in·di·vid·u·al·ism /ˌindəˈvij(o͞o)əˌlizəm/
a social theory favoring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control.

Oxford Dictionary

Let’s get one thing clear up front: if we were talking about something that genuinely provides a significant measure of protection against the virus, I wouldn’t be writing this. Wearing a mask would be just common sense. But the moment the authorities said, “Leave the N95 masks for health care professionals” and “a homemade cloth mask or a bandana will satisfy the requirement,” they lost all credibility as far as real medical science is concerned and ventured into the arena of “safety theater” — something that I will write about in much more detail in a future blog post.

“We’re all special in our own way”
“Your uniqueness is your greatest asset.”
“March to a different drummer.”
“Be as unique as a snowflake.”

The prevailing philosophy in parenting and education has been, for decades, to reinforce each child’s individuality and special talents. In recent times the left, in particular, has been adamant about allowing children to define their own sexual identities and embrace their racial heritage (well, unless they’re white anglo-saxon protestants – but this isn’t about that).

In the U.S., we have a long history of admiring and elevating to hero status the mavericks who buck the system and challenge the status quo — in movies and history books. In real life, these days, apparently not so much — at least when it comes to uncovering our individual features in public places instead of hiding them behind a mask.

It seems as if a majority of those who are so passionately “my body, my choice” when it comes to abortion (and this isn’t about that, either) are just as vociferously dead-set against allowing adults to choose whether or not to wear a face mask to supposedly stem the spread of a virus.

But that’s different! ” That’s the popular mantra of the consistently inconsistent, who are insistently insistent on changing the rules depending on whether or not they like them. A fancier term for that is situational ethics.

Oh, I know many of the people who say this genuinely believe it is different. They’re the “mask believers” I mentioned in my previous post, the ones who have bought into the idea that they’re protecting either themselves or others around them, or both, by wearing a cloth mask or bandana. They’re well-intentioned, as the bamboozled often are. But this post isn’t about them. It’s about those of us who choose not to wear a mask (except perhaps in cases where we really need to enter a public venue that won’t let us in without it or in a situation with large crowds where distancing is impossible).

Showing our faces

The National Rifle Association did an ad campaign a few years back called “I am the NRA.” It featured a diversity of people from all walks of life, of different ages, races, and walks of life – men and women who, for their own individual reasons, belong to an organization that was formed to promote and protect the right of we, the people, to keep and bear arms.

Say No - Free image on Pixabay

That campaign would not have been nearly as effective if all those standing up for their constitutional right had been anonymous, hiding behind a mask to obscure their identities. And I think many of the “mask deniers” — as i heard one mask-wearing advocate call us — feel that by showing our faces in public, we’re making a statement about what we believe in (real freedom of choice) and what we don’t (the ever-changing stories and “facts” and advice being dished out by the government and media).

The mask, like so much else about the “COVID crisis,” has ceased to be about public health and has become a purely political issue. Those on both sides believe those on the other are blind to the dangers — either of the virus or of the government overreach.

There are those who believe — since the cloth masks that we’re being advised (and in some places, forced by law) to wear are basically useless against the virus — that the role of mask mandates is at least partially about erasing our individual identities, making us just part of a collective that will mindlessly obey its masters.

Others are more generous; choosing to believe that the “experts” and authorities are more incompetent than evil. Surely if this was some grand plan to crush our souls and decimate our rights, they would have been more organized about it and not made themselves look so stupid by constantly changing their advice and contradicting themselves.

It’s enough to make one wonder if the real purpose of the mask mandates is to force us to stay home after all. That is, due to the political blowback that politicians got over their lockdown orders, they knew they had to open things back up or face the consequences at the polls. But by requiring masks and thus making it so uncomfortable and frustrating to go anywhere, they’ll cause many people to just say “forget it” and “voluntarily” stay home.

I get the distinct feeling that this entire government response, including the mask issue and especially the upcoming contact tracing and then vaccine issues (which will be the subject of subsequent blog posts), is really just an elaborate game of chess and we’re all the pawns, being moved around the board without our consent.

