No Mask, No Vax, No Problem


You don’t blame the neighborhood cats for barking. Barking is a dog problem and one that seems to spread with little encouragement. When one canine begins the nightly recitation, it’s as if all dogs within earshot cannot help but joint the expanding chorus. I can’t claim to know much about Islam or Judaism. I can say that the madness of crowds appears to be an especial susceptibility amongst Christianity. They have just enough political clout and a sense of inter-denominational solidarity that when one pundit, priest, or pastor makes sufficient noise–though it sound like irrational barking to other, highly evolved primates–the reactionary minds within range tend to pick up the refrain. Like ripples on the water, it spreads amongst those too conditioned in their reactionary tendencies to critically assess what the barking even means. They see neither the irony of the “dog whistles” to which they lend their voice and their vote, nor of their own theocratic positions that lie just a bit further down the slippery slopes of their own cognitive bias.

As Christopher Hitchens once said, “[Their] sail [is] so raised as to be ballooned by any bullshit that [blows] by.”

Yes, I suffer from this affliction as well. Just like the tendency to bark in response to barking, irrationality is a characteristic of the human species. However, I believe it is one tendency we are intelligent and compassionate enough to be capable of outgrowing or, even better, inoculating from the species while they remain impressionably young.

Speaking of inoculations: I currently sit in a coffee shop named after the owner’s Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I like this cozy, small town coffee shop. I find the energy of coffee shops creatively stimulating. Not quite so sterile as a library. Not so lonely as my empty home. People come and go and speak of things trivial and things paramount. I can tune out the din with noise-cancelling headphones and still experience the caffeine-perpetuated buoyancy. I often seek out coffee shops when I write. This one has become not only an easy choice by proximity, but one I’m accustomed to such that, when I enter, my brain easily settles into a mindset conducive to writing. I have a few other shops I’ve gravitated to over the years. One closed during the pandemic. Another seems to have survived. But, this may be my last visit to this particular shop and, regrettably, I find myself in a state of mourning.

When I entered today, I found a familiar notice on the front window. By direction of the state and local government, masks are mandated in public areas to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Interestingly, the first paper they have displayed is a general order from the city government. We are a town that straddles two counties, one of them happens to be the “liberal” bastion of Boulder, Colorado. So, the shop owners, on their second, displayed paper, blame Boulder for the mask mandate when the order they list, clearly states that it comes from the city of Erie government. (I tried to avoid revealing my city. Well, here we are. If anyone who wanted to know actually reads my blog, it will be hard to keep my identity secret now.)

Two slippery slopes easy to identify.

First: concern about overreach of local government. A close friend and brilliant political mind, when asked by me, replied that he felt our interests were usually best represented by the smaller, local governments. That mobility allowed someone to change their location geographically, when they felt their local government no longer represented their interests. That doesn’t excuse real overreach by government of any size. What I do find confusing is where someone’s liberty is being undermined. How does mandating mask use in public, for Mr. Franklin’s ill-applied caution regarding safety, harm anyone? My profession wears masks all day, anyway. Aside from a bit of acne, it seems to have negligible ill-effect on anyone. And acne is not an infectious disease I can spread just by breathing.

I don’t like the idea that someone should have to move if they feel oppressed. But I don’t see how masks are oppressive. Turn on the Christian and political right’s entertainment network, Fox News, or simply tune into a conversation at a coffee shop named after Jesus, and you’ll hear the pundits and citizens tell immigrants, “If you don’t like our laws, go back where you came from.” For how much support American Christians offer to Israel, would they tell the Israeli’s to leave Palestine if they don’t like how local politics functions? They are the immigrants, after all.

Masks are not some tenet of Shariah. Immigrants are not coming to America and claiming that a neighborhood should be allowed to forgo mask mandates in public spaces because of their religion. Yet, here we have some fanatical blowhards, taking up the neighborhood bark that, somehow, a equitably enforced mask mandate, without preference for any ethnic or religious group, is the equivalent of Nazi propaganda and practice. When someone says that only Christians must wear masks in public, I’ll consider the parallel and, likely, come vociferously to your defense. Until then, stop barking.

