Wednesday 29 July 2020

Is Darwin smiling quietly?

Balancing the ‘rights’ of different individuals and groups is rarely straightforward, as the debate over mask-wearing demonstrates. At the heart of the problem is the point at which the exercise of rights by some threatens the rights of others, which is the underlying principle behind most of the laws under which we live. In the case of mask-wearing, it’s a clash between the ‘right’ not to wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces and the ‘right’ not to be infected by someone who may not even know that he or she is carrying the virus. The conflict between these two perspectives has been fairly minor in the UK to date but much more significant in the US, where many people (encouraged at times by their president) have chosen to believe that the coronavirus is some sort of hoax perpetrated by the ‘liberal elite’. And some of them have died as a result of that mistaken belief.
There are no simple solutions but the suggestion by Ann Widdecombe that shops should set aside specific times when non mask wearers could do their shopping is a spectacularly silly one. It’s a bit like allocating specific hours of the day when road users can choose on which side of the road they should drive, with no obligation to choose the same side as anyone else. And choose whether speed limits apply to them as well. And if their name is Cummings, drive with impaired eyesight. I can understand why it might seem theoretically OK to allow those who don’t care about getting infected (or simply choose not to believe in the existence of the virus, freedom of belief being another ‘right’) to congregate as they wish, in shops or anywhere else, if it was on their own heads alone. But it isn’t – so there must surely be caveats. Protecting shop workers is an obvious one. Infecting people who have agreed that they don’t care about being infected is one thing; infecting those who do care is quite another. And then there’s the health service and those who work in it, who might be expected to deal with those who end up catching the virus as a result of their own folly.
The source of the crazy suggestion highlights an interesting observation – a Venn diagram of mask-resisters and Brexiteers would show a significant overlap in the UK, as would a similar diagram of Trump supporters and mask-resisters in the US (and we could probably throw in anti-vaxxers and creationists as well in their case). I can’t help but wonder whether Charles Darwin wouldn’t see all this as some sort of proof of the veracity of his theory. That raises another question in my mind, though: whilst we might want to protect others from the effect of the choices made by the deniers, to what extent should we protect deniers like Widdecombe from the Darwinian impact of their own choices?


dafis said...

Ann W has been a crumbling physical wreck for years, now it seems her head's gone too.She was always a bit of a rebel when within the Tory party which chimed well with many outside that party as she exposed some of its ridiculous divides within. Ever since she upped sticks and joined the Farage circus she has adopted (or morphed into) a more outlandish creature prepared to quarrel with anyone but seldom offering any alternative argument worthy of heeding.

So in her case, Brexiteer = antimask/herd immunity advocate = nut job. Not unique, but not a general rule either.

Spirit of BME said...

Ah, Venn diagrams, how often did I have discussions with young bright things that presented these things at meetings.
I have seen discussion about seeing this issue through the Brexit/Remainer lens, but I have viewed that as a natural outcome of the grieving process.
At the start of this bit of bother, SAGE came out with a statement that the science around masks was 'weak', they have not updated that, and the Dutch government confirmed the same thing last week. But, governments have moved on apace and are now situating everything about the message and this started only weeks from the onset ,when the data on deaths was amended and then tortured in order to fit the graphs and message they wanted to project.
The Boy Johnsons declaration that everybody in England should wear a mask when shopping now supposes that suddenly masks work!!?,but I fear the decision is from Uncle Joe Gobbles playbook ,where a daily ritual ,like putting on a mask triggers the fear factor and also sends a signal of heard acceptance, like giving the National Socialist salute. The same was done in this realm at the start of the last unpleasantness with Germany ,when people had to carry gas masks ,when you could be living on the West Coast of Wales out of range of bombers in a constant force eight gale. The success of these measures is quite brilliant.
Most people adhere to these rules as they are now totally compliant with the propaganda and those who do not, range from the reckless (rave parties and large gatherings) to those who through some process have reached a different conclusion.

John Dixon said...


On the specific issue of mask wearing, I agree that the scientific evidence seems to be, at best, mixed. It's a bit like economics, in that both sides of the argument can produce tame experts to explain why they are 'right', leaving the layman to decide whom to believe. I take the rather simplistic view that if I get it wrong, I'm more likely to live to regret wearing one than to regret not wearing one. The problem is that the effectiveness, such as it is, is more about protecting others from the wearer than protecting the wearer from others. Those who insist that they have the 'right' not to comply are also effectively insisting that they have the 'right' to infect others.

On the more generic issue, I agree that fear is an effective way of controlling the masses, and that generally governments like to control the masses. I'm not sure that your analysis is entirely on target in this case though - having created mass fear at the time of the lockdown, the government seems to me to be trying very hard to dispel that fear now, rather than play on it. In the process, they are discovering just how effective fear can be - in this case rather more effective than they now desire.