Low certain cost. Potential high reward: that’s the argument for masks. Temporary low cost; permanent high reward: a little inconvenient fashion to help save lives. That’s the argument immunizing well-vaccinated Americans from even attempting a calculation of the probability masks around their faces would ever make any difference to anyone. “So what,” goes the response, “if it’s a low cost for a high reward. If there’s even any chance that masks work, we ought to take it.”
Here’s one problem with that: that refrain is never-ending. There’s always a chance that masking stops some disease. Here’s another problem: The low cost isn’t likely to be temporary. The cost and its likelihood of becoming permanent rises nonlinearly (“exponentially,” as it were) as time goes on.
The American spirit once rejected masking. That is the correct attitude. But that culture is changing. Culture is not a Huxleyan output of a cost-benefit machine with levers to be yanked and maneuvered by experts and officials. It is a dance honed around the common good. It is replete with unexpected consequences. And when culture changes, it usually changes permanently.
Set aside whether masks work. Instead, focus on the costs. And, set aside the immediate cost. Wearing a mask for a day is of course no big deal. Of course. But wearing one for two decades is—indisputably.
Now, set aside whether the Wuhan Pneumonia will ever go away. Assume it goes away tomorrow. Will we still be wearing masks two decades from now? Don’t bet against it.
In 2003, the original SARS spread through Asia, originating in China. By the following year it was gone, leaving—in a region of billions—no more than 800 dead and 9000 sickened. Biologically sickened, that is; scores more were sickened culturally. “The SARS outbreak was a ‘turning point’ for Asia,” said a hospital director in Taipei, quoted by Voice of America news. A turning point toward what? Did Asians see the turn before they’d already rounded the corner?
“Masks became a regular part of the street scene in parts of Asia” after SARS, continues the Voice of America, in an article published in March of last year. At that time, the Wuhan Pneumonia pandemic was just beginning, and experts still advised that masking would be no help.
“Today, manufacturers in East Asia are pumping out 10 to 20 million units [of masks] per month,” the article explains. Further, “Chinese youth [now] wear masks . . . to build a ‘social firewall’ against being approached by other people,” and “In Taiwan, older people add sunglasses and sun hats to masks to obscure their entire faces.” Indeed, we learn, “Masks have become so popular that some manufacturers make them purely for fashionable use, with no protective function.”
The post-SARS expert consensus on masking made no difference in Asia: the culture had already changed. It wasn’t about “the science” anymore. It probably never will be again.
The original SARS was almost two decades ago. SARS thrust a psychic pacifier into the mouths of people of Asia, and they’ve been sucking on it ever since. Is this just a minor inconvenience of fashion? Is this just ephemera, a temporary measure, to be disregarded in the weights and measures of public policy? What, exactly, happens to the overall probability that our children in 2040 will wear masks every day in school, when, with each passing year in this decade, masks continue to be the norm? What do the supposed adults in charge think happens when what begins as an inconvenience of fashion eventually becomes, through years of conditioning, a fashion preference? As we embark upon the third year of the Wuhan Pneumonia saga, have these supposed adults even thought about any of this?
No, of course not. Because “there’s always a chance.” They’re sucking on the same pacifier. That pacifier and others: pacifiers for all sorts of cultural problems whose ill consequences are accelerating unrelentingly. Abortion. Pornography. Childhood transsexualism. Wokeist racism and misandry. Riots. Discord.
And, that’s ultimately why so many are so outraged at mask mandates. The potential for permanent masking is alarming enough, but the true recalcitrance comes from seeing the growing likelihood that our leaders will never take the pacifiers out of their mouths.
So, it’s up to us. We have to be the adults. And to start, take your mask off. Stand athwart the coming American century of “social firewalls.” Be a name and a face to others. Talk to people. If we remain masked at work, at school, and at church, but unmasked before our screens—if we push away our countrymen and pull closer to the electrons that distort us—I promise you that we will all regret it.