On top of that, consider a law passed in France in 2010 that prohibited the wearing of face coverings in public. The direct result was an infringement of the rights of Muslim women from wearing the full burqa as mandated by their faith. In effect, the “mandate” prevented those who wanted to be free to practice their faith, from leaving their homes. Like a mask mandate to slow the spread of coronavirus, people who did not want to break the law became confined to their homes, significantly restricting their freedom. I remember the discourse amongst my Christian friends and family (including myself at the time) that we wished there were a similar law in the United States to restrict Muslim women from wearing face coverings in public. Like the the European Court of Human Rights, we accepted the argument that the such a law promoted “a certain idea of living together.” Religious freedom meant something for us, but we would not extend it to them? Like J.S. Mill said regarding the freedom of speech, if it is not for the other person, it is not freedom. “The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.”

Perhaps I should be willing to include a person’s right NOT to wear a mask in public. Despite what the coffee shops own notice stated, the workers were NOT wearing masks. I was the only one wearing a mask for much of the time I was there. I did “get looks” and I didn’t care. I do care that people seem unwilling to make a simple choice that does benefit others in their community. Their freedom not to wear a mask is fine, I’ll simply do as capitalists do and take my business elsewhere. But what freedoms would these people NOT tolerate from me? Which brings me to my second point.

The devoted Christians who own and operate this establishment would immediately call the cops if I insisted upon sitting in their establishment in the nude. No shirt, no shoes, no service. The evangelicals and other Christian fundamentalists LOVE public decency laws. Why? “To protect the children.” Or, as the owners of this coffee shop said, “For [others] safety.” They would legislate burqa-like shrouds for women in public (many in private as well) if they could name them something appropriately Christian in the process to avoid sounding like hypocrites. (Catholics have habits but evangelicals may need their own terminology.) Shoulders are pornography as is a hint of cleavage. Women are made responsible for how men think about them. Each person, especially every woman, becomes responsible for protecting the virtue of the populace by being forced to wear mandated minimums of clothing.

This is a strange, slippery slope where clothing may be mandated for public decency and restricted for a particular religious group in the name of public safety and is oddly consistent with their parents’ stories of walking “uphill both ways” to school. Except, these Christians don’t seem to walk to school anymore, and it shows. A healthy dose of church every day and worship at the altar of Fox News keeps them immune to the devilry of charitably wearing masks to protect others. Masks protect us but, more so, they protect others from us. Additionally, my Christian friends seem to have lied about being barefoot on their cold, uphill trudge to school. Being shoe-less wouldn’t fit into their public decency mandates for shirts and shoes.

Think about this: they ardently support mandates for a women to wear a shirt in public lest her exposed breasts pose a threat to the public good. They do NOT think the same applies to a microscopic virus that has already killed over 800,000 people in the U.S. That’s the entire population of South Dakota completely wiped out in under two years. The difference that ought to be obvious to the nudity police is that a person can close their eyes or avert them to avoid looking at a shirtless woman if they find the view offensive. What we are unable to do is hold our breath in the presence of contagious diseases suspended in the very air upon which we depend for the next sixty seconds merely to remain alive.

A close family member has recently inundated my email inbox with conspiracy theories. I’m making an effort to be open-minded and evaluate what I other consider worthwhile information. But opening and reading those emails is like watching a horrible car accident. I want to look away but find my eyes, for once, without the need to blink for a time. I’m a bit of a prisoner to my past. Too much of my life was spent calling everything that challenged my beliefs a lie and everyone who challenged them a liar. I disregarded anything and everything for for 34 years and, because I listened in church, claimed I was informed and unbiased. Well, I listened to the video provided in the email and heard the same, tired line about how infectious disease spread has little to do with masks or vaccines and more to do with host theory. (I posted about a confrontation with my chiropractor on the very subject some time ago.) It turns out that the people who question germ theory don’t understand what they claim to disagree with. Germ theory includes the understanding that the future, infected host must be susceptible to the infectious disease.

