By Ricky Wong
On the first day of the EAGxSingapore 2022 conference, while I was having breakfast, a fellow participant asked me out of the blue, as a conversation starter, to state an unpopular opinion that I held. I thought for a while and came up with this off the cuff, “I believe some animals have been domesticated for so long that they cannot survive in the wild and have to be tended to by humans. For example, dairy cattle are bred to produce milk. They would suffer if they are not milked regularly.”
Then he replied with a thought experiment. “Imagine if human beings are the ones who are domesticated instead; would you think humans should also be managed and used to produce food for other species?” He told me that, to him, suffering is suffering and it should be reduced regardless of the status quo. This conversation ended abruptly when the commencement speech started.
As a newcomer to the EA community, I couldn’t help but wonder how I could continue with the discussion if it weren’t cut short. I also wondered, as a person with more a pragmatic leaning, how I should respond to more abstract forms of thinking such as a hypothetical thought experiment. It seemed to me that we were not speaking the same language, even though I believe the other person had the intention to start a constructive discussion.
In our fellowship, in Week 3, we learnt more about animal welfare. Several points caught my attention, especially: 1. Animal advocacy in Asia is heavily neglected; 2. If we want to improve animal welfare effectively, then we may have to put pressure on corporations to source ethically farmed animal products, instead of convincing others to become vegans; 3. Antispeciesism might be a more all-encompassing way to reduce animal suffering. These points are enlightening and put the animal welfare issue into perspective for me.
Among the many causes that were covered in our fellowship, animal welfare is one of the top ones that I have wanted to learn more deeply about. While I do appreciate the thought experiment and the new perspectives that I picked up in EA, I still find them hard to act upon. To me, reducing meat consumption is what I can do at the moment. I find it a more practical and achievable approach compared to going full vegan. Until I have an even more effective way of lessening animal suffering, I will continue with my modest personal approach of reducing meat intake and hopefully it will still generate a cumulative effect.