Reasoning With Anti-Maskers?

There are a number of articles floating around with advice for reasoning with anti-maskers. I question whether that’s possible. If you want to try to reason with these people, go for it, and good luck. I would rather herd cats.

This is from Frank Bruni’s email newsletter, which I don’t think is online —

Our struggle with this pandemic has convinced me that somewhere along the way, we went from celebrating individual liberty to fetishizing it, so that for too many Americans, all sense of civic obligation and communal good went out the window. … Somewhere along the way, we also developed an immature definition of freedom, conflating it with selfishness, convenience and personal comfort. That’s writ large in the freak-out over masks.

Well, yeah. I’ve been complaining for a while that the Right has rendered the word freedom essentially meaningless. For example, see “Freedom’s Just Another Word” from 2005 and “So Much for Freedom” from 2011. And here’s “Freedom and Feudalism” from 2011: “Today’s conservative is someone who confuses freedom with feudalism. Or, put another way, he is someone who wears a “liberty or death” T-shirt while marching in support of oligarchy.”

Thus it is that the same people who grow hysterical and start screaming when asked to wear a mask in a retail store during a pandemic think federal secret police beating a citizen for asking a question is perfectly okay:

And then there’s this genius: GOP Lawmaker: Mask-Mandates Are No Different Than Jews Being Killed In Holocaust. You can reason with someone that demented? Seriously?

“Freedom” in the sense righties use it means they get to do whatever they want without interference, but those they don’t like can be brutalized by the state. Civil rights and equal protection under the law can go hang. And this is not a new development. This is how they have thought for a long time. Decades. Centuries, arguably.

And just so we’re clear, see “The Pandemic, the Constitution, and Civil Liberties” and this document from the American Bar Association, “Two centuries of law guide legal approach to modern pandemic.” From the latter:

Under the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment and U.S. Supreme Court decisions over nearly 200 years, state governments have the primary authority to control the spread of dangerous diseases within their jurisdictions. The 10th Amendment, which gives states all powers not specifically given to the federal government, allows them the authority to take public health emergency actions, such as setting quarantines and business restrictions.

And see also:

To verify if requirements to wear masks violate the Constitution, 10News discussed the topic with law professor Stewart Harris and Republican state senator Richard Briggs.  Harris teaches constitutional law at Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law in Knoxville.  Sen. Briggs (R-Knoxville) is a longtime heart and lung surgeon with expertise in the medical field in addition to his knowledge as a lawmaker.

Harris said the answer is clear-cut when questioned whether a requirement to wear masks is a violation of anyone’s constitutional rights.

“No,” answered Harris.  “It’s just not.  The Supreme Court of the United States, 115 years ago in a case called Jacobson vs. Massachusetts, very clearly stated that the government has something called ‘police power’ which allows it to protect the health and welfare of its people.”

In the 1905 Jacobson case, the Supreme Court ruled Massachusetts was within its rights to require all citizens to get a vaccination for smallpox.

“The United States Supreme Court has said it is reasonable to strap people down and inject them with vaccines in a time of a public health crisis. If that is true, and it is, then it is certainly reasonable and it’s certainly constitutional to mandate that people wear masks in public places,” said Harris.

Not to mention it will be constitutional to mandate the eventual covid-19 vaccine, unless the current SCOTUS overturns Jacobson, which wouldn’t surprise me.

But back to reasoning with righties. In How to Actually Talk to Anti-Maskers at the New York Times, Charlie Warzel quotes people who think the problem is that the messaging about masks has been muddled. But I think this gets closer to the truth:

Other experts suggest that government failures run much deeper than communication problems. “It’s not a lack of trust. It’s a legitimacy crisis,” Rhea Boyd, a pediatrician who teaches classes on structural inequality and health at Stanford,told me. “There’s been an active movement from the far right to render major scientific institutions and practices illegitimate. I’m worried less about messaging and more about a failed government response.”

