The Great Mask Exemption Lanyard Debate

As a bit of a special feature, we’ve decided we’re going to publish a debate that we’re having between ourselves here at Lockdown? What Lockdown?

It started over a (second) bottle of wine a couple of evenings ago, but, just for you, our readers, we’ve moved the debate over to email so that we can publish it for you to peruse.

As the lead writer and editor, I will propose the motion and make my opening statement first.

The motion is: This house believes that when refusing to wear a mask, one should also refuse to wear an exemption lanyard.

For (opening statement)I will confess that I wore a mask up until October, despite my awareness of the futility of the act. I will also confess to the panic I felt when first I walked into a petrol station face-naked: the fear of censure, reprimand, or confrontation increasing my heart rate and blood pressure to what was surely an unhealthy level.

By the latter confession, it would appear that, under the mask mandate exemption specification of “severe distress” – as pointed out in our previous story, I would more likely qualify for an exemption from walking into a shop maskless than for not wearing a mask. However, there is a very reasonable argument to be made that I do qualify for exemption under the specification of “severe distress”: this entire situation has caused me severe distress, and the idea of conforming with the mask mandate, by extension, also causes me severe distress.

But, whether I’m legally exempt from participating in an almost cultish, ritualistic, and anti-scientific Government mandate or not is secondary to this debate. The question is whether we who do refuse to participate should make the very easy purchase of an exemption lanyard and wear that lanyard as and when the mask mandate applies.

I believe not, and I will make three points to support this belief.

The first is that there are those who are legitimately exempt because of PTSD, claustrophobia, anxiety, and other conditions, as well as those who spend time with the deaf and hard of hearing who rely on lip reading. There is something unsettling about pretending to be one among these individuals, and I believe doing so undermines the legitimacy of the claims to exemption of those who would be greatly negatively impacted were they forced into compliance. We are not exempt because of the masks themselves causing severe distress, but because the compliance itself causes severe distress, and a statement of this fact can be made by not wearing a lanyard.

The second point follows on from this, because there is value in this statement of non-compliance. In wearing a lanyard, the wearer is showing the Government that they are happy to play their game; but I put to you the point that we shouldn’t be playing their game at all. I will play Tesco’s game, and tell any security guard who asks if I have a mask that I am exempt, but this is different, and also a very rare occurrence. By not wearing a lanyard though, you are stating your refusal to engage in the Government’s nonsense at any level, and when every part of the mask mandate is nonsense, not participating in any way at all is the optimal course of action.

My third point concerns others with whom one might come into contact with, fleetingly or otherwise. If our ultimate goal, regarding this debate, is to put an end to the mask mandate, the quickest route is for the majority to simply stop wearing them. By wearing a lanyard, there is a risk of signalling a held belief that only those who are legitimately exempt should be the only ones not wearing masks. By not wearing a lanyard, on the other hand, it is an invitation to all other shoppers who agree that they’re pointless to rip them off and push the fight for normality one step closer in the right direction.

In conclusion, I am for the proposed motion because in refusing to wear a lanyard a distinction is made between you and those suffering from mental health issues, a statement of non-compliance and refusal to participate in cultish behaviour is made, and the route out of the mask mandate is expedited.

Against (opening statement): Thank you Mr Editor.

We can, and do, agree that wearing masks is degrading, dehumanising, at best irritating (and at worst genuinely distressing, if not, for most of us, “severely” so), and, according to all available evidence, essentially pointless.  So it is both reasonable and rational for a person not to wear a mask.  I acknowledge that I am very happy not to wear a mask, but will wear a lanyard in certain  places.

Whether a person, having decided not to wear a mask “should” or “should not” then wear, or not wear, a lanyard is open to an analysis on (at least) two different levels.  The first is the idealogical argument in your first two points.  The second is the practical argument in your third point.

As regards your first point, you may be unsettled, but I struggle to see why it is objectively unsettling. I am not unsettled, for example.  Nor do I see how it undermines the legitimacy of the exemption claimed by the genuinely exempt.  Surely there are genuinely exempt out there who do not wear lanyards?  And I am less distressed by the compliance than I am by the bloody mask – and I suspect I am not alone.

As regards your second point, I agree that it is all nonsense, and support you making your statement to the world.  Will it listen?  I fear not.  

Your third point is where we both converge and diverge.  I take it that our ultimate goal is not simply to end this silly mask mandate, but to show to people that they can live their lives untrammelled by petty, pointless restrictions.  

So how best to do that?  I believe that many wear masks because (1) they do not wish to discomfort others and (2) they are archetypically British and feel uncomfortable breaking rules.  Wearing a lanyard, I think, negates (1).  Much more importantly, it allows them to start breaking rules in a small way (as they are essentially telling an untruth), which will enable them to move on to greater breaches.  It is a gateway drug.

