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When logic breaks down

Yesterday, I had a two-hour long conversation with my father in which he systematically reiterated every single one of the fallacies in my most recent post. I’m pleased he read it. But the fact that my father, who has a master’s degree and is otherwise a very thoughtful person, can be deceived, is troubling and evidence of the dire need for this discussion.

Let’s look at logic’s limits. Logic is a useful tool for us to determine which arguments are possibly true and which are definitely not. Some arguments sound like they should be true. Some arguments we might want to agree with in spite of faulty logic. The Michael Rapaport example is one. We know structural racism exists in America. It’s probably true that if the January 6th insurrectionists were Black, many more would have died. The key here is it’s probability.

We need to look now for “probably-not-truths”. Pre-covid, we knew that corporations and governments were the biggest offenders of perpetuating probably-not-truths. Companies lied all the time about the effectiveness of their products. Politicians promised things they knew they could never deliver. Yet even armed with this previous experience, many on the left have jumped into their arms, and it’s because these probably-not-truths sound so reassuring. But they’re probably not true.

Let’s look at an egregious probably-not-truth: the supposed effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine before the discovery of Omicron. Many experts have claimed that the Pfizer vaccine was working as described. And then Omicron hit, rendering it less effective. But the only data on the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness was Pfizer’s. Indeed, Pfizer conducted its own efficacy studies and self-published its data simultaneously to The New York Times and to its quarterly report — to its shareholders, alerting them excitedly of their impending windfall.

“Coke is it.” “It’s finger lickin’ good.” When a corporation makes a claim about its own product, do we believe it out of hand? Of course not. That’s why we have strict regulations about truth in advertising. We call them slogans instead of efficacy claims. It would be absurd to let Coca-Cola or KFC announce these slogans as fact. Yet with this vaccine, we have given Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies direct access to the front page of The New York Times.

Were any of the vaccines sent back to the drawing board by regulators? No. What are the odds that every single vaccine produced was rigorously tested and definitively determined safe and effective without further revisions? Slim to none. Can we trust that all vaccines are safe, effective, and thus necessary due to scientific data we know we do not have — that it is impossible to have? Science takes time. And we know for a fact that we will always have one year’s more data on Covid itself than on vaccines. You’ll never get older than your older brother, no matter how old you both get.

Should we trust data, or corporate claims to it? Should we put our faith in science or industry? Logic reaches its limits when it encounters probably-not-truths. It may be true that vaccines are safe and effective. We hope so. But given previous experience, we mustn’t simply accept pharmaceutical companies’ hopeful assertions. Before Covid, they were the biggest probably-not-truth-tellers. We don’t let Apple and Google determine the internet’s rules. We don’t let GM and Toyota run the roads. It’s not sound policy for industries to regulate themselves. There are laws against it. We must seriously ask ourselves, why not for this?

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More Symbolic Logic

Let’s take a look at another inherently false statement that has been used so often recently in our culture — the ‘if X had been Y, then Z’ routine. Under no circumstances is this ever true. Let’s look at why. It’s simple logic. 

Recently, I read a statement by the actor Michael Rapaport, saying (and I’m paraphrasing here) “If the rioters at the January 6th insurrection had been Black, they would have been dead.” This seems like a statement that everyone can agree with, can get behind — it assumes the perpetual inherent systemic racism in America. (Although it’s perhaps a bit of a weird sentiment for Rapaport to want to imagine all those Republicans instead as dead Black folks.)

But here’s the rub: there is no possible way we could know — anyone could know — what would have been, if. Because there is no possible way we can go back in time, stage another insurrection with Black people instead of White, and see how many of them were killed. And why would we want to anyway? We can say that if chickens had pencils for beaks, they would have written Shakespeare. We all know it not to be true.

This same argument is all over the place when it comes to Covid. We often hear some variant of the assertion: yes, the vaccines are less effective than we initially said, but if we didn’t have them, we’d be worse off. But as we know, the very same argument could be used in the reverse — and still, it would be no more true: We could theoretically say that the new and ongoing problems with Omicron are not mitigated by, but rather a result of the vaccines. We could say that we would have been better off without them, not worse. By now, it’s just as impossible to prove, because it’s still impossible to travel through time and conduct a comprehensive comparative experiment. So, next time someone uses this form of argument to convince you of anything, anything at all, tell them that if they took a symbolic logic course in uni, they would have been wiser today.

