Thursday, November 11, 2021

Culture Corner: Idiocy on the Loose: Kyle Rittenhouse and American Culture

The Kyle Rittenhouse trial is ongoing. We don't yet know the verdict. If I were in Vegas, however, I would lay odds he will be acquitted. As paradoxical as it is, there seems enough evidence to warrant “self-defense”. Such is the state of America.

Right off the bat: get out of here with politics. We're talking about the individual's decision. Who in their right mind thinks: There are riots occurring in the next state. So, I'll strap on my assault rifle, grab a first aid kit, and jump into the fray. Nothing bad will happen, right? Sorry.  Guns and riots don't mix. It's not altruism, it's stupidity. And its stupidity costing two lives that Rittenhouse will likely be acquitted of.

But wait, how is it legally possible for a teen with a semi-automatic rifle to jump into human chaos? Aren't these the precise situations that deadly weapons should be banned from? Shouldn't we be holding people legally and socially accountable for such decisions? If taking the decision to drink and drive ends up as murder in many states, why not the decision to willingly bring a gun to a riot? The human brain is still capable of making some rationale decisions, yes?   Let emotion come out. Let people protest and march. Let the legal system clean up the mess. But guns in the mix?

Context time. I am an American living in Poland. For the past four or five years, there have been many public demonstrations—marches, protests, sit-ins, and otherwise—against the government. Despite that literally hundreds of thousands of people have been on the streets. Despite that there have been public clashes, left vs. right. Despite the existence of nationalist and minority militant groups. Despite that vandalism has occurred. Nobody has been shot. Nobody has even been arrested for having a gun in public that I have seen in the news. To be clear, it's legal to own a gun in Poland. Apply for the right permit. Go through the process. Meet reasonable conditions (psychology check, criminal check, physical check). And voila, you are allowed to own a gun.  Despite this, extremely few people do.  They don't feel the need.  Oh, and look, the death rate by guns is significantly lower than the US.  It's simply a different culture. 

And that is where America is failing: culture. Wake up. This isn't the wild west any more. John Wayne does not walk the streets. Society today is a few degrees more civilized than when “The British are coming! The British are coming!”. Americans kill exponentially more Americans than any “enemy” hiding behind a bush.  The Rittenhouse situation is, in fact, the "enemy" requiring elimination.  

Where precisely is American culture failing? There are a few places. The first is the “business model”. It's egregious that lobbying is part of politics. Guns show why. We separate church and state, why not business and state? Keep the gun lobby begging at the door like everyone else. The second place is parenting. What parent raises their child to think that driving X hours to the next state with an assault rifle to join a riot is a good idea? Regardless my son's political views, I would do everything to convince him not to go. Rittenhouse's mom and dad need to be called out for their failure. And third is social and legal expectation. It's an extreme minority in Poland who believe that people should be allowed to openly carry guns in public without restrictions. Everyone else is educated, cultured—smart—enough to understand the relationship between guns and people. They don't mix! How can you hope to have a stable, peaceful society with guns floating freely? Humans have emotions. We do stupid things. Best to limit the stupidity as much as possible with laws, and let social expectation follow.

So to go back to the beginning; I won't be surprised if Rittenhouse is found not-guilty of murder. Personally, I don't know if he is guilty or not of intentional murder. But what I do know is that he is guilty of a bad decision to bring a gun to a riot, and for that should be punished. Another way of looking at this is, do we want the likes of Rittenhouse walking in society—a person who believes they can show up at any public disturbance with a semi-auto? No. It's dangerous to him and others around him. To Rittenhouse's parents, raise a smarter son. Raise a son to respect human life, regardless of which side of the political spectrum that life may be. Raise a son to have a brain, to think twice before deciding to join such a riot, let alone bring a gun. “He wanted to do right. He wanted to help.” Sorry, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and in this case Rittenhouse's intentions ended up with two dead bodies that would still be alive had he made the right decision. I am not the smartest brick in the wall, but I'm smart enough to know bringing a gun to such an emotionally tense situation leads to the potential for death at my own hands—accidental, intentional, or otherwise, my own, others, or both. It's not rocket science.

