Masks as magical thinking
The history of mankind is, for the most part, that of ignorant pagans dutifully agreeing with whatever a group of priests told them was true. The priests would attribute divine wisdom and power to a force of nature and claim to speak for it. "The rain god is angry," the priests would admonish the people, "so give us the crops you grew." The people would nod their heads knowingly and obey.
When plague strikes, the people were particularly attentive to their priests to hear how to please the gods and avoid death. The 21st century is not different. Today, however, they call their priests "scientists" and one of their gods "government." The priests/scientists have stated that we have been greedy and created too much carbon dioxide. To save ourselves from the plague, the gods/government command that we wear a mask.
The common man claims to believe in science. In reality, he believes in scientists. There is a very big difference. If he believed in science, then he would critically weigh the theories and conclusions presented to him against a body of producible facts and repeatable experiments. The common man does not do this. He simply takes the words of the priest/scientists as truth, especially when the words are blessed by the gods/government.
Science is not ignorant superstition, but the common man's belief in science is. Believe I am wrong? Ask someone to explain the scientific principle. The majority will not be able. For those who do know the scientific principle, ask them if and how they applied it to the matter at hand. You will get a great deal of sputtering and righteous indignation. They heard it on the news or read it on the internet. "Everyone knows it's true," they will declare to you with religious certainty. "The scientists all agree."
Believing in science does not mean accepting anything a scientist says. Quite the opposite. The scientific principle means being skeptical. A scientist has to prove that he is correct. By the way, and this is important, computer models are not proof.
There is no scientific proof that the general population wearing cloth masks in public, with no training in how to properly clean and handle such masks, has in any way decreased, let alone prevented, the spread of the Wuhan virus. I defy anyone to prove me wrong. More importantly, I defy anyone who is so adamant that people wear masks for safety to tell me he reviewed any such proof before they became so adamant.
I have seen articles quoting scientists and doctors. I have heard anecdotal evidence. I have heard logical arguments for a policy of public masks and against it. I have read scientific papers that show correlation by country between public mask policies and lower infection rates. I have read papers that show no such correlation. I also know that correlation is not the same as causation. What I have not seen is proof.
The common man's zealotry for masks does not come from rigorous scientific analysis. Instead, it comes from baser forces. For the most part, it seems to come from a sincere desire to do what is right. For a subset, it comes from a desire to feel better about himself by doing something he believes is right or important. For an even smaller subset, it is about being perceived by others as a better person. The English word for the latter is "sanctimonious," or in the vernacular, "Karen."
The common man's belief that masks are effective is based in magical thinking. More specifically, it is cargo cult thinking. "Cargo cult" is a term used to describe the behavior anthropologists observed in Polynesia after the Second World War. The natives called all the manufactured goods the Americans brought "cargo." The cargo came on planes. When the Americans abruptly left the islands, the natives mimicked the behavior of the ground crews on the runway in the belief that their actions would magically make the airplanes come back with more cargo.
The common man has seen doctors and nurses. He has seen that doctors and nurses wear masks when working with patients. What he has not seen is the training and discipline that doctors and nurses apply to those masks to assure that they are sterile and thereby effective. The common man is wearing the same dirty mask in public for days, touching it and adjusting it with his unsterilized hands and laying it on the counter or shoving it in his pocket when he is done. He might as well climb into a tree and wave palm leaves to have planes bring him cola and chocolate.
Everyone is entitled to his own personal beliefs. I only ask that people be self-aware enough to distinguish between a personal belief and scientific fact. If I am about to fall off a ledge, by all means, lecture me on the law of gravity. On the other hand, if I am about to walk down the sidewalk without a mask, please keep your personal beliefs to yourself.
Image credit: Pixabay public domain