Unmasking False Dichotomies

Unmasking False Dichotomies May 13, 2020

As I mentioned the other day, I & mine are doing fine this coronatide, other than a sturdy dose of ordinary life, though I suppose my suddenly becoming a conversational twitterist is right up there with sourdough (check) as a sign of just how precarious our sanity is around here.  As a result of this plunge into madness, I find myself  now having to do the previously unthinkable and point out that RR Reno has lost his logic.

Screenshot of @RR_Reno asserting that a pro-mask position is fueled by cowardice

Quotes from the screenshots that we’ll be addressing today:

Now we know who want to cower in place. By all means rage against those who want to live.

And:

Just to reinforce.  Talked to my son in Seattle. The mask culture is fear driven.  Mask+cowardice.  It’s a regime dominated by fear of infection and fear of causing infection.  Both are species of cowardice.

I can’t speak for Seattle.  I live in that reddest of red states, and I observed this morning that our reported COVID-19 deaths year-to-date are tracking with our 2019 traffic fatalities year-to-date.  Here’s our situation on the ground, for those who are curious:

  • SC Department of Health is promoting mask usage as one of a list of precautions to reduce the risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus;
  • Governor McMaster eased us into a partial shutdown and now he’s easing us back out of it again, with a focus on protecting vulnerable populations, maintaining hospital capacity (so far so good), and keeping open anything that can safely be kept open;
  • Industry groups are developing voluntary guidelines for modified business practices in high-risk industries (restaurants, hair salons, gyms, etc.);
  • Neither God nor guns were ever taken off the market (this is ‘Murica), but public boat ramps and shooting ranges did have to be closed for a hot minute and if we go back to being naughty “nothing is off the table.”  Let that be a warning to you, citizens, I am your governor and this time I mean it. Quit making the Coast Guard have to break up your coronacation parties.

I don’t think “fearful” describes the climate here.  If you know enough people in enough places, you know someone under 50 who’s died of COVID-19.   As elsewhere, nursing homes in particular and the elderly in general are the most likely to be struck down. And thus, because we are the kind of state that we are, some people are quite cautious; some people are modifying their behaviors to be more careful but with little lapses like the receptionist at the doctor’s office whose employer-mandated mask covered only one of her two airways; and some people feel like it’s just not living if you aren’t sitting on dynamite while jumping your ATV over a gully full of copperheads.

So, to answer the question that our COVID-19 statistics shove in one’s face: Yes, you should be a little bit scared when you are driving in South Carolina.  A healthy fear, properly ordered, leads to many a tale of people who almost-but-were-not killed by that guy driving home from the bar at four in the morning when you were headed out to the deer stand.

Thus my disappointment with RR Reno.

I realize he lives immersed in the culture of the American elite, and that it’s not paranoia when they really are out to get you.  It is my firm hope that he can get himself a sabbatical in some red state paradise where the Walmarts are bustling but yes, most of us wear masks.  Because right now he’s got a nasty case of False Dichotomy Disease.

Newsflash: It is possible to both think that widespread usage of face coverings, handwashing, physical distancing, and a daily brisk walk in the springtime sunshine are great public health measures in the face of a potentially-deadly illness for which the best-trained physicians in the world have only completed a few month’s residency thus far and to not be cowering in terror, but in fact to be doing all one can to live as normal a life as possible.

It is possible to both think that face masks in general are a low-cost, common-sense way to slow the spread of an airborne respiratory virus and hold that there are many good reasons this or that person might not use a mask, and that even in high-risk situations, there are often other options (face shields, plexiglass, distance, holding your breath while you dash past the lady blocking the aisle) if for some reason using a mask is not a good choice.

It is possible to both think that one should do everything possible to protect vulnerable workers who spend all day dealing with the public up close and personal and think that states should be doing all they can to keep businesses open.

Goodness gracious it is even possible to think that COVID-19 is a very serious disease and think that responsibility for public health resides primarily with the states, with local communities, with business owners, and with the personal choices of private citizens — not with federal dictate.

I may be proven wrong, and every time I hear of a comparatively young and healthy person dying of COVID-19 I feel almost as scared, for a moment, as I do when I’m riding shotgun with my 15-year-old student driver careening down the interstate in a construction zone.  Not quite, though.

Statistically speaking, it is my belief after reviewing the data that I personally am in far more danger teaching my kid to drive than I am going to Walmart under our present local culture of mask-wearing, plexiglass, physical spacing, and me holding my breath as I pass elderly shoppers who can’t figure out the directional arrows on the aisles.

But it is also an established fact that my community is passing around a respiratory virus that is spread by healthy, asymptomatic adults who share the air with other people. It appears that mask-wearing offers some help, when combined with other simple, low-cost behavioral changes, in protecting vulnerable persons from catching the virus while they carry out necessary activities.  Why on earth would I stubbornly object to a minor inconvenience that might buy someone a few more years with their grandchildren?

Furthermore, it is also possible that I am one of those vulnerable persons and don’t know it. There is no way to know ahead of time if my experience of the novel coronavirus will be nothing at all, death, or something in between.  It’s beautiful out this time of year, and I’d rather be gardening than monitoring my O2 stats as I sweat my way through the worst flu-like illness of my life.   As a master procrastinator, to my mind there is a third way, in between cowardice and bravado: I could just try to avoid the thing as long as possible?  Why not?


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