Thursday, June 18, 2020

Of Masks and Moral Responsibility

A week ago, I attended a march in my small town.  Four to five hundred souls marched peaceably to recognize the human value and integrity of black folk, and I was honored to be a part of it.


Though there were hundreds there, there were also notable precautions against this cursed pandemic.  It was outdoors, in the bright hot sun.  People were visibly trying to make space between groups.  And functionally everyone was wearing a mask.  Ninety five percent, at a minimum, with the handful of outliers mostly being adolescent boys who are dumb in the way I was when I was their age.  Folks were taking it seriously.


Last week, I also came across this strange, harsh cartoon about masks, one produced by a far-right political activist.  Some over on #twitter were making light of it, but there were plenty of folks and/or bots of uncertain origin spreading it unironically. 


What struck me was not just its bullying, Nelson Muntz mockery of perceived ideological weakness.  The cartoon expresses a warped morality that has abandoned traditional virtues.  Wearing a mask isn't a bolshy Jacobin thing to do.

Wearing a mask is conservative.  It's about personal responsibility, seeing freedom as a call to duty and care for your neighbor.  It requires discipline and a desire to protect both the vulnerable and the integrity of your community.  It recognizes legitimate authority. It rises from a spirit of decency, charity, and integrity. 


There was something else. Something darker.  Starting this weekend and continuing for the next few months, there will be political rallies on the American right.  Americans who increasingly embrace the ideology of this cartoon will gather by the tens of thousands.  They will shout and cheer.  They'll be packed in tight.  They'll be older.  And goaded on by this kind of propaganda and the ego-hunger of a demagogue, they'll view masks as a sign of weakness, as a leftist snowflake thing.  "Yeah, you can wear one, but you're just a coward and a weakling if you do."  "Don't drink the Kool Aid," they'll smile, the oversweet blood red stain on their lips.


Then they'll go back to their homes, their communities, and their churches.


It's a recipe for death.  Not just one person, shot dead on Fifth Avenue, but hundreds of deaths.  Horrible, prolonged, suffocating deaths in the overburdened ICUs of mid-sized Southern towns, as exhausted nurses helplessly watch yet another human being die alone.


Were I a cruelly Darwinian soul, I might sneer at those folks, and say they're getting what they deserve.  "You cannot separate a fool from their folly," I could say.  "A rod for the back of fools," I could say.  But Jesus being my Lord and Savior and all, I try to avoid that way of being.  I desire no-one's suffering.  Instead, I do what one does when you realize you're helpless to stop a horror.  Or when you watch a person caught in the thrall of their personal demons, their ears closed to your voice, their eyes turned away from your help.  I raise my voice, even though it might not be heard. I pray. 


And I wear my mask, which says: I am willing to do my part.