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How to do good?

Good work goes hand in hand with reducing suffering footprint. But what kind of work and what kind of methods should we understand as objectively good? All creatures instinctively avoid physical pain and captivity. Yet, since it is woven into the very fabric of existence, pain cannot be completely avoided. But pain can be reduced, by mindful consumption and by actively striving to alleviate suffering. If physical pain is absolutely bad — in that all living organisms desire to be free from it — then alleviating physical pain is absolutely good.

Amongst all species, humans are unique in their power to make and execute decisions based on logical reasoning with the capability of fully understanding their implications. This power endows us with the responsibility to behave as gentle stewards of the planet, working to alleviate pain, in humans and in all life forms. But even with as objective a yardstick as reducing physical pain, there are many ways of doing good, some more apparent than others. For example, Peepal Farm provides treatment and a safe place for injured animals to recover. Here, the good is explicit in the effort towards reducing physical pain. Good work can even be something as simple as choosing not to eat meat or dairy products. But there are alternate ways of doing good that may not be so apparent or straightforward.

The production of dairy requires cattle to be artificially inseminated. In villages, this is usually done by a paravet with instruments that are stored in unhygienic conditions. The insemination process itself has a lot of scope for error to creep in, especially during the storage and transportation of the bull’s semen. These drawbacks add up to cause diseases in the cow and a speedy drop in the mother’s milk yield, leading the merciless owners to abandon the animal to the streets. Now let’s suppose that Peepal Farm — though we do not promote production or consumption of dairy — were to provide well-trained staff and sterilised instruments for artificial insemination, there is a great chance that diseases will be avoided and the milk yield decline after a much longer period. Since people are not immediately going to stop consuming dairy, nor farmers producing milk, Peepal Farm’s intervention in the process would at least help in keeping cows safe at home for a couple of more years. In this case, since something bad — i.e. the production of dairy — could not be stopped from happening in the short run, making it happen in a slightly better way provided scope for good work.

Another example would be selling chips in plastic packaging. Now, selling and buying factory-produced chips — as judged by our yardstick of reducing suffering footprint — is something we would not ideologically endorse, as it implies the destruction of palm forests and the production of more plastic, which we haven’t yet learnt to recycle or dispose of in a harmless way. But since plastic packaging for chips is unavoidable, one way to intervene would be to use a dual-pronged approach: advocate for minimizing the consumption of commercially sold chips while at the same time bettering the process by producing locally, using consciously-sourced ingredients and directing the profits towards something good, like educating children or helping animals as Peepal Farm does. This can be looked at as another way of doing good: taking something bad and changing its intent.