Miles of Smiles

How can you have civil society when you can't see any smiles?

As the real America struggles to break free of imprisonment by government fiat, we will be struggling with restoring the balance between essential liberty and temporary, illusory safety for quite some time.  It's become increasingly apparent over the past few weeks that, as Donald Trump publicly feared to much ridicule, our authorities' supposed "cure" for coronavirus of locking everybody in their houses is far, far worse than the actual disease.

To name but one issue, we've written that shutting down hospitals has led to people dying for want of routine medical care.  Such people die because of the virus rather than of the virus, but hospitals tend to claim far more virus deaths than reality suggests.

Over-counting covid cases and falsely boosting the fatality rate is not to say that the disease itself is a hoax, or is harmless overall.  It certainly exists, just like the annual seasonal flu that kills just as many every year - although it seems to kill far fewer young children than the flu.

Without question, the Wuhan flu is a serious, life-threatening danger to many individuals who are elderly or otherwise in ill health.  Taking sensible precautions to protect them is, well, sensible.

At what cost, though?  We've already determined that the first cost we were asked to pay - that of our entire economy and the whole Bill of Rights - is outrageous and intolerable.  Many other proposed solutions, like California Gov. Gavin Newsom's "army" of government spies to track down anyone with coronavirus and forcibly intern them in camps, are equally un-American and impractical.

What about simpler, less-intrusive measures?  We've all seen checkout registers sprouting Plexiglas spit-guards like mushrooms.  They're ugly, but they do no harm, and to the extent that they provide a (mostly false) sense of security and make people feel more comfortable, may help our economy get back on track.

Of course, there is nothing so simple and harmless that government stupidity can't abuse it.  We've all seen the video of a half-dozen Philadelphia cops dragging an unarmed man off of a city bus for the crime of not wearing a mask, ensuring that they personally would pick up any viruses he might have been carrying at the time.  That's true of anything the government puts its hand in, and is nothing new.

No, the larger question is: what are the unintended consequences we're missing?

Dress for the Job You Want

It's long been observed that there's usually a connection between your appearance and your actions, even for the same person in different contexts.  As workplace attire has degraded from three-piece suits to business casual to casual Friday to, today, sitting at home in your underwear, business formality and predictability has also declined.  When public schools reduced or eliminated their dress codes in the 1970s, student behavior immediately degraded.

In the mating scene, the connection is even more obvious: we all know that "clothes make the man", and the woman even more so.

So... what's going to happen when the whole world is called upon to dress like Wild West gangsters, walking about behind a mask?

Of course, just because you're dressed like a thug doesn't mean you are a thug.  The usual suspects are warning that they tend to be identified as criminals anyway, and will be targeted even more when they're masked.

One of the many, many reasons we are opposed to Islam in the Western world is because of their habit of cloaking women in funeral shrouds.  To a surprising extent, freedom requires an open society where everyone is visible and can be seen by others, particularly their faces.

The culture and mores of Middle Eastern societies where half of everyone is ghosts swathed in burkhas are profoundly different from what we've been used to in the West, in fundamentally unhealthy and harmful ways.  We want to be less like them, not more.

In modern times, we've written about a number of heavily-polluted Asian countries where most people have taken to wearing masks in public to protect their own health, much as we're being "encouraged" to do throughout the world today.  Asian societies tend to be a lot less violent and destructive than Islamic ones, but they are also far more regimented and regulated than the traditionally free Western world.  This is not a path we care to go down either.

The one Asian country where facemasks are a rare except during flu season is also the freest and the closest American ally - Japan.  Now, Japan has a powerfully traditional culture all its own, and certainly not every aspect of Japanese tradition is to be admired much less emulated - but given the choice between living in a country more like Japan, or China, or Saudi Arabia, Japan would win hands down.

The only mask your humble correspondent
is inclined to wear.

As the excessively saccharine song reminds us, "a smile means friendship to everyone" and makes a decent umbrella on top of that.  America is now living without smiles in public places... and we were already more than a bit low on the public goodwill and civility in the first place.

Smiles are not the only mark of amity we are being asked to forego.  No less an authority than President Trump himself has publicly worried whether the handshake may be going the way of the dodo:

Frankly, much of the guidelines like shaking hands — maybe people aren't going to be shaking hands anymore... You know, Tony had mentioned to me, [director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr.] Tony Fauci, the other day that — I don't think he would be too upset with the concept of not shaking hands.

