by George Gilder
“Flying home this week, I received a serious warning from an attractive Alaska Airlines Flight Attendant. I smiled but she did not have a sense of humor to go with the buxom body I ogled in the absence of any way to see her face. I was told that I was seriously jeopardizing the safety of guests and employees by my failure to fully cover my nose with my face mask. The human brain is geared to respond to faces, but in the absence of faces, less refined mental responses arise.
I tried to explain that as an 80-year-old man, I use my nose to breathe. I guess I was feeling facially feisty, as an after-effect of my recent trip to Moscow, Idaho, where I was interviewed by Pastor Douglas Wilson on his Man Rampant interview show. His healthy congregation of 1,400 gathers unmasked, with Wilson maintaining that its worship services are a protest demonstration protected by the First Amendment. But “Man Rampant” or not, in these dark days, I do not recommend talking back to the healthcare nomenklatura.
Masks Don’t Stop the Virus: Alaska Airlines upholds the prevailing fiction that “wearing face coverings significantly reduces transmission of the COVID-19 virus.” To a virus thousands of times smaller than the mesh of a mask, a cloth appears like an immense lattice of large and completely open windows and doors. The cloth confines larger bacteria, aerosols, and sputum near receptive surfaces, such as your eyes, nose, and mouth and thus cultivates both mental and physical disease.
Its chief effect is to make politicians and bureaucrats feel important. A thorough study by Swiss researchers pored through dozens of peer-reviewed analyses on the impact of masks and found no significant benefits and several downsides. Oh well. Such evidence is no longer relevant in America. Almost utterly suppressed are the key facts in the central debate in our politics.
Comply or Else! Handing me an alarming yellow card, Alaska informed me: “This is your final notice to comply with our policy.” Reading on anxiously to determine whether I would be arrested on arrival at O’Hare or whether I might instead be cast out of the plane before landing, I learned my fate. “If you do not [comply], you will not be permitted to fly with us again, for as long as our policy remains in effect. This suspension will occur immediately on landing, and will include cancellation of any remaining portion of your itinerary (connecting and return flights).”
This may result in my confinement for 14 days in a quarantine near O’Hare, under the wanton violation of the interstate commerce clause by posturing governors playing their silly tit-for-tat games.
“Put Your Mask Back On!” The Alaska Airlines flight was rather full and several people wanted to shift seats in order to sit with their friends. But because of the masks these ordinarily routine negotiations were unsuccessful. Amid the noise of the plane, and missing the usual context of facial signals, people from different cultures could not understand what each other were saying or feeling.
One young Asian woman in an aisle seat took off her mask to make herself clearer to the young man in the window seat who was seeking to move. Under normal circumstances being addressed by a beautiful face would be a pleasant experience. But he recoiled, barking, “Put your mask back on!” The woman in front of her who was seeking to move next to the man at the window then turned around to join the fray. “Please put on your mask before you speak to me!” she exclaimed. By the time the plane took off no one was in their wanted seat and everyone was seething.
Call the Police! Later during the flight, the man in the window seat needed to get up to use the bathroom. The young woman on the aisle was plunged into a paralyzed state and seemed unable to move or speak. She just sat in a trance looking straight ahead through glazed eyes. He eventually called the flight attendants and they clumbsily, facelessly, forced her to move.
Greeting the Asian woman on arrival was a cluster of Chicago police, who, surrounded by faceless people speaking in a blurr, could not understand what had happened. The woman had disrupted the plane by removing her mask and later refusing to move. She was in the wrong, but it was an utterly unnecessary fiasco.
Put it down as another incident of mental illness, miscommunication, conflict, and resentment caused by the egregious overreach of politicians reducing their constituents to a faceless mass of fearful and fractious non-entities. But I don’t really blame Alaska Airlines, or the poor faceless flight attendants. It’s an effect of runaway media and power mad politicians gratuitously attacking a crucial dimension of the personal identity of fully healthy American citizens.
Masks and the Election: But the Democratic ticket seems to think mandatory mask-wearing is a winner. The mandate would end just after election day. I say that’s when a large majority of the electorate will remove their masks and reveal themselves as Trump voters.
But hey, I could be wrong. The U.S. population could be entirely demented and actually imagine that a mask with meshes a thousand times larger than a virus could fend off disease. But I think Americans are smarter than that. But it’s not just politicians that are mask crazy. Many of the smartest people in the world are falling for the COVID scam.
Cautionary – or Stupid? Nassim Nicholas Taleb is surely brilliant about nonlinearities, black swans, anti-fragility, compounding effects, and other mathematical phenomena. He has many arguments about the compounding and nonlinear gains of mask usage. But he is an upholder of the cautionary principle, which expounds the idea that any possibly existential threat (meteors, or plagues, or climate changes that might destroy human life) justifies any remedy.
Taleb previously regarded climate change, for example, as a possibly planetary threat that readily justifies a complete, vast and costly transformation of the energy economy. In other words, he recommends a succession of costly remedies for various theoretical threats. He does not grasp that a series of such remedies will reliably inflict a compounding paralysis on the world economy.
As smart as Taleb is, he is stupid about the cautionary principle. On the basis of the possible lethality of COVID, he justifies lockdowns and masks that collectively are causing a global depression. The likely result will be a vast spread of starvation, taking a likely 280 million lives according to the U.N.
Taleb may understand more than he confesses in his case for masks. He’s sealing off his own face in goggles. Taleb apparently knows that ordinary masks offer no assured benefits. He just hopes that they have enough effect so that with everyone wearing them, the benefits will compound into non-linear gains. I doubt it.
A Nation Without Faces: The human race has thrived, not through vast efforts to stop every notional catastrophe, on which few scientists agree, but through the systematic taking of entrepreneurial risks. It is freedom and creativity, not draconian mandates that ultimately protect humans from disaster.
A nation without faces cannot be free or civilized. A nation without faces cannot even talk to one another. We cannot rise to seek a common truth epitomized by the face of a unitary God. We are consigned to C.S. Lewis’s mythical nation of “Glome” in his novel “‘Till We Have Faces.” Glome is a barbaric, pre-Christian world, where the heroine learns that we cannot grasp the will of the gods or the nature of the universe, “till we have faces.” I’m just looking to the day when we can all have faces again.”
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