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Unmasked

A theory:

We here in the developed west possess such a broad swath of personal, individual freedom that some of us search desperately to uncover and expose any perceived encroachment on those declared rights and freedoms.

To wit,

the anti-masking contingent.

(I’ll differentiate here between anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers although the overlap, I imagine, would be pretty near absolute. Vaccine hesitancy is more nuanced, I’d concede, grounded at times in a visceral objection to the process itself, foreign bodies injected into your body, and other historical concerns over scientific abuse of various social and cultural communities. I counter, though, with two words: polio and measles – not counting the ‘and’).

What particular freedoms do anti-maskers claim we are giving up when we are mandated to wear masks in certain public spaces? A freedom to… what? Be bare-faced anywhere and everywhere of our choosing?

There was a joke early on during the pandemic, probably when things began to open up again after the first couple rounds of more serious lockdowns and closures, as the anti movement first started to beef about mandates. ‘No Shirts, No Shoes, No Service’. ‘No Animals Allowed’. Where were the protests about those edicts? Sure, they were privately asserted with no government overreach, I guess, although I’m sure public health had some issues with bare-footed and bare-chested patrons, sharing tapas with their shih tzus in bars and restaurants. Maybe it was only about aesthetics. People just don’t like looking at other people’s hairy chests while they’re fine dining on foie gras.

Point is, there are precedents dictating public behaviour and interaction. Indoor smoking anyone? Even when the stakes aren’t so dire. Yet, mask mandates have taken on a deeply political hue, a blood-red line in the sand that some have planted their flags. A sign of rampant totalitarianism, the defiant ones patrickhenry. Such governmental intrusion into our personal decision-making that cannot stand.

First, they force us to wear masks. Then, they steal our elections. As surely as day follows night, winter the fall, the sun revolves around the earth.

Farcical, of course. Petulant nonsense. And in these days, a public health menace.

But it’s a belief, a stance, that has moved from the fringe to the very core of public policy during on ongoing global pandemic. Despite all credible evidence pointing to mask use as an effective tool to help reduce the transmission of the Covid and the influenza viruses and RSVs, despite the pleas from the medical community for mandated mask wearing, despite there being little disagreement about it between reasonable people, a solid majority of whom have stated would wear a mask if mandated to do so, our public officials have balked, either going A.W.O.L. or barely nudging with ‘strong recommendations’, leaving it up to a personal decision.

Why? How?

The noisemakers, of course. The vocal minority who form convoys, threaten and harass school board members, frontline healthcare workers, torch discourse with dumpster fire invective and bullshit alternative facts and suspect research. The conservative base, in a nutshell. Misguided patriots and self-declared freedom fighters who detest anything that smacks of government.

Yahoos are dictating public health policy.

Imagine if such a formidable force could similarly capture the machinery of government for the cause of, I don’t know, poverty reduction and income inequality, the environment, policing reform. To compel our elected representatives to ignore the received wisdom of orthodoxy and work to actually better society. A pipe dream, to be sure, but it’s a strange world we’re existing in where our politicians and appointed bureaucracy are doing just that, actively disregarding expert medical advice and allowing children to get sick, the vulnerable to die and hospitals to burst to overflowing.

Because a vocal minority are braying dimwit rhetoric and might end up causing some trouble. Remember Ottawa last winter? Border crossing blockages in Windsor and Coutts? Maybe if we continue to do nothing, they’ll all keep quiet. What’s a few hundred dead bodies or so if we can manage to keep the peace?

Look. We just don’t want any trouble, OK?

That’s it.

We caved.

Our government, at all levels, yielded to a belligerent, screaming minority.

Unlike, say, oh, I don’t know, pick a moment.

The brutal encampment clearances of the unhoused we witnessed this past spring? Not a protest, exactly, more of a demonstration of the broken state of affairs we put up with in terms of inequality and poverty. Gone, dispersed, followed by empty rhetoric and anti-democratic measures in the name of dealing with our housing crisis. How about the G20 protests in Toronto back in 2010? Taking to the streets in rallies against unbridled, unfettered global capitalism, two years after the global financial meltdown in which few of the culprits were brought to justice. The protesters? Violently suppressed with actual, actionable rescinding of civil rights. One of the overseers of the clampdown now serves as the federal Minister of Public Safety. HaHa! Pipeline protests in defense of unceded indigenous territory and the continued rise in the production of fossil fuels? “They come through our doors with axes and power saws, with snipers standing there, with attack dogs…”

Can anyone honestly assert that the motivations behind these demonstrations and protests – in a quick summary, genuine social equity and environmental defense – have been embraced and taken to heart by governments of any stripe to the degree that the anti-mask zealots have so hijacked public health?

Covid fatigue, officials rationalize. We’ve all made sacrifices, big and small, during the last three years. There’s a limit, evidently, to the expectation of collaboration and cooperation between us. We can only do so much for each other. After that, it’s everybody for themselves! Enough is enough, the sick, the dying and the dead be damned.

Setting aside the question of who gets to protest and who gets heard, as that’s another discussion entirely (in brief: white people, white people with minor grievances that don’t threaten the status quo), what we’re being told by our governments’ capitulation to this fringe politics is that the appearance of a return to normal is more important than actually doing anything to return to normal, such as it was. Wish it, live it, and it shall be so. Ignore the gasping, wheezing children. That’s just a sign of us returning to business as usual.

 

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