Dr. Boyd cited the Trump administration’s attempts to cut the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, its ouster of the National Security Council’s top pandemic response official, Mr. Trump’s downplaying of Covid-19 and his downright lies about it (most recently on display during a Sunday Fox News interview in which the president said that the United States had “one of the lowest mortality rates in the world” from the virus) and the White House’s muzzling of the C.D.C.

“We have the resources and the scientists and we didn’t support them — we undermined them,” Dr. Boyd said. “And so the cycle perpetuates itself. They’ve been gutted, so their response looks insufficient and ineffective. For those already prone to thinking public health was illegitimate, it’s confirmation bias.”

Other people in the article talk about building trust, which is fine, but we don’t have time.  We needed compliance weeks ago, not some time next year. What would have been great is if all levels of government had come out with a unified message at least four months ago making it clear that state and local mask mandates are necessary, good for everybody, and not violations of constitutional rights. There would still be some resistance but not, I think, quite so much. Instead, some of the most prominent resisters have been mayors, governors, and one particular President who has let it be known that mask wearing is uncool. (For more on the trust building argument, see Julia Marcus, “The Dudes Who Won’t Wear Masks.”)

And may I add that this fight over wearing masks appears to be a problem unique to the United States. See The mask debate is still raging in the US, but much of the world has moved on by Emma Reynolds at CNN.

I propose that there are deeper reasons that right-leaning Americans are predisposed to the Trumpian attitude that masks and other pandemic restrictions are a violation of their rights and an outrageous imposition on their personal liberty. And those reasons have been building up for decades and are not going to go away by showing anti-maskers a little empathy.

Chief among those is the extreme polarization that has hardened into tribalism. If mask-wearing is associated with Democrats and libruhls, then loyal Trump supporters are not going to do it, no matter what. And I know that Trump came out yesterday and asked people to wear masks, but I doubt that will make much of a dent. Feelings on the issue are hardened into stone at this point.

Another issue is that conservatives generally seem less capable of grasping how things inter-relate. Mask wearing is not about keeping the mask-wearer safe, but about keeping everybody safe. If you’re the only one wearing a mask in a crowd of people, the mask probably won’t do you much good. If everyone is wearing a mask, however, it makes a difference. You can explain that to righties all day long, but they won’t grasp it. Notice I say won’t, not can’t. It’s the same with trying to explain herd immunity to anti-vaxxers. The “antis” keep coming back to arguments about personal choice and refuse to see how their personal choices impact other people.

Paul Krugman wrote a column a few days ago titled “Republicans Keep Flunking Microbe Economics.”

Take the insane resistance to wearing masks. Some of this is about insecure masculinity — people refusing to take the simplest, cheapest of precautions because they think it will make them look silly. Some of it is about culture wars: liberals wear masks, so I won’t. But a lot of it is about fetishization of individual choice.

Many things should be left up to the individual. I may not share your taste in music or want to do the same things you do with consenting adults, but such matters aren’t legitimately my business.

Other things, however, aren’t just about you. The question of whether or not to dump raw sewage into a public lake isn’t something that should be left up to individual choice. And going to a gym or refusing to wear a mask during a pandemic is exactly like dumping sewage into a lake: it’s behavior that may be convenient for the people who engage in it, but it puts others at risk.

Do read the whole column. For  more on cognitive differences between righties and lefties, see ‘The Whole of Liberal Democracy Is in Grave Danger at This Moment’ by Thomas Edsall.

This leaves us with the question of what to do with the anti-maskers. I won’t be holding my breath waiting for a federal mask-wearing mandate. And my reading of all the articles about masks and the Constitution say that the feds actually have less authority than states in areas of public health. All I can say is that if you are living in an area with low mask-wearing compliance, as I am, then your own freedom is more severely restricted. Just stay home as much as you can and wash your hands a lot. Try to survie the year.

11 thoughts on “Reasoning With Anti-Maskers?

  1. I have little empathy for anti-maskers, actually none.

    I used to tell myself and others that I am not a racist.  Trayvon Martin was an epiphany for me.  Since then I have come to believe that is insufficient and I have become an anti-racist who does not hesitate to call out racism that I see, hear, and read.

