Tragedy and Otherness: The George Floyd Homicides

What we can learn from empathy, neuroscience, and nations.

Ira L. Black - Corbis / Contributor/ Getty Images
Ira L. Black - Corbis / Contributor/ Getty Images

… conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” –Abraham Lincoln

One of the most horrifying — and truest — claims I have heard recently is that “in every city, there is a George Floyd.” Now admittedly, I am a brain researcher, not a mayor or congressman, so I may not have the political background or the networkology to render a comment. But I am an American, and recent events have understandably angered Americans like few events during my lifetime. I am also a scientist, and my research group’s neuroscience is based on concepts and principles, some of which were at play in the Minneapolis tragedy.

The United States, unlike most other countries around the world, is a nation of inhomogeneity. Although this inhomogeneity may be the source of much of our far-too-common violence, it is unquestionably the foundational element of our unparalleled success as a nation. In a centuries-abiding, gross misunderstanding, there are some who believe that destroying the inhomogeneity would create a more successful society. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

The killing of George Floyd is the murder of “otherness,” a shocking, inhuman act of ancient-reptilian-brain-driven aggression. But otherness is the requisite foundation of our great nation. Thus such an act is tantamount to the killing of our own children. It is the murder of our own future. It is natio-cide.

Americans are a motley group of world changers. We are others from elsewhere and unalike. We are George Floyd and Wernher von Braun, we are Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington and Barack Obama, Maya Angelou and John F. Kennedy, Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin — and indeed all of the Founding Fathers of our country.

We are all points of inhomogeneity, and our strength as the greatest of nations is dependent on this very property. It is responsible for giving us the supremacy of our innovation, our technology, our science, our medicine, our athletics, our investments, our literature, and on and on.

When we understand, and act on, that principle, we will be a nation playing to its strength — playing to its very essence — instead of to its weakness. And when we understand, and act on, that principle, we will finally end the George Floyd homicides.

Black lives matter. Things must change. We must change them. Our nation’s future depends on it.

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