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I thought it might be time to follow up on my post from a year ago, which asked the rhetorical question, Are Masks Becoming a Class Issue?, and more recently “Let Them Eat Cake … But Make Sure They’re Wearing a Mask.”
Last week witnessed the dying gasps of mask tyranny. A Federal Court ruled that the Center for Disease Control’s so-called Mask Mandate was unlawful as it “exceeds the CDC’s statutory authority and violates the procedures required for agency rule making …” When the TSA quickly accepted the ruling, most Americans let out a collective sigh of relief.
Since then, an estimated 20% of airline passengers and pedestrians on the streets of New York City continued to weak masks, some of the latter even when outside and alone. I speculate that these residual mask wearers fall into three categories.
In the first category belong those who sincerely believe – against all scientific evidence – that paper masks protect them from contagion and harm. Within this group are the truly ill, who find no burden in wearing a mask to provide perceived protection for weakened immune systems or other co-morbidities. They deserve our sympathy and respect. Also within this first group are the otherwise healthy but sadly neurotic individuals whose fear of COVID-19 has overcome their capacity for reason.
In the second category are those who continue to wear masks for political purposes. They seek to virtue signal and mark their adherence to the false narratives propagated by elements of government and legacy media. They would be quick to agree that later waves of infection represent a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” also against all clinical evidence. As a subset of this category are those hotel, restaurant, and other service workers whose employers remain committed to masks, largely because of the ideological position of this category. These workers are the victims of the classist mask tyranny I wrote about last year.
In the third category lies the small minority who have come to appreciate that mask wearing, often accompanied by sunglasses, provides a degree of anonymity and camouflage. While a very few are celebrities, some are those who continue to perpetrate “smash and grab” robberies and other crimes on almost a daily basis in some of our largest and embattled cities. These individuals are the reason that stores like Walgreens and CVS have been forced to put $1.99 toothbrushes and deodorants under lock and key in urban centers, and to hire extra security personnel – typically masked – to unlock them for their customers.
What has been missing from the debate on mandates is acknowledging that mask wearing impairs civility and erodes social trust. Human brains use facial recognition to process information about others and establish patterns of identification, reciprocity and trust. Observed facial features can evoke a range of responses including warmth, kindness, respect, antipathy or a sense of danger. This happens at a subconscious level and is both innate and learned. When this process is obstructed by face coverings, young children don’t learn the cues, and adults often struggle to see others in their shared humanity.
The oddest aspect of the masked remnant is the prevalence, probably comprised mostly of the second group, who wear masks inappropriately, i.e., as chinstraps covering neither mouth nor nose, or as dangling earrings as if they were talismans. Now that the mandates are ending, perhaps those who consider continuing to wear them will appreciate that masks are not fashion items. Either wear them correctly, or even better, not at all.