Over time I’ve built up a fair amount of shorthand. This isn’t useful when starting up a new blog, as people don’t necessarily know what the heck I’m on about. But since I’ve done a post covering the hoeing of the onions, now: shopping carts.
You know how shopping carts work, of course. Racks of them stacked up around the entrances of stores, and you can take one and go do your shopping without having to carry everything in your hands, and then when you’re done, the shopping cart goes back in the rack.
And if everyone does it that way, it goes great. The system is self-sustaining with a minimum of effort. There are always carts available at the front, everyone gets what they need, and it’s all generally good.
But the fact of the matter is, it doesn’t always get done that way.
The shopping carts don’t always get put back in the rack.
Sometimes, they get shoved in the vague direction of the rack, leading to heaps of disorganised carts spilling every which way. Or the inefficiently stacked carts spilling out into the traffic ways because things weren’t all pushed together.
Sometimes it’s not even that good, and carts are left in parking spaces, drift into traffic, are shoved up in among the bushes, or are wedged between cars and make it difficult to open doors or otherwise do things.
I’m not saying that there isn’t sufficient reason for this to happen sometimes. I live in New England, and here is a truth of living in New England: the cart-put-away racks don’t get plowed. Even if the snow gets partially cleared out, there’s often a lot of ice around there that makes it a bit iffy. Sometimes people are running late. Sometimes it’s inappropriate to leave the kids unsupervised in the car for even the minute it takes to get the cart put away. These things happen, right?
And different places have different ways of moderating how frequently those things happen. A lot of grocery stores around here have a worker running around and collecting the shopping carts every so often and bringing them back to the return. Some have a setup where to get a shopping cart you have to insert a coin into the locking mechanism, and then when you return it, pop, out comes the coin. (But that is certainly not foolproof; I’ve heard of people making enough money for a meal finding and returning coin-locked shopping carts.)
But the system really works best with the ideal: each person who uses a cart returns the cart. This is a comparatively small amount of effort for each person, after all. And when all carts are returned, then there are no carts in parking spaces; there are no carts drifting into traffic; there are no problems finding a cart rather than discovering that they are all in use or in the back distant reaches of the parking lot instead. In short, that one little bit of effort not only keeps the entire system running smoothly, but saves, in the grand scheme of things, a much larger cost in aggravation and annoyance, especially since that cart in the parking space is going to annoy everyone who comes by until someone is there who has a passenger who can go move the thing or is willing to put their hazards on and move it themselves so they can park there.
We acknowledge the ideal system: each person puts their cart away.
We also acknowledge that the system is not ideal. We return our cart anyway. We may also grab an abandoned cart and pop it into the return on the way back with our own. We may straighten a mass of carts so that we can get our own in place. We may find that there are subsidiary cart returns in the far reaches of the parking lot where we can return ours (or find one to pop the kids into when we’re parked in the back end of beyond) rather than having to schlep all the way back to the storefront. We may support the hiring of a cart-fetching worker who collects abandons and occasionally empties out the subsidiary returns back to the front of the store to maintain the proper cart balance. We may choose to use carts that reward proper returns. All of these choices and actions bring the system closer to the ideal state, in which all carts are either in use or put away, causing peril and aggravation to none.
In short: we may follow many paths towards upholding ma’at. We get our choice.