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.

Debate: “Affirmative action is necessary to redress past racial injustices.”

Below are my opening and closing statements for a debate that was hosted by the NYC Political Forum, a Meetup group in New York City. The debate itself was Oxford-Style and featured two teams, each with two members. I was partnered with my friend Roberto Guzman. As is customary for our team debates, I opened with a statement that established the philosophic context for our position, and Rob provided economic and historical support for our view. We argued against the proposition and won the debate. (Reading time 8 minutes.)

Continue reading “Debate: “Affirmative action is necessary to redress past racial injustices.””

The Communist Manifesto: Philosophic and Economic Ideas/Historic Consequences

Karl Marx claimed that economics determines history and that one’s economic class determines one’s ideas. Ironically, he proved himself wrong, in a deadly way. The twelve-thousand-word propaganda tract written by Marx in 1848 and known as The Communist Manifesto was a concise summary of many ideas that Marx himself created. These ideas proceeded to shape the history of the twentieth century, including its political and economic history, as well as the ideas of most twentieth-century intellectuals. This history included approximately one hundred million innocent citizens slaughtered by Marxist governments, millions more enslaved by Marxist governments, international conflicts on an unprecedented scale, and an intellectual tradition that, at present, is thoroughly entrenched in the humanities and is in the process of destroying the ideas and ideals of the West. There have probably never been fewer words that have caused more misery and destruction than those written by Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto.

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German Philosophy vs. Freedom

In his letter to the New York Post, councilman Sheldon S. Leffler chastises the Post’s editorialist for reviving the allegedly “long-discredited” interpretation of Nietzsche as being an influence on Nazi ideology. I wonder how the councilman would interpret the following, which are Nietzsche’s own words:

 “There is only nobility of birth, only nobility of blood”; “Mankind in the mass sacrificed to the prosperity of a single stronger species of man — that would be an advance.”; “The beginnings of everything great on earth [are] soaked in blood thoroughly and for a long time.”; “Let a tyrant lay his yoke upon you and say ‘Obey, gnash and obey,’ and all good and evil will be drowned in obedience to him”; “Where are the barbarians of the twentieth century?” (All quotes are taken from “Nietzsche and Individualism,” an essay discrediting the common misinterpretation of Nietzsche as being an individualist, in The Objectivist Forum, April 1986.)

As demonstrated by philosopher Leonard Peikoff in “The Ominous Parallels,” the existential horrors of Communism and Nazism were not accidents visited upon mankind from heaven; rather, they resulted from the political and economic implementation of the ideas of German philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche.

Yet there is a further irony in Leffler’s defending German philosophy while simultaneously claiming to be a spokesman for the “American Way.”

Leffler says that mayor Guilliani, in supporting the rights and freedom of businessmen to locate their stores where they wish and consumers to shop where they wish, is acting as a Nietzschian “ubermenschen” (superman) by refusing to give “the public a voice [i.e., Leffer’s voice] on the siting of megastores in their own communities.” In fact, Guilliani’s defense of megastores represents an implementation of the Lockian and Jeffersonian (i.e., the American) principle of holding the rights and freedom of the individuals comprising “the public” above any potential tyrants attempting to act as “its” spokesman. Conversely, the principle held by Leffler, that a government official has the right to use the coercive powers of the state in order to implement a mystical voice of the public, is the political implementation of the collectivism espoused by German philosophy, which has been applied most consistently in totalitarian states.

Bureaucracy vs. Economic Rights (published in NY Post)

In the debate over whether Mayor Guilliani should allow megastores into New York City “as [a matter] of right,” city councilman Sheldon Leffler’s attack on the Mayor—”If you are a zealot, a former prosecutor, an ubermensch, you may not feel you have to listen to what ordinary citizens of this city have to say. But allowing some meaningful community input is the American way.”—speaks volumes on the mentality of statist bureaucrats such as himself.

In a free country, “ordinary citizens” express their economic preferences democratically, by means of an economic vote, every time they choose to shop in one store (such as a megastore) rather than another store (such as a small retailer), thereby determining which store will survive. As identified by the great economist Ludwig von Mises, for a government official such as Leffler to intervene in such a process is akin to his forcibly overruling the results of a democratic election whose outcome he disagrees with.

It is the function of a Communist or Nazi dictator to divine the will of the citizens as a whole, and then to issue orders, backed by the threat of government-initiated coercion, to implement that “will.” On the other hand, it is the function of a limited Republican government—the kind of government envisioned by the founding fathers—to protect the rights of all individuals to be free from the initiation of coercion, either from the government or from private criminals, so that they may think and act freely. In the particular case in question, that is, the case of protecting the rights of those individuals of outstanding business ability who have risen to the top of the economic realm by means of lowering the prices and/or improving the quality of the goods they sell, the result of re-instituting such protection would be the kind of economic progress and prosperity that was once the norm in the United States and New York City.

[Note: In reprinting the above letter, The New York Post omitted the final paragraph and printed a lengthy letter from Leffler in which the councilman defended his use of the word “ubermensch” while praising the philosophy of Nietzsche. In order to present the content omitted from my original letter, and in response to Leffler’s praise of Nietzsche, I wrote a follow-up letter, “German Philosophy vs. Freedom.”]