Why You Should Lock Your Car While Shopping at Whole Foods

“Ethical consumers less likely to be kind and more likely to steal, study finds,” is the subhead on an article in the lefty British newspaper The Guardian.

OK, several caveats. This is one study by two social scientists in Canada. Science reporting in the daily press is sometimes sensationalized, and, further, I think you can design a psychological survey to prove anything. (Actual social scientists may want to differ, but that is my impression.)

But it’s ironic to see The Guardian sticking it to Al Gore:

When Al Gore was caught running up huge energy bills at home at the same time as lecturing on the need to save electricity, it turns out that he was only reverting to “green” type.

If I am at all inclined to believe Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, it is because in my youth I met too many people who preached “peace and love, man,” but who would steal anything not nailed down. Their professions of morality in some areas seemed to excuse (to them) their behavior in other areas.

A PDF file of the study itself is available at Professor Mazar’s site.

2 Comments

  1. Rombald says:

    I don’t know how much weight to place on the article. Taking it at face value, I have several points:

    1. I do think there is such a thing as a compensatory view of ethics. I’ve known Christians who seem to think that, because, they don’t commit adultery or fornication, it’s OK to be racist. I’m not surprised that this also applies to Greens.

    2. Prius cars, and wind turbines that take 50 years to save money on the household electricity are obviously just eco-bling – it would be much better to get rid of the car and insulate the loft. Even expensive eco-conscious household goods are sometimes a bit like this, and they might attract unpleasant, cut-throat personalities.

    3. There is also the question of whether certain behavious are actually unethical. I have heard it argued that Christians fornicate less (debatable in itself), and Christianity therefore is partly effective in improving conduct. That argument obviously carries no weight with anyone who doesn’t already accept Christian sexual ethics. However, there might be things like this with theft. For example, although I am opposed to theft from individuals and the tax-payer, I see no objection to theft from banks or supermarkets (I don’t actually steal from those, but only because it’s not worth the risk, whereas there are also ethical reasons for not stealing from the corner shop). Studies of this type could therefore possibly compare groups of people who have genuinely different values.

  2. Pitch313 says:

    I don’t link “green” with “hypocritical.” Or with “honest.” Or with “investment in technology.” Because “green” does not characterize the way most of us live in this world we are stuck with.