“My money doesn’t have a conscience” (Overheard at Ithaca Coffee, Feb 10, 2018)

Said in the context of responding to his financial adviser who was checking to see if he minds being invested in fossil-fuel industries. The first implication of this response is that the speaker believes that while he does have a conscience and therefore might believe that the fossil-fuel industries are committing some social ill, his money cannot share those feelings with him. What does it mean to anthropomorphize our money, and endow it with its own agented function, namely to accumulate?

That verb - accumulate - doesn’t occur in the absence of the other verbs he wishes to avoid doing himself - burning, polluting, exploiting. With his money, he has purchased a smoke stack or else a coal boiler. He is making profit off them, even while his conscience tells him that he isn’t paying fully for the (environmental) cost of their use. He may say that it isn’t illegal or that if it isn’t his money being used it will be someone else’s; the government hasn’t properly forbidden or regulated such exploitation. However the possibility that the corner store will be robbed, makes it no more ethical for you to be doing the robbing.

In the end, this alienation of the activity of money from ourselves, not just in investments, but in consumer purchases as well as our choice of credit card companies/banks, belies our self-reflection of our own morality (do we actually believe the true cost exceeds the paid costs?) or our abdication of morality’s role in our decisions.