A song has been echoing through my head over the past week. Part of it goes like this:
Round and around and around we go
Where the world’s headed, nobody knows
Oh, Great Googa Mooga, can’t you hear me talking to you?
Just a ball of confusion
Oh yeah, that’s what the world is today – hey, hey.
The world was surely a “Ball of Confusion” when the Temptations hit the charts in 1970 with this commentary on the turbulence of the era. Vietnam, violence, racism — as the song says, there was “fear in the air, tension everywhere.”
Some things never change. Sometimes, they seem to get worse.
We still have unending wars, racism, and violence — facts all too obvious following the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer who has been charged with murder. The indignation, anger, and turmoil surrounding that horrific tragedy is deep and palpable: How can this happen in the year 2020? Why does it seem for every two steps forward, we take three steps back?
As a backdrop to the horror in Minneapolis and the scores of nationwide protests that followed — including one in Hartford attracting more than 300 people — is a global pandemic. This is an additional source of fear and confusion that did not exist when the Temptations sang “Ball of Confusion.” (A flu pandemic did occur in 1968, but comparisons to COVID-19 are limited.)
Not a day seems to pass without some new information emerging about COVID-19 that seems to contradict what we just heard the day before.
Hospitalizations are up in Connecticut, but coronavirus infection rates are down. Or was it the opposite?
The availability of COVID-19 testing is limited statewide, but mobile testing centers are underutilized.
A second wave of the virus will arrive sometime this fall or winter … or maybe not.
Combine these inconsistencies with the range of politically-oriented responses to the coronavirus, and confusion reigns supreme.
The controversy involving Connecticut’s barbers and hair stylists is a case in point. Initially, Gov. Ned Lamont included barbershops and salons in the state’s first phase of reopening on May 20. But Lamont then pushed the reopening of those businesses back to June 1 “due to the inability to social distance and the long exposure times stylists have to their clients.”
Some hair stylists, including Odete Dasilva of Westport, agreed with Lamont, calling the May 20 reopening “unsafe and dangerous to the public’s health.” Others disagreed, notably Cat Thibodeau, a Pawcatuck barber who defied Lamont’s revised executive order and opened her business the week of May 20. Superior Court Judge Harry Calmar denied her request to remain open.
It’s a ball of confusion, for sure.
Confusion with COVID-19 occurs because the answers come incrementally. That’s how the scientific process works, according to Atlantic writer Ed Yong: “It’s less the parade of decisive blockbuster discoveries that the press often portrays, and more a slow, erratic stumble toward ever less uncertainty.”
Today’s world of data analysis and predictive modeling, however, conditions people to expect answers. When answers aren’t readily available or conclusive, people then look for someone to blame.
Adds Yong: “[T]he desire to name an antagonist, be it the Chinese Communist Party or Donald Trump, disregards the many aspects of 21st-century life that made the pandemic possible: humanity’s relentless expansion into wild spaces; soaring levels of air travel; chronic under-funding of public health; a just-in-time economy that runs on fragile supply chains; health-care systems that yoke medical care to employment; social networks that rapidly spread misinformation; the devaluation of expertise; the marginalization of the elderly; and centuries of structural racism that impoverished the health of minorities and indigenous groups.”
The sheer complexity of a novel virus forces the human brain to seek “patterns of information” to make sense of it all. Sometimes, the brain finds reassuring patterns in conspiracy theories. Or it makes room for notions about ““miracle cures.” But those responses are filled with faulty reasoning and only lead to more confusion.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a global pandemic or systemic racism. With both, we must work together to find the most effective and the most fair-minded solutions — a challenging process in a world that remains the same “ball of confusion” it was in 1970.
Put another way, does this country of polarized, free-thinking individuals have the capacity for collective commitment and compassion? Because without it, the confusion and the chaos will never disappear.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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