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The masks might be forever. We have to come to terms with the fact that a large chunk of the US population will be wearing masks in public for years, maybe even decades to come.
Even if we unquestionably achieve herd immunity, even if 100 percent of the population is vaccinated, even if COVID cases nationwide drop to zero and even if the coronavirus by some miracle learns to communicate in a human language and tells us, forthrightly, “Well, you beat me,” some Americans, especially those in blue metropolises, will continue to cover their faces — and shame you for not going along.
It’s a massively depressing thought.
For more than a year, public-health authorities have urged us to put up with temporary inconveniences, always with the soothing promise that it will be only a little while longer. But recently, NPR cheerfully reported about the growing number of people who see masks as a source of Permanent and Absolute Safety.
Flu and other respiratory illnesses are down this year owing to our ubiquitous face coverings, our state-run news agency tells us, so maybe we should just keep wearing them. Meanwhile, the rapper Will.i.am and Honeywell have introduced a super-duper smart mask that runs $300. The “Xupermask” allows the wearer to chat on the phone or listen to some dulcet music while signaling her virtue.
None of this should give anyone the slightest bit of confidence that the days of ubiquitous mask wearing will soon be behind us.
Yes, masks reduce the transmission of airborne illnesses. You know what else reduces transmission? Staying in a protective plastic bubble in your living room and never venturing into the dirty, filthy, infectious outdoors. And even if it makes sense to wear a mask in tight indoor quarters, it is utterly unscientific and, yes, moronic to wear them outside, and yet blue-state denizens insist.
Sigh. The mask fanatics — some of whom hold advanced degrees that make them no wiser as human beings — can’t be reasoned with.
The awkward moments with double-masked parents at kids’ birthday parties, the ridiculous restaurant rituals, the seething public glares from masked to maskless on our streets — all will continue. They will say it’s but a small price to pay for Health Most Holy and Sacred Safety. Huge swaths of Americans will literally be lost to our sight and recognition.
It’s a sinister phenomenon that runs radically counter to our cultural history.
Many cultures embrace face covering. Western culture, however, isn’t among them. Western culture revels in the human face and form. That is why “Westernization” is so often associated with immodesty in the East (often unfairly, for celebrating the face needn’t entail baring the backside or plunging décolletage).
A future in which millions hide behind protective masks as they wander around is a steep departure from the Western ideal, rooted in both the Greco-Roman celebration of the human form and the Genesis teaching that God formed man and woman in his image.
The typical conservative reaction — to blame government — doesn’t quite apply here. It’s mainly cultural forces that promote masking in needless places. And private actors have lined up eagerly, with Big Tech actively suppressing science that questions the efficacy of mask-wearing.
Yet we still can resist the phenomenon. We can fight against this faceless future with our own refusals. We can proudly display our lipstick, smile at a passerby and even be understood clearly when we speak. Put simply, we can go back to a normal past, when people’s faces brightened our day instead of terrifying us.
Of course, there is some marginal safety upside to wearing a mask; there always has been. But in the more sensible recent past, most people realized that such small protection wasn’t worth hiding our faces night and day.
We should treat with compassion our fellow citizens who sheepishly embrace the forever-mask regime — but not too much compassion. Those of us who value things like basic human interaction shouldn’t feel shy about mocking those who cling to the facial security blankets or who don high-tech, celebrity-endorsed visage eviscerators. It’s OK to acknowledge that a world without faces isn’t one we want to inhabit.
So let’s bare our faces to the nice, fresh air, pucker and smirk at every available opportunity. Don’t be daunted by the masked masses. Plenty of us want to see your face.
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