Written by: Evan Jones
The very first thing to be said, and which George Floyd's memory demands to be said, is that what happened to him was hopelessly tragic. But the tragedy gives way to something even more sinister for the legacy and memory of George Floyd and for us all.
Events like the death of George Floyd are a prism. Light enters as one wavelength and light leaves as many. Each wavelength must be examined and considered to understand the totality of what is occurring. Just like to only look at one wavelength of light leaving a prism is to miss the whole rainbow.
First, we cannot lose sight of the fact that when something like the death of George Floyd occurs, the fact that we even know about it means that we were intended to know about it. At some level, the tragic death of an individual has been manipulated. It is being used for political ends. Never forget that it is an election year. That is one wavelength.
Second, we can’t say George Floyd was murdered yet, because the perpetrator hasn’t been convicted in a court of law. For now, George Floyd was killed. If the policeman who killed Floyd is convicted, then we can say George Floyd was murdered. It certainly looks like Floyd was murdered, and the reaction is certainly such that it seems like he was, but until there is a conviction, we can only say he was killed. Now, if there is no trial and no verdict, then there will be a separate discussion to be had. But for now, we must remember that trial by jury is something that benefits us all, so the distinction between murdered and killed is important unless we are truly ready to throw out the rule of law simply because the perpetrator and the victim are two different skin colors.
We also cannot say that this was a racially motivated crime yet. Again, it certainly looks like it could have been, and feels like it was based on the reaction to it and the visuals of it, but until evidence proves that the George Floyd was killed as a result of racist intent, and not simply because of despicable policing, we cannot and should not say it was a racist crime.
Third, each of us in the United States is undergoing a transition. Values are shifting and coming in conflict with one another, and battle lines are being drawn. The events surrounding George Floyd's death are simply another manifestation of the storm brewing in this country across virtually every issue. The wake of George Floyd’s killing is just another battle in that war, albeit a particularly tragic one. But we can't forget that George Floyd’s killing is separate from the events triggered as a result. The event is the light entering the prism, and the aftermath is the dark rainbow out the other side. In simplest terms, the battle lines are the collectivists versus the individualists.
From the collectivist perspective, what happened to George Floyd was not the result of action taken by an individual, with their own perspective and worldview and motivations. The individual was rather acting as a mechanism on behalf of a larger entity. A collective. The larger body the individual belonged to was “The Police”, and beyond that, “The System”. That system is the oppression of minorities perpetrated by whites, and even beyond that, a system that today's whites aren't even part of. It is a perceived legacy of race today's whites are still guilty of even though they had nothing to do with. Therefore, the individual who killed George Floyd actually belonged to many groups, and from the collectivist perspective they are not in fact an individual. They were simply a mechanism. From this perspective, the individual in question (in this case the policeman) doesn’t even have to subscribe to the perceived belief structure of the collective to be a tool for it (in this case systemic racism). Whether or not the perpetrator was racist is not important. What is important is that racism and racist systems facilitated the individual’s actions as well as the death of George Floyd.
And from this perspective George Floyd sadly also ceases to be an individual. George Floyd is just another victim of the system that facilitated his murder. The nature of and individual characteristics that make up George Floyd the man become irrelevant. George Floyd is now an icon. A slogan. A tool. His dying words are appropriated by the collective and used to further its ends. The individual that was George Floyd, the light that entered this world, leaves it refracted. George Floyd the man and his death have become a prism for “The Greater Good”.THE INDIVIDUALIST
From the individualist point of view, everyone involved was acting on behalf of their own motivations, their own world view, their own set of beliefs. There was no system or greater entity which had control over the policeman that killed Floyd which he was powerless against but to kill George Floyd. “The Police” did not make the policeman kill George Floyd. “Racism” did not make him do it, unless his motivations can be proven to be racist. But even then, the individual is a racist, and “The System” was not responsible for George Floyd’s death. The individual who murdered him was.
