Most normal, civilized people living today would agree that reducing animal suffering is a worthy goal. But how do we to go about it?
We can at least all agree, at a minimum, that plants don’t have sentience, so veganism is one philosophically and logically consistent option. The problem is that while there are some almost entirely carnivorous cultures on the planet (Inuit), as well as some almost completely vegetarian ones (Indian Brahmins), there are no vegan ones. This suggests that humans are not evolved for veganism. Interestingly, some genomic studies suggest that Indians may be unusually well adapted to vegetarianism; this wouldn’t surprise me, as they seem to be the one people who have figured out how to make vegetarian food really delicious. This might not apply to other peoples. For instance, a study of German vegetarians found them to have significantly higher than average rates of mental disorders.
Another “absolute” solution to animal suffering may lie in technology, such as artificially grown meat, or fully chemical production of nutritionally optimized foods. There is already work on lab grown meat, though a burger produced using these hi-tech methods costs thousands of dollars. There are even more exotic suggestions, such as David Pearce’s famous argument for genetically editing carnivorous animals to make them vegetarian and usher in a glorious era of peace between the lion and the antelope.
However, realistically speaking, vegetarianism – let alone veganism – is not going to be widely adapted anytime soon. Even in the WEIRDest countries, no more than 10-15% of the population say they are vegetarians, while vegans are in the low single digits. Meanwhile, any technological solutions are likely still decades away.
Approaches to Animal Rights
Consequently, most of us will still have to grapple with the consequences of destroying living, conscious entities for our own sustenance. There are a number of ways we can approach this.
1. There is the Biblical idea that animals were created to serve man, a purely functional approach that large nullifies any consideration of animal welfare. The philosopher Descartes argued that animals have no souls; under Cartesianism, they can be tortured and vivisected alive for any reason or none, as they are nothing more than automatons, or p-zombies. The most charitable thing one can say of these ethical systems is that they reflect the values of a world that was much harsher and crueler, and is now thankfully long gone.
2. There is the “speciesist” argument that treats each human as a more or less equivalent ethical unit, and places them cardinally above any animal. This is a reasonable evolutionary adaptation, and can be easily justified based on the cognitive considerations that we will consider later in this article. There are of course some edge cases, such as the extremely intellectually disabled, or babies, who may be equivalent to chimps to intelligence. However, it makes sense to ignore these – the former because of their rarity, the former because we are so evolutionarily hardwired to protect infants that we often even privilege them them over human adults. The question of exactly how much we value humans will become central should we ever create a conscious machine superintelligence, or “uplift” animals, or meet up with friendly aliens, but this isn’t an issue yet and probably won’t be for quite some time to come.
3.There is what Peter Singer called the “expanding circle of empathy” – a concept popularized by Steven Pinker – in which history consists of humanity extending empathy and associated legal privileges to more and more marginalized groups: From the family to the band, the tribe, the nation, lower classes, women, children, sexual minorities. While this concept may have been inadvertently lampooned by contemporary SJWs with their microaggressions and ever expanding categories of victimhood, there is no doubt that over the long-term, expanding empathy represented an unalloyed good in the grand scheme of things (at least assuming that one prefers not to be killed, raped, robbed, etc. by all and sundry). Indeed, as Peter Turchin argues, large civilizations would hardly have been possible without it.
Since at least the Enlightenment, this has come to encompass animals. People in medieval France revelled in cat burning, where you roasted a bunch of screaming cats over a bonfire. But the practice died out in the 18th century. Today, cat burning would be viewed as barbarous in all developed countries and most developing ones. Today, civilized countries have various laws against gratuitous animal cruelty. In most countries, people who roast cats for fun will go to jail. An Austrian acquaintance even told me her country has laws against keeping lone rabbits. Since they are social creatures, you are required by law to provide your rabbit with a companion.