Shaking hands may seem like just an archaic tradition, but there's a good reason it became one: If you are clasping your opponent's hand in yours, it's hard for either of you to draw a sword or a gun on him, or even to slug him all that hard with the other hand.  The handshake became a sign of friendship and good will because, in a limited but practical way, it enforced a degree of comity that's often been absent throughout history.

A world without handshakes, like one where everyone hides behind masks instead of smiling, will be one of more friction, misunderstandings, hard feelings, and, ultimately, violence.

Is the price worth it?  We say not.  Our masters say, it's not our call.  What say you?

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

You can name as many reasons as you like re: why "shelter-in-place", mandatory masks, gov't decrees of any kind for "our own good", etc.

but the one least talked about is the most important.

It's/they're unconstitutional ... but even more important ... they're "un-american" ... and the founders are rolling in their graves.

May 14, 2020 12:12 PM

The thing that goads me is - masks are widely recognized as only 80% effective. If they provided more protection, maybe more people would balk less at using them.

Also, who knows how long someone has been wearing their mask? Depending upon the source, after 2-4 hours, they need to be discarded and replaced with a new one or washed thoroughly and replaced with one already washed. How do we know? It's not like there is a little blue dot that appears when they are past their use-by time.

I understand the initial reaction by officials of overcrowding the healthcare system and the fear of the projection models, but after all this time, people are not dropping like flies, tens of thousands have recovered, and the economy is in the crapper.

Masks should be like brushing your teeth. If you want to do it, please do. If not, the consequences are yours, and yours alone. If you believe that others spread the disease by not wearing one, avoid those who do not. Stay at home. Wear one when you venture out (it will be an adventure) into the semi-dangerous world. Order groceries and Chinese food online to be delivered.

But, as President Trump, and President Bolsonoro here in Brazil have stated, we cannot let this go on any longer. People are in dire financial straits, some are starving and getting sick because of poor nutrition. Governments are spending money they do not have, and are not raking any in due to no taxes being paid by both businesses or workers.

Enough is enough, as Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand sang.

May 14, 2020 2:16 PM

The masks have to go. There is a very low percentage of deaths for the 6-60 crowd. Why encumber them? For the old folks and I am one of those geezers, let us choose if we want a mask or not. I might would wear one when "Something is going around", but I sure won't all of the time. The choice is mine, not the government's. The same goes for football, basketball, golf, baseball, soccer, curling or any other sport, the individual is the king of his body and should be allowed to act in his best interests. Too much government interference. I personally think this is a last ditch effort by the left to defeat Trump come November. Heaven help us if they do, he's the only president in my lifetime, and that includes Reagan, my favorite, that tirelessly works against the deep state. If he had his way all of the Departments of Energy, Education, etc., would be at 10% of their current staffing or closed. I would agree, a total waste of money.

May 14, 2020 9:28 PM

This doctor claims that masks pose serious risks to people who wear them:

Dr. Russell Blaylock, a neurosurgeon, has written an editorial addressing healthy people wearing masks to protect themselves from COVID-19 and his advice is: don’t.

There is no scientific evidence that wearing a mask will help keep you from catching the virus:

As for the scientific support for the use of face mask, a recent careful examination of the literature, in which 17 of the best studies were analyzed, concluded that, “ None of the studies established a conclusive relationship between mask/respirator use and protection against influenza infection.”1 Keep in mind, no studies have been done to demonstrate that either a cloth mask or the N95 mask has any effect on transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Any recommendations, therefore, have to be based on studies of influenza virus transmission. And, as you have seen, there is no conclusive evidence of their efficiency in controlling flu virus transmission.

It is also instructive to know that until recently, the CDC did not recommend wearing a face mask or covering of any kind, unless a person was known to be infected, that is, until recently. Non-infected people need not wear a mask. When a person has TB we have them wear a mask, not the entire community of non-infected. The recommendations by the CDC and the WHO are not based on any studies of this virus and have never been used to contain any other virus pandemic or epidemic in history.

Blaylock says the more pressing concern is what can and will happen to the wearer.

