The World Of The Trades
There’s an interesting discussion going on in the comments threads about wages, education, employment, and so forth. Several people are pointing out (correctly) that our society demeans the trades, wrongly, and discourages people who would do well in them from taking them up. A typical comment:
But beyond this, our education system demeans manual labor and respectable professions. Plumbers, electricians, machinists, etc. are all well-paid and respectable professions, but we are churning out people that lump those in with working in fast food.
This brings to mind a very interesting exchange I had last weekend in Clear Creek with a young Catholic man who had left his middle class job after his conversion and moved to rural Oklahoma to live near the abbey and be a member of the community there. To him, it was worth it. He is now working in the trades in Tulsa. I told him that I admired that, and that if any of my kids show more aptitude and interest in the trades, I will send them to trade school, not college.
The young man said that’s fine, but that I should be aware of something important: that working in the trades will bring you face to face with “some of the foulest people you can imagine.” He said the idea of the noble blue-collar worker of ages past is largely a myth today. In his line of work, he said, he spends his day with men who have drug habits, are ex-cons (some of them), are pre-occupied with pornography, see women as whores, avoid child support payments, send a steady stream of filth out of their mouths, and so forth. He also said that some of them are decent all the same. The point, said the young man, is that if you are going to encourage your believing Christian child to take up the trades, you had better prepare them for the fact that they will be entering a world of degradation.
“A lot of these [Christian] kids who have been so sheltered, they’re not going to know what hit them,” he said.
The young man said he would rather remain in that world, so that he and his wife and their kids can afford to live in the community they’ve joined, than to have what he had before. The corruption in his nice middle-class line of work was pretty bad too. He believes that all things considered, he was more in danger of losing his faith in that environment than in the one he works in now. But middle-class Christians who refuse the usual middle-class habit of looking down on the trades, as correct as they are in that judgment, ought not to let their ideals fool them about what it’s like in 2016 to work as a tradesman. The moral collapse of the working class is real.
I learned something in that conversation.
UPDATE: From reader Paddywagon:
Yep, that’s how it is.
I’m a machinist in my mid-late 20’s, and I work at one of NASA’s most prestigious aerospace institutions. There is an elite scientific culture here in general, but the machine shop is just as blue-collar as any.
I started apprenticing here at 22 years old, and yeah, it was eye-opening…
I’d often talk about the moral and cultural decline of our society, but before working here I more often spoke about things like prostitution, sex-trafficking, porn-addiction, alcoholism, drug addiction, misogyny, divorce-rate, perversity, etc. in the abstract. That is to say, I knew these issues were prevalent in American culture, but hardly anyone in my sphere represented these statistics.
Well, now I know those people. They are my coworkers.
Most of them are in their second or third marriages, many of them speak about women like they are sub-human and only good for ‘hitting and quitting’, some talk openly about using prostitutes, and almost all of them look at me like I’m crazy for saying I want to get married.
And have kids? Out of my mind.
Their health is terrible. They eat junk all day, many smoke, they have diabetes, and they have constant health problems. One coworker got fired last year for drug usage, but before that everyone knew he was a total alcoholic and bi-polar. We were surprised it was weed that got him canned.
These guys are a mess. And they’re not even lower-working class! There are a few of us who are Christian or Mormon and hold traditional values, but the majority are secular materialistic misogynists. And I’m not saying this because I don’t like my coworkers–I do like them! They are friendly and nice to work with. But the level of moral depravity is astounding.
If society is half as messed up as my coworkers, then the center cannot hold. But I think that is being too generous to society.
Without a doubt, though, I’ll take my place among the dysfunctional blue-collar culture than with the elitist progressive SJW culture. At least my coworkers respect me and don’t try to get me fired for not thinking like they do.
UPDATE.2: A reader writes:
I’d like to add a bit of a rebuttal to your junior tradesman correspondent.
I started my working life as the wounded son of Ivy League educated parents in various manual labor jobs, including commercial fishing on the East Coast. The men in that industry were indeed hardened and depraved. In a few cases, they were among the most depraved people I’ve ever known. I was no Christian, but my upper middle class sensibilities were suitably horrified in the beginning.
As I grew into my mid twenties, I began gravitating towards the skilled trades. My first job was working with a low-quality remodeling contractor as a carpenter. When you get your first trades job, it’s usually a crappy job. I know that now. That “company” was staffed in part by the sort of low class people your young friend speaks of. But here’s the rub; eventually (and I mean six months later) my skills were sufficiently improved that I moved on to another company where most of the guys were extremely smart, highly skilled, and possessed of a deep craft ethic that was truly admirable. That’s usually the way it works if you’re diligent your skills are improving.
Also, I think your friend is surprised because his Christian upbringing has imbued him with a lot of mythology about working men. It is my sense that working men have always been rough. I wonder how moral the tenement-dwelling Catholic men who built New York City were? Sure, they went to church on Sundays, but they also hit their wives and spent time in houses of ill repute, bar rooms, and jails. I live in Colorado Springs now, so I’m around a lot of people and families who have a suburban Norman Rockwell mythology that they carry around with them, and I think your young friend is one of them. Working men have always been rough, but to be a moral man among them is entirely possible, and often lucrative. Employers notice it, I assure you. I certainly did when I was running my own general contracting firm In DC. In short, I would say to this young man given the chance: “Grow a thick skin buddy, and keep doing what you’re doing. Welcome to the construction business!”