Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Corona Counfounded

A few thoughts about the current Coronavirus pandemic, as we're a few months in.  Some things about this thing make no sense to me.  A lot of it revolves around the communication.  To help lighten the mood of this potentially heavy topic I included some images with this post to bring some laughs. 

I've always been interested in communication. Verbal, non verbal, body language, how people communicate, and the words and language we use.  Right now my kids are in a development phase where I'm frequently reminding them to "use their words" instead of cry, scream, or remain frustrated with whatever is going on with them. It's also a time to help them put accurate words to their feelings so they can develop good communication skills. Although we talk and communicate all day long, that doesn't always mean we get better at it.  Sometimes our language declines, unnoticed.

But we do get funnier at times. 

Another thing with the pandemic is I see is that historians speak of the importance of documenting life during the pandemic.  So I thought I'd document some things I noticed that were interesting.  Future people looking back at 2020 need to know that our language has become a mess and people don't understand each other.  Misinformation and miscommunication are huge problems.  I mean Corona beer had to halt production for a time due to apparent confusion between Corona beer and Coronavirus. That's how bad it is, and what fear is doing to people.

From am April 2020 national news article:
Corona beer has become a victim of the coronavirus after consumers mistakenly associated it with the highly contagious virus. According to CBS News, 38 percent of surveyed American beer drinkers said they would not buy Corona beer "under any circumstances."

But enough about beer.  Scriptures make reference to language and people who become confounded. We all know about babel, and that ancient effort to build a tower to heaven which resulted in their language being confounded, I'm fascinated by that.  How their language got confounded to the point they couldn't function.

But first a few notes (presenters notes) from a presentation at a Book of Mormon Language Conference hosted by McKay Platt in Provo Utah, January 2020:
(I’ll replace these with a transcript as soon as I can locate a copy)
-The second sentence of Moroni’s title page introduction to the Book of Mormon recalls a time that the Jaredites came from the great tower and refers to “confounding the language”.
-Confounding the language” is generally thought to be a miraculous event where all men speaking in a single tongue suddenly found themselves speaking Japanese, Swahili, Navajo and Finnish.
-The text, however, does not say “suddenly every man was speaking a new language”. It was the people not their language who were confounded. The people were so confounded they thought they could get to Heaven by building a tower. The prayer of the brother of Jared was that the Lord “will not confound us that we may not understand our words”.
-Emerson expresses a parallel thought. “The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language
-He’s saying, Once men themselves are corrupted- once men start to have stinking thinking—it begins to be reflected in their language.
-Hugh Nibley asks this question about Jared’s prayer, “How can it possibly be said that “we may not understand our words”? Words we cannot understand may be nonsense syllables or may be in some foreign language, but in either case they are not our words. The only way we can fail to understand our own words is to have words that are actually ours change their meaning among us.”
-The word confound is often used to mean confuse but it’s root meaning referred to mixing or blending.
-Language becomes confounded when words change meaning, when new meanings are mixed into the language.
-People become confounded when the philosophies of men are mingled with the word of the Lord.
-And why would Jared worry about such a thing?
Because Jared knew that the new words created by the mixing were not equivalent to the original language.
-Semantic change is a big area of study: virtually our entire vocabulary is subject to words changing meaning. It’s hard to find an old word that means the same thing today as it meant long ago
-Unless you are unusual, you have never been exposed to the original meanings of these English words: nice, silly, fizzle, fathom, clue, myriad, flirt, hussy, egregious and senile. (Nice meant silly and silly meant blessed.) (A Hussy was a housewife)
-I ask my ten-year-old grandson, “what are the latest cool words today?” His answer, lit, dope, dank, swag, swol, gaines, and yeet. If you listen to an extended conversation in young people you are almost guaranteed to hear words you have never heard before.
- Just in the last five years over 40 pronouns have been added for persons who don’t like to be referred to as he or she. They in this context (used as a SINGULAR pronoun) was named 2019 Word of the Year by Merriam-Webster.
-Words changing meaning is often seen as natural and innocuous. Most authors discussing semantic change do not hint a dark side to the corruption of language as Emerson does and as Book of Mormon authors do.
-Mormon taught that mixing or blending leads to incorrect traditions which leads to destruction. You might have thought that Mormon was talking about interracial marriage but listen to his words.
....”the Lord God might preserve his people, that they might not mix and believe in incorrect traditions which would prove their destruction.” (Alma 3:8)
-Mormon is unconcerned about diluting the genes of some Master Race but instead about mixing ideas and traditions leading to incorrect traditions which lead to destruction. The Adversary is behind the destruction. We once taught in our temples that It is he who mixes or mingles the words of scripture with philosophies of men. And he does it to in order to obscure truth.
-Emerson explains how man, corrupted by impure motives then proceeds to corrupt language:
-A man’s power to connect his thought with its proper symbol, ...depends on the simplicity of his character, that is, upon his love of truth, and his desire to communicate it without loss. (He is describing uncorrupted man) The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language. When simplicity of character and the sovereignty of ideas is broken up by ...secondary desires, the desire of riches, of pleasure, of power, and of praise, — and duplicity and falsehood take (the) place of simplicity and truth....old words are perverted to stand for things which are not;...In due time, the fraud is manifest, and words lose all power....”

