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An ethical way to invest in the most ruthless of moneymakers

It can be hard to make a living in modern Britain. Contrary to the prediction of Bertrand Russell we have not all been freed from the bonds of labour. The arrival of labour saving devices has not given us the freedom we expected. Robots apparently do not even threaten jobs, according to some reports each robot leads to the creation of three jobs for those who need them. Given that labour saving computers need constant attention to clean up viruses and malware and find solutions for the bloat of new updates this might not even seem surprising.
Mind you it is possible to buy your way out of the daily grind and thus leave your days open to pursue more fruitful ways of making a living. For the average person perhaps, the promised future in which machines would do our work for us has not arrived. For those who have the money to buy their tickets to freedom from hard work it is quite possible. Obviously a substantial amount of money would be needed to manage this, maybe a decade or two’s wages for most people. A lot of people have managed it. Sometimes they only succeeded because they inherited the requisite amount but others have worked their way into the position through their own cunning and ruthlessness. For some people the very act of buying one’s way out of work becomes a job in itself, even an obsession as they become wealthier and wealthier.
You may have worked out by now that it is the world of shares, stocks and financial trading to which I refer. If you can work out which businesses are going to be successful then you can become wealthy. If you can work out which ones will simply keep on a level then you can potentially bring in an income sufficient to keep afloat. For a lot of people who have to spend their days sweeping, building, digging, driving, painting, vending, etc, there is one obstacle that can prevent them making a living through this method. Aside from needing to learn the esoteric intricacies of entering the world of stocks and shares there are ethical considerations that many find hard to overcome.
Naturally one makes investments in order to earn money. A lot like the days when banks offered reasonable levels of interest except that the levels possible with a good investment can be far more interesting. In order to make money the investment must be in the sort of company that is likely to make more money and pay out dividends. With a free market in which regulation is kept to a minimum the more successful companies are also the most ruthless companies. They are the companies that don’t mind chopping down forests full of undiscovered creatures; they are the companies that don’t mind sourcing their products from unregulated factories where the age of the workers does not concern the owners, or the materials used might have been mined at terrible cost to the environment and the miners; they are the companies that see the law as a set of rough guide lines that can be interpreted in many ways, and if by chance that interpretation was incorrect the payment of a fine will be all the recompense necessary.
There are of course many successful companies that have far more ethical processes than these but those are the companies that must work extra hard to compete with the less ethical companies. The odds are that they will be paying their workers the lowest prices they can get away with and they will pay their taxes wherever is most convenient, as well as cutting costs by expecting their staff to do excellent jobs with old and malfunctioning equipment. Once again I may have painted a picture of a less than desirable company to hitch one’s ethical karma to.
Of course there are many flavours of business, but if a person wishes to buy shares in a company then the companies that are floated publically on the stock exchange do largely fit into these two categories, and for many people with the intelligence to work out where their money will get the best return these ethical shortcomings are unreconcilable. This is one of the reasons why many people never succeed in buying their way out of logging, farming, welding, bricklaying, fishing, etc. For these people the idea of sitting back and letting the money flow in from all these dubious business practices is as unacceptable as sitting in a bedsit on the dole waiting for junkies to come and buy heroin off them. Here we see a potential meeting of morals between the middle classes and the so called scroungers that Ian Duncan Smith is so intent on destroying.
For the people who are still earning their money without supplementation from shares it might seem as though they are the ones left behind by Bertrand Russell’s prediction. They look on the travesties conducted in the name of business and just hope that one day regulations will be put in place to prevent such practices and in the mean time they hope that perhaps consumers will choose companies with fewer ethical violations. They see the banks distorting markets and losing billions only to be bailed out by tax payer’s money and have little recourse beyond tutting and grumbling in the pub later. They would vote for a government that would sort it all out but the political parties have little difference between them and place GDP so high on their scale of priorities that they aren’t going to be the ones to sort it out unless a critical mass of public opinion forces them.
Getting such a critical mass of opinion in a nation is not an easy job for anyone. Pressure groups and charities work hard to force businesses to be more ethical and for governments to create better legislation, but it all blends together into the buzz of daily news. The political parties canvas to gain voters but as the last election showed no party can even gain a majority at present. Since then the political landscape has become even more fragmented. It is difficult to align the wishes of an entire nation so government ends up controlled by whoever has the loudest voices. These are media organisations with their own business interests which tread the delicate path between success and failure just as any other large business.
The solution to the problem of poor ethics in business for all those who have been trying to keep their hands and their morals clean, is the solution that goes immediately against their instinct. It is by investing in the very companies which have these terrible practices that they can guide them towards better ways of doing business. In day to day running of these companies the board of directors makes business decisions based upon rules that are set out in the Companies Acts. These rules suggest they ought to think about broader issues and their effect on their environment but only really so long as they don’t let it stand too badly in the way of returning maximum profit to the shareholder. However the secondary input that guides their decision making is the input of investors at any meetings they attend.
Given that the entire country proves to be problematic even for the Prime Minister to lead or control it makes sense that ordinary people would only be able to make the world better in smaller ways. Start with the world in front of you. At a certain point one begins to realise that doing the washing up or the vacuum cleaning is quite satisfying but makes no real long term impact on the world and the problems that afflict it. Conveniently if it is possible to save or raise even a small amount of cash it is possible to step into those companies that appear in the newspapers every day. Those things that people vote to change in elections can be changed from within the companies themselves. Admittedly it is still necessary to have the backing of many other like minded thinkers, but far fewer than in a public election. Alternatively simply raising enough money can give one investor the voting power of many.
Without the force of legislation there are few ways to change the behaviour of a company. Consumer action works to an extent but is often easily exhausted and difficult to affect by repairing company behaviour. Only by getting power inside a company itself can one be most assured of getting close to having a positive influence over the way that company conducts its business. By attending shareholder meetings one stands a far better chance of meeting other shareholders and of affecting their thought processes. The more shares a person owns and the more ruthless the company in which they have bought the shares, the more potential for good they can create in shareholder meetings. A side effect of this method of trying to make a better world is that those dividends are received by the people who are working hardest to prevent the companies in question from doing any further harm. That is the way to buy into Bertrand Russell’s prediction without breaking one’s moral principles.

