Don’t underestimate your influence! – Chris Bryant of Bryant Research – Sentientism Ep:183

Find our Sentientist Conversation on the Sentientism YouTube here and the Sentientism Podcast here.

Chris is the Director of Bryant Research and the Head of Policy at the Alternative Proteins Association. He is a social scientist and an expert on alternative protein markets and marketing. He has published several papers on consumer acceptance, policy, nutritional value, and other social dimensions of cultivated meat, plant-based meat, and fermentation-derived animal product alternatives. He has worked with alternative protein companies and non-profits, including THIS, Formo, Ivy Farm Technologies, Aleph Farms, Wild Type, ProVeg International, Mercy For Animals, and the Good Food Institute.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” In addition to the YouTube video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

We discuss:

00:00 Clips!

00:53 Welcome

02:55 Chris’ Intro

– Social science research and analysis helping those “trying to move our food system away from animals and towards alternatives”

– “Industrial animal farming… one of the biggest utility sinks”

06:46 What’s Real?

– Growing up in a “nominally religious” household… “vaguely Christian”

– Turning to #atheism and thinking “what is the answer then… what does matter?”

– An interest in philosophy at university “realised that philosophy was the thing I had been talking about”

– Going #vegetarian

– #effectivealtruism “an incredibly powerful tool… applying empirical evidence to altruistic intentions… trying to come up with the best ways of doing good… given limited resources”

– “I had a good go at #hedonism in the interim though”

– Naturalistic #epistemology and “being willing to be wrong about things”

– The dangers of unquestioned assumptions

– Crash testing ideas that go against the mainstream (e.g. are “processed” foods really unhealthy?)

– Choosing good sources, doing research and running experiments

– How people form and update beliefs: cognitive dissonance, motivated reasoning, working backwards to justify what we want to believe or do (e.g. consuming animal products)…

– Even before that: ignorance (not knowing) and neglect / avoidance (not thinking about it) “Most people have probably never thought about that question [e.g. what % of animals are factory farmed]”. “It’s important to reach those people [~50%?] with just the reality and the facts”

– Strongly and weakly-held beliefs

– “For some people that’s progress… at least they’re having to do the mental gymnastics whereas before it had just never occurred to them”

– “The fact that so few people have thought about it should be some kind of weird hope for vegetarians and vegans”

– Push [away from animal products – ethics, environment, health] and pull [towards the alternatives – cheap, healthy, appealing, available] factors. “Really for long time we didn’t have very good pull factors… appealing alternatives to offer people.”

– Motivated reasoning: “If I lose this argument I’ll have to go vegan and only eat beans… but if you can have burgers and nuggets and everything else… I’m not very motivated to try and defend this view any more”

– Social norms & the expectations of others “Not just what I think of veg*ism but what do others think of it”

– Not shying away from the push factors. “Animal cruelty content is actually pretty impactful in getting people to change their eating habits” compared to environmental/health factors

– People will try to avoid animal cruelty content “formats… where it’s just hard to avoid”

– “You want to give them enough dissonance that they feel uncomfortable enough that now they feel motivated to go and do something about it”

– “Inviting people to collide with the reality of animal farming as frequently and graphically as we can get away with is an important part of the solution”

27:03 What Matters?

– “#utilitarianism was always the most appealing framework to me.” Can handle scale and severity of wellbeing and suffering. “Psychology… we tend to mis-fire… we don’t have naturally the ability to scale our moral concern appropriately”

– The birds in oil experiment. People draw no distinction between the value of saving 200 or 20,000 birds #Scopeneglect

– Large numbers might not be effective in animal advocacy

– Nihilism, deontology, virtue ethics, meta-ethics

– “We’ve got these three theories of normative ethics… they all have something to do with the wellbeing of others… if right and wrong mean anything they have to be something to do with others’ wellbeing, suffering, rights… you can get a lot that follows from there just empirically”

– “I don’t think there’s really a way to go from there to avoiding a vegan conclusion… there’s no escape”

– “I’m trying to save a million pigs here – never mind about walking the dog… but of course you can’t really live your life in such a way”

– “You want your policy-makers to be utilitarian but your lover to be deontological maybe”

– Ethical “offsetting”

– JW: How utilitarianism can be criticised for being cold & uncaring (e.g. offsetting) at the same time as being extremely ethically demanding

– Animal Charity Evaluator’s estimates of #animals saved per dollar donated

– Believing that donating to effective animal charities is more impactful than going vegan: “A self-detonating belief… if everybody came to believe that it would stop being true.” Like voting – each vote might have a tiny chance of affecting an election result but if everyone believed that “where would we be?”

– Arguments from futility and ineffectiveness

44:55 Who Matters?

