“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.

Enjoy!

branches&creatures

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.

The Greatest Drummers-Part I

A band is only as good as its drummer.

I believe that.

Not that I’m an expert, but I know my way around a drum kit. At least it’s the one instrument that I’m proficient at. Mind you, if I were to play with a band or asked to perform with other musicians, I’d probably choke. But I know how to bang it out (if you know what I mean).

I am a student of the craft. And as a student, I have many opinions about my fellow percussionists. Remember Frasier and Niles Crane? Remember their snobbishness about wine (among other things)? That’s the way I am about drummers.

I don’t try to be that way. I know that every drummer that I hear is very much better than I am, or ever will be. Yet a drummer can make or break a band for me. That’s all that I’m saying.

And when I’m practicing myself, there are a number of artists that I attempt to emulate. Some of them are widely appreciated. Some of them aren’t.

John Bonham is, of course, the gold standard. I don’t believe that non-drummers truly understand his contributions to music. In philosophical terms, he did to drumming what Rene Descartes or Plato did to philosophy. You may not be a fan of his, but one way or another….you have to reckon with him.

Of course, to drummers, this goes without saying.

Now, in my personal view, I don’t believe that Bonham’s style was as aggressive or sophisticated…even among his contemporaries. But it was polished. It was bold. And it greatly contributed to that Led Zeppelin sound that we all know and love. And every drummer since has strived to mimic that sound.

When you hear a Bonham groove, you instantly know that it’s HIS sound.

And to me, that’s what makes a GREAT drummer. Drum solos or technical ability is fine. I find those things cool to watch. But it’s not like I think to myself: “Man, I really want to listen to that 18 minute drum solo!”. Few people think that. So it’s not about how WELL you play…it’s about contributing to the music.

Does your sound add TO the music? That is the question.

And even though I fail to match up to the greatness of these musicians, the following drummers have inspired me the most. Some of them you’ll recognize, some of them you won’t.

Bobby Chouinard- Billy Squier 

When we think about the great successor to John Bonham, for some reason, most people think Dave Grohl. I don’t know why. Probably because that’s the only drummer that people can name. No doubt that Grohl derived inspiration from Bonham. But I just don’t hear it.

And the truth is, there isn’t a successor. Few have ever come close to emulating that sound.

But ONE came close.

Most don’t put Billy Squier in the same league as Led Zeppelin, The Who, and other great MUSICIANSHIP bands. But who cares? When I think of John Bonham, one thing comes to mind: the bass drum. The man could make it sound like rolling thunder. I get chills just thinking about it. Mix that in with the Bonham-groove, you have a difficult time trying to re-create the sound. But Bobby Chouinard nearly did it.

Don’t believe me? Listen to Lonely is the Night. Again!

But Chouinard did more than just re-create Bonham. If you ask me, he was more instrumental in creating that Billy Squier sound than Billy Squier. His drumming wasn’t anything INSANE, but it was bold. It was clean. It was loud. And it fucking rocked.

Mitch Mitchell- The Jimi Hendrix Experience

I don’t think that Mitchell gets disrespected in any way.

But because Jimi Hendrix is such an icon, it’s easy to overlook the incredible technique of his drummer.

When I think of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, I think of three musicians that were pretty much doing three different things for each song…yet, somehow, it all came out beautifully in the end.

It’s incredible to listen to.

But Mitchell’s frantic jazz style was what really drove the Experience. You get worn out just listening to it. And truth be told, I can’t emulate it at all.

Alex Van Halen- Van Halen

Okay, so this is another drummer that I don’t think is disrespected necessarily. But between the shenanigans of the various lead singers and Eddie Van Halen, Alex sort of gets lost in the shuffle.

When some think of Van Halen, they think of Eddie’s stupid grin. But he has good reason to smile: he’s a fucking incredible guitarist. I often bitch about musicians and their lame or unnecessary solos. And you might want to punch Eddie in the face, but the man knows how to shred. Which is why between Alex and Eddie Van Halen, the band is one of the more underrated MUSICIANSHIP bands…along with Led Zeppelin, The Who, Jimi Hendrix Experience, etc. (Even though Van Halen is FAR from being underrated).

