Tuesday 14 July 2020

Face Mask Panic and Right Wing Whingeing

Wade into the shallows of social media today and you will find the thick mud of bleating and whingeing sucking at your feet. The cause is not the excess death count, now accumulating at well over 65,000 for the UK. Nor the worries about an economy in the toilet and attracting meagre, unfocused help from the government. What has united the right and had a few attention-seeking Tories tearing up their membership cards are masks.

As liberties go, the government's insistence people should wear face masks when entering shops is hardly up there with 90 day detention, or stop and search, or the Windrush scandal - real infringements our freeborn English women and men never find it in themselves to speak out against. These episodes are real tragedies, but our tantruming Tories can only carry on about a farce. The scientific and therefore the public health case for mandatory masking is unavoidable. While it does not prevent a wearer from contracting Coronavirus, it reduces the risk of transmission from someone already suffering with the disease. As we know, up to about half of people who've tested positive experienced no symptoms to speak of. As this is still the case, forcing everyone to wear masks in shops drives down the infection rate even further. This reduces the likelihood of a second, deadlier wave this winter and is a step toward its eradication in the general population. Forget the herd immunity strategy pushed at times by the government. The best way we have beating Covid-19 without a vaccine is preventing its spread, New Zealand-style. And the sooner this happens, the sooner our liberty warriors might enjoy a return to normal life.

Where then is this idiocy coming from? I'm tempted to treat it as attention-seeking grifting from the usual suspects, and it's certainly an important component of the face mask panic. There are audiences and, as we have seen, card carrying Tories gullible enough to soak it all up. But what actual principles are at stake here? Turning to Charlotte Gill over at Conservative Home, it's hard to fathom what the objection is. She notes Britain is more sceptical than other nations about their necessity, but then again Boris Johnson used the same argument to resist the lockdown. We hear Conservatives, northerners, and men are the most sceptical of all. So what? But no, what it comes down to is "having had to sport one in London most days, is that it’s infantilising and a state overreach – to be told to wear them in announcements." Bugger our responsibilities to others, me, me, me is all that matters. Chiming in on the "debate", Desmond Swayne, the pointless member for New Forest previously best known for blacking up for larks, forcefully described the masks as a "monstrous imposition." How pettily pitiful. Instead of throwing a strop, why not simply avoid going to a shop?

If this was one or two Tories and right wing commentators moaning, it could be written off as eccentricity. But it is a whole layer of politicians, opinion formers, Tory members, and others. What the bloody hell is going on? Have they lost their minds? Well, yes. But it is entirely consistent with a current of opinion within the business class, which has its corollary in widespread bloodymindedness. In an age where occasional round-robin letters appear from rich people begging to pay more tax, the flip side of the bourgeois coin is that section of capital concerned solely with its own accumulation and wants to cast off the social bonds that sustain and make it possible. Demanding tax cuts or no tax, evading and fighting regulation and government oversight, campaigning against trade unions and environmental protections, this is the section of capital stripped down to its basic, animalistic impulse. Freedom for it means freedom from obligation to the rest of society, and the freedom to accumulate forever more. It certainly does not mean any freedoms for the proles, who do have an obligation to them, which is why they are always unconcerned about police racism and other abuses of state power.

Unsurprisingly, this outlook is mirrored in the governance of our times. I.e. How we are addressed, expected to behave, and incentivised/dis-incentivised by institutions governing our lives. As self-responsible, self-reliant, and entrepreneurial beings what we have to make our way in the world are our abilities and our wits. As the individual is sovereign and our own fate is in the decisions we make, ultimately it is we who are the highest of authorities. We know what's best for us and our interests, no one else. This is the taproot of the cultural epidemic of bloody-mindedness. Trust in governments and expert knowledge is low not just because these worlds are routinely rocked by self-serving scandals and incompetence, but the cultural logic of neoliberal life. No one is the boss of me. No one can tell me what to do. No one can have knowledge and expertise that overrides my experiences and view of the world. Unsurprisingly we see this manifest itself most starkly on those who consciously embrace what are normally the unstated assumptions of the moment, and these in turn find their home disproportionately among certain layers and age groups.

Pathological selfishness simultaneously has a mass basis and a class basis. It perpetuates indifference and psychopathy, and encourages narcissistic attachments to right wing trifles instead of what's important. Which, right now, is the need to beat a disease that's taken the lives of 700,000 people. The best way to deal with this is not to go out of the way to defend the government's decision - like so many things, it has come late in the day and leaves gaping holes around workplaces and entry into any semi-public building - but public health has to come first, and right now this is best served by heaping opprobrium and contempt on the ranks of the mask-phobic and their enablers in politics and the media.


BCFG said...

Herd Immunity was always a dumb fuck concept (which is why Boffy embraced it so much). Those proposing herd immunity didn't even know if people infected with Covid-19 would get immunity from it! How dumb is that!

The latest research says you will be lucky to get 3 months immunity! In other words if everyone in the UK got Covid-19 tomorrow (let us call that the Boffy solution) they could get it again in 3 months time!

So much for herd immunity.

I wonder what dumb fucks views on face masks are? I dread to think.

To most people with half a brain and who are not lost in an ideological rabbit hole, compulsory mask wearing seems as essential right now as making murder a crime.

In fact, I would argue making face masks compulsory is actually increasing civil liberties because it allows those fearful of stepping out to do so with more confidence, just like legislation against murder allows us to walk down the street with more confidence!

When I look at England I can only despair at how tabloid idiocy, imperialist chauvinism and thatcherite neo-liberalism has so infected the masses. They are pretty much beyond any hope from a left point of view.

So I say tell the stupid fuckers what they can and can't do, preferably with pictures!

Anonymous said...

I dont understand ive spoken to people in the NHS who say masks are of no use outside of a sterile environment and the governement just want to be seen to be doing something. the mental health impact on this is just to much not worth any good that might be done.

George Carty said...

"I've spoken to people in the NHS who say masks are of no use outside of a sterile environment."

I wonder if (like Whitehall's gold-plating of EU regulations that was a minor contributor to the vote for Brexit) this is another case of British bureaucrats fallaciously deciding to focus on the perfect at the expense of the good?

Masks to impede the spread of the virus among shoppers or public transport users don't need to be of the same quality as those that are to be used by health and care workers who deal with vulnerable old and frail people and/or people seriously ill with Covid-19!