    I have arrived at the same attitude with anti-maskers.  No sympathy, no empathy, only contempt and open derision of their mimicking of tRump's sociopathic behavior.


    NOUN – a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience.

  2. Why, oh why, don't these idiot's all jump off bridges?

    Don't mother's still tell their children they'll jump off bridges if their friends do, unless they develop mind's of their own?  These people have no mind's if their own!!!  JUMP, YOU MFERS!!!!!

    Masks should have been made mandatory, just as soon as their critical nature was uncovered (no pun intended, sadly).  Information about that lagged, if you remember.  Initially, we were warned against wearing them  – which sounded as wrong as wrong could be, to my ears.  And so it turned out!

    Another problem, is businesses – cowardly "people," businesses – left some low-wage schmucks out front to…  "Absorb the anger," would be the polite thing to say.  Or, die – which  was also a very realistic possibility.  

    Why not the Store Manager out front?  'Cause store managers can delegate!  Schmucks can't.  "Sucks to be you…"

    Please, please, oh Great FSM, can we get a nice, quiet POTUS, and not a gibbering madman!!!





    • In February when the 'experts' were telling people not to wear masks, I bought a box of 100 medical grade (not N-95) masks and started self-isolation and mask wearing for the limited times I needed to be around others.  I thought it clear from the start that the reason they were saying to not wear masks had nothing to do with health and every reason to do with the fact that damn near nothing is made in the USA any longer and there would not be enough masks.

  3. There is a pill for every ill, but no effective pill for sociopathy.  Reason or therapy do not work to change sociopathy.  Sociopaths are distressing and empathy is not their strong point.  Showing empathy will get you no common ground.  Many, but not nearly enough, end up in jail.  They really don't like them in jail either, because they are really distressing there and the other inmates and the jailers cannot escape from them.  

    In technical terms, they just do not avoidance condition well and sometimes not at all.  So how many times do you have to touch a hot pan to learn what careful hot means?  Or how many deaths do you have to see until you think magical thinking does not rid the country of Covid-19?  

    Sociopaths are birds of a feather and do fly together.  Their behavior is that of a flock.  Spend an hour or two watching flocks of birds.  They react in unison so fast.  I have never been able to determine which bird leads, and the lack of any "free thinking" birds is amazing.  So too is it  with sociopaths.  

    The fit is perfect sociopath action in the video.  A little 'in store' 'drama queen' display of sociopathy.  Some will find her to be repulsive and a few others as being " one of us".  If you are the latter, you may just be one of the flocking flock.  What a distressing lot you are and if you are, thank you for your rejection of me. 

    Just give them the one finger salute and be on your way.  Life is too short to try to fix these people, and now they can and will try to be super spreaders and get you killed.  I would guess Typhoid Mary was a bit of a Sociopathic Super Spreader herself.

    Oh, by the way, their are no more 'men' in little white coats to take these people away.  In this day in age you cannot even hardly get them committed for a diagnostic evaluation.  That was so so long ago, when the jail was not the only option.  The old adage comes to mind,  when your only tool is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail.  Let's see if you can just nail these bastards. 


  4. I was able to post Frank Bruni's opinion online – but now have forgotten how I did that.


  5. Righties have at best an adolescent notion of "freedom", which amounts to getting free of any authority (your parents). Like teenagers, they don’t have a clue what this really means.

    This artist depicts it well.

    • A memorable image. Thanks.

      Recently I wrote a story where Death confesses to Uncle Sam its love. It tells Sam that he could always go back to his goddess – Lady Liberty – but also, "… you always said it was her or me… well here i am…"

  6. For themselves, the slogan is "Don't Tread On Me."

    For the protesters in Portland, the slogan is "Do Tread On Them."


    That is Trumpian authoritarianism in a nutshell. 

  7. I have wondered if this visceral reaction against mask wearing is not associated with the image of enforced wearing of burqas and hijabs for Islamic women.  So much work to do, regardless.

  8. The Right bought into it 33 years ago from Reagan’s pal Maggie: "They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours." – in an interview in Women's Own in 1987


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