Social Distancing for the Misanthrope

Here in this age of pandemic, misanthropes are struggling with the stay at home orders, working at home and social distancing.

Just kidding. We were made for this. We never want life to return to the soul-sucking daily grind of trying to please people we can’t stand because they hold sway over our livelihood. We never again want to accept a dinner party invitation for fear of offending the host whose idiotic prattle makes us want to gouge our eyeballs out with a spoon. We Never. Ever. want to enter another WalMart.

Misanthropes are always misunderstood by those who count themselves among the pleasanter types. But we are really not so complicated. It was best said by Keats: “I admire Human Nature, but I do not like Men. I should like to compose things honourable to Man—but not fingerable over by Men.” Misanthropes want to improve humanity and the society that serves them, they just don’t want to have to participate in it. And lately, we have even more reason to be wary.

The fact that wearing a mask has become a divisive issue is really astonishing. Why this might be requires a bit of unpacking, although that almost makes it sound as if logic might be involved in some way. It is not.

The tiresome “You’re not the boss of me” argument is trotted out on the news every evening by someone who thinks they might survive a COVID-19 infection with a mere tickle in his throat. Maybe, but that’s really not the point.

It’s inexplicable that with all the data that has been released since the beginning of the pandemic, anyone might still believe that they are the only ones in danger if they are infected—and that they can manage it just fine, thank you very much. Far too many people who seem otherwise healthy have not managed it just fine. (Think it’s only the aged that are hospitalized with it? Check out these charts here.) These same people get in their car to drive to work each morning and fasten their seat belt. Wearing it is mandated, and yet if you don’t, your life is the only one in danger in case of an accident. They snap in without a second thought. Similarly, a round of Russian Roulette or climbing a tall building clinging to the lightning rod in an electrical storm would endanger none but yourself. You might survive the experience unscathed, but only the unhinged will take the chance. So if logic prevailed, even presuming that no one but you is endangered by running about unmasked, you would put the mask on.

But others are endangered. To know that it’s possible to spread the disease to others before you know that you yourself are sick makes it the height of irresponsibility to mill about in public without precautionary measures. And we do know that others are endangered.

Dr. Bradley Dreifuss is director of rural and global emergency medicine programs at the University of Arizona College of Medicine at Tucson. In a piece he wrote for the New York Times on June 26, 2020 (you can read the entire article here), he makes a startlingly clear argument for taking responsibility for the safety of others as well as yourself:

If you do not wear a mask and physically distance, you are putting yourself and others in harm’s way. You are putting us in harm’s way. Then you will expect us to risk our lives to save you. And it’s not just we whom you ask to risk our lives, but our families as well. What you are saying to people like me and my team is, “Your life and the lives of your loved ones do not matter to us; you are disposable.”

Why do this? How can you live with yourself if you discover you have the virus, and had had unknowingly passed it to your mother, the doctor who cares for you, your sweet neighbor who always has cookies for the neighborhood kids, the friend who takes you fishing on his boat, your favorite drinking buddy? Maybe you think they are all healthy, but as referenced above, that it no guarantee they won’t need hospitalization, or that they even can survive the virus. Will it be worth it? Aren’t the stakes a little too high for you to take the chance? What will be your consolation when your spouse is dead because you refused to be cautious?

You may feel that you have been rickrolled, reading an essay about misanthropes and social distancing that somehow morphed into a plea for masking your face in public. Tough. These are arguments that need to be heard.

I, for one, will stay at home and snuggle up with my cat while re-reading A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Dafoe and making plans for the coming apocalypse.

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