The Image that Ate America

For the past two and a half months, the United States (and large portions of Europe as well) has been helplessly gripped by the specter of George Floyd and his singularly dismal end.

Corporations have fallen over themselves to hand immense sums to BLM, the race-baiting revolutionary Marxist group most closely identified with the protests. Sporting events now begin with an almost mandatory display of “kneeling”, and the NFL has declared that a new “black national anthem” will be played in parallel with the actual, official anthem of the country at the beginning of games. Postmodern “wokesters”, advocating a strange combination of brittle, hyper-individualist narcissism and quasi-Hitlerian racial identitarianism, have seized the chance to demand radical alterations to such fundamentals of the education system as entrance exams, standardized tests, and even the most basic forms of mathematical objectivity. Police and government officials have stood wanly by as mobs have looted and laid waste to entire downtowns, or cheered them on. And last but not least, there has been an immediate push in cities all across the country to dismantle essentially all institutions of law enforcement as “irredeemably racist”.

The instant deification of the home-invading multiple felon George Floyd (complete with murals of him as angel or saint—usually haloed—and a mass-televised memorial service complete with golden casket), combined with an absolute refusal to ask any probing questions about the exact events leading to his frankly peculiar death, were puzzling from the get-go. It was just as if all the answers had been prepared in advance before the question had even been asked, long before practically anyone even knew the name “George Floyd”.

As it happened, the answers had been prepared in advance. For anyone who had been paying a little attention, the entire intelligentsia of the Western world had for years been steadily sinking into a sort of totalitarian-tinged cargo-cult of collective irrealism, characterized by a pervasive and limitless fixation on grievance and victimhood, a rejection of all objective truth-claims as “oppressive”, “colonial” or “white supremacist”, and an outright sanctification of all identity categories and claims of injustice (provided, of course, that the claimants were not white). All problems in this connection were to be addressed by applying massive coercive power throughout society: a “repressive tolerance” or “cancel culture” that would ruthlessly police (ironically enough) any and all signs of divergent, hence unacceptable thought.

Long before the events of late May 2020, many writers and thinkers had catalogued these increasingly irrational and illiberal developments—particularly in the youth—with much foreboding. For example, writing less than a year before Floyd’s death, Douglas Murray observed that even as the most egregious forms of racism and sexism had greatly declined in most modern societies, the cries denouncing racial and sexual injustice of every conceivable sort had paradoxically only grown louder and shriller: “just as the train appeared to be reaching its desired destination,” said Murray, “it filled with steam again and went roaring off into the distance.”

More darkly, Murray observed that this trend of ever-accelerating grievance was far from random or adventitious, but followed a cohesive purpose if not program:

“today’s wars of ideas are not random – they are consistently being fought in a new and particular direction. And that direction has a purpose that is vast. The purpose – unwitting in some people, deliberate in others – is nothing less than to embed a new religion into our societies“.

All that was needed was an incident that would perfectly, viscerally demonstrate to the world that this “new religion” of social justice—which up till then, despite steady gains in influence, had proved frustratingly hard to corroborate with real events—was either irrefutable, or at least so powerful and so aggressive that it would be unwise to refute it. George Floyd’s death beneath the knee of Officer Derek Chauvin appeared to provide exactly that catalyst: a perfect demonstration, frozen for all to see, of pure woke victimhood confronted with blatant racist devilry.


But again, for anyone who looked into the matter, there were prima facie reasons to be skeptical about the entire story—both that Floyd was a pure victim of an equally pure murderous racism, and most importantly, that Floyd’s death had really been murder at all.

For example: how could Chauvin or anyone have been frankly stupid enough to keep his position on top of Floyd for several minutes, knowing the whole thing was being filmed, if he in fact knew this was killing Floyd and moreover intended to kill him? In short, who commits a completely gratuitous, self-destructive murder, with full knowledge they are being caught on multiple police cameras?

There was also the question of the knee-hold which Chauvin used. To a non-expert, such a hold seems at first glance absolutely unconscionable and surely deadly. Yet it soon was revealed that this technique, shocking as it appears, was actually legal in Minneapolis at the time of Floyd’s arrest, only being banned in response to the Floyd backlash. It was actually considered non-lethal if employed properly, and officers were trained in its use.

Much of the mass outrage surrounding the death also came to focus on Floyd’s pleas of being unable to breathe: “I Can’t Breathe” even became a rallying-cry of subsequent riots and marches. But a fair number of people—mostly in far corners of the Internet light-years away from officialdom or legacy media—quickly made the blunt observation that the very fact of being able to loudly say “I can’t breathe”, means that technically you can breathe, even though you may be in some sort of respiratory distress that makes breathing difficult.

