Response 1 – The One: Contagious Kindness (1.2)

by Joshua Hilst

“I will dance, I will sing, and my laugh shall be gay
I will charm every heart in this crowd I survey”

English and Media Theorist Gregory Ulmer identifies at least three key forms of logic: inductive, deductive, and conductive logic.

The first, inductive, is the reasoning from particularities to general principles. For instance, my grandfather was mortal, his father was mortal, and his father was mortal. Therefore, all men must be mortal.

The second, deductive, moves from established principles to a specific conclusion: all men are mortal (we know this because we have inductively arrived at the principle: we don’t know anyone who hasn’t eventually died), I am a man (so far as I know), therefore, I must be mortal.

Conductive logic moves across the various connections one might find in a series of statements. For example, all men are mortal, mortal is a word descended from the Proto-Indo-European language (mbratas), another surviving manifestation of which is ambrosia, which we usually use to refer to that weird gelatinous, whipped cream, and fruit salad dish common to summer gatherings.*

Conductive logic, Ulmer claims, has far more to do with how reasoning works in a multimedia environment. Montage, from film, is a key example: any survey of the works of Sergei Eisenstein or the Kuleshov effect will tell us as much. However, even in terms of hypertext, there may not be a deductive or inductive connection between the pages navigated in Wikipedia, but there are conductive connections arising through the linkages between pages. Anyone who has whiled away a period of time jumping around the aforementioned Wikipedia can testify to the odd way one might begin with a page on one topic, and end on another that has no reasonable connection with the first. We might find similar connections in the concept of contagion, which navigates from person to person, or from site to site, in precisely such a conductive manner. Hence, we move from conductive logic to contagious disease, which the video “The One: Contagious Kindness,” seeks to set at ease. However, we find throughout the video the various dis-eases of various individuals when asked to delineate what marks an act of contagious kindness.

The answer seems to be a general sense of civility, or of acting decently, the exchange of pleasantries or the demonstration of care. The hope, if the title is any indication, is that such acts might be viral, an act of conductive contagion. In other words, we might find the answer in the epigraph to this response, a very old American folksong, which the authors have used as background music to the video: “Wildwood Flower.” The song was popularized by the famous Carter Family of the early 20th century, but is actually far, far older. By some estimates, it may date to the 18thcentury. One line of the song states that the singer will “charm every heart in this crowd I survey.” Another variation of the line is to charm every heart “in this crowd, I will sway,” which is an interesting mutation (as viruses always are). The charming of every heart works in the theme of contagion, as does the swaying in the crowd. Just as one with a virus might infect everyone in a particular crowd by standing in it, the authors rightly ask if it is not just as possible to conductively infect with joy or kindness.

I say all of this in an effort to move conductively through the work, thus paying homage to it. In a more straightforward sense, I enjoyed the statement it made. The author shows a clear grasp of the elements of montage and moves among a series of images with a quality overall effect. The video is in two distinct parts, the first is a nicely conductive series of statements that brings everything back home to Alaska. The second is a typical spontaneous conversation on the street in which people are asked to respond to a question. The author’s hope, I suspect, is to promote an act of kindness in the world into which he and his partner are preparing to bring a child. I’m sympathetic.

The question will be one of contagion, and the extent to which kindness moves as contagiously, or as conductively (because these words seem almost interchangeable) as disease. He has hit on an interesting series of principles. It is difficult to induct or deduct one’s way toward kindness. It is perhaps preferable, in the interest of being “part of the moment,” to work towards kindness in a contagious fashion, not through general principles, but through the formation of connections. These connections are not formed from the outside, by surveying the crowd, but by the swaying in and among the crowd.