As a psychiatrist, you can often step out of the bubble you find yourself in. I worked for many years in rural areas and spent a significant number of hours discussing the emotional lives of male and female blue-collar workers. That was when I learned most of our patients don’t have psychological problems — they have life problems. And how they felt about their professions and their work was an ineradicable pathogen, causing something like a blister that is never allowed to heal.
In my current bubble, an affluent leftist environment, almost everyone belongs to “the laptop class.” They are the ones who can work from anywhere, negotiate comfortable flexible office/home-office structures where they only interact with fellow white-collars. They think climate change is the worst threat to us and release a suffering sigh at the barista when they don’t serve oat milk. According to Marc Andreessen, they are best described as “Western upper-middle-class professionals who work through a screen and are totally abstracted from tangible physical reality and the real-world consequences of their opinions and beliefs.”
The other day I was arguing against affirmative action and equality measures with laptop class friends. In my attempt to explain to them how blue-collar workers are affected by, for instance, the taxation policies needed to provide the things they were calling for, I tried inspiring empathy for those workers. I described the hardships my patients experienced and their desire for another life. How they grinned and bore work conditions that would never fly in any corporate setting, the unfair wages that barely increased despite seniority, tedious repetitive tasks that grated on nerves and gave chronic aches in young bodies.
I told them how the women I treated for depression and insomnia after years of working double shifts or sometimes two jobs in service industries or retail saw an immediate improvement with sick leave because what they really longed for was serving their families, not customers. The chasing of property prices in the cities, the high cost of living, and their husbands’ low salaries had robbed these women of that choice. Policies like universal childcare would not necessarily resolve the depression and insomnia.
I told them about the offshore oil rig worker I saw when working in the North of Norway with tendinitis, chemical burns, and hearing loss. He came for help to deal with extreme fatigue and a looming divorce as the rig schedule wore down the marital bliss.
The Elite Mental Baricarde
I crashed headfirst into a new and disturbing attitude. The stories I told bounced off what can only be described as a mental barricade. The women retorted: “I also worked a menial job as a student, and I liked it!” “There is nothing wrong with that kind of job, and you saying they don’t want that work only goes to show how judgmental you are!” And the most reality-blind of all: “Maybe that’s just what they’re interested in?” It is such a condescending thing to say, I’m left wondering if this indeed has become the Capitol in The Hunger Games.
What exactly are blue-collar workers meant to love so much? How about the subway rail worker I treated for panic attacks after a potentially fatal mishap he experienced operating the rails. His panic kept him from nearing the rails after the event, and a limited skill set added to his anxiety of not being able to support his family.
While welders endure extremely uncomfortable physical positions and lift heavy metal objects, construction laborers receive the most injuries, and fishermen suffer the most fatalities, the laptop class will focus on the rough life of corporate women. How can they still believe these men all whistle while they work?
It’s as if this whole class of people are wearing 3D virtual reality goggles broadcasting a completely different show than the one the rest of us are watching. And they maintain the barricade mentally separating them from those responsible for the actual infrastructure of our world.
The drama they are watching displays injustices indistinguishable from petty offenses that might be caused by someone having a bad morning, misunderstandings, or simple differences in personality. What is the hardship of working on a charming boat on the high seas compared to being the last one called upon in a meeting?
‘I Just Love It Down There’
The 2021 series “Dopesick” supports this belief. Starring Michael Keaton, the plot centers around a small Virginia mining town. When the main female mine worker contemplates relocating for another job, she is hesitant to leave out of her love for the mines. Even though she is addicted to opiates prescribed after a severe accident at work, she says to a girlfriend trying to convince her to leave: “I just love it down there.”
Contrast the terrors and soul-crushing conditions described in George Orwell’s A Road to Wigan Pier with this interview in Insider quoting a miner saying: “Coal mining is a hard job, but it’s also entirely unique. Every day you’re seeing a part of the earth nobody else is seeing ever.” Descriptions about spending 12 hours underground with dangerous gasses and telling each other “Good luck” before going in, because you couldn’t be sure you would come out again, is interspersed with language of excitement and enthusiasm for the job. Emphasizing in the introduction: “Some miners love it. It can be a family tradition, it’s exciting, and the pay is usually pretty good.”
These mismatched portrayals of working-class sentiments give license to ignore the plight of the truly disenfranchised. The societal disconnect is an age-old problem; the European aristocracy’s treatment of the working class was often horrendous, but they at least felt a sense of responsibility for them — albeit a patronizing one. Ignorance of their plight was rooted in the belief that birth gave them their rights and the working class their place.
Birth is also important to the laptop class because it’s at birth that you are assigned various layers of oppression, or assigned parents who pass those oppressive identities down to you. Namely, sex, identity, ethnicity, and non-Judeo-Christian religions. Those characteristics are outside of your control; if you were born without the features that the prevailing narrative teaches are disadvantages, life should be just fine. When longshore fishermen are dying, it’s due to their passion for their chosen career path.
Acknowledging the reality that manual labor is often a necessity rather than a choice would force the laptop class to confront their own privilege. This realization conflicts with their victimhood narrative and challenges the notion that their preferred policies benefit the underprivileged. Since you psychologically can’t be both entitled and victim simultaneously, the guilt arising must be repressed by denial of the fact. “They love those jobs! They do them out of interest — who are we to deny them?” They even pass it on to their kids as a special family tradition. It eases the divorce between discrimination and actual suffering.