C'mon American government, it's high-high time to face your gun problem. Don't worry, there is no need to eliminate guns entirely. Like Europe, put stronger barriers in place to try to prevent certain situations from happening. Tighten restrictions on ownership and storage. Put stronger laws in place around guns in public. Hold people to higher degrees of accountability. Remove guns from the free market and put them under limited sale through restricted sales points. Limit the types of guns people can own. (Do people really need assault rifles for hunting or target practice?) Sane, healthy people without criminal records, i.e the majority of gun owners, could still own guns. The second amendment would still be in effect, just with more restrictions than it currently has—and it has some already. (Wanna a nuclear bomb? Not allowed...) But most importantly, people's loved ones would not die so easily in the hands of such extreme stupidity as Rittenhouse's.

Yes, this is a rant.  It pisses me off that two families are dealing with an avoidable tragedy because of a dumbass kid, a dumbass kid who could potentially have been a smartass kid if his parents and the system had higher expectations...

*Updated Nov. 20. 2021 - Verdict is in.  Not guilty on all charges.  As, unfortunately, thought.  If, for one moment, we accept the laws as they are (which the legal system and jury had to do for the trial), it seems prosecutors were too ambitious.  Had they went with a couple of manslaughter charges plus the other, non-killing-related charges, it's more likely the trial would have ended with a conviction of some kind, and therefore a feeling of justice.  Otherwise, it's absolutely crazy to me that Rittenhouse walks scot free despite that he clearly did something wrong.  "Something" the key phrase, prosecutors were too greedy... 


  1. Just adding my 2 cents here...

    On the topic of Rittenhouse... Well, that's just an open-and-shut-case - or at least it should be. Minor leaves state with a gun he doesn't have a permit for, a dangerous gun at that (not one for hunting but for killing people), goes to a protest, a very angry protest as well and ends up shooting three people, two of whom die. Well, clearly this kid should be punished but considering his age, rehabilitation should be the goal of the punishment here. Of course, the US prison system doesn't really take an interest in that but theoretically that's what should happen here.

    As for legislation... One of the sad revelations of the last few years is how little the politics of the powers-that-be has to do with mass-politics. When it comes to gun-legislation, remember the “march for our lives” from 2018, that huge protest which happened after yet another school shooting? Well, what legislation came out of that? Or take the BLM protests from last year which is part of the story here. Did that lead to some sort of police reform? Or the recent COP26 and the issue of climate change. Greta Thunberg can give whatever speech she wants and inspire protests and mass-actions by people. But did it seem like the powers-that-be at that conference are actually responsive to the mass-protest? Or wasn’t it just yet another half-hearted commitment to do better and hopefully it will all work out…? The sad state of affairs is that mass-politics don’t matter right now.

    When it comes to guns, take “universal background checks”. The majority of Americans (including Republicans!) are in favor of it ( And yet… that doesn’t matter one bit. Because what makes sense in Washington has nothing to do with what the majority of Americans actually want.

    And so, it’s no wonder that the only political arena left in public discourse is culture war. And through that lens, the discourse about Rittenhouse isn’t about what legally and/or morally makes sense but about what side of the culture war you’re on. If you’re on Team Red, Kyle Rittenhouse HAS TO BE a saint. If he gets punished, he will be treated like a “victim of wokeness” or whatever the rightwing will say. And the rightwing will maintain no matter what that Rittenhouse is innocent. And if you’re on the left, I mean, sure, you’re supposed to be angry if Rittenhouse gets acquitted. But so what? Can you imagine any Democrat legislator actually working towards making sure something like that can’t happen again? In reality, this would be just yet another example of the typical dynamic in US-politics these days: The rightwing pushes the boundaries in achieving their goals and the Democrats (as the institutional arm of the left supposedly) will just angrily watch and do nothing. In other words, my bet is that no matter the outcome nothing will fundamentally change. We’re all just screaming into the void talking about the Rittenhouse-case.

    1. Morgoth, in general I feel like you and I are on the same page. But I have to take issue with a few statements, e.g. "mass-politics don't matter right now". Isn't that taking for granted the liberties and freedoms you have? I mean, would you rather live under the current Western forms of government, or under a king or chairman? I agree there are aspects of Western government today that are dropping the ball (e.g. gun laws in the US, the environment, etc.), but as a whole the ship moves in a better direction. I mean, compare the social justice movements of today to what people were fighting for just a century ago. (Try "The Evolution of Moral Progress" by Allen Buchanan and Russell Powell.)

