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The Masking of America: Faceless people make compliant subjects, not good citizens

The Masking of America

Faceless people make compliant subjects, not good citizens.

Jeffrey H. Anderson served as director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice from 2017 to 2021.
We should never fully return to our maskless society where only health care providers donned a mask, because judicious use of masks will continue to save lives” (emphasis added). This is not the fringe statement of some obscure crank. It is the view of two doctors at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, one of the nation’s most prestigious medical schools, writing in a New York Daily News op-ed this spring.
Seeing and showing the face is a fundamental aspect of human existence. A society that forgets this straightforward truth will likely also fail to realize that faceless people may make for compliant subjects but not generally for good citizens.
In a head-to-head comparison, COVID-19 makes the Spanish flu look like the Black Death of medieval Europe. According to the best available figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and elsewhere, the typical American under the age of 40 in 1918 was more than 100 times as likely to die of the Spanish flu than the typical American under the age of 40 in 2020 was to die of COVID-19. Whereas COVID-19 sadly shortened the lives of many older people already in poor health, the Spanish flu took people in the prime of life and left orphans in its wake. …
One major difference between then and now is the increased role of public health officials. Long before their ascension, Socrates made clear in Plato’s Republic that he did not want doctors to rule. Philosophers or even poets would be better governors of society, because they at least attempt to understand political and social life in its entirety and minister to the human soul. Doctors, by contrast, tend to disregard the soul: it is the nature of their art to focus on the body in lieu of higher concerns. …
But rule by public health officials, under which we increasingly live today, encourages excessive risk-aversion and almost transforms cowardice into a virtue.
It seems likely that the CDC panicked in April and wanted to be seen as doing something. Plus, public health officials are naturally enthusiastic about public health interventions. Here was an opportunity to introduce an intervention that would previously have been unthinkable to Americans. Granted, the research on masks’ effectiveness, or lack thereof, had not changed to suggest healthy people should wear masks. But why quibble about evidence in the interest of a good cause? ….
Few spectacles are more ridiculous than that of school kids, outside, playing sports, wearing masks. Moreover, the WHO guidance on mask-wearing for children is comical in its implausibility: “Before putting on the mask, children should clean their hands…at least 40 seconds if using soap and water…. Children should not touch the front of the mask [or] pull it under the chin…. After taking off their mask, they should store it in a bag or container and clean their hands.” Sure. Got that, kids? …
Anyone who thinks the CDC is an impartial, politically neutral agency, dedicated solely to the pursuit of scientific truth, should perhaps consider the recent e-mail evidence that the teachers union and Joe Biden’s White House effectively rewrote sections of the agency’s return-to-school guidance. Like so many unelected leaders, CDC officials consider themselves more accountable to “stakeholders” than to the American people. That is why the founders vested power to make policy decisions—of all sorts—in elected legislatures rather than in remote bureaucrats. Yet legislatures have largely been AWOL during the coronavirus period, while public health officials and executive branch leaders have reveled in their newfound powers. …
It is a very big deal. Masks hide from view the familiar faces, infectious smiles, and warm glances that bring light and color to everyday life. To dismiss this loss so cavalierly is to devalue human warmth and sociability in a remarkably callous way. In his detailed study of emotions, Charles Darwin observed that human beings’ reliance on facial expressions is a key difference between us and animals. He wrote an entire book on the subject, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Communication, according to Darwin, was “of paramount importance to the development of man.” …

In sum, not only do masks apparently not work as advertised, they are uncomfortable and unhygienic. They obscure our humanity and undermine our children’s development. They prevent us from seeing the emotions, sensibilities, and affections of others, or sharing our own. They limit communication and erode understanding. They profoundly compromise human interaction and substantially reduce our quality of life.

Public health officials understand none of this. They pretend that mask-wearing is an action without a cost. Or perhaps, because they are neither trained nor inclined to look at the whole picture of human society, they are simply blind to these costs. Their guiding light is the avoidance of risk—narrowly defined as the risk of becoming sick or dying. The risk of stifling, enervating, or devitalizing human society is not even part of their calculation. Under their influence, America has been conducting an experiment in mask-wearing based largely on unsupported scientific claims and an impoverished understanding of human existence. It is an experiment we should not repeat.

Jeffrey H. Anderson served as director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice from 2017 to 2021.