The Virtue of Signalling

I was in a supermarket in Maynooth yesterday morning when a bloke was refused entry for not wearing a mask. That’s the first time I’ve seen that happen, though I’ve heard various people mentioning similar stories elsewhere. There is a big sign near the entrance to the store saying that face masks are mandatory, which they have been for some time in Ireland, so he could not make the excuse that he didn’t know. I rather think he was trying to make a point.
The person concerned didn’t get violent, but was extremely loud and abusive to the staff, who shouldn’t have to put up with that sort of behaviour. He stood there for a while shouting expletive in between which his message was that he didn’t care whether he got Covid-19 as it was “just the flu”. I did wonder whether someone might call that Gardaí but after a few minutes, afer which he either felt he had done what he wanted to do or that he was wasting his time, he left.
I have to admit I completely fail to see why certain people find wearing a face mask such an ordeal. It’s really nothing. I understand that some people, with e.g. asthma, might have good reasons for finding it difficult but I’m talking here about people without such reasons who seem to think they’re being asked to bear some intolerable burden, rather than just wearing a piece of light material over their nose and mouth. I’ve got quite used to it and think nothing of it. As winter comes on I even think wearing a mask might help keep my face warm and, more importantly, protect my beard from inclement weather.
The only thing that bothers me slightly is that I have very boring face masks when others seem to have invested in colourful stylish affairs. It makes me feel a bit drab. Perhaps I should invest in some more glamorous masks.
But back to our friend in the supermarket. He of course may not care whether or not he gets Covid-19, but that’s not the main point of wearing a mask. Face masks are far more effective at protecting other people from your germs than protect you from other people’s germs. I suspect, however, that trying to explain this to the person concerned would simply make matters worse. To be happy wearing a face mask you have to be the sort of person who cares about what happens to other people and there are some – regrettably many these days – who just don’t. I’m sure that extreme selfishness translates into their political attitudes too.
When we return to on-campus teaching at the end of this month, students will be asked to wear face coverings in lectures. I’m not sure how that will work out. In particular I don’t know who is supposed to police it. Supermarkets have people on the door to turn away the unmasked. Are we to have that at the entrance to lecture theatres?
Lecturing with a face mask on will be difficult, but in a big theatre the lecturer is sufficiently far from the front of the audience that won’t be necessary.
I’m not sure how effective face masks will be at slowing the spread of Covid-19 – we’ll have to wait and see – but my attitude is that they are just a part of a bundle of measures, including frequent washing of hands, wiping surfaces regularly, maintaining social distancing, etc that all contribute. The great value of a face mask in all this is that it is visible. Wearing a mask is a signal to others that they should remember the danger of the situation and act accordingly. It’s a way of showing leadership.
It has become fashionable (at least among those who possess no virtues) to use the phrase virtue signalling as pejorative term for doing or saying something good in a way that is conspicuous. To the person ejected from the supermarket, the wearing of a face mask is probably an example of virtue signalling. I think it is too, literally, and I’m all in favour of it.

18 Responses to “The Virtue of Signalling”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    I’ve not been able to solve the problem of glasses misting up while wearing a mask. That scarcely matters in shops but it would make teaching or lecturing very difficult. One can lower the mask so as not to cover the nose but that defeats the main point of it.

  2. Place your glasses down your nose a bit, below the top of the mask, so the air doesn’t impact on them. However don’t then bend down as your glassed may fall off…

    In NI, masks are mandatory as well but you don’t have to wear one if you have a medical condition which can include e.g. panic attack. You also don’t have to provide proof of a medical condition if asked – so assume if you don’t want to wear one, and are challenged, just say you have a medical condition (?) Every one I have seen in Lidl and Tesco have been wearing them – only exceptions a couple of people in small shops.

    Also believe that police will only become involved if the situation turns violent.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      I tried that, without success. I suspect that the design with horizontal wire strong enough to retain its shape once bent by hand around the nose is the only solution. Manufacturers please note.

      Maynooth physics logo masks?

  3. Phillip Helbig Says:

    “I don’t know who is supposed to police it. Supermarket have people on the door to turn away the unmasked. Are we to have that at the entrance to lecture theatres?”

    You have it easy. Steven Weinberg opposes the Texas state law which allows concealed carrying of weapons on campus. He said that he wants no weapons in his lectures and is prepared to enforce that. 😐

  4. Phillip Helbig Says:

    A new portmanteau word: covidiot.

  5. Hello, living in the U.S. I find the mask to be more political than useful. When I was a kid, I was advised in case of a nuclear attack I was to get under my desk. If you believe that a school desk can fend off a nuclear bomb. Then you should believe that a piece of material over your mouth will fend off an airborne contaminant. Just as well as wearing a helmet on a motorcycle with thongs, a t-shirt, and shorts are good enough in a motorcycle accident. That helmet will protect your whole body. As in that desk will protect you from a nuclear blast. That mask will protect you from this airborne virus. Thank you.

    • telescoper Says:

      Is “living in the US” supposed to be some sort of excuse for being badly informed?

      Hiding under a desk might not protect you from a nearby nuclear blast but it might just save you from injury if part of your roof caves in. It’s fairly good practice in an earthquake if you can’t get out of the building for precisely that reason.

      As for your following sentence you have missed the point that the mask is primarily intended to protect others, not yourself.

      Head injuries are the major cause of death in motor cycle accidents, so it is perfectly sensible to wear a helmet.

      All these things are about mitigating risk and all are sensible.

      • No, I have not missed the point. In my position, I have had to set up meetings and have listened to political discussion and medical discussion on all of this. You can place importance on anything you feel you need to. As in you have your mask on but you will stand less than a meter away from me. I am more apt to give you the virus from your proximity from me than that piece of paper on my mouth. If you have no intention of looking at the whole issue and choose to run with only part of the information can you guarantee me your answers are all correct? As far as the desk is concerned have you ever met anyone with nuclear poisoning? Have you ever been in a hospital and see the burning of human skin after a nuclear fallout? I take it you are someone who says ” at least you lived”. Well after an accident with a motorcycle, my point on that is what importance is the helmet when you still just wear thongs, a t-shirt, and shorts. Why is it you will stand for the least of protection and never ask why? Do you actually know what the covid19 virus is? Do you know where it was developed? Do you know why governments have chosen to financially break a world system for this virus? Do you know how long it has actually been in an active state amongst the whole public? When you can give me the answers to these, I will be glad to take your recommendation on how to live my life. Thank you.

      • I do not mean any disrespect at all with anyone’s concern over this pandemic. The individual you have mentioned was completely wrong in how he handled that situation. Businesses must protect themselves. I’m more in the search for why was this handed out to an unknowing public and sold to us as something that could be another bubonic plague. What are the true numbers of deaths caused by this covid19? The recovery of infected seems to be extremely high. So what is covid19 really? Why should I be terrified of it in real terms not just rhetoric from a government or the news entities that live off misinformation,

      • telescoper Says:

        The data are freely available.

      • After spending 10 years of my life teaching and working within the college system I should know better than to have committed at all. I’ve felt with way too many politicians and when this pandemic is fixed directly after the election, I find it more political than medical.I’m sorry I wasted your time on what you consider an excuse for being an American. No need to reply, I’ll just remove myself without any more discussion.

  6. I am very pleased to see you use the proper plural for data! The singular use annoys me…

  7. What about trying a speech-to-text service; you could place the live transcription at the top of the screen.

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