Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Let Your Freak Flag Fly - Money and Morals

This morning I've read the Goldman Sachs resignation letter published in the New York Times and an interview on the excellent Banking Blog in the Guardian about right and wrong becoming blurry.

On reflection two things spring to mind.

Firstly Shawcross's biography of Murdoch. I no longer have the book but I remember the opening prologue. Murdoch is waiting to find out if a tiny loan (of $10 million) is going to be rolled over. It was (from memory) the late 80's and his company was potentially in trouble because of his investment in the Sky satellite. Although apparently insignificant, if the loan was not rolled over, a payment could not be made and Murdoch feared a chain reaction that could bring down his company and potentially send the world economy into a nose dive. You may think that this is just Shawcross stroking Murdoch's ego, or Rupert's ego running away with itself. But that's not the point. Situations do occur where tycoons, captains of industry, central bankers believe that the outcome of decisions will huge consequences. What should their moral compass be in such circumstances. Should they be willing to lie? To cheat? To break the law? To be unethical? To go against their conscience?

And secondly a scene from the tv drama 24 series 2. There's a trailer of it here. The relevant bit is near the end. Jack says "If you don't tell me where the bomb is, those men are going to kill your son." And then when the terrorist refuses, "I despise you for making me do this". It very effectively sets up a moral dilemma in a dramatic fashion. Is Jack courageously doing the right thing even though its morally abhorrent? (I won't spoil it for you by revealing what actually happens just in case you've not seen it).

The point I want to make about moral choices and banks is this - Money seems to have the ability to make us postpone and ameliorate moral choices. Everything becomes a compromise, and money provides the excuse and the reason. We can't afford to buy free range eggs, so we buy battery eggs. We have a pension which we know the nasty investment banks using to ruthlessly exploit people & nature in return for profit, so we give £2 a month to save the children. But moral choice cannot be postponed or ameliorated indefinitely. You know how karma works. You know what happens when you repress stuff. Sometime, somewhere those choices, that decision will pop up with bigger and badder consequences. What you hope is that you don't have to make it.

We invented corporations precisely for this reason. They absolve us of individual culpability. We facilitate this by making ourselves morally submissive to the corporate body. The profit motivated corporate body is itself submissive to money. They adopt money's amoral nature. And, in turn, so do we. A banal but vicious circle. Two things to remember. Profit seeking corporations rule the world. And. We created them to take the blame.

Money is mysterious. And so is its relationship to mind. Its amazing how something apparently amoral can pop up along with maybe sex & death as one of those things that can get our brow furrowed in moral confusion.

I've sometimes wondered why as a man in the second half of my forties I still have long hair. People think I'm a biker or musician. And I'm not. It's probably cost me a fortune.

However, I think Dave Crosby might have the answer. It's a moral choice I've made.

I almost cut my hair
'Twas just the other day
It was gettin' kind of long
I could-a said, it was in my way
But I didn't and I wonder why
I want to let me freak flag fly
And I feel like I owe it to someone

Almost Cut My Hair - CSN live version

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