Abstraction can undermine sound thought

Many conservatives who had deep reservations about the way stay-in-place orders have damaged our economies have now developed an aversion to the means we might need to implement to keep that economy open safely …

[W]e might want to minimize the risks of spreading the infection, so that we don’t infect a lot of people unwittingly and have a new wave of deaths. One reasonable way to do so seems to be wearing a mask. But here conservatives register objections of two interrelated varieties.

First, there is the symbolic objection. Helen Andrews—a writer whose work I generally think some of the best going—has made both arguments as forcefully as I have seen. Masks are the new ‘duck and cover’ drills during the Cold War, she proposes, a practically useless symbol of our fear. Or they are like dog-tags that were handed out to children: a seemingly helpful item that is in fact a “a totem of death around everyone’s neck, a constant reminder to be afraid.”


Matthew Lee Anderson, The Politics of Mask-Wearing (Mere Orthodoxy)

Anderson has a fairly detailed response to Andrews, but my objection is more visceral: Don’t take a concrete, present threat and wave away reasonable precautions by abstraction into some kind of craven symbol.

(Anderson argues that even as symbols they are defensible as symbolic of something more noble than Andrews perceives.)

My main blog is the Tipsy Teetotaler, http://intellectualoid.com.