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The two big state Republican governors have taken polar opposite positions on face masks. King Governor Greg Abbott imposed a statewide mask mandate backed by fines against individuals and businesses. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis not only declined to enact a statewide mandate, but also pre-empted city mask ordinances.

Many clamoring for normalcy after unprecedented and draconian lockdowns have tolerated Abbott’s approach. They view compulsory masking as an acceptable trade-off—a low-cost alternative to taking a wrecking ball to the economy. They understand conservative opposition to mask mandates, but not the level of intensity and emotion. Why all the fuss over something so apparently easy to do, especially if it keeps businesses open?

The answer is that, while conferring little or no benefit, mask mandates are a significant infringement on individual liberty that functions as propaganda, promotes fear, and enables power-mad politicians seeking to enact further lockdowns and other draconian measures to combat COVID-19.

The mere minimum requirement for policymakers to implement such an unprecedented measure as compelled masking should be to demonstrate some benefit. Yet, for decades until this April, health experts have been virtually unanimous in opposing universal masking on the grounds that it does little or nothing to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses. In May 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a meta-analysis of 14 controlled trials taking place between 1946 and 2018 studying the effects of mask usage on influenza, a similar illness, and found “no significant reduction in influenza with the use of face masks.”

There has been no new evidence to cause a change in policy. Mask use has correlated with an increase in cases since the start of this pandemic. A randomized, controlled Danish study has been suppressed by the increasingly politicized scientific community, presumably because it shows that masks have no net benefit. It is remarkable that governments relying so heavily on masks as policy have been so uninterested in developing data showing whether they actually work. In the absence of such evidence, masks are effectively a government-mandated security blanket.

Compulsory masking, though, is an extraordinary demonstration of government power over the individual. As Peter Hitchens astutely points out, “[t]he Covid Muzzle demands an extraordinary act of personal self-cancellation. At a recent anti-lockdown demonstration in Melbourne, police were observed forcibly placing these muzzles on the faces of arrested protesters already in handcuffs and powerless to resist. The officers involved, many of them in heavy body armour, unwittingly illustrated their real purpose — to turn us into mouthless, voiceless servants of power.”

Universal masking has never been a normal part of any advanced civilization throughout human history for a reason. Masks promote isolation and adversely affect mental health by hindering peoples’ ability to communicate, express emotion, and connect to others as inherently social beings must to thrive. Masks dehumanize and reduce empathy for others in a world desperately lacking. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the United States is seeing an unprecedented crime surge amid lockdowns, COVID panic, and near-universal masking.

Perhaps the greatest harm from universal masking is its use as an instrument to promote fear. Mask mandates are compelled speech—mandatorily displayed and ubiquitous government propaganda designed to instill panic amid a virus that is, for most people, no more deadly than the seasonal flu.

In this way, masks are not substitutes for more draconian mitigation measures like lockdowns. They are a necessary prerequisite. In the noted absence of the Black Death-like devastation politicians promised us in March, there is no daily reminder to individuals going about their daily lives that there is any reason to panic. Propaganda-induced fear is essential for power-mad politicians to continue to control every aspect of your lives and the economy. Masking is a constant reminder that there is an unseen threat that justifies lockdowns, travel bans, and forced social isolation.

Think of the millions of individuals who are gauging the threat from the behavior of those around them. Government and the media have dosed them with a constant stream of anecdotal panic porn and apocalyptic predictions. They told them to stay home and avoid socializing with those outside the household, so many have no idea that much of the country is living normally. Those that have isolated can only connect with others through social media platforms that censor COVID news and information that doesn’t spread panic. Then when these individuals leave the home, they are subjected to a population legally required to display fear quite literally on their faces. Any public display that you are living normally is illegal. No wonder so many are afraid.

Some may argue promoting fear is justified. But the result is that the public has a view of the threat that bears no resemblance to reality. One survey shows the average American believed as of July that more than 9 percent of the country, or 33 million people, has died of COVID—more than 150 times the actual number. This gross misperception is driving public behavior and acceptance of COVID policy.

The value of masks as propaganda over protection is apparent from the cultish adherence to them. Apostates have been subjected to verbal abuse and even physical attacks for not wearing masks, even when outdoors, distancing, and in no danger of spreading infection. The media scrutinize public figures’ mask usage in every situation. Masks are displayed on social media avatars to show adherence to the orthodoxy. This religious devotion to masks as a symbol has nothing to do with the spread of disease.

The role of government and health experts is to give the public accurate facts and leave it to us to make value judgments regarding how we use that information. The passionate opposition to masks stems from the fact that they are not useful as a mitigation tool and are instead being used as propaganda to drive public support for heavy-handed mitigation measures.

People should be free to wear a mask where they sincerely believe it to be beneficial. But people should be free to choose. The more people see others living without fear, the quicker we will get beyond the propaganda that is fueling politicians’ monomaniacal focus on COVID at the expense of everything else that is important in a functioning society.

This is a commentary republished with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to [email protected].