A Catastrophic Failure of Philosophy
Human beings are social creatures who have relied on each other to survive since the paleolithic era.
In fact, in those days, humans were so dependent on their group that banishment was literally a death sentence, because a human being could not survive on his own.
This behavior is quite literally baked into our DNA.
Of course these days, we let wealthy sociopaths run our discourse, so man as the rugged individualist has become that to which we aspire to. We are all John Galt, as Objectivist writer, and serial killer groupie Ayn Rand would say.
Unfortunately, Objectivism simply does not work, look at Sears, where Rand afficianado Eddie Lamper drove the company into the ground following the precepts of that miserable excuse for a philosophy, or any of the attempts by people with more money than brains to set up a, “Galt’s Gulch,” which have all collapsed in acrimony, fraud and lawsuits.
Unfortunately, this attitude has permeated the public health establishment in the United States, which has led to active hostility to the idea of universal masking, which is the remediation mechanism that has the highest cost/benefit ratio of any interventions.
This has happened because masking is a policy that is most geared toward preventing fellow members of our society, so even though we all benefit from this unselfish behavior, it is condemned and minimized because the worship of selfishness has poisoned the public discourse so thoroughly:
This time last week, nearly all Americans were still being urged by the nation’s leadership to please, keep those darn masks on. Then the Great American Unmasking Part Deux began. On Friday, the CDC debuted a new set of COVID-19 guidelines that green-lit roughly 70 percent of us — effectively, anyone living in a place where hospitals are not being actively overrun by the coronavirus — to doff our masks in most indoor public settings. The stamina of mask policy had been flagging for quite some time: Governors and mayors had already been weeks deep into vanishing their own mask mandates (and other pandemic precautions), including in schools. But the CDC’s decision still marks a substantial cross-continental change, delivering a final blow to what little remained of the country’s collective approach to quashing the pandemic.
In the new playbook, recommendations for individual people, not communities, sit front and center, and mitigation frequently falls under the purview of medicine rather than public health — heaping more responsibility on the already dysfunctional American health-care system. “It is public health’s job to protect everybody, not just those people who are vaccinated, not just those people who are healthy,” says Theresa Chapple-McGruder, the director of the Department of Public Health in Oak Park, Illinois. I asked Chapple-McGruder if the CDC’s new guidelines meet that mark. “Not at all,” she said. (The CDC did not respond to a request for comment.) Throughout the pandemic, American leaders have given individuals more responsibility for keeping themselves safe than might be ideal; these revised guidelines codify that approach more openly than ever before. Each of us has yet again been tasked with controlling our own version of the pandemic, on our own terms. “The onus of public-health measures has really shifted away from public and toward vulnerable individuals,” Ramnath Subbaraman, an infectious-disease physician and epidemiologist at Tufts University, told me.
The CDC’s new stance on mitigation glosses over all that, Julia Raifman, a policy expert at Boston University, told me. In her ideal, the country might turn off mask mandates while making clear that they could turn back on if community threat levels warrant it. Mandates are tough to tolerate in the long term, but maybe enough Americans are still on board: A smattering of recent polls suggests that a slight majority of U.S. residents still favor certain pandemic-caliber protections while the virus continues to run rampant.
So maybe the CDC swung the pendulum too far in the other direction, experts told me. The agency also updated its risk guidelines to focus primarily on hospital burden rather than local transmission alone. By the old metrics, nearly all American counties should be masking; under the new standards, that recommendation applies to only about 37 percent, designated orange on the agency’s map, at a “high” COVID-19 community level. In another 23 percent of counties, at the “low,” green-colored level, no one needs to mask. Smack in between, in the 40 percent of American counties currently at the “medium,” yellow-tinted level, some people — if they’re “high risk” or immunocompromised — maybe should? The CDC’s best advice to those people: “Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you need to wear a mask and take other precautions (e.g., testing).”
A medical framework — almost resembling a prescription model — is not public-health guidance, which centers community-level benefits achieved through community-level action. People act in the collective interest, a tactic that benefits everyone, not just themselves. Where the CDC leaves us now feels especially disorienting when we consider where most mask-up messaging began: with the idea that masking was an act of communal good — “my mask protects you, your mask protects me.” Now masking is about, as the CDC puts it, “personal preference, informed by personal level of risk.”
We are sacrificing significant portions of our society to the cult of faux individualism.