On “The Land of Lunatics”

A certain Martin Sheen, who is a Hollywood movie star, thought perhaps he was flattering my country when he told a media scrum that he liked filming in Canada. He said it offered a break from “The Land of Lunatics” – by which I think he meant the United States. He called the Trump Administration a “dark force,” and gave other examples of a worldview with which I am over-familiar.

Let me start by affirming that Mr. Sheen’s opinions are of no significance at all, in my view, and I should think in the view of history. I mention him only to put a pretty face on what has become the reflexive posture of many millions – the self-styled “urbane,” on both sides of our long border. Canada would seem to have more of them proportionally, but California does, too. This is a regional, not a national thing. Get far enough away from Toronto (or Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver) and it fades; only to revive in oversized provincial towns.

I chose the word “urbane” in ironic contrast with “urban.” The former term comes loaded with sugar. Considered simply as a demographic, under the influence of an extremely artificial environment, the term must lose its force. We are dealing instead with urban herds.

In the less urban districts, Conservatives or Republicans tend to prevail, but almost every constituency offers an electoral horse race. It is almost like democracy out there. In the more urban districts, there is no contest. The progressive parties win by landslides, every time. I mention this by way of quantifying my observation.

Urbanites live in very noisy surroundings; they must develop the skill of selective hearing. I live in a big city myself (downtown Toronto) and suffer from good hearing, and fairly good eyesight, too. I am often overwhelmed by the blare and glare. Like most city dwellers, I fantasize about moving to a log cabin.

This is another feature of modern urban life: the desire to be elsewhere. But there are apps for that. It should not be confused with the desire to become a changed person.

When my city friends are rich enough to buy a cottage, they take their surroundings with them. With the help of easily transported technology, they create little cells of Toronto, which spread quickly around each beatific northern lake.

They bring their noise, from pop music to motorboats, and soon the equal of city traffic jams. All complain about their piggish neighbors, and too, about the poor brand selection in the rural general store, until some child of the city buys and tarts it up. They form committees to prevent more cottage-building, too late to have any effect, and anyway money talks.

Rise Up by Lesley Oldaker, 2016 [Hope Gallery, Batley, England]

That is why, if one goes up north to a cottage, one will find no relief from the Martin Sheen worldview. It goes with the coffee grinders and fruit blenders; and sounds much the same. Within twenty minutes of arrival, one will be subjected to a diatribe against “Trump” that one has heard many times before.

Father Schall was writing the other day about human technological enhancements – the various things that can be attached to, or inserted in one’s body in the Olympian quest to make us “faster, higher, stronger.” There is no resistance to this, in these urban parts.

I noticed a news item about an American company that offered free, voluntary finger implants to its employees – painlessly inserted microchips to identify them at cash-points and security barriers, and incidentally, track them as they move. Most of their employees wanted them right away. City folk will, as if by magnetic field, happily line up for the latest thing.

The downside of this invention should be obvious. But if the argument is made they will not hear it, their ears having been pre-focused on the buds stuck into them.

And there will never be technology to make us any wiser. We’ve tried drugs, and they don’t work; we already have innumerable devices to make us quicker about our tasks. We have invested electronic mountains of money in “leaving no child behind.” But nonsense remains nonsense at a hundred times the speed.

It happens that I live in a little parish within the great conurbation, where the Latin Mass is sung. It mysteriously attracts a growing number of mostly poor, in my down-market neighborhood. Speaking recently to a priest about the massive “Liberty Village” real estate developments on our east side, which will soon dwarf us in population, he mentioned a curious fact. He is not aware of a single new parishioner from the new high-tech and high-rise estates. Not one, in at least 20,000.

The residents are mostly young “professional” couples: upwardly mobile, double-income, childless. To call them post-Christian would be an understatement; they are post-post-post. The idea of church attendance is not merely unpopular among them; it is inconceivable. You could tell them any monstrous thing about the Catholic Church and they would believe it. They also wouldn’t care.

It would not matter how we advertised: Catholicism could not possibly sell. Pre-packaged haute cuisine will sell, and the most expensive gizmos. Holidays in Botswana will sell. And breaking news on Trump, though free, is lapped up eagerly. Politics, to them, is something ready for the microwave. Formal religion would take prep time that “they just don’t have.”

And yet they do have a religion that is, in a sense “catholic,” for it is everywhere the same. The clichés they utter are as from a catechism of some sort; the coffee shops provide a kind of ritual. It is a very successful religion: not one of them is ripe for conversion. Ready for suicide, some of them, but not for religion in any of its “traditional” forms.

I don’t think “The Land of Lunatics” quite right, for lunatics (like Trump?) can be unpredictable. The country I’m describing is The Land of the Living Dead.

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: davidwarrenonline.com.