      Yes, I can imagine a Democratic legislator pushing for stronger gun laws. While Obama was president, he tried pushing ambitious legislation through. Democrats, unfortunately, did not have a majority in the other seats of government, and therefore it failed. Biden, with a majority in the Senate and House is best situated to do something. He's made noise about doing something, but let's see if he actually does. Elections are next year, so the clock is ticking on the majorities.

      Bottom line: your frustrations echo in me. But the system is what they system is, and it's at least open to evolution through the right channels and steps. Is it moving fast enough? On some issues, clearly no. But it is moving. As small a step as it is, FBI gun checks are a good thing, and pave the way for the next small step. Overall, there is no perfect system, and what we have is the best humanity has come up with in its millennia of existence. It's just shitty to see things like the Rittenhouse situation happen.

    2. See, the difference between your perspective and mine is that my perspective is far more pessimistic than yours regarding what is possible right now. Mind you that's what I mean when I say "mass-politics don't matter". I'm talking about the moment we're in right now. Strangely, though, I’m more optimistic than you when it comes to the future. What you call “dropping the ball” is the evidence of where the current limits of political imagination/power are and yet my critique of the current state of things makes you bring up “But hey, at least it isn’t x.”. Rather than settling for the miserable state the world is in right now, the question that should drive our critique of the present is “But shouldn’t it be better?”. You can only answer that question, though, if you acknowledge the problems and conflicts of our time. And the inability of mass-politics to challenge institutional power and economical power is a key point of the current moment. Climate change is the perfect example. Especially because it will get worse if nothing changes and yet… nothing changes. And based on the protests like “Friday for Future”, it isn’t because people don’t care about it. It is because when it comes down to legislation their voices are far less important than things like the oil- and car-industry, for example. It’s far better for an analysis of the current moment to acknowledge this rather than to pretend that government and the economy are going to do the things necessary to stop climate change any day now. And the past couple decades have shown that the incrementalism you mentioned at the end isn’t gonna cut it. That’s why having in the faith in the system is an issue: It limits your imagination of what change is possible. Incrementalism and having faith in the system is precisely what has gotten us into the situation we’re in right now when it comes to climate change.

      Also, the poptimist take of "Compared to 100 years ago...". Try telling that to the people who lost their homes during the 2008 crisis. I’m sure they’re thrilled to hear about how awesome our moral culture is. Well, that horseshit argument bothered me when Steven Pinker made it and if Buchanan’s book is peddling the same nonsense, I’m relieved to find out I made the right decision to avoid it. The whole “biocultural” thing also made me fear it would be another overly academic brainfart like Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” with its lackluster historical analysis. Diamond’s biological determinism does a nice little job in that book offering theories/excuses like that colonialism and slavery were just a matter of European geography. I can’t stand these deterministic arguments รก la Pinker where history is just a positivity score that is getting better on average each year and shuts out all the problems of the present or Diamond’s biodeterminism that completely ignores politics and freedom of will and just makes nature the sole author of history.

      As for Biden… Well, he’s better than Trump… but in the end he hasn’t done nearly enough to change the downward trajectory of the US… well, at least as domestic politics are concerned. The American empire overseas just keeps chugging along. Of course, their budget just gets bigger each year to do… I don’t know bomb a couple more hundred civilians somewhere, I guess ( The US-military is another thing that is extremely detached from the US as a democratic project.

    3. The electoral bloodbath for Dems in the midterms is a near-certainty at this point. Considering Biden’s unpopularity coupled with Republicans rigging elections through gerrymandering and making voting super-hard can only lead to one conclusion: Democrats won’t have a majority in the Senate and/or House after the midterms. Of course, it doesn’t help that unlike with Republicans party-loyalty isn’t really a thing in the Democratic party. The big issue of the Democrats is that they set themselves all these political goals and claim they want to do this or that. But their big donors are completely opposed to a lot of those things and so you got people like Manchin and Sinema who are fine with stopping 90% of Biden’s very moderate agenda – even if it hurts the Democratic party. Important things like doing something about climate change, raising the minimum-wage, protecting voting-rights, changing the horrible healthcare-system… The list goes on and on. Democrats are masters of saying they want to do something and then not delivering when they’re in power. The New York Times had a good video on this recently . And I’m gonna make a book-recommendation myself for a change :) . A book I found very illuminating on that subject was “Listen, Liberal” by Thomas Frank (“What’s the matter with Kansas?” is also great).

