The U.S. divorce rate is 41% for the first marriage, 60% for the second, and 73% for the third.
− News report
When I was growing up, there were few things that were disposable. I learned to shave with a safety razor that I kept for years, using the blades until they were dull. I learned to take photographs using the Kodak camera my father used for decades. I learned to type (poorly) on an Underwood typewriter my mother used for decades. I learned to drive on a stick-shift Ford my parents owned for 12 years.
Back then, there were no disposable razors or cameras. People kept their cars for several years, if they were lucky enough to have one. A phone was connected to the wall with a heavy cord and lasted indefinitely. A radio weighed two or three pounds − we called it a “portable radio” to distinguish it from the wood-encased radios that sat on the floor. There were no electronic gizmos that must be replaced frequently because they become obsolete or break. Knives and scissors were made of American steel and were re-sharpened and used for decades.
Most things were well-made enough to take care of and keep for a long time. The same was true for people. I don’t recall that any of my parents’ friends were divorced. People stayed in the same jobs for decades. At the beginning of life, abortion was illegal and rare. A girl in my junior high became pregnant and had to leave school − I don’t recall whether she went to live with relatives until the baby was born, or went to Continuation School. Those who could not raise children sent them to orphanages, where most − but by no means all − were adopted. At the end of life, people were cared for at home or in a hospital. I never heard the word “euthanasia” until I was a senior in high school, where a classmate thought the teacher said “youth in Asia.”
I watched TV, but my family had only one, and we usually watched together, so I learned the patience to carry on when I was not being entertained. There were few channels, and changing them required getting up and going to the set, so I usually watched whatever it was to conclusion.
In short, I learned to take care of things and people, both because it was expected of me, and because it was to my benefit. If I took care of my things, I would have them when I needed them. The same was true for people.
The world has changed. I buy cheap articles made in China despite the awful conditions of Chinese workers. I throw things away when they can be replaced by new things at little cost. I read less than before. I still watch TV, but there are many channels, and the remote makes changing them easy, so my attention span is less than it used to be.
Fortunately, I never learned to replace people. I remain married to my first wife, and she to her first husband. But this trait may be due less to my own qualities, and more to my early experiences. What of young people growing up today? Can we believe that disposable toys, disposable electronic gizmos, and instantly changeable channels and websites can have no effect? Can we believe that the high divorce rate has no relation to our culture of disposability? Increasing numbers of couples live together without marriage, and when they break up no divorce is recorded, so the true rate of relationship breakup is even higher.
At the dawn of life, a woman can have an abortion whenever she wants, because she can have an “equivalent” baby later. A leading “bioethicist” teaches that unwanted or defective babies can be killed up to a month after birth, later increased to up to three years. How is this any different from the father of Baby Knauer, the first disabled child “euthanized” by the Nazis? The loving daddy explained, “Later, we could have other children, handsome and healthy, of whom the Reich could be proud.” The Reich could be proud. But we should be ashamed − if we remember how.
And at the twilight of life, the severely disabled can be dehydrated and starved to death. How is this any different from the Nazi notion of “useless eaters” who were a “drain on the Fatherland”? When we start down the road of making people disposable, we forget how easy it is to go too far. When we search for a solution to our Social Security and Medicare problem, we must beware of making it the Final Solution. When we classify some people as less than human, what is to stop others from classifying us that way?
I grew up watching the same TV set, riding in the same car – and living with the same parents. Today, kids grow up using electronic gadgets that are replaced as often as the budget allows. They ride in a different car every few years. They move to a different house or apartment every few years. Their parent moves in with someone new every few years. Their blended family re-blends itself every few years. They grow up without the idea of commitment, but with a strong concept of disposability.
We do the minimum work possible on our car, because soon we will replace it with another. We do the minimum work possible on our relationship, because soon we will replace it with another. We let our children be raised by nannies, preschools, schools, tutors, coaches, and therapists, because we are too busy with our jobs – fearing that we will be replaced.
Young people are taught that their aim in life is to “find themselves.” Instead, I was taught to find a career and a wife. Young people are asked, “How do you feel about that?” Instead, I was asked, “Do you think that was right?” The difference is profound.
Disposability not only affects personal life; it also affects national life. After Prime Minister Tony Blair left office, British troops left Basra, Iraq’s second largest city. And what happened? Roving gangs of thugs inflicted mayhem on citizens, especially women. Many were mutilated, tortured and killed − for not wearing head scarves or otherwise violating the thugs’ harsh concept of Islamic law.
What did we learn from this fiasco? Nothing. Democrats from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton insisted that our troops leave Iraq. And after we left, sectarian violence broke out. Even worse, ISIS arose to fill the vacuum. We are only beginning to understand the damage our error has done.
But this grim prospect does not trouble many Americans. They were taught that people are disposable. If this applies to their own babies (excuse me, fetuses) and their own spouses, how could it not also apply to strangers in a faraway land? They were taught that their own comfort is the highest goal. How can we expect them to trouble themselves about people to whom we have given our word? Responsibility? Duty? Are you joking? And when Iranian leaders threaten to wipe Israel off the map and ignite a second Holocaust, they evoke cheers from their people − but only yawns from our people.
We have almost reached the stage that we are more worried about the disposal of trash than the disposal of human beings. I say almost, because there are still many young people − and some not so young − who are willing to risk their lives to fulfill our commitments to Iraqis and Afghans. And there are still many of us who support them and look up to them as role models of loyalty and trustworthiness.
No, not all of us believe that human beings are as disposable as cheap, mass-produced gadgets. Some of us still hold to the older belief that human beings are unique and infinitely valuable. Our future depends on which viewpoint prevails. If we believe that human beings are disposable, what will we do when people who share this belief come to dispose of us?
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