Writing at City Journal, professor of public health Leslie Bienen decries the fact that “[s]ome deep-blue school districts and many parents still insist on masking kids, a policy with zero benefits and unforeseeable costs.” A slice:
Though many students have expressed anxiety about going to school without masks, it is also plausible that masks are making life tough on them in ways that are hard to measure. No research has definitively linked the uptick in mental-health problems among kids to masking, but this research has also simply not been undertaken. It is not a stretch to imagine masks contribute to feelings of isolation, helplessness, and anxiety. They are a constant and visible reminder of fear, stress, and disease.
Importantly, though, physiological and neurological considerations may also render masks detrimental. We interpret information and display emotion through facial expression and tone of voice; masking renders these two important aspects of communication less effective. Facial recognition, which relies on a network of six groups of neurons called the face-patch system, is so exquisitely sensitive in humans that entire fields of research are dedicated to understanding it. Neural systems governing emotions related to face recognition and facial-expression interpretation are unimaginably complex. Researchers studying face pareidolia, a phrase referring to the phenomenon of perceiving human faces in inanimate objects, have found that face-like objects elicit the same neural activity as does seeing actual human faces. In their paper published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the authors write, “Facial expressions are one of the most powerful and universal methods we have for social communication.”
Before the pandemic, it was not controversial to assert that depriving children of seeing human faces in their entirety for six to eight hours a day could have detrimental consequences.
Since arriving in the DC area, the People’s Convoy has been working respectfully with law enforcement, circling the DC Beltway at particular times in peaceful protest, and all the time they have been requesting the attention of our elected officials. So far, two small press conferences have yielded mainstream media reporters as confused as our elected officials seem to be. Here is what the truckers want:
— All Covid Mandates Should Be Rescinded.
— Federal Emergency Powers Should Be Revoked.
Lots of pundits wonder: “Vaccine Mandates are falling everywhere – so why the protests?”
Not to get too technical, but you need to know that the USA “State of Emergency” that authorizes Emergency Powers at various levels of government was signed into place by Trump, and has been renewed by Biden twice now – most recently a few days ago, for another entire year.
The truckers demand that this emergency order be revoked, because while it is in place, some of our Constitutional rights are suspended, and there is no guarantee that the government will stay within bounds; lockdowns in theory could happen at any time again, for similar or different reasons. And of course, these orders should be rescinded for the obvious reason that there is no emergency.
Even if the Covid science were perfectly settled, it could not tell us whether and when to put masks on toddlers, close businesses, let grandma have her family celebration, or let people say goodbye to dying loved ones. There is no force of gravity compelling these decisions: they flow from our values, from what we view as reasonable or unreasonable tradeoffs.
Yuval Harari nailed this point in a February 2021 essay for the Financial Times: “When we come to decide on policy, we have to take into account many interests and values, and since there is no scientific way to determine which interests and values are more important, there is no scientific way to decide what we should do.”
You don’t have to be a public health expert to have a valid opinion about pandemic policy. How bad is it to be sick? How bad is it to miss school? “Although we can’t all be experts in epidemiology, we are all equally qualified – and in a democracy, all obliged – to think through those questions ourselves,” notes Stephen John, a senior lecturer in the philosophy of public health at King’s College London, in an article for The Conversation. When weighing in on these fundamental human questions, epidemiologists don’t get more votes than anyone else.
Around the same time, Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe affirmed, shortly after contracting Covid-19 himself, that he would not impose “harmful new restrictions in Saskatchewan,” citing lack of clear evidence that lockdown measures have reduced hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths in other provinces.Discussing tradeoffs isn’t heartless, it’s essential. How much quality of life and mental health do we sacrifice to keep more people alive? What is the healthiest balance between public protection and personal agency? Failing to confront these questions doesn’t make them go away: it only prevents us from making clear-eyed, ethical, and life-affirming decisions.
There is no such thing as zero risk in life. Risks can only be managed, not eliminated. Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of the fact that life has always carried risk: from other diseases, from accidents, from the mere fact of engaging with the world. We need to ask ourselves why we accept the uncomfortably high risks of moving vehicles, yet struggle to accept any Covid risk above zero. We need to reacquaint ourselves with the concept of acceptable risk and draw boundaries that allow us not only to save lives, but to live a little.
“How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and [how] hard it is to undo that work again!”
(My god, he would have been so great on twitter).