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We cannot logically be anti-capitalist and pro-vaccine

I wish that a course in symbolic logic was a prerequisite for every university degree. I took Philosophy 120 in my first year returning to school after an extended absence from academic life. It was the only college-level course — other than the pass-fail system of post-graduate studies — in which I received a perfect grade. I’m not bragging or anything — ok, I am bragging. But I was pleased that I’d discovered something I was good at.

Honestly, when I signed up for Phil 120, I thought we’d be reading philosophy. Instead, the subject matter ended up being more like word-math: it’s about true and false statements, about constructing arguments, about following logical thought processes. I had never been good at math with numbers. But I’d never needed to study for anything language-related. Here was the perfect marriage. With symbolic logic, you can quickly build sound arguments, and just as quickly pick apart others’ flawed word equations. With symbolic logic, it’s either right or it’s not.

Symbolic logic is first and foremost an invaluable tool to have when trying to understand modern, complex doublespeak, legalese, and jargon — for example, it’s useful when trying to understand what politicians are saying. Precisely, it’s useful in understanding that, most of the time, politicians aren’t following any form of logic whatsoever — symbolic or otherwise. 

Let’s look at an example. Symbolic logic covers what we call if/then propositions: if this, then that: if I drop a glass on the concrete floor, it will smash. We understand the components of this statement. We know what a glass is, we know the law of gravity and what gravity does, and we have a reasonable idea of what will happen when glass encounters concrete at speed. We can reasonably assume, then, that this if/then statement has a strong possibility of being true. There is not much room for debate.

Recently, I heard a politician making another kind of if/then argument that would hold up less well under the scrutiny of symbolic logic. The statement went like this: ‘Yes, I know that many “fully vaccinated” people are still testing positive for covid, but if we didn’t have X% of the population fully vaccinated, our positivity, hospitalization, and death rates would be much higher.’

Now, this seems like a much more complicated sentence on the surface than the previous example about the smashing glass, but upon closer inspection, it’s almost exactly the same. And with just a little analysis, we will immediately see the logic begin to break down.

Just as we know reasonably what a glass is, we also know that fully vaccinated people are now testing positive for covid: before Christmas, the number was reaching the 50% mark of all positive cases. This is clear. But the certainty of the rest of the argument rests upon conjecture that is far less certain. Unlike gravity, which we stand on every day, we do not know with any certainty the efficacy of vaccines. Furthermore and thus, we cannot possibly know how vaccines might have mitigated any potentially worse problem. Unlike a glass smashing upon contact with concrete, which is nearly universally certain to happen, we know less about what vaccines do long term than what covid does. Let’s follow the logic.

If Covid-19 was a brand new virus that was discovered in December, 2019, and scientists began studying immediately its effects, then there is a body of data on the effects of Covid-19 leading back to December, 2019. If a brand new vaccine was invented in December, 2020, to combat covid, and scientists immediately began studying its effects, then there is a body of data on the effects of the Covid vaccine leading back to December, 2020. You will notice a temporal discrepancy here: one year’s worth of data. We have one year more data on the effects of Covid than on the effects of a vaccine. 

This not only nullifies the faulty if/then logic around whether or not the covid situation would be worse without any vaccines, it nullifies the entire argument around getting a vaccine in the first place. Here’s why.

If we have one year more data on the effects of covid, and ultimately the effects aren’t as terrible as we had thought, then it is probable that the vaccine presents a worse option, long term. In the early days of covid, just as we are now hearing with the omicron variant, we are being told that the reported positivity rates are probably 10x lower than the real number of covid cases. In other words, there are likely 10x more people with covid than reported. But we also know with a very high degree of certainty that there are very, very few deaths worldwide going unnoticed. Nobody is dying alone of covid somewhere in the wilderness — that’s not how this virus transmits — and there is no doubt that governments and media are counting and reporting every single covid death they can. So, if these things are true, we have to conclude that covid all along has been about 10x less dangerous, and at least 10x less deadly, than we’ve been led to believe.

On the other hand, we do have reliable numbers emerging already on vaccine-related injuries. Even with one year’s less data, real dangers are apparent with the effects of vaccines. So far, there have been 30,900 adverse events reported to the Canadian government, after only 12 months. After nearly 22 months, there have been 30,399 covid-attributed deaths in Canada. Given that we can expect the number of adverse reactions to stay constant again next year, and the number of covid deaths to decrease significantly, we must conclude logically that there are more vaccine injuries than covid deaths. The gamble, then, seems to be: die of covid, or live out the rest of your life probably adversely affected by vaccines.

If you don’t think that vaccines could be dangerous, or that there is no way that, at this of all times in human history, pharma companies would deceive us, then read on and follow the logic.

