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.
The Lost(er) Generation
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