I see a lot of language confounding and people confounding again in our day.  It has been especially noticeable during this pandemic.  Our language is so confounded that satire sites made good use of it creating satirical guides about the meaning of people's words vs the words themselves.  The reason this next graphic is funny is because often it feels like there are elements of truth to it. But some are just absurd.  Have a look:

I ask myself, are these kinds of miscommunications a result of the population just being hysterical and overly stressed out?  Likely not, since public, governmental, and religious leaders are also communicating using words that don't match up with what the words mean.  The masses are not totally to blame for our confounded pandemic language.  A few examples:

"Social Distancing".  What the heck is social distancing?  This is not a scientific or medical concept. Social distancing would be something like socially keeping people out of your life, or remaining isolated from social contact with others. That is a social distance.  But contrary to common sense, we've taken physical distancing, even measured by the "authorities as 6 feet physically, and then called it social distancing.  This is bizarre vocabulary embraced by experts, political leaders, religious leaders and the media. "Socially distanced" sounds like a mental health diagnoses or a syndrome resulting from germ paranoia. 

Socially distancing carries a message that we kind of ought to fear each other, and socially isolate ourselves at a distance. An odd thing to be communicating to our nations children.  The virus doesn't care about how social you are.  Physical distance, not social distance is what will have an effect on avoiding germs.  One example of our language going weird.

And aren't we supposed to be dealing with germs and viruses all the time?  Isn't that how our immune systems stay healthy?  Unless your somehow immune compromised or have underlying issues, then healthy people aren't supposed to be avoiding every germ like it was the plague.   

Fear has often ruled the day in 2020.  Due to sometimes drastically incorrect data models.

If there is anything that has caused social issues during this pandemic it's been fear, false information, and calculated misdirection.  The media perpetuates it, and fans the flames of hysteria and fear all the time. People on both sides of issues claim the other sides lies or misleads.  Floods of lies. People end up buying toilet paper and household cleaner's (like Lysol) in a panic. The media coverage of the pandemic has been disastrous for America.

Confounded language has led to country wide confusion, misdirection, and rampant misunderstanding.  It was probably already happening, but I paid more attention this year.  Not just with the pandemic, every area of conversation seems like the definitions of words are not shared among people. What a person thinks a word means IS what the word means, so everyone lives in a distanced reality.

Another word I noticed during all this: "Quarantine".  Quarantine is what you do to sick people to isolate them from healthy people so as to not infect others or to protect the person who is ill and vulnerable.  "House arrest" is more correct term for forcing healthy people inside their houses and not letting them have freedom of movement or freedom to gather physically with others, or peacefully protest.  Forms of house arrest would normally need substantial evidence as it violates constitutional rights. Not fear, theories, and projections.  Quarantine is a more palatable word though.  But people in many states saw their constitutional rights erode. Some protested.  President Trump hasn't been able to stay out of the news for sometimes even a few hours.