Here’s what we know about viruses. As with the Spanish Flu, there is a big burst of illness, and then the virus becomes endemic. We have never gotten rid of the flu, as we know with certainty, because there is nobody reading this who has never had the flu. Therefore, viruses become less harmful over time, as our bodies naturally become accustomed and thus immune to them. 

On the other hand, the pharmaceutical industry has a long history of continuing to be harmful over time. Bayer’s Cutter Laboratories knowingly continued to sell HIV-contaminated products to hemophiliac patients in Asia and Latin America. This egregious case is just one entry on a lengthy list of instances in which companies that are supposed to produce life-saving products instead put profits before people. Just as we can predict with almost 100% certainty that a glass will smash on concrete — because we’ve seen it hundreds and hundreds of times — we can conclude that pharmaceutical companies, which are supposed to have our best interests at heart, more often than not don’t. Thus, there is a better chance that getting ill and recovering from covid will be less injurious than taking a vaccine. That’s not just good science, it’s sound logic.

But let’s not stop there. In the wake of covid, many people make arguments which might otherwise sound logical, but aren’t. And they are key to perpetuating this illogical cycle of misinformation. It happens in the media, too; but it’s most powerful in everyday conversation. Thus, you might hear something like, ‘you need a license to drive, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t need a vaccine passport.’ Or, ‘you have to wear a seat belt, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t have to wear a mask in public.’ These arguments are false equivalencies. They may sound vaguely like they’re rooted somewhere in logic, but they are ultimately not true statements and we can prove it. Let’s investigate.

With logic, we can often use a series of if/then propositions to deduce some form of true conclusion. For instance, we can say, if all glasses are breakable, and gravity is a constant force, then all glasses will break when they hit concrete. This we know to be true because of experience. However, we can also make a logical argument that is obviously false. For instance, all cats are green, and I have a cat, therefore my cat is green. We know from experience (other than poor punks’ cats) that no cats are green. So, even though this argument follows a familiar logic, it has to be discarded as false through comparison to lived experience.

If we wear seatbelts and suffer a car collision, we have experience that the seatbelt is effective. We have less data on the effectiveness of masks, and more data, in fact, that points to their ineffectiveness. If what we are told is true and the covid virus can transmit through the air on aerosol particles less than one micron in diameter, and there are no masks that prevent particles less than one micron in diameter from permeating their barrier, then there is no such thing as a covid-proof mask. And vaccine passports, we all know, do not entail a skill, like driving, and thus do not qualify or credentialize anyone of anything. 

If we look back to a few logical arguments ago, we will also recall that, of the people currently testing positive for covid, around 50% are fully vaccinated. So, having the vaccine, and thus a passport, doesn’t diminish the virus’s spread or ensure any measure of public safety. We know this after only one year of experience. And yet we know after hundreds and hundreds of years of dealing with viruses that they become less and less severe over time. If we put all this together, we can logically conclude that we know far more about the success of the body to deal with this and other viruses than we do about any of the Covid vaccines. 

We can now make a logical leap and postulate that maybe the pharmaceutical companies are a little bit to blame for the covid crisis. When police detectives investigate a crime, they always look first to see who benefits most. Through experience, this usually leads them to the culprit. And herein lies the lede: we cannot logically be anti-capitalist and pro-vaccine at once. If all the pharmaceutical companies of the world had united together to produce an effective vaccine at low or no cost to the entire world, then it might be easier to argue that the pharmaceutical industry puts lives before profits. But that didn’t happen. Instead, what did happen is that the CEO of Pfizer made a quick $5.6 million on the day their vaccine was announced, and was recently quoted predicting yearly boosters.

Let me ask a rhetorical question here: if the CEO of any other company told any classic leftist type that they needed to buy their product every year, would the leftist believe them? If Elon Musk, say, or Tim Cook, told you that you had to buy a new Tesla or a new iPhone every year, would you follow their advice? The answer, deduced through ample life experience is, of course not.

Surely, one of the most devious things about this pandemic is that it has encouraged debate in absence of logic. This is why I wish symbolic logic was a universal requirement — so that otherwise intelligent and well-meaning people might see the error of their thinking in advance, and not be misled by obviously incorrect lines of argument. Do not engage these people. Simply direct them to their nearest university and suggest that they enroll post haste in intro to Philosophy 120.

