On May 14th, Twitter user Jared took the social media platform by storm through his "Shopping Cart Theory", which supposedly determines a person's moral character and their ability to self-govern through whether or not they decide to return a shopping cart to its proper location.
"The shopping cart is the ultimate litmus test for whether a person is capable of self-governing, the post states. 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. There are no situations other than dire emergencies in which a person is not able to return their cart. 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 fine you, or kill you for not returning the shopping cart, you gain nothing by 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."
The theory sparked a thread of conversation on Twitter, generally agreeing that self governence was testable through the theory. However, a largely debated topic was the question of morality, and whether or not the hypothesis does indeed prove it. Because, when you bring in morality, it comes with a bunch of other questions. Perhaps you could be labeled as a good person for returning the shopping cart, but does the contrary make you morally wrong?
Or, if you do return the cart, the question of purpose comes in, too. Are you the kind of person that considers other people that you'll never meet or interact with, or are you the kind of person that holds following the rules above all, regardless of consequence?
And, judging by the Twitter discussion thread, it seems that cart wranglers don't actually care whether or not you return it. The point is that do you care? Enough to take 30 seconds out of your day to prevent the cart from hitting a car, enough to keep from inconveniencing another?
I saw the Shopping Cart Theory as something else - a debate, an argument deciding the fine line that separates self-love and one's alignment to social order.
The Shopping Cart Theory is a measure of selfishness.
It's due to the valuation of my interpretation of moral return for returning the cart to its corral; not that I exist as a slave to society's bidding without gratification.
I believe that the Shopping Cart Theory truly is a measure of human morality. To deny the shopping cart its corral is a choice, in which the customer chooses personal freedom rather than their duty to society and a minor inconvenience. I believe that in the theory, the truly evil members of society are the selfish.
A generation disillusioned by the horrors of war, the "Lost Generation" refers to those who reached adulthood immediately following World War I. Disillusioned by the horrors of war, the Lost Generation was an anti-nihilistic bunch, marked by cynicism and a lack of faith in traditional values and ideals. They were hedonistic, frankly - indulging themselves in the pleasures of drinking and partying to busy their directionless spirits.
Sounds awfully familiar to today's generation of youth, doesn't it?
These two generations are disturbingly similar. Both are tremendously superficial, often creating shallow relationships and desiring lavish lifestyles derived from the apathy of their generation. Both chase an illusion of the American Dream, leading romantics on but rarely ever resulting in success. Both are rooted in hookup culture and booze, settling for casual relationships brought about by the apathy produced by the financial crises and political struggles that plague America.
Today's generation of youth is encouraged to 'follow their dreams', to guide oneself with their own values to achieve success. It's a sad reality, though, that one's dreams are often never achieved. We're misguided towards failure, encapsulated by the stories of success that lead our naïve selves on. For example, take Jay Gatsby of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Gatsby was the epitome of a tragic hero, a "penniless young man without a past", turned rich and successful. He sought to woo his love interest, Daisy, with his newfound wealth, and blinded himself with his romanticism, this hamartia climactically resulting in his death. His ambition of changing Daisy's mind, his "American Dream" if you will, washed away his identity, and clouded his judgment through "the colossal vitality of his illusion".
A product of the apathy that yielded the Lost Generation, Gatsby was a dreamer. The same traumatic experiences and crises that today's generation face, however, create many just like him - particularly, Generation Z and the millennials. Today's youth believe in the same illusion of the American Dream as Gatsby did. Consider the rise of SoundCloud rappers, who, seeing success stories from those such as the late XXXTentacion or Lil Uzi Vert, blindly follow their passions of making it big as a rapper (if you're a SoundCloud rapper reading this, I apologize, but try something else). The American Dream leads naïfs on; it's a ruthless lie bundled in wrapping paper and a bow on top (oops, so much for being an anti-nihilist).
