Justice and Supermarkets

Justice and Supermarkets June 10, 2020

I’ve mentioned before my interest in writing a book that explores something like “a year of living justly.” You can read about it in an earlier post on my blog. My thoughts returned to the idea again recently after reading a post by Chris Bateman exploring supermarkets as part of our human cyborg existence. Here’s a sample from the post:

To ask about the moral and behavioural effects of supermarkets is to face the general condition of the contemporary cyborg – a kind of accidental ignorance I call in The Virtuous Cyborg ‘shallow-sightedness’. We are unable (and unwilling) to attempt a full picture of the inconceivable vastness of our cybernetic networks. We fill a trolley unaware that we are sustaining the poverty of sugar farmers, funding sweat shops, or keeping animals in dire conditions. Perhaps we suspect our impact, but ease our consciences by not thinking about it, or try to navigate the minefield via notions of ‘fair trade’ or ‘ethical shopping’ that flatten the wide view of the network into something that feels more manageable. Mostly, out of sight is out of mind.

Humanity is blessed with the intelligence to solve great technical problems and implement systems on a scale of complexity that rivals the intricacies of the natural world. Yet we cyborgs are cursed with a lack of wisdom that springs at its heart from our elevation of the individual in a way that allows us to equate liberty with the freedom to choose from the shelves of the supermarket, emancipated to enrich the wealthy and exploit the planet. When the philosophers of the Enlightenment argued for our self-determination and liberty, I feel quite sure this servitude to the checkout was not quite what they had in mind.

Wisdom was always a collective knowledge, a skill exercised by communities. When the scale of the systems required to feed us exceeds our mental grasp, the possibility of making wise decisions is shorn from possibility.

This sparked my desire to return to the book idea in a blog post because of an earlier idea I had for a very different kind of store. We might not be able to rid ourselves of dependence on things like detergents. But what if there were a store where one could bring one’s empty bottles of things like laundry and dish detergent and refill them just as some of us do with water at our local supermarket? There are surely countless ways of making our individual and societal structures and systems more just. But we don’t, perhaps primarily because we do not look to see whether they are just or not, much less take the risks and invest the time and money necessary to do better.

Some links to things that have come to my attention over recent years, most on the topic of the relationship between morality and empathy:

Another victim of Covid-19: Sustainable development

Does empathy have a dark side?

Empathy gets in the way of reason

Does Empathy Guide or Hinder Moral Action? A debate between Paul Bloom and Jamil Zaki

More empathy won’t heal our planet

Civility, toleration, and human rights as empathy

Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids…And start raising kind ones

A new paper suggesting that belief in determinism makes you more empathic and less vindictive

Inside Higher Ed on empathy

Could Empathy Encourage Hyperactive Authority Detection?

Liberal elites are not the problem

Could empathy do us more harm than good?

Power causes brain damage

Time to abandon grand ethical theories?

Cognitive Style, Religious Beliefs, and Individualism

Musings on Moral Theology (3)

Darwin Day Revelation: Evolution, Not Religion, is the Source of Morality

Can moral virtues become outdated?

Why a little evil is good and a lot of empathy is bad

Why Can’t a Man Be More Like a Woman? by Carol P. Christ (and Hannah Gadsby)

Empathy Games in the Social Sciences

Empathy in the Religious Studies Classroom

A Year of Living Justly?

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