Some commentators, rather than reap the whirlwind by directly questioning the narrative of Floyd’s death itself, simply sidestepped these matters and quite reasonably focused instead on parrying the much wider allegations of “systemic racism” and expansive political demands for which the death was immediately used as a spearhead. These commentators focused, therefore, on the vast amounts of public data indicating that, for instance, adjusted for rate of crimes committed, police in the USA were not measurably racist and actually seemed slightly more likely to shoot unarmed whites than blacks; that the number of unarmed blacks killed by police in the country was very low and had been declining; that black-on-black and even black-on-white crimes far outnumbered white-on-black crimes relative to the population; that huge majorities of blacks themselves wanted the same or increased policing in their neighborhoods: and so on.

Leaving this aside, the results of the official autopsy and toxicology of Floyd soon proved even more inconsistent with the mainstream narrative of a wholly gratuitous, racially-driven murder by Chauvin. These revealed several bruises—understandable given that Floyd resisted arrest and struggled with police for several minutes—but identified “no life-threatening injuries”, particularly not suffocation or even any significant damage to the airway. (A separate inquiry, commissioned by Floyd’s family, nonetheless insists suffocation was the cause of death.) The autopsy also found that Floyd also had a persistent Covid infection (he was still positive for the virus upon his death) and a severe heart condition, with “90% proximal narrowing of the right coronary artery” and 75% narrowing of the left coronary artery.

Finally, and maybe most importantly of all, the toxicology report showed that at the time of his arrest Floyd had no less than four different psychotropic drugs in his system, including morphine, methamphetamine, THC, and most notably, fentanyl—at nearly four times the level that can cause fatal cardiac arrest. Fentanyl, of course, has killed tens of thousands of Americans during the ongoing opioid crisis, but in combination with a stimulant such as methamphetamine or cocaine it seems to become particularly deadly—for example, according to CDC “57% of people who died from an overdose tested positive for fentanyl and fentanyl analogs also tested positive for cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin”.

Floyd was therefore a solid example of an “eggshell victim“—a person who appears normal and robust but actually is extremely fragile due to severe medical conditions that are not apparent. Combined with the very high level of drugs in his system, this meant that at the moment of his apprehension Floyd was already at an extremely high risk of death from conditions that, quite likely, would never have killed a remotely healthy suspect. Moreover, the police had no way of knowing most of these things in the time that they needed to act.

Another aspect that mostly escaped any serious media scrutiny was Floyd’s behavior between his arrest and his death. This was, in fairness, made harder to ascertain by Minnesota officials’ curious refusal to make the bodycam footage of the whole arrest (or even transcripts thereof) available to the public. However, bodycam footage of nearly the entire incident, finally leaked to the Daily Mail just last Monday, sheds much additional light on what took place.

From these videos, we can see for the first time that long before ending up on the ground beneath Chauvin’s knee, Floyd was acting very erratically, falling down, ignoring even the simplest instructions by the officers. He was generally incoherent and showed increasing signs of physical and psychological distress, even as officers were only lightly restraining him. He was foaming at the mouth, a fairly common symptom of fentanyl overdose, and he complained of difficulty breathing even while standing up, long before Chauvin’s knee-hold. He also powerfully resisted getting in the police car: even handcuffed, three men struggle to get him in, only for him to come back out a moment later. Far from desiring Floyd’s death, the officers called an ambulance and voiced concerns about overdose symptoms (“excited delirium”).

In light of this, Floyd’s complaints about breathing take on a very different meaning. The most common signs of deadly fentanyl overdose are a difficulty breathing or respiratory arrest, not due to physical suffocation but to suppression of the respiratory centers of the brain. Cardiac arrest is also a typical cause of death. All of these are perfectly consistent with Floyd’s complaints during the arrest, with his pre-existing heart and respiratory conditions, and with the autopsy’s stated cause of death: “cardiopulmonary arrest”.

So George Floyd died, all evidence now suggests, not of insane racist hatred by police, but of a heart attack and respiratory shutdown set off by a massive fentanyl overdose that was already in progress when the cops found him.

And so we are forced to consider, as commentator Jason Whitlock put it shortly after the leak of the bodycam footage, that before most of the facts were in Floyd’s death was rapidly seized upon and converted into a “race hoax“—possibly the largest and most destructive in American history. Assisted by BLM, Antifa, enormous sections of the elite intelligentsia and media, and justified under the auspices of woke dogmatism, the footage of Floyd’s death was selectively reported and weaponized into a national shakedown. Demands for official power and large-scale corporate fealty were accompanied by widespread efforts to destabilize, if not overthrow, the entire United States.

