Shopping carts, masks, and morality

Abandoned shopping cartThe shopping cart theory — or rather the S.C. hypothesis, since it really isn’t a theory in the proper scientific sense — is a test of our humanity, or so the notion goes:

The shopping cart is ultimate litmus test for whether a person is capable of self-governing.

But it’s more than that: it’s a test of civility, social conscience, morality, community, and ultimately our level of selfishness. But none of these sites seem to bring up the outright theft of shopping carts for the sake of convenience by someone too lazy to actually carry home what they bought — I’ve seen people pushing stolen carts dozens of times right here in my small town. The piece continues:

To return the shopping cart is an easy, convenient task and one which we all recognize as the correct, appropriate thing to do. To return the shopping cart is objectively right.

We’ve all seen people simply push their carts into an open space in the parking lot, then drive off. Simply because someone else has to go out and round it up for them doesn’t matter. All that matters is themselves and what is convenient for them. Doing the “right” or “proper” thing never enters their minds.

There are no situations other than dire emergencies in which a person is not able to return their care. Simultaneously, it is not illegal to abandon your shopping cart. Therefore the shopping cart presents itself as the apex example of whether a person will do what is right without being forced to do it.
No one will punish you for not returning the shopping cart, no one will find you or kill you for not returning the shopping cart. You must return the shopping cart out of the goodness of your own heart. You must return the shopping cart because it is the right thing to do. Because it is correct.

Being correct or doing the “right thing” often interferes with convenience, selfishness, and innate laziness.  Why walk another 10 or 20 metres to return a cart when you can leave it in the way for someone else to bring back? Another site with a piece titled, “The Trolley Test Decides If You’re A Good Person Or A Fkn Savage, So Time To Lose Some Mates” adds this:

The test asks a simple question: when you’re at the shops, do you return the trolley to the trolley bay, or do you just leave it in the middle of the carpark? …as the theory goes, whether or not you return the shopping trolley determines what kind of person you are. Why? Well because there’s no real consequences to NOT returning the trolley, nobody really cares if you do or don’t and there’s no reward for doing the right thing. But that’s just the thing, we all know that putting back the trolley IS the right thing.
The shopping cart is what determines whether a person is a good or bad member of society.

One site about this issue concludes with:

One thing is certain, simple things can be a test of our character.
When we do what is right when no one is looking. Our character is being strengthened. It builds a sense of integrity by standing for what is right and not operating mainly within the context of reward and punishment.
So next time you’re finished with your grocery, ask yourself: To return or not return the shopping cart, that is the question.

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Can an atheist be a good citizen?

The answer to the headline’s question is no, at least according to the late Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus in a podcast in the Socrates in the City series (Sept. 22, 2004; I came across it as one of the chapters in the 2012 book from the podcast, Life, God, and Other Small Topics. Neuhaus’ talk was actually based on a 1991 piece he wrote.) To which response I must respond: codswallop.

Not that I expect religious employees like Neuhaus to defend atheism, but to suggest people can only be good under the influence of the supernatural — and even then only their particular version of the supernatural — is an arrogant, ideological statement, not one of fact. It’s been debunked by much better minds than mine (Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Robert Buckman come to mind). 

Interestingly, the Catholic League weighs in on the debate, Can We Be Good Without God, without entirely refuting Neuhaus, but rather by expanding on several points of the argument. However, the conclusion the author of that piece reaches is that “Ultimately, yes, one individual here, another individual there could be really sweet and fine without God, but a system that obliterates the religious basis of morality will ultimately consume itself.” To which, I again say, codswallop.

Neuhaus’s perspective is regrettably narrow: Christian, Catholic, and American. He takes pot shots at Protestants, especially recent ones, doesn’t comment on other world religions at all (as if they were invisible), ignores non-theistic philosophies, doesn’t talk about levels of governance aside from the US federal, rambles about the American founders, and ignores the experience in other countries. Even in context of his American perspective, he blithely sidesteps the vexing Constitutional separation of church and state by not raising it at all. For such a big issue, his answer is a peashooter response that misses the target entirely.

Yet for all my disagreement, this is the sort of philosophical debate I love to read about and engage in (not that there’s a lot of opportunity to actually debate these days; Facebook is just a noisy echo chamber). So my participation is mostly limited to reading the works of others and blogging about my own perspective. So here goes.

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Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules

12 RulesFor LifeI really wanted to read this book objectively, separating it from the media hype and social media torrents of opinion and abuse that often accompany its author, Jordan Peterson. I wanted to consider it in the company of the vast number of already-published self-help or philosophical books, and the historical context in which they exist.

Sadly, I was unable to do so for one simple reason: there’s too much Jordan Peterson in it. You have to wade through far too much of him to get to the rules. He meanders quite a bit, mostly to ramble on about himself. The rules are, themselves, rather diluted by his presence.

Jordan Peterson is undoubtedly a smart, well-educated man and a reasonably good writer, but sometimes he comes across as a pompous, supercilious git. And that obfuscates the intended message, at least for me.

Peterson is, like I said, a smart man. I cannot dispute his statements on psychology or human development because he knows more about it than most of us. And he references several of his statements with citations to such awe-inspiring academic documents as “Allostasis and allostatic load implications for neuropsychopharmacology,” “Tool use induces morphological updating of the body schema” and “Dimension models of personality: The five-factor model and the DSM-5.” Who am I to argue with these sources?

For those of us on a less-lofty plane, he also references the Bible, poems of W.B. Yeats, Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, Lao Tse’s Tao teh ching and the Guardian newspaper. Whew. Something I can read and maybe understand. But these references don’t cover the voluminous number of claims and statements in the book. It’s full of pithy epigrams and aphorisms.

There are only 220 noted sources and no separate bibliography. Peterson makes a lot of statements that, without being referenced to a citation, are either vague generalities or simply opinions. For example:

Eco-activists, even more idealistic in their viewpoint, envision nature as harmoniously balanced and perfect, absent the disruptions and depredations of mankind. (p13-14)

I don’t know which “eco-activists” he spoke to, but that sort of romanticized, even naive (if not downright puerile) view of eco-activism doesn’t match any viewpoints I’ve heard or read from anyone who might fit that description.  And you can read a lot of them online. David Suzuki, for example, arguably Canada’s most well-known environmental activist, doesn’t say anything of the sort. His own website neatly defines his views:

We are interconnected with nature, and with each other. What we do to the planet and its living creatures, we do to ourselves.

I’ll chalk this one up as an opinion, and a politically-biased one at that. The Catholic World Report noted in its review:

Peterson wades into a muck of assertions without argument; disconnected similes and examples that insult reason; arbitrary and happenstance judgments; and implications that are dangerous in their banality.

Here are some other statements I pulled at random, also not referenced to any source or publication:
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