Why Do Americans Still Refuse To Wear Masks?
One answer might be a combination of individualism and narcissism.
Perusing the sad affair that is the current American response to Covid-19. I stumbled across a forum thread which asked the question that has been on everyone’s mind: “What is wrong with Americans?”
As any conversation about the United States' flaws goes, the post had hundreds of responses composed of diatribes. Americans are some combination of “lazy,” “anti-intellectual,” “stupid,” “vapid,” and “arrogant.” Either they have too little religion or too much religion. They worship money as a deity or no longer know the meaning of hard work. We have 4.29 million confirmed Covid-19 cases (as of July 26th), wearing a mask to reduce infection remains a partisan issue, and everyone seems to have an explanation why.
And so do I.
Individualism pervades American culture and nowhere is it more present than inside blockbuster movies. We laugh and cheer as Tom Cruise disregards direct orders from his superiors and instead risks the lives of thousands in a hectic car chase through the crowded New York streets. After all, the civilian cars that crash are driven by stunt doubles, and collateral damage is CGI. As long as Tom Cruise’s character himself lives, we are happy, and he certainly won’t die — the studio is already filming the sequel.
“Well, all movies have to be individualistic,” you tell me. Plots require main characters. Who wants to watch a two-hour movie about thousands of faceless figures unifying to accomplish a goal like some Communist propaganda film? We want heroes. We want morally black-and-white figures to root for and a curse, and above all, the impeccable main character who the audience lives vicariously through. When they “get the girl” and flip off their jerk boss, we imagine ourselves doing the same and feel a rush of dopamine as for a second escapist fantasies fill our minds.
Perhaps that’s why fringe conspiracy theories and radical groups exist in the modern-day. There is a part of our brain that desperately wishes for us to be special, to have a prophecy under our name, to be “destined for greatness.” Side characters are comedy relief — Ron Weasley to Harry Potter. Sometimes even cannon fodder — red shirts to the crew of the Enterprise. Few of us wish to be stepping stones on which others tread in their rise to greatness.
That’s why the traditional tools of logic and emotion break down when attempted on narcissists. The world is created solely for their experience, every bane and boon pointed at them alone. If they do not personally know someone infected with Covid-19, then it does not exist. The restriction imposed on them — wearing masks — is far more evident in their lives than a disease outside of their bubble. Though they are the type to scream at a minimum-wage employee for a perceived slight or disturbance, they themselves are unwilling to suffer any inconvenience for the benefit of others.
The tragedy of the matter is, the universe does not care for presumed importance. Anti-vax parents and anti-maskers both suffer the consequences of their actions whether or not they believe in them. Faced with reality, it is difficult to admit fault — how can they have caused their relatives and children's illness or death? Myths and conspiracies breed rapidly in the seedy underbelly of dilapidated forums and unmoderated social media, so there is always another explanation absolving the conspiracy theorist of blame.
Don’t bother arguing; vote in November.