“Kant” Revisited: Postmodernism and “The Thin Blue Line”

It took some doing, but I finally found the stash of Life With Kant transcripts. I won’t be posting all of them because some of them are shit. But I’ll be going through them over the next couple of days and find the ones I like.

As usual, I don’t edit or spellcheck. Please forgive those errors.



One of my favorite movies of all time is Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line. Perhaps one of the greatest achievements in documentary filmmaking. And we all know what happens. Randall Adams is found guilty of killing Police Officer Robert Wood one night in Dallas during the late 70’s. Instead of showing concern for justice, the Dallas District Attorney, was too gung-ho about administering the death penalty, that they didn’t take into consideration that they had the real killer right under their nose. 16 year old David Harris, who spent time with Adams earlier in the night, was serving as a witness to the prosecution, and it was he himself who had implicated Adams. But because he was too young for the death penalty, Randall Dale Adams became the scapegoat.

In one of the more memorable moments in film history, Errol Morris asks David Harris how he could be so sure about Adam’s innocence. His reply was a chilling “Because I’m the one who knows.”Ultimately The Thin Blue Line got Randall Adams out of prison as it firmly established David Harris as the real killer of Robert Wood. The truth, as we would like to think of it, set Adams free. Although we know that Adams WASN’T the killer, David Harris managed to turn his absolute guilt into a question that provides no answers. Harris was already in prison for another murder during the time of filming, he was never found guilty for the murder of Robert Wood, and his motivations for the killing were never established.

Although he likely shot the officer out of fear, Harris’s friends would state that he didn’t have a consciousness, a fact that his bragging of numerous crimes and two murders can attest to. However, he did seem to have a genuine guilt over implicating Randall Adams. Harris, as a result, is presented as an enigma, the truth of which remains elusive till this day. Years later, Errol Morris (who spent some time as a graduate student under Thomas Kuhn) would state that he has always disliked this postmodern idea that truth can’t be found. It was an absolute fact that Robert Wood was killed, and someone had to pull the trigger. And he had never doubted Harris’s guilt. The Thin Blue Line was always about how we construct truth, and how we can stretch reality to fit those truths.

Postmodernism was sort of coined by Jean-Francois Lyotard in the 1970’s. So it really wasn’t all that long ago in the whole scheme of things. And I think that most people associate the term ‘postmodern’ with subjects like art and architecture. But in the philosophical sense, I guess that we can sort of call ‘postmodern’ ideas as being set in a post ‘enlightenment’ area philosophy that has dominated Western Thought since the 18th Century. And there’s a lot a lot that goes into what makes something ‘postmodern’, but what I want to focus on is what Errol Morris was addressing when he was taking shots at ‘postmodern’ truth. And when I heard that interview, what I immediately thought of was Immanuel Kant’s notion of the unknowable thing-in-itself. Where all that we can really understand is our perception of the thing, and not how the thing exists independent of our perceptions. So rolling with that thought, I will once again be staring down into a black hole, and extracting meaning where meaning possibly does not exist. It’s just a damn black hole. And perhaps that’s all that reality really is. Some may see gray, hell, some may even see white, but it’s all black. And if anyone claims that they have found the truth of the matter, then all that they are espousing are falsities. So post-modernism is a rejection of wide spread narratives, like narratives of truths, or narratives of progress, but in reality those are stories that the mind made up. And if any one of those narratives become widely accepted, that can be a form of suppression. Supposed truths that we teach children about the correct interpretations on history, correct means of grammar, and so on. Instead of allowing for open interpretation of language and events, we suppress society with our imagined truths.

Are you with me so far?

So the Enlightenment was trying to free Western Thought from the confines of the Church, and instead place our faith on things like absolute knowledge, science, and reason. Rene Descartes seems to imply, at least through my own interpretation, that the only thing that we can truly know is ourselves. However, in the postmodern tradition, ideas of the self are also an illusion because you are using the same cognitive processes to understand yourself as you are with the rest of the world. In the Thin Blue Line, interview after interview, people seemed to have convinced themselves about Randall Adam’s guilt. In one of the more memorable moments, Morris interviews a platinum blond woman that was a witness for the prosecution. She was convinced that there was crime always going on around her, and she was easily deceived by the prosecution into testifying against Adams. It was a memorable interview because it was clear that she was the kind of person that constructs these false realities around her, or what we would traditionally call ‘delusional’, yet she inflicted a lot of damage in the courtroom because she was so damn convinced that Randall Adams shot Officer Wood. And yet, even with the more sane interviewees, there was an over-willingness to bend the truth to fit their objectives despite the fact that they should have known better. Police Detectives should have known better. The Defense Attorneys couldn’t even present evidence that David Harris had known possession of the firearm that killed Wood, a stolen vehicle, and a prior history of violence. The Texas Justice System, instead of delivering justice, wanted to execute Adams.

In this, I’m sort of reminded of Arthur Schopenhauer’s Will as Representation. This is where our will, or our drives and urges, form our representation of the world. Because the Texas Justice System rewards prosecutions that end in death penalties, the need to administer the death penalty becomes ultimate objective of the will. All other objectives, namely justice, become sidelined. Errol Morris’s chief criticism against the Death Penalty is that it invites a system of mistakes. It permits a system whereby that becomes the ultimate objective. David Harris’s involvement in the murder would have prevented that objective because of his age. Randall Adams was simply the right age and at the right place. It is not clear whether or not anyone was perfectly aware of Adams’s innocence despite a few tell-tale signs. In fact, outside of a couple of people, it is possibly more likely that most involved in the prosecution of Adams actually believed his guilt. The Will to administer justice, rather than administrating it properly, became the ultimate goal.