In fact, officer Chauvin’s knee-hold, which was the central pretext for it all, was deployed only as a last resort against a large, powerful man who had already resisted arrest, demonstrated extremely unpredictable behavior (consistent with an overdose) and who had proved extremely hard even for three grown men to restrain or subdue. As unsettling as it looks, the hold was both allowed, and almost certainly well-indicated for the circumstances. While it is possible that the knee-hold may have exacerbated Floyd’s situation, it may equally well have stabilized it by keeping him subdued. It’s highly plausible it had nothing whatsoever to do with Floyd’s death: by the time the police encountered him, he was already rapidly dying from fentanyl.

If there is still a fair jury to be had in this benighted country, Chauvin might get convicted, at most, for manslaughter, in the unlikely event it can be proven that he misapplied the knee-hold or used it for too long. But to declare it murder is now almost completely at variance with the available facts. Those who have continued speaking of the “killing” of George Floyd as a foregone conclusion should stop it right now, before they embarrass themselves right into the unemployment-lines where they probably belong.


So, to put it mildly, actual events seem not to comply with the mass-propagated narrative of Floyd’s death, and may even directly refute that narrative. None of what actually happened reveals Mr. Floyd as anything like a pure blameless victim, nor shows Mr. Chauvin as necessarily guilty of any crime, let alone as evil incarnate.

Nevertheless, there is no point in denying that the video of Floyd’s last moments, although curiously incomplete up till now, presents us with an image of simply overwhelming emotional power. The image of Floyd beneath Chauvin’s knee seems to scream of deeply-ingrained and inexhaustible oppression, injustice, cruelty, evil—so much so that nearly all who see it instantly go somewhat insane: they declare it a racially motivated murder without a second thought, immediately begin clamoring for blood atonement (typically in the form of summary execution of Chauvin), and react with spluttering indignation at any suggestion that any of this might not be quite what it seems.

It might not be going too far to describe this image as possessing actual magic. More than any clear facts about what was happening, the pitch-perfect, almost numinous resonance of this image and others like it from the Floyd arrest—like a modern-day Via Crucis—has powered an outpouring of world outrage and mass guilt so immense as to instantly propel the priests of wokeness into something close to direct political control over the entire USA.

So the country and even world is being plunged into chaos and held hostage not over the facts of the case, but over an image—an image that, though almost certainly profoundly misleading, we must grant is still preternaturally powerful. The image of Floyd and Chauvin has the unique ability to summon and capture almost every idea of oppression and unfairness embedded in the subconscious mind of any Westerners who view it, and to focus these ideas instantly into a frothing outrage so strong that it will gladly trample the very idea of rule of law or impartial justice. Quite simply, it became the image that ate America.

More specifically, it was not the image itself that did all this, but by an archetype intimately bound up with it. In this case, the archetype certainly has connections with subterranean Christian imagery of martyrdom—including, as noted, Christ’s miserable journey to the Cross—and such imagery is still active in shaping the emotional world of many Westerners often despite their professed abandonment of formal religion. But the more proximate home of this archetype is not Christianity but the civil religion of liberalism, the dominant creed of the USA and of the “modern” world in general.

This civil religion is most strongly distinguished by its insatiable fascination with, and ardent quest for, stories of oppression and missions of liberation—indeed, without either it would find itself immediately lacking any reason to exist.

Commentators have now remarked, ad nauseam but still quite credibly, that in addition to the virtual sanctification of Floyd in murals and other art, the protests occasioned by Floyd’s death and the ideology behind them revealed a profoundly, often eerily religious character—just as Murray had warned about, a “new religion” was being set in motion.

These very religious feelings and archetypes are also partly responsible for the exponential swelling of “social justice” rhetoric and the explosion of self-righteously destructive demonstrations since Floyd’s death, for “social justice” really represents little more than an intensified, factionalized continuation of the liberal quest for oppressions to fight and liberations to win.

That the alleged oppressions so often turn out to be specious, or that the “liberations” turn out to demand increasingly totalitarian measures, fails to affect the underlying script. For much as with the Faustian ethic  (a related impulse of “modern” society that demands unlimited expansion and the “romance of space” despite the increasingly obvious limitations of the Earth), we simply have nothing else to turn to–no other ideas. There being no other dream available to follow, we simply double down on the old dream, no matter what errors or disasters it leads us unto.

Just as Nietzsche said that “man will desire oblivion rather than stop desiring at all”, so it seems that man would rather follow a disastrous creed to its bitter end, than to try living with no creed at all.

By the time all this is realized, however (if it ever is), it may be too late to do anything to save the situation, since decisions will have been made and, most likely, immense amounts of power transferred precisely to those who have sown the most violence, destruction, and deception, and who have the most to gain from sowing even more—namely, the woke-priests who have learned to wield the oppression-archetype.

