Sitting in a School Board meeting recently, I realized the arguments about masks in schools have fundamental flaws that prevent useful dialogue.
To understand the issue as having two sides — for masks and against masks — is to commit the logical fallacy of false equivalence.
It’s not that one side is for masks and one side is not.
One side is against spreading an infectious disease — and it does not follow that the other side is for the spread of disease. Anti-maskers are for freedom — and it does not follow that pro-maskers are against freedom.
False equivalence compares apples to oranges. The argument is never going anywhere because not only are people talking about two different things, they are framing “the other side” in such a way that no one is able to listen.
I’d prefer a better argument.
I cannot tell you how incredibly jarring it was hearing “my body, my choice” used in reference to wearing masks, or not. This phrase is lifted straight from the women’s rights movement, promoting women’s autonomy over their sexual, marital and reproductive rights and has clearly been appropriated to frame the mask argument as an argument about personal choice.
Then, the idea of personal choice is parroted back. As one 13-year-old passionately argued to the School Board, “By making masks a choice for students, you are taking away my choice … and forcing me to go to school in a potentially unsafe environment.”
We think of the United States of America as the embodiment of liberty and freedom. But, of course, we’ve also had self-contradictions within that idea, such as a draft compelling people to fight for freedom.
Today, in our state, that contradictory notion of freedom plays out with the “no mask mandates” mandate from Gov. Ron DeSantis. This is a mandate for no mandates. The governor is, in effect, arguing he must commit governmental overreach to prevent governmental overreach.
That’s an inconsistent and self-justifying framework, whose governing principle is not logic, but, rather, in this case, what the governor wants.
And “freedom” does not equal whatever somebody wants. We can generally agree that freedom does not mean the freedom to go shoot someone in the head. Freedom does not include the freedom to enslave others (which is a particularly convoluted argument that was actually used before slavery was abolished).
So, we can agree freedom does not include the freedom to harm others — and that’s one fundamental difference in how people are approaching masks.
Arguing that the virus isn’t real or isn’t dangerous is of limited usefulness (it generally appeals only to people who believe it already), so the more popular argument is to frame mask-wearing as a personal choice.
But the point of masks, and of pro-maskers (if you can even say pro-maskers, when masks are inconvenient for everyone), is preventing the mask-wearer from infecting others.
One more irony: arguing that kids deserve a choice. Like kids have any choice at all. The real argument is, of course, the parents’ rights to make choices for their children.
Hearing parents orating passionately over individual rights and bodily autonomy (“my body, my choice”) so they can control what their children do is just listening to another faulty argument.
The conversation has devolved past the point of usefulness. Yet, the likelihood of me sitting through another two hours wherein people talk around and past each other is a near surety. It’s the same conversation, again and again.
I think y’all are taking away my choice to not have to listen to this.