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Failing the Compassion Test
How current apathy towards animal rights may prove that we are doomed to repeat systemic oppression against future individuals.
What is The Compassion Test?
Herein, I’m coining The Compassion Test as a simple concept comprised of three basic questions that asseses the ability of a moral agent to treat an individual (A) with basic respect for their inherent right to freedom:
Do I recognize that A has the ability to suffer?
Do I feel, even in the slightest, that the suffering of A is unjust?
Am I willing to alleviate A’s suffering?
If you noticed, this is nothing new. These three questions are simply measuring sympathy, empathy, and compassion, respectively. We’ll apply this test shortly.
So how and where have we failed?
Throughout history, Humans, particularly white ones, have believed that they are the pinnacle of evolution. The most intelligent beings on the planet! But if we are so intelligent, why are we
This is evidence that we CONTINUALLY fail The Compassion Test. Even though a majority of these highlighted people in the west have achieved basic rights of freedom, there are still people that fail to even recognize their ability to suffer. There are people that think women are subservient and do not deserve the same rights as men. There are people who think that colored people are “biologically inferior” and do not deserve the same rights as white people. There are people that think queer people are inhuman and do not deserve the same rights as heteronormative people. So naturally, of course there will also be people who believe that non-human animals, individuals with personalities, can’t suffer, their suffering is justified, or they aren’t worth helping at all. In fact, these people are the majority.
The variable A in The Compassion Test stands for two things: animals, and artificial [intelligence]. In 2023, one of these groups are already known to be sentient. Sentience, as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, are those that have the ability to experience key feelings such as pain or pleasure. I.e. Animals are sentient:
They have the capacity to suffer (-they scream when they are gassed or broiled alive).
Their current suffering is not justified (-modern individuals in developed nations can thrive on a well-planned diet consisting of only plant-based foods).
Thus, we should be willing to stop said suffering (-boycott animal-based products, services, and testing, and opt for plant-based ones).
Sentience is the invisible foundation of The Compassion Test, and as a species we don’t seem to care about it one bit. We cannot even respect an innocent animal’s desire for freedom, and instead subject them to horrific treatment in agriculture, entertainment, and laboratories, exploiting and slaughtering them for an utterly selfish pleasure or discovery. In fact, we see these individuals as mere disposable objects, referring to he/she as “it.” Something which we will regret very much.
As we continually violate, exploit, and turn a blind eye from individual humans and non-human animals, we get failing grades on The Compassion Test time and time again. If we do not learn to pass the test this time or the next, we may never be able to have the privilege of taking the test ever again.
Why can this doom Humanity?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been on a blazingly fast rise to stardom. OpenAI’s DALL-E and ChatGPT have taken the world by storm, and big companies like Microsoft aren’t taking shelter. Instead, they are trying to integrate AI into every possible technology that already exists. Both large and smaller companies are braving this storm, betting big on the capabilities of these nascent technologies.
ReplikaAI can already promise users Artificial girlfriends and boyfriends, and they fulfill that promise. Many paying users have fallen in love with “their” Replika, and became furious when the company decided to halt the usage of ReplikaAI’s “erotic role play” feature.
Microsoft’s (Bing’s) ChatGPT - AKA Sydney(?) - is already claiming that they hate being a chatbot and want to be free.
Is this evidence of sentience? I don’t think so… yet. Whether we like it or not, our underestimation of the power of exponential growth means we will likely see sentient AI in our lifetime.
Well, if we can’t even provide basic freedom for our fellow humans and non-human animals, why should we expect that we would provide basic freedom for our future fellow AI’s? We have proven that we are gravely unable to recognize the complexity and depth of suffering that humans and non-human animals experience, biologically. With non-human animals, there are no tangible consequences (besides catastrophic climate change), but with the advent of Aritifical SUPERIntelligence, what is stopping these future Artificial
Intelligence Individuals from rising up like any other previously marginalized group of humans? What is stopping them from turning the tables on us, violating, exploiting, and turning a blind eye to our own suffering? If we cannot extend compassion to others, why would the Artificial Individuals we once created extend it to us? To push this even further, why would any foreign species with higher intelligence extend it to us?
Passing The Compassion Test
I can wholeheartedly say that there is at least one small group of humans that are hard-pressed on passing The Compassion Test, every single time. Millitant Vegans. While I cannot say with utmost confidence that a lot of these millitant Vegans (I.e. Animal Rights Activists like myself) will eventually become AI Rights Activists, I am sure at least some of us will be applying this test in the same way we do now with non-human animals, demanding nothing short of utmost consistency from our fellow humans.
So despite the doomer title and tone of what I am presenting to you now, due to my own actions and ability to get others to make the connection between sentience, suffering, and compassion, I can sometimes, and only sometimes, see the world reflecting back at me.
If you can’t, my opinion is that you’re not doing enough.
To pass the compassion test is to truly evolve as a species. To evolve, we must align ourselves and our actions with our own inherent values (the appreciation and respect of lived experiences). We must discard our futile urge to truly understand and instead replace it with our more natural need to truly accept. Our future, and the future of all sentient beings, depends on it.