(And when Wendy at the garage asked me to wear a lanyard because otherwise her boss would have a go at her, I did so, because it really isn’t her fault.)

For (rebuttal and closing statement): Thank you for your opening statement. I believe there are a number of points worth raising as regards your rebuttal to my first ideological point – as you put it.

The first is that I agree that it cannot be objectively unsettling; this is an emotional reaction, and therefore can only be subjective.

Further, I will concede that, as there will surely be those who are legitimately exempt and choose not to wear a lanyard, wearing a lanyard while not legitimately being exempt cannot entirely undermine the legitimacy of others’ exemptions. However, it does undermine the statement that I wish to make.

Which brings us to your second point that while supporting my statement, you cynically fear the world will take no notice.

I don’t naively expect every person I pass by face-naked and sans-lanyard to see me and instinctively assume that I am protesting the Government’s actions and the mask mandate; however, I do expect people to notice. A maskless individual, after all, stands out from the crowd these days. My view is that a maskless individual wearing a lanyard stands out less, and so, if by not wearing a lanyard I can make a slightly bigger drop in the ocean, then that size differential is worthwhile.

As regards your point that wearing a lanyard negates the discomfort felt by others upon seeing a maskless individual, I remain unconvinced. Too many of those who would be discomfited will assume the lanyard is a lie and the wearer simply a fool taking the Michie.

The comments on social media exclaiming that mask-exempt individuals should not be allowed in the shops at all attest to this belief.

As regards your penultimate point that there are many current mask wearers who are aware of the pointlessness but feel uncomfortable breaking the rules, and that the lanyard can act as a “gateway drug” to greater breaches that will see the toppling of all petty, pointless restrictions, I see the merit in this argument; however, I believe it to be flawed on two levels.

The first is that, given the ridicule the lanyard has received, many will not perceive it to have the protective qualities and to be a sufficient excuse for the wearer that your argument attributes to it; and the second is that while it may be telling an untruth, it is still telling that untruth within the parameters of the petty, pointless restrictions, and, because of this, it seems less like a “gateway” through which one can pass onto greener pastures, and more like a window that can be cracked open while still remaining indoors, abiding by the stay at home order.

Ultimately, the point I am making is this: I do not believe the merits of the lanyard are either as present or as great as you seem to believe they are. I do believe, however, that removing the mask, not wearing a lanyard, and tasting that liberation in its purity can act as a “gateway drug” to the greater breaches you mention.

As regards your final and uncharacteristically personal point; no, it is not Wendy’s fault that we are living under a despotic regime that has convinced its public through a campaign of fear that it is right for individuals to be coerced into wearing notifications of medical conditions for all to see – whether legitimate or an “untruth”; but in capitulating to Wendy’s boss’ demands, this aspect of the current dystopia is only perpetuated. Meaningful change for the better has never been brought about by appeasement.

I will conclude by saying this: a lanyard may ease the way to living lives untrammelled by petty, pointless restrictions; not wearing a lanyard may not make a screeching statement to all observers; but we are past the point of “easy does it”, it is time to rip the plaster clean off; and, in doing so, and in making at least some small statement, at least some little good may come of it.

Against (rebuttal and closing statement): Before closing, I would make a few observations:

1.         a cynic is what an idealist calls a realist;

2.         I am not persuaded that comments on social media are representative of the population as a whole, or should be taken into account in any analysis;

3.         we are both aware (having had the same primary source) that the “ridicule the lanyard has received” is from a person who would not be prepared to go maskless in public in any circumstances.  That ridicule rings a little hollow.

Having said all that, I think only two issues remain:

First, how are people to be persuaded that they can safely and reasonably ignore the rules and regain their lives?  Starting with giant strides in admirable, but baby steps are easier.  I find it easier to go maskless in some situations with a lanyard than without.  The situations in which I am prepared to go completely mask and lanyard free are increasing.  It is baby steps, I can do those. 

Secondly, and the only real reason why I do find that approach easier, is that I wasn’t capitulating to Wendy’s boss’s demands – I was being solicitous of Wendy.  Maybe collateral damage is sometimes necessary, but I would rather not be the person inflicting it.

So I think the question for our readers is this – which route is more likely to end with a mask (and lanyard) free society that openly treats other rules with the respect they deserve – the shock and awe approach of the Covid Liberation Front, trampling over poor Wendy’s job prospects, or the hearts and minds approach of the lanyard-wearers, with Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther-King as their role models?

Thank you for reading, and please do vote at the top of the page!

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