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Diduck’s Index

Lies data tell: 0

The depths of human deception: ♾

Harper’s Magazine Foundation mailing address: 666 Broadway, New York, New York[i]

Total U.K. population in 2020: 67,886,011[ii]

Britons in 2020 affected by “low financial resilience”: 27.7 million

Number of centuries since Britain has suffered such a devastating economic depression: 3[iii]

Canadians who reported their financial situation had worsened over the past 12 months: 42%[iv]

Number of Pfizer shares Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla sold in 2020: 132,508

Price per share: $41.94

Albert Bourla’s net profit: $5,557,385.52

Number of days Bourla waited to sell his stock after Pfizer announced its successful vaccine: 0

Laws against Bourla’s stock sale: 0[v]

Rise in number of the world’s billionaires in 2020: 660

Cumulative worth of the world’s current 2,755 billionaires: $13.1 trillion

Current rank of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos: 1

Current rank of former U.S. President Donald Trump: 1299

Number of America’s top ten billionaires who are women: 0[vi]

Net worth of Oprah Winfrey: $2.6 billion[vii]

Net worth of Meghan and Harry, Duke and Duchess of Sussex: $10 million[viii]

Net worth of Calvin Harris: $300 million[ix]

Net worth of Richard D. James: $12 million[x]

Percentage change in net worth of the U.S.’s billionaires from March to December, 2020: +36%

Net worth of America’s top ten billionaires: $1 trillion

Net worth of the economic bottom half of America’s population: $2.1 trillion

Population comprising America’s economic bottom half: 165 million[xi]

Percentage change in Tesla’s stock in 2020: +720%[xii]

Percentage change in Sundial Growers’ (marijuana) stock in 2020: -84.3%[xiii]

Projected U.S. defence budget for 2021: $706 billion

Percentage change from 2020: -4%[xiv]

China’s projected defence budget for 2021: $202 billion

Percentage change from 2020: +6.8%[xv]

Average life expectancy of U.K. citizens: 81.26 years

Average life expectancy of U.S. citizens: 78.54 years[xvi]

Average lifespan of the Higgs boson particle: 10^minus 22 seconds[xvii]

Bitrate of Bell 101 modem: 110 bits per second

My current download speed: 377.76 megabits per second

Number of global websites as of January 2021: 1,197,982,359

Last time the number of websites dipped below 1 billion: March 2016

Percentage of world’s websites considered abandoned: 85%[xviii]

Number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alberta, Canada, as of April 8th, 2021: 156,905[xix]

Number of confirmed seasonal influenza cases in Alberta as of April 8th, 2021: 0[xx]

Opioid overdose deaths in Alberta, Canada, in 2020: 1,128[xxi]

COVID-19-related deaths in Alberta in 2020: 1,046[xxii]

Reports to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in March 2019: 983,734

Reports to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in March 2020: 2,027,520[xxiii]

Percentage change in vinyl record sales in 2020: +28.7%

Percentage change in CD sales in 2020: -23%[xxiv]

First radio broadcast: November 2nd, 1920[xxv]

Number of streaming music subscribers in 2020: 400 million[xxvi]

Peak NME readership: 307,217 (2016)

NME’s reduced cover price: £0[xxvii]

Date of NME’s last print issue: March 2018

Number of years NME published a print edition: 66[xxviii]

Price of Coca-Cola from 1886 to 1959: 5¢

Current price of Coca-Cola: $1.49

Coca-Cola serving size from 1886 to 1959: 6.5 oz.[xxix]

Current Coca-Cola serving size: 12 oz.[xxx]

Percentage change in suitcase and luggage sales in 2020: -77%[xxxi]

Percentage change in doormat sales in 2020: +147.8%[xxxii]

World’s largest “macrocorp”: Apple Inc.

Apple’s market value: $1.971 billion[xxxiii]

Percentage change in Apple profits from Q4 2019 to Q4 2020: +14.9%

Percentage change in Huawei profits from Q4 2019 to Q4 2020: -41.1%[xxxiv]

Percentage of total global population currently using mobile devices: 66.6%

Total number of hours users will spend on social media in 2021: 3.7 trillion

Projected combined human existence spent on social media in 2021: 420 million years[xxxv]

Google search for “Boring Dystopia”: About 1,250,000 results (0.58 seconds)

Google’s market share of search engines as of July 2019: 92.18%[xxxvi]

Google’s market share as of February 2021: 92.05%[xxxvii]

Most frequently searched-for word on Google: Facebook[xxxviii]


[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harper%27s_Magazine

[ii] https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/uk-population/

[iii] https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-finance-regulator-idUSKBN2AB10R

[iv] https://globalnews.ca/news/7743986/forbes-billionaires-list-covid-19/

[v] https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/11/investing/pfizer-ceo-albert-bourla-stock-sale-vaccine/index.html