Someone pointed out that the thing to notice in all of this is not "The President" but "The Precedent". 

People identify the pandemic as the cause of things that were sometimes more of a result of a lock-down than the virus.  Yes the two things are connected, but the effects of the virus and the effects of the Lock-down are not totally interchangeable. Millions and millions of people are out of work and suffering not because they are sick, or got sick, but because of our societies response.  But if you conflate the virus with the countries response to the virus, you'll have a lot to sort out to find out who is making good vs very poor decisions.         

Some other evidence of our confounded language.

"Pandemic".  This word refers to the how transmissible or prevalent the spread of a disease is.  It is not an indication of the severity of the disease.  But the public perception is that pandemic = super duper dangerous life altering and life threatening disease, basically the plague.  That's not what the word means.  But enough fear and a confounded language, there's no doubt hysteria will follow. 

"State of Emergency".  Something a lot of states keep declaring, and keep declaring, and keep declaring.

Another one:  "New Normal".   What is new normal?  Things that are normal typically aren't questioned.  But I think we should question anything that's pitched to us as a new normal.  Because if you accept the new definition of normal, you automatically don't question it. 

Is it normal for the government to shut down business, restrict your freedom of movement, restrict your freedom to gather, restrict your freedom to worship or peacefully protest grievances you have about the governments overreach?   I can see better hand-washing as a better normal behavior.  More awareness and care of the elderly and those with health conditions making them vulnerable.  Those are great standards for us to maintain.  But the government handing out trillion + dollars because they forced you to shut down business is not normal.  There is a different word for that, and it seems dangerous to lump such things into a new "normal".  Is it the role and job of government to forcefully under rule of law, protect you from the vicissitudes of nature?

Non essential.  Means not essential to critical infrastructure to keep society running.  Except of course your families infrastructure.  That's not "essential" which is very confusing.  The satire sites again make use of this.

The Babylon Bee (Tag line: Fake news you can trust) is very clever sometimes in pointing out disturbing events with humor.  Our day is sometimes so confounded people have to do double checks to see if the headline was a satire site or one of the mainstream media sites.

Another phrase I hear a lot: "stay home stay safe".  This was a Utah phrase from the Governor.  Factually speaking the spread of the virus was largely familial during the lock down because everyone was staying home.  Turns out sunlight was shown to be detrimental to the virus.  But remember to stay home, stay safe.  As if not going outside kept you safe.  Stay home stay safe seems more applicable to the Utah Highway Patrol billboards that recently displayed that there have been close to 100 deaths on Utah roads in 2020.  Almost the same as the number of deaths from Covid-19 in 2020 on that same date.  Leaving your house, especially to be on Utah roads can be dangerous.

"Flatten the curve" is another term.  It has come to have an unspoken implication of "eradicating" the disease.  This makes no sense but there's an undertone that it is what people somewhat hoped they would get out of locking down.  As if it's not going to spike up again as soon as we stop.  So flatting the curve is more like a "delay of the inevitable".  But we don't like that so we use weird phrases to help ourselves feel better. 

Perhaps people hoped there would be a cure or a a vaccine by the time we were done being on house arrest.  Which is also nonsensical.  Who knows.  The buzzwords are repeated as though they meant something but the words are layers removed from tangible meaning. 

Speaking of flattening the curve..... here's an alternate version for all the parents of multiples out there.  This data model is highly accurate.  lol.

"Do your part" has come to subtly mean taking personal responsibility for unknown quantity of other people's health.  People have a hard enough time managing their own health, but now we're all supposed to act as if we are personally responsible for everyone else's exposure to germs?  That makes no sense.

Another one.  Early on in the pandemic the CDC was saying masks were "unnecessary" and had no evidence they helped you avoid catching Corona or giving it to others if you didn't have symptoms.

Direct quote from the WHO:

Advice to decision makers on the use of masks for healthy people in community settings:
As described above, the wide use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not supported by current evidence and carries uncertainties and critical risks

Similarly from the Journal of the American Medical Association. Direct quote.

