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the mask karens are back
falling off the wagon and heading for rock bottom
longtime readers of bad cattitude may recall some past discussion of mask addiction. this is a very real thing. they have studied it in japan. the performative aspect, signaling, privacy, and anxiety validation are a very potent combination. it’s as addictive as holy hell if you have the sort of personality predisposed to such things and the old saying is very true: “once an addict, always an addict.”
and so, when faced with “triggers” even those who had been doing so well in recovery fall off the wagon.
and the results can get severe.
i present dr amy as a case study because, frankly, this looks to be near perfect archetype to stand for a broader pathology. this would be hard to top if we could order a subject bespoke from the lab.
what dr amy is really saying:
i am anxious and manage it poorly through performative action.
i want to wear masks but fear social disapproval more.
i want "authorities" force others to share my superstitious observances so that i can mitigate my fear without risk of censure or of appearing low status.
this is the nasty trap of the anxiety-raddled:
they want to act in certain ways to assuage their apprehension, but to do so invites scrutiny, disapproval, and ridicule. and they fear that more than the germs.
this is an illness.
worse, it’s a social zugzwang.
all the moves are losers for you.
and so you seek to change the board.
her requests are so very telling because the way to have your anxiety cake and eat it too is to force all the others to behave as you do and thus alleviate the stigma of public wubbie clutching.
note the language:
“the desire not to stick out is psychologically powerful.”
“make it easy for everyone.”
what she is really saying is “i don’t care what you want or if i can convince you. i demand to sacrifice your freedom and agency to make it easy for me. your liberty ends where my anxiety begins.”
accommodating this is not courage.
it's enabling an addict.
“pronouns in bio” remains basically undefeated as a predictor of “what follows is likely to be badly calibrated” but it looks to me like “pronouns in actual name” may trump even that august indicator.
this is quite the spread.
there is a lot here to unpack and i’ll leave most of it to the judgement of the reader and confine myself to pointing out a couple themes:
amy badly wants everyone to know she’s credentialed
amy lives in constant crisis and wants you to do the same
“epistemic injustice” is full blown word salad and anyone using that term is a jargon junkie trying to hide weak ideas behind semantics convoluted past meaning. such claims will inevitably devolve into some form of argumentation around “differing kinds of knowing” that diverge from racist and patriarchal ideas like “evidence” and “scientific method” and lead to histrionics about “my meaning means what my meaning means to me.” ultimately, this boils down to “i reserve the right to make up whatever i want, validate it through any system of superstition that looks handy, and claim it trumps your “evidence” because claiming that an RCT outweighs my superstitious gut feel is racism.”
none of this seems reassuring as a basis for policy prescription (or for choosing a doctor).
it’s telling that she wants mandates and coercion rather than trying to convince those possessed of a choice.
it smacks of both desperation and of entitlement. the admonition to “have the courage to force people to act as i demand” feels more like a cry for help than a sound foundational basis for public health.
and there are many more just like her.
back in early 2020, while at least some people were still trying to tell the truth, the new england journal of medicine published a piece on masks and their psycho-social roles. they famously described masks as “talismans” and “marginally beneficial.” based on later studies, this seems to have overstated benefit. (note that this was written before the aerosol nature of covid was confirmed) there remains no compelling evidence that covid suppression is even marginal and quite a lot that it’s zero.
but where they REALLY missed the mark was here:
this is, 180 degrees wrong. masks are not an attenuator of anxiety. they are a superspreader of it. you likely know this from your own life.
masked staff, a street full of faceless people, stores and planes with mask mandates and hectoring compliance, every one of these things not only dissolves human communication and empathy by eliminating powerful non-verbal lines of communication, they scream “this is not normal! crisis! crisis! be afraid, danger is all around us!”
wearing these masks is not alleviating the underlying anxiety of those demanding them, it’s validating it.
that nasty, gnawing “alwaysfear” they feel now seems justified. “see, there is a real crisis! look at all this! people would not be acting like this if it were nothing!” and so the already anxious may allow such feelings to run unchecked, unassessed, and worse to grow and flower into greater fears.
it’s an external excuse not only to fail to get yourself under control but to drag everyone else into your pathology with you.
this is not a healthy course for anyone.
it’s like treating paranoid schizophrenics by having all those around them pantomime hearing the voices too and agreeing about how threatening and scary they sound.
that is not the road to wellness.
it’s the greased rails to deepening addiction, dependence, and disfunction.
this was much aided and abetted by that epic piece of pseudoscientific propaganda “your mask protects me.”
this was nonsense as science but truly brilliant marketing as it represented an ethical inversion: i am not longer selfish for demanding that you wear a mask, you are selfish for refusing. it’s not your choice, it’s your duty to me. you must sacrifice your liberty to my anxiety. your body, my choice.
the greater risk however is the spiral it sets off in the anxious. they feel fear, that fear is “validated” by the unusual actions around them, there is clear in-group/out-group signaling, and that group affiliation now has a moral component attached. the demand that you accede is now elevated to virtue because “your choice affects everyone.”
this generates a truly tragic confluence of emotional need: you’re anxious and fearful, you feel right in this and worse, righteous. thus the anxious become crusaders filled with oppressive zeal to force others to validate them and this baseless bullying feels like ethics. it feels good.
this constitutes the literal weaponization of anxiety as a force for social sabotage and crisis exaggeration.
and that becomes a self-digging hole.
perhaps one of the most interesting questions in covid response might wind up being “did widespread adoption of masks make fear worse and deepen the sense of crisis?” i suspect it did and that it made people more pliable and open to other impositions. masks dehumanize and heighten aversive states, they broadcast a lack of normalcy, and they break us into tribes at odds with one another with visible performative social signaling while turning the most anxious into desperate holy warriors finding something that feels like meaning in their newfound hall monitor sashes.
it’s no coincidence that so many of the “mask zealots” were also such performative race, class, and gender warriors before. it’s all the same externalization of internal unease seeking to find meaning in some grand cause that helps to explain why the world never felt right and transforms anxiety into assumptive righteous indignation.
trying to find anyone with “pronouns in bio” who was not a covid crisis accelerant is seriously difficult.
it’s all of a piece.
your freedom oppresses me.
it’s the opiate of the poorly adjusted.
and deprived of it, the DT’s set in.
the idling of lives and livelihoods and the suppression of socialization was their happy place. they want to go back but lack the courage to go alone.
so they will demand to take you with them.
this is an invitation that, for the good of all, must be declined in definitive fashion.
rather than falling off the mask wagon, other coping mechanisms are going to need to be found and they never will be if every tantrum yields renewed compliance.
that’s not a road to getting better.
though they will doubtless seek to frame it as such, it is not self-serving to call out the dramatic ethical inversions of the mask karens as they plunge once more toward rock bottom.
it’s actually what being a friend looks like.
addiction is like that.
and while it will doubtless elicit much opprobrium and little thanks (at least in the near term), sometimes tough love is needed.