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Second stage thinking erodes religious belief?

I discovered this article in a post of Lynda Giddens on Google+.  As you are probably aware I am a believer in God, but what most people fail to appreciate is that I do not believe in anthropomorphising God.  I will anthropomorphise many things:  my computer; my toaster; my electric fan – all in a sense of fun, but I feel it is inappropriate to anthropomorphise something that is greater than the entirety of existence by an order of infinity.  I therefore had to say something and record it for you to read, mostly on account of the fact that I can’t keep my trap shut.

 

http://scienceprogressaction.org/intersection/2012/04/new-study-second-stage-thinking-erodes-religious-belief/

 

I am afraid I shall have to disagree with the conclusion that people seem to be drawing across the net that this means that God only exists for those who don’t apply their minds to thinking about it.  It is a shame I can’t find the full text anywhere as it looks like a good read.  I have no doubt that the original creators of the study have done assiduous work in reaching their conclusions but science is largely not an occupation of second stage thinking.  Science is generally the slow and plodding crunching of data.  There is usually someone at the top applying the data to the development of an understanding of hypotheses that will require second stage thinking but for the most part drones are needed to carry out tedious tasks and be as impartial as possible, which requires the suppression of second stage thinking.

However, that is not the point I wish to make.

While the vast majority of people do get by on mere faith this does cause the problem that the vast majority of people therefore passionately hold ideas of which they have little understanding.  At the top of the field though there are a lot of people who do apply a lot of second stage thinking.  A typical subsection of the religious community is probably very similar to a typical cross section of the scientific community.  I would imagine that a kind of social brownian motion would occur that would lead to rough dispersal of average numbers of different personality types in all areas of thinking whether secular or religious.

An immense amount of thought has been put into religion by those members of a religion who have a tendency to philosophy.  And lets not forget that the name by which science was originally known was ‘natural philosophy’.  Ask the average follower of secular beliefs something like “how does evolution or nuclear fission work?” and you would simply get a regurgitation of facts read in a newspaper or book if you were lucky.  Very few people would have applied a great deal of thought.  The vast majority of people would rather watch ‘Jersey Shore’ or ‘The Only Way is Essex’ than sit and think about something in depth, and this goes for those with religious and secular acceptance.