      Obama… Man, the more years pass, the less I like his presidency. With distance his eight years has just turned into a litany of failures. His bad handling of the 2008 crisis is one of THE reasons Donald Trump could get elected in 2016, to name one example. Also, it doesn’t help that after his exit he spends most of his time being a rich asshole now who desperately wants to hang out with celebrities and other rich people. And oh god, his obsession with writing autobiographies… It really seems like one of Obama’s favorite topics is well… Obama.

      As for the Rittenhouse-case… Of course, the rightwing now thinks they should go heavily armed to every counter-/protest. It's sad but I'm 100% certain the Dems won't change the filibuster to get more proactive with their legislation in order to tackle issues like gun-laws. That would mean doing things a lot of their big donors don't like and so that won't happen.

    4. Ahh, to be young and idealistic again...

      To be clear, the quality of your intentions seem undeniable - genuine, good, and focused on righting real wrongs and injustices. But you hint at some very scary stuff. If the current system doesn't work, what do you propose? Monarchy? Communism? We've seen in history how those turn out. Thus, I may not be a fan of every aspect of democracy, specifically how it is implemented in the US and how slow it can be to act, but it's still proven itself to be better, on average, for the common person. We can and will always be able to give examples of specific injustices (2008, etc.), but there is no denying the progress humanity has made. The rights to vote for women, civil rights for Blacks, etc. - think of the millions and millions of people that benefited. Democracy is the medium through which those changes were made - incrementally, yes, but still changes for the better.

      Scarier yet, how do you (and I mean specifically you) get the majority of people to agree to your alternative system - the system you know to be better? And if you can't get the people to agree to your system, do you force them? I hope you don't, otherwise I'm communicating with a dictator. So, if you don't want to force people, this leaves you only two choices: to continue sitting in your corner angry, or to accept democracy and put your passion and energy to use making incremental change. Sorry, there is a third choice: move to another country.

  2. I’ve pondered for a while whether to respond to your last comment because… how ill-conceived the whole argumentation regarding history and politics was. Like your question “Scarier yet, how do you (and I mean specifically you) get the majority of people to agree to your alternative system - the system you know to be better? And if you can't get the people to agree to your system, do you force them?“

    That’s just stupid. Period. I thought about joking “That’s quite the Hobbesian way to think of politics” but that would either mean you’re trying to insult me by interpreting my comment like that or… well, you don’t know what you’re talking about. It also strikes me how you immediately jumped to a philosophical debate there rather than a pragmatic discussion of what’s possible within the current system… which is another indication this isn’t terrain you’re comfortable with.

    Also, it still misses the point of what I’m trying to say.

    But first the thing that made me really angry: “The rights to vote for women, civil rights for Blacks, etc. - think of the millions and millions of people that benefited. Democracy is the medium through which those changes were made - incrementally, yes, but still changes for the better.” I’d suggest you pick up a history book and read about those movements. There’s nothing “incremental” about them. In fact, guess on what side the “incrementalism is good”-crowd was when it came to woman voting rights and civil rights? Yeah, of course, they were against it! MLK dedicated a whole letter in prison to why white liberals who love incrementalism are also the enemies of the civil-rights-movement. In that letter he said: “We do not need allies who are more devoted to order than to justice. I hear a lot of talk these days about our direct action program alienating former friends. I would rather feel that they are bringing to the surface many latent prejudices which were always there.” Later in a book he wrote: “Our white liberal friends cried out in horror and dismay: ‘You are creating hatred and hostility in the white communities in which you are marching. You are only developing a white backlash.’ As long as the struggle was down in Alabama and Mississippi, they could look afar and think about it and say how terrible people are. When they discovered brotherhood had to be a reality in Chicago and that brotherhood extended to next door, then those latent hostilities came out.” The US wouldn’t have either of those things if the idea of “incrementalism is good” had prevailed. That makes it all the more tragic that when it comes to climate change the “incrementalism is good”-crowd has been right there in linking arms with the “climate change is a hoax”-crowd to stop whatever needs to get done. Like MLK said, the “incrementalism is good”-crowd is just another enemy when you want to change things for the better.

