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masking the problem
once the needle goes in, it never comes out
there is a saying about heroin addiction: “once the needle goes in, it never comes out.” it’s pithy, but far from true because that is not, for the most part, how addiction works. it’s not the substance, it’s the person. most people who try heroin or alcohol or cocaine do not get addicted. neither do most people who try gambling. sure, all these things have addictive potential, but the actual addiction is internal, not driven by the substance. addiction arises more from using something to cover an internal need than from the thing you got hooked on. 1
getting hooked on dope is not really different than getting hooked on betting the ponies. anything that you can use to hide from, avoid, or escape something painful in your life can become an addiction. this is why people who carry damage, who were raised in badly dysfunctional families, who were abused as kids, who have been through war, or who have undergone some other massive stressor see their rates of addiction explode: they are the ones with things to avoid and escape.
and this is what made a 2 year fear campaign about a virus in combination with compulsory masking and lockdown a truly nasty form of societal predation.
the anxious, agoraphobic, neurotic, and OCD have always been with us and always been among us. many have been uncomfortable and hanging on by fingernails as they seek to balance how much they hate being out in public and interacting with people and fearing disease or dirt against their fear of the social approbation that would come from not going out in public or of engaging in extreme hygiene. for these folks, life is an endless trip between scylla and charybdis.
then came covid. stay home. it’s a virtue. don’t go to school. it’s societal duty. wear a mask and wash your hands a lot. it protects others. at a stroke, all their trade offs were eliminated. they could do what they wanted but had always feared to do because what had been low status behavior was suddenly elevated to high status.
schloink. the needle went in. getting it back out will not be easy for these folks. it’s not like most of us that can just take masks off and go back to work and be glad to no longer have to engage in pandemia cosplay because our regulators are epidemiological illiterates.
these people are addicted in every meaningful sense of the term.
they will tell you it’s about a disease or have disproportionate explosions about “how could you be so callous as not to wear this totally disproven mitigation just because it’s not required!?! don’t you care about others!?!” just like zonked out mommies telling you that their “little helpers” are just for headaches and that “they got them from a doctor!” or skid row denizens saying they “just need a little taste.”
this is going to be with us for a long time.
that’s the nature of addiction. when you remove that which has been being used to mitigate pain and the pain returns, addicts will bend reality and anyone around them to get back to the place where it doesn’t hurt.
it’s going to lead to insane histrionics, bad life choices, and shrieking karen choruses demanding that everything be put back to what was their happy place. if you’ve never seen a serious addict seeking to justify their addiction and their behavior in pursuit of it before, you’re in for a startling show. the desperation will be palpable. no reason can withstand it.
worse, as more and more fall from the fold of being masked up and/or shut in, the societally perceived status of the addicts’ adopted behaviors will drop and as it does the panic and the need of those wishing to continue to engage in such behaviors will rise.
they are in a vise and getting squeezed towards “cold turkey.” the DT’s are going to be savage. we have not seen the worst of it yet, that is yet to come and its extremity will go parabolic before this curve finally breaks and some semblance of normality is achieved.
but these people are addicts now.2
this does not go away. one slip, and they’ll be using again. one opportunity to “mask up because it’s the law” and they’ll be hooked again. for them, mask mandates are like compulsory parlay bets for gambler’s anonymous members.
this is important to understand because it informs the correct responses.
no one would feel like they were being respectful if an alcoholic asked them to “just get drunk with me, it makes me feel comfortable.”
doing so would have bad outcomes.
well, so does “just mask up with me, it makes me feel comfortable.”
people try to spin this as “being respectful of the needs of others” and “just be considerate, just be kind” but it’s not. it’s giving tequila to a drunk.
sure, they’ll tell you it’s about whatever they need to to get you to do what they want, but fall for it and you are not an empowerer, you’re an enabler.
this finds tragic confluence with the crowd that just desperately needs masks to have worked because if they didn’t they got played for suckers, itself just another form of performative need covering. this, of course, cascades into social pressure.
you might think this is is a joke, but it’s not. peer pressures here are incredibly powerful.
indoor mask requirements were finally lifted on puerto rico about 2 weeks ago. i was at the supermarket last week. there was no mask requirement. they had a masked guard at the door though. people walked up, saw him, and put on masks. i did not. walked in, no problem. spoke to several staff. no problem. but the other customers were probably 95% masked. this is not occurring at restaurants where nearly all are now free faced.
supermax (the grocery store) was nuts for 2 years. you had to mask, let them take your temp, let them spray disinfectant on your hands, and then hand you a cart they had just similarly doused in a gallon of who knows what. do this long enough and it’s pavlovian obedience training. people just fell back into it when they saw a masked guard. old patterns and peer suasion work like that. that small increment of social pressure flipped most people. they saw the guard and reverted to old patterns.
a few did not. we smiled at each other. a tourist came up to ask me, “hey, do we need to wear masks in here?” i told him “no.” he said, “oh, thank god, i hate these things” and took his off. but, when i saw him again in checkout line, he had put it back on. being in line with so many masked people was more social pressure than he could take. sad.
and if it can do this to most people, imagine what it’s doing to addicts, especially the ones who went all the way through “need satiation” into “performative virtue signaling.”
that’s what we’re dealing with. the realpolitik desire of “leaders” to “do something” visible led to massive addiction, habituation, and social reinforcement. once they got this ball rolling, it took on a life of its own that had nothing to do with science or sense.
it takes perilously little to set it back off.
masks are not gone. we’re just between jags of “using” and waiting for the next slip up.
imposing peer pressure to drink upon an alcoholic is abhorrent. but that is exactly what the mask enablers and alleged allies here are doing to the mask addicted.
i know it sounds cruel, but really, the best thing you can do for these people is to help them keep their sobriety.
help them stay straight.
tell them “no” and calmly explain why it’s nonsense as gatopal™ meg (an aerosol physics expert) does here.
refuse to indulge their demands for “just a little fix” or to grant their strained claims of efficacy and accusatory stances of “i’m not the one with a problem! you’re the one with the problem!”
you’ve seen where that goes.
do you really want another trip to rock bottom?
because that’s the only stop this express train has once you get on it.