Monkeys pick your coconuts

In “The Murky Ethics of Making Monkeys Pick Our Coconuts,” Justin Wm. Moyer asks: “If a creature is smart enough to pick coconuts, is it fair to make him? This is the question at the heart of a controversy over pigtailed macaques in Thailand that excel at picking coconuts loved by Western consumers — but do so on leashes.”

See also Eliza Barclay’s NPR story on “What’s Funny About The Business Of Monkeys Picking Coconuts?”

More on extreme altruism

This couple lives on 6% of their income so they can give $100,000 a year to charity. “Julia Wise is a social worker and her husband, Jeff Kaufman, is a software engineer. In 2013, their combined income was just under $245,000, putting them in the top 10% of US households. And yet, excluding taxes and savings, they lived on just $15,280, or 6.25% of their income. What happened to the rest of their income, just under $100,000? They gave it to charity.”

Sometimes we expect the truth, sometimes we don’t

“Why is it wrong for Volkswagen to lie (if it did lie) about whether its cars meet emission standards, but uncontroversial for HBO to lie (if it is lying) about whether Jon Snow is dead?” In “Companies Lie. Some Get Away with It,” Stephen Carter explains that sometimes we expect people to lie and sometimes we don’t.

Extreme altruism

The world is full of suffering. How far should you go to prevent the suffering of others, especially the suffering of strangers? Ought you spend way too much to enjoy a fancy coffee drink while children are dying of starvation? Larissa MacFarquhar discusses extreme altruism, illustrating her points with a fascinating example. “In wartime – or in a crisis so devastating that it resembles war, such as an earthquake or a hurricane – duty expands far beyond its peacetime boundaries. In wartime, it is thought dutiful rather than unnatural to leave your family for the sake of a cause. In ordinary times, to ask a person to sacrifice his life for a stranger seems outrageous, but in war it is commonplace. Acts that seem appallingly bad or appallingly good in normal circumstances become part of daily life. This is the difference between do-gooders and ordinary people: for do-gooders, it is always wartime. They always feel themselves responsible for strangers; they know that there are always those as urgently in need as the victims of battle, and they consider themselves conscripted by duty.”

When the truth hurts

Is it ever worth not knowing the truth? Sometimes there are downsides to knowing the truth. For example, the truth about health or personal relationships can sometimes produce more pain than good. But we don’t always know when the truth will be worth it and when it wouldn’t. So what should we do? In “When the Truth Hurts,” Jess Whittlestone proposes this approach: “If I’m right here that the risks involved in seeking the truth too little are greater than those involved in seeking the truth too much, then aiming to always seek the truth might be a good general rule of thumb. This isn’t to say that the truth is ultimately valuable, or that there are no cases where we’re better off not knowing the truth. Valuing the truth doesn’t mean wasting time on understanding trivial, boring things, or asking everyone you meet what they like least about you. But given that most of the time we’re operating under a great deal of uncertainty, we might benefit overall from believing – falsely! – that the truth is what matters most.”