And Yet They Wear the Mask

“Suddenly, I felt a need to see beneath the mask.  I wanted to know the face of the voice, and, with a movement I was utterly unable to control, swiftly my fingers tore away the mask.  Oh, horror, horror, horror.”

Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera (1911)

There were, perhaps, twenty people at yesterday’s faculty meeting, not counting the fakers who were dozing behind their profile pictures on Zoom.  Masked men and women were in the majority by a ratio of nine to one, this again not counting those hidden by digital prophylaxis.  At the same time,  daily positive covid tests in this county are running at a ratio of seven positives to a population of 100,000.

The CDC tells us that the actual infection rate is about four times the rate of positive tests, so I will raise this to twenty-eight and then round it to thirty.  A resident of this county who rises from bed a healthy man would therefore seem to have a 0.03 percent chance of lying down that night with covid coursing through his veins.  We are testing the outer limits of my statistical knowledge, but I believe that his odds for a day are the same as his odds for a week, or a month, or a year.  And this 0.03 percent chance assumes he is not more particular than the next fellow about personal health and hygiene.

Now the average age of the masked men and women in yesterday’s meeting is about forty.  They appear reasonably healthy, are not grossly overweight, and likely enjoy whatever protection the vaccine affords.  So, the chance that covid will send them to the hospital or graveyard is substantially lower than the county average.  But even if we peg their risk at the county average, the chance they will be sent to the hospital and or graveyard by something other than covid is presently ten times greater than the chance they will be sent to one or both of these places by the virulent virus from Hell.

And yet they wear the mask.

All of these people are, I should add, far better statisticians than I.  But even so, if my calculation is even close to being correct, why don’t they clutch their hair and cry, like Shakespeare’s Philip the Bastard,

“I am amaz’d, methinks, and lose my way
Among the thorns and dangers of this world.”*

* * * * *

I suspect that the answer is that the more-or-less useless cloth facemask has become a shibboleth; that its persistent wearers are today’s men of Gilead; and that we who have cast off our masks are today’s Ephraimites crossing the Jordan and trying to get home.  Well, we all know how it went for the Ephraimites.

“If he said ‘Sibboleth,’ because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan.  Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.”

An Ephraimite tongue could not pronounce the word shibboleth, and the Ephraimite lisp therefore outed the Ephraimites when the Sons of Gilead demanded that they say this treacherous word.  It is said that when Americans fought the Japanese, their passwords included the letter l because it instantly outed all enemies who spoke with a Japanese tongue.

In a culture war, the enemy is not outed with a shibboleth he cannot perform, but with a shibboleth he will not perform because it is, in the twisted worldview of the enemy, impious, immoral, or degrading.  It was said that the Baron D’Holbach outed Christians by asking that all visitors to his salon to “trample on the cross,”** and Christians of course had dozens of shibboleths with which to flush out secret Jews.   Here a Jewish historian describes the torments Jews endured to slip out of the traps of Christian shibboleths.

“They imitated the ways and speech of their Christian neighbors; they took part in religious ceremonies which they hated; they ate food which they detested; they sprinkled themselves with holy water which made them feel inwardly defiled.  To the vigilance of the Inquisition they opposed their cunning.”***

No doubt many covid realist are today gasping like stranded fish behind their masks, whether because they are cunning or they are cowards; but my impression is that the shibboleth of the mask has worked to draw a bright line between the modern sons of Gilead and the modern Ephraimites.

* * * * *

A mask normally serves to hide identity, but when the mask mandates were lifted the covid mask became a means of revelation.  While the mandates were in place, some went barefaced in an act of civil disobedience or antisocial defiance, but removal of the mandates has made persistent mask-wearing a badge of Gilead.  Those who would feel degraded if they wore this badge, and who are too proud or stupid to oppose the Gileadite inquisition with cunning, thus necessarily reveal themselves as Ephraimites.

It is hard not to notice that we are taking sides in a visible and ominous way.

A shibboleth is properly a means to flush out the enemy and make him show his true colors, but a shibboleth almost invariably becomes, in addition, a source of pride and group solidarity.   This is because it also flushes out one’s friends and becomes one of the “true colors” of one’s own side.  As such, a shibboleth becomes what is better described as a slogan.  Although fixed in most people’s minds as a term of advertising, the word slogan was at first the name for the battle-cries of tribes on the border of Scotland.  In the words of one of the most famous Scotts,

“His bugle Watt of Harden blew;
Pensils and pennons wide were flung,
To heaven the Border slogan rung,
‘St. Mary for the young Buccleuch!’”†

* * * * *

The mask has become a shibboleth and slogan of Gilead, a badge and battle-cry.  But this is not its whole meaning because Gileadites are in a deeper sense people of the mask.  They don’t blow bugles and their pensils and pennons are false flags.  Like Christine in my epigraph, we Ephraimites wish to tear this mask away.   We wish “to know the face of the voice” behind the mask.  And when we succeed:

“Oh, horror, horror, horror.”

