Cloth masks may not be effective at stopping the spread of COVID-19, but our media, academia, and public health voices keep coming up with more reasons to wear masks: They're good for stopping the common cold, putting on a mask “reduces our anxiety” by giving us the illusion of control, masks “reduce or change interactions that might otherwise spark social anxiety,” and they “can keep that too-chatty neighbor at bay or help the introvert hide in plain sight.”

The changing arguments for masks reflect misanthropy: Masks put a shield between me and other people, which is good because other people are bad.

Of course, the mask mandators and cheerleaders regularly appear unmasked in indoor settings while explaining that it was OK because they were with friends (or donors or actresses) who were all vaccinated — of course, the mask mandates often don’t account for vaccination.

Then, there were the famous pictures of the Met Gala, where celebrities such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared unmasked while being served by the masked staff.

Pay close enough attention and you see the pattern: Mask mandates are there to protect the enlightened from having to interact with outsiders.

Yet, what we need more of these days are conversations and interactions that nobody ever planned for. That is, we need strangers to talk to one another more. And that’s inhibited by masks.

The latest study on conversations with strangers shows that people find these talks surprisingly meaningful and uplifting. “Hello, stranger?” is the title of a new paper by researchers Juliana Schroeder, Donald Lyons, and Nicholas Epley, who found that talking to strangers is generally a positive experience — but one that most people avoid.

Why? Because starting a conversation with a stranger seems daunting. What helps us overcome that obstacle? Often, it’s nonverbal facial cues — which are much harder to convey or interpret when most of one’s face is covered.

In this time of growing distrust, alienation, isolation, and political and cultural animosity, we could use more pleasant chats with strangers. Sorry, introverts.