That George Floyd might have essentially caused his own demise by badly overdosing on a combination of highly dangerous drugs, and that the police did everything reasonably possible to ascertain the situation and even to save him without undue risk to themselves or others—this has already been made unsayable in most circles. But soon it will also become unthinkable. We will have done exactly what the all-powerful image and its hidden master, the oppresion-archetype, bid us do—to discard justice in the name of justice. The command for blind vengeance will then rule over us.

Who knows what archetypes or “Old Gods” will hold the fast-disintegrating United States of America in their thrall after that, now that so many of us have at once lapsed into the dream-state, where raw archetypes, unmitigated by reason or coherent tradition, have their way with us?

This much is clear though: Mr. Chauvin, murderer or not, will have to be offered up to these gods. Already they and the mobs that serve them sense the aroma of flesh; they draw ever closer, expectant for the burnt offering. Nothing less than this officer’s very blood and body can be accepted; even that may not be enough.

And if he were exonerated instead? To those who have already tasted the Dionysian elixir of archetypally-fueled mass-certitude, this would be the worst of all sacrileges. Chauvin’s very innocence (or inconclusive guilt), if demonstrated, will paradoxically only make him guiltier in the eyes of the believers.

We may not know these Gods and archetypes very well any more, for modernity has forsaken them and relentlessly asserted their nonexistence. But they are coming back with a vengeance, and going forward, it seems likely they will have human sacrifice on the menu. The recent incident in Beverly Hills where BLM protesters called to “Eat The Rich“, for instance, fits right in with this—though really the approach towards human sacrifice (or perhaps even cannibalism) was already in the cards once our society began steadily legitimating infanticide and euthanasia.

There is every reason to suspect the sacrifices will increase in frequency, too; for the Old Gods have long lain in slumber, banished beneath the earth lo these 75 years since the last great blood-sacrifice of WWII. One can only suppose that their hunger now must be unfathomable.


“America”, the Empty Signifier?

What do we even mean when we say the word “America” or “USA” now? What is left?

A center of “innovation”? An engine for “growth”? A leader in “productivity”? A hub for financial transactions? A land of “liberty”, which in practice means a mixture of licentiousness, profiteering and stifling statist control?

Even if the USA is still any or all of these things, none of them, alas, amount to a country. They are instead merely dry, narrow minded technocratic constructions; and today, as the Floyd riots spread in a chain reaction of blind nihilism and inchoate resentment, they seem drier and emptier than ever.

For all the privations now sweeping the land, the problem is really this: the entity today called “America” (as well as most of the West) has “woke” up to find it has no shared wisdom; no spiritual convictions; no unifying ethnic identity; no idea of shared spaces; no serious relationship to the land and nature it occupies; no obligations to truthfulness or realism; no grasp of neighborliness, relationship or community; no operative idea of real heroism or tragedy; no aesthetic sensibility; and certainly no grounding for personal sacrifice. It cringes, lividly, at the very words “history”, “virtue”, and “God”.

Without any of these things, there is no basis for holding people together in any sort of large undertaking, except through bare-knuckled tyranny. There is instead only res idiotica as far as the eye can see. (Read Deneen if you need to be filled in on this terminology.)

This is what Donald Trump surely intuited when in one of his more lucid moments on the campaign trail, he lamented that “we don’t have a country anymore”.

Unfortunately Trump, as a man who ultimately sees only “economy”, big business, quantitative world trade and of course his own constantly-sore ego, was himself practically an avatar of the res idiotica, and so he could not quite penetrate to the deep implications of his very own words—just as he could not see the implications of nursing “a big, fat, ugly bubble” in the economy (also his own words).

The U.S. Constitution, in some ways a wise and thoughtfully constructed document, has little to say on any of this. And if it did, who actually bothers to remember what it means or says anymore, other than a small and mostly hated clerisy of jurists?

For some, the Constitution is a cherished rhetorical football, effectively the center of a mini-cult of its own. Most of the activists in the country, on the other hand, have stopped bothering with it altogether, except as something to be manipulated at will, in postmodern fashion.

The truth is large portions of the US Constitution are no longer operative, and even if they were, they would have little to say on the problems the USA now faces, since the Constitution was designed for a polity that had not yet destroyed its economic, natural, spiritual and cultural inheritance for the sake of imaginary money, hedonic jolts, narcotics both chemical and digital, and the narcissistic joys of endless grievance.

So three main options present themselves. One, chaos and dissolution. Two, tyrannical takeover. Or three, the rediscovery (through some miracle) of the vital patterns and knowledge that have been exhausted or thrown away.

Options One and Two may oscillate back and forth, feeding on each other, for some time yet. As for option Three, we must admit it seems unlikely in the extreme. Much about the current circumstances of the world, both material and mental, militates against it. But then again: cometh the hour…