From the individualist perspective, in an event like this each situation and individual must be examined and understood in order to seek and ultimately attain justice. The perpetrator should stand trial, and if convicted, should go away for a very long time. George Floyd should be remembered as an individual, and as an individual light that was brutally snuffed. But, from the individualist perspective, that light should never be refracted to serve others’ ends, for in doing so the tragedy that is his death, or any death like his, is thrown away.THE FALLOUT
My point of view is that of the individualist. From my point of view, the collectivist mindset is harmful, even dangerous. Its fruits are evident in Minneapolis and what is starting in LA, and what will surely spread to other cities across the country. This isn't the first time it's happened, either, and it won't be the last. Because any time the actions of an individual are applied to a larger group of individuals, all the individuals perceived as members of that collective become targets whether they are guilty of anything or not. All police are now targets. All whites are now targets. All blacks are now victims, and therefore are free to act accordingly. Eventually, the reasons for the anger in the first place is replaced simply by anger. By hive mind. There is only one logical end to this mindset: bloodshed. History proves this.
Eventually, if the collectivist point of view continues to gain momentum, more blood will be shed and the tragedy of George Floyd’s death will not be the end of it. More will die, whether it be police officers, more innocents, or both. But right now the trajectory of this is dangerous. When what happened to Floyd is seen as the result of a collective, and not an individual’s hideous actions, every time a white cop kills a black person it’s the result of a racist system. The logical end to that line of thinking is that the system must be dismantled. While every time a white person is killed by a cop, the tragedy of another individual meeting their untimely end is ignored, sometimes spitefully so. None of this does anyone any good.
The only way, I believe, to “fix” whatever is going on, is to again look at one another as individuals. To understand the principles of individualism and for the identity politics to stop absolutely. We’ve been divided along virtually every possible superficial line and that has to stop. There are good cops like there are bad ones like there are good people like there are bad people of all color and type. None of us should be content to have our individual identity lumped into a collective and therefore accountable for the actions of other individuals. None of us are guilty by association.
The last wavelength of the prism is history. None of this is new and there are historical precedents to examine to see where we might be headed. I can certainly understand where those who point to a legacy of racist systems are coming from. From their point of view, the killing of George Floyd is just another in a long line of the same. People like Floyd are targeted by an entity in the police which is seeking to kill them. I don’t mean to discount those feelings, but I also don’t believe that’s the truth of what's happening. Because “The Police” is not an entity and racism isn't a collective act. Both are made up of individuals, each with their own set of beliefs and worldview. It would be abhorrent to suggest every black man is dangerous just like it should be abhorrent to suggest every white person or police officer is racist. Just like it would be wrong to suggest every black or white person is good or bad like suggesting every officer is good or bad. But when the collective takes hold, nuance is lost.
If the trajectory of these events continues the way it has been, there will be no healing. There will be no getting past race. In fact, it will get worse. The collective mindset is a powerful one, and right now it is the most vocal. It seems to be drowning out the logical voices calling to take a step back. Collectivism benefits from being able to ignore nuance and evidence because it appeals to mass emotion. The simplest and most emotional way to view the killing of George Floyd is to see his killing as the result of racism. When that happens, all detractors are seen as the enemy. When that happens, the enemy must be defeated, by whatever means necessary. But I don't think anyone is ready for what happens next even though we seem to be headed in that direction anyway.
And it's not just because of the killing of George Floyd. Virtually every issue is put through the same prism. The tribalism ensues, and a dialogue becomes virtually impossible. It is especially egregious, though, surrounding something like the death of George Floyd. It hits each of us on a visceral level. Events like the killing of George Floyd are both the most tragic and the easiest to manipulate for certain ends. Which is why it's most important to be cautious about them and the way we react to them. Respect the dead, respect feelings about the event, understand all the nuance of what occurred, but don't let the tragedy of an individual's death be refracted and distorted into an ugly violent mess.