“Operation Warp Speed” sounds like one of those made-up superpowers from a cartoon, but the speed of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is a reminder America is still on top. From an entrepreneurial and medical technology standpoint, the United States remains the gold standard. Yet, in many other ways for the nation, the cracks are in the façade. The endless clinging to masks may be revealing evidence of that, but not in a way that is readily obvious.

One of the values of the vaccine is the ability to move beyond masks. As John Trump of Carolina Journal pointed out on April 27, despite positive data for ending the mandate, it’s been pitifully slow to get Gov. Roy Cooper to move an inch on masks. We remain one of the last Southern states with a mask mandate. Fear and politics continue to paralyze much of the decision-making process by leaders throughout this pandemic, leading to continued restrictions. Perhaps there is deeper skepticism in freedom itself.

There are important cultural takeaways from a desire for endless masks and the ultimate fear of death. Many of us have witnessed or experienced some of the psychotic episodes of shaming somebody in public without a mask — even outside or on trails. The darting eyes or the look of scorn for daring to be without the mask. Video compilations of hysterical fear and irrational meltdowns, such as one young lady’s hysteria in an elevator. In that first linked video compilation one can see somebody aggressively sanitizing their hands with ski gloves on at the slope. It’s not normal or rational behavior, and it all points to unhealthy fear.

We can endlessly second-guess the policy decisions by governors and other political leaders in terms of the pandemic, yet there is little doubt unbridled fear by much of the populace played a substantial role in empowering the governmental response and overreach.

Our modern society with the advances in medicine — which are good, of course — tends to lead us to fear death more than anything in the world. Particularly during the beginning of COVID-19, any dissension from media narratives or aggressive lockdowns voiced on social media were met with aggressive cries of “Why do you want people to die?” Of course, some of it was political posturing, but much of it stemmed from a deep-seated fear, too.

There was no ability to contextualize survival rates for people who contracted COVID-19, even now those numbers are still largely ignored by much of the media.

Perhaps some do think they will live forever, too, and every risk can be averted, every potential crisis avoided. Yet, consider these words from the book of James in Scripture, “You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”

The paralysis of fear is inevitable when one assigns greater authority to the threat than anything else at their disposal – that is still true for those still recoiling in fear through the introduction of effective vaccines.

I’ve always taken COVID-19 seriously. I have an auto-immune disease and I’ve personally known two individuals who spent extended time on a ventilator yet miraculously survived. Yet, the COVID-19 experience has helped me to lay aside fear in new ways in my own life. In many respects, fear is the opposite of freedom, and fear is a powerful tool for tyranny. Let’s hope we can overcome it so it doesn’t become our collective undoing.

Ray Nothstine is opinion editor at Carolina Journal.