The next battle in the culture war has broken out. It’s not about race or gender, but it does involve two phobias. The first is fear of COVID, which drives some to take personal precautions because that’s their choice.
Whenever Joe Glickman heads out for groceries, he places an N95 mask over his face and tugs a cloth mask on top of it. He then pulls on a pair of goggles.
He has used this safety protocol for the past 14 months. It did not change after he contracted the coronavirus last November. It didn’t budge when, earlier this month, he became fully vaccinated. And even though President Biden said on Thursday that fully vaccinated people do not have to wear a mask, Mr. Glickman said he planned to stay the course.
In fact, he said, he plans to do his grocery run double-masked and goggled for at least the next five years.
Maybe Glickman’s risk assessment is miscalculated, and he should worry more about the risk of death by auto accident on the way to the grocery store than infection for lack of double-masking, but so what? If he wants to wear a mask, what difference does that make to you? It’s his life and he’s entitled to live it any damn way he pleases.
For people like Mr. Glickman, a combination of anxiety, murky information about new virus variants and the emergence of an obdurate and sizable faction of vaccine holdouts means mask-free life is on hold — possibly forever.
A lot of people struggle with that difficult calculus of fear and risk assessment, but that’s not a crime in America. The fear of harm to children from Stranger Danger is negligible, but people still call the cops when they see a ten-year-old playing alone outside. That’s far more concerning given that it could end up with a parent in jail or a child removed from a normal, loving family. But wearing a mask? Who gives a damn?
Then there’s the second phobia, artfully expressed by a thought leader of the young and passionate.
Is it political signaling to not wear a mask, that you’re inadequately progressive or, dare I say it, a Trumpkin? Will people look at you askance, interrogate you on your vaccination status, approach you to let you know how you repulse them for not wearing your mask? Will they scream at you? Will they shun you? Will they punch you?
Much as it’s no one’s business if you want to wear a mask, is it no one’s business if you don’t?
Scolding has become a competitive sport over the past few years, where random people believe with all their heart that they are entitled, if not duty bound, to tell strangers how they are to live their lives. They rationalize it by making chaos theory connections between others who share their city, state or planet and its impact on them, or perhaps those they champion under their platitudinous belief that silence is complicity. After all, if someone isn’t wearing a mask, and you learned that the immuno-compromised could be harmed after skimming a Vox headline, is it not your duty to save them from the maskless? What if they aren’t even vaccinated? What if they lie about it?
What are the politics of masks now, and what will be the experience of minding your own business and going about your life when others just can’t seem to control their impulse to make you bend to their will? Will people be willing to accept the wearing, or not wearing, of masks as a legitimate personal choice and let others live their best lives, or will there be blood in the aisles as the righteous see the maskless the way they see red MAGA hats?
*Tuesday Talk rules apply.