Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The nature of money and evil

Years ago people often said that ‘money (or the pursuit of it) is the root of all evil’. You don’t hear that so much these days. Some would argue its because we are more materialistic, or is it because we are just more enlightened? I think its just a practical way of living, but to give it some ethical justification its worth considering ‘what is the root of money?’
Money is a means of exchange that facilitates trade. Before we had money people had to barter for the things they wanted – causing a mismatch of wants. The divisibility, the portability and universally acceptance of money overcomes this constraint. Some would argue that had driven us to want to much, and in the race to achieve, we have lost sight of the ultimate value. So should we blame the bank or the manager of the money?
Money is a value traded for other value. Trade is inherently selfish since your prime concern is the satisfaction of personal wants – you offer a ‘value for value’. Of course you don’t mind if others benefit from trade, and trade would not proceed if they didn’t, but that does not change the fact that the trade is motivated by self-interest. This was Adam Smith’s conception of the ‘invisible hand’
Money is an inanimate object so it carries no moral significance – just as other inanimate objects like guns are not evil – they are merely tools that can be used by good or bad people.
I am currently reading a very good book – ‘Master Your Money Type’ by Jordan E. Goodman which highlights the psychology underpinning our attitudes to money. And the anti-materialism of religion and socialists grumbling about the ‘evils of money’ is highlighted as a reason for people developing destructive spending patterns. Consider the entrenched Catholicism of the Philippines where financial literacy is at a low point. People are generally self-indulgent and make little provision for the future. Its no surprise that they are poor. Might those attitudes towards money arise from the Catholic sentiments towards money – as the only Catholic countries that seem to buck the trend are Ireland and Chile. Well I would argue that attitudes to money are just one manifestation of it. But you cant argue people are all Catholic….everyone is a compromise because religion is such an anti-life set of values. Basically its about living a set of values divorced from your nature.
We all get it eventually – just some are more cynical about it – which is a matter of personal integrity. It is only in recent years that some Catholic countries have become more practical? Even the Philippines is changing. Reading from the Philippines’ Business Week Sept 7-8th 2007, Reverend Antonio Cecilio Pascual saids ‘Money per se is not evil’…that it ‘is actually our attitude with regard to money and the accumulation of material things that makes money evil’. Well I am not a religious man, but I can agree with that. Your attitude to anything (including money) is a moral judgement. All human action is based on a moral premise. The implication of this statement is that our motives are more critical than the goal.
The problem with religion is that it broadly offers no such guidance. Religion would have us believe selfishness and judging others is evil, and faith offers no value since it is merely acceptance without evidence, confidence or any sense of reality. If there were any sense of reality, you would be less virtuous. But neither am I in favour of a self-indulgent or fear-motivated attitude to money that places subjective values above the reality of human nature.
Rev Pascual perhaps lacks an understanding of philosophy because he makes no case for what types of motives are morally wrong and which are right, but that’s ok, the book above might fill in the gaps. He saids: “Education and knowledge nowadays are sought to outsmart, outpace, ‘out-knowledge’ one another so that one can be ‘successful’ as soon as possible and become rich as soon as possible” – the implication is of course that competition drives people to sin, so people loose a sense of prospective. I would argue that it’s a lack of their ability to think which develops as a response to collectivist philosophies like religion that call on humans to sacrifice their minds and values to the service of others and God. Why else would people try to impress others but because of a value system that places above self. That’s why they loose their sense of reality. Critical thinking is the gatekeeping mechanism that prevents contradictions from entering your mind. That is the basis of egoism and sound thinking, but that’s what religion poses is a threat. But really a true egoist does not define their value in terms of others standards – the superficial values of ‘non-self’ that the Reverend is concerned about.
He also says “How many parents actually try to seek good education for their children will actually become social workers and help a lot of poor people? To actually raise our kids so that they can help those in need?”. I did not think it was the parents role to decide what career a child should pursue, but you might ask why a great many clergy see imposing values on others as moral. Well since ‘fear’ is offered as a value in religion, so manipulation is a practical consequence. The sordid sex crimes in western orphanages being a case in point. But according to religion, these clergy are ‘only human’.
Next point: “Money is sinful….when it becomes an end in itself, when it is no longer just a means”. I would suggest that there is an always an end, and just the Reverend has failed to identify it. Any action is motivated by some thinking. In this instance I would suggest money serves the ‘means’ of impressing others, looking ‘successful’ in other people’s eyes. The paradox is of course is that religious undermines people’s mental efficacy, and thus makes them more beholden to what others think, and thus less likely to manage monetary matters effectively. It doesn’t help that ‘money is evil’.
Next point: “A lot of people become rich because they do not care about other people”…they ‘resort to sins to further accumulate money & power”. I don’t think money does isolate people – in fact successful people are usually very attentive to client/customer needs. Sometimes its superficial, and perceptions have primacy over real service, but surely religion which subjugates facts will only elevate this thinking. Look at the Philippines. Walk into any store and you get the empty expressions of respect like ‘Good morning Sir” that is intended to make you feel like a king, but ask them a question and you will have to repeat yourself 3 times…its not a dialect problem – they don’t listen to other Filipinos either. They treat the office or store as a playroom. It’s a testimony to their sense of reality – which is overwhelming social and not purposeful.

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