Like the Immaculate Conception for Catholics or just about any controversial subject in Mormonism, the adherents know so little about what they don’t believe and claim to be a lie, and they know even less about what they do believe and upon which they stake their lives. They take the barking dog line that “humans didn’t evolve from monkeys” and repeat it as if this is the absolute refutation of Evolution by Natural Selection. They are right that humans didn’t evolve from monkeys or even chimpanzees. They are wrong because they think that is exactly what Evolution postulates. They don’t understand the very basics of a theory they claim to be false.

I was speaking with a close family member last week when the subject of alcoholic beverages came up. This person and their children, all devout Mormons, questioned why someone would drink alcohol. I responded that even Jesus made water into wine for a wedding (over 900 bottles worth with much of it left to spare) and that Joseph Smith requested it during his imprisonment at Carthage Jail and for the express purpose of calming his nerves. The adult in the conversation scoffed and said, “Why would he drink wine then? He refused it as a boy for his leg surgery?”

Under the weight of this air-tight logic, I realized I had to find a good resource. First, it had to be accurate and, for the other person’s sake, had to come from a non-biased source like from the LDS church itself. Luckily, it took only a short web search to find the I had to find a BYU site with the story published. BYU Studies, a part of published regarding this incident in a lesson manual. Everyone in the LDS church knows that John Taylor, one of the men that shared the jail cell with Joseph, was asked to sing A Poor Wayfairing Man of Grief. The don’t question that story. But, though it comes from the same account and in the same paragraph that reported the singing, they are quick to call into question the “Prophet’s” request for wine.

Sometime after dinner we sent for some wine. It has been reported by some that this was taken as a sacrament. It was no such thing; our spirits were generally dull and heavy, and it was sent for to revive us. I think it was Captain Jones who went after it, but they would not suffer him to return. I believe we all drank of the wine, and gave some to one or two of the prison guards. We all of us felt unusually dull and languid, with a remarkable depression of spirits. In consonance with those feelings I sang a song, that had lately been introduced into Nauvoo, entitled, ‘A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief’, etc.

Take up the tune of the barking, neighborhood dogs. Any barking you’ve never heard before or that doesn’t fit the accustomed din, must be rejected and it’s speaker called a cat. There is no incentive to research the entirety of the facts when your leadership carefully crafts the narrative and you’ve been convinced that no one else has better intentions than they.

I’m often wrong and some readers will potentially point out those points of which I’m mistaken. Last night my Fox News-loving mother pointed out that liberals had been anti-vax prior to the election. I didn’t remember hearing that so I challenged her to send me references. She balked and said that she’d “just heard it.” A five-minute or less search at home found several sources that would seem to corroborate her assertion. But, upon reading the actual quotes from liberal politicians, I can see that they are easily spun for conservative political talking points. While there was skepticism among democratic leaders prior to the election, it was a wariness of Donald Trump’s motives and support for a vaccine in-the-face of the expertise of doctors and scientists.

While Mormons, at large, seem to be hell-bent on supporting a person’s freedom from wearing a mask, consider that Utah has charged individuals with “lewd conduct” for being topless in their own home. They wouldn’t sue a parent for failing to cover their face and, as a result, infecting their child with COVID that ultimately led to the child’s death–as unlikely as that outcome may be. But if your step child accidentally sees your breasts, you can be held criminally liable. Her husband, also without a shirt, was not charged with a crime. The death of a child to COVID is a tragedy. Their eyes seeing a boob is a crime.

I’m trying to be alert to the barking I take up by reflex. I’ve been indoctrinated to bark and even though my paradigm has substantially changed, the urge to join a chorus has not been inoculated from me entirely. It likely never will be. But the simplest solution is, in this day and age of instant information, available at our finger tips. Look for the original source before you start barking.