Last week, in a hearing before the Senate committee on homeland security, the CEO of Colonial Pipeline, which recently paid out nearly $5 million in blackmail money to an unknown hacker while the pipeline was shut down for several days, testified that most of the men who can operate the controls on the pipeline are dead or have retired, so that the 5,500 mile line must rely almost wholly upon computerized systems for its operation. That means, of course, that we are vulnerable to attacks by people who do not have to take a guard at gunpoint, or dig a big hole somewhere that no one will notice.
“Intersectionality” is the academic fad of our time, asserting that various forms of prejudice against members of different groups inevitably intersect when someone belongs to more than one of the groups at once, or how various “structures” of disadvantage overlap and intersect, to the harm of certain designated minorities—and in the case of women, “minority” is rather a metaphorical term. It is deterministic, it reduces the immensely complex tangle and muddle of human relations to formula, and it ignores the historical fact that human ingenuity is like intelligent water in this regard—if you try to dam it up here, it can spill out over there, or it can gain in force by being narrowed in scope. It can, because the mind is restless and the will is stubborn, and people can make virtues of necessity.
If you want an intersection, though, let me give you one. It is specific and predictable in its action. The Colonial Pipeline was invented, created, and maintained by men with the technical skill to do so. Whatever we say about the invention and creation—though all of human history testifies to the boundlessly creative power of mechanically-minded men—certainly the maintenance of their inventions had to be maintained by them. Women were not going to do it. With but an occasional outlier here or there, they are not going to maintain such a thing now. If you call a plumber to deal with a sewer pipe that has backed up into your basement, it is a practical certainty that it is going to be a man, because the sheer strength required to deal with the valve rusted shut, or with a section of pipe that has to be cut or muscled into place, is like a threshold. If you cannot reach the threshold (and if you are a teenage boy or an old man, you are likely to fail) you cannot do that job.
All right, then. Now suppose that you do not raise boys to be those men. Then you will not have them, and that is that. How can you fail at this basic task? First, you deny to millions of boys the married father in the home; you pursue policies perversely designed to reward family breakdown. We are speaking of the preponderant case: boys are not going to learn from their mothers how to use a sledge hammer.
Second, you push college credentials—hugely expensive and of now dubious value as far as actual learning is concerned—so that most people who do not go to college must languish in low-paying and menial work. Third, you divert resources away from high school boys who want to pursue the skilled trades. And you can hardly reverse yourself on that last one, because you have committed yourself to “equality,” which in our case here means that young men who do have the strength for it, and the tolerance of risk and filth, will be as useless as young women when it comes to maintaining the Colonial Pipeline.
We buy this equality at the expense of the common good. It is, frankly, absurd that we must rely upon a computer program—all things concentrated upon a single vulnerable point—and not upon a network of skilled men, to maintain a pipeline that delivers one hundred million gallons of gasoline, heating oil, and airplane fuel to Americans in the east every day.
Every lack presents an opportunity, but only if you have people with the inclination and the power to seize it. Imagine what a Booker T. Washington would have made of this state of affairs. He would have hired pipeline technicians in a heartbeat, and set them to training his young men to do the much-desired work. They would have made themselves indispensable, and when you are indispensable, it does not matter what people think of you at first. They need you, they pay you. Do good work, and they will change their minds about you, if they had been ill-disposed.
But what I say of the pipeline is true generally in the United States. Our infrastructure is a mess. Drive along our major highways, and what do you see? Roads designed for much lighter traffic than they now bear; substandard entrances and exits; ponderously slow repairs; ill lighting; general ugliness; vandalism when you approach the big cities. Ride on a train into Philadelphia or New York, and note every site at which skilled labor might be employed to develop, to repair, to beautify, or to clean, and consider how many thousands—millions— – of young men might find such work, if we but raised young men capable of and willing to do it.
Were such a thing made a national priority, we might go a long way toward solving several problems at once. We would replace a vulnerable nerve center with a practically invulnerable net. We would gain the benefits of safety, cleanliness, efficiency, and beauty. We would raise the hopes, the incomes, and the aims of the working class. We would make it far more likely that they could marry young and with confidence. We would strengthen the working class family, and take a small but important step toward reversing our decline into single parenthood, with its results in loneliness, incapacity, and—for many a frustrated young man—crime. And those among us most likely to profit directly from it would be precisely those who preach about intersectionality and say they want to help.