Be-your-own-cashier shops will test our sense of morality (The Funny Side)


By Nury Vittachi 

How much are you worth in onions? You don’t know, right? The exciting news is that supermarkets are getting self-service counters where you can scan an item’s bar code and then jump up and sit on the weighing scales yourself.

After learning my value in onions (more than $130!), I was planning to work through a wide range of supermarket items (wouldn’t you love to know your worth in chocolate or floor mops?)

But I had to leave, as my embarrassed children had run off, shouting: “He’s not with us.” (Children have NO respect these days.)

That was in Britain. The good news for the intellectually curious is that do-it-yourself supermarket check-outs are coming to Asia. They are being tested at a new zero-staff, honesty-based store in China. That should be interesting, as the food sector in that country is not exactly legendary for its moral integrity. “Comrade! We sold every item in the supermarket on the first day! We got a dollar fifty!”

Yet people promoting be-your-own-cashier stations claim that humans have a natural sense of morality.

If that’s true, it’s buried pretty deep. Just last week I overheard a pregnant colleague saying that her husband spent the whole weekend “babyproofing” their house. I was shocked and plan to tell her that if the kid can’t get in, she can leave it with me.

But it did occur to me that maybe places with low crime rates, such as Japan, are evidence of natural morality. Remember the inexperienced guy who tried to rob the Saitama Resona Bank in Kumagaya some years back? “Any idea how you rob a bank?” the man, armed with a knife, politely asked counter staff. They politely responded that they did not, and suggested he leave. He accidentally cut himself with his knife on the way out, but police kindly got his wound seen to.

Still, natural morality makes sense to me, as I totally believe in karma. I’ll never forget the nice woman named Chen who took her dog for a walk near her home in China’s Laohekou city in Hubei. A horrible pair of snatch thieves on a motorbike grabbed the parcel she was carrying and sped off with it. They got clean away with a large portion of fresh, warm dog poo. Nice one, karma.

Stop press: a reader just sent me a recent news item that is relevant. A pair of drug-pushers in the US sampled their own stock and became woozy and paranoid. They convinced themselves that they were being pursued by law enforcement agents (which was not the case) and so gave themselves up to police. Did their subconscious sense of morality cause them to have themselves arrested? Or is there another word for it, such as “stupidity”?

I was still puzzling this out when another crime story arrived. A bank robber with a red beard in the US city of Pittsburgh raided four banks. On his fifth and sixth, he wore a disguise: a fake red beard, carefully balanced over his real red beard. Is this madness or genius?

There is a very thin line between acts of idiocy and acts of brilliance. I wish someone would explain that to my children.