"Face masks should be used only by individuals who have symptoms of respiratory infection such as coughing, sneezing, or, in some cases, fever. Face masks should also be worn by health care workers, by individuals who are taking care of or are in close contact with people who have respiratory infections, or otherwise as directed by a doctor. Face masks should not be worn by healthy individuals to protect themselves from acquiring respiratory infection because there is no evidence to suggest that face masks worn by healthy individuals are effective in preventing people from becoming ill."

All of that has been completely contradicted by these same organizations.  Costco and my civic and religious leaders keep encouraging me to wear one without regard to symptoms.  Contradicting their own scientifically based statements.  When am I supposed to trust the experts if they contradict themselves? 

It's almost like we're experiencing a plague of miscommunication and confusion stemming from a mix of political, economic, and media agendas.  It causes all the wrong pictures in our heads.  The results of which will no doubt include anger and violence and turning on each other.  Speaking of turning on each other.  A funny story out of New York was that a mayor set up a tip line or a "snitch" line for people to report others who were breaking the social distance guidelines.  The residents however flooded the tip line with inappropriate images and obscenities making the tip line useless.   

This next picture was posted when President Trump had stopped dictating what Americans could and couldn't do and had turned power over to the State Governors.  Some of whom followed suit and turned some power over to smaller counties and mayors of cities.  A healthy trend.  If that pattern continues eventually everyone might just be able to choose for themselves.  Hopefully choosing to be kind, considerate, and aware of others. 

But back to the meme, the need to prevent continued economic devastation was likely the inspiration behind this.  I found it very funny.   

The local library had to quarantine my kids returned library books yesterday for 48 hours before the health department says it's safe to touch them. I don't envy the job of the health department.  They have this awful task of trying to keep the public safe and healthy and the even more terrible job of having to try to make all these virus rules somehow consistent across all the varying businesses and walks of life.  A thankless job for sure.  But not without it's power.  The police also have a thankless job dealing with the increases in domestic violence calls and mental health challenges as a result of everything going on.

Next term:  Expert.   These are the trustworthy people who everyone expects to be right and have good solutions to the problems.  The problems is how often the experts are wrong or disagree with each other.  And not to mention that lots of people talk like they are experts.

"Covid deaths" has come to refer to any death where the deceased was even assumed to have had the Corona virus, regardless of other underlying conditions or whether or not there was even a lab test performed to confirm.  The word "assumed" was the CDS's word, not mine.     

Another language thing not specific to the pandemic, but annoying none the less. "Your truth".  This is a misnomer. There is no such thing as your truth. There is "the" truth and "your opinion".  No one can claim to own truth.  You can align with it.  Truth existed before any of us were born so how and on what grounds do we speak in terms of possession of it?  During confounded times telling opinion from truth may not be as easy as I would have assumed.  It's anyone's guess how often they get mixed up.  Our language is a mess.

So what do we do about this confounding of language? These examples are visible with the pandemic but it's part of a much bigger problem affecting everyone.  The scriptural answer to that question would be to repent.  But it's hard to even recognize a message from God or understand it amidst all the confounding.  The religious vocabulary suffers a lot from confounding as well.  But scriptures affirm God does speak, and will set his hand again, and will give light to those who ask.

I wanted to conclude with a few more notes from that Book of Mormon conference I referenced at the beginning of the post.  And that I genuinely hope we can see God's outreached hand in 2020. 