*) Shakespeare, The Life and Death of King John (1623)
**) Abbé Barruel, Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, 3 vols. (1798), vol. 1.
***) Jack M. Myers, The Story of the Jewish People, 3 vols (1922-1925), vol. 3.
†) Sir Walter Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), 4, 27.

25 thoughts on “And Yet They Wear the Mask

  1. Yes, shibboleths, evidently etymologically referring to a password the other tribe could not pronounce for want of a certain dipthong in its other tribal tongue.

    All regimes and pretenders intentionally foster ideas that are deliberately untruthful, because the power they seek over resources and human lives is arbitrary. But that power never lasts, because the operation of truth is inexorable. Thus, ever greater falsehoods are perpetrated to suss out the unfaithful. In the end, you’ll jump off the cliff without a parachute because you will have to demonstrate you believe you can fly. Stalin’s old guard never betrayed the Party during the show trials, even as he tortured, exiled to Siberia and killed them and their families. Masked academics have no tribe but the faculty lounge and the mask obscures their individual nature. Denizens of the Borg… I find this very sad indeed. But they must love it, because they do it willingly!

    • I’m not sure that human interest in truth is naturally all that strong, or that truth is in every case more useful that falsehood. Believing what ain’t so is often more advantageous than not. I expect my head contains plenty or rubbish and I feel not need to clean house. I do have an unfortunate inability to pronounce the shibboleths that would allow me to cross the Jordan into the promised land.

  2. I know what you’re saying, but personally, I am aware that some older and more vulnerable people feel very frightened and I don’t mind wearing a mask, in confined spaces, in deference to them. Of course, I don’t know whether there were any such fearful people in your faculty meeting. Anyway, I don’t consider this is the moment I will make my stand. The issue is important, but not worthy of martyrdom, white or red.

    • I carry a mask and will put it on if I’m up close with someone who is genuinely nervous, particularly if they are also old. When I took it off for ordinary activity, I thought I would just be ahead of the pack. But the pack has turned out to be resolute and it would just be submission for me to climb down when infection rates are this low. I should say that there has not been any overt peer pressure for me to mask up, and the undergraduates are almost entirely maskless.

    • Wearing a mask to assure someone’s fear is the similar to as using an incorrect pronoun an alphabet person demands. They both give in to their insane attempt to impose their stupidity on reality.

      • I think the question is whether one does this out of kindness or fear. I would call a troubled soul by the wrong pronoun if I though it would ease their troubles, but would bridle mightily if required to do this in a display of dominance. There is a world of difference between love and a demand for submission in the name of “Love”.

    • I would question whether it is truly kinder to cater to someone’s unfounded fear, given that the mask is more of a symbol of security than an actual security, or to demonstrate that there is nothing to fear.

      I am not quite sure how this could be done beyond openly scoffing at the idea of mask wearing (which I have employed to considerable effect), but nonetheless I don’t think buying into another’s irrational belief is helpful.

      • Open scoffing simply hardens opposition once a bright line has been drawn. To people on the other side of the line, your scoffing is simply a shibboleth that marks you as an enemy. It is persuasive to treat something as unserious up to the point where everyone has decided it is serious. Thereafter one has to be subtle.

  3. “some older and more vulnerable people feel very frightened”

    They sure do feel frightened – and this condition is called a phobia.

    The question is whether to reinforce the phobia by practicing ‘avoidant’ behaviour – which will usually make the phobia become stronger and spread to other objects; or to practice behavioural therapy (by exposing the phobic to that which is irrationally feared, and preventing avoidance) which is almost-certain to cure the phobia.

    Doing what is nice/kind in the short-term will harm people in the long-term – as is very often the case in life.

  4. How the odds for a day compare to the odds for a week depends on whether catching COVID today is independent of catching it tomorrow. If it’s just a matter of which day you happen to bump into someone infected, or which day the virus happens to make it through, then it’s probably close to independent. If it’s that certain people have better immune systems, and your chance of catching it today comes mostly from whether or not you are in that group, then it would not be independent. I suspect the former is closer to the case. You get COVID this week if you get it Monday or Tuesday or …. Equivalently, you do not get it if you don’t get it Monday and don’t get it Tuesday and… For small probabilities, your chance of getting it this week will be close to seven times the chance of getting it any given day. I suspect nearly every one is going to get it eventually–and probably many have gotten it and didn’t know it.

    • It is probably slightly dependent. Based on the duration of transmission state, the chances of being infected would increase over time and as herd immunity is reached it would drop. A typical bell curve pattern. Idiocies such as quarantine and masks if effective at all only have the effect of prolonging the middle of the curve as you can see by comparing Sweden to Israel.