[vi] https://globalnews.ca/news/7743986/forbes-billionaires-list-covid-19/

[vii] https://www.visualcapitalist.com/black-billionaires-in-2021/

[viii] https://www.harpersbazaar.com/celebrity/latest/a23379222/meghan-markle-net-worth-prince-harry-kate-middleton-prince-william-compared/

[ix] https://wealthygorilla.com/top-20-richest-djs-world/

[x] https://www.celebritynetworth.com/richest-celebrities/richest-djs/aphex-twin-net-worth/

[xi] https://www.newsweek.com/us-billionaire-wealth-growth-since-pandemic-far-exceeds-908-billion-stalled-stimulus-1553678

[xii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/sergeiklebnikov/2021/01/11/elon-musk-falls-to-second-richest-person-in-the-world-after-his-fortune-drops-nearly-14-billion-in-one-day/?sh=f388630b0a91

[xiii] https://www.fool.com/investing/2020/12/29/the-10-worst-performing-stocks-of-2020/

[xiv]https://www.cbo.gov/publication/56554

[xv] https://www.iiss.org/blogs/analysis/2021/03/chinas-new-five-year-plan-and-2021-budget

[xvi]https://www.google.com/search?q=average+male+life+expectancy+uk&oq=average+male+life+expectancy+uk&aqs=chrome..69i57j0i10i22i30j0i22i30l8.7775j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[xvii] https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-speed-of-the-Higgs-boson-particle

[xviii] https://siteefy.com/how-many-websites-are-there/

[xix] https://www.alberta.ca/covid-19-alberta-data.aspx

[xx] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/alberta-nears-end-of-extraordinary-flu-season-with-zero-cases-recorded-1.5968795

[xxi] https://edmonton.ctvnews.ca/alberta-introduces-app-to-combat-opioid-overdose-deaths-for-people-home-alone-1.5359064

[xxii] https://web.archive.org/web/20210102114720/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:COVID-19_pandemic_data/Canada_medical_cases_by_province

[xxiii] https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/child-sexual-abuse-images-online-exploitation-surge-during-pandemic-n1190506

[xxiv] https://www.riaa.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/2020-Year-End-Music-Industry-Revenue-Report.pdf

[xxv] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/dt20ra.html

[xxvi] https://www.statista.com/statistics/669113/number-music-streaming-subscribers/

[xxvii] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/press/nme-readership-soars-past-1960s-beatles-peak-six-months-after-going-free-a6867826.html

[xxviii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NME

[xxix] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixed_price_of_Coca-Cola_from_1886_to_1959

[xxx] https://www.hangoverprices.com/coca-cola-prices/

[xxxi] https://alidropship.com/products-to-sell-during-covid-19/

[xxxii] https://www.shopify.ca/blog/trending-products

[xxxiii] https://www.gfmag.com/global-data/economic-data/largest-companies

[xxxiv] https://www.forbes.com/sites/dwightsilverman/2021/02/22/apple-back-on-top-iphone-is-the-bestselling-smartphone-globally-in-q4-2020/?sh=2c92bcd64ca7

[xxxv] https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2021-global-overview-report

[xxxvi] https://www.oberlo.ca/blog/google-search-statistics

[xxxvii] https://www.statista.com/statistics/216573/worldwide-market-share-of-search-engines

[xxxviii] https://www.oberlo.ca/blog/google-search-statistics

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Word Virus

Cut-up experiment #111

What follows is an excerpt from my 2020 work, The Limits of Control. I wrote the book entirely on a Brother Activator 800T mechanical typewriter. At regular intervals, I chose pages at random, alternately cutting them lengthwise, horizontally, diagonally, as well as digitally, and reassembling them to produce the sort of experimental textual cut-ups proposed by Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs. I transcribed these cut-ups onto new typewritten pages, scanned them into the computer, and ran the images through optical character recognition software.

According to Gysin and Burroughs, splicing into written records from the past can potentially cut into the future, too, revealing ruptures in the flow time. As with any experiment, there is a temporal lag between conducting the experiment and observing its result (I chose one solar year). Furthermore, there is no expected or anticipated result — anything could manifest. Nor would it be known to causally or correlatively follow the experiment. Therefore, the fruit borne of these experiments could be categorized only as items of interest or disinterest.

This extract was submitted to but not included in the Unsound Intermission edition.

