Monday 23 February 2015

Culture conversion

Because culture is learned, members of a given society seldom question the culture of which they are a part, unless for some reason they become outsiders or establish some critical distance from the usual cultural expectations. People engage unthinkingly in hundreds of specifically cultural practices every day; culture makes these practices seem "normal." If you suddenly stopped participating in your culture and questioned each belief and every behavior, you would soon find yourself feeling detached and perhaps a little disoriented; you would also become increasingly ineffective at functioning within your group.
MARGARET L. ANDERSON, Sociology: The Essentials

In my last post (waaaayyy back on Jan. 11), I went into a long, piteous vent about how I feel somewhat to the outside of my culture--a status which I blame in equal degrees on my understanding of the principles of my faith, along with a tendency to non-conformity which appears to be almost hard-wired. I dressed up this behaviour by calling it the spiritual gift of prophecy. Others, of course, might simply regard it as either grumpiness, cynicism, or lack of social graces.

[Insert reassuring response here.]

But if I do not always feel like a mainstream player in the Canadian culture generally, I find that I'm sometimes on the outside of my beloved "life" sub-culture as well. My experience with the average Joe/Jill Blow in the pews is one of lip service to the notion that all of these abortions are not a good thing, but with little interest in addressing further what they see as primarily a political problem.

Even within the life movement, a good deal of effort goes into attempting to influence the political system to effect the desired change. Most notable among such groups in Canada is the "We Need a Law" campaign.

[Just as an aside, I also believe that Canada needs a law. But as I argued in my series of posts on the separation of church and state, I don't believe any law will be forthcoming before a major cultural shift in views on abortions occurs. See and following posts.]
As for the image of the life sub-culture, its public face is perceived to be a highly moralistic and judgmental one. Our years of sign-waving have convinced the public that what are typically viewed as anti-choice, anti-woman, anti-equal rights fanatics (that's us) have nothing in common with Canadian values. While in some instances the signs have begun to change to feature more gentle messages in the last few years, our reputation is set and the protestors have been pigeon-holed. 

Yet many pro-life groups continue to give all kind of verbal support, and some money as well, to the likes of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR), that specializes in outfitting abortion trucks covered with graphic pictures of aborted fetuses, such as the one on the right. They are parked where not only young female university students (a common target group) and other adults can see them, but also any little children that happen to be walking by at the time.

Secondly, as I mentioned above, the preferred response in the life camp to what is seen as a culture that cheapens life, and often harms women, through aborting its children (nearly 100,000 in Canada each year; around 1 million in the Excited States), is to elect politicians to change the legal picture. In Canada, that would mean filling the existing legal vacuum by passing anti-abortion legislation, and in the U.S. repealing Roe v. Wade. See on the left another of CCBR's explicit pictures, this one aimed at Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Donning my prophetic cloak, as it were, I have argued in earlier posts that laws are seldom changed unless there is a grassroots call for such. I have also suggested that politicians of all stripes seek the political middle ground once in power, making the parties nearly indistinguishable (see That current middle is pro-choice and is highly likely to stay this way unless something is done to change culture.

[Consider this quote, for instance, from a young person responding to a pro-life ad expressing concern for the number of abortions: Are you going to be personally responsible for all the unwanted children? Are you going to make sure no-one gets pregnant from getting raped, and that every one has free access and education for birth control? What will you do for all the back alley botched abortions? Anti-choice thinking is NOT thinking--pro-choice all the way! I suggest that this response--as uninformed in some ways as it is--would be the mainstream view.]
I have not made a lot of headway with my arguments about changing culture versus street and political action. Waving signs and demonstrating for new laws require a certain amount of courage (given the typical reaction to such attempts, whether on the streets or in the media), but are otherwise fairly easy to do. But changing culture?--My opening quote suggests just how difficult that is. I just happen to believe that it is the only long-range strategy that is likely to be effective.

But this is why I said in the last post that I'm ticked. I've been taking this stand re: culture for years, and no one is inviting me to speak at their pro-life conferences. But now I find a well-regarded Canadian political commentator, Mark Steyn, saying the same thing, and he gets half a page in a national newspaper. The article, by Robert Fulford, is entitled "As Steyn Sees It", and it first appeared in the National Post on January 3, 2015, p. A14. Oh, the envy!!

Here is the quote I have in mind, taken from Steyn's book The [Un]documented Mark Steyn: Don't Say You Weren't Warned.
[Steyn's] careful observation of American life has brought him to a grim (for a conservative) conclusion: "You can't have a conservative government in a liberal culture." Schools in the U.S. are liberal and churches are liberal, he argues. The hip, groovy elite is liberal. Makers of movies and pop songs are liberal. Liberalism fills the air; it is the climate. 

Culture trumps politics, and in his view the U.S. proves it. "Liberals expend tremendous effort changing the culture. Conservatives expend tremendous effort changing elected officials every other November--and then are surprised that it doesn't make much difference." 

Nevertheless, there are life groups attempting to go the culture-change route, and doing some excellent work. I hope to highlight some of those in subsequent posts.

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