– “If you’re sentient you matter and if you’re not you don’t… if you’re not there’s no ‘you’”

– “There are values baked into any kind of science”

– “Mattering is a function of being sentient”

– “We only care about climate change because there are things on the planet that are sentient. We don’t care about climate change on Mars…”

– “The capacity for experience… to suffer or experience well-being is that which matters”

– “What does it mean to behave badly towards somebody who has no experience of that or wouldn’t even know… there’s no suffering to be inflicted…”

– “With sentience one does [matter] regardless of species or race or anything else”

– Dignity, agency, autonomy as further markers of moral status?

– “The including is certainly more important than the excluding… if somebody wants to care about the wellbeing of a rock… to the extend that that doesn’t come into conflict with the wellbeing of sentient things”

– “Even with things like dignity and autonomy – to me that still implies some sort of subject”

– “… destruction of historical sites… that only matters because someone knows about it or will be offended by it…”

Susana Monsó episode and dignity

– “You shouldn’t kick a rock of it’s my rock and I’m going to be upset”

– Chris’ vegetarian then vegan transitions “One day the [friend’s philosophy] lecture was about should everyone go vegetarian… I used to eat meat 3 times a day… once I realised that I didn’t have any good reason it probably still took me a year and a half”

– “I’ve only been vegan myself since it’s been relatively a lot easier – I have a lot of respect for anybody who has been doing it longer”

– 2018 as the tipping point in the UK with the Gregg’s vegan sausage roll… “and now you’ve got vegan options everywhere”

– “The people that I’ve known since… just kind of accept it… but the people I knew before… are much more resistant to change”

– “’I’ve thought of this person as a normal guy who’s quite like me and now he’s saying he’s going vegetarian – does that mean I should?’”

– “A lot of my friends have come with me… at first it’s a bit of mockery… but since then probably about half of my male friends from home have gone vegetarian”

– Supportive family who have also been making changes

59:22 How to Make a Better World?

– Economics and supply & demand “when you buy things it makes things happen in the world… it’s not obvious to a lot of people… you’re paying someone to do everything whenever you buy anything… the person who works in subway… the person who drives the subway van… the slaughterhouse worker who kills the chicken. None of it happens without us paying for it.”

– Institutional change: Governments and big companies changing policies

– “Ultimately all institutions are beholden to individuals”

– “Sainsbury’s can’t just stop selling factory farmed products if all the consumers want cheap animal products because they’ll just go to Tesco instead”

– “The prime minister can’t just ban factory farming if all the voters want cheap animal products because they’re just going to vote for the other party”

– These powerful people “are constrained by the preferences of all of us individual consumers and voters – and if we insist on buying cheap animal products and we insist on voting against measures that would restrict that – nobody can do anything”

– “Ultimately we do need to change everybody’s view… or enough people’s view”

– “There’s no way of achieving the kind of changes that we want to see without tackling individual attitudes… individuals are of course taking a lot of their cues from institutions.”

– “The Prime Minister, the CEO of Sainsburys, these people are powerless to make changes that individuals won’t want”

– “Our institutions are going to reflect our values – what we are willing to vote for or pay for”

– Alternatives proteins: “removing the motivation from the motivated reasoning – if there’s nothing to lose in the conversation… at the moment the stakes [of going vegetarian / vegan] are incredibly high”

– “If alternative proteins get to the point where there really is no down-side in terms of the taste and sensory experience, they’re not more expensive, they’re not less healthy –  I don’t see how one would be motivated to argue against not eating animals.”

– Risks of ethical bypassing… alternative proteins as an “ethical cheat code”?

– “Some ludicrously high percentage of men would prefer to go to prison rather than go vegetarian… people really like eating meat”

– “I can’t help going to the outcome… the outcome I care about isn’t people having thought about the morality it’s just about then not stabbing animals”

– “The animals aren’t going to know or care how many of us have wrestled with the morality of the issue”

– “If you can get a bypass… why not?”

– “Most people couldn’t tell you why lots of things are wrong… they’ve taken their queues from society… I’m not sure how many people would have the time or capacity or inclination to really think about it”

– “If you can have some sort of technological fix that means we just don’t do it – I don’t see any downside to that”

– JW: “What’s ‘normal’ carries overwhelming weight”

– Philosophical objections to alternative proteins / cultivated meat: normalising consumption of “meat”, negative associations with animal exploitation (even if none is involved in their production), dignity, corrupting influences… “again I would be drawn to the outcomes”

– Dog meat consumption “a great cause of dissonance for people in the west”. Moral imperialism objections… “just how offended would someone have to be before it’s as bad as killing 10 million dogs a year?”

– “Cultivated meat is going to be a great opportunity to overcome some of these blockers that we’ve seen with plant-based. Plant-based meats are still seen for the most part… as vegetarian products and are consumed as such… people think that ‘this is a vegetarian product… for vegetarians… if I am not a vegetarian it’s not for me’… they fail to displace demand for meat”

– “I think and hope the Andrew Tate’s of the world are few and far between… upside-down utilitarianism… I must cause as much suffering as possible”

– JW: Is Andrew Tate good for the vegan cause? “You can either go for ‘might makes right’ ethics or compassionate ethics – Who would want to be on his side?”