However, let’s not imagine that the existence of laws like these means everything is just hunky dory. Approximately 1.2 million of America’s ~90 million dogs are put down every single year because animal shelters can’t find a home for them; this translates into a 20% chance of the average US dog meeting such a fate during its lifetime. How many tens of millions of canines have frozen to death on the streets, or been put to sleep on a vet’s operating table, when a child’s demand to get a dog for his/her birthday turned to indifference several weeks later? Perhaps it might be worth considering requiring aspiring pet owners to get a certificate of competence and making them legally responsible for their pet’s welfare (within reason).
Factory farming of animals remains a gruesome enterprise. I suspect that it is the main moral failing of the present day that people of the 22nd century will look back at in horror. Unfortunately, there is no real alternative to providing cheap animal protein, unless one is wealthy or altruistic enough to source free-range produce. Public policy to penalize factory farming will raise the cost of staples, and will be wildly unpopular amongst the poor and already marginalized and economically beset blue-collar workers who have spearheaded the rise of populism in the West. Subsidies to companies or farmers that raise animals ethically could make the latter more competitive, but it creates potential for massive corruption. Perhaps when we eventually transition to universal basic income – an idea that has migrated from marginal discussion groups to mainstream politics in just the past couple of years – we could directly compensate people affected by the higher prices. Though who would have opted for ethically farmed animals, or are vegetarians anyway, would just take the savings.
4. Another view of animal rights is based on the idea of what one might call a primeval social contract, a concept that has been eloquently made on this blog by commenter AP. The basic idea is that by signing up to the human endeavour, wolves offered their loyal service (guardianship, herding flocks, companionship, etc.) in exchange for a warm hearth and the reasonable expectation that they would die in their sleep, not end up on the dinner table – at least outside extreme circumstances, such as getting stranded in the Arctic, when the calories a dog can provide would constitute an ultimate form of self-sacrificing service. Meanwhile, even though they are about as intelligent as dogs, pigs were only ever invited into the human enterprise as a source of food, not as companions. Slitting their throats and roasting them over a spit breaks no covenant.
I am personally sympathetic to this view – even though the cognitive and emotional capacities of pigs are similar to those of dogs, I would still privilege dogs over pigs, as dogs are much closer to us – “man’s best friend” and all that. It is also a viewpoint that I imagine the vast majority of Americans and Europeans – if not Chinese and Koreans – will agree with. However, I don’t think this should be used as a licence to wantonly disregard porcine suffering. At a minimum, while one could argue that they also forged a primeval contract with humans in which they got the promise of safety and sustenance until their appointed day, they certainly didn’t sign up for a conveyor belt existence from artificial insemination through life imprisonment to industrial slaughter. The same goes for other livestock animals, though in their case the horror of their existence might be mitigated by lower cognitive capacity.
The Cognitive Chain of Being
5. Finally, there is the standard “Effective Altruism” approach – attempting to quantify the suffering experienced by any one animal during the course of its life, and dividing that number by the kilograms of meat, protein/fat calories, and nutritional benefits its meat provides. I am a big fan of quantification, because even if it’s not perfect, you can at least narrow down the debate and identify the most prospective areas for moral progress that are within the range of affordability at both the individual and social level.
Here’s one typical example of this approach: “How Much Direct Suffering Is Caused by Various Animal Foods?” by Brian Tomasik.
This is a very reasonable start, even if one can quibble with columns 4-6. But the beauty of it is that you can adjust those numbers based on your own values.
Column 5 – Suffering per day of life (beef cows = 1).
The German philosopher Schopenhauer, who argued that it would be morally better were “the surface of the earth were still as crystalline as that of the moon,” justified his assertions with the idea that there is no hedonic balance: “The pain in the world always outweighs the pleasure. If you don’t believe it, compare the respective feelings of two animals, one of which is eating the other.”
But is this really true? Sure, the deer getting ripped apart by a pack of wolves – or getting shot by a hunter – might not enjoy its last moments of sentience. But it would have had a few years of presumably mostly happy grazing behind it. I do not think existence per se constitutes net suffering, at least so long as it is not a dystopian existence. Unfortunately, that cannot be said of most factory farming, which really is rather horrific so far as most of its subjects are concerned.
