OSD 144: The Rittenhouse trial

Same event, different stories.

People talk a lot about how the Kyle Rittenhouse case was divisive. But in a way, many of the people watching it rallied around a shared experience — a distinct feeling of “Are people watching a different trial than me? This is not a close call.“

Now, sure, they disagreed about what was obvious, but hey, meta-level agreement is something.

The steelman of the “obviously guilty” case is something like: “Taking a rifle to a potentially chaotic protest is ipso facto picking a fight. And you can’t shoot someone in self-defense if their actions were a reasonable response to your instigation.”

The steelman of the “obviously not guilty, and why were charges even brought” case is something like: “It’s legal to go help with security, medical aid, and logistics at a protest (albeit probably not the best idea to do it at 17 years old without a lot of strategic thinking). In the course of doing that, one’s own self-defense is important, and carrying a gun is a reasonable defensive measure. If a group of people then chase you, hit you, and try to grab your gun, it’s lawful if you have to shoot them to defend yourself.“

For some people, the mere presence of a gun is by itself a provocation. For those of us who see gun ownership as normal, that can be hard to understand. But culturally, provocation is in the eye of the beholder.

Give someone a thumbs-up hand gesture in the US, and they’ll take it well. Do the same thing in rural Iraq, and they won’t — its traditional meaning there is “up yours”. In the Rittenhouse case, you have people from different cultures in the same country all watching the same gesture — Kyle showing up with a rifle — and interpreting it through their own cultural lens.

A crisp example of the “bringing a gun is inherently violent” lens:

And a crisp example of the “going down there to help out is just being civic-minded, and the gun is an incidental defensive tool” lens:

And of course, you can find examples of every shade of gray between those two poles.

(Side note: separately from what we’re describing here, some disagreement was also driven by people not knowing trivially googleable facts about what happened that night. But the fact that they could get so amped up about a situation without knowing the basics is just more evidence for this two-lenses idea. Why google something when you’re already sure?)

So if you found yourself thinking, “Have I been watching a completely different case?”, the answer is effectively yes. The same event, but two radically different lenses.

The solution isn’t to complain about someone else’s lens. Sure, it might be leading them astray, but complaining won’t fix that. What will fix it is doing such a good job telling people about your lens that it becomes undeniable. This case opened some people’s eyes (e.g. billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, who tweeted about it here) to the idea that they aren’t always getting the full picture. That’s something to build on.


This week’s links

Sons of Guns

A longread on the Revolt at Cincinnati, the 1977 leadership coup at the NRA.

OSD thread on Andrew Coffee’s acquittal

Coffee shot back at home invaders who turned out to be police. They shot his girlfriend Alteria Woods in the crossfire, and he was charged with murder for her death. He was just acquitted of that by a jury, but convicted on felon-in-possession charges.

Interview about the Rittenhouse case with Lara Smith of the Liberal Gun Club

The interviewer’s performance here is low-quality, but overall Lara handles herself well.


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