New York Times readers confront the manifest failure of masks to do anything, cope and seethe
What remains of Team Mask is a bunch of deeply irrational people, and there is no reasoning with them.
Yesterday, opinion columnist Bret Stephens broke some uncomfortable news to New York Times readers, in a blunt piece headlined The Mask Mandates Did Nothing. Will Any Lessons Be Learned? He went on to explain that the massive Cochrane literature review on Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses (which the rest of us covered weeks ago) failed to find any evidence that making people wear cloth or plastic on their faces does anything about rates of Covid or influenza infection.
There’s no point in talking about what he has to say; you’ve heard it all before. Let’s look instead at his commentariat, to see how the Faucian faithful are taking the news.
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The highest-rated comment is by Stephen Levin. He’s had a look at the fine print and decided to take solace in the uncertainty of the authors – to the applause of nearly three thousand people:
John Bertuso, as a physician, has the same idea:
The prior, default position of these men – and, judging from the comments, easily 75% of everyone else who reads the Times – is that masks work, and any uncertainty in the studies is simply a failure to establish what they’re already certain of, namely that masks work. Twisted very far, uncertainty can even become a confirmation that masks are actually working, because at least it’s not evidence that they’re not working!
This is fairly crazy when you think about it. Not only do we lack studies showing that masks don’t work; we also have no studies showing that rain dances don’t work, and that sacrificing young goats to Hermes doesn’t work, and that hieromancy doesn’t work. In fact there’s no limit to the insane stuff you’ll end up doing if you assume everything works in the absence of proof that it doesn’t.
Michelle, who wants us all to know that she’s read the study, exemplifies the other major cope. This is that masks totally work, it’s just that their use requires such levels of care and consistency that – practically speaking – most people derive no measurable benefit from them.
It’s unclear how this line of argument saves masks, really, but that’s beside the point. It makes people like Michelle feel better about their heavy investment in one of the more absurd superstitions to afflict Western society in recent memory.
Beyond the Michelles and the Steven Levins and the Chrissies – people who are at least superficially concerned to appear reasonable – there’s a vast ocean of lunatics like BChad, whose raging confidence in masking has grown so enormous, it is beyond the power of any empirical evidence whatsoever to strike down.
Masks cover up nasal passages, and nasal passages are how the virus spreads, and BChad was in a hospital today, and everyone was masking in the hospital BChad was in, and that’s science. “Common sense prevails here,” and over 1600 Times readers agree.
A big part of the irrational appeal of masks, is their prior association with hospitals and similar self-consciously hygienic environments. This is enough to put the efficacy of masking beyond all question for readers like Steve:
Plenty of commenters claiming to be medical personnel agree, raising the strong possibility that even many nurses and surgeons don’t understand why they wear masks in the operating theatre.
But in this whole sea of writhing ignorance, which goes on for over a thousand comments, it’s statements from people like August West that really stand out for me.
Ninety-six upvotes for the tinpot totalitarianism of this loser, who believes himself entitled to order other people around on the basis of unfounded beliefs, then to claim ignorance as an excuse for his excesses, and nevertheless to condemn those who objected to his superstitious demands of selfishness.
Humans are fundamentally irrational, which is why a primary argument of the plague chronicle is that there can be no such thing as temporary measures to crush a curve, or deviations from routine to save a grandparent, or hyperbolic hygiene propaganda just to get through the winter. All this stuff, every time you try it, will warp the perceptions and opinions of millions of people forever. In 2055, we’ll be awakening from our second nuclear winter and some elderly eccentrics leftover from the 2020 pandemic will still be masking in the breadlines every morning.
UPDATE (h/t @M_Vronsky): This Twitter user asked a local government official for a response to the op-ed and received this totally insane reply, concluding: “You were right statistically, but I won’t apologize.”