Behind a Mask

It seems like we are all looking at the world from behind masks now as the Covid-19 virus keeps most people locked in. There are other masks, too. It can be a metaphor for several things.

I’m going to talk about fear and isolation. But I want to be clear, if you or someone you are around is in a vulnerable health situation, then you absolutely should take precautions. I’m going to address the wider population.

Photoshop masks

I have used layers and masks in Photoshop for longer than I can remember. Masks are a great invention here. They allow very selective and detailed editing or modification of anything in an image.

Photoshop masks are one of significant features that allows Photoshop to be the most powerful and respected image editing software available. I will go out on a limb and say that virtually all serious Photoshop users use masks.

But there is something special about Photoshop masks in regard to the metaphor of masks as I am talking about them today. Photoshop masks are completely a private, hidden thing. I use the masks as much as I choose to, but it is not visible or obvious to anyone looking at my image. It is a private thing between me and my image. No one knows if I used a mask and no one tells me I need to use one. No one cares, unless I’m “talking shop” with a colleague. Photoshop masks are not something we wear in public.

Face mask

Now days, though, most of us have to confront wearing physical face masks when we are in public. Fear of this horrible virus has made the world go crazy. Fights have broken out, even shootings over whether people are or are not wearing them. In some places you could be fined or even arrested for not wearing one. Even if not, you may be shunned or abused for not wearing one.

What is this doing to us as a society? What is it doing to the kids? What precedents are being set for the next supposed crisis?

How did a simple piece of cloth wrapped over our face come to mean so much to so many people?

Fear

Fear drives this panic. The media pumps it and thrives on it. Anything that causes widespread fear uncertainty and doubt generates ratings and revenue for the media. For weeks, every single story on my local media was about the virus. Follow the money. Only recently will something like a gory killing get a spot in the news.

But the media is giving most people what they want. People have decided that this panic is important enough to control their lives. It is too dangerous to go outside or be with people. Something bad may happen. Better to huddle inside. Don’t go to work. Don’t go to school. Don’t go shopping. Don’t support you local businesses.

It might not be safe.

Death isn’t the enemy, fear is.
Ellen Gilchrist

Success tends to go not to the person who is error-free, because he also in risk-averse. Rather it goes to the person who recognizes that life is pretty much a percentage business.
Donald Rumsfeld

Speaking of the percentages, let me put some of this fear in context. As an Engineer in a past life, I look at data. Based on numbers published in the Washington Post on May 18 2020, the probability of you dying of the Covid virus in the US is roughly 0.0003 right now (90,991 death out of roughly 300,000,000 people).

You are much more likely to die of heart disease or cancer. You are at greater risk when you get in your car and drive somewhere. And over 60,000 people die in the US each year from the flu – that is every year. All depressing to think about, but there is always a non-zero probability of you dying at any time. You could be struck by lightning or hit by a meteorite.

But we shut down the whole world because we are afraid of this particular problem.

Hiding

So we hide. Being alone or just with your immediate family, who you can’t get away from, must be safe. Safety is everything.

Going to school is not safe. Going to work is not safe. Visiting with your neighbor is not safe. Eating in restaurants is not safe. Going out walking is not safe. If you get a package you ordered from Amazon, let it set a couple of days before opening it, just in case. To be safe.

Put up the shields, our face masks, when in doubt.

Where did our faith in these little patches of cloth come from? A mask won’t do much to protect you from the virus unless it is made from appropriate materials and is thick enough. Very few of our homemade masks are effective. A mask won’t do much good unless it fits properly. Few do. And if you have facial hair, like I do, they are generally useless.

For the most part, these have been sold to us by the authorities as a talisman to help us believe we are doing something to stay safe. Like most juju, they are mostly for making us feel good.

Our masks are something to hide behind. To hold up to the world as an amulet to ward off evil spirits. Not necessarily a placebo, but close.

But at what cost?

Isolation

Huddling at home, not going out except for emergencies, shunning all people – these things have a cost that may be greater than the cost of getting the virus.

Despite all our wonderful technology, society and human beings work on personal interaction. It is critically important to interact with people. A smile or a touch means much more than a long email. Seeing a friend and shaking hands is vastly better than any text message. No matter how many emojis you use.

A mask is a barrier. It is a wall. It says I am afraid of you so I am distancing myself. It says I assume you are dangerous so I am keeping away. It says that my perceived safety is more important than whatever interaction we might have had. It says I am retreating within my shell where I don’t have to be with you. Because I am afraid.

And on a more personal level, it says I am willing to live my life under cover, huddled indoors, in fear because the world around me may not be safe.

If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?
Steve Jobs

I’m not willing to hide from life and people. I want to use all I can of today.

Normal

Where we are is not a “new normal”. It is a temporary panic. A world ruled by irrational fear. I hope that a long term effect of this is to make people re-evaluate their priorities. Decide what is really important.

Jobs are important, but it should not be the center of your life. Entertainment is fun, but only as an occasional distraction.

What are the things you have really missed during this lockdown? Is it family, friends, socializing with people? Even visiting with the people at work? Hugging or shaking hands with friends? Going to church with your people and singing and praying together? Sitting around people at a restaurant, being awash in the social interaction? Getting together with a group of friends and just talking?

We have been denied this things. We have been told that perceived safety is more important than people. I believe our leaders have been wrong. Their fear for the safety of a few has caused massive distress for the many. We need to help our world get back to a better place.

We need to stop hiding behind a mask and get back together with people. We need to evaluate what our priorities are and work to make sure they happen. Living in fear is unhealthy.

Post-Script

Many of you may not agree with me. That is OK. I hope to generate thought, not necessarily praise. Since I set out to be more self-disclosing in this blog I thought it important to say something about the largest event going on in the world around us right now. I promise, though, that writing about current events will not be a regular thing.

I value your comments and inputs. Let me know how it is going for you and what you think!

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