Last week a friend told me he had to leave his men’s Bible study group. He could stomach it when they were a “just the flu” crowd. But now they’ve graduated into a “masks are living in fear” gang. He’s a healthcare professional. So that was enough for him.

Whether or not you are willing to wear a mask during a deadly global pandemic is now a political identity. A new one. The political sorting of America marches on.

I can’t say for certain but a cursory scan of my social media feed tells me that there is significant overlap between the “you’ll put a mask on my dead body” and the “you’ll pull my gun from my cold dead hands” crews. And that overlap gives us an opportunity to observe something.

The most coherent argument for gun rights advocates is that they view arming themselves as a responsibility to their family and the community. They are able to defend themselves. They don’t have to rely on others to rescue them. A society where everyone has to be respected as someone who can defend themselves denies bad actors of their victims.

The counter argument to that perspective is that the negative externalities of firearm density, (accidents, school shootings, suicide, domestic violence), on the margin, makes the world less safe. There’s loads of data that support that perspective. Some pretty smart people believe that the world is better if people are armed though. And the mental framework that dictates how they feel about it isn’t a lack of intelligence. It’s that they view the world from their immediate perspective. To them, negative externalities are a thing for large groups and other people.

My gun makes my space safer. I can manage it responsibly. Others? That’s less important. What’s most important is for me to be armed. And moreover it’s important for others to know that I am armed.

One can claim that the latter is to deter bad actors. I know a lot of gun owners. I know none who have brandished a gun to ward off a would be intruder in their home. So I suspect it’s not just about signaling bad guys. It’s also about signaling strength to their in-group. For some, maybe most, that’s nearly all of it. The gun advocates that also double as mask opponents mostly prove this suspicion.

It’s reasonably easy to point to the downside of not being allowed to arm myself. I am unprotected and at the mercy of those who would do me harm. Even if not particularly high risk, it’s at least a material claim to hide your base motivation behind. It’s not easy to point out the downside of wearing a mask though. At least not without sounding like a whiny toddler who doesn’t like wearing it.

The call to inaction then has to transfer to something else. It’s not about the mask. It’s about a mandate to “not live in fear.” The assertion is that living in fear is some sort of tangible thing. It starts with a mask. Then you’re the sort that carries an umbrella. And now you’re afraid of your own shadow and a draw on society. It’s a dreadful slippery slope argument. Slopes aren’t usually as slippery as we think though. Especially metaphorical political ones. So we’re really not scared of living in fear.

It’s a mask…

Moreover, the idea that the mask itself keeps you from doing anything is nonsense. I lived in a hundred pounds of body armor and gear for days at a time. I’m not super interested in entertaining dudes that tell me the mask is a material inconvenience, especially when they are also pretending to be doing it from a position of courage.

When I served, I didn’t wear my gear because I was afraid. I wore it because it was my responsibility to stay alive for my men and model the sort of behavior that would keep them alive. In this regard, the mask is a more material analogy.

Which brings us to an honest truth about grown men that are afraid to wear a mask. At the heart of the motivation to not “mask up” is a towering fear of being seen by the other dudes in a dudes group as a scared sucker who blindly follows the crowd.

A sheep.

If I’m wrong, it’s not my problem. I probably won’t die. And negative externalities are a thing for large groups and other people. It’s way more important for people to see me as the sort of guy who doesn’t believe the hype. That won’t follow the crowd. Because being labeled a sheep that must be lead by others cuts to the heart of how I need to see myself.

The gun discussion comes full circle for some motivated by something other than security.

If we are truly not sheep, we don’t care what we’re labeled. The shepherd isn’t the shepherd because the sheep agree he is. He’s the shepherd because he leads them to green pastures.

We wear the mask because it probably helps increase our safe freedom of movement. And we wear the mask because other people take their cues on how to behave from grown people they respect. And we wear the mask because we’re tough enough to handle some inconvenience. We wear the mask because even though the “experts” might be wrong, we have the courage to have been wrong, in the name of caution, during a global pandemic. Especially when there is near ZERO cost to being wrong.

In some way, we’re all guided by our fears. We ALL live in fear. Some fears are just better than others. My biggest one? It’s the same one that guided me as small unit leader in the military.

I’m scared to death to behave illogically and dangerously in a crisis. And to not do my part to solve a problem that’s bigger than myself.

So I’ll be masking up.

Categories: covid-19

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7 replies »

  1. I don’t wear a mask to protect myself. I wear a mask to protect the people around me. It’s not a display of fear, it’s a display of my consideration for the health of my fellow human beings. When I see someone refusing to wear a mask, the message I take from that is “I don’t care if your mom dies, so long as I don’t have to be the slightest bit inconvenienced.” Ugh.

    • Exactly. Masks, assuming folks are wearing ones without valves, are just as much protecting yourself from the world and the world from you.

      There’s a good chance most folks who get this thing will never know it and who they’ve spread it to. It’s not about living in fear, it’s about being a respectful human being.

  2. Thanks Sean.
    Not wearing a mask is-like it or not-irresponsible
    Maybe OK for pre-teens but when I see men , see men who are my peers making their ‘unmasked’ statements; and I do see them I get angry and sad.
    Walking a few days ago on Boston Common no fewer than 6 runners passed me without a mask even dangling from their neck. Guys who look like me.white and well fed. It didn’t seem smart to throw down. Besides , at 70 I’ve probably lost a step. So I ate it. Bitter
    Fortunately I now understand that duration of exposure to the virus can make a big difference whether I get hit with a meaningful dose. Anyway I had to get smart.
    Yet it’s still sad to see so many….truly unmasked….
    Stay safe everyone.

  3. Sean, I have been reading your blog for some time. I respect your ideas immensely. Thank you for this!
    I have a slightly unrelated question, hopefully appropriate to leave here. I think that healthcare is a human right, and citizens should be provided healthcare regardless of their income. Can you give me your thoughts on this? Is there a place on your blog where you outline your thoughts on policy? I am fascinated to better know where you stand. I am basically a Democrat by way of my upbringing, but I am open to other ideas. The direction we are moving, in my opinion, is grossly losing sight of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Any and all thoughts are most welcome-thanks!

  4. I have been noticing this phenomenon – the connection between non-mask wearers and gun-rights conservatives. I personally believe this behavior will further the divide between common sense citizenry and far right thinkers. Us evil middle to left thinkers try to consider the greater good. The further right you go, the louder the “me, me, me” becomes. Thank you for verbalizing what I have been trying to wrap my head around.

  5. Thank you. I wish so often that wisdom would have a much wider audience. There were a significant number of people who foresaw the pandemic and yet crickets in general. We need to think of a way to have us all listen to actually what is being said…Thanks. Maureen