The ultimate aim of mitigating or abolishing factory farming would turn the positive numbers in this column to zeros, or even negative ones, i.e. from net suffering into net satisfaction. That way, even if livestock still has to be killed in not too pleasant ways at the end so that we may have our daily pound of flesh, at least their fleeting ribbons of consciousness would not have experienced their short existence as a hell on earth.
Column 6 – Number of days of life equivalent to pain of death.
I would imagine that pain of death is correlated to the animal’s natural lifespan, as well as whether it is a social or solitary creature via knock on effects on survivors (even cows have been observed to mope for days after the deaths of relatives).
This would also be of direct relevance to the halal/kosher debate. Getting your throat slit in the open air is not the best, but neither the worst, way to go. In factory farming, the hope is that pigs – hurried along amidst the stench of fear, blood, faeces, and imminent death – are successfully electrocuted into unconsciousness, to then have their throats slit and thrown in a vat of boiling water. Does this happen rarely enough to justify condemnation of halal meat?
Column 4 – Sentience multiplier for the species (max value = 1).
This is, in my opinion, by far the most important consideration; and it is also the one on which I imagine that EA “consensus” opinion is the most profoundly mistaken on.
For instance, Tomasik’s table gives catfish – one of the more primitive creatures on the planet – a sentience multiplier of 0.5 relative to pigs! This implies that killing two catfish is as bad as killing a pig, and that eating catfish produces 200 times as much suffering as eating pork. Other, perhaps most, effective altruists don’t even think it’s worth adjusting for brain size at all, regarding it as a poor or irrelevant proxy for sentience.
this piece takes into account animal suffering https://t.co/J28wATZGXZ brain size not good proxy for sentience
— Diana S. Fleischman (@sentientist) February 22, 2017
This happens to be a cardinal assumption, and one that I disagree with entirely.
First, there is the obvious argumentum ad absurdum here: Based on such negligible differences in sentience multipliers, we might well argue that eating gorilla meat (a delicacy in parts of Africa) is “better” than the equivalent mass in salmon. And if one is willing to part entirely with “speciesist” prejudices, then one can even make an argument for the moral superiority of “humanitarianism” over entomophagy.
My second, less whimsical point, is that the latest serious academic theories of consciousness revolve around the concept of “information integration.” Information integration is tightly coupled to intelligence, and which in turn is correlated with biological indicators such as brain size and neuronal density.
Here is what philosopher Michael Johnson wrote about this in Principia Qualia (2016):
Furthermore, under simulations of problem-solving agents, [integrated information] seems to increases as evolved complexity and problem-solving capacity increases: (Albantakis et al. 2014)” found that “The more difficult the task, the higher integrated information in the fittest animats” and concluded “Integrating information is potentially valuable in environments with complex causal structures.” From here, it’s not a terrible stretch to say that the integrated information and the potential for adaptive (intelligent) behavior of a system are usually highly coupled. This matches the common intuition that intelligence and consciousness go together.
This makes intuitive sense. While even the simplest automatons such as insects – ants, spiders, even the 302 neuron c. elegans worm – can feel pain, experiencing or comprehending the associated feelings of fear, anguish, desperation, despair, and existential terror that usually accompany pain in humans is likely far beyond the capacities of their blessedly small brains.
A cognitive approach to bioethics effectively creates an updated version of the “great chain of being“, the medieval notion that there is a God-sanctioned hierarchy to Creation, starting with God Himself and progressing downwards to kings (His representatives on Earth), nobles, commoners, animals, and inanimate matter. This may not sit well with more egalitarian minded readers. However, at the end of the day, one cannot plausibly deny its self-evident reality – or, more importantly, the cruelties and unneeded suffering that would be created by ignoring them (e.g. killing gorillas vs. 100,000 neuron lobsters).
