What Helped the Voiceless? Historical Case Studies
score: 2 (2 votes) ·
Thanks a lot for your thoughtful critique!
I wasn’t quite sure how this followed from the historical evidence that you examine, but I thought it was a cool argument... If we care about, say, maximising the chances that factory farming ends, rather than helping animals as much as possible within the next 10 (or 100) years, then we might be able to effectively trade immediacy for increased radicalism (or durability or some other key priority).
I'd argue that the historical evidence I looked at provides some support for this, although it's not very decisive evidence. Abolitionists sometimes (e.g. in New England colonies) succeeded in passing bills that would abolish slavery after a long time, e.g. bills that didn't free any slaves but did ban the enslavement of slaves' future children. That said, I tentatively buy the argument mostly on theoretical grounds (it seems that people who don't care much about the long-term future would be more willing to trade away long-term influence for immediate benefits).
I'd summarize your main concern in the following way--please let me know if I've misunderstood:
The report looks at different kinds of case studies: ally-based movements, self-advocacy movements, and movements that accidentally benefited excluded groups. However, for people interested in assessing the prospects of today's ally-based movements, case studies of ally-based movements are much more relevant than case studies of other kinds of movements. Democratization was not an ally-based movement, while genetic engineering governance and environmentalism were not movements of people who intended to benefit future generations. So those case studies say little about how successful ally-based movements tend to be.
(edit: removed block quote format; didn't mean to imply this was a quote)
I mostly agree with this. However, it's not clear to me how
this critique of the methodology... directly bears on one of the main arguments you advance in this research: "inclusive values" were not that important in driving change, which suggests that further MCE is not as likely as a simple extrapolation from the trend towards expanded moral circles in the past few centuries might imply.
This is how I'd summarize my argument, which you mention:
Over the past few centuries, some global policy changes have greatly benefited an expanding range of excluded groups. Simple extrapolation from this trend suggests that, in the future, policy changes will majorly benefit additional groups that remain excluded. However, several case studies of such policy changes suggest that (as you point out) much of this historical trend did not result from ally-based advocacy. So, for groups that depend on allies, further major policy benefits are not as likely as simple extrapolation from this trend would suggest.
(I'm focusing on beneficial outcomes, rather than MCE, because the former focus seems to more closely track what we care about.)
If you're optimistic about today's ally-based movements because of historical successes of ally-based movements, then I agree that the argument I make shouldn't diminish your optimism by much. Such optimism seems like legitimate, relatively fine-grained extrapolation (especially if these historical successes happened in the face of major, economically motivated opposition).
The kind of extrapolation I'm arguing against is (as you suggest) simpler extrapolation: assuming that policy change which has greatly benefited excluded groups has generally happened in ways that are very relevant for the future of totally voiceless groups.
Your focus on ally-based movements makes me think that you weren't practicing this simple extrapolation. Still, before this research, I think I was doing that (more in an intuitive way than in a way I explicitly endorsed), and conversations as well as books like The Expanding Circle and parts of The Better Angels of Our Nature make me think that this excessive idealism about the historical importance of inclusive values/ethical reasoning is fairly common in (as well as out of) EA circles.
Selecting case studies with the broad criteria of "global policy shifts that greatly benefited excluded groups" seems to make a lot of sense for this particular goal: figuring out how legitimate it is to simply extrapolate from such policy shifts (as this legitimacy largely depends on how much of that broad trend was driven by allyship). It was far from obvious to me, in advance, that only a small portion of the cases of policy change I looked at were driven by ally-based advocacy.
One thing we agree on seems to be that developments like democratization largely weren't ally-based movements. We might ask: why weren't they? The fact that they weren't--that it usually took revolutionary threats to bring about democracy--seems to be an argument against expecting much from human empathy and ethical reasoning when lots of money is at stake. (On the other hand, maybe the presence of large ally-based movements for e.g. farmed animals suggests that we're in a very different situation.)
Curious to hear your thoughts! I'd also love to hear other constructive feedback/advice for doing better historical work in the future, if you have any off the top of your head.