Rush is considered a MUSICIANSHIP band. I’m not gonna lie, the three members are probably the best musicians at their respective positions. But they suck, or they have an uneven catalog at best.

How is that possible?

In short, they fell victim to the self-indulgence that became characteristic of the 1970s (more about this in Part II). During that time, those three talented guys had no business being in the same room together. Music sometimes suffers from an over-indulgence of ability. And as a result, we get Rush. 

So what does this have to do with Alex Van Halen?

Great question. And hopefully I’ll be able to answer it in Part II.

I promise you that I’m going somewhere with this, by the way.

A New Theology: Part IV- The Gnostic Lens

The reality is that I write A LOT. I’m sure this New Theology seems somewhat perplexing. That’s understandable. But this is only my musings on how to rethink normal theology. I don’t know if it will make sense, and frankly I don’t care it does. To me, philosophy is supposed to be challenging and daring. Through it, we are to find our own voice. And I believe that I have found that by entertaining this New Theology.

I doubt that I’ve constructed any sort of consistent “theology”, if you will. In the post regarding stoicism, I stated that passiveness is not a virtue. If we want to extend that out, I suppose we could argue that we should engage in the physical world rather than remain a mere passenger. Therefore, this allows us to create our own paths and maximize our “freedoms”.

And there are many variations that we could derive from that maxim. Yet I suppose that some might see it as an endorsement of the material world. Even though the skeptic within me wishes to err on the side of materialism/physicalism as the basis of all reality, the human side of me doesn’t want to reduce it to that end. As I’ve joked before, “I want to deny physical reality.” And as the history of knowledge has shown: we cannot wholly trust our senses and methodologies to arrive at “truths”. Old scientific systems get replaced by new ones,we find more truths buried under established truths, etc. Yet our inductive methods of learning the world are the best tool we have. And if we wish to discredit this tool, we have to apply more inductive research. Additionally, the senses we use to construct methodologies of research and understanding are notoriously misleading.

How we developed our sense of phenomenological perception is presumably due to evolution adapting us to a set of noumena (or the Kantian “things-in-themselves). It’s entirely possible that a different set of “intelligence”, which developed at a different part of the universe, would have a completely different phenomenological experience. And therefore having a different set of maths, sciences, etc. If ants grew to take over the world instead of us, would they have arrived at the same conclusions we have?

It appears that we are being “deceived”. We don’t actually have “true knowledge” of the real world.

Now I don’t want to venture off into the mystical, and then say that we are being actively deceived by some demonic force. But if I may steal some Gnostic terminology, our phenomenological field is our own “demiurge”; a misleading characterization of the things-in-themselves. Our perceptions may reveal qualities of the noumatic reality, but are not full and complete representations. EVEN THOUGH they are presented that way. And our minds appear to be limited by this demiurge. Any knowledge that we may receive should be questioned, or at least not taken at face value. I would even venture to say that we can apply that logic to, well…logic itself.

Now clearly we are coming across a MAJOR problem. The only way to refute the methodologies of the mind is to USE the methodologies of the mind. If we have to accept this, we might as well stop doing philosophy because it will reveal nothing real to us. So out of a lack of a better argument, I’ll just ignore this fact.

BUT, we can apply this line of skepticism down to traditional theology. If God exists, and there are things that we can know about Him, then we would have learned those things through our demiurge (i.e. our mind). And our mental capacities, as previously demonstrated, are fallible. Whatever supposed “facts” that we learn about God (either through ancient scripture, logic, or even empirical evidence!), we can question its validity. So whatever God or deities that might exist independent of perception would presumably go above and beyond any sort of human comprehension. A being that is not bound by our phenomenological existence would simply be…unfathomable. Therefore, in all likelihood, whatever information that WE HAVE received about God would be false or misleading regarding the totality of His existence.

Again, no demonic or mythical force is necessary here. Our minds simply act as our demiurge. And because of our finite and fallible capacities, it is likely that we are “cut-off” by a mind independent reality. And so we have yet to escape Kant’s philosophical conclusions: we don’t have knowledge of things-in-themselves. We are essentially “cut off” from God. Therefore there’s little sense in speculating about His existence.

