Saturday, May 7, 2011

Stuff I've been into for a while but haven't written about

First- I think minimalist shoes are a revolution waiting to happen. I've been wearing Vibram Fivefingers (probably Chinese forgeries, but they work well), and Softstar RunAmocs. I'm pretty sure the arch of my foot has become much stronger and more pronounced since wearing these (about a year), and my posture has improved. I won't even wear conventional shoes any more. Highly recommended. Search "minimalist shoes" on Google to find more- this is a growing trend, and a very positive one, I think.

Next- I'm very interested in the free school movement. The most famous such school is the Sudbury Valley School. I'm less interested in the democratic aspect than in the freedom accorded to students. I am persuaded by Peter Gray's argument that our current paradigm of education is deeply coercive, and unnecessarily so. This especially true in China. The liberation of children, and with it, of the human imagination, will be a huge step toward a more just society.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Food and tea pairings

Suggested to me by a Taiwanese tea merchant:
Aged, roasted oolong and pork belly braised in soy sauce (红烧肉)

My own discoveries:
Fenghuang Dancong (凤凰单从)and fresh grapefruit, preferably on a cool, rainy spring morning.
Aged raw Puer (普洱)and slowly boiled bamboo shoots and pork ribs, dabbed in soy sauce (I should say tamari- gluten is death!)

Testing

testing

Thinking about the ethics of carnivory makes me think ontological ethics is doomed

I need to think more about this, and I guess I'd need an argument that specifically addresses the weaknesses of ontology. But I think the issue of whether eating meat is ethical or not hinges on 1) deciding animals are worth considering as morally relevant and if we do 2) what actually will bring about the best result for all moral agents- human and animal alike. I don't think 1)can be answered through anything but a decision to do it- to decide that the suffering of animals matters. No argument will decide it.

To answer 2) will need a lot of knowledge of how the actions of billions over time impact many enormously complex systems. I don't think there's going to be one blanket proscription that is going to work for everyone everywhere. But I'm not totally sure about that.

All of this suggest to me that ethics for the real world is going to have to be much more bottom-up. It really always has been- professional philosophers just were mostly not paying attention.

Scattered thoughts again, but I don't want to stop myself from putting stuff out there. I can always go back and correct myself.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bleg: The development of the modern parent-child relationship

Here in China, parents still hold position of unquestioned authority for most people. This is true even for adults. I had one student, a man well into his fourties, still unmarried, who wanted to marry a woman who had adopted a child. His parents forbade it, threatening to disown him if he went through with it. He acquiesced and last I heard had married a woman more to his parents liking.

This seems completely inconceivable to most westerners, yet I believe this kind of practice was not always unique to China, India, or other cultures with which we associate filial piety; I'm pretty sure this was once the standard in the west as well. But we've moved away from it, just as we've moved away from other nasty things of the old days.

Gary Becker told a story of how the transition to industrialization created a more dynamic environment that made the knowledge of older generations much less useful. This seems very plausible to me, but I guess I'm looking for more of a history of ideas on this subject. What were people writing about the authority of parents during, say, the Enlightenment?

I'd be grateful for any knowledge any of you have on this topic.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Another round

Naomi took the time to pen a response to my response, to which I, in turn, responded. Naomi:
That makes sense, thanks for clarifying, and for having an interesting discussion! Unfortunately, with the growing global demand for meat (trying to keep pace with American's consumption habits) I don't think we have the land, nor the farmland/grain for feed, to ethically raise number of animals required to meet current demand. Our meat eating habits will have to change if we want to ethically eat animals, and trying to convince people accustomed to regular meat consumption to eat less is going to be a hard sell. Before factory farming, eating meat was a treat, something for special occasions, not a daily (or mealy) occurrence. We need to return the ritual to our meat eating, and in doing so, show that we value the animals we consume. How to do this in a world of ubiquitous fast food seems overwhelming.
To which I wrote:
Hey Naomi,You have a good point, but I don't think it's totally right. Yes, ifeveryone in world wanted to eat as much meat as the typical American rightnow, and had the means to, that would probably be a disaster. I don't think anyone knows how much meat people would consume if all meat was produced in
the way we think is good- that would be a much different world. But a few points:

I think a lot of people have the egalitarian intuition that, if something
cannot be done by everyone, we shouldn't do it. But I think there are many
cases where following this rule is not desirable. Many new technologies
are prohibitively expensive at first, and consume a lot of resources. But I wouldn't say, therefore, that we shouldn't have them. I'd say to let people
with the money buy them, and, if these technologies hold a lot of promise, people will find a way to produce them more cheaply. This is good for
society overall, in my view (and I think most economists would agree, for
what that's worth).

So in the case of pastured meat, I'd say: buy as much as you think you can afford. This will encourage the development of those farms, and there are probably applications of technology that could drive down the cost, while maintaining the humaneness and environmental impact that we want. At least greater economies of scale will develop, which will bring the price down.
Yes, some people won't be able to afford as much as others, but, again, I
think it's a fallacy to suppose that such an outcome is bad, even by, say,
the Rawlsian maximin principle.

