Our “throwaway culture” is threatening human society says Cardinal Tagle


In his opening speech at the World Meeting of Families 2018 in Dublin Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, brought together Pope Francis’s documents on the care of creation (Laudato Si’) and family and relationships (Amoris Laetitia). He spoke in the context of a society that largely considers human beings to be a commodity and have a “sell by” date.

Tagle explained that the roots of the concept often used by Pope Francis of a “throwaway culture” go back in history and the economic mindset. After the Great Depression of 1929, the cardinal said that designers – especially in the automobile sector – began to adopt the concept of “obsolescence.” Buying a new car even if your old one still functioned was no longer considered wasteful but almost a patriotic duty to help the country’s economy. This greatly boosted the automobile industry and the concept then spread to other sectors. Products were designed to be replaced prematurely, either because they were outmoded by technology or considered out of fashion.

By the 1960s, throwing away something that was no longer wanted was not viewed as wasteful but “something beautiful.” This concept has permeated our entire society, with many not even being aware of it. Tagle pointed out that many people today never knew a world where obsolescence did not exist. Obsolescence has become culturally accepted by consumers,” the Cardinal said. People are no longer satisfied with what they have but encouraged to keep buying “by making them feel that what they have is already obsolete.”

By the ’80s and ’90s, the consequences of a throwaway society in terms of the environment were beginning to be felt fully as mountains of waste accumulated and the link was made between planned obsolescence and ecological problems. The Vatican has attempted to address this issue in “Laudato Si” by reviewing the business model on which obsolescence was built. “We should not choose between the environment and human beings, we need to take care of both by reviewing our mentality and culture,” Tagle stated.

He then went on to say that this underlying behaviour in society has serious consequences. “The throwaway attitude moved from the economy to culture. It has influenced mindsets, values, priorities and ways at looking at creation and at human beings,” he said.

The Cardinal explained that among the victims of a throwaway culture are “human lives, human persons, beginning with the family.” He joked that perhaps marriage certificates should have a Best By date on them, as people might even consider their spouses obsolete. “Many people talk about Amoris Laetitia as an exhortation on the family. That is not wrong, but it’s incomplete,” Tagle continued, “it’s about love – love in the family.”

In order to move beyond a culture where human beings can be discarded at will, Tagle said that it’s necessary to return to the roots of Christian culture, which is the human person and its relationships. “We should get out of the trap of individualism, which will lead us to throw away anything or anyone that is not connected with us,” the cardinal said. “We are connected persons, to God, to one another, to society, to the whole of creation.”

Tagle observed that many people who are considered not useful or of low status are treated without dignity or respect and left on the outskirts of society. He said that in his writings, the Pope identified among those people who may be considered disposable – unborn children, the elderly, people with disabilities, prisoners, victims of human trafficking, migrants and refugees, minorities etc.

Drawing on the pope’s call for “spiritual and personal conversion” by delving into “the roots of our spirituality and the witness of the families,” Tagle called participants at WMOF 2018 to take to heart the ideas revealed in Francis’s documents and reject a culture where people can simply be disposable.

“Now we understand what Pope Francis is talking about: if there is something that should be thrown away it’s the throwaway culture,” Tagle concluded. That is what many people are now realising, especially when they see its effect on our common home, our planet.

ACN Malta