Suzanne Harrington: Are our rights really muzzled by masks?

Is a bit of cloth fogging up your glasses on the bus really on the same spectrum as, say, being in an Iranian jail without trial?
Suzanne Harrington: Are our rights really muzzled by masks?

Here is a metaphor, wrapped in a news story. At Lake Travis — near Austin, Texas — hundreds of boats gathered for a pro-Trump flag-waving event, as part of the election build-up. The lake was calm and still until the boats began whizzing up and down too fast and too close to each other. Big waves ensued. As did distress calls to the sheriff’s office — boats were being swamped and began to sink. So far, so stupid.

But here’s the punchline. Those causing the waves refused to stop — refused to stop — ploughing their boats up and down, as rescue vessels struggled to reach those in difficulty. Five boats sank, dozens more flooded and capsized. Someone ended up in the hospital with a broken back.

And that, my friends, is as close to perfect a metaphor for toxic individualism as we are ever going to get. Me-firstism and f-youism, the current incarnation of conservative ideology in the US, has twisted the white American psyche so far out of shape that empathy is now regarded as communism. As is common sense and community spirit. I hope that broken back had health insurance.

Despite leading the field, me-me-meism extends some way beyond American conservatives, addled as they are by false notions of fake freedom; it’s not just Trump supporters and Karens howling about human rights abuses because they’ve been asked to wear a face-covering in Walmart. 

It goes beyond those attending that infamous 10-day motorcycle rally in South Dakota in August, which went on to cause 260,000 new Covid-19 infections. No, it turns out toxic individualism is as contagious as the virus itself. It knows no borders. It’s everywhere.

Dolores Cahill, an Irish Nigel Farage wannabe, recently shared a London platform with David Icke, a conspiracy theorist who believes that Britain's Royal Family are lizards (actual lizards, not metaphorical lizards) and Piers Corbyn, a climate change denier. They were speaking to a crowd who gathered to protest, believing their rights to free movement during the pandemic outweigh the rights of the medically vulnerable to remain alive. You can almost see the spectre of Margaret Thatcher floating above them, screaming that there is no such thing as society.

Except there is. Obviously it’s all getting a bit bloody tedious now, the incessant media drip-feed of fear and uncertainty and a virus that won’t do as it’s told. Nobody likes their freedoms curtailed — especially when we have never experienced it before. Nobody likes being told what to do in WEIRD — Western Educated Industrialised Rich Democratic — societies. We are not used to it, and we don’t respond well to it. Hence those bellowing about being “muzzled” by masks. Are we though? Or is it just a bit annoying? Mildly inconvenient, compared with actual human rights abuses? Is a bit of cloth fogging up your glasses on the bus really on the same spectrum as, say, being in an Iranian jail without trial? I’m not sure it is. Get a grip, libertarians.

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