Why This Time is Different

As a species we have this bias towards seeing things in linear patterns. It makes the left ill equipped to respond to backlash. We see failure as permanent. This is a mechanical problem. We expect the same input to always result in the same output. That is not how complex adaptive systems work and we need systemic change. We feel that we are caught in an unwinnable spiral and succumb to defeatism when change is actually happening all around us in ways we can’t see while its happening.

When Michael Brown was murdered and then later when Tony Robinson was murdered in my daughter’s gentrifying neighborhood it seemed risky to call it murder in my circles. The pushback was intense. All of the arguments are familiar now – wait until all the evidence is in, let’s take a look at the victim’s troubled past, more to the story, just a few bad cops (Matt Kenny who murdered Tony Robinson is still employed by the Madison Police Department). It seemed at the time that it was impossible to win the arguments listed above. But, the answers to those objections entered the public discourse.

When George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight, on camera, with the assistance of three other Minneapolis police officers it was implicitly understood that they would not be punished for it. The world sees this one differently because of the work that’s been done since Michael Brown’s murder. The press had no trouble calling it murder immediately. The police department did the typically expected pushback. It is obvious that without the video no action would have been taken. With the video action was delayed until after the protests started. The official autopsy said the kinds of things that got other murderous cops off—underlying conditions, possibly drugs in his system. As the actions against police violence grew the State of Minnesota stepped in to take over the criminal investigation.

The world sees this one differently. Systemic injustice is harder to argue away. The black leaders that rose out of Black Lives Matter have matured in strategy, tactics, and organization. White social justice leaders are more willing to step back and let BIPOC take the lead. Networks have been built around BLM that are more sophisticated at taking action and controlling the narrative.

The white supremacist right led by Trump, is showing signs of desperation. That doesn’t mean they still can’t win. Desperate people do desperate things as the saying goes. But, they’ve lost the narrative. The mayor of Minneapolis and the governor of Minnesota immediately recognized that there were outside agitators taking advantage of the protests to cause property damage. Of course, the administration branded them all as left wing agitators born out of the protests. But, Trump is already talking about releasing the troops on the American public before he has control of the narrative. His photo op at the church is seen side by side with a militarized presence pushing peaceful demonstrators out of the square. Religious leaders condemned his actions. This was an obvious call-out to his conservative Christian base which backfired because he basically didn’t know the difference between them and Episcopalians.

Don’t be discouraged. Justice is an emergent property of the current historical moment. Change happens at the edge of chaos. Bridges are being built between networks that have evolved in response to racial, economic, gender, and other injustices. Although this is a long process it is not an incremental one. It is up to us what happens at this tipping point.


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Find out more about complex adaptive systems and social justice at the edge of chaos at www.edge-of-chaos.com

Photo credit Lawrence Andrea @lawrencegandrea

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. | John Autey/Pioneer Press via AP Photo