Thursday, August 26, 2021

Shopping Cart Ethics

h/t  Angus

With very little effort, and complete self-respect and actual legitimacy,
one could create and teach an entire upper-division university
class for the Philosophy, Law, or Religious Studies departments'
curriculum, based entirely on the humble shopping cart.
And we are being completely serious. It may already exist.

Angus is an obviously intelligent guy whose mind works in interesting ways, which is why, despite a few go-arounds, I still read his blog, and hope he still reads mine. We need not agree at all times and places, and to skip visits there would be a mistake for anyone. Having reached a more or less truce status between us, I commend the following thought he posted, and my reply, to generate further rumination from one and all. And because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Current Craziness, here nor abroad, yet is nonetheless something worth considering.

Um,...No. Not so much.
It's complicated.

@G. Danzig,

Natzsofast, Shopping Cart Socrates.

Isn't it true that the carts were provided in the first place as a none-too-subtle subterfuge by the store to generate more revenue, particularly more impulse revenue, by making it easier for people to cart off more goodies than one could comfortably carry in their hands and arms, and allow them to shop for longer periods of time unhindered and unencumbered, and isn't the store therefore wholly morally responsible for their safe and convenient retrieval, as part of the cost of them doing business in this manner, thus making any effort contributed to return the carts a boon to them purely at the whim of one's own beneficence, and not instead an absolute moral obligation non-consensually laid on everyone else's shoulders??

Return it where?

Isn't it just as much their property anywhere in their lot?

(We're not attempting to justify stealing it outright from the premises.)

To the front of the store?

Inside, or outside?

Am I morally obligated to sanitize it after use as well?

Why or why not?

To the cart return rack?

To the cart return rack that is 200 yards from the only available parking spaces, because management was too lazy or cheap, or both, to put the return collection rack(s) spaced equally about the lot, rather than all the way to the front door?

Stipulating that when it's only a 20' walk to Do The Right Thing it ought to be done, what about when it's 100' away? 300'? 500'? 

Where is the line between "moral duty" and "undue burden"? And why, or why not?

What about when it's a busy shopping season, and every minute I'm cart jockeying the Jericho Mile to the return rack rather than departing expeditiously, it's another interminable minute of torture laid upon someone else, who's frantically searching for the parking space I could have already been vacating?

At that point, doesn't doing anything become the Kobayashi Maru scenario?

Is that fair and just?

What about when it's 105°; or during a torrential downpour; or when people are driving through the lot like it was qualifying heats at Daytona; or when it's after dark, and the local Yute Diversity Association is holding a victim selection meeting over by the cart rack?

What about when I have to get home to pee, because the store has thoughtfully closed the required customer restrooms, and posted a "No public restroom" sign? Can't I return the cart, and pee in the corner by the locked restroom door, and retain my moral credentials?

What about if they employ a flunkie to collect the carts left all the way yonder?

Is it right to deprive them of employment?

Don't I merit a piece of their cart jockeys' salary for doing their job for them? (Don't get me started on "self" scanning my purchases, and doing my own price checks, because they'd deliberately rather not hire enough cashiers for the customers they attract, yet offer no discount to me for performing workmen's job functions uncompensated.)

Is there any moral discount for age, disability, or infirmity?

It turns out, yet again, that this morality is just as gray, and no more absolute, than any number of similar questions.

And I'm not sure, but it looks like the umpire in charge of calling out Virtue Signaling has his hand twitching over his penalty flag.

Just saying.

Inquiring minds want to know.

That said, there is some room for common ground on the topic of Shopping Cart Ethics beyond simple piracy of same: leaving your cart totally blocking a parking space out of easily mitigated laziness, turning it loose with wanton disregard to damage other people's cars downhill or on windy days, leaving it blocking the driving lanes, or leaving your entire ploughman's lunch leftovers, discarded alcohol containers, and/or wadded up overfull baby diapers remains unquestioned douchebaggery deserving of a brief but motivated flogging and time in the public stocks.


