Would you find a politically-charged controversy about looking both ways before crossing the street perplexing? Would you be puzzled by its polarizing by political party, with finger-pointing across the aisle? Would you wonder what law (on the most lawed-upon people the world has ever known) might change things?

That is what is happening in the mask-in-the-pandemic debate (actually, incredibly, the Democrats do have a point here). Surely, it can be said in this environment of information saturation: everyone not living in a cave knows they need to mask. Those not wearing them are simply not listening, they are refusing to look both ways, and are getting hit by COVID.

Working as a paramedic in the pandemic, I have, more than once pronounced someone dead of presumed COVID, in their home, and then carefully explained to their roommates what had happened and how they need to wash everything from stem to stern. I’ve made a show of going over to their sink and washing with dish soap: “lather up for a minimum of twenty seconds, and that will kill the virus. That’s how I survive.” I don’t recall that a single one of them listened to me. My partners accuse me of just liking to hear the sound of my own voice too much, since (jaded) they take the deaf-to-it as a granted (the ‘college try’ is the ethical requirement, so I do it).

It shocked me when I first became a public servant, having grown up in a highly functional environment, that there are huge numbers of people who will simply not do what they have to. They will not take their medications like they should. Functional people grossly underestimate this aspect of all of our social problems. These kinds of patient will end up with out-of-control high blood pressure for failing to simply pop a pill in their mouths. They will not notice, much less care, that they expect me, and the doctors (and the taxpayers) to fix if for them.

They will wheelie their motorcycles at speed, with no helmet. If they dash their heads to the pavement, you and I will be eligible to pay hundreds of thousands a year for their brain trauma rehab.

But we have no better way of making them helmet up than in making them mask up. Unpaid tickets evolve into warrants, which turn into arrests, with subsequent forfeiture of future. Huge numbers of people are simply not paying their tickets (1.2 million in Brooklyn alone!?!?). The police officer friend of mine who “spoke” to this blog’s readers thinks about eighty percent of the community he polices has such an outstanding warrant. But, this community knows of NYC’s habit of harvesting them for revenue (a practice doubled-down on by our “progressive” Mayor), so nobody should be surprised about the cultural breakdown. It rhymes with the old Soviet aphorism: “they pretend to uphold the law, we pretend it’s real law” (“we pretend to work, they pretend to pay us”).

Cultural breakdown: on the other hand, it is incredible that we can have arguments in good faith about the implications of such over-policing while we paradoxically have to wrestle with the fact that huge segments of our society are utterly recalcitrant about wearing masks during a pandemic. This is not what self-regulated, autonomous citizens of a country of limited government do.

None of this is at all new: sneeze before a Victorian without producing your kerchief and you will be out of their salon. Your grandparents, and their grandparents, and the grandparents before, will fuss at anyone sneezing or coughing without covering. These are the basic manners everyone learns at the earliest possible age, like not picking your nose at the dinner table.

We now have an unnecessarily continuing pandemic that will continue to collapse our economy, for God knows how long, because a formerly self-regulating free people insist they now have the right to rut their boogers at a banquet under worldwide scrutiny, and ‘nobody can tell us different.’ ICU workups for COVID are about as costly as an average house, which you and I will have to pay for.

I, personally, have seen more mortality from COVID than the entire nation of Taiwan.

It’s the same virus. The disparity of the outcomes across the two peoples entirely cultural, and can be reduced to: Taiwanese practice basic manners and courtesies, Americans largely refuse them. All of our lines of grandparents are dead, and can’t properly dress us down as the mannerless savages we have evolved into.

Both parties have a point in our punishment policies, in a photo-negative of both arguments, Yin-and-Yang kind of way (which is why we can make no progress finding the “right” answer to questions both sides are right on): yes, it’s wrong that you and I will pay for the follies of others, whether for brain rehab, or when they go on a on a vent for COVID, and yes, putting people in jail and erasing their futures for their own good is folly just as foul.

Our culture has lost its crucial tools for mitigating this dilemma. Once, matters of incremental behavior modification were the remit of the church, the community, and most-importantly the family. Social stigma was once a thing, with grave implications for violators. With these tools dying (70% of children in our worse-off communities come from broken families), we have very poor ones remaining for correcting bad, but not really criminal, behavior. Treating all this as true criminality is a nuclear option (which you and I will pay for too, with the people ruined and poor). Quite the corner we’ve painted ourselves into.

The American culture has also lost the evolutionary loop that all rights come from responsibility and accountability. We have no prayer of solving the issue of over-criminalized drug abuse, say, if people are then able to use all the drugs they want and the payers have an unlimited liability in subsidizing their follies. At some point, the payers will insist on a say in how their money is spent, and it will be back to using the police to make that “say,” since only the nuclear options of behavior modification have replaced the incremental, calibrated ones. It will be back to caging, then paying, the greatest numbers of dysfunctional people on the planet.

“Refused to wear a mask, unlike everyone else in the world,” might just be our civilization’s epitaph, since it’s an open question whether our service-oriented economy can correctly adapt itself to the effects of the pandemic.

Take it from me, who has treated, and has been exposed to, more COVID than anyone you are likely to know of (and protected by being obsessively masked):


Eugene Darden Nicholas

About Eugene Darden Nicholas

Eugene Darden (Ed) Nicholas is from Flushing Queens, where he grew up sheltered from the hard world, learning the true things after graduating college and becoming a paramedic in Harlem. School continues to inform and entertain in all its true, Shakespearean glory. It's a lot of fun, really. In that career, dozens of people walk the earth now who would not be otherwise. (The number depends on how literally or figuratively you choose to add). He added a beloved wife to his little family, which is healthy. He is also well blessed in friends and colleagues.


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