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Di Leo: The Masked Face and the Public Square 



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By John F. Di Leo - 

In the fall of 1951, Galaxy Science Fiction serialized one of Robert A. Heinlein’s tales, which was eventually published as The Puppet Masters.  The story concerned an invasion of earth by small, flat, incredibly-fast-breeding aliens that could attach themselves to a human’s back and take over his mind completely.  

Though humanity eventually eradicates the threat, the book closes with the decision that life will never be the same. Due to the risk that these creatures might return, mankind must change the way it lives.   

We must forever change the way we dress and greet each other; clothing must expose the back, and greetings must include turning around to show the other person that you’re not controlled, much as the modern handshake developed from the medieval display of an open hand to show you weren’t brandishing a weapon.

Now, this was fiction. No such aliens have landed on earth, and, like some of Heinlein’s other stories, its premises may be far-fetched.   A decent movie was finally made, 40 years later, starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Warner, but it omitted that final warning of societal transformation, which this writer admits was one of the most interesting aspects of the tale, though it was only mentioned briefly at the end of the book. 

Today, we find the world in the grip of a pandemic, of sorts. 

The coronavirus known as COVID-19, also called the CCP Virus or Wuhan Flu, because of where it first appeared, has been used as an excuse to mandate countless policy choices, from the very reasonable to the most outrageous overreactions. 

It’s not fictional, and it’s not extra-terrestrial, so it should bear no resemblance to the Heinlein tale I mention… or does it? 

When the virus was new on the scene – with China and Italy reporting huge contagion and fatality rates – many countries tried everything they could think of to contain its spread, while doctors and scientists dove into the challenge of finding treatments or cures.    

We have seen factories shut down, the entire retail world at a standstill, restaurants barred from dine-in service, sports seasons cancelled, theatres shuttered.   First for a week or two, then for a couple of months… all while those scientists and doctors found the right ways to address the challenge. 

We now know much more about it than we did at the beginning.  We know that the contagion and fatality rates are nowhere near what were believed at first. We know that the virus itself isn’t usually what directly causes the sicknesses, but that the virus opens up the body to other infections that are more easily treated.  We know that the hospital system will not be overrun by it, so all the measures taken to avoid that particular fear can thankfully be drawn down. 

And yet… 

We see people continuing to demand that everyone wear masks… despite the risk to people with asthma or other breathing challenges, despite the disturbance to cultural norms, despite even the severe damage to law enforcement. 

Let’s think about that a moment.  In a free country, we count on a criminal justice system that can identify and remove the criminal element from our midst.  This depends on facial recognition – by security cameras, by cellphone photos, by human witnesses.  The wearing of masks compromises, if not completely upends, this very system.   

To require a mask in a medical environment while performing surgery or dental work, or while dealing with dangerous chemicals at the workplace, such as sealing a driveway or stripping woodwork, all makes sense.  These are not environments in which crimes normally occur; personal protection for certain risk outranks a need for witnesses for a crime that’s unlikely to occur. 

But it’s the opposite in a retail environment or a normal workplace.  Crime is likely in convenience stores and boutiques, jewelry stores and gift shops.  We have security cameras in our malls, banks, and gas stations because, sadly, crime is a common occurrence.  We need to be able to see people’s faces, to perform government’s fundamental obligation: the protection of free people from hostile forces. 

Human interaction itself – from gatherings with friends to meetings with coworkers, from family dinners at a restaurant to the salesman-customer relationship in the store or office – depends on seeing each other’s faces.  There is a good reason why sane societies have always banned face coverings from driver’s license and passport photos – a society of free people is a society of individuals.  Our distinct faces are the tangible reminders that we are not like everybody else, that each one of us is a free citizen, a distinct human being, not just a part of some great voting block or ethnic demographic.  The mask robs us of more than oxygen; it buries our very selves. 

Similarly, the bans on large gatherings threaten to rob us of our culture.  The United States is a melting pot; it was conceived as a place where everyone belongs to so many different factions, they have to learn to live together; they have to get along. 

Even in the days of the Founding – when our demographics were almost homogenous (being primarily White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) – our society was designed to have multiple groupings that overlapped each other.  We were Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Calvinist, we were northerners and southerners, urbanites and country folks, farmers and lawyers, distillers and shopkeepers, soldiers and sailors.   

Because we belonged to so many different groups, we were forced to get along with each other.  The farmer, lawyer, distiller and shopkeeper who might all have different positions on a tax bill or zoning ordinance wouldn’t see each other only at the state legislature, while arguing on the issue of the day; they would encounter each other in church or at the theater, at their civic group’s board meeting and at a ball game. 

Look at the people in the stands of a ball game, or standing in line for cocktails at the intermission in a theatre.  You see mechanics and lawyers, entrepreneurs and schoolteachers – old and young, wealthy and not – making small talk, chatting or arguing as equals about the relative merits of the Cubs’ batting lineup this season or the Bears’ defense or the sound quality at the theatre.   

In public places, we are all equals.  Individuals, distinct, and equal.  This is an imperative element of the American experiment.   

