COVID19, empathy and the ugly side of American freedom

Did you know that America is one of the most empathetic countries in the world? In the top ten according to this survey from the University of Michigan []. Though the authors of the study do note that the psychological states of Americans have been changing in recent decades – leading to a larger focus on the individual and less on others. So, they hint that America’s rank may drop in the coming years.

This study was released in October 2016. Literally a few weeks before Trump won the election…

I expect that if they re-ran that survey today, after four years of Trump and the continued fracturing of American society, that America would place a lot lower than seventh. I think that personal freedom has trumped empathy for a large portion of Americans. A portion that has so little empathy that they can’t wear a mask, to help everyone —to help society as a whole, the same society they want to make great again— because someone has tried to mandate that help, to protect health care system, to protect the more vulnerable, to try and ensure less people die of COVID19 and other illnesses during the pandemic. They can’t do this to help others because someone made a rule that “infringes on their personal freedom”. Maybe if they weren’t forced to wear a mask they would out of there sense of empathy for others who might get sick? I doubt it.

These people clearly value their personal freedom more than the lives of others. Their version of America washes its hands of any duty or responsibility to helping Americans. It’s freedom, or liberty, as a religion, a blind faith. 800,000 people have now died from COVID19 in the US, but “fuck them, my freedom is more important” is what anti-maskers stand for. “My right to not wear a mask is more important than others right to life”. Another front in their religious war to preserve their precious personal freedoms, to go along with “my right to own a gun, any gun, is more important than others right to life” so we can’t have any common sense discussion on how to address gun related violence and deaths, “fuck the kids of Sandy Hook, fuck the kids of Columbine, my right to an AR-15 is absolute”. “My rights, my rights, my rights…” But never “my duty” or “my responsibility”, or “our duty” and “our responsibility” (one caveat: the more conservative, e.g. Republican, someone is, the more likely they are to be anti-mask, but also Republicans are more likely to have served in the military, which is a often seen as a duty to the country, even when service is voluntary as it is in America.)

Even it everyone wore a mask all the time, people would have died, but it seems reasonable to think a lot fewer than 800,000 would have died. According to this BBC article [] from last year, Singapore had 90% adherence to wearing masks (and that seems low to me being here…), still deaths do occur and have climbed steeply in the past 6 months due to the Delta wave. Even if everyone wore a mask always, some would die. But surely if you have any empathy you would gladly suffer a bit of personal inconvenience —wearing a mask— to protect others (as well as yourself) from illness, regardless of if the government mandated it or not? Even if it only saved 10% of 800,000 people, that is 80,000 people who would still by alive thanks to your choice to be a bit inconvenienced by wearing a mask?

The same BBC article says that 73% of Americans self-report wearing a mask, that seems high given all the noise about anti-maskers in the news, 1 out of 4 is a minority but a large minority. Maybe just a very vocal minority. How much is this 27% of people who say they are not or will not wear a mask affecting the spread of COVID19 in America? Are most people in hospital today anti-maskers? or family of anti-masker?

As with seemingly everything in America, masks are a political issue. The MAGA wing of the republican party seems to be vocal core of anti-maskers, just as they are the vocal core of the anti-gun control and anti-abortion. They are also mostly evangelical Christians and it seems that many have forgotten to “render unto Caesar“[] and to love their neighbor as themselves [].

It is the ugliest side of America’s obsession with personal freedom that people won’t put on a mask to help American get through the pandemic with as few deaths as possible and a quickly as possible.

Cover image based on “The Ugly American” [] movie, original poster art [] from Wikimedia Commons. Incorporating images from: TheUnseen011101 [] on Flickr (also on Wikimedia []), Blink O’fanaye [] on Flickr, and [].