Why do I become so upset when people tell me to put a mask on?
There is this sickening mixture of technocracy and authoritarianism about how some authority figures are treating others. It is this behavior which is harmful to the soul and is thus offensive to my mind. To be clear, the authoritarian technocratic actions to which I speak are actions rooted in an underlying assumption that the state selected experts know best12. The underpinnings of this assumption of superiority, as best I can tell, stems from a certain determinism about human beings — that people should not be trusted to make decisions if it can be avoided; That the state should have the right to help prod or compel the right choice as defined by experts from people if the decision in question is important enough. And again, this is because humans are not to be trusted if they don’t have to be3.
But even if this is the case, why would that offend me? After all, who has not at some point found fellow humans detestable and unreliable. Who has not at some point even failed to trust themselves!
Immediately my mind goes to human free will and the right to choose. Despite science’s best efforts, we have been unable to fully grasp why it is and how it has occurred that humans are so uniquely self-conscious4. I am not talking about intelligence, which in fact is a shared attribute with many animals. I mean the inexplicable awareness of our own Being, our own existence. Humans are the only creatures to ever learn that we can routinely sacrifice immediate satisfaction for a larger payout in the future. This idea of bargaining for our futures is in no small way a building block of our civilizations on this planet. And seeing that it has worked so well for us, this unique attribute of consciousness takes on an almost sacred quality; or in the works of the Biblical Old Testament: “made in God’s image”; “a touch of the divine”5.
Going back to my initial question, why the frustration with the mask? By authorities enforcing or expecting obedience, it insults our divine nature6. Who are they to understand our circumstances? Who are they to know better than us the decisions we ought to make?
Many make the claim that the masses are uneducated and therefore this is a silly and wrong line of reasoning. Even some of the founding figures in American history thought as much7. While I agree that the masses are ignorant and sometimes foolish, I do not see that as grounds for dismissal of my argument. These so-called foolish people built society. These people are the ones that keep the wheels of industry and economy moving forward. Let us not forget to point out that the masses have never been more educated in the history of the world. Access to information has never been easier nor more convenient. The average education level is higher than it has ever been. The education required to work qualified jobs has never been higher.
If we trusted the ignorant masses to dredge society out of the dark ages of 1200 A.D., or to wage a world war against perpetrators of genocide, how then can we now strip them of that trust in this most recent, post modern era?
Two reasons seem apparent to me:
A. Simple hypocrisy — individuals manifesting authoritarian qualities during this pandemic know full well that people should have the right to a choice in this matter. Thus they have simply decided to use their authority either because it is the easiest choice and requires no trust, or because it is done out of a perverse motivation, malicious or otherwise.
B. There has been a shift in people’s philosophies — “A touch of the divine” is now too traditional to be taken seriously. When religion was debunked and stripped from people’s life structure at the advent of modernization, we chose to forget such phrases8. Perhaps we never even had a divine spark to begin with. Perhaps, we are not special on this planet, maybe even just animals. And if we are just animals, there are no boundaries that need to be respected in the first place — simply the powerful preying on the weak.
Both of these reasons are appalling or even frightening to me. Perhaps some of my anger is the result of fear that these principles will expand to control even more decision making in our society. Perhaps it is offensive to me to see anyone treating me in a way that confirms their underlying assumptions about who I am as an individual.
It seems to me that protesters of the stay-at-home orders are feeling this same issue, though perhaps in not such an articulated manner. They feel something is wrong with the way in which this virus has been handled. Thus they choose to protest these commands by the state. If this is their motivation, then I applaud their bravery to step out into the unknown of their own minds. They have chosen to speak up before they can even articulate why. To me, that is an act of faith (again perhaps I am too antiquated)
Let us all just hope that such deterministic assumptions about human behavior does not become the norm. If it does, I worry we might lose the very part of ourselves that makes us special.
- “Technocracy.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/technocracy
- “Authoritarian.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/authoritarian.
- Berndt, Ernst R. “FROM TECHNOCRACY TO NET ENERGY ANALYSIS: ENGINEERS, ECONOMISTS AND RECURRING ENERGY THEORIES OF VALUE.” Dspace.mit.edu, Sept. 1982, dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/2023/SWP-1353-09057784.pdf.
- Burkeman, Oliver. “Why Can’t the World’s Greatest Minds Solve the Mystery of Consciousness? | Oliver Burkeman.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 Jan. 2015, www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/21/-sp-why-cant-worlds-greatest-minds-solve-mystery-consciousness.
- The Bible. Authorized King James Version, Oxford UP, 1998.
- Executive Order. No. 2020-59, 2020, p. 1.
- “Are We Smart Enough for Democracy?” Hoover Institution, www.hoover.org/research/are-we-smart-enough-democracy.
- Nietzsche, Friedrich W, and Walter Kaufmann. Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None. New York: Modern Library, 1995. Print.