I Dunno, Karen

Fun is not what it used to be.
      —Fran Lebowitz

The weather was nice today, so I took a walk around the neighborhood. It was my first longish walk in ages. Lots of other people were out and about, the sun shining equally upon us all. For the most part, it was nice to see them, even if every single person was in my way at all times, which is precisely where I left them when winter decided to get cold, and I vowed never to step outside again.

It wasn't nice to see everyone, though. While up around 13th and Spruce, I encountered a couple of unmasked women of the early-to-mid-thirties variety. They had no lattes in hand or anything like that. My guess is they were heading off somewhere to not get vaccinated. I don't fully understand how people allowed an inexpensive and convenient method of potentially reducing a deadly virus's spread to become an icon of political resistance. She was one of those people and loudly proclaimed to her friend, in the manner one does when you want to make sure the person you are speaking ill of hears you and understands themselves to be the subject of derision, "Ugh. This guy's double-masking. Someone clearly hasn't been keeping up with CDC guidelines."

My reaction to her comments was interesting. For some reason, I felt mildly embarrassed for wearing two masks, which no doubt hints at the mechanism underlying how it's possible to convince tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people that wearing a wee bit of fabric over your face when you go out shopping is tantamount to slavery while refusing to do so demonstrates a keen intellect and indomitable spirit: normative influence (contrast and compare with informational influence). On this day, I felt the yearning toward normative compliance myself, despite being familiar with Solomon Asch's work. Knowing the methods of persuasion does not inoculate you from their effects!

I choose to double-mask because I follow discussions and podcasts featuring doctors, biologists, epidemiologists, mathematicians, and other scientists, many of whom have been saying for months that wearing a cloth mask or even pantyhose over a disposable procedure mask improves the efficacy of the procedure mask in filtering out those droplets and aerosols that carry the viral payload and represent the primary vector of transmission. And I knew the CDC had not previously been advising people to wear two masks, not because they felt it was a bad idea, but because they didn't have enough evidence collected and evaluated to make an official recommendation in the name of the United States Government. However, if you watch these agency representatives at press conferences, you'll notice they often wear a fabric mask over a procedure mask themselves.

Again, I know why I'm doing what I'm doing, and I know the reasons researchers are recommending it, in their own words, because I've spent the time to listen to them. I understand at a high-level the caveats and limitations of the significant studies thus far. I know why the CDC had not been explicitly recommending double-masking previously. I know about Solomon Asch's experiments demonstrating how peer pressure can distort perception. I even know how these same experiments have been challenged for being WEIRD. I'm on top of that. Confident that I've done my due diligence and adopted current best practices around civilian use of masks for controlling the spread of Corona-19, and knowledgeable in the ways normative influence affects behavior and perception, I still somehow felt embarrassed enough to go to the CDC website and check the current guidelines, in case this random woman on the street, with an unmistakable personality disorder I'm not qualified to diagnose, knew something that I did not, which might suggest wearing double-masks was potentially detrimental or patently foolish. As of this writing, the CDC officially recommends wearing a cloth mask over a disposable paper mask, because obviously.

What's the moral of this blog post? I think it's this: I live in a city of over 1.5 million people. I am not the Dalai Lama. When you live in a big city and are not the Dalai Lama, the correct way to handle these situations is to holler, "Shut your stupid face, stupid," and go on about your day. When you consider the stakes, I don't think this strategy makes me a curmudgeon, necessarily.

Mind Your Own Business