The Limits of Control is available here.

cut-up experiment excerpted from The Limits of Control
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Never Once Reflect

There’s no ‘No Future’ anymore

[the following is a working extract from a forthcoming article for the French-language journal Revue Audimat, as well as a sequel of sorts to my end-of-2010s roundup, Nothing Shocking]

“Modernity invented the future, but that’s all over”, wrote Nick Land in his 1995 essay. “In place of a way forward they deliver a hypermedia product, telling you it’s about Georges Battaille.” “A brand new Radiohead jigsaw is available to purchase from the W.A.S.T.E. Store”, reads a 2021 dispatch from the band’s merchandise webstore, “now that you have completely run out of things to say to each other.” Sneering cynicism nonetheless prophetic.

In a number of ways in the 20th century, new sounds ruptured: generic borders; creative communities; circulatory modes; media themselves. The searing distortion of a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo in 1969 was only conceivable, technically, through overloaded circuitry and saturated magnetic tape, a breach of media’s limits, modernity’s true excess. Capitalism always seeks to refold that excess into recaptured value. The danger of excess is necessarily in the margins’ spilling-out, or spilling-over, a vital technical assemblage incapable of managing sudden surges in signal, abrupt deviations in direction. The contained uncontainable by virtue of containment, always striving for escape. Though, the idea of a freer future was replaced in the 2010s with an ambient hopelessness, intended to stretch through and smooth over every possible rupture, and to make the most of the appearance of instability in an otherwise entirely stabilized economic environment.

The notion that cultural objects should exude aesthetic newness on par with consumer products, or more accurately with vintages, or provide commentary upon contemporary subjects as might a late-night chat show, betrays the capitalist productive model’s absurd arbitrariness. But it is not enough to say that art supersedes capitalism’s unsentimentality; rather it is wholly reliant upon it. Hence, Radiohead’s bleak brand identity just as easily adapts to climate change or pandemic-themed products. Taylor Swift in 2014 can release eight seconds of noise on iTunes and in so doing blur the boundaries between pop and noise audiences. Disguised as anthropology, the culture machine — distanced, objective — barely bats a lash.

Reality itself in the 2010s was becoming too complex, too diverse, too unmanageable, to represent with a single artist, genre, or even a cluster of them. Concurrently, the idea of something so radical as to entirely upset the dominant cultural order became less palatable in the midst of an increasingly uncertain quotidian climate. In the face of this complexity, genre ceased to be the organizing principle around which scenes and movements formed. Around this explosion of generic homogeneity came a circumscribing streaming industry seeking to enfold all of recorded music’s history, present, and future, into the cloud. Quickly, playlists replaced albums; moods replaced genres. Moods implied affective manageability — nothing to disrupt the apparent simplification of complexity. All music is hypothetically Muzak under this model, nothing so extreme that it cannot be tamed by curation. The curatorial turn is a kind of cultural compression, maximizing value by minimizing shock, the 21st century’s Big Unwanted.

We can think of compression more generally as a technical method to smooth out outliers of frequency and amplitude in order for sound to adhere to the standards of recording and broadcast media, and ultimately to protect equipment from damage and destruction. The automation of risk in the market at large is reflected in the automation of side-chain compression in musical production, the compression algorithm always anticipating sonic attack, apparently predicting the unpredictable, meanwhile obscuring its regularity, its inevitability.

The collapse of musical genre was naturally preceded with the analogous collapse of literary genre described by Fredric Jameson in his analysis, Postmodernism: “…the older genres, released like viruses from their traditional ecosystem, have now spread out and colonized reality itself, which we divide up and file away according to typological schemes which are no longer those of subject matter but for which the alternative topic of style seems somehow inadequate.” Enter technics as typological scheme; Mumford’s clock, giving structure to the unstructurable, imposing the human schema upon Heavenly order. Just as MIDI’s clock inscribed standardized time into electronic music’s initially tenuous architectures, side-chain compression removes the immediate shock of time as a variable from music’s experimental aesthetic equation.

There are two examples of compression that, I believe, transcended the order of function, and do more than simply represent some disparaged deceleration of cultural zeitgeist, to become a form of aesthetic critique of capitalism’s numbing shock-absorption impulse. The first is intentional, in the work of James Leyland Kirby, aka The Caretaker; the second is unintentional, in Colin Stetson’s 2016 reimagining of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony.

Mark Fisher in his kpunk entry entitled “Running on Empty” correctly identified Kirby’s reappropriation of obscure Ballroom and Big Band-era recordings, decrying, “We can’t hear technology anymore.” But, through no fault of his own, Fisher might have been listening for too obvious markers, for some self-evident traits that would make themselves insistently apparent. Rather, technology in The Caretaker’s recordings is obscured not least in its volumetric compression. By extremely squeezing the dynamic range of these archival recordings, Kirby thrusts the record’s surface noise above and beyond the material superficiality of the recording. Noise haunts these recordings devoid of historical context, collapsing the past and the present onto the same unbroken groove.