And to be equal individuals in public places, by definition, there must BE public places. 

This brings us to the other terrifying aspect of the COVID-19 lockdowns.  We have cancelled whole seasons of all forms of entertainment, from stage to stadium, from concert to state fair.  We are not interacting with each other at all outside of the workplace and the family unit. 

This is not tenable. 

It’s not just the loss of a year’s wages for those whose careers are dependent on entertainment – the concert center staffs, the actors and musicians, the athletes and motivational speakers.  It’s also the lack of human contact with strangers… the usually smooth, usually safe human contact that enables us to work together, to cooperate, to come together on Election Day without the feeling that it’s “Me vs. Them.” 

Our Founding Fathers designed this system.  They proved that all these different groups could get along politically because they also got along at church, at the theatre, at restaurants and in the public market.  Take that away, and we can no longer expect them to get along on Election Day. 

As we have seen the numbers disprove the need for massive lockdowns – as it has been demonstrated that the mask-wearing and the avoidance of public events was an overreaction – we can see society collapsing.  Riots in our cities, political polarization at an unprecedented level.  Can these be related? Of course they are! 

We hear people talking about another year – or even two – of school being online, another year of office staffs working from home, another year without theater, church, sports, or concert tours.  All to avoid an illness that is certainly real, and can in very rare instances be fatal, but is also nowhere near as contagious as originally thought, and is now treatable in almost all cases.  And still they propose taking these temporary, cataclysmic changes to our society and making them permanent! 

What does this mean?  We’ve seen it already, a sampling of it, in the past few months:  Such a change means the death of retail, the death of schooling, the death of entertainment, the death of sports, the death of conventions, the death of state fairs, the death of churches and synagogues, the death of so much more of what makes America.

Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters closed with a warning – that one brush with danger might cause society to overreact, and to change forever.   

That’s what we risk today.  A permanent change to our society – destructive of our health, our interpersonal relationships, our economy, our very culture. 

What is America without work and play, church and school?  We live for the things we do, the friends we make, the time spent together in shared experiences.   

It’s not about watching a singer on television; it’s about taking a date or a spouse, or a group of friends, to go to dinner and see our favorite performers together. It’s the shared experience of watching each other laugh or cry at a comedy club or play, of watching our fellow fans cheer as our hitter hits that home run, standing up together to sing the National Anthem and Take Me Out to the Ball Game. 

We are a social people; this we have always been.  The United States of America cannot – and should not – try to function with masks and stay-at-home orders.  

We must reopen America now, or be forever transformed for the worst. 

Copyright 2020 John F. Di Leo  

John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based trade compliance trainer and transportation manager, writer and actor.  A former county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, his columns have been run in Illinois Review since 2009. 

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  1. Besides, its not like the federal or state govt is trustworthy!
    USMCA is a trade treaty which is a massive violation of the US Constitution. It’s an unlawful massive transfer of sovereignty from Congress and the American People to global gov’t (UN). The New World Order federal govt is our enemy.
    The USMCA “Trade Agreement” is, in reality, a Transfer of Sovereignty Agreement. It provides for the economic and financial integration of Canada, the United States, and Mexico. In addition to putting the three countries under global regulation of a host of issues such as patents, environmental regulation, labor, immigration policy, prohibition of discriminatory practices respecting sexual preferences and “gender identity” in the workplaces; it puts the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in control of our economy and binds us to submit to an international monetary system which is to be administered and enforced (at least initially) by the IMF and which will replace our collapsing Federal Reserve system.
    Every word, clause, sentence, paragraph, page, and chapter of the USMCA “Trade Agreement” is in blatant violation of our Declaration of Independence and US Constitution.
    The supremacy clause in the US Constitution is ignored and stomped on by this trade agreement. The federal govt refused to call it a trade treaty, they called it a trade agreement to deceive Americans and hide their lawless power grab and betrayal of the American people. ALL AGREEMENTS WITH FOREIGN COUNTRIES ARE TREATIES! bY DEFINITION THEY ARE TREATIES! The treaty making power of the United States is very limited. What, then, are the proper objects of treaties? To find the answer, we must go to The Constitution to see what it authorizes the President and the Congress to do. The Constitution delegates to Congress powers “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations … and with the Indian Tribes” (Art I, § 8, cl. 3); and “To declare War…and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water” (Art I, § 8, cl. 11). The Constitution authorizes the President to “…appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls…” (Art II, §2, cl. 2).
    The USMCA contains the unconstitutional financial integration of Canada, the United States, and Mexico. In addition to putting the three countries under global regulation of a host of issues such as patents, environmental regulation, labor, immigration policy, prohibition of discriminatory practices respecting sexual preferences and “gender identity” in the workplaces; it puts the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in control of our economy and binds us to submit to an international monetary system which is to be administered and enforced (at least initially) by the IMF and which will likely replace our collapsing Federal Reserve system.
    This action has initiated the creation of a North American Union, the federal govt is traitorous and our enemy. Its obvious they can’t be trusted. They ignore rule of law and the supreme law of the land, our US Constitution. They think they are a monarchy and we are their subjects