Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable: The Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict

W.J. Astore

Disagreements are part of life. And indeed my friends, and readers of this blog, have been known to disagree with me. And thank goodness for that! Who’d want obsequious toadies for friends? And, if I’m writing articles that are truly “bracing,” obviously I should expect disagreements. And I do, which is one of the best aspects of this site. We learn from people who disagree with us, that is, when they have reasons well supported by facts, or wisdom learned from their own life experiences, and so on.

America is highly polarized today, and it seems as if people can no longer disagree without being disagreeable. Discussions quickly become arguments, which turn into shouting matches, with lots of name-calling and attacks on people and their alleged motives and leanings.

There’s nothing wrong with impassioned disagreement. But too many people start from there and quickly descend to being disagreeable, even violently so. The end result is that no common ground is discovered, nothing is learned, and any kind of concerted action to effect meaningful change is sabotaged.

Take the case of Kyle Rittenhouse. He was recently acquitted of murder after shooting three people during a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that turned violent. The jury found that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt. I’ve watched video from the protests, and it appears to me that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense. Other people may watch this video evidence and watch the trial and reach a different conclusion, and that’s OK. We should be able to discuss this reasonably and rationally, while putting some faith in the verdict reached by the jury.

Kyle Rittenhouse (SEAN KRAJACIC/PHOTOGRAPHER: SEAN KRAJACIC /GET)

Scanning my Facebook feed, however, I see polarization and vituperation about the verdict. It seems like if you agree with the verdict of “not guilty,” you’re obviously a white supremacist, a gun enthusiast, and a Trump supporter. On the other hand, if you disagree with the verdict, you’re obviously a libtard who hates guns and wants to defund the police. It’s a disagreeable mess with no common ground except mutual suspicion, even hate.

Even as I wrote those words, I got an email with an article on the verdict:

Kyle Rittenhouse, white supremacy, and the privilege of self-defense

Rittenhouse has the benefit of boyhood — white boyhood

By Jeneé Osterheldt

In this article, Osterheldt writes that the three white victims of Rittenhouse were “perceived to be fighting for Black lives to matter,” so their lives were “also up for grabs.” But Rittenhouse, also white, was supported by the system because he “believ[ed] in the authority of whiteness.” His life was apparently never “up for grabs.”

This author then authoritatively declares that: “Had he [Rittenhouse] been white and protecting Black lives in Kenosha instead of purportedly protecting cars, he’d be in prison. Or maybe cops would have pepper-sprayed him instead of giving him gratitude and water. Rittenhouse has the privilege of white power.”

Again, based on the video evidence and the trial, I don’t see this verdict as being driven by “white power” and privilege. Rittenhouse’s first victim was a man who chased him, threatened him, and tried to take his gun from him. The second victim was beating Rittenhouse with a skateboard. The third victim (wounded in the arm) was pointing a gun at Rittenhouse, as he himself admitted during the trial. The jury watched the videos, heard the testimony, and decided Rittenhouse’s actions did not constitute murder or attempted murder. From what I’ve seen and heard, I agree with the jury.

Now, it shouldn’t matter, but all three of Rittenhouse’s victims were white. Two of the three were attacking him before they were shot (the two he killed), and the other pointed a handgun at him (the one he wounded). The first man he shot was mentally unbalanced; video at the scene shows him shouting racial obscenities, including the N-word, at Blacks, daring them to shoot him.

So, I disagree that Rittenhouse’s acquittal is an example of white privilege and power. I shouldn’t have to say this, but I’ll add that I support the Black Lives Matter movement, that I’m not a “gun enthusiast,” and that I’ve never voted for Trump and never will. (I’m not a fan of Biden either.)

We can disagree based on evidence, reason, facts. We can disagree without being disagreeable. Can’t we?

What It’s All About

Life's tough enough without being an idiot (author's photo)
Life’s tough enough.  Let’s give each other a fair hearing. (author’s photo)

W.J. Astore

I have a friend who speaks with great authority on life.  Not only is he a topnotch historian, but he’s lived a life rooted to reality, a life in which he’s demonstrated great generosity of spirit.

He wrote recently to me about what he considers to be the acid test of a person’s worth.  As he put it:

“The older I get, the less I care about someone’s beliefs, faith, convictions, and conclusions. What MATTERS is how they treat me and mine!”

Yes.  As I wrote back to him, “Show me how you act, and I’ll tell you what you believe.”

When I’m conversing with someone, I couldn’t care less if they’re conservative or liberal, libertarian or green, Catholic or atheist.  Those are really just labels or categories that conceal as much as they reveal.  What matters is how a person acts.   Do they listen?  If they disagree (and I enjoy a good verbal joust), do they do so with a certain sense of civility?  Just a touch of humility, a sense that, though they may be almost certain that they’re right, they’re willing to reserve a chance, however small, that they’re wrong?

Put differently, go ahead and tell me why you’re right and I’m wrong, without all the self-righteousness, and without wronging me in the process.

In a small way, I hope that’s what we’re up to here at The Contrary Perspective.  Establishing a dialogue with people who may not share our specific beliefs, faith, convictions, and conclusions, and doing it in a way that treats our readers in a respectful way.  A way that doesn’t wrong anyone even as we joust about what is right.

After all, the world would be a painfully boring place if we all agreed.  Or if no one ever challenged us to examine (and re-examine) our beliefs.