Nor does it call for any sort of IQ reductionism: While the Middle Ages actually did see a sort of cognitive supremacism (e.g. the literate could plead “benefit of clergy” and receive far lighter sentences), I am not arguing that the Cognitive Chain of Being should be used to differentiate between humans. While the question of whether human sentience is correlated with IQ is a very interesting one, and one that researchers should be free to investigate, given that the vast majority of human intellects are clustered within a few S.D.’s of each other doing so would not just be unethical but also useless.
This may not be the case forever. As I mentioned above, should subgroups of humans launch a “biosingularity” that massively augments their intelligence, in effect creating a new species, or should a machine superintelligence be created, or should we meet up with aliens or “uplift” animals, then the contradictions between speciesism and cognitive ethics – contradictions that are currently dormant – will come to the forefront of all philosophical debates.
But with this approach, we will at least have the tools to conduct such a debate.
Constructing the Chain I
Here are some considerations that might go into any serious attempt to construct an index of sentience:
1. The encephalization quotient
This is a “relative brain size measure that is defined as the ratio between observed to predicted brain mass for an animal of a given size.” The larger the animal, the greater the amount of brainpower it needs to devote to subconscious motor and metabolic functions. This narrows down its effective space for cognition, and presumably, sentience. While most very intelligent animals tend to be relatively large, this does not appear to be an absolute requirement.
2. Comparative estimates of animal intelligence.
Rather pathetically, in so far as it indicates the embryonic state of any research on this question, the best attempt I have seen to date on this (and I searched quite a lot) is a Quora answer by effective altruist Alex K. Chen: What is a good list of animals ordered by intelligence?
There is no quantification, apart from sorting them into about seven Tiers of intelligence:
- The Great Apes, many types of whales and dolphins, elephants, a few corvids.
- Smarter monkeys, bears, wild boar (>pigs), Gray African parrot, kea, manta rays.
- Owls, baboons, racoons, hyenas, wolves, smarter dogs.
- Emperor penguins, cats, octopus, naked mole rats.
- Stupid mammals; quail, chickens, pigeons; smarter lower vertebrates.
- Most reptiles and fish.
- Salamanders, lungfishes.
I mostly agree with this list, though I might quibble with one or two of the rankings.
3. Numbers of neurons by animal.
Are good biological correlates of cognitive capability. There is a good list at Wikipedia.
4. Neurons in the cerebral cortex.
These seem to play an especially important role, so perhaps more weight should be placed on them. Incidentally, these also happen to be strongly associated with longevity.
5. Vocabulary size
This is limited to animals that can be taught human vocabulary, or something close to it:
- The average human masters ~30,000 words (geniuses can reach up to ~100,000).
- Koko the gorilla knew 1,000 hand signs and understood 2,000 words.
- Chaser the border collie understood 1,000+ words and simple grammar; admittedly, the border collie is a cognitive elite amongst dogs, and Chaser is a genius amongst them.
- Alex the Gray African parrot knew 100+ words and had some conception of grammar.
6. Mirror tests
This a test of whether an animal has self-recognition. There are only a few cognitively elite species that consistently pass the mirror test: The Great Apes, dolphins, whales, elephants, magpies, maybe manta rays… and ants (!?).
But that one crazy insect exception aside, there seems to be an excellent correlation with Tier 1/Tier 2 animals.
7. Human IQ tests
The blogger Pumpkin Person has estimated chimps have an IQ of around 14 relative to American white norms (average = 100; S.D. = 15):
In 2007 there was a fascinating study that compared human 2.5 year-olds to chimps and other apes on a battery of intelligence tests. With the exception of social intelligence, where the human toddlers were way ahead, the apes and toddlers had the same intelligence. In other words, chimps have the same intelligence as a 2.5 year old (white) human. …
Indeed based on the intercorrelation of WAIS-IV subtests, someone who is 4.18 SD below average on the average subtest, would be 5.73 standard deviations (86 IQ points) below average on the composite score, thus my best guess for the average IQ of chimps is 14 (white norms).