UNLESS, we take certain presumptions about the capabilities of God. Namely, that God is capable of OUR phenomenological capabilities. Or, more specifically, our abilities “branch” out of His. If we are to take a physicalist/materialist assumption (and say that our minds are generated from a material substance) we could argue that, out of God branched out material substance. Or, perhaps more importantly, God is embedded into reality. The material world IS God. This would mean embracing a near (or total) pantheistic or panpsychic view of the universe.

Therefore, the demiurge-like deception lies not in the material world, but by providing an illusion that God is “out there” rather than “right here”…that God is somehow not a part of His creation.

I suppose we can say there’s an almost Manichean-like duality that permeates physical reality. This isn’t a battle between the material world and a supernatural world of ideas, but the struggle itself is firmly embedded into perceptual existence. And we directly take part in this battle. BUT (and here’s where I might completely derail if I haven’t already) this duality only exists within human consciousness. “Good and Evil” are the constructs of the mind. Obviously. And exact definitions of these two extremes vary among cultures. But, if I may make an assumption about all of humanity, such demarcations are made by all peoples. Somewhere, somehow, these two polar extremes become separated. Such constructions may have always existed within high-functioning minds. And if that were the case, is unification the end objective?

Again, I’m falling into a Hegelian-like argument that I wish to avoid. There isn’t an end objective for all of history. Good and Evil are not thesis and antithesis, which will later be synthesized. Instead it’s through our deceptive minds that such distinctions get made. It isn’t a case of HOW to unify, it’s a case of how to get RID of Good and Evil.

Mich has been made about mankind’s fall into damnation…how we somehow fell out of accord with nature. Perhaps the most famous mythical account is that of Adam and Eve: Once unified with nature, but through deception, they ate of the tree of knowledge and all subsequent generations were DAMNED. This burden of knowledge has been both our blessing and curse. Instead of living in accordance with nature, we’ve made ourselves a beast above it: dividing our knowledge into extremes…forever separating it into distinct phenomenological events. On and on this goes, with no end in sight.

It’s not as simple as turning back the clock. The knowledge we have gained cannot be put back into Pandora’s Box. It has become an extension of who WE ARE. So we could argue that this knowledge should not be forsaken. But because of our self-delusion, we have failed to understand what we DO know. We perceive the world as distinct and separate objects, and that they hold no relation to one another. So we ourselves have become distinguishable from nature. Clearly, to move past this barrier…the barrier must be removed.

A consistent theme with this “new theology” is the flowing stream of the universe. I’ve said previously that it was flowing FORWARD in time, yet it could be flowing in all directions. Yet our perceptions might only reveal a “forward only” direction (which may or may not conflict with traditional physics). But we apply division to physical reality because evolution needed to help us navigate a mind-independent world. Unfortunately, this division of material has brought us to near conflict with nature, each other, and ourselves.

As some quote that I recently heard stated (and I’m paraphrasing): “A flower doesn’t compete with a flower next to it. It just blossoms.” The only objective that we have in life (if we choose to accept it), is to blossom and grow.

And even though there appears to be many inconsistencies and contradictions embedded in phenomenological experience, it appears that mind shouldn’t be. There simply isn’t a reason for our reasons. Yet…they’re there. Descartes may have made many mistakes, yet the cogito ergo sum seems to be on to something. I may not be able to prove that “I” exist, but something is going on.

If I can’t know anything outside of this something, we may not know God. But if God isn’t capable of OUR something, could He really be considered all Powerful? Reality, or our existence, is a difficult thing to explain. And we often fail to appreciate how incredible this experience is. If we desire to understand something about God, we can’t search beyond to some supernatural world. If such a thing were possible, we couldn’t access it. The only direction to go isn’t “outward”, but to reach within. Because indeed, this consciousness would be the only thing we could have in common with God. If we are to know God, we needn’t look farther than our own material existence.

So do we actually possess this Knowledge?