(A Special Report Series)
For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all…— Aristotle, Politics, p. 4
To Mask or Not to Mask Isn’t The Question
Recently the fight over wearing face masks has taken a volatile turn in the United States and parts of Europe.1,2 By no means is this an attempt to defend a specific position concerning the wearing of or not wearing of masks. One should wear a mask when appropriate, but failing to grasp the ramifications over what masks and other compliances mean short-term and long-term concerning societal wellbeing, beyond the fight against the virus itself, is a fair question.
Significant social cues have abruptly ended along with the daily habits of millions due to Covid-19. Tensions are high causing emotional distress. Asking questions concerning social distancing, medical freedom, individual rights, child development, and elderly care are all pertinent. Sudden changes that turn into months and now possibly years has already had an impact on the human psyche that requires consideration.,, 3,4,5
Not to imply a slippery slope, though some slopes are truly slippery, however the lifeblood of an open society is the ability for individuals to question and consider issues publicly without the fear of harm. Present circumstances have eroded public discourses into a narrow funnel. Under that erosion lies a far deeper issue of cultural and political dismembering.
Dysphoria has nestled itself at the hight of an incoming election, riots, international upheaval, and Covid-19. Disconcerting is the apparent failure of societal coping skills between individuals and their differences of opinion in a time of crisis.
Magnifying societal woes is group polarization6 caused by identity politics7,8, pertinent to both political spectrums (left and right)9,10, that are now spilling over into seemingly normative and moral behaviors. Human identity—race, sex, gender, age, and even religious beliefs—has become poignant in the political arena. In direct relation to the political upheaval, individuals failing to wear a mask or disagreeing with a specific consensus relating to Covid-19 are being treated as a threat to the community at large. These individuals are automatically grouped as racist Trump supporters. Alternatively people who heed the advice of authorities are grouped as socialist liberals or subservient to a larger conspiracy. No one seems capable of escaping the madness.
While the virus is of serious concern it is the brittle polarized environment that has been intensified due to the virus not the opposite. Plagues, economic downturns, and natural disasters have historically influenced events outside their immediate danger. Covid-19 is nature’s latest case affecting political fracturing.
Take for example a video that appeared on the internet of a man in Florida at a Costco’s.11 In the video the white male in question is seen wrongfully screaming at an elderly woman who demanded that the man put on a mask. All of which was recorded by a second individual who ironically seeks to remain anonymous but posted the video on their Twitter account (now private). That anonymous individual video was discovered by the filmmaker Billy Corben. Corben then reposted the video on Twitter for millions to watch. Shaun King, a writer and Black Lives Matter activist, took attention to the Twitter post via Facebook demanding for the name and whereabouts of the man’s job along with these comments12:
A grown conservative man-baby FLIPS OUT on an elderly woman working at Costco in Fort Myers, Florida because he was asked to wear a mask.
1. The coronavirus is now SOARING in Florida. 41 ICU’s there are now at maximum capacity.
2. What he’s doing, yelling with his mouth wide open is literally how it spreads.
3. That shirt he has on, “running the world since 1776” is popular in white supremacists circles.
4. For all the talk that conservatives have about how sensitive liberals are, NOBODY flips out easier than conservatives.
5. This man might be on steroids.
To be clear, I do not know Shaun King, Billy Corben, or those involved in the video but I do believe that with much power, comes much responsibility. A principle that applies to everyone. Yelling at the elderly woman was unequivocally wrong, but equally wrong was the anonymous individual posting the incident for all to see, Croben reposting the video for millions to watch, and King inappropriately went after the man and his livelihood. Abuse of power is never an exception to the rule. People make honest mistakes and in these times there will be plenty. Yes, actions do have consequences, however, mob rule is not justice but thuggery.
Enhanced by an unfortunate abuse of technology, Cancel Culture as it is appropriately termed, perverts past wrongs into perpetual guilt, a guilt that oftentimes needs to be kept private not made public. Failing to forgive and forget are redemptive qualities that Cancel Culture subverts. How a person uses technology against another individual matters. A simple photo can be taken out of context. Or in this case a video was used to go after a man by the rule and rules of the masses.
