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What's Up with (opposition to) masks?

I am not a biologist or epidemiologist. I am a social scientist and understand research and basic biology. I also understand persuasion and with it, self-persuasion (confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance) and the history of thought since the Renaissance.

So why is there so much opposition to just wearing a piece of cotton over one’s mouth and nose, when in crowded places?

What we have here is a perfect storm of several contributing factors. 1. Social media and polarized professional media; 2. A change of administrations and a contentious election in a polarized ; 3. Poor leadership and even worse messaging from the government; 4. An uneducated public that thinks it’s educated (and that in itself is a book); and 5. Rampant individualism that has made everyone an expert on what they want and what is “right” for them individually regardless of the facts; 6. Twenty years of vaccination-suspicion pumped into society, 7. Distrust of authority and government and institutions, and 8. An unknown disease about which no one knows how it might affect them. A 104-year-old woman can come through it fine; a five-year-old boy can be dead in days (as happened in a neighboring county here).

One could write a book chapter on each of these, or perhaps a book.

In social sciences, we joke about “anecdata.” In persuasion theory we know that people are persuaded by the information they have at hand and are largely unmotivated to go look for anything that contradicts their “priors” (confirmation bias) and will convince themselves to viewpoints that are in line with their behavior (one aspect of cognitive dissonance, my favorite theory). Data is what you get when 100,000 people are studied; anecdotes are what happen to one person. Anecdata is treating a conclusion from one person as if it comes from 100,000.




So, here goes: Anecdotal side: Two beloved men in the church I attend died in the last two weeks from COVID and after long, harrowing hospitalizations. We’re devastated. Was everyone wearing a mask today? No. On the data side: Daily cases have gone up 700% since July. Put them together: Things are not good. But if someone doesn’t know anyone who has spent three weeks in the hospital and still died, and doesn’t look at the numbers in their totality, it’s easy to turn the other way and go about one’s business.Or worse, get enraged by the word “mandate” about putting the piece of cotton on one or even the suggestion of mandates about an immunization.

What’s going on? As I list above, a number of things, but primarily, individualism on steroids. If pro-choice women can claim the “my body, my choice” message and have the law agree with them, why can’t I say the same about a vaccination? Well, I would argue, neither can. The baby inside the woman is not “part” of their body; it’s not some parasite or tumor on a host; it’s a different person with different DNA and blood type and sex. In the case of COVID, your breath and my breath might literally cause the death of another person, not by an intention of your own, of course.

But why take that chance? Why would a Christian, of all people, refuse to keep from giving a disease they might have contracted, unwittingly, to another? Why would anyone put themselves in the risk status of getting the same disease? Yes, I know; most people who have it don’t get very sick at all. But some do, and THERE IS NO WAY YOU CAN KNOW WHO WILL AND WON’T. That’s the problem. That’s the core issue.

I don’t like the mask, but it’s much better than the alternative. I have no control over the people around me, so I have to do what I can.

The vaccination issue is more complex, though, I admit. The vast majority of people getting sick are unvaxxed. I can see why someone would try to find an alternative to vaxxing, but is there truly an alternative other than isolation? And for how long? I find most of the arguments against the vaccine unconvincing, except perhaps the pregnancy issues for young women. But….

I can’t help but remembering my childhood when we all went to the local schools, churches, and community centers to get our sugar cubes to inoculate us against polio. And polio numbers dropped off a cliff. For decades there was none of it exept in the poorest countries. Now, it’s coming bac

When it comes right down to it, we now live in a society where everyone is their own guide, if not god. And if the guide-ness or god-ness is questioned, Katie bar the door. You might get more than you bargained for in a response—anger, defensiveness, accusations, threats. Because you have questioned a world view and grasp of reality, not just a minor choice.

Back to the title. Why are people so enraged about being made to wear a mask? It's not simple, even though what's being asked is simple.

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