Anonymous said...

I dtopped teturning carts when stores started charging for bags. The walmart said the bac charge was to cover the cost of retrieving the carts. So if i'm paying a cart retrieval fee then I should not also have to retrieve my own cart. I see it as why pay for a service if i am going to do it myself.


Aesop said...

I get your point, but hereabouts, the bag fee was mandated not by shopping cart costs, but by Der Staatspolizei nannies at the Reichministry of Landfill Usage and Plastic Consumption, over at the Undersecretariat of Globull Warming.

So the store was lying to you as well.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Aesop, I always return my carts at least to the designated return point. Excluding, of course, your what if's (which can literally be applied to any sort of situation), I treat it on the same level that I treat the remaking of coffee at companies.

I have worked at companies which inevitably from time to time require additional coffee to be made, sometimes directly after the coffee has run out. The filters are evident, the coffee is premeasured: Empty the current filter, put a new one in, put the coffee in, push the button. I have seen more individuals than I care to admit, including high level senior management, walk down a row of push pots pushing every one, realize they are out of coffee, and they simply walk away rather than take the 20 seconds it would take to start a new pot.

As a corollary, I have found the same companies to be the sorts that promote how much they care about employees but in point of fact do not.

Perhaps it is human decency. But it is just as easily doing something to make the next person's life a little easier. Walking a cart back, in general, takes 30 seconds. And while there will always be exceptions - in shopping carts or in coffee - my real world observations seem to indicate it is less about the exception and more about the attitude that one is too good/too busy/too important to bother with such trifles. I would argue that trifles very quickly morph into larger areas where the same logic holds true.

(And yes, I always remake the coffee.)

Aesop said...

I don't disagree. Most people are sh*ts.
"Bastard covered bastards, with bastard filling."
But that includes the businesses' people as well.

So it's just not quite as simple as either-or.

If you can put it back, and nothing but perverse cupidity prevents it, you should.
But it's not quite the cut-and-dried "never leave babies in an open campfire" kind of question the original philosopher laid out.

1chota said...

Well played, kind sir.

pkerot said...

I didnt see safety mentioned. Old people increase the chances of being attacked as they take a cart away from their car and walk back to the car. Calling us names is NOT going to encourage us to take chances with our wellbeing. I am too old to fight and too old to run

pkerot said...

Also, I always park further out in the lot. Walking is good for me and when I need a cart to help me stay on my feet, its nice to find one nearby

Anonymous said...

it may be a bit on the simple side, but I would rather live with people that return carts than
the ones that do not (big city people) we left a big east coast leftist city and have not
looked back. do not even think about going back either. or even shop in big box stores, like walmart. how often do you see anyone there returning a cart? small towns are the way to live. low, if any crime, people are a LOT NICER by far. I do not miss doing guard duty unloading the car to keep my stuff from being taken. a must back in the big city.

ruralcounsel said...

What if you used a cart that was abandoned out in the parking lot in the first place? Why not leave it where you found it? I don't see that as a big sin. Especially when the store doesn't create special return corrals out in the lot.

zeno said...

I saw a man in a wheel chair trying to get past a couple of unreturned buggies (carts). After that I always take them to a collection point or back into the store.
Why not?

That being said, this whole post seems pointless to me.

Aesop said...

Thinking about things is never pointless.

Slick said...

Returning them just seems like the responsible/orderly thing to do. I believe the ones throwing trash out the car window have a problem returning carts also. Somebody owes me mind set. I also would rather live with people who don't do either.

Mark Jones said...

I always return my shopping carts. It's an exercise in thankfulness--that I am ABLE to push the cart back to the return area and walk back to my car. There have been times, when I was injured or ill, that I was in no shape to do it. So I remind myself to be grateful that I am able, and as I get older that becomes more important. (That's why I also occasionally stop and pay attention to my ability to breathe easily without coughing and sneezing, and to notice that I'm not suffering from fever or chills. I always miss those things when I'm sick, so I make a point of noticing when I'm not.)

