There are many reasons people give for why they personally are for or against wearing masks in the fight against COVID-19. Many letters to the editor have covered much of the ground both pro and con. Recently I was told that actually “nobody wants to wear the mask” even those who insist everyone absolutely must. I don’t doubt that to be true. Frankly, masks suck, and everyone knows it.
The funny thing about it is that the resistance to masking has precious little to do with the mask at all; it’s the mandates. All the other arguments are noise.
That’s not to say there aren’t good arguments on either side (as well as foolish ones); we’ve all heard them ad nauseam. But when the chaff is burned away, the resistance to masks is really all about that foundational American value: Liberty — who’s got it, and who doesn’t.
For the value of American Liberty — capital L — many have fought and died. And that Liberty, worth dying for, extends to all people, whether they love or hate the idea of masks. That’s the problem: those who don’t necessarily want to wear the mask, but want everyone to universally wear them anyway, have that one advantage over those who simply don’t want to wear it: the liberty to decide for themselves.
I said all other arguments are noise, and they are. They operate in such a way that they make us close our ears off to what we’re really saying to one another about our position. The pro-universal masking side will spout hyperbolic platitudes that infer the anti-maskers are either stupid (for not following science), selfish (for placing themselves and their own needs and desires above those of others), or simply callous mask-holes. One such letter to the editor from Sept. 20 stated, “The choice is stark. Do we want to kill COVID or kids?”
OK, the unfair characterization of anti-maskers in that statement should really be obvious to any discerning reader. Nevertheless, that writer also went on to accuse those opposed to her view as people whose “empathy lags,” are “(not) adult enough” to be compassionate, at fault for “scaring children,” are “brutishly” disagreeable, and ultimately responsible for children experiencing “trauma’s toll of chronic anxiety and dimmed learning (and) joy.” Laughably, after lobbing such ad hominem, she states, “We can agree to disagree civilly.”
Oh, really? Is that what was going on in that letter to the editor?
That’s what I mean — I’m sure the author sincerely believes her position is correct and that she is moderate and well reasoned, but I can’t hear her through all that mischaracterization, hyperbole and the noise of insults.
She says she wants “adults to step together to model empathy and agency” while she demonstrates a commitment to neither. What she wants to say is drowned in noise. And, often enough, those of the other point of view commit the same or similar errors of reasoning. We can’t hear each other. We should try to hear.
However, there is a singular and important difference in the premise of either side’s position. This is the point I want to be heard. Ironically, the author of that letter to the editor stumbled upon it in her diatribe. To have “agency” is to have the freedom to act independently and to be able to make one’s own free choices. That is all the opposition asks — it is also the unique principle upon which our nation was built. Remember the revolutionary battle cry, “Give me Liberty, or give me death”? It’s our American inheritance. No one wants to force anyone to have a bare face, just to allow people to make their own choices about whether to wear a mask or not. Universal masking advocates actually oppose personal agency by definition and that is where the high emotions enter in. When personal agency is threatened, people resist.
I pray Americans will always react with strong resistance to protect their freedom. When doing so, it inoculates us from future assaults to our American values. Hear me. My resistance to mandates is about Liberty. It is, indeed, a matter of “liberty and justice for all.”