Minimizing Your Suffering Footprint With Dr. Diana Fleischman

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Dr. Diana Fleischman (Twitter | Website) has been obsessed with evolution since she was a little girl. Today, she is a leading researcher in the field of evolutionary psychology, a soon-to-be author, and a force in the effective altruism movement.

In this interview, Chad and Dr. Fleischman discuss her research, how the EA movement is redefining animal suffering, and how you can minimize your suffering footprint. They also talk about the value of teasing in close relationships and how today’s culture may be going to far to limit healthy humor.

Show Notes

[1:45] Diana’s Background And Inspiration

  • Diana has been obsessed with evolution since she was a little girl. She grew up around animals and was always interested in animal behavior.
  • Unfourtantly, she went to a very conservative primary school where she was often teased for sharing her interests in evolution with the other students. But she was passionate about the subject and worked hard to study it on her own. Today, she is a leading researcher of evolutionary psychology.

“I don’t think the great minds of the next generation are going to be held back from what is or isn’t taught in school.”

[8:15] The Value Of A Good Roast

“The thing about humor is that you can tell people difficult truths.”

“[Teasing] trains you to recover from insults more easily.”

  • Yes, capuchin monkeys really do greet each other by poking one another’s eyes. Check it out.

[13:00] Losing Our Sense Of Humor

  • Our culture is increasingly becoming more sensitive and more opposed to comedy and insults. We are falling into the mindset there is only one right and “proper” way to relate to people.
  • Diana mentions The Eggshell Plaintiff Doctrine (also known as the Eggshell Skull Rule).
    • The Dilemma: If a crime happens to a certain kind of person, it may ruin their entire life. If it happened to a different person, the effects would be minimal. Should the judge sentence the criminal based on the worst possible outcome or the best?
  • It’s good to think about how we can help people, how we can be more sensitive, but things can and have gone too far. We shouldn’t cater to the lowest common dominator – to the most sensitive person.

[19:00] Diana’s Research

  • Most people are familiar with the strawman argument, but we recommend steel manning an argument.
  • Diana is an evolutionary psychologist, public intellectual, and professor. As a teacher, her goals are to help her students think critically and foster a healthy sense of curiosity and skepticism.
  • Some projects her students are working on that she is excited about:
    How disgust affects peoples’ views of clean meat.
    How people view pregenetic embryo diagnosis and how they feel about handpicking which embryo they want before birth.
  • We can’t just assume that experts will address these kinds of issues and find the best solutions. It’s important that we understand public opinion and have these hard conversations with one another.
  • Diana used to believe she needed to change peoples minds drastically in order to change the world, but she realized that “…if I can’t convince the people closest to me, the people that have the most in common with me, then what hope really is there? It gave me more temperance about what I think about changing the world and changing peoples minds…” Today, she sees even small baby steps towards forward thinking as progress.
  • Mentioned: Toby Young

[33:30] The EA Movement

  • In a broad sense, anyone who donates 10% of their time or money to an organization that they trust to improve the world is apart of the effective altruism movement.
  • There are different facets of the EA movement – things like facing existential risks as we discussed yesterday – but Diana focuses on trying to reduce suffering.

“People can’t band together to face existential risks until they aren’t suffering as much as they are.” – Chad

  • Mentioned: Animal Liberation by Peter Singer
  • Mentioned: Richard Dawkins’s work.
  • Most vegans view nonvegans as wrong if they aren’t fully committed to not consuming any animal products. Diana and her EA colleagues take a different, more quantitative perspective. Any step, no matter how small, towards less suffering is a positive.

[40:40] Minimizing Your Suffering Footprint

“People should think about how to minimize their suffering footprint.”

  • Brian Tomasik runs the blog Reducing Suffering and has helped quantify how many days of suffering are involved for various animal products.
  • Many people get offended that you’d even try to quantify suffering, but approaching it from a quantitative perspective is the only way to have a measurable impact.

[47:30] Diana’s Plans For The Future

  • Diana will be on her back to the US soon to get married. When she returns, she isn’t sure what she will do – write or teach – but she knows she will continue her research in some way, shape, or form.

“Look into effective altruism and try to think about how to put what you feel are your most important prioritizations morally into action in your day-to-day life. Everybody would find their lives more fulfilling if they were in some way putting their highest moral goods into practice.”

Learn more about Dr. Diana Fleischman’s work, check out her website or connect with her on Twitter.

This week’s theme is Past, Present, Future. It is dedicated to learning from the good, the bad, the terrifying, and the exceptional so that we can create a better future. If you have any stake in what the future holds (spoiler alert: we all do!), then you won’t want to miss this week’s mind-boggling interviews. Stay tuned!


Episode 227