rampstyle #28

Bernd Villhauer: Beauty is the Splendor of Truth

Dr. Bernd Villhauer is managing director of the Global Ethic Institute, a research and educational institution that combines business and philosophy in its approach. Our conversation focused, among other things, on ways of dealing with a world in which, against the backdrop of global crises, the divisions in society are becoming ever deeper and increasingly entrenched. We also talked about comics and hope. Because, as the fifty-seven-year-old philosopher tells us, he is also an incorrigible optimist.

  • Interview
    Michael Köckritz
Mr. Villhauer, who exactly are you?

I’m at least two things. I’m fascinated by economics, especially financial economics, and by the homo economicus. And I’m someone who wants to understand and comprehend things. So it’s no coincidence that I have two educational backgrounds: I trained as an industrial clerk first, have business experience, and then pursued a doctorate in philosophy.

What drives you?

I’m an extremely curious person. The type of person who really wants to know what’s behind things, how things work, and how everything is connected. This extreme curiosity applies to people as well as to the world in general.

You’re the managing director of the Global Ethic Institute. What exactly is that?

The Global Ethic Institute at the University of Tübingen brings together the world of ­business with the world of philosophy and ethics. We were founded ten years ago based on Hans Küng’s idea of a global ethic. Hans Küng was a Swiss theologian and author who was interested in what religions have in common. The golden rule, for example: “Treat others the way you would like them to treat you.” This rule can be found in Islam, Christianity and Buddhism – it thus forms the basis of a global community. What we are doing is we are looking at ethics in business and economics on the basis of this global ethic. So we’re looking at what unites us rather than what divides us. Given the current global situation – with the war in Ukraine and all the other wars around the world, the intense culture wars that we are experiencing in Germany, but even more so in the U.S. – it is precisely in times like these that I think it is important to ask: Where can we find reliable bridges, where can we find opportunities to talk to each other and exchange ideas? That is the basic philosophy of the Global Ethic Institute.

How does the economy fit into all this?

The economy is important because people are economic beings. Always and everywhere. Without an economy we wouldn’t be able to survive, without an economy there would be no livelihood, without an economy there is no food. Economy is an essential part of the way we organize our lives. And if we don’t have answers to the questions of where the opportunities for cooperation and common ground are in the economic sphere, we might as well let it be. One point is that we have to ask ourselves if there are ethical aspects to economic activities. The other point is that we can learn a lot from economic practice. Economics is dirty work, there’s resistance, there are some real strange things, exhausting stuff. But ethics has to get its hands dirty, otherwise it’s not ethics. I, for example, deal with issues of financial ethics. I learn a lot about how people can act well or make good decisions within the necessities of the financial industry. The need to generate returns, to invest profitably, to be able to assess risk, for example, and bringing all that together with my ethical experiences. In other words, economics learns from ethics, but ethics also learns from economics.

»Because they increasingly see themselves as a normal part of society. The financial world used to be more organized as its own caste. People defined themselves as something special – in other words, black suits, dark ties, a certain mannerism, a certain kind of almost aristocratic demeanor.«
Bernd Villhauer
You run a blog with the unusual title “Finance and Elegance”. How did that come about?

First of all, I think it just sounds nice. [laughs] And that’s not unimportant either.

It really does sound elegant.

A philosopher once said, “Beauty is the splendor of truth.” When something is beautiful, I always suspect that there might be some truth to it. I wanted to test this hypothesis for the financial sector. The financial press publishes forecasts, analyses, chart descriptions and so on. But the topics I wanted to cover weren’t really there. Aesthetic questions, for example. Why are bank employees dressed differently today than they were twenty years ago? Or why are very specific linguistic patterns so commonplace in finance? How does Hollywood hit upon financial topics anyway? So one of the topics I wrote about in my blog was what financial movies there are out there. It’s about the unfamiliar sides of the financial world, whether in film or in comics.

And why do people in the financial sector dress ­differently today?

Because they increasingly see themselves as a normal part of society. The financial world used to be more organized as its own caste. People defined themselves as something special – in other words, black suits, dark ties, a certain mannerism, a certain kind of almost aristocratic demeanor. Because that helped to define a clear distance to the rest of society. All that has disappeared in recent years. Banks, but other financial players as well, have learned, and in some cases have had to learn, that they are not above this game, but are part of it.

How does Hollywood depict the world of finance?

It’s actually a big problem trying to depict finance on screen, because it’s not really something that can be visualized. You can’t just let money flow through the picture like the Rio Grande in a Western. As a director, you have to capture very abstract things and complex processes in images. The essential thing in a movie is that you don’t just assert and say something, but that you show it, visualize it. That’s an enormous challenge as far as the world of finance is concerned. That’s why films having to do with finance often borrow from other genres. From gangster films, for example, or political drama. A good example is Margin Call. It’s a wonderful film that focuses on the psychological dynamics in the financial industry. The film is not so much interested in derivatives and financial products, but in the people who deal with derivatives and financial products. Wall Street tried to psychologize in a similar way, but at the same time incorporate a bit of the aesthetics and the speed of the financial industry into the rhythm of the film.

(...)

→ read the full interview in rampstyle #28

Michael Köckritz

Michael Köckritz

Editor in Chief
As a journalist, author, artist and media maker, Michael Köckritz succeeds time and again in creating both attention-grabbing and sustainably stimulating impulses in the context of contemporary and future topics as well as lifestyle and luxury worlds. As publisher and editor-in-chief, he has realised a whole series of book and lifestyle magazine formats that have regularly won numerous national and international awards over the years. The car culture magazine ramp, the men's lifestyle magazine rampstyle and the design magazine ramp.design are published internationally and are considered style-setting.

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