An April 2020 NatGeo article notes the social significance of masks:
- They offer “sense of agency and control.”
- They express communitarian solidarity.
- They give one a “sense of contributing to the public good.”
The article is still relevant, as their social significance has cemented and increased. They function as a proxy or symbol now for a variety of political sensibilities.
At best, especially among those most convinced of their effectiveness, masks demonstrate neighbor-love. They are seen as a reasonable way to submit to government, express social solidarity, and show courtesy to others having a range of sensitivities and risk levels.
I can’t reliably judge random individuals over this – there are a lot of reasons a person might use a mask. But I would argue that masks also became an icon for the fear of death, a false sense of control, and acquiescence to communitarian excess.
There is another concern distinct from medical efficacy and cultural significance: natural impropriety. The face is designed to be the most visible, dignified center of attention and interpersonal communication. The face shines with a natural glory. To cover it is unnatural and requires an extenuating circumstance. It is, to some degree, dehumanizing, especially on children.
As those in the UK had to carry on during the German Blitz – maintaining a sense of life and normalcy worth saving – at some point we have to decide, with a moral calculus factoring in social significance and natural impropriety, that a mask mandate is unhealthy for the non-medical aspects of society.