Masks, the General Assembly, and hypocrisy: these things could be made to blend together to make a more cohesive point, but I think I’ll handle them a bit independently. I was put in mind of these things by a Leo Morris opinion piece I saw in “the Republic.” (It’s been awhile since I’ve run across Leo’s stuff. I used to read him all the time when his stuff was running in the News Sentinel.)
His view on hypocrisy (and Holden Caufield) tracks mine reasonably well. Caufield is an insufferable whiner. Hypocrisy is a pretty easy and lazy charge to level against someone. We often times land on hypocrisy as a critique because we have a tough time coming up with an objective measuring stick about what’s good and bad. It’s easier to dodge that work by taking, for the purposes of argument, whatever a person has decided is good or bad for others and applying that standard to the person. They’ll often come up short. Years ago, I wrote a piece about how sometimes hypocrisy was defended as “aspirational morality.” One problem with that is that the morality is rarely cast as aspirational — it’s usually cast as a standard that every decent person should already follow and used as a bludgeon against disfavored people. Still and all, hypocrisy is a charge so common and easily made that — even where very much true, stops being terribly interesting and, therefore, stops being very persuasive on matters of what is right and wrong or who is a good person or bad person.
Leo also talks about masks, the General Assembly, and Gov. Holcomb. I didn’t quite track his argument, if he was making one in particular, but I think that’s because he has mixed feelings. I gather that he doesn’t like the public emergency powers the General Assembly gave the Governor, seems to accept that masks are a necessary public health tool for this pandemic, doesn’t like the Governor’s mask mandate, but thinks the General Assembly should have to abide by it just like the rest of us. The background on that is that the General Assembly has rejected a proposal that it require its members to wear masks during session — they can control their own operations, regardless of the Governor’s mandate, when it comes to the State House and whether their members wear masks.
Now this part isn’t directed at Leo specifically, but for the life of me (potentially literally), I don’t get the mewling and chafing about the mask mandates. It’s as if the full text of Patrick Henry’s firey speech to the Virginia Convention was “Give me liberty, or give me death! Give me the ability to ignore stop lights and the discretion to shit on the floor in restaurants! But, most of all, preserve my unfettered right to exhale deadly viral material on my neighbors in public without putting a piece of cloth over my nose!” I suppose it’s a fundamental disbelief in the power of the scientific method to tell us anything about how this infection is spread or what measures will reduce that spread coupled with a resentment of the types of people who would purport to be able to use science as a tool to understand these things or who would rely on the advice of scientists to inform public health policy. For my part, I’m not going to rely on the fact that these folks are hypocrites who rely on the benefits of scientific discovery to benefit other parts of their lives. Rather, I’m just going to come out and embrace the Enlightenment as a positive development in human history and appreciate the ability of the scientific method to tell us true things about the world in which we live. I disagree with people who reject those ideas.
The good news for the General Assembly is that their timing looks like it will be impeccable. COVID struck in earnest just after they adjourned in 2020. Since that time, they’ve been able to posture against the Governor’s actions for personal gain and without consequence. (Being powerless has its benefits. I’m reminded of a book quote to the effect that “only the powerless are truly innocent.” That doesn’t quite track with the current situation, but it’s in the neighborhood.) If the good news we’ve been hearing about a vaccine is more or less reliable, it could very well start providing us with a measure of safety before the General Assembly adjourns in 2021. Our health situation might very well improve despite whatever measures they put in place to hamstring the Governor’s ability to deal with public health emergencies. Like Holden Caufield going on about phonies, the members of the General Assembly can thunder about liberty while the adults go about the business of mitigating the loss of life in spite of them.