What’s the Big Deal With Wearing a Mask? Lots

A question was recently posed on Facebook: “What’s the big deal with wearing masks?” The person posing the question prefaced it by agreeing with those opposing mandatory vaccination programs and cited the Nuremberg code as justification for this position. The Nuremberg code lays out the rules for the use of human subjects in experiments in the field of medicine. It emerged in the wake of the revelations of the horrors of Nazism. But the questioner could not understand opposition to mandatory mask wearing.

The assumption in the question, which the questioner conformed, is that, while vaccination programs are medical interventions, which are essentially experiments conducted on large populations every year, mask wearing isn’t. This is a bad assumption. I pointed out that voluntary consent and the ability to withdraw from an experiment are two planks in the Nuremberg code. Mask wearing therefore falls under the code.

I do not consent to wearing a mask because it is a medical intervention for which I find insufficient reason to participate. Authorities would violate the code by compelling me to wear one. If people want to wear masks of their own volition, then this is okay. But if governments or businesses of public accommodations mandate masks (with the obvious exceptions of hospitals and nursing homes), then this is not okay.

I initially answered the question with the empirical justification in mind. In the light of facts, mask wearing falls in in the same category as compulsory vaccination. The idea behind mandatory vaccination is that, presuming immunity acquired by jabs, having been inoculated practically excludes you as a disease vector. Wearing a mask also presumes practically eliminating the chance of spreading a pathogen by containing respiratory droplets ejected through exhalation. I do not find the evidence compelling in either case. Moreover, mask wearing is not benign.

Masks provide a false sense of security; the practice does not approach optimum efficacy in limiting community spread. The failure of masks to protect oneself or others from disease transmission is particularly true of cloth masks. Habitual wearing of cloth masks create moist environments conductive to bacteria and viral growth. But even those wearing moisture-resistant surgical masks are emitting viruses from the sides of the mask. And those wearing N95 masks, which are reasonably effective in transmitting viruses, are often ignorant of how to properly wear them. For all masks, extended wear is associated with excessive face touching which in turn increases risk of infection. Falsely confident, mask wearing substitutes for other more effective practices, such as social distancing and hand washing. (All these practices presume that the best way to confront a virus is by not transmitting it, thus interfering with the development of herd immunity.)

As noted above, there are circumstances in which wearing a mask—a N95 mask—may afford the wearer and those around him some protection, but as a dependable prophylaxis, the evidence just isn’t there. Given that it is not obvious that one should either wear a mask or receive a jab, any law forcing a person to wear a mask is in effect the same as any law forcing a person to receive a jab. Even if we were to refuse masks on principle in the face of facts, a law mandating masks forces the compliant to do something without adequate cause.

Mask wearing is not about the science. It is a political symbol. Wearing a mask signals enlightenment and virtue. Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert who has become the face of the pandemic in America, has stated that he wears a mask “to make it be a symbol for people to see that that’s the kind of thing you should be doing,” He admits that it is not “100 percent effective,” but that people should wear masks to show “respect for another person.” Before the CDC changed its position on mask wearing, Fauci said, “There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask. When you’re in the middle of an outbreak, wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better and it might even block a droplet, but it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is. And, often, there are unintended consequences—people keep fiddling with the mask and they keep touching their face.” Thus Fauci’s mask wearing is symbolic of a moral claim not a scientific one.

Mask wearing also signals political and moral opposition to the bad orange man in the White House. If Trump opposes the mask because of what it signals about the safety of America reopening (he’s right—masks indicate pestilence where there is none), then wearing a mask when it is not needed is an expression of fear and loathing for the president. It reflects a broader anxiety in the population. Journalists wear the mask to spread the perception and reinforce fear of disease. Even in the presence of the virus, there is no reason for a journalist to appear before a camera with a mask on. As soon as the shot is over, the journalist removes the mask. They aren’t wearing masks off-camera.

This is a moral panic. This is theater. The media is gas lighting the public. And we know what their agenda is: to turn citizens of a free republic into docile bodies of the corporate state.

Given the symbolic character of mask wearing, there is an analog found in the modesty dress in religious traditions secured via government force. The hijab, a head covering required in many Muslim-majority countries and communities, and the more extensive burqa and niqab, are intended as prophylaxis against sexual desire, which the Abrahamic religions drape in metaphors indicating pathologies. Women are seen as seductresses from whom men must be protected. In this view, women are analogous to disease vectors, exposed hair and skin contagions.

It may be that the hijab keeps some men from being seduced by women. But not all men are deterred by the hijab. They succumb to seduction even when women are covered. Moreover, the hijab poses some risk to the wearer in that some men find the hijab seductive in itself—for some men forcing women to cover their bodies is a fetish. So we should find the hijab’s purpose suspect. But, more importantly, a rule forcing women to wear the hijab is the mark of a totalitarian society. You cannot justify laws forcing women to wear the hijab based on evidence that it reduces fornication and infidelity.

The state forcing people to wear masks for the sake of public health is highly similar to the state forcing women to wear hijab for the sake of male lust, a problem determined by a tiny elite of clerics. In a free society, the state’s role is to protect individuals from the oppression of ideology, whether it moves under the guide of science or whether it is religion.

We have good reasons to oppose mandatory mask wearing. Masks provide a false sense of security and may actually make us sick. Laws mandating masks violate personal sovereignty and bodily integrity. Masks are symbolic of a new normal insinuating itself into the moral order. Nor should maintaining social distance, while courteous, be mandated by law. Nor should house confinement of the healthy be required.

I am within six feet of people all the time and I don’t wear a mask. Neither do the people are within six feet of me. Soon, hardly anybody will be wearing a mask because they will realize that it doesn’t really change anything. At least I hope so. If people are ever uncomfortable with me then they can tell me to back up. I can respect that. But I am not going to validate fear of the normal by donning a mask outside of a setting where an at risk person has no opportunity to avoid me.

Finally, while I appreciate the appeal to the Nuremberg code, one does not need the code to see how wrong it is for the state to pass a law or a governor to issue a rule mandating mask wearing. The principle that underpins the justification to be free from such edicts is found in universal human rights.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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