Life, Liberty, and the Freedom to Not Wear a Mask?

If you’re a chef, do you take out the shrimp in a pasta dish for someone who has a shellfish allergy even though it won’t taste as good?

If you’re an engineer, do you design proper exits even though they aren’t ascetically pleasing?

If you’re a smoker, do you refraining from lighting up inside a bar if there’s a no smoking sign and your companion has severe asthma?

If you’re a bus driver, do you still drive on the correct side of the road even though roaring down the other way would be faster?

The answers are pretty clear, yet, all are infringements of your personal freedom. 

 I should be free to serve any food I like! Or zoom down a school zone at 60 mph! Or design a building according to my artistic vision!

“But Katie… you would be compromising public safety and infringing on the freedom of others….”

The human construct of “freedom” has never, and will never exist. 

Life begins in the dark, repressive, free-less prison of the womb. After nine months of complete and utter reliance on our mothers, the shackles are loosened, and the chain gets longer and longer as we grow. Yet, we can never fully escape the restraints. We need food and water to live and we can’t be too cold or too hot. Our true freedom is squelched by the fiendish dictator of DNA.

The forces outside the body continue to stomp down on our “rights”.  Loyalty, love, and friendship all serve as big bad repressors. We watch movies we despise because we want to build friendships and we say no to an exciting night out because our significant other has the flu. Being truly free would mean no friends, no marriage, and no job. Yet, we purposely tie ourselves down.

Let’s widen the spectrum a bit more. 

A truly free society would mean no laws, police, or regulations. All citizens would be “free” to steal from grocery stores, coerce people to do things at gun point, drive like a maniac, pay no attention to health code, so on and so forth. It would be nice to believe that individuals would do the “right” thing to create the most aggregate good, but alas, you and I both know that would never happen; a Utopian society simply cannot exist, and “right” and “wrong” are relative. 

We do not actually want freedom, rather, we want to be the key master to our own shackles and chains. 

As a result, we have agreed to a social contract where the government provides national security, regulates currency, mitigates externalities (air pollution, programs to alleviate hunger, etc), and protects our asserted natural rights of life, liberty and property via laws and a functioning justice system. In exchange, we pay taxes and abide by those rules. If the government fails us, we can vote out our representatives and sign petitions for change. If we fail the government, we get punished through fines and prison. 

Government protects our desired freedoms by curbing freedoms, and so do social standards and norms. You probably don’t blare heavy metal at 2am if you know your neighbor has a newborn baby, you won’t broadcast your best friend’s deepest darkest secrets, and you’ll give up your seat for 90-year-old Betty on the subway. 

Breaking this social contract with your community can lead to not getting the job, losing friends, and being ostracized and labeled “that asshole.” So most people oblige more or less because community and friends are a chosen chain.

There are heaping amounts of heavy chains we want to be tied down by. We want police to catch robbers, for murderers to be locked up, and guidelines for health and safety standards so buildings don’t collapse and tap water is clean. And we want our neighbors to be courteous and for our communities to be kind and supportive with the occasional block party and cookie exchange. 

“Freedom” is an imagined concept constructed by humans, and the dictionary definition that reads “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint” is an elegant euphemism for “I want.” 

I’m free to express my opinions –> I WANT to express my opinions. 

Background checks restrict my freedom to owning guns –> Backgrounds checks restrict my WANTS to owning guns. 

I’m free to practice the religion I believe in –> I WANT to practice the religion I believe in.

Masks are restricting my freedom of choice –> masks are restricting my WANT to not wear one. 

Whether or not to wear a mask has become a political battle that I find quite strange. Sure they are uncomfortable, itchy, and hot, but why do individuals so strongly demand to wield the key over this particular lock? 

The problem lies in an equally destructive pandemic sweeping across the country:

The Infodemic. 

The internet has made information fast, free, and reckless as anyone with a phone can spout out numbers and figures that readers will believe to be fact. 

When someone reads that masks don’t matter just one time from a highly credited source like the CDC, it should come as no surprise that the individual believes it to be true as she throws the ugly, itchy, sweaty piece of cloth aside. New data arises and the recommendations change, but people will stand by outdated information because not wearing a mask is more in line with personal WANTS.

As more and more contradictory information is released, it’s much easier to replace WANT with FREEDOM to avoid doing something that isn’t comfy. 

I don’t WANT to wear a mask (sounds stubborn and naïve) –> masks are infringing on my FREEDOM (sounds elevated and valid).

Unfortunately, “freedom” is about as real as unicorns and the dream of having super powers. Regardless of what information you choose to believe in the effectiveness of masks, it is currently a part of our social contract. 

Just as you wear shoes in public, pay your taxes, and stop at stop lights, you need to uphold your end of the contract and just wear your mask.  

Perhaps we will find true freedom as this life ends and we ascend into nothingness (or whatever afterlife you believe in); some may be released of their chains sooner than expected if we continue validating “want” with “freedom”. 

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Lew Askegaard says:

    That’s great! Mom and I both love it. Katie the philosopher! I love your ending part about freedoms and wants and the infodemic, tying it all together.

    Doing Zoom tonight? If so, I can’t wait to hear your anti-bucket list.

    Bernie called for a fast primer on higher ed last night. Needless to say, I gave her an earful! She asked, how does hughes ed plan for black swans, and I said basically, they don’t.

    Colleges are in many ways more like churches than businesses.


    Sent from my iPad



  2. so here in Victoria masks became compulsory a couple of weeks back. unfortunately SOME people. not so many to be fair. see it an infringement on their human rights. on the other side of the coin if people are dying because others don’t want to wear masks… its itchy and annoying for sure. but a small price to pay


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