Bear Claw Chris Lapp said...

Character is doing the right thing even when no one is looking.

Oh yeah I do cuss you when an abandoned cart is in my way.

Anonymous said...

Don't know how the parking lots are in buttfukifornia, but in Mich, the cart returns are always no more than a hundred feet away.
Always return them, even if it's raining.
But that's just me.

T-Rav said...

All I can say is, from childhood on I have almost invariably* returned the cart. And I frequently go out of my way to grab carts that are not in the return slots, and push them in. It offends me on a personal level.

*I will plead guilty to not doing so in a few cases where there are practically no return areas in the parking lot, or during heavy rain or other extreme weather. So if that makes me a hypocrite, so be it.

Robert said...

At Aldi's the carts are daisy-chained together, requiring the insertion of a quarter to free the next available cart. Want your quarter back? Return the cart and you gets yer money back.

Woodman's once sequestered ALL the carts due to high wind. They obviously knew too many of their shoppers were too stupid/lazy/disabled
to maintain control of a cart in the parking lot. An employee could be made available to push your cart to your car and return said cart for you.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

I do not know it is a pointless exercise in thought either. People can tell us many things about themselves, but their actions reveal who they really are. Even, in some cases, by returning shopping carts and making coffee.

tweell said...

It's a minor indicator of character. Not all indications are correct, but if you gather enough indications, you'll be able to understand the character (or lack thereof) of the people there.
A somewhat larger indicator is garbage in a public area. Do people dispose of their garbage in a proper fashion, or simply dump it where they stand? I've seen dirty diapers on the ground a few feet from a trashcan.
In either case, it shows regard for others when the shopping carts are stowed and the garbage taken care of. We've seen that where the small things are not cared for, the bigger things are likewise ignored. Where minor acts of vandalism are accepted, eventually greater crimes occur.

MMinWA said...

You're being contrary just to be polemic. Nonetheless...

I always park my newer car on the edge of the lot because of AHs leaving the damn carts to careen into it. My older truck, I park closer. But no matter how far it is to the gathering point, I bring the cart there.

When I see litter at my favorite trailhead, it's the same as an abandoned cart only turned up to 11, I just don't get it.

Aesop said...


No, I'm pointing out that it's not cut-and-dried, and that there's an exception to every rule. Or in this case, 50 exceptions.

Poor examples make for poor law, and that's true in morality as well as in the courtroom.

And the number of wild carts one sees in public puts paid to the notion that people are as scrupulous as they claim about what they do when no one's looking. As suggested, that's textbook Virtue Signaling, because by definition, no one is watching.

Illustrating what I captioned the post in the OP, one could perform a simple experiment, and observe human behavior, and get an idea of the percentages of people who actually return carts, versus not.

I may have loads of free time here in the none-too-distant future, and do exactly that.

Anonymous said...

Putting a cart in the closest rack keeps it from hitting other shoppers' cars.
That is my decision under my control.
Abandoning the cart for any of the slights mentioned (real or imagined) is my choice. Look out for each other, or don't. It's my choice; there is no gun to your head.
There retailers willing and staffed to cater to the more needy shopper.
Walmart isn't one of them. Leaving a cart to go caroming through parking lot won't change that.

Unknown said...

You are right. It is complicated. But you made them think, which is a good thing.

Some will never return they buggy...some throw trash on the ground standing next to a garbage can. Some will always be with us.

Contraception destroyed western civilization and we worry about shopping carts.

The love of money is the root of all evil. Something for nothing...the easy way without children.

Keep it up.

Armadillo jackal

The Overgrown Hobbit said...

The daughter product and I agree that these exchanges are why blog posts are far better entertainment than the globohomo media product.

Her input: More data is needed to judge civilizational litmus test.

Idea for the homeschool coop: Is there a better benchmark?

Finally: Just because they seduced you with the cart does not mean you had to grab one!

Good times.

John Wilder said...


I thought I was alone! I had this exact conversation with my friend.