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March 23, 2021 (Crisis Magazine) — At least some of the country was riveted by the images of an autistic boy writhing on the floor of an airport after he had been kicked off a flight for not masking. I say “at least some” because a large cohort of Americans couldn’t care less about his discomfort. They are the Maskers. And God help you if you stand in their way or even criticize their new faith.

Conservative apostate Bill Kristol snarked on MSNBC that “mask refusers appeal to liberty” but that the only argument against masking in COVID-19-time is “nihilism.”

Columnist Peter Wehner chimed in that there are “cost/benefits” to reopening the economy, but there are no arguments—“none”— against wearing a mask. He says taking off the Mask is nothing more than “a lethal form of virtue signaling.” Lethal.

Well, here’s a reason. Putting aside extreme cases like the autistic boy, we are humans, and we have faces, and this is one of the primary ways we communicate with each other, with our loved ones, friends, even strangers. We are people of faces. Take faces away and the damage done to human interaction, to human relationships, because we cover our faces is incalculable.

Consider a young woman walking down the street in New York City. She spies a young man walking into her building. She coyly smiles. But he never sees it. In the olden pre-Mask days, her smile might have invited his smile, a comment, a relationship, marriage, children, happiness.

Consider an old woman in the grocery store. You round a corner; she is approaching you in the opposite direction. In the olden days, you may have smiled, and she would have smiled back. It very well could have made a lonely old woman’s day. Now you smile into your Mask. Can she see it? Does she smile back?

Consider children. Some of the new girls in my daughters’ school are lonely. Some come home crying because they are not getting to know the other girls. They are not making new friends. It is because of the double whammy of distancing and masks.

But do distancing and masking come with no cost? Masking fundamentalists don’t seem to notice. If they notice, they seem not to care. There is only one thing. The Mask. Questioning the Mask is no more than “nihilism” and “lethal virtue signaling.” The vehemence of these Mask fundamentalists is shocking.

The Kristol/Wehner contretemps spooled out on Twitter, and I jumped in about human relationships and communication and all we do with our faces.

One woman told me, “You forgot the death aspect. That tends to put a damper on human relationships.” She identified herself as “an essential worker” and mocked what she called “whole face interaction.”

Yet another fundamentalist said, “People can communicate with (sic) many ways that (sic) just the action of their lips. This is a nonsense statement by someone desperate to spin their self-centered refusal to wear a mask.”

Still another said, “Nothing demonstrates we care about other people more than doing what we can to keep them safe. Nothing shows we suck (sic) at relationships like refusing to so (sic) something as simple as wearing a mask.”

One woman said, “Some of us have enough personality and communication skills that masks aren’t really costing us relationships or connections with strangers. Consider it a chance to improve yourself.”

I could go on.

“If masks prohibit you from human connections. Masks aren’t the problem.”

“Masks increase human interactions among the sane and rational.”

“Is just more proof that you don’t value people or science.”

“Your sin of lack of empathy (love) reflects poorly on your faith. So does your sin of pride.”

It is appalling and unimaginable that anyone would question the Mask. It puts one in mind of what may have happened to heretics in the Middle Ages. The Maskers’ angry vehemence is practically religious. Denying the Mask is like denying a sacramental in the new faith.

They are quick to invoke the ne plus ultra of their argument: “Can’t smile if you’re dead.” They always invoke death; totalitarians have always used public health and fears of death to control others.

This comment reminded me of a friend who died recently. Someone at the Requiem Mass said, “He does not look like himself.” We always want our loved ones to look like themselves in death. And isn’t this a common comment at funerals, that someone in the box either looks like themselves or doesn’t? It is because we are people of faces. Even in death, our faces communicate who we are.

Masks mask who we are. This is why it remains illegal in many states to enter a place of business wearing a mask. Masks hide us. This morning, from far off, I saw someone fully masked waving to me. I did not know who she was until I finally recognized her hair. I had to recognize her hair. Good grief. My wave was too late; she had turned away.

Maskers insist we can communicate with our eyes. I guess this is so. There is the glare. Some may be able to smile with their eyes. I don’t think I do. But nothing communicates quite so well as the mouth, whether in smile or frown or quivering lip. Take that away from us and we are something less than human.

Bill Kristol, Peter Wehner, and other acolytes of the Mask claim there is “no reason” not to wear the Mask. Refusing or questioning the Mask is “nihilism” or “lethal virtue signaling.” Tell that to the boy writhing on the ground, the girl hoping for romance, the old woman who needs a smile in the grocery store, or the kids who are isolated at a new school. These are human reasons, and there are 326 million of them in this country alone.

Reprinted with permission from Crisis Magazine.