-A good deal of study and research has gone into the shifting language, changes in the meaning of SECULAR words. Far less research has gone into the confounding of language in RELIGION. ...
-John Gee investigated the Book of Mormon claim that discusses the removal “from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious” (1 Nephi 13:26). He documents early “lexical reinterpretation”, the changing of meanings of words that occurred in first centuries after Christ. He gave several examples of how meanings shifted from the original Greek including “trust” changed to “believe”, “agree” to changed to “confess”, and “rites” to “secret”. (Mysterion)
-The confounding of language continued throughout the centuries, always preceded first the confounding of the people. By the time Joseph saw the Lord in vision the “professors were all corrupt”, teaching “for doctrines the commandments of men” (JS-H 1:19). Much of that “corruption” was seen in the “confounding of language”.
-Then the restoration restored authority, keys and knowledge, to be sure, but also pure language and correct meanings. Consider a few examples:
-As part of the restoration Joseph restored the meaning of many words whose meaning had become confounded: Church, God, the Second Comforter, heaven, spirit world, spirit prison, hell, Eternal, prophet, seer, revelator, apostle, spirit, soul, intelligence, creation and many, many more. No sooner than Joseph corrected words that had been confounded than men moved again to mess them up.
-Jesse W. Crosby relayed this recollection, “when (Joseph) ventured to give his opinion on any subject of importance his words were often garbled and their meaning twisted and then given out as the word of the Lord because they came from him.”
-The “garbling of words” and “twisting meaning” is a pretty fair definition of “confounding of language”.
-In secular language the constant flux of words may be seen as benign, confusing at times, yet somewhat entertaining. In scripture, however, confounding language can be a matter of life and death as Alma points out: 
Behold, the scriptures are before you; if ye will WREST them it shall be to your own destruction. (Alma 13:20)
-Old English, roughly 1600 years old is completely indecipherable to most of us today yet the Book of Mormon is older still, uses words we never use in our everyday conversations yet which of us use a dictionary as a companion to our study of the book. 
-That’s the 2nd Book of Mormon scripture I’ve quoted that uses “destruction” tied to confounding the language
-Doesn’t that seem like wild hyperbole? How could wresting the word lead to destruction?
-WREST is a word we don’t use everyday. Definition #3 in my dictionary says wrest means to “distort the meaning or interpretation of (something) to suit one's own interests or views.” Other definitions use the word “force”. Wresting the scriptures is forcing a meaning out of them not intended by the writers.
-Isn’t Alma being overly dramatic here? How could we possibly force or distort the meaning of the scriptures to our destruction?
-To answer that all we need to do is look at the revelations where the Lord warns the LDS Church. 
-We could teach doctrines which are vain (2 Nephi 28:9) and therefore ineffective, imagining that “at last we will be saved in the kingdom of God. (2 Nephi 28: 8)
-We could teach more or less than Christ taught and establish it (our additions and subtractions) as His doctrine. He warned about that in 3 Nephi 11:40.
-For example, expanding the requirements for baptism beyond His word.
-We could teach less than Christ taught and establish it as His doctrine (3 Nephi 11:40). All scriptural references to Mysteries, for example, are positive. Oliver was commanded to seek for wisdom and the mysteries (D&C 6:7,11). Nephi had a great desire to know the mysteries (1 Nephi 2:16).
-Whether we declare more or less than he declared, In either case “the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them” (3 Nephi 11:40).
-We could act in opposition to Christ by defining His church to be more or less than he defines it. He defined His church as those “repent and come unto Him”. He warned about “declaring more or less than that” in D&C 10:67-68.
-We could covenant with an everlasting covenant and then lose our savor (which means “value” in this context). (D&C 101:39, 103:9-10). For such are cast out and trodden under foot of men.” The former two societies that received this same salt warning have long ago been destroyed.
-The list of religious words that as a people we have confounded reads like a Dictionary of Christianity.  We use words like “testimony”, “perfect”, “peculiar”, “keys”, “Oracles”, “prophet”, “revelation”, in ways that distort their original meanings. Revelation for example originally meant to pull back the vail (re-Vele) not to receive an impression or insight. Testimony was given only of that seen, heard or witnessed- not as we use the term today as a synonym for believe.
-We have garbled the meaning of many words and twisted their meanings which keep us separated from God and confounded.
🔹 It is too late for us to pray that the Lord will not confound our language. Many writers, speakers, scholars and bloggers point out the weakness of our language, the drift that has occurred in the meaning of our words. They try to un-confound our language and hope to return us to a language which is pure but that will require much more than the weak attempts of men, it will require the Lord. For all who will receive instruction from Him, Zephaniah prophesied:
🔹 For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent. (Zephaniah 3:9). That will occur in the Day of the Lord which I pray will soon be upon us.

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