The news that Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador tested positive for COVID-19 doesn’t come as a surprise to those familiar with his famously anti-mask stance. His careless refusal to wear a mask has now become a national security concern not only for Mexico, but for North America, as Mexican national security and stability is interwoven with ours in complex ways.
But López Obrador’s refusal to wear a mask during the worst days of the pandemic is not an isolated case. Anti-maskers are everywhere, including in the halls of the U.S. Congress, reflecting a general attitude by a large portion of the U.S. population who equate not wearing a mask with freedom.
On the surface, it’s easy to see why being told to wear a mask might offend. It seems like an infringement on the right to choose. But I don’t think that’s right.
Anti-maskers are not afraid of losing their freedom, they’re afraid of facing the reality of their own mortality. Putting on a mask in this pandemic means that the wearer realizes that if she doesn’t, she might get sick, and that if she gets sick, she might die. This is a recognition of one’s frailty and weakness in the face of something that is obviously greater than any one of us.
It puts a spotlight on our mortality. And so we put on the mask because we’re afraid of death.
As a professor of philosophy, I think a lot about freedom and what it is and what it is not. I don’t think it is what the anti-maskers think it is. It seems to me that I am no less free than I was before I began wearing a mask “full-time.” My world is bounded by laws and regulations that existed before any of this.
I’m still limited by what I can and can’t afford. I’m still encumbered by family responsibilities and my own physical abilities. Now, I’m in the same situation I was in before COVID, but wearing a mask to protect myself and those around me from a deadly virus. There was never a time in the pre-COVID era when I could cough in someone’s face without consequence. I wasn’t free to do that then, and I am not free to do that now. The only freedom I’ve lost is the freedom to avoid thinking about dying… in public.
There are, of course, legitimate reasons to not wear a mask. I’m thinking here of serious medical conditions. But then, this vulnerable community must be vaccinated against COVID and its various strains—they should be prioritized and we should make every accommodation necessary. Less legitimate reasons are aesthetic ones: I heard folks complaining about feeling like they were wearing a “diaper” on their face. But you’ve worn worse things on your face. Admit it.
Aesthetic reasons are not valid. I’m reminded of my youth, when some refused to wear seatbelts because they feared wrinkling their clothes, or, as was the case with my teenage self, not looking cool-while-driving. We are now unanimously agreed that seatbelts save lives, so we strap ourselves up without a second thought, unconsciously. If anything takes away my freedom is being strapped onto a car seat, but no one complains about losing the freedom not to do it. We’ve come to grips with our weakness before the awesome power of 5 tons of steel crashing against something at 60 miles per hour. It took time, but we’ve come to accept our frailty.
These days, wearing a mask reminds me that the contagion is real and that there’s some probability, however slim, that if I get it, I will die. It’s like wearing your mortality on your face. And that’s what anti-maskers fear the most: to admit that they are not as strong as they’ve been told that they are. However, just as with seatbelts, masks should be seen as the only defense against the awesome power of the virus, and we should welcome the reminder that we are powerless before it as before most acts of God.
There’s a philosophical adage that says, “If you stare into the void, the void stares right back.” Perhaps that’s the source of the fear: if you start thinking about your own death, then death starts to think about you. It is a terrifying thought to think that death is always just around the corner. But we must stare into the abyss, and we must do so for our own good—it is actually liberating.
The philosopher Epictatus put it best: “I cannot escape death, but at least I can escape the fear of it.” And we escape the fear of death by facing it, and we face it by putting on a mask and thinking about why every time… until we start to forget, until it becomes like wearing a seatbelt.
Those of us who wear masks and do so readily and without complaining, seem to be comfortable with our vulnerability, with our human weakness, and with our own mortality. This makes us brave, and free. Those that refuse to wear masks, or do so kicking and screaming, seem to be uncomfortable, not with losing some nonexistent freedom that they think they have, but with their own finite humanity. This makes them cowards.
Carlos Alberto Sánchez is a professor of philosophy at San José State University, author of the book, A Sense of Brutality: Philosophy After Narco-Culture and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project. Follow Carlos at @locoprof.
