Masks expose everything and cover nothing. When you wear a mask without being forced or told to, you’re exposing your fear and advertising to the public the politics that you endorse. When you make someone else wear a mask, you are making them advertise your fear and your political endorsements, something utterly wrong for a CEO, a governor, or even a bishop to make you do as the condition for any service, privilege, or grace.
That is fundamentally un-American. In America, your conscience is your castle. It demands and is due respect. Others can push around your conscience only under certain limits. These limits, rooted in American tradition, require nothing more than common sense to understand, so they are durable. They make America the freest and most prosperous nation ever, so they are good.
The overarching limit is this: it’s only when your acts create problems for others that others cannot easily manage on their own that we regulate what you do. Call this the principle of the “liberty tree.” Money doesn’t grow on trees, but liberty does. Only when you prune your liberty from another’s tree may it be abridged; otherwise, it may flourish without end. We regulate how much pollution the owners of a factory may be allowed to spew into the air, for example, only because everyone else breathing the air can do nothing about it on their own. We do not regulate how much soda or how many smartphones the factory can produce. The risks of soda and smartphones are risks you can manage on your own.
Unlike for the dangers of pollution, there are vaccines for the Wuhan flu. The risk of the disease can be easily managed—or “internalized,” as the economists would say—by virtually everyone using a vaccine. The risk of the disease is substantial, to be sure: it can include death or persistent neurological dysfunction. But it’s far from a national catastrophe: largely preventable diseases like obesity or heart disease kill many more. Outside of one’s family, no one has a duty to bear any sacrifice to reduce anyone else’s risk from the Wuhan flu while safe and thoroughly effective vaccines are free and freely available. It’s time for those worried about the disease to take the vaccine for it instead of making others wear unnecessary masks of political homage.
A booster dose of a Wuhan flu vaccine appears to be thoroughly effective at preventing symptomatic infection from the latest virus variant. A booster dose is almost 100 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infection from other prevailing variants, while the latest variant appears to cause milder disease and few deaths. Symptomatic infections in the well-vaccinated are overwhelmingly minor. The vaccine is all that you need.
The vaccines might cause damage in some that will manifest only later.
Worries about safety persist—and all too often authorities ignore them—but most of the lingering objections have been thoughtfully answered by independent analysts.
Masking is no substitute for vaccination. We know that common masks are too ineffective to make your obvious risks from the disease match your speculative risks from the vaccine. In other words, even if you refuse a vaccine and make everybody else around you wear masks, you’re still coming up short: your leftover risk from the disease will be far greater than your risk from the vaccine.
You may disagree—and you may be right. You should not be coerced into taking the vaccine; and, only those working primarily with the elderly or immunocompromised should even be required to take it. But the accepted, endorsed evidence shows that virtually everyone can use a vaccine to protect themselves. That is why the choice to mask must remain free.
You can protect yourself with a vaccine. You can protect yourself even without a vaccine, by limiting your contact with others, purchasing high-efficacy N-95 masks for your own use, or—likely soon—by taking a pill at home.
Some will insist that wearing masks out of concern for others is just the right thing to do. But understand where that logic leads. First, it leads to making others wear masks. Then it leads to everybody wearing masks forever, for there will always be a new variant. There will always be the flu. Then it leads to cutting down the traditional American limits on when a citizen’s liberty may be abridged. That would mean that the powerful could make you do whatever they command so long as they claim that others would be better off following their dictates. The castle of your conscience is defenseless to that principle: most everything you do—almost every exercise of your freedom of speech, for example—is something someone in power thinks you should stop doing for the sake of the country. It’s refusing to don a mask today. Then it’s attending church or watching Fox News (or CNN) tomorrow. Think it can’t happen? Then think of how many believed Joe Biden and Anthony Fauci when they said there would be no vaccine mandate.
Most people wearing masks whenever they’re told sincerely think that they’re just doing the right thing. But they’re not. They’re threatening our American traditions by helping to entrench an illiberal order. It’s not the good intention that they’re thinking about that matters. It’s what they’re not thinking about that matters. America is not and never has been an autocracy wherein a power “reimagines” what everybody should be doing and then everyone falls into parade behind the leader’s drumbeat, all doing as all are told. That’s the way of Fascist Italy, communist North Korea, and the Chinese Communist Party. Mussolini tried to ban the handshake to harden the Italians; today, Fauci and his ilk want to ban the handshake and the public smile, supposedly to keep Americans safe. The goal doesn’t matter: the totalizing means are wrong. The traditional American way is more successful, more just, and more humane.
Take your mask off. A candle in the dark shines the way for the rest. As the spreading chestnut tree darkens many, under the sunbathed liberty tree shall I keep you and you keep me.