Now that the governments have turned into revenue-making mode*, issuing fines for not wearing masks, I found an unquestionable benefit of wearing face masks-apart from keeping the fines away.
You can be in public and smile – and not be punished for it by an opportunist trying to rip you off. Because that is what happens with idiots who smile.
I don’t smile on the streets of Budapest. My reason is simple: to avert people from messing with me. I don’t want to be seen as weak – and a smile is taken as a signal of weakness because you must be naïve. You probably have never been ripped off in life, never been lied to, never been hurt to the point when you don’t trust anyone anymore. Yes, a smile is taken as a signal of generalized trust – and trust can be taken advantage of. Someone will approach to get your attention, your pity, your spare change – or maybe even come up with an incredible story of misfortune “that can’t be made up” and make you open your wallet or spend your social capital on them.
So not only do I not smile, I even frown menacingly in public – at least that’s what my western-born friends tell me. And they are right (I saw photos). But Hungary is not the worst. The further you go east the worse the smile-situation gets. People of the streets look more and more depressed – even if they technically function in their daily lives and if they are no more depressed than the others.
Societies that spent decades under oppression have been socialized to feel helpless. That nothing they can do changes their situation. And that is the essence of depression. The stronger the oppression, the more pronounced the society-level depression. And it lingers down the generations.
Oppressed societies have learned that there is nothing they can do against power, but they can still mess with each other because the dictator has nothing against that. They can rip pieces out of each other, sometimes just for its own sake. In fact, it is highly encouraged to terrorize each other.
Damaged people are only stopped by fear, and they only fear the stronger. The weak will be picked on for its own sake, to feel in control, to have someone who has it even worse than I do.
Hence the preventive frowns. I want my frustrated, damaged fellow countrymen to go and pick on someone else if they must. Go cut in the queue before someone else, shortchange someone else, offer your palm reading to someone who looks more gullible, and tell someone else that nothing can be repaired, I must replace the whole house.
But now that my face is covered with a mask, I may relax my frowning muscles and walk around appreciating the beauty of things with wonder in my eyes. Ok, maybe I need sunglasses.
* Anything that brings in revenue will be used to raise revenue. The person who fined you did notice that your cash is now in his hand. People have been hooked on less behavioral reinforcement and institutions corrupted by lesser incentives.
The Alien face mask from the cover photo can be bought here (I have no connection to the seller).