In January of this year, I wrote a post about experience envy. I was very envious of such blogging luminaries as Paula Pant and Maggie Banks riding elephants in exotic lands. But happily, with the aid of Mrs. Groovy and some chocolate moonshine, I was able to work through my FoMO issues and come to the realization that my mundane life wasn’t so bad.
Then about a month ago, I got a very respectful email regarding this experience envy/elephant riding post from the blogger Miss Mazuma. Miss Mazuma had recently worked at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and she wanted me to know that the elephants groomed for riding are terribly abused. And because of this terrible abuse, Miss Mazuma asked—again, in a very respectful manner—that I reconsider my desire to ride an elephant.
Happily, Miss Mazuma and I are on the same page. In fact, as I was writing the post, Mrs. Groovy expressed reservations about elephant riding as well. But I decided to keep my elephant riding desire in the post because the desire was entirely tongue-in-cheek.
Was that wrong? Probably. Pointing to elephant riding as an envy-inducing activity—even in jest—surely gives elephant riding a patina of legitimacy. So on behalf of Miss Mazuma, and Mrs. Groovy, I hereby renounce my tacit approval of elephant riding. Elephant riding isn’t harmless fun.
Personal Finance and Ethics
Because of Miss Mazuma’s heartfelt email, I’ve been thinking a lot about personal finance and ethics. The two topics invariably cross paths. And I’m just working out how you draw the line between them. In other words, at what point does something become so unethical that your financial support of this something becomes unethical as well?
For instance, I will not travel to a Muslim country because of the way women, gays, and non-Muslims are treated in Muslim countries. But I would travel to India. Why? India is more tolerant than, say, Saudi Arabia, but its respect for civil liberties falls far short of ours. So why do I think it’s okay to go to India?
Travel is particularly dicey when it comes to personal finance and ethics. Like a lot of bloggers, I want to travel the world. Mrs. Groovy and I hope to make it to Ecuador, Thailand, Vietnam, and Australia over the next five years. But if we restricted our travel to countries that met or exceeded our political and social norms, we’d probably have to forego Ecuador, Thailand, and Vietnam. Again, where do you draw the line? Is it fair to hold other countries to the same standards we have for ourselves?
On the home front these ethical dilemmas confound us as well. I live in North Carolina, and a lot of people and companies have decided to boycott my state because of HB2, the law that requires transgender people to use the public restroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificates. And I respect this stance. But what about states that allow colleges to discriminate against whites and Asians (i.e., affirmative action)? Should these states be boycotted as well? And if not, why? Is discrimination based on what’s between your legs less pernicious than discrimination based on what your skin color is?
These are tough questions. And we all have to grapple with them. I, for instance, see nothing wrong with certain kinds of gender discrimination. In New York there’s a gym called Lucille Roberts that only caters to women. Men are verboten. But if I were still living in New York, and Mrs. Groovy wanted to join that gym, I would have no ethical qualms about it. Likewise, I saw nothing wrong with the Augusta National Golf Club’s former policy of only allowing men to join. Is this a moral blind spot on my part? Is any kind of gender discrimination ethical?
Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s all I got. Sorry for throwing such a heavy topic at you today. I blame Miss Mazuma. But in all seriousness, I’m just trying to figure out how to be a better person. I want my spending to align with my values, but doing so isn’t always easy.
So how do you resolve this dilemma? Where do you draw the line when it comes to your finances and ethics?