George Floyd: 21 Brief Thoughts

  1. If we can abstract it, the desire to express this in terms of destruction is also justified. I say that because I think its natural and good end would be directed at destroying that which bore “the rotten fruit” — the rotten fruit being whatever it was that led to the murder of George Floyd.
  2. We might say that certain behavior is “understandable” if that behavior commonly occurs in a specific context and the roots of that behavior are natural, even if there is deformation in the end result.
  3. The redirection of the destructive passion in (2) towards the innocent persons and businesses within their own community is understandable. [UPDATE: I wrote this post after, I think, there had only been one day of protests and it was confined to Minneapolis. At that time, I think only a couple of businesses had been damaged. Looking back now (6/2/20), after protests have devolved more into riots and have spread to many other states, many more business have been looted and burned, and many people have been killed, it’s clear that the destructive passion which now exists is not grounded in Floyd’s unjust death. And to that extent, it wouldn’t be appropriate to say that the destructive passions, as they currently exist, are understable.]
  4. We might say that we can “sympathize” with certain behavior if we can see ourselves behaving in a similar fashion in that context.
  5. It’s hard to see how it’s reasonable or good to sympathize with the behavior of the protesters as a whole or with certain specific instances.
  6. We might say that we can “sympathize” not with behavior, but with the passions and, more abstractly, passions which are misdirected in their destructiveness.
  7. I think it’s possible for people we could characterize as reasonable and good to sympathize with the passions of the protesters and even with its misdirection, as they reflect on the fact that they have sometimes misdirected their own passions.
  8. The redirection of this destructive passion towards the innocent persons and businesses within their own community is morally unjustifiable.
  9. It’s likely that not every protester in Minneapolis is motivated by a sense of outrage over George Floyd’s death. People could be using the sense of outrage as a cover for their own wicked ends (e.g., getting a free TV by looting Target).
  10. Viewing the event in isolation, there is no reason, given our current information, to think George Floyd’s murder was racially motivated.
  11. Cultural narratives can be built up slowly over time from single events. Or fully formed cultural narratives can be taught as an interpretive map for past events: A, B, and C.
  12. Once a cultural narrative is established, new events are interpreted in light of the existing narrative. The justification for seeing event D as part of the narrative is the fact of it being like A, B, and C.
  13. Modern media and online connectedness make it possible for a sort of natural selection bias to occur in regards to what pieces of data seem relevant to the narrative — or even which pieces of data we become aware of.
  14. In this way (13), cultural narratives become highly resistant to falsification while also coming close to a sort of vicious circularity, the further down the chain we go. A, B, and C are the justification for event D being part of the narrative. But once event E occurs, D becomes part of the justification for E becoming part of the narrative. Then D and E become part of the justification for F becoming part of the narrative. If someone questions D, then F and E can be called on to support D being support for the narrative. To illustrate:

16. In this way, a narrative which has a strong evidential base, and maybe many events which were legitimately absorbed into it, can become distorted. (Imagine the horizontal line curving in a certain direction as, say, points like F are illegitimately absorbed as confirmations.)

17. The only way I can see to avoid the problems with (14–16) is to (a) take each new event on its own merits, insofar as this is possible, (b) see if there might be counterexamples, (c) talk to the people involved when possible, and (d) withhold judgment until you have solid information.

18. One needn’t be motivated by an implicit rejection of the narrative or a desire to disprove the narrative to do (a)-(d). Someone might believe the narrative, but do (a)-(d) out of desire to make sure they are preserving the truth of the narrative — e.g., avoiding distortion.

19. The same is true of sub-narratives. What prominent evangelicals on Twitter have or have not tweeted about George Floyd is being fit into a narrative about evangelical politics.

20. Returning to (17c), talking about the people involved is not the same as talking to the people involved. Talking about the people involved is often a way of entrenching a narrative. Talking to the people involved should be done out of a desire to test the narrative.

21. Talking to people about controversial issues requires a sort of compromise. You can’t expect people to engage you on issues of contention solely on your terms, so to speak. (I might come back and develop this point later.)

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John Bowling

John Bowling

Throwing half-baked ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks.