In the war between mankind and the coronavirus, I am on the side of mankind. This might startle you, dear reader, but I say it with a frankness for which I am known from one end of my desk to the other, and a little beyond. But – and this the nub (or crux, if you prefer) – I am not sure all of mankind feels the same way.
My neighbours across the street, for example, insist on walking around without masks. How can they say in all honesty that they are fighting on the right side? Unlike in other wars mankind has fought through the ages, there is no confusion here about which of the combatants has virtue on its side.
But what of those soldiers in the war who crowd bars, rush to the beaches or celebrate weddings with more people to the square foot than is safe? We know which side they are on, whether they admit it or not. We have to all hang together or we will certainly hang separately. This is a realisation that has not struck them.
That fountain of knowledge, Hollywood, has taught us that when mankind is attacked by aliens, everybody rises up as one (give or take a couple of misfits) and knocks the aliens back. Jack Nicholson, the President of the United States, makes an inspiring speech that either causes the Martians to attack or sends them flying off to Jupiter, I forget which. But the point is, there is great teamwork, and the earth is saved, as it is whenever Martians attack. Or Uranians or Neptunians. Because we stand shoulder to shoulder, and protect one another.
In real life it turns out, things are different. We stand shoulder to shoulder when we should be at least six feet apart. We go into battle unprotected. Not wearing a mask is seen as macho; washing hands or maintaining social distancing is seen as signs of weakness. Our continued existence depends on these simple acts. But we behave as if they don’t.
Somewhere between the panic of the man who ingests disinfectants and the smugness of the one who thinks it is all a huge conspiracy, is the ideal foot soldier in this war. One who doesn’t believe the best way to act during a pandemic is to do the exact opposite of what the doctors recommend.
A mask tells us more than a face, said Oscar Wilde, and he was right. It tells us that the wearer is fighting on our side, that he thinks we are all in it together.
Take off your mask and reveal yourself is ancient advice; the modern one is put on your mask and reveal yourself.