For the last six days, with Covid-19 ravaging the globe, I’ve been self-isolating at home. Or I guess I should say practicing ‘social distancing’. Because now – more than at any other recent time in history – the words we use really matter. It’s not overstating it to say that the language we use is now likely to impact significantly on the direct lives of our nearest and dearest (in addition to many others far beyond).
The last few weeks have been wild. From being hit with the realisation of how bad this was going to get, to pulling the kids out of school (which crazily here in Scotland as of 16th March are still open…) to the massive frustration with governments and companies for failing to act decisively… I don’t blame the people as such but I do blame the systems we have in place. Lethargy in action.
It’s been reinforced all across the globe: institutions, countries and organisation simply cannot move quickly enough to make the correct decisions. Without serious advance planning (which we in the West appear to have dropped the ball on – for reasons to be discussed after this), there simply aren’t the feedback loops available to help them to digest broad sources of information and digest them competently across their hierarchies.
I’m certain this will improve as we move into a full-blown emergency. But it will also take a massive shift in mindset to do so. And we need the people who are able to act decisively to step up to the plate. Even if you don’t care about your own health – think of the ones who you’ll harm if you don’t.
When people who are sworn ideological enemies start to all converge on something, it’s time to start taking things very seriously.
As many of you know, @nntaleb and I are not friends. The man despises me and often attacks me, and I occasionally return fire. But please understand that he is 100 percent correct here. Bravo, Nassim. https://t.co/plJ7gG5LbJ
— Sam Harris (@SamHarrisOrg) March 15, 2020
Sticking with the importance of language, let’s be careful with the war allegories at this stage. It absolutely is a global war in terms of impact on the public and potential for disaster. But in some places, people seem to be building this into their foundation for acting in the ridiculous belief that the correct response is to simply carry on as normal. Not to over-react. Whereas the very real human cost of all of these people congregating in bars, gigs and restaurants will be heartbreaking if we are ever able to trace this in the aftermath (don’t be Patient #31).
But – words. Communication. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial. We can’t have people like Trump displaying woeful incompetence (in both words and understanding) reactively across one of the most powerful global publishing platforms history has ever seen. It’s harder to think of a more perfect storm for disaster. I have no doubt that competent and talented people are stepping up there to guide him. But now is not the time to give him too much freedom.
Because if you continue get the words wrong, we have a much bigger problem than the massive mountain we already have to climb.
Stay safe out there.
— Yashar Ali ? (@yashar) March 15, 2020