• Louise Carnachan

Words Fail

Updated: Jul 2, 2020


Even among my like-age friends, our definitions of America differ to some degree. This isn’t surprising since “America” is a belief formed early in life centered on home and early-adult experiences. My version includes a place where we have data-based scientific evidence and an obligation to protect others, not just suit oneself. That’s why I obey laws, pay taxes, and don’t do hazardous things (on purpose anyway) that could impact others. I even get vaccines. I worked in a cancer treatment center so I’m aware of the deadly consequences of passing along the flu. On the topic of wearing masks, I’m gob-smacked; words fail.

For hundreds of years people have known how to slow the spread of viruses: stay away from sick people (i.e., socially distance) and isolate yourself if you’re ill. The peculiarity of the newest coronavirus is asymptomatic transmission, ergo we stay six feet apart and wear masks. We have confirmation these measures work. Unfortunately, there are too many who are “done” with COVID-19 when it’s not yet done with us. I wish it would go away too, but behaving as if it has when it hasn’t, is reckless and foolish. The consequences go far beyond an individual’s choice.

I’m increasingly concerned about the tie between political conservatism and a disbelief in scientific evidence. It’s a trend that’s been accelerating since the mid-1970’s. As scientific proof continued to mount indicating human actions were indeed harming the planet, regulations were imposed (and are now being disposed). They were designed to limit (although not eliminate) pollution of air, land, and water. Restrictions reduce profits in the short term, although we’re an innovative species capable of creating less harmful options (which are already available in some cases). But we don’t like change in general, we don’t do a great job of forecasting and preparing, and, well, we’re greedy and impatient. We don’t like to spend money that doesn’t have an immediate payoff. We continue with problematic practices knowing that beloved children and grandchildren will pay—as will their descendants. You’d think the proper course of action would be obvious.

The erosion of trust in environmental science, and its increasing politicization, has brought us to the point where all science is regarded as suspect by some. We’re currently faced with a chunk of the US population who doesn’t “believe” in the coronavirus, its severity, or mitigation efforts. COVID-19 is a virus not an opinion. To avoid looking “weak,” the president continues to remain mask-less while entertaining large rallies in defiance of the CDC’s guidance. The power of the office influences others to do the same, particularly those demonstrating loyalty. There are combative exchanges at Costco, in grocery stores, and on airplanes, any place people are asked to put on a mask to protect others. A meanness has increasingly crept into our society and it alarms me. Since when is it justifiable to have tantrums in public, to shout at clerks, flight attendants, vendors, and other patrons? My guess is White people complaining that wearing a mask takes away their freedom have absolutely no idea of what it’s like to have their freedom stripped. Do you really believe it’s a slippery slope from a public health practice to the gulag?

I wonder if this ballyhoo is truly about losing freedoms, or if this antisocial behavior is an excuse to act out for other reasons. Maybe these people feel powerless and scared about the economy, their job, or how the world is changing and whether there’s a place for them. Because if being required to wear a mask actually equates to a loss of freedom, it’s a pitifully puny definition of the word. If we’re lucky enough to be healthy, we have the opportunity to experience the real liberties our country offers. These are the freedoms I’ll defend, starting with anyone’s right to relentlessly whine until charged with being a public nuisance. They’re why I’ll uphold the right to vote however you choose, engage in any or no religion, and have a fair trial. They are the same reasons I support our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) citizens protesting the inequitable application of these very same liberties, which Whites take for granted and they cannot.

As a citizen of this country, you have the right to the freedoms listed above. You do not have the right to gamble with my life. No one should have to require you to be a responsible citizen—that should be synonymous your pride of country. So, put on the damn mask.

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