There is one argument against wearing masks that I haven’t heard anyone else making: masks are inherently anti-social.
Our sixth amendment guarantees us the right to be “confronted with the witness against him;” why do we need this right? Why is it important that someone on trial get to see the person testifying against him? Historically, it is because hiding the witness prevents accountability, and permits all kinds of abuse of the courts by anonymous accusers. This is something which modern rape cases have begun to remind us of, where hiding away the witness out of respect and not wanting to “re-victimize the victim” (which itself presupposes the truth of the allegation) has led to a slough of false rape accusations. This is not just a problem for men; historically, women lived or died on the basis of their reputation for chastity. Even a rumor of infidelity could permanently destroy her social standing in polite society, and who knows how many such anonymous, faceless whispers brought down innocent and rule-abiding women in those days. While the consequences are less dire today, women still suffer greatly from this kind of non-confrontational witness.
A polite and fair society is one in which allegations can be made, but cannot be made carelessly. But notice that in this second type of case — that of sexual rumors regarding a woman — we are not even dealing with a court environment. The right to face one’s accuser is enshrined in law because it is custom even outside the narrow, courtroom parameters where the law is to be enforced.
A mask is an ambiguous face. It is uncanny. We cannot tell if the mouth behind it is smiling or frowning. At a primal level, masked people are stressful, both because we cannot read them, and because we understand that because of their shrouded identity, they are less accountable for what they might do. This opens up the possibilities of what they might do.
In many ways, what we perceive in a mask very much matches what the face of hatred looks like:
Like disgust, and like anger, there is a face for hatred. But that face is not the rage of anger, or the grimace of disgust. Nor is it the asymmetric smile of contempt, or the glower of ordinary resentment.
The face of deepest hatred is totally blank and expressionless.In Defense of Hatred
Perhaps related — one of the outcomes of hatred is distancing. If you hate someone, you get away from them, or try to get them to go away from you. “Social distancing” is what you do to people you don’t like.
When we walk around in public, surrounded by people in masks keeping clear of each other, I can only imagine the work our brain is doing to overcome the anxiety that all of this social ambiguity and threat-cues are inducing.
…thank goodness there’s a horrendously deadly virus to pin that anxiety on!
All that said, I still wear the mask.
Perhaps the wisest advice I ever received (and one that I needed more than most) was to not pick fights on hills I’m not ready to die on.
As far as the coronavirus is concerned, I don’t know if masks work or not. I’m not sure anyone really does for sure, no matter how certain they may feel about the matter. Personally, I’m skeptical over whether masks are even necessary, supposing that they did work. That’s just me.
But so long as they’re taking names and temperatures, and shutting people down who don’t comply, it seems wise to blend in and keep a low profile.
Masks seem like an excellent way to do that. In a world where our every move is tracked by the government and tech giants, yet clear information on current events is hard to find, and politicians speak in vague platitudes to obscure their real purpose (or lack thereof), why should we feel some obligation to reciprocate personal accountability when it is not being provided to us?