The rumors are rampant that masks are back in fashion this fall. It’s vital to ask why people seek control over others, but we can’t stop there; an active, planned response is necessary. Evil, propaganda, manipulation, and inflated, power-seeking egos are nothing new to mankind.
In asking myself what to do if masks come back, I look to Socrates as my role model. Although a stranger to our times, he saw the same faults in human nature that we saw during Covid-19, and which we may see again: a denial of objective reality; the threat of the individual to the power of the corrupt; and immorality, fear, and indifference.
Plato’s Apology lays out the trial of Socrates. He’s put on the stand and accused of looking for causes other than the city’s gods and corrupting the youth with his disinformation and fake news. Really, the power of his message threatens the Athenian authorities. Unwilling to blindly accept the government’s explanations, Socrates lives a life of free-thinking in pursuit of the truth. He says that individual spiritual excellence is the key to a flourishing society because it brings about public and private goods.
But authorities who use their positions of power for personal gain will always do away with truth and individuality because it makes their roles easier. We see it with Socrates. Even after he provides all the logical arguments and defenses any sensible person could understand, he’s still found guilty. As punishment, he must either leave Athens and never return or renounce his teachings.
Socrates refused to leave his beloved Athens or to recant, so he died for the truth — not for his opinion or his beliefs but for reality. Rather than live inauthentically — to deny what he knows to be the truth and agree with the false narrative imposed on him to save his own skin — he would sacrifice his life. He tells the jury that actions born of the fear of death are the most blameworthy, and our world today is in desperate need of that message.
When we removed God, civil authority became divine and the physical world became man’s highest good. While we are not all put on the stand to face a death sentence, we still face the same kind of choice: do we mask up, knowing it doesn’t do anything, to make our lives easier? Or do we sacrifice the comfort of social acceptance to stand up for the truth?
The truth is that masks are a load of garbage. They always have been and always will be. The only thing they do is prove our politicians right: that we don’t have the minds or the guts to oppose them.
Socrates saw that the denial of objective reality would lead to the end of free speech — not free speech as the notion of having the right to say whatever you want, whenever you want, but free speech as the human right to express the truth. Truth is relentlessly attacked today and not fighting back does nothing except further instill a societal lukewarmness that endangers any strength of conviction.
It would’ve been far easier and more comfortable for Socrates to just take their guilty verdict and go on living his life. In fact, even his friends were encouraging him to do so. But for what? Life is only well-lived in an acknowledgment and embrace of truth. If we accept the lie, telling ourselves it’s small, little, and white, we are ourselves, burying the coffin of free speech in the ground.
The world can feel as if everything is stacked against us. And masks are just one of the many tools our rulers use to subjugate people into lies. The power-hungry authorities have done a swell job at pushing us into a corner, terrified at the force of their control. But their immensity is simply in their shadow: their threat is much smaller than we realize when we see the power we ourselves wield.
If we’re required to wear masks again, then we must remember that our refusal is far more effective than it might seem. We’re not just being stubborn and suffering unnecessary discomfort in our social life. It is a far greater blow to the house of cards than we realize. Masks feed the facade of ideological power, an imaginary thread in the tapestry of a totalitarian regime, that when pulled threatens to begin the massive unweaving that so terrifies the powers that be.
The Great Oz is nothing but a bunch of rich moguls who puppeteer humanity for their own greater good. Power is not relinquished lightly, but it never will be taken from the unworthy if we continue to surrender our own. We do not always have power over the circumstances we find ourselves in, but we do have power over how we react, and that’s where our victory lies.
Evil is not unprecedented. It repeats itself, donning new masks and disguises as time moves on. But goodness is ever dynamic and creative, revealing itself in each individual context. If we want to fight for the good, then we must fight for the truth. So, as you head into autumn and pull out your scarves, throw away your masks and consider what Socrates would do.