In 1901, King Gillette, building an idea of the latter half of the nineteenth century, invented a safety razor with disposable blades (1). A host of disposable products followed including, cameras, tissues, paper cups, and diapers, until today, the disposable good is a common, and almost indispensable feature of society (2). Disposable goods offer a certain convenience, but have three aspects that, when considered, say something about the society that uses them with such abandon.
First, one has no obligation or responsibility to a disposable good; second, disposable goods are replaceable. One disposable razor or cup is as good as another. Finally, disposable goods are cheap, both in cost to obtain them and in the value people place on them. Even non disposable goods can become disposable. One recent writer, for instance, has remarked that people do not typically dispose of their computer because it has failed, but because a new one that seemed more desirable appeared on the market (3).
Today, however, it is not only goods that are disposable; rather, over the course of the 20th century, people too have become disposable. A divorce rate of approximately 50%, the commonness of extramarital sex and multiple partners, the high rate of abortion, and the various genocides over the course of the century make it impossible to deny that people today have become disposable. Why? Among several reasons, two stand out. One that I do not have space to fully discuss is the divorce between what Fulton Sheen calls, “freedom from” and “freedom for.” The former concerns freedom from external constraint, the latter concerns the purpose of that freedom (4). The other is the “God is dead” materialism that pervades modern society. Man is only random collections of particles in a random universe. He is only matter, and because he is only matter, he does not matter. One cannot believe in a purpose for freedom, because there is no purpose to anything, and so liberty becomes license. Neither can one believe in a person’s objective moral value; on materialism, persons have none. And so in a materialist society (whether ancient Roman or modern Western), people become disposable.
One area in which Man’s disposability is clear is sex. Here, one disposable good, the condom, helps to make people disposable. The connection between the increasing use of birth control, materialism, and Man’s disposability over the twentieth century is no coincidence.
The condom allows rejection of responsibility associated with sex and hence causes a divorce between the persons involved. Fertile sex entails significant responsibility. If a woman becomes pregnant, her ability to work may be limited, she will need to be supported, and so will the child. The condom allows “safe sex,” the rejection of this responsibility, and when responsibility is rejected, love is rejected. The two always go together, when one goes, so goes the other. “Safe sex” is absurd, but “safe love” does not even exist. Real love always burns bridges behind it. When love and responsibility are rejected, then the woman (or man), becomes replaceable. One woman (or man), is just as good as another, and when one is just as good as another, then one is just as worthless as another. So people become cheap. Sex now is simply a matter of scratching an itch and one’s partner becomes a mere scratching post. The commonness of premarital and promiscuous sex today testify to the truth of this. With responsibility rejected, people become replaceable, and they become cheap.
Children too have been disposable. Once a necessary part of a marital relationship, they are now a part of the responsibility that modernity rejects. Now they are only an optional (and often undesirable) side effect, a side effect that if not avoided, can be destroyed.
Historians once thought that people in the Middle Ages loved their children less because of high child mortality rates. There is no evidence for this. There is, however, substantial evidence that parents and people today do love children less. They are less willing to have them, and more willing to destroy them. Children are cheap. In a material cosmos a person’s value is purely subjective, that is to say, dependant on what people think. Thus, in Pagan Antiquity, a child was not a person until the father picked him up. Similarly, in Pagan Modernity, a child is not a person until the mother decides to keep him. 4,000 abortions every day testify to how cheap human life has become.
Other examples might be given, but these suffice to show the trend. To a society fond of disposable goods, one more disposable good has been added, the person. Rejecting responsibility in the name of liberty, human life has become replaceable, and it has become cheap. This it ought never to have been, and it must not be if humanity is to remain human. Otherwise, we will find that we are increasingly living in a world of disposable goods, and disposable people.
(2) http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=1536 While writing this, I came across this book Made to Break, studying the growing use of and practical problems associated with use of disposable items.
(3) Giles Slade, Made to Break, 2007. http://www.amazon.com/Made-Break-Technology-Obsolescence-America/dp/0674025725/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1302443391&sr=8-1
(4) From his talk “On Freedom” Available on You tube. I would like to write a future blog post on this talk. “Freedom from” would describe how a person must not be externally contrained, while “freedom for” would describe the purpose, such as being free to choose a spouse. Today, however, the two are divided and people insist on “freedom from” while denying the purpose of that freedom. Hence the commonness of pre-marital and promiscuous sex.