If you’ve ever shopped at a large grocery store, you probably know the drill. Grab a shopping cart, do your shopping, check out, and head back to your car. But what do you do with the shopping cart? There are likely corrals for the carts all over the parking lot, making it easy for grocery employees to collect and return the carts. But many choose to simply leave the carts wherever. This phenomenon has birthed what’s known as the shopping cart test.
A post made to the forum website 4chan on May 8th, 2020 describes what it calls The Shopping Cart Theory.
The Shopping Cart Test
“The shopping cart is the ultimate litmus test for whether a person is capable of self-governing,” the poster posits. And the subsequent argument they make is pretty compelling.
“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.”
Interesting! The post continues:
“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 … because it’s the right thing to do.”
“A person who is unable to do this is no better than an animal, an absolute savage who can only be made to do what is right by threatening them with a law and the force that stands behind it. The shopping cart is what determines whether a person is a good or bad member of society.”
The Internet Reacts
I’ll admit, the first time I read about the Shopping Cart Test, it really made me pause and think. I’m one of those people who always returns the cart to the corral, so I guess I’m a good person! But what about the people who don’t? Are they really bad or just personally incapable of governing themselves?
A Twitter user by the name of Jared posted a screenshot of the 4chan post to spur some discussion, and discussion there was. The Twitter user has restricted the ability to see his original tweet but all of the replies to the tweet are available.
Some reacted with anger toward the people who don’t corral their shopping carts, with one user writing, “People who place shopping carts in parking spots are unfit for society, and should be dealt with accordingly.” Harsh!
One user suggests that always returning the shopping carts is actually a bad thing: “I mean it’s someone’s (oftentimes someone with a disability) job to put them away so if everyone did it those people would be unemployed,” they wrote.
But an actual grocery store cart attendant disagrees, writing, “My first job was as a “cart attendant” so I whole-heartedly agree that people who don’t return shopping carts are **** humans.”
Another Twitter user felt like the whole concept was silly, writing,
“This is a false dilemma, all-or-nothing thinking. It is not the case that people are either good and return their shopping cart or they’re animals who must be forced by threat to do the right thing. There are other options than just these two.”
Finally, probably my favorite response: “Returning your shopping cart is SO Canadian.” Fitting.
Just be a Good Person and Return the Cart, Right? Not Exactly.
Personally, I think there’s something to the idea that returning the shopping cart to the corral at the end of your shopping experience may not really determine if you’re a good person but is a pretty good indicator of whether or not a society at large is capable of self-governance.
Some political activists do push the idea that we don’t actually need governments to guide our decision making. And hey, that might be true. Humanity existed in governmentless fashion at one point, we could again. But could a modern society survive without a government? Who can say for sure?
But the shopping cart test could give us some insights into our society’s maturity level and indicate whether or not we can self govern. And who knows, maybe if we all return our carts, our mayors and presidents will pack it in, society will reach a utopic point, and the aliens will finally feel like they can talk to us.
Or maybe it’ll cost someone their job. Who can be sure? All I know is that every time I go shopping, I find myself doing a lot more thinking in the parking lot than I otherwise would.