The pandemic and government responses to it have been revelatory for the people of the world, exposing the divides between us as never before. The “great Honkening” unleashed by Canada’s trucker protest, writes N.S. Lyons, embodies the climax of these divisions: the collision between two worlds – Virtuals and Physicals.
Lyons describes Virtuals as the “thinking classes,” a relatively “new civilizational innovation” found most commonly in cities and urban landscapes. The Virtuals, he says, are the handlers of knowledge – be it digital, analog, numerical or narrative. Virtuals exist “at a level of abstraction from the real world,” able to work from laptops and communicate virtually via Zoom; they represent the triumph of a “liquid narrative” over “static reality” or Theory over nature.
Physicals belong to the material world. They may work with their hands or they may run their own business managing employees who work with their hands. Their occupations require a physical location or they own or operate physical assets that are central to their trade. Physicals, says Lyons, predominate in outlying exurbs and rural hinterlands. This locational difference between Virtuals and Physicals, he continues, contributes to an urban-rural divide, just as gender differences in work preferences (men inclining to things and women inclining to people) further deepens divisions.
According to Lyons, the character of the work Virtuals and Physicals engage in shapes their disparate identities and values more than income. He finds a “working class” versus “elite” distinction doesn’t necessarily capture what’s really at play here.
The trucker protest, says Lyons, has “dropped like a solid boulder of reality in the Virtuals’ front lawn,” a horror that strikes at a core vulnerability Virtuals have yet to solve: “a total reliance…on the very people they find alien and abhorrent”. The people who take care of the physical infrastructure their bodies rely on – electricity, sewage and the like – so they can continue to disembody as “great brain hubs”.
The truckers rolling up in their big rigs reminded Virtuals of something they had hoped to ignore until automation had rendered their kind obsolete: the Physicals still exist and “they actually still have power – a lot of power”.