It certainly seems as if somebody up there (and I don’t mean Up There) is playing with us, playing with our livelihoods, our quality of life, and in some cases, playing with our lives.

First, do no harm

It’s important to note that not everyone who goes maskless is making a political statement. Some are genuinely physically unable to wear a mask for any period of time without significantly impacting their ability to breathe; some even lose consciousness. Mask-wearing for any prolonged period of time is contraindicated for people with asthma, COPD, serious allergies, and other chronic respiratory conditions.

Masks problematic for asthmatic, autistic, deaf, and hard of hearing: health advocates

Others may not be physically affected by the mask but for someone with claustrophobia and some other psychological/mental conditions, wearing a mask may be terrifying, to the extent that they have panic attacks. Autistic children often can’t even tolerate wearing tight or otherwise uncomfortable clothing, so masks can be particularly challenging for them.

HD wallpaper: person wearing black hoodie, clothing, apparel ...

Face masks also create practical problems for many people. Those who wear glasses find that the masks cause them to fog up so they can’t see. Glasses or not, a mask blocks your downward vision; this is likely one of the reasons that the mask-wearers seem to be the most frequent offenders in violating the “one-way aisle” signs in the grocery stores.

And then there are the communication problems that masks can cause – and not necessarily for the wearer. One of the main reasons I hate phone calls and prefer to talk to people in person or on a video call is because I have minor hearing issues stemming from exposure to loud sounds when I was younger (front row concerts and the shooting range without proper ear protection). I don’t exactly lip read, but I do use the sight of a person’s mouth forming the words to help me distinguish words that I don’t hear well. I can only imagine how deaf people who depend entirely on lip-reading are coping with the widespread mask-wearing. A person wearing a mask can’t project his/her voice as well, either, and so may seem to be “mumbling” even to someone with normal hearing.

File:Facial expressions - The Cartoonist's Art.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

And we don’t communicate via words alone. Everyone knows how easy it is to misinterpret people’s words in Internet chat or social media posts, because you don’t have the benefit of non-verbal cues — such as facial expressions.

Masks hide those expressions and make it hard to know if someone is smiling or sour-faced, happy or sad, concerned or relieved. We run a greater risk of misunderstandings when we can’t see one another’s faces.

To mask or not to mask

There is no one-size-fits-all mask (those “professional” ones that actually do confer some protection are custom-fitted to the wearer’s face) and likewise there is no universally correct answer to the question whether to wear a mask. Some will choose to wear one out of fear, to virtue signal, “just in case,” to make someone else happy, as a fashion statement, to demonstrate their political alliance or loyalty to the government leaders, or for other personal reasons we can’t even know. That should be their right.

Some of us will choose not to wear a mask because we believe it doesn’t protect us or anyone else, because it’s uncomfortable, because we believe it’s a method of identifying those who are willing to blindly follow arbitrary, unreasonable rules, because it’s detrimental to our physical or mental well-being, because it hinders communication, to demonstrate our political alliance or loyalty to the principles of freedom, or for other personal reasons that nobody else knows.

As a (mostly) libertarian, I believe each of us should be able to make whichever choice we think is right for us without being ridiculed, shamed, hated, unfriended, reported, fined, arrested, or otherwise made to suffer for wearing or not wearing a piece of cloth on our faces.

Calling someone else a “maskhole” without knowing the motives behind his/her choice, or screeching that someone is putting you and your family and all of mankind at risk of certain death because of his/her choice not to wear a face covering doesn’t accomplish anything positive. It certainly won’t stand a chance of changing those people’s choice; it will just reinforce to them that they’re on the “right side.”

As individuals, each of us should be – in this and other matters concerning our own health – free to choose.

About debshinder

Technology analyst and author, specializing in enterprise security. Author of or contributor to over 25 books, including "Scene of the Cybercrime." Fourteen-year Microsoft MVP, married to Microsoft FTE Tom Shinder, and proud mom of two wonderful grown-up human children and three amazing Japanese Chin pups. In my spare time, I love to travel - especially on cruise ships - and write about my grand adventures.
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