demands “life for life” or “wound for wound.” Jehovah clearly does not view a fetus at any stage of development as equal to a person.
The Exodus passage will probably seem familiar if you’ve ever looked at the Code of Hammurabi (the oldest known code of laws after the Code of Ur-Nammu): “If a man strike a free-born woman so that she lose her unborn child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss. If the woman die, his daughter shall be put to death.”
As we edge ever closer to the start of a reality TV star’s presidency, we may pause for a moment to remember an almost-remarkable non-celebrity who also died this year. What did he do? Well, in his own words, “I grabbed smallpox right by its pustule-covered pussy and had non-consensual sex with it until it died.”
Weird question: how many people do you think know his name compared to the names of, say, Taylor Swift or RiRi?
Enough with such stupid, irrelevant questions!
Before the basically worthless, unrememberable Henderson came along, smallpox had killed upwards of half a billion-with-a-“b” people in just the 20th century.
Fortunately, as he was not an entertainer, we need not bother honoring him in any way.