Conversely, the volumetric compression on Stetson’s recording is sheer function over fashion. The compression’s attack is uniform in time — it manifests ostensibly inaudibly but regularly at somewhere under 100ms — which produces a kind of repetitive breathing rhythm that comes to dominate the recording, much like negative space vies for attention in black-and-white imagery. As the sound pressure level approaches the compression’s threshold of attack, the auditory impression is akin to a speedboat skimming very quickly over choppy waters, making superficial contact only when the wave crests to meet its fleeting bottom. The technology of compression, and its aesthetic blueprint, not only evade a sense of future shock but furthermore deactivate shock’s most powerful ally: surprise. Figuratively and literally, aesthetically and technically, time itself was under attack in music over the past ten years. Technology may not have delivered new forms of culture, but technology nonetheless revealed the imperfections, the cracks, shocks — that which culture through recording (that is, through selective memory) seeks to suppress, deny, and erase. No longer any thing outside time.

As the world endures through the coronavirus crisis, cultural production is not just metaphorically in a state of perpetual suspension. And the previous decade, in retrospect, looks an awful lot like cultural preparation for a term of arrested development. This, too, works in capital’s favour, neutralizing another potentially revolutionary site, forcing meaning further into the subconscious of technical aesthetics, making it that much more difficult for the analyst to tease out any new truths. The duty of culture has ceased to be to determine and posit coordinates in response to the question, “where are we now?”, and rather to simply assert a perpetual “now, we are.” If there is no future, neither is there space nor time. “’So, it’s all over,’ you mumble weakly”, Land, that is, mumbling on our behalf: “He shrugs, emptying his glass, and refilling it.” Who is the ‘He’ here? He who creates that which we call new?

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Fiction

Pike’s Hollow (scene 1)

Randolph Pike, 77 and silver-haired, sits shirtless in his doctor’s office. He breathes. The fresh sanitary paper spooled out over the examining bed crinkles under his frame, cutting through the sterile silence. Pike looks up at the ceiling tiles, the fluorescent lights, the air ducts. He scans the counter — jars of cotton swabs, Q-tips, tongue depressors, a plastic model of the human brain, cut into removable sections. On the wall an eye chart, a biohazardous refuse receptacle; on the back of the door, a full-length mirror. Pike’s eyes rest now upon his own reflection.

The door suddenly swings wide open. Dr. Ranieri, a gentle-faced young man in a white lab coat, stethoscope stuffed into one of its pockets, enters brusquely.

“Good morning, Mr. Pike, how are we today?”

“Never better.”

“Excellent,” Ranieri says swiftly, scanning Pike’s chart. “I see we suffered some chest pain overnight.”

“I did. I had some chest pain overnight, yes.”

Ranieri wraps an inflatable black armband around Pike’s bicep and begins pumping. He removes stethoscope from pocket and places the buds in his ears. “Breath normally, Mr. Pike.”

Pike inhales and exhales in mannered, measured breaths, noticing the mixture of rubbing alcohol, chlorine bleach, and a waft of Ranieri’s cologne in the air.

“Blood pressure is fine, 120 over 80. Perfect, actually.”

Ranieri moves the stethoscope around to Pike’s back, stopping momentarily as he respires.

“Have you been to the mall yet?”

“No, Dr. Ranieri, I haven’t been to the mall yet,” a hint of laboured sarcasm in Pike’s voice.

“I thought we had an agreement, Mr. Pike.”

For a moment, Pike holds Ranieri’s scolding eyes before blinking.

“Yes, I was going to go, but my daughter-in-law, Kiva…”

“No more excuses, Mr. Pike. We talked about this. You need regular exercise after your heart episode. Nothing strenuous. We agreed that you would walk around the mall in the mornings.”

“I remember.”

“Well?”

“I will.”

“Tomorrow?”

Pike climbs down from the examining bed.

“You may have been a big bad cop once upon a time, Mr. Pike, but you can’t play bad cop with your doctor,” Ranieri says, a smile breaking across his face.

“Yes sir … you young sonofabitch.” Pike salutes, putting one arm back into a shirtsleeve.

“How are Kiva and the kids?”

“Just fine. They come once a week to visit their old grandpa.”

“That’s good, Mr. Pike. So many of my patients don’t have anyone. You’re a lucky man.”

Pike’s eyes flash back at Ranieri.

