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Miles of Smiles

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

By Petrarch  |  May 14, 2020

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?