Of Masks and School Children’s Faces

Editors Note: The following is a guest post written by my good friend D. W. Syme. 

Authors Note: I decided to change up the wording of the ending passage from “What’s Wrong With the World” by G.K.Chesterton. in order to better fit our current crisis. If the apostle of common sense were with us today, I feel he would write something like what follows...

A little while ago certain doctors and other persons permitted by modern law to dictate to their shabbier fellow-citizens, sent out an order that all little children should wear masks in daycares and schools. I mean, of course, all little children whose parents were poor. Many very unhealthy habits are common among rich little children, but it will be a long time before any doctors interfere forcibly with them. Now, the case for this particular interference was this, that the poor are pressed down from above into reliance on dual incomes and public schools, and that poor people must not be allowed to breathe freely, because in their case it must mean breathing germs into the air. Therefore, the doctors proposed to abolish their breathing and playing and showing of faces. It never seems to have occurred to them to abolish the masks. Yet it could be done. As is common in most modern discussions the unmentionable thing is the pivot of the whole discussion. It is obvious to any Christian man (that is, to any man with a free soul) that any coercion applied to a kid in daycare ought, if possible, to be applied to the galas and parties attended by presidents and mayors and senators. I will not ask why the doctors do not, as a matter of fact apply their rule to the fancy folks. I will not ask, because I know. They do not because they dare not. But what is the excuse they would urge, what is the plausible argument they would use, for thus shrouding and humiliating poor children and not rich adults? Their argument would be that the disease is more likely to be in the air of poor people than of rich. And why? Because the poor children are forced (against all the instincts of the highly domestic working classes) to crowd together in close rooms under a wildly inefficient system of public instruction; and because two out of every one hundred children may have the germs. And why? Because the poor man is so ground down by the great cronyism and inflation of the great economic institutions, that his wife often has to work as well as he. Therefore, she has no time to look after the children, therefore they must give their children over to the inefficient system of public instruction. Because the working man has these burdens on top of him, the doctor’s intrusions sitting (literally) on his face, and the schoolmaster’s indoctrination sitting (literally) on his head, the workingman must allow his child, first to be neglected from poverty, next to be poisoned by dubious social theories, and, lastly, to have his child’s face abolished by hygiene. He, perhaps, was proud of his child’s face. But he does not count.

Upon this simple principle (or rather precedent) the sociological doctor drives gayly ahead. When a drunk tyranny crushes men down into the dirt, so that their very air is restricted, the scientific course is clear. It would be long and laborious to cut off the heads of the tyrants; it is easier to shroud the heads of the slaves. In the same way, if it should ever happen that poor children, screaming with toothache, disturbed any schoolmaster or social worker, it would be easy to pull out all the teeth of the poor; if their nails were disgustingly dirty, their nails could be plucked out; if their noses were indecently blown, their noses could be cut off. The appearance of our humbler fellow-citizen could be quite strikingly simplified before we had done with him. But all this is not a bit wilder than the brute fact that a doctor can intrude into the life of a free man, whose child may be as clean as spring flowers, and order him to tell his child to wear his mask properly in the future. It never seems to strike these people that the lesson of these ineffective measures is the wrongness of the measures, not the wrongness of the children. Faces are, to say the least of it, a rooted thing. Their enemies, like insects and armies, sweep upon us but seldom. In truth, it is only by eternal institutions like faces that we can test passing institutions like empires. If a house is so built as to knock a man’s head off when he enters it, it is built wrong.

The mob can never rebel unless it is conservative, at least enough to have conserved some reasons for rebelling. It is the most awful thought in all our anarchy, that most of the ancient blows struck for freedom would not be struck at all to-day, because of the obscuration of the clean, popular customs from which they came. The insult that brought down the hammer of Wat Tyler might now be called a medical examination. That which Virginius loathed and avenged as foul slavery might now be praised as free love. The cruel taunt of Foulon, “Let them eat grass,” might now be represented as the dying cry of an idealistic vegetarian. Those great scissors of science that would snip off the faces of the poor little school children are ceaselessly snapping closer and closer to cut off all the corners and fringes of the arts and honors of the poor. Soon they will be twisting necks to suit clean collars, and hacking feet to fit new boots. It never seems to strike them that the body is more than raiment; that the Sabbath was made for man; that all institutions shall be judged and damned by whether they have fitted the normal flesh and spirit. It is the test of political sanity to keep your head. It is the test of artistic sanity to keep your face uncovered.

Now the whole parable and purpose of these words is this: to assert that we must instantly begin all over again, and begin at the other end. I begin with a little child breathing free and playing with her friends, not sitting miserably at six feet intervals and being yelled at intermittently to pull up her mask. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter’s face is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and culture. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If bureaucrats and laws and sciences are against it, bureaucrats and laws and sciences must go down. With the hot tears of one little masked school girl, I will set fire to all modern civilization. Because a child should breathe free and play, she should not be subject to the whims of medical bureaucrats; because she should not be subject to the whims of medical bureaucrats, she must have men willing to oppose the medical bureaucrats; because there is a lack of those with power willing to oppose the medical bureaucrats, there shall be a revolution. That little school girl with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched crying on my Twitter feed, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her face shall not be covered like a convict’s; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed.

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