Now that we have established that there is no scientific evidence necessitating the wearing of a face mask for prevention, are there dangers to wearing a face mask, especially for long periods? Several studies have indeed found significant problems with wearing such a mask. This can vary from headaches, to increased airway resistance, carbon dioxide accumulation, to hypoxia, all the way to serious life-threatening complications.

In one such study, researchers surveyed 212 healthcare workers (47 males and 165 females) asking about presence of headaches with N95 mask use, duration of the headaches, type of headaches and if the person had preexisting headaches.2

They found that about a third of the workers developed headaches with use of the mask, most had preexisting headaches that were worsened by the mask wearing, and 60% required pain medications for relief. As to the cause of the headaches, while straps and pressure from the mask could be causative, the bulk of the evidence points toward hypoxia and/or hypercapnia as the cause. That is, a reduction in blood oxygenation (hypoxia) or an elevation in blood C02 (hypercapnia). It is known that the N95 mask, if worn for hours, can reduce blood oxygenation as much as 20%, which can lead to a loss of consciousness, as happened to the hapless fellow driving around alone in his car wearing an N95 mask, causing him to pass out, and to crash his car and sustain injuries. I am sure that we have several cases of elderly individuals or any person with poor lung function passing out, hitting their head. This, of course, can lead to death.

A more recent study involving 159 healthcare workers aged 21 to 35 years of age found that 81% developed headaches from wearing a face mask.3 Some had pre-existing headaches that were precipitated by the masks. All felt like the headaches affected their work performance.

May 15, 2020 11:01 AM

Riffing on "The handshake became a sign of friendship and good will because, in a limited but practical way, it enforced a degree of comity that's often been absent throughout history." One of my taiji teachers asked, "have you ever shaken hands with someone, and it felt so great that you didn't want to let go? Did you ever watch Davy Crockett on Disney and see that they shook hands by grasping one another's forearms rather than palm to palm?" He connected that with some of the named acupoints of the pericardium meridian, 劳宫 láo gōng toil palace and 内观 (內關)nèi guān internal gate. láo gōng is on the palm of the hand at the center of the pocket where you would catch a ball, nèi guān is on the inner forearm about a third of the way from wrist to elbow crease. When we shake hands in the usual way, we align láo gōng. When we shake in the Davy Crockett way, we align láo gōng with nèi guān. When we exchange a hug with someone we align all kinds of energetic points with each other. The high five also aligns láo gōng, the fist bump aligns nothing remarkable.
气功 qì gōng studies and works with qì, 太极 Tàijí is part of qì gōng. Qì travels through (or gets stuck in) pathways called meridians, qì can be harvested from the environment or moved into the environment, and either of the handshakes described above can exchange qì between the participants.
And in harmony with “If you are clasping your opponent's hand in yours, it's hard for either of you to draw a sword or a gun on him, or even to slug him all that hard with the other hand,” the martial artist’s salute, 拜 bài, is a pictogram of two hands, one of them covered, to tell the story “Here is my fist, but I cover it because it is not for you to fear.”

May 15, 2020 2:41 PM

"What's going to happen when the whole world is called upon to dress like Wild West gangsters, walking about behind a mask?"

Everyone I've seen is wearing a medical type of mask. To dress like a Wild West gangster requires a bandanna. Which is what I choose to wear because it covers my entire face and ears. Why? And, oh, not because of Covid-1984! It's to thwart security cameras and facial recognition software. Finally we have an excuse to hide our identities from government's prying eyes without looking like we are trying to hide our identities.

May 15, 2020 8:10 PM

I've been wondering how history would treat this gruesome misadventure; I think you're off to a good start.
Oddly enough, Obama's failure to even acknowledge the virus in his time, may have been his finest accomplishment.
Great piece; this topic ain't going away any time soon.

May 16, 2020 9:02 PM

Second comment (forgive me):
If the Almighty asked me, as a 72 year old, if I would be willing to "exit stage left" in exchange for my children and grandchildren tbeing able to live in peace and prosperity, I be raising my hand!

May 16, 2020 9:12 PM

The weapon of defense or offense most commonly carried today is a lawyer. How does shaking hands show you aren't carrying one?

fred johnston, I would exit stage left for the same reason.

May 24, 2020 9:06 AM
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