The intersection between the COVID-19 pandemic and the culture wars has made me go full partisan, at least for now. It’s not that I was ever a moderate. But I’ve long identified as a progressive with a libertarian streak–or a Left Libertarian.
All that means, in terms that won’t alarm the left, is that whereas I value equality, I also value freedom, and am accordingly skeptical of government. By and large, however, I honor and uphold the government’s potential as a guardian and noble servant, despite its massive failures, dangers, and bureaucracies.
But none of that matters right now.
Libertarianism’s a concept in distress. Libertarians aren’t the ones you call in emergencies. In emergencies, for worse or for better, you call the government. That’s how human hierarchies organize, unconsciously. Every human community makes use of governance. When times are bad, that use becomes a need.
And times are bad.
Libertarians are scrambling to redefine themselves. They’re walking back their anti-government sentiments and instead announcing that what they oppose most is centralized power—the theory being that the less concentrated and the more local power is, the less susceptible it will be to human corruption.
Fair enough. But my shift in perspective isn’t merely theoretical; it’s also existential. As in: I am furious at the right. As in: I am drawing a line. As in: I’m all for humanizing human beings (i.e., investigating why an otherwise well-meaning person might cast his/her vote for Donald Trump), but when human beings outright endanger themselves and others, they deserve every inch of outrage and minimization they have coming.
As of this moment, masks are emerging as a key commodity in our tense fight against the virus’s spread. Weeks back, their usefulness was widely in question, and the conventional wisdom was that they were well worth skipping. Right now, we have scientists and scientific entities around the world presenting strong data as to their usefulness. Our city, Milpitas, was the first in its county to mandate public mask-wearing (or face-covering-wearing) in businesses as a matter of law. Since then, Milpitas’ case count has flattened. You can attribute this to face-coverings, or to coincidence, or God. It doesn’t matter, actually.
The point is: Masks Can’t Hurt.
This is not an op-ed wherein I declare that I’m right and argue that those who disagree with me are wrong. This is an op-ed in which I propose that current scientific data points toward masks being helpful, but even if such data is ultimately proven wrong, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain (i.e., the thriving and survival of our species) by wearing them.
So why’s there an argument? Why aren’t we all onboard? Why are so many (straight, white) men on my Facebook page pledging daily and proudly to avoid mask-wearing? I point to two reasons:
- The Age of Trump.
Everything is a political football nowadays. Nothing is fit to be readily agreed upon. Our toxic leader has encouraged an atmosphere of arguing, one wherein Every Single Matter is ripe for debate, and the term “wedge issue” has become redundant; if it’s an issue, it’s a wedge issue. Gone are the days when it took abortion or gun control to tease out people’s more sensitive feelings. Now Anything and Everything Whatsoever teases them out, including Whether or Not It’s Good to Wear a Mask in a Pandemic.
2. A Crisis of Mas(k)ulinity.
Point 2 here of course ties right to 1. Trump’s appeal, in good part, is to traditional masculinity: brutish, coarse, hard, unemotional, unstudious, expedient, even self-destructive. Through the lens of this regressive masculinity, the left is working hard to turn all men into feminized sheep, dressed as ballerinas while prancing around the yard (I’m still not sure why this would be so bad!). As a result of this paranoid misconception, men are clinging to old notions of masculinity, ones that, in addition to being dated, are acutely lethal, now more so than ever.
“Toxic masculinity,” it’s been called. To which the right replies, missing the point entirely, “There’s nothing toxic about being masculine.” Of course there isn’t: Masculinity is powerful. Testosterone’s amazing. I love being a guy, from soup to (literal) nuts. Yet anything in excess can become toxic, including the masculinity we so love to worship. Masculinity, in its toxic iteration, fuels rape, domestic violence, and even suicide (the latter since men are conditioned to keep their emotions locked inside).
And we can now add refusing to wear masks to toxic masculinity’s list of achievements.
Masks look uncool, men say. We must be brave, men say. Caution is for sissies, they say. And they say things a lot less tasteful in the meantime.
To be sure, many women refuse masks, too. But the ethos that guides such behavior is masculine, pressed to its most toxic form. It’s a state of mind in which vulnerability is prohibited, the same state of mind that has us valuing our labor even when it stresses and/or kills us, or going out to barbecues even when the health authorities have urged us to stay inside.
What’s the secret to helping the invulnerable be vulnerable, or to making the uncaring care? I’m stumped on those, I’m afraid. To be sure, I’m largely vulnerable since I can seem threatening; if I didn’t already seem masculine in abundance, I’m pretty sure I’d have a hard time questioning masculinity’s pervasive narrative.
This is an emergency, however, so I will try:
Not all heroes wear capes, it is said. Right now, heroes wear masks, I say. At best, it is an act of generosity. At worst, it is an act of caution—or faith. No matter the hard truth in the mind of pure science, it is something that absolutely cannot harm us.
I’ll go further, so as to not just preach to the choir: I am hard, on the outside, as I have indicated. I can seem rather guarded. People generally don’t wish to mess with me. My eye contact can defuse tense situations. But none of those traits gained me my wife’s love. That came because I also tend to be open. I talk a great deal. I like getting into things. I like to feel and emote and exclaim and sometimes swoon and even cry.
That’s ‘cause vulnerability, I swear to you, is sexy. And sexy = sex = love = creation = LIFE.
Fellas: We don’t need the hard face you wield to scare off the world. We need that brave heart that you keep bottled up inside.