‘It’s a strange kind of individualism’
When Noam Chomsky defended the academic freedom of a political science professor who made “The Case for Colonialism” in a journal article, I wondered if the famed MIT linguist and prominent anti-war activist might have other surprises up his sleeve.
Looks like the answer is no.
Chomsky (above) made perhaps the most inapt comparison since our president-elect equated support for due process with white supremacy, telling a Stanford University audience that failure to wear a mask in public was analogous to going on a shooting rampage.
The Stanford Daily reports that Chomsky spoke virtually last week at the invitation of two student-run organizations, the Stanford Speakers Bureau and Stanford in Government.
Chomsky was classic Chomsky, wondering if “the human experiment [was] going to continue” as humans deal with climate change and nuclear weapons. He claimed the “super-rich fraction of 1 percent” has absorbed at least $47 trillion from “the lower 90 percent” since the Reagan administration.
But apparently prompted by moderator Rush Rehm, who teaches a class on Chomsky, the invited speaker waded into unfamiliar territory: current research on COVID-19 and mitigation methods.
The “legitimacy” of President Trump’s former coronavirus advisor Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, “has been called into question,” the Daily paraphrased Rehm. The newspaper noted an Atlas tweet, removed by Twitter, that started “Masks work? NO,” but the Daily failed to mention the context: Atlas recommended masks “when close to others, especially hi[gh] risk.”
Atlas made the same point when he denounced Stanford colleagues for claiming he was harming the university’s reputation and even violated the faculty code of conduct. He resigned from the White House task force a week later.
Chomsky claimed that people who oppose wearing masks are an “epidemic” in American politics, more concerned about protecting their freedoms than following science:
“I mean, do you have an individual right to take an assault rifle and go to the supermarket or mall and start shooting randomly?” he questioned. “That’s what it means not to wear a mask. It’s a strange kind of individualism.”
If Chomsky had bothered to read the research cited by Atlas before Twitter censored it, or followed the flood of research papers on COVID-19 mitigation practices in the past year, he would have known the case for mask mandates is incredibly weak, at best.
Even if the famed linguist were still convinced that wearing masks was a good idea, it’s baffling how he would connect two activities with enormously different risk profiles.
Opening fire with an “assault rifle” in a crowded space is highly likely to kill and seriously wound a lot of people. Not wearing a mask while shopping is far more nebulous. Even a person who tests “positive” for COVID-19 – using tests that are often unreliable – may not be infectious at all, particularly if they don’t show symptoms.
Finally, the vast majority of Americans are not at serious risk from COVID-19 even if they get infected. If Chomsky bothered to read the Great Barrington Declaration, he might consider that a “focused protection” approach actually makes the most sense holistically.
IMAGE: Andrew Rusk/Flickr