Covidiot. Plague rat. Mask slacker.
These are just a few of the many terms that I’ve seen people on social media use to describe the millions of Americans who reject wearing masks and oppose taking other collective actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On a personal level, I understand the appeal of these terms. I’ve used them myself in private and occasionally on social media. People who go out in public and willfully disregard masking and distancing guidelines are placing everyone around them in mortal danger. It’s reasonable for the rest of us to feel outraged by their behavior. It’s important for us to condemn their behavior in some way. It’s also helpful to have specific terms for such people so that we can discuss how to avoid them and curtail their destructive behavior.
However, the growing reliance on these insults in pro-mask discourse concerns me — not because I’m worried about the feelings of “plague rats,” but because I get the distinct impression that many people hurling such insults have failed to identify the underlying source of the problem. And if those of us who support collective action in response to the pandemic fail to identify the source of the problem, we won’t be able to solve it.