It's the "Thought" That Counts

When it comes to Public Caring

If the recent pandemic has done one thing, it has revealed just how truly “immoral” many Americans are. My own sinful heart was exposed while shopping at an essential business recently. In navigating the store’s isles, keeping my head down (and my distance), I could sense the penetrating scorn of other shoppers. In my public shame, all I could do was recount the humiliation that Hester Prynne must have felt in Puritan New England wearing the scarlet “A” on her dress as a signal to the townsfolk she was an adultress.1 To anyone who cast eyes upon my reprobate soul, my guilt – like that of Hester’s Prynne’s, was obvious.

Unlike Prynne, I have never cheated on my husband. In fact, I’ve never stolen property belonging to another. The only time I saw the inside of a jail was when I volunteered to teach Bible classes, and my only use of vodka is for a window-cleaning solution and homemade coffee extract. True, I do binge on ice cream from time to time, and have had a real hard time giving up Diet Coke.

And what is this great sin that has drawn the disapproving looks from my moral superiors? Hide the children, summon the judge, and elevate the gallows. It has involved my reluctance to dutifully don a four-by-five inch piece of fabric across my face in supermarkets, stores, and outdoor parks, the new symbol of “caring:” the face mask.

We have all seen these masks lately; they are quite often worn under caring people’s noses, on their chins, dangling off their ears, or hanging around their necks. Apparently, while these caring people are not wearing their symbols of benevolence in accordance with guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, what is most important is that they show they care by wearing the mask in the first place. It is the thought that counts after all, real public safety be damned.

For many public mask non-wearers, born in hopeless iniquity, cognizant of the nakedness of our faces and ungloved hands, in quiet anonymity we are hypervigilant to socially distance ourselves from others. Of course, this practice of genuine concern, while regarded as quite effective, goes largely unnoticed because it bears no obvious virtue signal.

Now for the record, my issue here is not folks who wear masks or even who wear them wrongly! I am decrying those paragons of social virtue who consider themselves morally superior to others because they wear masks while simultaneously violating social distancing rules. Perhaps the violation of the latter comes from overconfidence in a mask’s ability to prevent the spread of disease? Or worse yet, because it’s really not about preventing disease spread but about feeling superior?

It seems we have become a culture that places more merit on those who signal they care, than those who truly do care. In many ways public face masks have become the latest symbol for displays of public morality (note, I am not taking to task those who wear these in health-care administration). A year or two ago, caring symbols may have taken the form of a lapel pin, a rainbow bumper sticker, or a social media hashtag.

In recent memory, a celebrity politician posted pictures of herself in extreme duress, hunched over in agony, with eyebrows furrowed and genuine crocodile tears, expressing horror at the deplorable conditions of an “internment camp,” housing the children of illegal border crossers. Never mind that it was later discovered these pictures were the product of a clever photo shoot at an empty detention center, what was important was that the politician showed she cared.

Now the nice thing about all of these symbols of caring is that for all the moral superiority they confer on their holy standard-bearers, they are inexpensive, easy to manufacture, and require little effort to display proudly and publicly. While these many public displays of caring may raise “awareness,” too often they do little to actually improve the lives of others. But, that’s all okay because for moral narcissists it is the thought that counts.

Roger Simon, in his prescient 2016 book, I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism is Destroying our Republic, if it Hasn’t Already,2 characterized moral narcissists as those whose belief systems in no way are subject to examination or peer review, regardless of the consequences of those belief systems. If they “misfire completely, cause terror attacks, illness, death, riots in the inner city, or national bankruptcy,” all is okay. The person with those beliefs will be applauded and approved of so long as they show that they “care.” For many of these moral narcissists, in spite of the millions of people murdered under regimes informed by doctrines contained within The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx was a hero – he was simply misunderstood.

Simon reminds us in his brilliant book of the statement by ancient Greek play-write Sophocles, “What people believe prevails over the truth.” For today, this very day, at the instant of this writing, people believe they are showing that they “care” by wearing a face-mask in public (dangling off the ears, notwithstanding). While I for one am doubtful that facemasks as worn by these moral superiors will make a difference in stemming the spread of COVID-19, what does it really matter? For a culture that prizes moral narcissists, it’s the thought that counts.

[1] Hawthorne, Nathaniel. (1850). The Scarlet Letter: A Romance. Boston: Ticknor, Reed and Fields.

[2] Simon, R. (2016). I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn’t Already. New York: Encounter Books.

graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno, with a BS in molecular biology and a minor in cognitive psychology. As an undergraduate, she conducted research in immunology, microbiology, behavioral and cognitive psychology, scanning tunneling microscopy and genetics - having published research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and projects in scanning tunneling microscopy. Having recently completed an M.Ed. from University of Cincinnati and a Certificate in Apologetics with the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, Emily is currently an instructional designer/content developer for Moody Bible Institute and teaches organic chemistry and physics. As a former Darwinian evolutionist, Emily now regards the intelligent design arguments more credible than those proffered by Darwinists for explaining the origin of life.

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