By: Atul K. Shah
Someone, somehow, discovered that the new British five pound note, made of plastic, used ink which had beef tallow/animal fat. They were animal welfare activists, and caused a storm gathering over 100000 signatures and eventually, the Bank of England had to apologise, and guaranteed that future notes will not have any animal ingredients.
I was interviewed on this theme by both BBC radio and television, as they were keen to get a Jain perspective. Being media, all they were looking for was a soundbite, though for me there was a much deeper story here. It also happens that I am an active writer and researcher on Ethical Finance, partly inspired by my first meeting with the eminent writer, scientist and film-maker Dr. Michael Tobias 25 years ago. He has always been most respectful and encouraging of Jain culture and science. In our rush to modernise, we have lost so much wisdom and science from our past, and replaced it with fraudulent and violent theories and practices. And those with the inherited wisdom need to be supported and encouraged to speak up and not get drowned out by the noise of modern intellectuals and academic scholarship which often is in denial of ancient cultures and their scientific discoveries.
The global finance system is an important player in social and environmental destruction, and also actively involved in the perpetuation of animal cruelty. The £5 note crisis for me was a symbol of this wider malaise – one which the powers that be would not wish us to challenge or question very hard. If I look at finance scholarship and books used at University level globally, both college and post-graduate, there is no discussion about the impact of finance on animals whatsoever. None – as if they simply do not exist. For corporate finance theory, it is regretful that there is such a thing as society, animals and the environment. In a perfect free markets world, financial transactions would help promote a competitive world where everyone can trade efficiently. The question of purpose or ecological impact does not even arise. The human being is assumed to be virtually irrelevant to finance theory. The famous sociologist Bruno Latour recently said that even if the world were to die, capitalist theory assumes that economic reality must survive and be bailed out. It is beyond nature, and yet very dominating and controlling of nature. Finance today has become a curse on society.
The theory and mechanics of finance are deliberately clouded in mystique to confuse and exploit. Experts want to guard their territory and profits, and hide their true values, greed and violence. Social media is a great tool for helping ordinary people to unravel such fraudulent thinking and theorising, and I use both my University teaching and my writings to inform the world that there can be a different, kinder, gentler, caring finance. Dr. Aidan Rankin and I have just completed a book entitled ‘Jainism and Ethical Finance’ which shows in a practical way how such thinking and practice can be achieved. Our research exposes the corruption of modern finance teaching, which completely excludes culture and ethics. The Jains have a profound philosophy of unconditional compassion for all living beings – ahimsa – and they have also successfully applied it in business for thousands of years. Of course not all Jains are perfect, but that does not mean that we ignore the faith and its science in encouraging ethical finance.
Money today has become deeply enmeshed with politics, and instead of becoming a servant of humanity, it has become our master and curse. We must revisit its fundamentals, and take away the expertise and control of finance from those who are unethical, uncaring, and professionally ignorant of the ecosystem and everyday cruelty of human thought and action. Nothing less will do.
Atul K. Shah PhD is a Senior Lecturer at Suffolk Business School and founder of www.diverseethics.com