Freedom to be stupid | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Protective face mask stock photo

I wonder what it will take to make many Americans and other stubborn people wear a mask in public places in the midst of this pandemic. One would think that, with their rates of death and infection the highest and still rising, no one need remind them what to do.

It’s decidedly embarrassing that the Americans, with their reputation for the best doctors and scientists, in both practice and research, the best in emergency preparedness and the freest access to information and service, are the worst in handling the pandemic. The general excuse is that the pandemic has been made a political issue. But have the Americans lost the ability to think for themselves?

How did it happen that Americans feel their personal freedom threatened by the simple and indisputably proven act of wearing a mask? Sure, it’s not comfortable, but just as surely there are other freedoms worthier of standing up for. It’s certainly a stretch to think that one’s manhood is diminished by protecting oneself against this virus.

But as crazy and complicated as that sounds, that’s how the Americans must feel. Is their idea of machohood—standing up, unprotected, to spit in the virus’ face? This virus is not personal; it has no face, and the mask is a simple precautionary measure against a perfect virus getting to its perfect host—the human lung.

Common sense

The mask is the smartest and most accessible protection against a deadly airborne virus while a vaccine is still being developed. One wears it not just for one’s exclusive protection, which should be incentive enough, but for everyone else’s, including one’s own family at the end of the day. Wearing a mask does not at all indicate defeat or surrender or loss of freedom; it’s pure life-saving common sense.

I may have found a perfect analogy in an essay written by two professors of psychology, one from the University of Southern California, the other from Vanderbilt: “Your pipe under your kitchen sink springs a leak and you call in a plumber. A few days later you get a bill for $40. At the bottom is a note saying that if you don’t pay within 30 days there will be a 10-percent charge of $4.”

We are all too familiar with the language of statements of accounts, and we react negatively to its unpleasant tone; we feel a veiled threat. The two psychologists show us that, if the script were changed to say, “The charge will be $45, but, should you pay within 30 days, you get a rebate of 10 percent,” no negative feelings are aroused. The choices the creditor gives, though, remain the same. The two experts show that people feel freer when the choice is between two positive things, as offered in the second case.

Given a choice between two negatives, people are made anxious; they twist and turn looking for a more pleasant option, would have liked a more positive appeal from the creditor. Could a change in script help? Perhaps for some people, to the extent of the measure of common sense they have somehow retained.

It’s a mask, stupid!

A CNN ad shows one mask after another with an over-voice saying, “This is a mask. It is not a political statement, it’s a mask.” I’m almost tempted to add, “It’s a mask, stupid!”

Another ad shows several people wearing masks. “There’s something to be said about the one who wears a mask, but a lot more about the one who doesn’t.” I don’t know that the ad presents two positive choices to be effective; but, if it was the right ad for the purpose, it should work its magic and save lives.

As badly as our own national government is handling the pandemic, and given its abysmal credibility, everyone out on the streets wears a mask. I guess we know better, more deeply better in fact, than the spoiled Americans: We know the extent of the ineptness of our national government, and we feel we are left little choice other than to take care of ourselves. So, we do it in the easiest, simplest, most doable way: wearing a mask, distancing and quarantining. God help us if we had to rely completely on them!

What saves us is our local governments, in our case Makati, which deserves a story of its own.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.