Those who do think about it do so in incredible depth though.  Steven Hawkings does nothing but think in the scientist’s camp.  When I was in college for the first time I was given the initial choice in the small college I attended of studying sociology, law or theology.  I chose law because I felt it would be of most use but whilst making my choice I sat in to observe a theology class.  I was very surprised at quite how hard an option it was.  The vocabulary and thought processes of the theologians was intimidating, and this was to me who had himself applied days, weeks and even months to the consideration of the nature of how God might best be described.

A lot depends upon how you define God.  Many people have a tendency to anthropomorphise God.  This is a tendency which is difficult to escape as this is how many of us are brought up and even if it is in contrast to our actual belief system we will obviously have difficulty in breaking out of this mode and will often tend to use personal pronouns to refer to ‘him’.  Of course the idea that there is some kind of omnipotent white bearded man in the sky whose personal appearance and mental processes just happen to be just like those reached by a primate floating on a rock through space after millions of year of evolution is patently absurd.  If there were such a being then it would have been subject to entirely different environmental stressors and would have evolved in an entirely different matter, except of course this is God we are talking about so he was already there eternally before the existence of the universe.  What he was doing in this time is anyone’s guess.  As he is supposedly omniscient I suppose he could have been using all that time watching previews of Doctor Who and the Simpsons.  However even these would run out eventually in infinity so he had to create the universe.  Not a very sensible view of a deity.

Like all modes of thought religious belief has evolved over the centuries.  I think that the people who originally conceived the idea of religion may have known what they were thinking about but due to the crudities and limitations of language at the time could not articulate their beliefs and so preferred to simply tell people that faith was necessary.  Baruch Spinoza was one of the philosophers who first managed to deliver a view of a panentheistic God that was more in line with the sort of thing that a secular mind would be able to accept.  He is mentioned in Wikipedia as having said:  “Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived.”  “Individual things are nothing but modifications of the attributes of God, or modes by which the attributes of God are expressed in a fixed and definite manner.”  Albert Einstein named Spinoza as being the philosopher who had most influenced his world view.  Einstein considered himself to be a secular panentheist, i.e. a scientist who did have faith in something with a nature of infinity.

Ludwig Wittgenstein was another philosophical thinker with a powerful mind.  He began his career as a mathematician of phenomenal ability.  He is best known for his Tractatus Logico Philosophicus which was named to evoke its relationship to Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico Philosophicus.  What Wittgenstein was essentially doing was dragging Spinoza’s views, formed in the 17th century atmosphere of religious fervour, into the largely secular 20th century.  Although Wittgenstein viewed his work as almost completely misunderstood by his contemporaries it was accepted as an incredibly important work by many of the deep thinkers of the first half of the century.

Even in the 20th century Wittgenstein was forced to bemoan the limitations of language despite its massive improvement in sophistication since the days of the proclaimed avatars.   He wrote a letter to Bertrand Russell in which he said, “The main point is the theory of what can be expressed (gesagt) by prop[osition]s—i.e. by language—(and, which comes to the same thing, what can be thought) and what can not be expressed by pro[position]s, but only shown (gezeigt); which, I believe, is the cardinal problem of philosophy.”

In line with this at the end of his Tractatus Wittgenstein said “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”  Of course the scientists of the time said of course.  These things we can’t talk about because language is unable to express them are below us.  We should not even think about such pointless esoteria.  Wittgenstein’s opinion was that they had all misunderstood.  It was exactly those things that language was unable to articulate which were the very most important for us to think about.

When Wittgenstein was later invited to lecture at Cambridge the thing that stood in his way was that he did not have a PhD.  Bertrand Russell told him that his Tractatus was sufficient to submit as a thesis so he gave it in to be examined.  At the end of the defence he told the examiners not to worry, he knew they would not understand it.  After having read it one of them is recorded to have said “I myself consider that this is a work of genius; but, even if I am completely mistaken and it is nothing of the sort, it is well above the standard required for the Ph.D. degree.”

So in light of this and much more beside I have to say that I do not think that disbelief in God is a reflection of higher thinking and that belief in God is a reflection of failing to think to such a level.  Most people do no know most things.  They simply follow the people who do know, this applies in the secular as well as the religious world.