    Also, that’s why I hate Steven Pinker and his acolytes so much. Their portrayal of history is arrogant and ignorant at the same time. Only in that world could radical change be retroactively deemed the result of incrementalism. After all, that*s the real objective of writers like that. They want to lie about history to make it seem like it’s all a gradual, planned process. And then we in the present are supposed to be SO proud of how far we’ve come and be satisfied with where we are. But that’s not what history is. To quote Lenin: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” That’s history. Saying “But that’s the best we got!” right now when imagining what the future might look like is just a result of poor imagination and a poor understanding of history.

    1. Probably I've had some hand in it, but probably also I've had too much patience. The bottom line is you you have a choice. You need to either offer a pragmatic, non-incremental solution to the environmental impasse in civil fashion so that we can continue to interact with some hint of respect, or you need to go somewhere else to vent your anger. What we're doing here is not good for me, not good for you, and it's certainly not making the world a better place...

  3. It’s like the trial was never televised... I used to believe the same falsehoods printed in the newspapers till I saw the clips. I can’t believe now that the newspapers couldn’t have corrected their misinformation for a year, have grudgingly concluded they must know they are lying at this point. Now I can’t believe people couldn’t watch the trial to judge for themselves. I’m in UK btw and managed to see enough.

    Kyle was not carrying a gun illegally, he didn’t cross state lines with a gun, the gun owner did. His family lived in he town, he also worked there. He put out a dumpster fire that was being rolled to a gas station, presumably to showcase the protest even more as a “peaceful” one, along the burning buildings and the destroyed local businesses. Maybe peacefully injure or kill some people too.

    He put out a fire set by Joseph Rosenbaum, a White man who had spent fifteen years in prison for sexually assaulting five children. (Rosenbaum also tried to set the police on fire and went around hollering the "N-word.") Rosenbaum, enraged, announced he would kill Kyle. When his friend Joshua Ziminski fired a gunshot, Kyle, frightened, ran. Rosenbaum chased him, cornered him, and grabbed for Kyle's gun, at which point Kyle fired, killing him.

    The mob then went after Kyle. He desperately ran away, only to trip, at which point Maurice Freeland, a career criminal, "jump-kicked" Kyle in the head, a deadly attack. Next, Anthony Huber, a White man who'd gone to jail for pulling a knife on his brother and grandmother, and choking his brother, swung a full-sized skateboard at Kyle's head, another deadly attack. Kyle shot him, killing him.

    Finally, Gaige Grosskreutz, a White man with a criminal record, pointed an illegal gun at Kyle's head, an obvious deadly threat.

    He admitted on stand that Kyle didn’t shoot him when he had his hands down but only when he pointed the gun at him. Clear Defense.

    The jurors knew nothing about the criminal records of the men attacking Kyle.

    What they did learn, though, from prosecution witness testimony, videos, and still photos, was that, in each instance, the men Kyle shot were the aggressors, and Kyle tried desperately to flee, firing only when his life was in imminent danger. It was on these facts alone that the jury concluded that Kyle was innocent.

    The prosecution argued that anyone who carries a gun is asking to be attacked, denying him a claim of self-defense. In other words, the prosecution vitiated the Second Amendment.

    Which now you are doing too...

    1. Thanks for commenting... but it seems you didn't read what I wrote. At no time did I deny Rittenhouse the self-defense claim in the context of the legal setting in which he was prosecuted. So, it's difficult for me to respond. And I don't really want to waste my time repeating myself. But in case I have your attention and there is a chance you are receptive to another perspective on the situation, here is the short version:

      From the social perspective, should we think it ok for a normal citizen to enter highly emotional, riotous situations with a semi-automatic weapon? Or should such situations be left to law enforcement and the other relevant arms of government to handle? Property was destroyed, but is that of same or greater value than the loss of lives?

      From the personal perspective, should a parent give the thumbs up to their teenager who wants to join a riot with a semi-auto rifle? Yeah Johnny, sounds like a great idea. There is 0% chance people, including you, will get hurt, right? It's only a flip of the coin that Rittenhouse is not six feet under right now and we are arguing a whole other "self-defense" case.

      This all seems to me the most fundamental of common sense - regardless the details of the victims or perpetrator's personal lives, and regardless self-defense or assault.