The modern superficiality of relationships mirrors that of the Lost Generation, too. In Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, protagonist Jake is left by his love interest after she learns that Jake has no genitals (understandable, but read the book - there's more to the story). Similarly, The Great Gatsby revolves around shallow relationships, and paints a life of mindless partying, booze, and infidelity.
Nearly half of people admit to being unfaithful at some point in their relationship today. It's a sad reality, which especially plagues the younger generation. Cheating came with the rise of hookup culture. Especially predominant in high school and college, it's a familiar sight to many - the dark rooms, the loud tunes, the "sorry, I was drunk". This theme of frivolous relationships yields many that "settle for sex when real love can't be found", a dissatisfaction in relationships that is startlingly similar to that of the Lost Generation. In his song Doing It Wrong, street poet and philosopher Drake says we're "a generation of not being in love... / 'cause you'll say you love me, and I'll end up lying / And say I love you too". We truly are a Lost(er) Generation - perhaps we should embrace our nihilism, seeing that our American Dream rarely brings us anywhere. Maybe then will we trade our superficiality and our lives of apathy in exchange for something more meaningful.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Alfred A. Knopf, 2020.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Scribner, 1954. Print.
Stimpson, Emily. “Gatsby Madness and the Millennials: Another Lost Generation?” Catholic News Agency Guest Columnist, Catholic News Agency, 20 May 2013, www.catholicnewsagency.com/column/gatsby-madness-and-the-millennials-another-lost-generation-2572.
Graham, Aubrey Drake. "Doing It Wrong." Take Care, Deluxe, Cash Money Records Inc., 2012, track 13. Spotify, open.spotify.com/track/4eSGSqP2TZvvX0kadZZttM?si=e4nUns4LRR273i_-6yHsTw
The debate surrounding the perfect cheesy snack has plagued both the avid eater and the casual snacker since the creation of both these wonderful snacks. Ask the average person, and you'll likely receive a passionate, yet adamant response, even over an issue this trivial. Ridiculous, and a bit strange, you might think - that people are so stubborn to change their minds, to even consider choosing the opposing snack, no matter how logical of an argument they're given.
This same obstinacy can be seen in so many facets of our lives. What intrigues me the most, however, is this attitude in politics - how the average citizen can buy so far into their political views that they begin to lose sight of anything outside of it. Take, for example, this clip from The Daily Show, of the confusion of Trump supporters from being asked about the discrepancy between their political views and their own logic.
Sure, the video was created for comedic purposes, but it highlights one important point: that one can buy so much into their beliefs that they lose common sense. (and, for the purpose of seeming politically unbiased, consider the lack of understanding of Democrats).
Perhaps this characteristic can be attributed to human closed-mindedness: that people are so stubborn with their own beliefs, that they are unwilling to consider other perspectives, even if completely logical. You may be thinking: "Me? Closed-minded? This author is out of his mind for suggesting such a thing!". It's important to note, however, that this applies to many frivolous scenarios too, from views on mayonnaise or pineapple on pizza. Few are willing to listen, and the majority seek to defend their own perspectives till the end.
And this trait isn’t only seen through politics. Take, for example, even the typical conversation. A 2014 study found that in a typical three minute conversation between a man and a woman, an average of 2.1 interruptions would occur. It's this conviction placed upon one’s own ideas that can make people lose all sense, creating desire for one to assert dominance with their own ideas over those of others, even subconsciously.
To be tenacious and unyielding in one's belief is something taught, and it's highly regarded - yet, discrepancies in perspectives can create a highly polarized community, such as the one America has fostered today. Is this division really necessary, solely because people don't see eye to eye? And, if you're a Goldfish lover, are Cheez-Its really that much worse?
The Unabomber, a domestic terrorist who sought to bring about “a revolution against the industrial system” through a 17-year bombing campaign, was once known to all as the mathematical prodigy and Harvard student Ted Kaczynski. Kaczynski, who took a teaching position at the University of Berkeley, left the school in 1969 to live in a secluded plot of land in Montana, where he developed a disdain for technology. He then began a bombing campaign, attacking everywhere from universities to airplanes, offering to end his terror given that a major newspaper published his manifesto, *Industrial Society and Its Future*.
