Strangers in a Strange Land

The sense of living in an occupied country has been growing on me for several decades now. I live in Canada, and am thus “a voice from Americas crazy attic” (Robertson Davies phrase, somewhat extended). I was born into a different kind of country. Yet all my life I have been watching the transformation, watching the politicians at work, watching the incremental social fallout, without fully grasping the extent. The oddest little event brings it home.

Take this one. Riding a crowded trolley through rush hour in Toronto, the thing is unexpectedly short-turned, spilling all passengers onto the street to wait for the next crowded trolley. About a dozen of them have no transfers, not having expected to need one. The driver, in a mood, will not issue them, saying the riders had to get them when they entered the transit system. This is nonsense, and he knows it. But no one complains. They file out onto the street, incidentally into a cold drizzle, and wait glumly.

I decide to make it an issue, argue with the driver on behalf of all those cheated of a fare. He tells me repeatedly, “Get out of my car.” I take down his badge number, ostentatiously, then the trolley number. He expresses his contempt more warmly, knowing perfectly well that a complaint not backed with full-scale media coverage will be laughed off by his union. Having achieved nothing, I step out.

Whereupon I find his customers are, finally, vexed. And that I am their target, because I made a fuss. They could cope with being cheated and abused, but not with someone holding up the trolley.

Later, I consulted my ancient mama. I asked what would have happened had a trolley driver tried that in, say, 1960. She said the customers would have made a decided fuss, that it was inconceivable they’d have taken it quietly, and that the driver would have been permanently out of his job within an hour. With the union’s blessing.

Alexander Dubček, the reforming Czech communist removed from office by the Russians in 1968, is famous for his line, “We cannot change the people, so we will change the Party.” But you can change the people.

In Canada, for instance, a people who equated abortion with murder changed almost overnight into a people who recognized it as a womans right; a people who found same-sex marriage inconceivable changed into a people who accepted it as inevitable; and so on.

The transformation of Catholics from what they were before, to what they became after Vatican II, had already occurred; and the mainstream Protestant churches also emptied. The people changed.

For me, none of this was quite so shocking as what happened on that trolley. Perhaps this was because the much bigger events had been “mediated” as “news” – made abstract and thereby distant.

       Maine voters approve same-sex “marriage”: the first domino falls

A lady told me that shed gone through an abortion, as a statistic goes through an abortion. “Two is corrected to one.” She had convinced herself it was a “necessary procedure.” Shed been assured it was, yet hadn’t felt the need of the assurance; she didnt think of herself as “weak.” Shed sleepwalked through the whole thing. Only after did it suddenly strike her, with the weight of the clanging gates of Hell, that, “Ive killed my child!”

But how many today could react that way? Weve learned to shut things out, in effect, how to be a statistic. Life itself is something to shut out, “if you’re going to survive.” The very idea of personal moral obligation has come to seem quaint, and foolish.

Stick out your neck, and you get what you deserve. I look around now at my fellow urbanites and think, these are people quite capable of rioting, but not capable of making a fuss. Except, those few instances I’ve witnessed where rather than make a fuss, the customer suddenly went berserk; and no one showed the slightest disapproval. They just got out of his way.

I wonder how many Americans, on the morning of November 7th, got up feeling something terrible had happened. From a number of my Republican friends, I got this impression. It wasnt the same as 2008, when they got up feeling theyd lost the election.

It was instead a feeling of being surrounded by people who dont get the point, who didnt grasp the stakes, who let something pass. The people had now voted explicitly to go over the “fiscal cliff,” to accept ObamaCare as a new way of life, with the destruction of Catholic institutions, etc.

And thered be no going back. America was the last place on Earth where the people did not accept being pushed around, being changed by social engineering. Theyd taken pride in this.

But now America is an occupied country.

On November 2, in this space, Austin Ruse reminded us that in state referenda, Americans had declined same-sex marriage thirty-two consecutive times. He wrote that even if one referendum was lost in so liberal a state as Maine or Maryland, the margin would still be overwhelming. It is an odd day when I disagree with Mr. Ruse, but that was one of those days.

My own sense was that, as soon as even one such referendum is lost, by the tiniest margin, anywhere, the game is over. The other side has won. Within a moment of historical time, a majority of Americans will now find same-sex marriage acceptable. They may not actually like it, but they will keep this to themselves. Irritation will now be focused upon those still trying to resist “the inevitable.”

And it is against this background reality that the Churchs mission now proceeds. Pope Benedict understands this, though Im not sure many of his bishops do: that we are now complete foreigners in this North American culture, as throughout the post-modern West; that we are Gershom, strangers in a strange land; that we are mustard seeds again.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: