Off The Wall: Disappointed by the Absurd Meme

Michael – I’m so disappointed you would share such an absurd meme with 6 million people. How can you compare masks with diapers? How can you compare an INFECTIOUS disease that’s killed hundreds of thousands of people with incontinence? Do you think this is clever? Do you think this is funny? I don’t understand how anyone could make light of a pandemic by opposing a mask mandate that’s clearly saving lives.

Brad Winslow

Hi Brad


Yikes – for a moment there I thought you were my mother!

The meme in question was created from a photo taken ten years ago after a long day at a diaper laundry, somewhere in California. It made me laugh then, and it made me laugh the other day, when I saw that it had been liked and shared by 300,000 people, and reached millions more. Happily, most of the comments have been positive, but this one did break a few eggs, and you are not alone in your disappointment. Here then, is a brief explanation of why I shared it, along with a few thoughts on what you and others might have missed.

First, juxtaposing face masks with cloth diapers is a perfectly reasonable comparison. Both products are designed to protect us. Diapers are meant to protect our clothes, and to some extent, our dignity, and masks are meant to protect us from germs. Obviously, (or perhaps, not so obviously,) a cloth diaper is far more effective at doing its job, than a cloth mask is at doing it’s. In the words of Dr. Leana Wen, the leading medical reporter at CNN, cloth masks are, “little more than facial decoration.” On Dec.22nd, she added, “Cloth masks are not appropriate for Omicron, not appropriate for Delta, Alpha or any of the previous variants because we’re dealing with something that’s airborne.” In other words, we just endured two years of fistfights, brawls, and stabbings over masks that “are not appropriate for this pandemic.”

That should make you angry, Brad. Mandatory, indefinite masking is not a small thing to impose upon a free people, especially when the masks in questions are largely ineffective. How ineffective? Well, The District of Columbia reinstated its mask mandate on December 21, requiring masks in offices, gyms, stores, entertainment venues, houses of worship, restaurants and other establishments. On that day – December 21 – the District had a little more than 76,000 total cases since the start of the pandemic. Well, a month later, they have more than 121,000. Think about that. More than 37% of the District’s total cases since the start of the pandemic have occurred in the past month, after the mask mandate was put into effect.

But even if we were all issued “new and improved” masks that were “guaranteed to save lives,” we should still understand the risk of dying from Covid before we accept more government intrusion. I know that sounds cold. I know that many people recoil at the idea of risking the lives of others for the sake of convenience. But the fact is, we do it every day. We evaluate risk, we weigh the odds, and we proceed accordingly. We know for instance, that there will be six million accidents on America’s highways this year. That’s a lot of injury, a lot of suffering, billions of dollars in medical bills, and 35,000 fatalities. We also know that those numbers could be dramatically reduced this year, if the government mandated a speed limit of 20 miles an hour, required all motorists to wear a helmet, and forbade left turns. Would you support such a mandate, Brad, knowing full well that lives would be saved? If not, why not? What about a nutrition mandate? Forty percent of Americans are obese. Seventy-one percent are seriously overweight. Think of the millions of lives we could save if the government outlawed sugar and fast food. Would you support a mandate that eliminated your favorite foods, if the government told you that doing so would save lives? If not, why not?

As for the differences between Covid and incontinence, obviously, there are many. To your point, Covid is a highly transmissible virus, whose consequences range from nothing at all, to death. The consequences of pooping your pants on the other hand, range from inconvenience to humiliation. But this meme isn’t comparing consequences; it’s comparing odds. Specifically, it’s comparing the odds of dying from Covid – which we know are 0.03% – with the odds of pooping your pants, which we are asked to assume are roughly the same. It then asks us to “imagine” a world where our elected officials force us to wear diapers to keep our neighbors from pooping their pants.

Is this absurd? Of course it’s absurd! But is it more absurd than millions of frightened people covering their faces with ill-fitting, totally ineffective cloth masks for nearly two years? Is it more absurd than forcing millions of children to do likewise? Is it more absurd than watching countless elected officials brazenly defy their own mandates?

I think we can agree, Brad, that no one wants to die of Covid, and no one wants to poop their pants. And yet, as I type this, lots of people are doing both. In a country this big, 0.03% adds up to a lot of dying, and lot of pooping. I understand that, but if you think this meme makes light of dying and pooping, then I’m afraid you’ve missed the point. The fundamental questions at hand are the same questions we’ve been wrestling with from the start – how much absurdity can we endure, and how much government intrusion is justifiable in order to increase the odds of surviving a virus with a survival rate of 99.97%?

Two years ago, Andrew Cuomo was the first to answer this question publicly. “No measure,” he declared, “no matter how draconian, can be deemed too extreme if it saves a single life.”

Did he actually believe that? I doubt it. All I know for sure is that no one in favor of mandates – including him – has ever proposed and then honored a concrete metric that would signal a return to normalcy. Well, that’s no longer acceptable. After two years of contradiction, confusion, and rank hypocrisy, I think we deserve to know what success looks like. If our elected officials refuse to articulate the metrics whereby these mandates will end, then why not end them today? Seriously, what exactly are we waiting for? If it’s not a better survival rate, then what? Fewer cases? Fewer hospital admissions? A higher vaccination rate? A thumbs up from the Teachers Union? The promise of a risk-free world? Whatever it is, just tell us. Be specific, and as you consider the conditions, please consider that it’s no longer 2020.

Today, every single person in this country who wants to be vaccinated, is vaccinated. Everyone who wants to be boosted, is boosted. Everyone who wants to social distance, or stay inside, or wear a mask, is 100% free to do so. We have a new batch of early treatments that make infections far less miserable than they were two years ago, and these vaccines – while not the preventative the President promised – have proven to be remarkably effective at lessening the symptoms of Covid and all its variants. Personally, I wish more people trusted them, but they don’t, and the reasons why no longer matter. We are where we are, and all that matters now are the answers to the questions implicit in the meme:

  1. How much more mandating are we willing to endure to avoid a virus we’re all going to get?
  2. How much more mandating are we willing to endure to improve upon a 99.97% survival rate?

I don’t have the answer, Brad. I’m just a guy in a diaper, trying to keep the conversation lively. But I’m also a citizen, and I am worried. I’m worried that we’ve become irrationally averse to risk. I’m worried that mask mandates will lead to vaccine mandates, and vaccine mandates will lead to vaccine passports, and vaccine passports will lead to QR codes on our phones, which we’ll all need to present at every restaurant, every gym, every library, every theater…everywhere we go.

Yes, I’m also worried about overcrowded hospitals and stressed-out healthcare workers. And of course, I’m worried about the 0.03% of those who won’t survive this thing. But I’m more worried about the path we’re headed down, and the support that many in this country have openly expressed for a social credit system, like the one in China. That path, in my view, is a lot more dangerous than Covid. And that path is paved with mandates.

To sum up, I think the time has come to demand our elected officials tell us the exact conditions by which all mandates will be lifted. We need to know what success looks like. And, as the meme suggests, “depends,” is not an unacceptable answer.


PS If you want to hear more, (and even if you don’t) I discuss the matter further on this week’s podcast with my old friend Jeremiah Sullivan, inventor of the steel mesh shark suit. (A diaper for your whole body!) Check our “Diapers and Masks and Sharks, Oh My!”

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