Consequently, we can take chimps to be at the lowest range of the normal, “healthy” range of human intelligence. (By bell curve logic, the average chimp’s IQ will be equalled about once every 200 millionth white American; that is, there should be about one normal, healthy white American who is at the level of the average chimp).
Constructing the Chain II
I believe that a great deal more serious work needs to be done on this topic, instead of taking the easy way out and dismissing animal IQ as a pseudoscientific concept that is a priori impenetrable to measurement, quantification, and comparison. This may have been semi-defensible a decade ago, but since then, a g factor for intelligence has been found in chimps, monkeys, dogs, and even rodents. There was even a paper on “individual differences in cognition among teleost fishes” in 2017. IQ denialism is now almost as intellectually bankrupt with respect to animals as it is with respect to humans.
This is serious work that needs to go well beyond a blog post on a popular blog. That said, I will attempt to make a preliminary stab at this.
The chimp IQ test suggests that we may set up a distinct barrier between human and chimps (and by extension, other Tier 1 animals); while one may be able to find humans duller than the average chimp, they will be nothing more than statistical curiosities. Moreover, chimps lack a whole set of cognitives suites that humans have. Relative to us, they largely lack self-awareness, altruism, intuitive psychology, and the capacity to ask questions (though many of these capacities will be likewise strongly inhibited in ultra-low IQ humans). This may well drag the “true” IQ of chimps relative to humans even lower. That said, Alex K. Chen notes that orangutans, bonobos, and many dolphins are brighter than chimps, so at least some of the very brightest Tier 1 animals should still at least brush up against our very dullest fellow humans.
There is consequently a strong moral case to be made for extending substantial legal protections to Tier 1 animals. There is already strong sentimental support for protecting the Great Apes (as our nearest relatives), the elephants (see the outrage generated by poachers), and whales (see the campaigns against Japanese, Norwegian, and Icelandic whaling). Admittedly, this might be less practical for corvids, but we should still recognize that crows and ravens – at 8 S.D. above the avian mean in terms of innovations, and with a phenomenal, human-competitive capacity for facial recognition – are the cognitive elites of the avian world.
One of the smartest dogs, a border collie named Chaser, mastered over 1,000 words, which is considerably more impressive than Alex, the famous Gray African parrot (who is in Tier 2). While Chaser is exceptional, and there aren’t many border collies, it’s worth pointing out that lists of most popular dog breeds (German Shepherds, golden retrievers, Labradors, poodles, Rottweilers) are dominated by the more intelligent dogs (border collies, poodles, German Shepherds, golden retrievers, Dobermans, Labradors, Rottweilers); the main exceptions are Yorkies (moderate intelligence) and bulldogs (dumb as a box of bricks). They also have very well developed and complex personalities, as any dog owner would know. Consequently, as the most popular dogs tend to be the most intelligent dogs, it makes sense to put them firmly into Tier 2. By extension, wolves would be in Tier 2 as well. If dogs and boar are in Tier 2, then certainly it would make sense for pigs to be likewise included.
There is a case to be made that animals in this Tier deserve to have substantial protections as well, perhaps on the level of what dogs have today through their primeval contract with us. I want to return to Austria’s laws about rabbit welfare. While I don’t harbor any ill will towards rabbits, their neurobiological stats, extreme r-selected status, stereotypes, and my own limited experiences with them (relative to dogs, pigs, and even cats) all suggest that they are rather simple creatures. This is clearly legislation based on the cuteness factor, though – presumably – with rather glaring exceptions for rabbit farms. However, if even rabbits have attained this level of legal protections, certainly it would make sense to do likewise for all other Tier 2 animals.
Constructing the Chain III
One general observation I have made is that – allowing for the occasional exception, outlier, and unknown – there seems to be a more or less consistent intellectual distance between these Tiers.
