Pascal’s Wager and Anti-Maskers | Mark Seymour
The weariness from prolonged restrictions and the plethora of lockdowns we’ve had to endure over the past few years has led many to develop poor folk-philosophy: in times like these, there is a demand for critical thinking to understand what your values are and how they fit into the current world event.
Put simply, with the introduction of a worldwide pandemic, normal people are forced to consider things that they might’ve taken for granted in normal times, this development of a philosophical framework is often misguided, because the general population isn’t educated in philosophy. This isn’t to say that the general population is, in some way, inferior to those that have studied philosophy: it’s just to say that there has arisen a need that can’t be wholly met. One of the positions developed by the general population is that of anti-masking: this position suggests that we shouldn’t trust the governing bodies for many reasons (political sleaziness is one of the most concrete concerns listed, but there are a lot of conspiratorial reasons such as masks being fake and non-functional and only being implemented to test how submissive the population is. And so, by distrusting the government, they disobey the government’s requests for wearing masks in shops and sanitizing your hands and so on.
The anti-masking position is a dangerous one because it pulls apart the community aspect of our lives. The position puts the individual’s philosophy above the safety and philosophy of others around them; in a village shop an anti-masker could be infecting the vulnerable people in the community, and could have been causing deaths in the first wave.
One strong counterpoint to the anti-masking position is Pascal’s Wager: this is a very simple idea put forward by Blaise Pascal which suggests that you might as well believe in God, regardless of if you’re religious, because if you believe in God and he’s real, then you go to heaven, if you don’t believe in God and he’s real, you go to hell, and if he doesn’t exist, then you don’t lose anything either way.
We can apply this same reasoning to the anti-masker case, even if you don’t believe in the practical benefit of wearing masks for protecting the community: you might as well wear one because if it is the case that they do work, then you’re only wearing a mask and you’re protecting your community; and if it is the case that they work and you don’t wear a mask, then you’re endangering your community just because you don’t want to wear a mask, if it turns out that masks don’t work at protecting people, then it doesn’t matter whether you wear a mask or not. The trade-off of wearing a piece of fabric on your face or potentially hospitalising an elderly neighbour seems obviously in favour of wearing a piece of fabric.
It has had to be the case for the anti-masking position that masks must be considered something much more than what they actually are as, physically speaking, throwaway masks are non-invasive and relatively ergonomic, especially if they’re only required for 5 minutes whilst you enter a shop. To justify this position defenders of anti-masking have to develop external truths about masks, such as to say that they don’t have functional benefits, or that they’re muzzles from the elites, and other such claims which try to add an element of legitimacy to an epistemologically incoherent worldview.
When the functional benefits position is refuted by scientific studies, the institutions responsible for said studies come under fire as being against the anti-masking agenda, and so are considered part of the opposition’s philosophy. I will give ground to the anti-masking agenda insofar as I agree that this pandemic is a dress rehearsal for a much worse pandemic (this is a position put forward by Slavoj Zizek, and is devoid of the conspiratorial elements of the anti-masker version where this dress rehearsal is advanced by some governing elite).
This anti-government suspicion among the general public is something that has been growing in the US and across Europe for a good few years now. As politicians get worse and our leaders are further and further out of touch with the population they lead, a void grows between the voter and the candidates, which must be filled somehow. The void that has grown between the population and the government is easily filled with far-right and conspiratorial politics because of the nature of the two: they are intriguing, easily understood, and are driven by emotion.
The rise of the far-right throughout Europe and the MAGA era clearly show us that the general population has an appetite for this sort of politics, they will support anyone who they see as “Speaking the truth” or “Speaking their mind honestly”; we need passionate and emotionally driven politicians that will set a destination for their political party and will work towards it. The far-right is excellent at producing passionate politicians, hate is one of the most emotionally driven parts of politics after all.
If the Conservative party or Labour are to hold their ground, they’ve got to break away from the career politicians that act like robots in interviews, and bring in some people who can reclaim the imagination and support of the voters. Boris Johnson was successful because he seemed like a genuinely passionate politician that had a vision for Brexit and the demeanour and charisma of a normal working man, and he is failing now because he has shown his sleazy Conservative fangs.
The anti-masker position has fashioned itself as something much more than not wearing masks, and reflects a serious issue among the voting population of civil discontent. The bond between politician and voter needs to be repaired to prevent the further prying apart of our communities, and those in power need to be seriously shaken up to avoid a chaotic political future.