This, in my view, is why markets work well: prices will determine the distribution of resources in an efficient way, and provide incentives for innovation. Yes, factory farming is, to some extent, a result of such a
market, but this is where people can put their money where their values are,
and also, to some extent, the present situation is a result of government policy, for example in subsidizing corn. And there are probably good
argument for policies like banning use of hormones and/or antibiotics in
cattle. Anyway, if I'm right about all this, we can safely encourage people
to eat as much pastured (meaning fully grass-fed, in the case of cows and
the way we think is good- that would be a much different world. But a few points:


I think a lot of people have the egalitarian intuition that, if somethingcannot be done by everyone, we shouldn't do it. But I think there are manycases where following this rule is not desirable. Many new technologiesare prohibitively expensive at first, and consume a lot of resources. But I wouldn't say, therefore, that we shouldn't have them. I'd say to let peoplewith the money buy them, and, if these technologies hold a lot of promise, people will find a way to produce them more cheaply. This is good forsociety overall, in my view (and I think most economists would agree, forwhat that's worth).
 So in the case of pastured meat, I'd say: buy as much as you think you can afford. This will encourage the development of those farms, and there are probably applications of technology that could drive down the cost, while maintaining the humaneness and environmental impact that we want. At least greater economies of scale will develop, which will bring the price down.Yes, some people won't be able to afford as much as others, but, again, Ithink it's a fallacy to suppose that such an outcome is bad, even by, say,the Rawlsian maximin principle.
This, in my view, is why markets work well: prices will determine the distribution of resources in an efficient way, and provide incentives for innovation. Yes, factory farming is, to some extent, a result of such amarket, but this is where people can put their money where their values are,and also, to some extent, the present situation is a result of government policy, for example in subsidizing corn. And there are probably goodargument for policies like banning use of hormones and/or antibiotics incattle. Anyway, if I'm right about all this, we can safely encourage peopleto eat as much pastured (meaning fully grass-fed, in the case of cows andsheep) meat as they please. 
This is something I need to think more about. I should say many of the ideas I've expressed here are influenced by, or directly taken from Melissa McEwen and Amar Bhidé .

A comment on my last post, and my response

My old classmate Naomi posted this comment on my last post on Facebook:


I am not sure what the vegan population is like in China, but in America, I get the sense that a lot of the vegan movement is a response to the industrial farming techniques of modern agriculture (even calling it "farming" and "agriculture" seems insincere and inaccurate, since what these words abstractly mean to most people is so far from the reality as to be completely unrelated and unrecognizable). I don't think there was a vegan movement before factory farms (the term was coined in 1944). Of course, vegetarian diets have been around for centuries, usually as part of a religious practice that advocates non-violence towards animals.

I don't think you can separate modern vegetarian and vegan culture from factory farming, and the key moral issues surrounding factory farming have to do with quality of life, humane practices and humane slaughter (not to mention serious environmental and infectious disease issues). Yes, vegetarians and vegans are often adamant in their denouncement of any use of animals for food, but I believe the core of their outrage is fueled by inhumane practices. I do not think that animal rights activists would deface, destroy, or kidnap from farms that practiced humane raising and slaughtering of animals.

This is why I think that the moral argument for vegan or vegetarian diet is stronger in America than in a nation that does not primarily rely on factory farming (sadly, there aren't many, if any, nations out there that don't). I don't think you can accurately separate what most ethical vegan idealists say their reasoning is from the moral issues surrounding factory farming.


I don't think you can separate modern vegetarian and vegan culture from factory farming, and the key moral issues surrounding factory farming have to do with quality of life, humane practices and humane slaughter (not to mention serious environmental and infectious disease issues). Yes, vegetarians and vegans are often adamant in their denouncement of any use of animals for food, but I believe the core of their outrage is fueled by inhumane practices. I do not think that animal rights activists would deface, destroy, or kidnap from farms that practiced humane raising and slaughtering of animals. 
 This is why I think that the moral argument for vegan or vegetarian diet is stronger in America than in a nation that does not primarily rely on factory farming (sadly, there aren't many, if any, nations out there that don't). I don't think you can accurately separate what most ethical vegan idealists say their reasoning is from the moral issues surrounding factory farming.
 I posted this in response:
 I agree that this is certainly what motivates many vegans, but it is also true, as you said, that many vegans reject ANY use of animals by humans- certainly for food. Also, there are many ethical arguments that support this conviction, and, in my view, they often rely on the error that I describe in my post. The post was really about this kind of error in ethical reasoning, not about veganism per se.

But I also don’t think I agree with you when you say. “ I don't think you can accurately separate what most ethical vegan idealists say their reasoning is from the moral issues surrounding factory farming.” For one, I think there are people motivated to be vegans by the kind of arguments I criticize. Now, if the only choices where to be an undiscerning carnivore or a vegan, this would be OK, since getting people to adopt veganism would be good. But there is a real alternative to those concerned about factory farming: to buy animals products from farms that treat animals more humanely. And there are many people who do this out of an ethical conviction that factory farming is cruel.

This alternative has become much more mainstream in recent years, and I think it’s a force for good. Given that this choice exists, I think it is important to do exactly what you say we can’t: separate ethical arguments for veganism from arguments for more conscientious carnivory. One reason for this is because many people will simply never opt for veganism, but are much more likely to opt for buying pastured, humanely raised meat. Another reason is because, to the best of my judgment, a vegan diet is not actually more humane or eco-friendly compared to this alternative; there are many cases where pasturing animals in the right way is much better for an ecosystem than agriculture (obviously most vegans would dispute this, but I think they’re wrong). Another reason is that, again to the best of my judgment, a whole foods diet that includes pastured meat is more health-promoting than veganism, at least for most people.

So, for all these reasons, I would like for ethical vegans to consider that conscientious omnivorism is a better alternative to what they’re doing. And there are actually many vegans who have been persuaded by this argument. I also think it’s important to make the typical, carnivorous American more aware of the evils (yes, I’d call it that) of factory farming, and get them to support more traditional, ecological, healthful, and humane methods of meat production. But, like I said, my concern in the post was more about a certain kind of ethical reasoning that I think we’d be better off abandoning. But your point is an important one, and I probably should have elaborated on my views to make the argument clearer, so thanks for your response! :-)