Assuming that humans are Tier o, as one goes down by Tier we see:
- Halving of encephalization ratio
- … which may be equivalent to ~10 million years of evolution
- Number of neurons falls tenfold
- Vocabulary size falls tenfold
- IQ falls by ~100 points/~7 S.D. (or at least between humans and chimps)
A much harder question is what unit of sentience, ethical value, or capacity for suffering these Tiers represent. Is the the relationship between intelligence, sentience, and capacity for suffering linear? While the latter two seem to be intuitively very similar, the link between them and intelligence is much more contentious, as we have seen above.
Now honestly, this is something that people more intelligent and committed to EA should look into more seriously themselves. My intuition is that there is a linear relationship between intelligence and information integration/sentience, and my own ethical choices follow from that assumption. Obviously, different ethical choices will follow from other assumptions. If you consider that sentience “explodes” only at some sufficiently high level of intelligence, e.g. the human one, then one should not have major quibbles with fullbore carnivorism. If on the other hand you believe that even intellectual minnows such as… minnows? experience a substantial internal life relative to that of humanity, then choosing vegetarianism or veganism would be the ethically consistent choice.
Maximizing Protein Calories/Suffering
I redid Tomasik’s table, but resetting the sentience multiplier to correlate with intelligence. With Tier 2 pigs set to the default maximum of “1”, I then set cows to 0.1, chickens and turkeys to 0.01, and salmon and catfish to 0.0001.
Consequently, we get the following list of dieting philosophies (from “best” to “worst” in terms of animal suffering):
Vegetarianism: Only eggs and milk. As we can see, drinking milk and eating free range eggs – in which the chickens get to live more or less normal lives – produces almost no animal suffering.
Pescetarianism: While before you were worrying about the salmonocide, it now emerges that you can eat fish with wild abandon (just not the manta rays!).
Pollo-pescetarianism: Next one can eat chicken and turkeys, both of them rather primitive creatures with intelligence at best similar to rats. Many other rodents would fall into this category. This is also in sync with popular assessments of these animals’ sentience levels; the next stage after pescetarianism is
Omnivorism: I believe that cows are firmly in Tier 3, so together with their large mass, that might plausibly make beef an even more ethical food than poultry. The relative advantage can be pushed further by making sure that the beef is grass-fed, which happens to be healthier than grain-fed beef anyway. Now yes, it is possible that I underestimate cow sentience. However, I would have to be wrong by a factor of about 4 before beef becomes merely as “bad” as chicken, even if the individual slaughtered cow suffers far more than a chicken.
In any case, this is where I have drawn my personal line since the early 2010s.
Personally, I follow a cognitive ethics on vegetarian/meat debate. I abstain from pork, as pigs =~ dogs; but do eat beef, chicken, fish.
— ak (@akarlin88) November 18, 2014
Sheep provide much less meat, as do goats.
Moreover, goats in particular have distinct personalities and I suspect that they are also smarter than cows. This makes mutton, lamb, and especially goat significantly closer to pork than to beef.
Pork, I try to avoid entirely.
A Thought Experiment
Near the beginning of this post, I speculated that if there is one moral failing that future generations will condemn us for, it is killing animals for meat.
This is not to imply that I agree with this assessment, but then again, the average US citizen of a Southern state in the early 19th century presumably had few qualms with slavery either. Opinion can change quickly. Outside a few pockets such as the Netherlands or the SF Bay Area, someone who supported gay civil unions, but not gay marriage, would have been seen as a hardcore progressive in 1999; in 2019, most of the US would consider that same person regressive, if not a moral troglodyte. Alternatively, consider the trend in support for interracial marriage: 1959 – only 4%; early 2010s – high 80%’s. Your grandfather who stormed the beaches of Normandy to “punch Nazis” was himself a fascist (by the standards of modern liberal discourse).
In 2014, the US killed 112 million Tier 2 pigs, 32.5 million Tier 3 cattle, and 8.5 billion Tier 4 chickens. Roughly setting the suffering deriving from that at 1, 0.1, and 0.01 respectively:
- Pigs: 112 million units of suffering
- Cattle: 3.25 million units of suffering
- Chicken: 85 million units of suffering
That’s 200 million units of suffering. (Turkeys would also add 10-20 million units).
