Carhartts, Compassion & Cults of Exclusion

Jennifer M Koskinen
8 min readFeb 2, 2022

The loyalty I feel towards all things Carhartt was firmly established in the spring of 1997 with the purchase of my first pair of carpenter pants.

photo by Jennifer Koskinen

They were the real deal—camel-colored carpenter pants with extra pockets, a hammer-hook, and a second layer of denim attached with grommets to protect knees and thighs on the job and increase pant durability.

I was in my twenties at the time and needed to be ready for a new job on a carpentry and labor crew. Nearly twenty-five years later, I still remember how thick and starchy the fabric felt as I slid the Carhartts up my thighs and over my lace underwear. As I buttoned them up and caught a glimpse of The New Me in the mirror at Murdoch’s, my heart raced a little. I felt powerful.

I was part of a new club. Or I would be — as soon as I earned that stiff denim a gritty, on-the-job patina.

Longing to belong to a club surely has roots in our survival instincts. Safety in numbers, hunters and gatherers, caretakers, night watchmen and all of that.

Empathy for others could arguably be considered a cousin of the instinct to join a herd — the ability to imagine another’s pain should, in theory, inspire kindness, curiosity and an inclination to protect others from harm.

I always thought of empathy as one of those innate, inherently human qualities — another layer connected to our system of mirror neurons (the thing that makes you flinch when you watch Natalie Portman pull back her endless hangnail in Black Swan) — not something that could be manipulated or shut off completely.

Boy have these past few years proved me wrong.

Turns out empathy is very prone to manipulation. All it takes is being convinced that another group of people is different enough to be somehow less human to introduce a significant fault-line in an otherwise human response.

Dehumanizing the other through language and malignant propaganda acts like a chisel, not just driving division between groups, but — perhaps even more dangerously — separating the manipulated from their own access to human empathy for others.

And by others, I mean anyone who doesn’t look, pray, dress, think or vote like “us.” This is how we — often…

Jennifer M Koskinen

photographer | writer | tree-hugger