This is one of the worst examples of mind-reading from a pro-mask position that I’ve yet observed: “Anti-maskers are not afraid of losing their freedom, they’re afraid of facing the reality of their own mortality… that’s what anti-maskers fear the most: to admit that they are not as strong as they’ve been told that they are…”
This is utter mind-reading nonsense. People like myself who believe compulsory facemasking is utterly immoral have no problem facing the reality of our own mortality. Wearing a mask doesn’t make you look brave or free. if anything should be considered cowardly, it’s the idea of forcing other people to mask up in the name of the greater good.
In order for a law or regulation to be moral, it’s not enough simply to show a net public benefit. The law must also avoid violating certain fundamental principles (ownership of one’s own body, for example). Compulsory masking…
1) …subtly reverses the presumption of innocence, because it presumes that everyone is infected and contagious until proven otherwise (except that in the pro-mask world, they can never completely prove otherwise, even if they get vaccinated);
2) …compels speech (and also effectively compels belief in many people – just look at the results of the exit poll from Bundgaard et. al.’s Danish Facemask study, where the mere act of wearing a mask shifted participants’ belief about whether they SHOULD wear a mask by 16-18%. A mask infringes another person’s freedom of speech because the act of wearing a mask cannot avoid communicating certain propositions to onlookers, and thus wearing a mask is a form of compelled speech, and because of the mutually causal relationship between behavior and belief, compelling this behavior is an overt (and effective) attempt to compel belief. If it’s wrong to compel people to wear a face covering on religious grounds, then it’s wrong to compel them to do that same thing on medical grounds.;
3) …usurps the use of another person’s body in the name of public good. Even leaving aside the issue of whether or not masks work, the same principles that forbid us from mandating blood donations in the name of public health also forbid us from mandating facial coverings;
4) …creates a legal precedent even more poisonous than Jacobson v. Massachusetts (Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was correct when he stated in the 1927 Buck v. Bell Supreme Court Opinion that: “The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes,” and that’s why the “public good” siren-song principle undergirding compulsory masking needs to be uprooted and repudiated; and
5) …is directly contrary to the example set by the people who wrote the United States Constitution during an ACTUAL epidemic (which also happened to be proportionately the worst one in US history – the Philadelphia Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, which killed 10% of the population of the United States’ national capital at the time, and during which facemasks were NEVER mandated, businesses were NOT forcibly closed, and citizens were still free to accept or REJECT medical treatments which experts recommended)
“These days, wearing a mask reminds me that the contagion is real and that there’s some probability, however slim, that if I get it, I will die. It’s like wearing your mortality on your face. And that’s what anti-maskers fear the most: to admit that they are not as strong as they’ve been told that they are.”
There’s that famous pathologising leftoid midwits use to easily dismiss opposition. And why not, it’s clearly gotten you far in your academic career. Why engage with ideas when you know how people really feel and what motivates their thinking. I’m surprised you didn’t just call them racist, transphobes, somesuch? Surely they are, no? Isn’t their refusal to wear a mask to protect others akin to their equally injurious refusal to use proper pronouns? There’s probably some cheap dissertation in the works making that point. And maybe that’s right, but that insult doesn’t simultaneously complement you and your own as much, and that’s what’s needed in these moments. Calling those folks racist doesn’t ease your own worry that you’re just a big weenie.
Nah, we….hyperboreans! We cadillacs of men, we among those who stare death in the face every time we put on the cape, errr-masks, we understand and even perhaps pity you mask-refusing simpletons. We know how you feel. We are philosophical chads, and you are normies. You are NPCs, and we are authentic. Of course I don’t mean authentic in a normative sense. That’s not what Heidegger meant. But still…heh, no big deal. Nevermind what Fauci originally said about masks, namely that they offer no real protection, and at best provide some psychological assurance, what body language specialists might call a self-hug. Nevermind the fact that there’s absolutely no correlation between masks and covid infection/death. No, no. We are brave, and Dr. Carlos is here to remind you of that…in case you had any doubts lately especially in light of what you see happening in Florida and Texas and everywhere else. Put on the mask and feel good about it, feel that you’re BETTER than others. One order of ego boost from Doctor Carlos, coming up!
Haha. You must be feeling like a pretty big weenie to bring out those Nietzsche quotes to convince yourself you’re brave and authentic. Here’s another one. “You must wear a mask on your face to give birth to a dancing star.” Close enough. Some would get the reference.
Man, it’s pretty easy to pathologize while pretending to have a conversation. We’re starting to learn that on the right…