My criticism is not a judgement of King’s or Corben’s character but a firm reminder to any authority wielding power over those who have little can quickly turn into an abuse of power. Furthermore when mobs rule the day, bending the rules to their will, a free society suffers. The man in the video lost his job all the while publicly ridiculed and dehumanized. When did the American Revolution of 1776 became a white supremacist roll call? And King under no circumstance knew the man in question yet assumed he was a conservative then proceeded to treat all conservatives as the same.
There was once a fine line in American politics between constructive differences of opinion versus personal threats. Now the quest for Identity has produced a warring atmosphere that erased such distinctions. A Us vs Them13 collective mentality rules the day. Hopefully the man apologized yet sadly he learned his lesson at a great unnecessary cost. And it should go without saying but I hope that the elderly woman is doing well.
Mob rule means a collective identity group must win. Mob rules serve the interests of that collective. Liberty and her institutions are being tested by this eruptive behavior, serving as a reminder that when pure rage is the predicate for judgement, tyranny is never far behind. What comes next will be decided by the public will for civility or lack thereof. Humanity itself may not only end up alone but alone with no way out.
Coming up Part 2: Mob Mentality and the Presidency of Donald Trump
1 Aratani, Lauren. (2020, June 29). How did face masks become a political issue in America? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/29/face-masks-us-politics-coronavirus
2 BBC. (2020, August 1). Coronavirus: Thousands protest in Germany against restrictions. BBC World News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53622797
3 Dubey, S., Biswas, P., Ghosh, R., Chatterjee, S., Dubey, M. J., Chatterjee, S., Lahiri, D., & Lavie, C. J. (2020). Psychosocial impact of COVID-19. Diabetes & metabolic syndrome, 14(5), 779–788. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsx.2020.05.035. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7255207/)
4 Cao, W., Fang, Z., Hou, G., Han, M., Xu, X., Dong, J., & Zheng, J. (2020). The psychological impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on college students in China. Psychiatry research, 287, 112934. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.112934 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7102633/)
5 Lorenzo Moccia, Delfina Janiri, Maria Pepe, Luigi Dattoli, Marzia Molinaro, Valentina De Martin, Daniela Chieffo, Luigi Janiri, Andrea Fiorillo, Gabriele Sani, Marco Di Nicola,Affective temperament, attachment style, and the psychological impact of the COVID-19 outbreak: an early report on the Italian general population, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, Volume 87, 2020, Pages 75-79, ISSN 0889-1591, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2020.04.048. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159120305869)
6 Sunstein, Cass. (2009). Going to Extreme: How Like Minds Unite and Divide. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.
7 Brewer, M. (2001). The Many Faces of Social Identity: Implications for Political Psychology. Political Psychology, 22(1), 115-125. http://www.jstor.org/stable/ 3791908
8 Fukuyama, Francis. (2018). Identity: The Demand For Dignity and The Politics of Resentment. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Guroux.
9 Baysal, Nur. (2018). Reject the identity politics of the alt-Right and the control-Left. Foundation for Economic Education. https://fee.org/articles/reject-the-identity- politics-of-the-alt-right-and-the-control-left/
10 Hawley, George. (2018). The Demography of the Alt-Right. Institute for Family Studies. https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-demography-of-the-alt-right
11 Griffith, Janelle. (2020, July 8). ‘I feel threatened’: Unmasked Florida man’s viral Costco outburst cost him his job. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/i-feel-threatened-unmasked-florida-man-s-viral-costco-outburst-n1233161
12 King, Shaun. (2020, July 7). Please tell me this man’s name. Today. Where does he work? [Video attached] [Status post]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/shaunking/posts/3296132053759023
13 Lukianoff, Greg., Haidt, Jonathan. (2018). The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up A Generation For Failure. New York, NY: Penguin Press.