Startling similarities can be drawn, though, between The Unabomber and the transcendentalists of the nineteenth century. Transcendentalism, a philosophical movement, was centered the criticism of contemporary society, along with an emphasis placed upon solitude amidst nature. The ideas of transcendentalist individualism are valuable, but taken to extremes, and they can be very dangerous. In his speech *The American Scholar*, Ralph Waldo Emerson acknowledges the nuances between nonconformity and anarchy, warning against a divided social state that “has been so distributed to multitudes… that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered… in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk and strut about so many walking monsters… but never a man” (American Scholar, par. 5). Although this discordance with society can inspire original thought and advance society, both technologically and intellectually, perhaps constricting to keep order in society takes importance.
Enter terrorist Ted Kaczynski and esteemed transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau, typically associated with the term "civil disobedience", sought a deeper understanding of life through the natural world, and disregarded government to do so, refusing to pay a tax as he did not “recognize the authority of the State… [he] had gone down to the woods for other purposes. But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and… constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society” (Walden, 111). Consider: did the Unabomber not sit behind the same ideology? Both neglected their duties towards society to pursue their own strains of intellectual thought - the difference was that Kaczynski took it to a slightly more extreme level.
This raises a question - should the transcendentalists truly be regarded as highly as they are? Alternatively, was the Unabomber onto something?
For starters, the transcendentalists were arrogant snobs (and this is put nicely). They were rich, privileged, and a tad didactic in their writing. They typically had the money and the time to be able to "live deliberately", but preached as if they didn't. And the teachings themselves? They looked to radicalize and destroy order in society, claiming that nothing was as important as individual thought. Kaczynski seemed to be an epitome of this - one who gave up balancing their duty to society, personal desire, and morality to admonish modern technology. Perhaps the transcendentalists were merely bored - they were able to stop worrying about the contraints of society because they had never struggled to meet them.
The idea of transcendentalism itself, though, to pursue non-conformist thought, isn't all that bad. And sure, I believe Kaczynski was right in some aspects (please don't start a bombing campaign because of this article). His disdain for contemporary society and technology was understandable, as was his manifesto. His issue, though, was that he took to extremes to get his ideas out. Consider: what if Kaczynski never went and bombed airlines, and instead took to the local newspaper to publish his ideas (or become a columnist at Humble)? Wouldn't it be plausible that today, we all would have been following the same ideology?
Kaczynski was undeniably a transcendentalist extremist. And, while I believe that his approach to individualism was wrong, I don't believe that the transcendentalists of the nineteenth century were any more right than he was. It's the balance of non-conformity and one's duty to society truly is the right way to tackle transcendentalism.
When I was younger, my parents would make me eat a bowl of cereal every morning. "长高“, they say. Grow tall.
And I did. And these mornings, I would always tell them about how my friends all had the new Xbox, or that I wanted them to get me a GoPro. They would smile back and tell me that I was just like the cereal: a small bit of yellow, soaking in the white that surrounded me.
For as long as I could remember, I wanted to fit in.
I grew up wearing PacSun and Converse, however the white boys dressed.
I grew up playing lacrosse and watching football, hoping that I'd finally be seen as more than "just Asian".
And yet, I would look in a mirror and see nothing but a stranger called shame.
Shame is changing your name from Hongxiang to Robert so it can roll off the tongues of substitutes easier.
Shame is wanting to buy lunch because the white kids thought mom's food smelled weird.
Shame is speaking to your family in English, having turned your back on your own language years ago.
Shame is a soggy bowl of cereal.
Because like a forgotten bowl of cheerios left sitting in milk, I lost my character, became weak and slowly dissolved into this white lie, unrecognizable.
But mom and dad told me one other thing.
No matter what it goes through, no matter how smothered its character became, no matter how much of my own identity I threw away thinking I was moving on to better things, I would always still be a cheerio.