      I say idiocies in this case because it was fairly obvious by April 2020 that this was not Black Plague 2.0 or Andromeda Strain the Sequal. It really was/is just the flu bro.

    • The ghost of my old statistics professor was frowning over my shoulder as I wrote the first part of this post. Doc. Lamb had the foible of incessantly jangling the keys and coins in his pocket, and I could almost hear that jangle. I actually had a pretty bad bout of flu just before the storm broke in the spring of 2020, so I may have passed through the furnace. If not, it seems that a non-lethal bout of covid would be desirable. I turn 64 tomorrow, and I’d rather do this at 64 than 74.

  5. Is this an example of common courtesy, indulging the public by talking seriously about COVID simply because they are?

    Is it doing any service to social order by talking about the CDC and infection rates as if they were things to be taken seriously or something to be particularly concerned about?

    Or even supposing it does some good to feign seriousness about it among the general public (I don’t think it does and I refuse to), why do you keep it up here as well?

    • This is a very hard row to hoe. As I said in my previous post, we cannot “respect” the “truth” of the Beast without being drawn into that “truth.” At the same time, the people imprisoned in that “truth” will not listen if we do not talk as if that “truth” were true. We must go behind enemy lines to rescue people from the enemy, but everyone who goes behind enemy lines does not make it back home.

  6. I don’t wear a mask. I quit wearing a mask before the mandates ended. Nobody ever said anything to me but if they had I wanted to say maybe I’m a sociopath. I probably wouldn’t have had the nerve and would have just said I forgot it but it never happened.
    I had to go to the doctor today, mask required, for antibiotics as the doctors are still the purveyors of the prescriptions but I have lost all faith in the medical establishment. He asked me if I got the covid shot and I just said no, vaguely. So then he delved deeper into the reason and I said well there have been a lot of blood clots. Still vague. I don’t feel any need to debate these people, they’re already too far gone. And then he said, well there been a few blood clots but not many and I then became less vague. I brought up the VAERS reports and said they’ve been almost 20,000 dead and 22,000 permanently disabled. He tried to dismiss the VAERS reports I said you know these have to be filled out by doctors and they are onerous to fill out and you can be federally prosecuted for falsifying information so they are generally underreported. You know all this. He said okay well I encourage you to get it. That was the end of our interaction and I wondered to myself, why didn’t I just lie. They would have just marked it in the computer and that would have been the end of it. But it’s because I don’t want to be one of those people. They reject me. I reject them.

    • Now that everyone’s moved the goalposts from “99.9587654321% effective” to “prevents hospitalization and death,” and you have to get jabbed every 6 months (which we will never get more than 40% of the population to do), I think the vaccines will just push variation.

    • Trying to talk to most doctors about the covid vexines is like talking to a Soviet factory manager about his low production. They will only give you the party line.

  7. The fact that you and your readers believe in the existence of this “novel” coronavirus is disheartening, to put it diplomatically. Your monumental ignorance gives one the sense of this being a hopeless situation. Wow!

    Not only should you NEVER wear the mask, but one should mock, belittle and humiliate the mask wearers. I’ve been doing successfully since March 2020.

  8. There are a quite a few psychological issues running into each other with this whole deal, but some of the fundamental ones are due to various expressions of tribalism that become very weird and distorted compared to their ancestral origins. As the ‘age of information’ has created a dichotomy of (up until recently) almost unbridled communication methods, this also lead to less real communication actually happening then ever before, and a noise to signal ratio that is off the proverbial charts. This is a recipe for inherent cognitive dissonance just by ‘living in the systems’ . Most of the human race has now been subject to a partially engineered NLP procedure lasting for years, and in some subsets of it decades. So people flock to safety in numbers, in consensus, in narratives, driven by biases and programming. Apparently it takes less then two years to make very reasonable people conform to insanity. As Bruce said, encouraging phobias wont help. Ive had that exact consideration come up with my grandma, and an aunt asking for ‘exceptions to principles’ because she is sad about the situation. The obvious problem there being the oxymoron of exceptions to principles.

    I read a comment on a local rag by someone welcoming the return of masks in my country, and how they almost felt ‘unnatural’ without one. That ties in to what i see as the possible deeper meaning here; some people are all too happy to hide their true shapes, not in a fully literal sense but a spiritual one rather, even if they cannot sense it. They do not want to show up to the world, and be visible, but rather blend in to a mass of sameness. Without, or even while realizing that was already happening, now there is the unmistakable physical method of signifying just that. Some people want to remain small and indistinguishable, because /that/ feels safe and comfortable. And anyone sticking out like a sore thumb must be combated, and struck down into the sameness.

    • Many people now wear now a mask like I wear a necktie. It’s a conditioned reflex and has no political or epidemiological meaning. Some of these people will likely be buried in a mask, and this many years from now.

  9. Pingback: Sunday Morning Coffee 11/07/2021 – A Mari Usque Ad Mare


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