Where did masks come on the Putin scale?

Arguing about rules is one of the best reasons to give up teaching. Who cares? If your tie is an inch too long, or your bracelets one too many, I do not give a jot (I’m afraid).

No self-respecting university graduate should, surely, spend time on such tiny, tiny, tiny and vanishingly insignificant tawdry things.

And yet, you are employed to do a job, when a teacher, so about with your rule book you go; and young people often want to take a stand, so in all charity, you really should make the effort to notice.

The entire United Kingdom, in all its nations, has become as Lilliputian as a school, in this respect: people have struck a blow for freedom by refusing to wear masks.

In this case, their brave libertarian stance increases risks to others and, as courageous champions of freedom of choice, they should never have felt compelled to do this. They always were free to wear their masks. They still are!

Freely choosing to do the decent, neighbourly thing, even when required by law, is not acquiescence in a Stalinist realm — in fact not a few of the champions for liberty have expressed understanding for Putin — but as Putin fakes the legal formalities of reasons to annex Ukraine, I am glad these have been our struggles.

The problem was using the law, of course. If your freedom to publish an offensive thing is under threat, the only way to keep your freedom is to publish it. The art of politics is really about finding ways to avoid creating crunch points or binary choices of that kind.

There has not been much art in politics of late. It has contributed to, and has not diluted, the rising tide of unthinking ‘individualists’ who regard every interaction as an opportunity to make a point, and contrarians who cannot think the contrary.

As soon as the pandemic struck, no coughing could be heard; no spitting could be seen. Terrified to be thought carriers of a plague, people behaved as though they were well behaved. Now that the legal restrictions are coming to an end in the UK, we can probably return to the status quo ante, in which expectations of unselfish good manners are tantamount to an abuse of human rights.

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