How polarization ate our brains

I continue to believe that masks, including high-filtration masks, are an important tool, especially for the unvaccinated who must work or be indoors with other people. But it’s pretty clear that they have also become a talisman of sorts, essentially signaling belonging in a tribe, rather than a public health tool that’s quite useful under certain circumstances. It’s weird to see the mask debate come full circle. Now I get lectured for not talking about masks, even if the article is about vaccination, and people openly declare that they will continue to double-mask for a year even after being fully vaccinated–and for saying that on social media, they receive many likes and retweets (I’m not linking to examples because I’m not trying to focus on individuals). Meanwhile, those who deny the importance of the pandemic will often obsessively focus on masks, as if they are the greatest threat to liberty and individual expression rather than, yep, a public health tool that’s quite useful under certain circumstances. The talisman works both ways as a tribal signifier.

Of course, articles about Florida allegedly covering up excess COVID deaths immediately got shared widely on social media, and most people will never see either a correction or a follow-up article. It’s just the way it works, now.

This isn’t an easy position to dig oneself out of because we all are part of such political groups. I am not even trying to conduct false equivalence here: some falsehoods are worse than others, and at least in the United States, the damage done by the political parties to fighting the pandemic is clearly not equal. But it also seems important to understand how, and why, misinformation, bad science and policy and terrible attitudes are not just a problem over there.