“We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity.”
– Stephen Hawking
I’ve been thinking about this quote a lot lately, especially in regard to the current mask debacle that is taking place across the country. On Wednesday, the United States saw an all-time high in coronavirus numbers, with 38,115 new cases reported in a single day. The upward surge continues across multiple states. As of this writing, 18 states, including Washington, are now requiring people to wear masks when out in public spaces.
There have been multiple studies confirming the efficacy of masks in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Research from U.C Berkley’s International Computer Science Institute and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology even suggests that if the majority of the populace wears masks and practices social distancing, the spread could be reduced by as much as 80%. Science supports the mask mandates these states have put into place. And to be clear, the main point of wearing masks is to prevent each of us from spreading the virus to others. It’s about courtesy, respect and compassion for our fellow travelers.
Yet, as we see a spike in COVID-19 cases in the United States, we also see a spike in stupidity. Science deniers and mask defiers are vociferous in their outrage. Social media is full of these tirades; video rants and adult tantrums litter the feeds. Some are so angry that they resort to vulgar behavior– such as spitting on service workers–to make their point. Many of these disgruntled individuals complain that a mandate to wear a mask is an infringement on their personal liberties. I have to wonder if they feel the same outrage over being required to purchase liability insurance for their car or submit to a TSA screening. Conversely, if their dentist, for example, opted not to change his gloves between patients, would they support this as his freedom of choice, even as he’s putting his germ-ridden hands in their mouths?
The lack of critical thinking is truly astonishing. Believing that COVID-19 is a “hoax,” these American stupid cling to wild conspiracy theories and attempt to discredit highly-regarded experts in the fields of immunology and medicine. In a rambling and incoherent diatribe during a community meeting in West Palm Beach, one woman accused officials of “obeying the devil’s law” by imposing the mask mandate. This is where reason clearly went out the window. If the devil is intent on doing evil, it wouldn’t be by having people wearing masks. It would be having them gasping for air and hooked up to ventilators. Of course, there are a handful of non-believers, who end up catching the virus, suffering through it and finally surrendering to reality. While I’m glad they can serve as a cautionary tale, they get no trophies from me for getting with the program after the fact.
My gut check says that this childish resistance to wearing masks is about obstinacy for the sake of obstinacy. All the squawking about personal liberties is just window dressing. I’m not buying it. And there’s a direct line between this climate of obtuse defiance and Donald Trump, who still has a stupefying influence over a significant portion of the U.S. population. Common sense is lost on toddlers; they still want to eat the grimy gummy bear that they come across on the sidewalk.
So it will be up to the rest of us, the grown-ups, to listen to science and do whatever we have to do to get through this. There are many things in life–such as taxes and colonoscopies– that are not pleasant but are necessary. We do them anyway. We’ll wash our hands. We’ll practice social distancing. And without fuss and bother, we’ll wear masks in public. Hopefully, our collective efforts will make a difference.
Unfortunately, however, we’re ultimately at the mercy of stupid.