Throughout the last year, I’ve read a lot of masking arguments but none that broached my top objection: mask mandates force me to communicate what I believe are very dangerous lies.
Even if masks ultimately do provide some small reduction in coronavirus spread without imposing additional harms, a contentious claim, to me that is almost beside the point. The point is the security theater, which assumes that drastic government micromanagement of our lives and indefinite curtailment of our liberties are not only ever acceptable but in fact the moral thing to do.
I’m not talking about high-risk situations like nursing homes or hospitals or the homes of cancer patients, where I am willing to mask and sanitize and so forth for the chance it may indeed protect highly vulnerable people. I’m talking about in normal life, in public settings. Despite what people have been shanghaied into assuming, these are low-risk environments and should be treated as such.
Far above and beyond any health considerations, masking is a symbol. It is a talisman, a ritual, a communication of premises that I utterly reject. Being forced to wear a mask to me is the equivalent of being forced to wear a T-shirt that supports legalized abortion, which I believe is mass murder.
Wearing a mask communicates that I accept the premise that everyone should wear a mask, even if vaccinated, even if possessing natural antibodies, even if a child to whom the flu is more dangerous, even if an adult who believes living with risk is part of human life and that attempting to eliminate risk is more dangerous than accepting it. It communicates that the entire world should look like a hospital, a fearful and sad place where people are desperately sick, even if they don’t know it.
It communicates that I believe harassing the living hell out of Americans is a justified response to a disease with a 99.5 percent survival rate or better for those younger than 65. It communicates that it is reasonable to worship health as an idol, and to control citizens with fear. Well, I simply don’t believe any of that, and I’m not going to be forced to communicate that I do.
Yes, I could be wrong both about abortion, masking, and every other thing I believe. But it used to be considered an American thing for others to “defend to the death” my right to express what I believe, even by those who vehemently disagree with the content of my beliefs and speech.
Now I’m told by people who identify even as libertarians that I do not have the right to my own opinion about the post-totalitarian COVID regime, or that if I may hold my opinion privately I certainly cannot live in accord with my beliefs. Clearly, America has fundamentally changed. I oppose that fundamental transformation, too.
I’ve recently been reading and rereading communist dissident Vaclav Havel’s famous essay, “The Power of the Powerless,” in an attempt to make more sense out of how to live in our time. I find myself applying his insights to multiple current issues, including this one.
Havel famously uses the example of a greengrocer putting the Marxist slogan “Workers of the world unite!” in his shop window to analyze the power dynamics in what he calls a “post-totalitarian” society. It was a little startling to me how closely his observations of living in a Communist Bloc country paralleled my daily experiences under the COVID regime.
Havel makes it clear that whether the grocer believes the slogan is immaterial. Probably, he says, the man does not. But he conforms to the demands made of him, even when they contradict reality and good sense, because if he doesn’t he will be punished.
In posting signs of affirmation of their regime, “The greengrocer and the office worker have both adapted to the conditions in which they live, but in doing so, they help to create those conditions,” Havel writes. “…Quite simply, each helps the other to be obedient. Both are objects in a system of control, but at the same time they are its subjects as well. They are both victims of the system and its instruments.”
As with the masks, whether “Workers of the world unite!” is true is beside the point. The point is signaling compliance out of fear, not an honest discussion of the evidence, or persuasion, or any mechanism respecting the informed and open consent of the governed.
“The greengrocer had to put the slogan in his window, therefore, not in the hope that someone might read it or be persuaded by it, but to contribute, along with thousands of other slogans, to the panorama that everyone is very much aware of,” notes Havel. “This panorama, of course, has a subliminal meaning as well: it reminds people where they are living and what is expected of them. It tells them what everyone else is doing, and indicates to them what they must do as well, if they don’t want to be excluded, to fall into isolation, alienate themselves from society, break the rules of the game, and risk the loss of their peace and tranquility and security.”
And it wasn’t because everyone was vaccinated, as government statistics show the majority are not. So it was clear that the vast majority of my fellow citizens were obeying the mandate simply because it was a mandate, not because they fully supported it. Yet their compliance communicated the falsehood that the COVID regime had mass support. And that is exactly the point.
Citizens’ assistance to a lying and oppressive regime, Havel says, changes those who corrupt themselves in this way: “they may learn to be comfortable with their involvement, to identify with it as though it were something natural and inevitable and, ultimately, so they may — with no external urging — come to treat any non-involvement as an abnormality, as arrogance, as an attack on themselves, as a form of dropping out of society.”
In other words, falsifying reality brings about more of that falsified reality. It’s the same dynamic as gang initiations requiring initiates to commit crimes. Once people have compromised themselves, they are more likely to identify with their compromise, because it’s embarrassing to admit you were wrong. So instead, people double down. They heap onto their initial cowardice the additional cowardice of refusing to admit they could have been wrong.
This also helps account for the viciousness with which people often treat dissenters. Dissenters are living proof that everyone does not have to comply, that it is possible to live in the truth. This shames those who have chosen temporary comfort over noble sacrifice.
The greengrocer who does not display the sign, Havel says, is soundly punished by his peers precisely because “He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal. The principle must embrace and permeate everything. There are no terms whatsoever on which it can coexist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety.”
The crumbling of the Soviet Union began when people “came to realize that not standing up for the freedom of others, regardless of how remote their means of creativity or their attitude to life, meant surrendering one’s own freedom,” Havel writes. There came a point when more people realized that the price of staying silent, of accepting lies, was too much.
Do we need an Afghanistan-level catastrophe for more Americans to realize their acceptance of lockdowns, which mask-wearing signals, is just as deadly? Statists are more than happy to oblige. But the longer we take to wake up, the worse the suffering must be.
Source: The Federalist