Oddly enough, although Morris rejects Post-Modernism, The Thin Blue Line is an exploration of it. Ideas and narratives of truth become oppressors of actual truth, because of our shared imaginary beliefs in structuralized progress. The end result, having to kill someone for revenge on killing someone else, became more important than the act of justice, one of the shared imaginary beliefs that keeps our structuralized society in tact. It isn’t necessarily because people were lying, although David Harris and a number of other people certainly were, but it was an over-reliance on the system that put an innocent man in jail; an imaginary system that openly embraced injustice, all in the name OF justice. Randall Adams did become the proverbial scape-goat, in the words of David Harris, who by the way, the writers of the first season of True Detective must have derived some sort of inspiration from. Especially for the character Rust Kohl. Indeed, that’s probably the case for many of the innocent people that are placed in jail for crimes they did not commit. They were at the right place at the right time, and someone had to be held accountable. So truth, perhaps, is available. We know that someone shot Robert Wood one night in Dallas. And that someone had to be David Harris. That is the undisputable truth. But as the judge that presided over this case said in his interview, that the killing of a police officer “just doesn’t have to be.” And when we look at the facts of this case, the killing of Officer Wood absolutely did not have to be. We can make assumptions, but Harris never openly stated why he killed Officer Wood. So Errol Morris is partially correct when he said that truth can be known, but perhaps the more mysterious proposition is “what is truth behind truth?” And therein lies the real postmodern question.

The Thin Blue Line is a thoughtful exploration of this question. The term, “The Thin Blue Line” is a reference to law enforcement being the thing that separates society from anarchy. When we think about ideas of law and justice, when tend to think of them in concrete terms rather than as the abstract concepts that they really are. Laws are imaginary, justice is imaginary, we just all collectively agree that they exist so we adjust our behaviors accordingly. But just believing that they exist is not enough to collectively keep society together. A real forceful element must exist in the form of law enforcement. when we think of the United States of America, or any other governing body, what is the thing itself? Is it the land? Is it the people? Is it the customs? Is it the laws? What exactly makes a nation? Well, in truth it is all of those things, but it’s all wrapped together by the thin blue line. You can ignore the laws, the people, and the customs, but you cannot ignore law enforcement. That will be something that will quickly make itself known to you. So, in a sense, unless you live in a foreign land that got on the bad side of the US, in that case you caught the attention of the military (another force branch of the government). But anyways, in a sense, the United States as it exists as a physical force, is it’s Police Departments and other Law Enforcement agencies. You can ignore them, but as a general rule, they will not ignore you. For some reason, when I think of postmodernism and the integrity of the justice system, I think of the Biblical saying “And the truth shall set you free.” And I may be the only one, and in that case just ignore me now, but I’ve always thought of the justice system as this thing that sets out to find the truth and issue out punishment as deemed by written law. At least as far as criminal justice is concerned. And what I love about ‘The Thin Blue Line’ and it’s postmodern interpretation is that it sort of turns that saying on its head. It seems like I’ve been talking about this for a long time.

I’ve said before how I hate a good portion of acoustic guitar-led music, and the only reason why most people like it is because they’ve heard other people say that they like it. Hell, that’s what the entire hipster movement is based on. While I’m at it, I’m gonna fire shots at the whole micro-brewery explosion too. The love of drinking beer is one thing, if that one thing is that it gets you drunk. That’s understandable. But if you have a, quote “love” of tasting beer, then you leave me with more questions. Now I have a love of coffee. I love the flavor of it, and by extension, I would eat a coffee flavored jelly bean, cake, candy, anything. And that’s true of most other foods that I love, but I’m not a foodie so that’s a far as I can go with that. But beer? Outside of the beverage itself, in what other forms would you enjoy the taste of beer? I’ve always wondered about that. Usually beer snobs claim that they could never drink any other inferior beer like Bud or Miller light. Which is puzzling to me. You see, all beer to me tastes like rain water that fell off a roof and into a muddy bucket. Doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy drinking it, but I don’t deceive myself into thinking that it actually tastes good. Even the most high quality beers taste like piss water. Yet, for some reason, there’s a community of people that have been lying to themselves for years that there’s a hierarchy to the tastes of alcohol. They’d rather continue the deception rather than just say to themselves that they like getting drunk. There’s no shame in that. People have been getting drunk for centuries. So, is the beer snob community all about finding beers that taste like the least amount of shit? If that’s the case, then what the hell kind of community is that?

But I guess if I could discern a theme here throughout the few months I’ve been doing the podcast, because I’ve been really trying to find one because I really don’t know why I keep doing this, but I want to point out how flimsy our notions of reality really are. We all walk through life with our self-deceptions, that’s acceptable. That’s what postmodernism means to me. When we consider the limits and limitlessness of the universe, we begin to realize how most of our everyday lives are just imaginary constructs that are unnecessary for our existence. We don’t need a job to literally LIVE. We don’t have to obey the laws of man, we mostly on do so out of fear. That could be fear of resistance from others in the community, or the fear of law enforcement, but nevertheless we obey those laws despite the fact that those laws are not necessary for existence. So if we accept the arbitrary nature of our artificial existence, then THAT truth, can in fact set us free. At least in a spiritual sense.

I don’t know what I’m doing here.

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