– “Vegans being mean to vegetarians… if I was a meat industry shill posing as someone in the vegan movement… What kind of ideas would I be looking to promote… I think that’s one of them… some of the anti-meat alternative beliefs… the people in the meat companies are rubbing their hands when we’re getting into those kind of fights.”

– “Cultivated meat… Most vegetarians and vegans are not interested… a higher rate of meat-eaters that say they would eat it as compared to vegetarians… I think that’s a really good thing… avoids it being perceived as a vegetarian product… it goes after the market that matters… it doesn’t really matter to me if vegetarians start eating cultivated meat or not… I only care about selling it to meat-eaters and displacing demand for the animal product”

– “You need to not lose sight of what the point of this is… you could say ‘you don’t have to do anything to be called a vegan’ and now we could call everyone a vegan but then of course we’ve lost the point of what we’re doing in the first place.”

– “I try to encourage people proportionally to how much they’ve done… vegetarian, flexitarian… ‘well done for doing what you’ve done and on the other hand you could be doing more’”

– Are some animal agriculture and vegan activists unwittingly acting as double agents? Turning people against their own agenda?

– Vegans on TV with people like Piers Morgan trying to catch them off guard… “The best responses are… never mind [about what the activists say]… think about the animals… that’s all that I am talking about here.”

– JW: “Veganism isn’t about vegans… whereas anyone who is against veganism makes it about the vegans… partly because sometimes vegans are easy to attack… but also because it’s a really easy way of avoiding talking about the non-human animals… in your heart of hearts you know the reality” “You don’t they’re right”

– Matt Ruby: ~“Some people see veganism as a social movement, others see it as a social club… the social movement people want there to be more vegans because they care about the outcomes for the animals… the social club people don’t necessarily because they quite like being in an exclusive club.”

– “Is the way that I’m engaging with this what the animals will benefit from”

– Bryant Research’s survey on the acceptability of standard animal farming practices (crate confinement, killing new born chicks, cutting out piglets’ teeth…) “Between 70-95% on some of these practices were saying it’s unacceptable… most of the people saying that are also paying for it”

– “We’re not in a minority to think that something very wrong is happening here… it is reassuring to know that when you point these things out to people almost nobody says that they are acceptable… most people already disagree with this”

– Criticisms of Effective Altruism e.g. “The Good It Promises, The Harm It Does” (corporatisation of NGOs, neo-liberal capitalism / charity vs. democracy / state roles, utilitarian vs. care / relations, welfarism vs. abolition…)

– “I’d hope yes – that Effective altruism can respond and adapt to those criticisms… maybe we have got something wrong here”

– “With markets and with political systems – we are pretty much stuck with both… I would tend to see both through the prism of what affects the outcomes in either case…

– “They are both reflecting what we as individuals want… companies are only able to sell things that we want to buy – politicians are only able to do things that we want to vote for… both are reflections, for better or worse, of what people in aggregate want… and at the moment we want cheap animal products”

– “I count myself lucky every day to be working in this world – generally every one you work with who is on this mission is an extremely pleasant person… agreeableness… willingness to help each other… willingness to have good quality disagreements…”

– “Being a meat-eater in a world of 10% vegetarians is a very different proposition from being a meat-eater in a world of 50% vegetarians or 90% vegetarians”

– “On the other hand there are very powerful and well-resourced organisations that have a vested interest”

– “Another thing that alternative proteins gives us is a revenue generating arm of the animal movement… if it’s just all non-profits and people doing it from the good of their hearts we’re going to be pretty limited in the amount of cash we can spend on bill-boards”

– “Those push and pull factors can work quite well in concert with each other”

– Transfarmation: “Part of the challenge… will be helping to build an off-ramp for animal agriculture and have alternatives for people who work in animal farming”

– “A way forward to a world without animal products”

– “Embracing change from the McDonalds’ of the world… McDonalds is still going to exist… either they’re going to be selling vegan burgers or they’re going to be selling animals”

– “If we’re not willing to reward corporates where they do make changes then they’re not going to be incentivised to do it”

– A common political question: “What will happen to the animal farmers… you can’t ignore that question” (particularly in countries where a high % of people are involved in animal agriculture)

– “One thing… I’ve struggled with is thinking what can I actually do as an individual faced with these massive problems… you just feel helpless…”

– “I think there are three things that normal everyday people who are not working in animal advocacy… can do here: 1) donating to charities… 2) volunteering for charities (it’s as good as a donation)… 3) helping to change people around you”

– “Your reach as an individual is lower than the reach of a company… but it’s also stronger… the people you can reach are the people you know and they care about what you think of them… you can have an outsized impact”

– JW: “Don’t underestimate your own individual influence and power”

01:47:43 Follow Chris

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Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

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