“Everyone Should be Ethical. That’s Pretty Normal”

In the following article I will be concerning myself with the quote presented in the tile. It was stated by the Head of Marketing at Triodos Bank, Hadewych Kuiper during an interview done for the Cultural Creatives video linked below.[1]

I will attempt to elucidate what Tridos Bank is all about, the meaning of ethics in this instance, the relevance when it comes to our society and I will include my informed opinion about the statement “Everyone Should be Ethical. That’s Pretty Normal”.

Starting from the term ethical bank or green bank as it is also called I can tell you that it started from the social movement known as Banktivism[2] which was started amidst the economic recession. Green banks, like Tridos are run by banktivists and are concerned with making what they call ‘ethical’ investments[3]. This means that they are going to use their money only to create positive social, cultural and environmental effects within a community. This means that they will only help finance organizations that produce organic food, that want to create renewable energy or to recycling companies, for example. Their investment in communities comes from funding an affordable housing project, ventures to increase financial literacy, scholarships or financially supporting community events. This is what Hadewych Kuiper meant by “Ethical”.

But let’s take a closer look at ethics and if it’s “pretty normal” for everyone to partake in it. First of all the term ethics, born with the Greek philosophers comes from ethos – meaning character and it is closely related to the term morality. As you may already know the idea of ethics has to do with humans that have a set of principles that can guide them towards knowing what is good or bad for society and acting in accordance with these principles in order to do the most amount of good for the most amount of people.

We can look at the works of John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant and Aristotle to see what their philosophical theories were on ethics and see if the fit with what Hadewych Kuiper was mentioning from the perspective of banks and from the perspective of individuals in a society.

Mill was a utilitarian and believed that any moral action should maximize utility (defined as being either pleasure, economic well-being or the lack of suffering). Therefore it is my opinion that certain banks can indeed focus on projects that provide help for the sick, promote education or invest in clean energy that would lower CO2 emissions that cause harm, but it is also important to note that an economy does not only stand on these clearly defined ethical pillars. Some may see common good as having a job, even if that job is in a CO2 producing factory. At least the workers get to put food on the table at the end of the day. And that food might not be organic, because of the associated high price tag that naturally grown food has. If we view it from an individual’s perspective we could say that it is indeed “normal” for anybody to want clean air, scholarships or education for their children, but it is not achievable on the society level. The more people you would have, the more unstable the ethical system would get and some may want only what is ethical for them.

Kant’s view is focused on the intention and not the outcome of an action. In this way we may say that it contradicts Mill’s view of the ethics of banking. As long as the money is invested in good will, the consequences can be disregarded even if they are not ethical. It is here that both banks and individuals like to thrive in the gray area. In other words they can be proud of what they do in the initial moment (their intention) and afterwards sleep well because they have washed their hands of the matter (the outcome). In my opinion I think that this is the current trend of society. Even if we look at the laws that govern us right now, they are concerned with the present. Being either a bank or an individual and giving a loan to an addict is considered legal even if you can tell for sure that he or she is going to use that money for illegal purchasing of drugs.

And not that we have talked about the law, we come to Aristotle that mentioned that the law is an important measurement of morality. The concern here is that laws change, they are different from country to country and even a lawful bank lending money to a lawful citizen or company can cause harm to others. But Aristotle argues that the justice involved in a transaction brings equitable outcomes. So it may be another gray area here where banks need to investigate the behavior of its clients and this may be considered an infringement of their privacy. The same can be said for individuals. How far is somebody willing to probe to find out the truth about another person? Is this the case where the unethical nature of infringing on somebody’s privacy became ethical just because it’s connected to something bigger?

Taking into account the previous paragraphs, I ask you this: If an investor doesn’t have a huge amount of money, is it ethical for them to invest in a coal power plant for a community that doesn’t have electricity and stays in the dark? Is it ethical for them to start deforesting in order to produce firewood for people not to die in the winter? We can also consider that the two previous examples provide jobs for that community and in the future, future investments can be made to lower the CO2 in that area, replant trees or create schools. But that won’t happen in the first years. The point is that it is hard to balance what is ethical nowadays. In my opinion there is no wrong or write answer to these questions when it comes to ethics.

So to a larger scale I think that it is not “Normal” for everybody to be ethical, because of the multitude of human thinking. If everybody would be ethical than we wouldn’t need any laws governing us. But then some people would take advantage of this for personal gain. Even the word “Normal” refers to norm, meaning standard, rule, model, etc. On its own this means that everybody should follow the same rules, that they should act the same. In sociological terms it is also regarded as being conformity. This relates strongly with the quote in my title and I think that with the still unanswered questions of “What is normal?” and “Who creates the norm?” (from psychology, philosophy and sociology) we may never reach a state where everyone should be ethical. And in my opinion we can try to regulate behavior to the best of our abilities in order to achieve a common good, but we shouldn’t try to force it. With the ever fluctuating ocean of human thoughts and opinions there can be no chance for equilibrium. And just like the ocean, we will never reach a state of inertia.

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMqVzdRKOJE

[2] http://banktivist.com/

[3] https://www.triodos.co.uk/en/personal/

 

References:

Wikipedia: Ethics – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics

Wikipedia: Ethical Banking – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical_banking

The (R)evolution – Cultural Creatives (video) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMqVzdRKOJE

The Banktivist Website – http://banktivist.com/

Tridos Bank Website – https://www.triodos.co.uk/en/personal/

Mill, John Stuart, and Oskar Piest, eds. Utilitarianism. Indianapolis ; New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1957.

Kant, Immanuel, and H. J. Paton. The Moral Law : [Or] Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. [3 .] ed. London: Hutchinson University Library, 1956.

Aristotle, and Joe Sachs. Nicomachean Ethics; Nicomachean Ethics. English. Newbury, Massachusetts: Focus Pub./R. Pullins, 2002.

 

T.S.

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