Masks, Phones, Freedom and Public Safety

July 21, 2020

The politicization of  protective masks that cover one’s mouth and nose has been a strange and unexpected impediment against successfully managing the coronavirus pandemic. All but the best-made masks do not provide full protection against catching Covid, but wearing one has been shown to greatly prevent symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers of the pathogen from infecting other people. Wearing a mask is an altruistic habit that if universally practiced would together with other preventative actions go far to defeating the pandemic. If everybody wore a mask, wearers would in fact be contributing to their own well-being as well as that of other people.

It is a dubious assertion that mask-wearing infringes personal freedom. If so, the same argument would apply to donning other articles of clothing or, for that matter, to laws requiring the wearing of some clothing when out in public. What’s even weirder is that many of the people opposing masks on political grounds think nothing about carrying a smart phone on their person. If the concern is a potential loss of personal freedom, no individual act compromises one’s personal freedom from state surveillance more than having a cell phone. Until a vaccine is developed, staying in one’s home bubble, where phone and other device portability is unnecessary, offer one’s best remedy against catching the deadly disease.

The fuss about mask-wearing by people who give no thought to throwing away their cell phone exposes the true intent of the no-mask movement. The cause never was about preserving personal freedom. It’s just another platform for proclaiming one’s political identity. So long as whether one likes or dislikes President Trump is the overwhelming factor separating  “us” from “them,” the president’s view on personal mask-wearing became the decisive determinant of individual choices on this matter that other people make.

Speaking of choice, the presumed one between public health and the economy’s health is no choice at all because public safety is a precondition for sustaining economic recovery from the pandemic recession. America’s failure to flatten the curve of new Covid cases threatens to transform what could have been a V-shaped and comparatively short-lived recession into a depression. Wearing a mask is an inexpensive way that everyone can contribute to winning the war against the disease, even if one believes that doing so in compliance with the representative government’s request will impinge their own personal freedom.

Not all freedoms are equally valuable. They can and ought to be prioritized.  In the Declaration of Independence, the unalienable right of “life” is mentioned before those of “liberty” and the “pursuit of happiness.” Wearing a mask or not may involve a choice between the life or death of another human being. Even for those believing that mask-wearing diminishes their personal liberty, that doesn’t elevate the right to go bear-faced to a right to kill another person. Nor does opening bars and throwing social distancing to the wind generate enough jobs and customer happiness to trump other people’s right to life.

Copyright 2020, Larry Greenberg. All rights reserved. No secondary distribution without express permission.




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