You are a baron, to the manor born. It’s a pretty cushy gig. Your great-grandfather did most of the heavy lifting, fighting for the guy who subsequently took over the country, and getting control of a nice slice of land for his trouble. It’s not a lot of land, but it’s enough to provide you with an income that lets you hang out with other nobles, drinking, gambling, whoring, the usual stuff. Maybe you do some plotting on the side, or develop a hobby in horse breeding or some other gentlemanly pursuit.
But theoretically, you still have certain obligations. You got this barony at the point of a battle axe, and it might come to that again. You’re responsible for it, for protecting it, paying some taxes on occasion, and for giving service when the big guy asks for it.
The problem is that it is filled with peasants. Someone has to grow the grain and cattle you tax, but unfortunately, when they’re not occupied they like to drink and fight almost as much as you do. It’s not uncommon for someone to get bonked in the head or stabbed in the eye.
This is not good for business, and it’s even worse for your free time when the dead guy’s relatives come to you demanding “justice” and you’re supposed to figure out which ugly peasant is “responsible” instead of worrying about if they’re going to have the good wine at the party next week. So you try to make things simple for yourself. Getting in a fight gets you sent to the stocks, or hanged if you keep at it for long enough. Easy! I don’t care who started it, I want it quiet back there or I swear I’m turning this car around!
Which is all well and good for the modal tavern brawl, but then someone points out that just last week a gang of brigands kicked in some elderly widower’s cottage door and almost made off with everything he owned before he plugged one of them with a carving knife. That guy pays his taxes, no point in hanging him, and it’s still a pretty simple rule. Kick in someone’s door and you get what’s coming to you, no one can complain about that.
Then someone points out that the Royal Road runs right through town, and before said brigands stopped for some burglary they came down the highway robbing people at swordpoint. Simple John clubbed one of them over the head in lieu of giving up his purse, and what do you want us to do with him? Fine, John always pays on time, would be a waste to make an example of him when those are your taxes he was defending anyway. Hm, defending. A sort of, “self defense”?
Everything ultimately flows from this. In practical terms, like much else in common law, the point of “self defense” as codified is to keep things running smoothly so taxes get paid on time, you don’t waste more taxpayers than you need to, and you encourage a modicum of the sort of social stability that keeps things out of court in the first place.
That assumes, however, that your rulers are trying to keep things calm and profitable. When they are trying to do the opposite, for instance by literally bailing violent pedophiles out of mental hospitals so they can assist in burning down adjacent towns, the idea that “self defense” as a legal construction will be allowed to mediate the outcome is absurd. They want peasants in a ditch and cities on fire. “Self defense” magically becomes contrary to state policy when the state wants you dead and the mob given “space to destroy”. Hence putting out fires is a “provocation”, and an armed mob trying to at a minimum smash in your face is a group of heroes, selflessly serving the state. Your attempt to resist them proves your guilt and gives them the right to kill you on the state’s behalf.
But none of this theory actually changes the practical situation in the instant of conflict. “Natural law” types will scoff at the Schmittian reading of self defense as a mere policy tool to advance state goals, and say instead that it is a practical accommodation of the fact that in the moment, a man would rather be judged by twelve than carried by six. In other words, you simply cannot stop a man from defending himself when he is at the point of death (what are you gonna do, hang him six months later?), so there is no purpose in punishing it. The implication of criminalizing true self defense isn’t that the self preservation instinct goes away, but that it acquires a dimension of protecting oneself from the state as well.
Kyle Rittenhouse’s fundamental mistake was that he didn’t realize he was in a fight, and he didn’t realize it was with the state. He assumed that he could go and scrub graffiti, offer medical aid, and douse fires, and all he had to worry about was a few goons jumping him out of inchoate anger, at which point he could produce the rifle and drive them away without actual violence. He didn’t realize he was dealing with hardened felons licensed by the state to murder him, and he didn’t realize he needed a plan to “get away with” basic assistance to his community.
What does a Rittenhouse aiming for self preservation do differently?
First, he knows who his friends are, and brings them with. When caught alone, he very nearly died, attacked from behind. He volunteered, selflessly but not wisely, to protect a car dealership owned by an Arab he was barely familiar with, and was betrayed by him for his efforts (“Binger, I know him not”). Had Rittenhouse traveled with a group of trusted friends, he likely wouldn’t have been attacked in the first place, and would have in any event been in a much better position to accomplish anything he wanted to do.
Second, he isn’t on video. Every high profile media-political persecution after Zimmerman has relied on cinematic video “evidence” (and even Zimmerman had audio). Yes, the video completely exonerates Rittenhouse – that’s not the point. Without visual propaganda the media can edit, mischaracterize, and manipulate, the Two Minutes Hate has a significantly harder time getting off the ground. There’s never a shortage of incidents to choose from when it’s time to ramp up the pressure, and the smallest amount of difficulty can result in one scapegoat being shelved in favor of an easier target.
As a rule, all cameras (except, of course, the secret spook drones) at a riot like Kenosha are focused on the same thing. Well-lit commotion draws attention, and staring at it ruins your physical ability to perceive what is happening beyond it. This tells you that of your friends, some will be seen, and had better not be seen to be doing anything culpable – certainly nothing so dastardly as “self defense”. Some can arrange to not be seen.
Third, he doesn’t stick around to get into a tussle. Once the fire and destruction starts, you can’t stop them in the camera-zone, because they will try to kill you, and you can’t stop them from killing you in the camera-zone, because you “provoked” them. The camera-zone is now no-go, and you are forced to extricate yourself at speed. Good thing the effective range of Rittenhouse’s weapon was about 300 yards, or about double that against a massed target, and in the hypothetical he has friends willing to act to preserve his life.
What does this all look like, put together? A close group, operating in teams, some designed to be seen, some designed to project force, acting together to protect their community from hostile outsiders? When the state abdicates its responsibilities and turns on its citizens, no one should be surprised when alternatives arise.