journal for the self-obsessed generation


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The current capitalist system is designed to make it easier for people to forget their moral responsibilities.

That's a fact, and one which bugs me. Almost everything you can do with money has been hidden in a complex shell-game that makes it impossible to tell what the effect of your action will be - what kind of policies you will be supporting, what kind of behaviour you will be encouraging, what kind of people will end up with your cash. Even when it's possible to find out, the system is set up in a way that makes you feel less responsible for it.

Hypothetically, you might not personally want to be responsible for selling an addictive, damaging substance like tobacco. If that was the case, you would probably not want to buy shares in a tobacco firm. You would probably feel that investing in, and profiting from, human misery in that way would be unethical.

But your bank probably uses your money to invest in such companies, or those which engage in other unpleasant activities - selling weapons, testing cosmetics on animals, propping up brutal dictatorships, taking advantage of weaker health-and-safety legislation to mistreat their employees in poorer countries. If your bank doesn't, then maybe your company pension fund will. And these people don't tell you this. There is no requirement for them to say "by the way, your money will be used for all these unpleasant purposes that you probably don't support, is that okay?"

They're trying to keep you from thinking about it. You may know it goes on, but you don't have to think about it. You might care, but the system aims to blunt that, to make you feel you shouldn't bother (after all, it's business, right?).

And then there's a more direct way of using your money - buying stuff. How often are the ethical standards of a company your key criterion in selecting products to purchase? More to the point, how often do you even know which company ultimately benefits from your purchase? Most consumer-goods brands are owned by enormous multinational conglomerates, their identities hidden behind a myriad different trading names.

All this combines to keep you from knowing the effect of your support. You probably wouldn't buy groceries from the local crack dealer. But the way identities are hidden makes it difficult to tell whether your money supports the "crack dealers" of the business world.

Retailers also encourage you to deprioritise the issue; most supermarkets print "price per hundred grams" calculations on their shelf-labels, not "ethical record of supplier". If you could choose between buying a loaf of bread for 0.50 from a weapons conglomerate or 0.52 from an animal welfare charity, would you honestly go for the cheaper option?

Do I have a solution? Of course not. None of the issues are simple and most of them require a change in public perception rather than anything else. (On a personal level, you may be able to find a bank with an ethical investment policy, which is obviously good but doesn't alter the fact that most people will be with banks that don't. Why is it seen as normal not to care how your money is used? Shouldn't the unusual thing, the one that's given a special name, be the unethical investment policy? That's the change in attitudes I'm talking about.)

Okay, rant over. :) I haven't noticed anybody saying this before, is all - and I think the way that the current system works to hide from people the way they are contributing to "evil" is one of the most subtle, pervasive, and generally icky features of our society.

Be well.