Public masking as a symbol of obedience: a philosophic analysis of Peter J. Pitts’ editorial “Please, New Yorkers, just let it slide! We’re masking ourselves into fits”

Here is a link to the full editorial, Please, New Yorkers, just let it slide! We’re masking ourselves into fits, published in the New York Post on March 8, 2022. Below are quotes from the editorial, followed by my analysis. Embedded links within the quotes are retained from the original.

“I live on the Upper West Side. I am a former Food and Drug Administration associate commissioner, run a not-for-profit public-health policy institute and am a visiting professor at the University of Paris Medical School. Despite my bona fides, I can’t get my neighbors or dog-park acquaintances to relax and unmask themselves.

Translation: I’m a government health bureaucrat, so I can speak for “the science,” yet the mortals aren’t obeying me.

“Welcome to my world, where wearing a surgical mask has replaced wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt as a social-justice signal in post-pandemic America.”

Now we have a clue as to the otherwise unintelligible motivation of the outdoor surgical mask wearers (apart from those who have been conditioned to become hypochondriacs or the others who are conforming to the behavior of the people around them to avoid social disapproval). Rather than managing obviously non-existent health risks, they are publicly signaling their support for the replacement of individual rights with collective, government-enforced obligations, as has happened on a massive scale since the creation of the COVID-19 virus. Justice, to this mentality, is social, i.e., applies to groups, not individuals, and their model of a just society is collectivist Cuba (of which Che Guevara is a symbol), not individualist America. In Socialist Cuba, the rich were sacrificed to the poor by forcibly depriving them of their property; in post-pandemic America, the healthy were sacrificed to the sick by forcibly depriving them of their livelihoods (among many other things). In both cases, “social justice” is a euphemism for altruism and collectivism: the sacrifice of a group of “haves” to a group of “have-nots.”

“My ZIP code is deep blue. “Science is back!” we rejoiced when President Biden was elected.”

Translation: now two unelected government bureaucrats, Fauci and Walensky, will have direct control over what is allowed to constitute “the science,” and indirect control over policy and law.

“Alas, that doesn’t seem to be true when the science doesn’t match what many of my friends and neighbors want to believe. 

Despite very clear guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gov. Hochul and Mayor Adams, many of my neighbors want to keep their masks on…” 

“Guidance” is a euphemism for decrees issued according to the whims of politicians Hochul and Adams and backed by force.

“…  (which is certainly their privilege),…

For a collectivist, individual choice is a privilege, not a right.

… but they don’t want me to take mine off either. And they’re aggressive about it. Withering stares and cutting comments.

This is not the behavior of thinking individuals concerned with their personal health; this is the faux-outrage of a collectivist tribe attempting to control any individuals who dare not to conform to the tribe’s professed beliefs and proscribed behaviors.

“My wife and I are triple-vaccinated and self-test regularly. We live in a low-infection/high-injection zone. Very green by the CDC’s new standard. And yet many in my hood remain wedded to the way things were, as though removing one’s mask is somehow an acknowledgment of victory for anti-science, anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers.

This is the conflict of a collectivist tribe forced to choose between obedience to their authority’s decrees vs. obedience to their tribe’s customs, made more acute when a new decree is passed that superficially aligns with the ideas and behavior of their tribe’s enemies.

The author, as the spokesman for the tribe, defines those enemies as “anti,” meaning anti-rational. Rationality, in the view of the author, means obeying authority by putting on a mask when told to do so, taking it off when told to do so, and injecting whatever drug you are ordered to inject into your body when told to do so.

“There’s a real public-health risk brewing. If we can’t support our friends and neighbors who want to take off their masks when such actions are strongly supported by science, how are we going to get them to put their masks back on should the situation call for it in the future?” 

So the real problem that the author disapproves of isn’t the irrationality of the masking-forever virtue-signalers, it’s that they are insufficiently obedient to the authorities now, and so may also be so in the future.

And so we come to the fundamental issue, according to the author. Our authorities—whether health bureaucrats or politicians—must be obeyed 100% of the time and on principle.

Obedience, in this context, is both cognitive: you must think what you’re told to think by the health bureaucrats—and existential: you must do what you’re told to do by the politicians.

“‘I’m still doing my research’ was a lame excuse for not getting vaccinated, and it’s a bad excuse for insisting we all keep our masks on.”

Translation: Independent thought and action based thereon is not a justification for disobedience to authority.

“We cannot [only choose to] “follow the science” when it is convenient or suits our politics or personal belief systems. That leads to bad places.”

Translation: The pronouncements of bureaucrats like Fauci and Walensky must supersede our reasoned understanding (what the author calls our “personal belief systems”), and the decrees of politicians like Hochul and Adams must supersede our rights (what the author calls “our politics”). Otherwise, disobedience will lead us to a “bad place”: a society where each individual has the right to think independently and to act on his understanding, including his understanding of who is or is not a qualified source of specialized knowledge and guidance. For a collectivist, this cognitive and existential independence from the tribe and its leaders is unacceptable.

“Removing your mask (where appropriate) and explaining why you are doing so to your friends and neighbors (in a polite and nonjudgmental way), is just as important as explaining the value and urgency of getting vaccinated. It’s supporting science. It’s doing the right thing”. 

No, by your standards that would be appealing to their reason, asking them to think independently, and allowing them to act on their understanding. By your standards, that’s the opposite of “following the science,” i.e., obeying the authorities.

“It’s helping us all get comfortable with reality. 

Remember reality?”

I never left it, and you’ll never find it.

One Reply to “Public masking as a symbol of obedience: a philosophic analysis of Peter J. Pitts’ editorial “Please, New Yorkers, just let it slide! We’re masking ourselves into fits””

  1. Excellent analysis and commentary on this op-ed. I agree with all of your points and have a few things to add:

    “…many of my neighbors want to keep their masks on (which is certainly their privilege), but they don’t want me to take mine off either. And they’re aggressive about it. Withering stares and cutting comments.”

    How do you think we felt throughout the last 2 years? This guy was probably among the smug, self-righteous people staring and dishing out ‘cutting comments’ last March. Now that the mob is mobilized against him, suddenly this is a problem.

    “My wife and I are triple-vaccinated and self-test regularly. We live in a low-infection/high-injection zone.”

    I think it is worth pointing out the ridiculous disclaimer here: “even though I may take my mask off for a few seconds in the dog park, my wife and I still maniacally test ourselves and got every injection on cue…I swear, we are still one of you!”

    “Taking off your mask isn’t a victory for ‘the other side.’ It is a public-health victory for all of us. We’ve worked hard for it. We’ve earned it. And our kids have earned it, too.”

    We were so obedient….we deserve some of our freedoms back for behaving so well!

    “Removing your mask (where appropriate) and explaining why you are doing so to your friends and neighbors (in a polite and nonjudgmental way), is just as important as explaining the value and urgency of getting vaccinated.”

    Ah yes, of course, the people advocating vaccines did so “in a polite and nonjudgmental way.” This is why they fired people and why Trudeau froze the bank accounts of people protesting vaccine mandates. I am sure those actions were done in a “polite and nonjudgmental way.”

    A final thought that came to my mind:

    It is not realistic (not even possible) to argue someone out of a position that they were not argued into. That is: most of these people started wearing masks out of obedience to authority, not based on objective analysis of reality. Since no rational argument led them to don the mask in the first place, it is folly to think that a rational argument will persuade them to remove it now. Feelings got them here, and it will be feelings that lead them to the next phase.

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