John Dolan: If wearing a mask in a pandemic is a political football, you really have to fear for the future of all humanity...

Like the flat-earth debate, the anti-mask one completely lacks logic, so says John Dolan in his weekly column
John Dolan: If wearing a mask in a pandemic is a political football, you really have to fear for the future of all humanity...

Graffitti with the slogan "Mask On" on a shop window in the UK. Picture: David Davies/PA Wire

A LITTLE knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

In the 19th century, an English inventor called Samuel Rowbotham deduced a lack of curvature on the long, straight drainage ditches of the flat region known as The Fens, and drew a startling conclusion: The Earth was flat.

A few years later, he undertook a test to prove his theory. A telescope was set up on a beach in Plymouth pointing to a lighthouse 14 miles out to sea. If Rowbotham was right, he should be able to see all of the lighthouse; in fact, only half the upper lantern was visible.

And that was that... case dismissed.

Except it wasn’t...

Rowbotham rebuffed all the meddlesome facts and evidence to the contrary and insisted this proved the Earth was indeed flat.

I know, I know.

Fast forward a century, and in 1956, another Englishman Samuel Shenton (what is it about the English and crackpot theories?), created the International Flat Earth Research Society as a successor to Rowbotham’s work — er, I mean “work”.

Since he was living in a more advanced technological age, Shenton had to do more rebuffing than his predecessor — and did so with the same combination of bluster and lack of logic.

When satellite images showed Earth as a sphere, he said: “It’s easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye”. 

Shown photos taken by astronauts, he attributed curvature to the use of wide-angle lens.

Despite a singular lack of credibility, Shenton attracted 3,500 members to his society — and among more modern advocates is the 1980s musician Thomas Dolby (anther Englishman!), whose musical company is behind that irritating Nokia tune — you know, the one that goes ‘der, der, der, der — der, der, der, der — der der, der, der deeeeerrr.

Dolby also released an EP called Blinded By Science — a phrase which rarely troubles flat-earthers.

All of which brings me neatly to the anti-mask brigade — you know who you are!

Crackpot theories that go against all logic and available evidence? Check.

Turning something that is really quite sensible and straightforward into something that is political and emotional? Check.

Making out the whole world is conspiring against you personally, and that the vast majority who make a logical conclusion and wear a mask are naive, gullible sheep? Check, check, check.

Except there is a difference.

While flat-earthers are harmless enough, pootling along in their own little fantasy world, the anti-maskers are, unfortunately, potentially very harmful.

I wrote a column right at the start of this pandemic back in March, when I implored us all to have perspective and not indulge in a pandemic blame game.

“This country faces a rocky time in the weeks ahead,” I wrote on March 7. “Calm heads and perspective are required. Can’t we all, for once, agree on one thing? That the coronavirus is nobody’s fault.”

However, it seems that the ongoing war between Left and Right in our society knows no bounds.

It’s hard enough to strike a balance between public health and economic factors at present, but when you throw in a bunch of people who think wearing a mask in a few public places to protect themselves and, crucially, others, is an infringement on their civil liberties, then you have to wonder if there is any hope.

Now, just like the flat-earthers, we’re not talking about many people here. When the odd anti-mask protest is held, only a few hundred bother to turn up. But it’s enough to make you wonder what their problem is.

For chrissakes, wear a mask in shops, on public transport, and in other indoor areas where people congregate a little too closely for comfort. It’s not difficult, it’s not uncomfortable, it’s not giving in to the ‘big man’. It’s just polite and healthy and eminently sensible.

For some reason, the refusal to wear masks has become a Right-wing issue, as though wanting to cut taxes and reduce government spending, and maybe keeping an eye on the number of immigrants coming into your country, means you simply will not wear a mask in Aldi.

Many right-wingers are anti-abortion — does that mean they believe the sanctity of a six-week bundle of cells is paramount, but are free to breathe potentially lethal Covid droplets on all and sundry on the bus into town?

Like the flat-earth debate, the anti-mask one completely lacks logic, making me wonder if some people today just want to spoil for a fight — any fight — especially when the battle grounds are as addictive and polarising as social media websites.

Then again, the Left rarely come out of any debate smelling of roses these days either.

On the aforementioned social media they amplify the sound of a lone objector whingeing about wearing a mask and share it among their many followers — you can’t beat the smell of virtue-signalling in the morning.

This ‘oh gosh, can you believe what this jerk is saying now?’ style of debate turns molehills into mountains and makes out that anti-maskers are a large and dangerous threat to society.

The Left are also up to their old trick of trying to cancel any debate and/or media personality or organisation that tries to give air and print time to those they disagree with on the mask issue.

Last week, RTÉ 2FM presenter Jennifer Zamparelli axed a planned item in which people with an issue with face masks would be allowed to put forward their theories.

Go ahead, let them give it their best shot, I say. They are hardly likely to win many converts, and will probably just come across as wrong-headed.

Complaining to RTE and forcing the debate off the airwaves merely plays into the hands of these people, many of whom are already nursing a grievance with society and think the world is out to get them.

There is a reason that doctors and nurses in operating theatres have worn masks for centuries.

There is a reason that virus rates tend to be much lower in countries, usually in the east, that have long resorted to wearing them in pandemics.

When you think logically, if you have the coronavirus, the easiest way to pass it on is through droplets in your mouth and nose; a barrier will reduce the risk of this.

And, even if you don’t believe any of the above, then wear a mask because this is the first pandemic in our lifetimes and lots of people are afraid of this virus, and afraid of people who don’t wear masks where they should.

It will only be for a year tops, god willing.

And if the virus is eventually eliminated, and we are then told to still wear masks, I will join you on the frontline at your next anti-mask march.

Until then, cover up. Please.

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