Bitch Ph.D. makes the necessary point about the man who was trampled to death in the Black Friday rush at a Wal-Mart. Once you recognize her point–that the issue is the psychology of crowds, all the carping about consumerism looks out of place. Would the man’s death have been any less awful if the crowd had been lined up for a concert, or whatever else you’d line up for? Would you have had the foresight to see that the crowd could cause a man’s death? I doubt it. And if you had, your absence by itself would not have changed the underlying dynamic.
Once you’ve recognized the tremendous ways in which you can be influenced by situational factors–this case is just a much more literal instance of external pressure–there’s an ethical obligation to resist them. But it’s not simple to recognize the way in which crowds work, and acting based on that knowledge is not easy, even for individuals who are otherwise virtuous.
If Wal-Mart had taken more care, no one’s character would be any different, but a man’s life would have been saved. That’s the bottom line, and it resiss simple moralization.