My mother never ceases to amaze me. Just the other day, I wanted to throw away a pair of torn trousers, but she quickly pointed out that she could turn them into shorts. She is incredibly talented at repairing and reusing objects which at first glance seem to be beyond their lifetime.
The older generation seems to appreciate material objects much more than us younger ones. Technological advances have reduced the cost of production and it is sometimes easier to throw away a used item as repairing it would incur a cost. We do not have the time to repair it either.
What is even more serious is that this “throwaway culture” extends to human life. As Pope Francis reflects in Fratelli Tutti, there is a growing idea that certain people can be sacrificed for the sake of others.
In the current pandemic, a lot of elderly people are feeling abandoned and not properly protected. Justification of abortion assumes that the life of the unborn can be sacrificed, especially if the foetus is disabled and thus constitutes a burden. In euthanasia, the life of those who are suffering or who are considered to be non-productive is not worthwhile and thus can be terminated.
This discarding of other men and women can be even subtler. Consider, for example, the obsession with reducing labour costs by decreasing the number of employees or employing third-country nationals at lower pay. As the cost of living increases, more families are crossing the poverty line. Racism and xenophobia are still hot issues.
At the root of such attitudes lies a culture of individualism, seeking quick fixes with maximum personal profit. As a scientist, I believe that technological and other modern advances provide us with a concrete possibility to build a better, more just world. Have a look for example at the advances in medicine, such as the discovery of antibiotics and the development of vaccines!
However, for this to continue to be true our decisions cannot be value-free or left to the rules of an opportunistic economy. As Pope Francis tells us, we need to rediscover the paramount value of human life and base our decisions on the common good which respects and promotes the intrinsic dignity of each human being [Fratelli Tutti, 213].
“Am I putting love in my work?” “What mark am I leaving on society?” “Am I doing good in the position I am in?” These are questions we need to ask ourselves.
With Pope Francis I dare to dream, “how wonderful it would be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation could come with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, even as we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters who orbit around us” [Fratelli Tutti, 31].