What does Pope Francis mean by “culture of waste”?

What does Pope Francis mean by "culture of waste"?

The “culture of waste” is for Pope Francis a consequence of the gradualization of dignity. When people’s dignity is measured by their degree of autonomy, dependency exposes you to uselessness, and therefore to social rejection. Loving and caring for the most fragile is what ennobles humanity. Explanations.

Certain formulas express well the look that a civilization has on itself. We remember the Gnothi bucket (“Know thyself”), from the “Philosophy is to learn to die” (Montaigne) of the classical age. How does our consumerist society look back at us? Transforming the Marxist formula ofgay faberPhilippe Muray had this lapidary formula defining the satiated Westerner: Homo festivus. The evolution of societal laws, based on a civic morality of consensus, defends a conception of man based on dignity. What are we talking about when using this term?

A matter of dignity

The dignity of civic morality is defined by freedom understood as autonomy. The opposite of dignity is the loss of this freedom, understood as dependence (social, economic, medical, etc.). The loss of autonomy means the loss of dignity. We can therefore assume that this dignity is acquired or lost according to degrees: from what moment are you autonomous? To what degree does addiction mean loss of dignity? What authority will be legitimate to define the degree of acceptable dignity for human life? In this individualistic and marching context, one can conceive that the individual, losing the lowest “degree” of his dignity, becomes an element that is too heavy economically, too heavy socially, in short, “too much” to use the Sartrean expression. , because unable to find meaning in its existence.

Pope Francis does not need the atheistic existentialism of Sartre to point out the consequences at a time when we are openly preparing to pass a law on assisted suicide. It is enough for him to use the term “culture of waste” in particular in the encyclical Laudato if (LS) (2015), and the apostolic exhortation Christus lives (CV) (2017). But the expression is often used in audiences and catecheses. This shows the strong impact of the image it carries.

A consequence of excessive consumerism

The “culture of waste” is above all a consequence of excessive and irresponsible consumerism, which destroys natural resources. We are talking about culture, that is to say a way of thinking and a way of living. This is how the culture of throwing away “affects excluded people as well as things, quickly transformed into garbage” (LS, 22), and unfortunately, “it is not only food or superfluous goods that are object of waste, but often human beings themselves, who are ‘thrown away’ as if they were ‘unnecessary things’,” he reminded the diplomatic corps in January 2014. “Everything is linked,” according to François. Failure to respect the environment breeds contempt for the human person, especially when the latter, vulnerable and poor, becomes a burden for a market society. A whole ideology of youth ends up tightening the meaning given to the dignity of the human person: “We see how a certain type of advertising teaches people to be always dissatisfied, and contributes to the culture of rejection where young people themselves end up becoming disposable material. (CV, 43)

Disposable, obsolescent, outdated: qualifiers for instructions to designate what is still worth living, that is to say, to be useful to the society of producer-consumers. Sooner or later, if the dignity of the individual consists only in a degree of autonomy, then he ends up becoming “superfluous”.

Take care of the most fragile

Francis recalls that the dignity of the person is inalienable and incommunicable. It has no degree, fixed by the arbitrariness of a political or economic power. It is precisely because it is not “at hand”, because it obliges us. The subordination of this dignity to a power generates all the totalitarian drifts, and finally the culture of waste. A human person, even in his most extreme fragility, is worthy because of the image of God in him. Loving and caring for the most fragile is also what ennobles humanity. It is undoubtedly a strong image that we must keep in this “anthropological winter” that we are living through.


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