Assuming as per above that Tier 0 humans are 100x as sentient as pigs, this translates to the imprisonment/genocide of 2 million humans annually in the US alone.
Today, there are Biblical, Cartesian, speciesist, and primeval social contract biases against making this equivalence. Now note that I am not saying they are bad biases; they have made it with us this far, so they must have been evolutionarily adaptive, at the very least. Nor is there yet much of a circle of empathy towards livestock, aside from the 5%-10% of the population that is vegetarian in the developed world. However, should these biases continue to break down, should the circle of empathy continue to expand, should future consciousness research tend to confirm rather than refute the intuitions I have set down here, and – perhaps most importantly – should technological progress divorce animal protein from animal suffering, then our historical era will be seen as morally compromised as any other.
 Due to the energy inefficiency of indoor farming, this might be a necessity if we are to do interstellar travel without cryonics
 FWIW, there are some good selfish arguments for the latter. For instance, where I live, free range eggs cost 50% more than eggs from battery raised chickens. However, free range eggs have 2-3x the vitamin content of the latter, so opting for them might be a good deal anyway.
 Though to be frank, the most common EA approach is to just go vegetarianism. More power to those who go down that path.
 Incidentally, elephants are particularly interesting since they are not only rather cognitively developed, but their vast amount of neurons may have even given them the most developed moral sense of any animal: “Elephants practice altruism. There is a now famous story of an Indian elephant called Chandrasekharan, who was working lifting poles off a truck as it moved along, and placing them in holes dug in the ground. When Chandrasekharan came to one hole he refused to put the log in. Eventually the Mahout checked and discovered a dog sleeping in it. Only when the dog was gone would Chandrasekharan put the pole in. This sort of behaviour is typical of elephants.”
 Though corvid and parrot brains are necessarily quite modest, they are much denser than those of primates, and perhaps better organized; this allows them to have competitive intelligence. Corvids traditionally have a fell reputation – they are seen as carrion eaters, feeders on death, evil omens. But this is yet another pet peeve I have with conventional moralities. Carrion birds prefer to scavenge, in the process cleaning up the landscape, over killing prey and causing suffering. What exactly is wrong with that? The long-lived, intelligent, K-selected corvid needs to be respected.
 Though my own experience is very much limited, I can personally vouch for that list. We currently have a mini-poodle female and a Yorkie male. While the Yorkie is great, the mini-poodle is much smarter than him. While our German Shepherd is long dead, he was also very bright.
 There is a remarkably consistent trend in macro-world history towards exponential growth in neuron numbers and the encephalization index amongst the world’s major animal groups. It is entirely possible that humans only got to where they are <25 million years ahead of other potential contenders. In other words, if we were to suddenly vanish off the face in some way that doesn’t destroy the planetary biosphere, it’s entirely plausible a new technological species will evolve from other primates, canines, pigs, crows, ravens, or even irradiated rats (Dawkins).
 An example of exceptions: Horses seem to have too many neurons for their low level of intelligence, while brown bears have a remarkably small amount of neurons in the cerebral cortex – but there is nonetheless a distinct pattern.
 For instance, nutria is a staple in the Russian South, and has made its way to Moscow in recent years.
 Beef bacon: A means of moral progress?
While opinions on Islamic immigration might differ, one change this creates is the appearance of alternatives to traditional pork dishes. I live in Moscow, so two examples I can immediately think of are halal pelmeni (traditional pelmeni consists of beef and pork) and, more recently, beef bacon. While Jewish/Islamic bans on pork obviously had nothing to do with altruistic concerns over pig welfare – instead, they were behavioral adaptations to the punishing disease environment of the world’s first region to experience significant urbanization – those restrictions must have still wracked up a significant positive moral tally over the centuries and millennia. Ex-Muslims looking to celebrate their apostasy with bacon and booze might stop to consider that their former religion may have had a point – if inadvertently – about the former.
 I was making this point as early as 2017 on Razib Khan’s blog.