In Defense of Mask Avoidance

I don’t wear a mask to prevent the spread of Covid-19. As a high-risk individual, I self-quarantine. I haven’t left my property since February 2, 2020. I get all my supplies through no-contact delivery services. Every day, a similarly quarantined family member dons protective gear and disinfects all our deliveries, even the mail. Thus, I view mask-wearing and mask-avoidance as an interested but distanced third party.

There are quite a few things we do because we are told to. We wear seat belts in cars and airplanes. We wear helmets and knee pads when riding on motorcycles or bicycles. We wear restraints on amusement park rides. We wear safety equipment for sky diving and bungee jumping. We even wear boots and slickers in the rain (thanks Mom). These aren’t all required, but we recognize they are for our own protection, so we do them. Some things we do because it’s the only way to get what we want. You have to wear a shirt and shoes to eat at restaurants. Some places of worship either require or prohibit head coverings. We provide personal information to buy cars and guns, or obtain a credit card. We also do things for the sake of other people because we are told to. We submit to screenings at airports, schools, public buildings, and entertainment venues. We submit to police stops and searches. We allow government agencies (NSA, FBI, CIA, DHS, DoD, IRS) and private corporations to collect our personal information. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, some people chafe at the idea of wearing a mask to protect themselves and others from Covid-19. It can even escalate to the point of uncontrollable rage.

So given the government requirement (at least at this time in my area) and societal imperative to wear masks, what are the reasons for not wearing them? As far as I can gather, there are at least ten reasons:

  1. Pandemic Denial – Yes there are some people who don’t believe the Covid-19 pandemic is real. These people believe that it’s a hoax or that it’s just like any other flu. That’s what they are told by the news sources they listen to.
  2. Mask Ineffectiveness – Some people believe that masks are ineffective because of conflicting statements made by government officials, news media sources, social media sources, and IRL acquaintances.
  3. Personal Risk – Some people don’t know anyone who has it so they believe that they won’t get it. Either that or they believe that they are strong enough that they will be asymptomatic or will recover without any long-term impairment if they do get it.
  4. Risk to Others – Some people don’t believe they have it so they can’t be a risk to others. Either that or they don’t care that they might be a risk to others. They don’t believe it is their responsibility to protect others, which is what most masks are meant to do.
  5. Health-Related Limitations – Some people believe they have some health-related condition that prohibits them from wearing masks. Examples include asthma or other breathing difficulties and susceptibility to skin irritation.
  6. Inability to Wear Masks – Some people believe that they cannot wear masks effectively because of the shape of their face, the locations or structures of their ears, their facial hair, or because their glasses fog. Some people even suggest that they don’t know how to wear them.
  7. Inability to Communicate – Some people believe that they can’t communicate effectively in a mask because voices are muffled and facial expressions are impossible to read.
  8. Mask Discomfort and Inconvenience – Some people believe that all masks are uncomfortable to wear or make the wearer look “uncool.” Some people don’t like the inconvenience of always having to have a mask available when they go out. Some people want to wait for an easier solution, like a pill or a vaccine.
  9. Masks Can’t Be Required – Some people do not believe that governments and private enterprises have the authority to require masks and social distancing because there are no laws saying that they can.
  10. Masks Infringe on Freedom – Some people believe that they have the right to do as they please and that masks and social distancing infringe on their “pursuit of happiness.” They don’t want their lives to change.

There are counterarguments to all of these reasons but, as with politics and religion, deeply held beliefs are immune to logic. There are also alternatives to wearing masks and social distancing, like wearing a face shield or just staying at home, but some people don’t consider these to be viable alternatives.

The two most tragic aspects of this dilemma are that:

  • We are receiving conflicting messages from our political leadership concerning what we should be doing. Even scientists haven’t been consistent, either over time or between each other, although this is really part of the scientific discovery process.
  • Some people are only concerned about their own lives, society be damned. The predominant American philosophy of “all for one and one for all” has been replaced by “what’s in it for me.” The unfortunate thing these people don’t realize is that what happens to society happens to them also.

So what is the root cause of some people refusing to social distance and wear masks?

  • Some researchers might suggest that mask avoidance is a reaction to an authority figure trying to control a personal choice, or even be a reaction of a childlike personality.
  • Some researchers might suggest that mask-avoiders may have more ways of expressing themselves in order to get out of things they don’t want to do. Mask avoidance is an example of an explicit form of resistance to authority.
  • Some researchers might suggest that peoples’ aversion to wearing masks is related to feelings that their lives are no longer in their control, feelings that they are unprepared or unable to cope with the crisis, feelings of uncertainty about the future, or feelings that their comfortable lives will change forever.
  • Some researchers might suggest that mask-avoidance may have a biochemical cause, perhaps related to the connectivity between the parietal and frontal regions of the brain.

Whatever the root cause of mask avoidance might be, whether psychological or biochemical, it’s probably more complex than just ignorance, disinformation, misdirection, confusion, personal characteristics, or resistance to authority. Society should recognize that all people are unique in their own ways. Individuals have their own motivations for what they do and don’t do in their personal lives. Society should not dictate individual choices. Individuals, on the other hand, should recognize that they are a member of a society and they are bound to follow the rules and necessary conventions of that society. This is especially true when their actions affect the well-being of others.

Mask wearing is a clear case of “all for one and one for all.” The best way to defend yourself from criticism for not wearing a mask is to honestly examine the reasons why you don’t want to wear a mask. It may reveal a lot about you as an individual.

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