Ranieri stops himself, a little embarrassed: “I just mean…”

“I know what you meant, Dr. Ranieri,” Pike says, “and you’re right,” retrieving his slacks from a chair in the corner. “But it wasn’t all just luck.”

“Of course, it wasn’t, Mr. Pike.”

“Some of that luck I could give back to the Indians, let me tell you.”

Ranieri frowns. “But you’re here now.”

“There were lots of times I almost wasn’t.”

“Maybe you should write a book.”

“What do you want me to do, write a book or walk around the mall in the mornings? I won’t do both.”

Ranieri smirks. “Let’s start with the mall. Promise me, Mr. Pike. Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow, yes, I promise.”

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In Gratitude

A Message from Genius Glitch

My name is Ryan Alexander Diduck, I’m a writer and doctor of communication studies currently living in Montreal. I am not affiliated with David Letterman in any way. I started the @geniusglitch twitter account in 2016 with few expectations: I imagined it as a little avant-garde art project in which I would post screenshots of glitched-out David Letterman episodes. I never intended it to be a typical “out-of-context” account; originally, there was never any context to be out of. After a while, I started noticing that people were following and liking these posts. Then, text in the form of subtitles eventually worked its way in. This made it easier to comment more directly on things that were happening in the world. But I always wanted to keep an element of absurdity to this feed. Because David Letterman was and is absurd, and that is one of the reasons we all love him. Besides fingers and toes, it’s one thing we all share.

 

As more and more of you began to follow this account, I became interested in who you all were. I discovered that the audience for Genius Glitch was much like the audience for David Letterman himself: a cross-section of good and decent people from all walks of life. A group of people who love to laugh and generally love life. Single, married, old, young, gay, straight, woman, man, both, neither. I have suffered surprisingly few trolls or negative comments. This made running the account rewarding and fun: it pleased me if I was able to re-contextualize something from an old Letterman episode, to make it make sense in a different or especially funny way. And it really pleased me if it resonated with you. It made me feel like maybe someone else thinks and feels and understands the world like I do. You’ve all become my community.

 

In 1982, I was five years old. I grew up in the country, but we moved to the city when my father got a new job teaching grade four in an elementary school in Edmonton, Canada. I was just starting kindergarten, and I would walk to and from school with my dad every day. In his classroom, he had put up his students’ artwork and drawings on the walls. Kids’ drawings. I will never forget one that caught my eye: it was a fairly realistic portrait of a talk show host sitting behind a desk. But the image, like a pointillist masterpiece, was composed entirely out of letters from the alphabet. The caption read “Late Night With David LETTERMAN.” I thought this was the cleverest thing I had ever seen. And then and there, I became obsessed with David Letterman, who had only just started his show on NBC. I was too young to watch it regularly, and too immature to understand some of the humour, but my parents let me stay up late whenever there was an Edmonton connection: whenever Dave’s guests were SCTV cast members, or Wayne Gretzky. It made me feel grown up, and part of a world that seemed exciting and exotic. It introduced me to the idea of cities and nighttime economies. It introduced me and the world to New York City — specifically, a New York City that seemed brimming with wonder and excitement. Later in life, I visited New York a number of times, and found that to be true.

 

Today, as I sit and watch the news like all of you, my heart is breaking for New York City, for America, and for the entire world. My heart is breaking because I am watching as this wonder and excitement sours at the hands of someone who used to be a regular punching bag for David Letterman. How did things turn upside down like this? David Letterman retired on May 20th 2015. On June 16th, Donald Trump officially announced his candidacy for president. It was almost as if he waited for Letterman to retire, knowing that he wouldn’t have to go through Dave’s Late Show wringer.

 

When Trump won, everyone on the left compared him to Hitler. This might prove to be an insult to Hitler, as we are witnessing the collapse of freedom as we know it. As I write this, my home city of Montreal has instituted a law stating that no more than two people are allowed to congregate. This makes it very difficult to, say, protest. This makes it very difficult to do anything. I am not a conspiracy theorist, and the only thing I know for sure is that I won’t know for sure whether this virus is “natural” or man-made, a weapon, from China, from the US, or from little green men on Mars. None of that matters right now.

 

What is clear, though, is that Donald Trump has hijacked any semblance of democracy. There are too many things to take issue with at present, but just one that I will point out is that Jered Kushner is not an elected official. He has neither experience nor expertise. Hell, I have more diplomatic skills than he does, and as a PhD, I’m more qualified. Not just in America, but around the world, in Hungary, in Israel, leaders have used this virus as the pretext to suspend any appearance of the democratic process.

 

So what do we do? The world counts on America to provide leadership. I am afraid that Trump will use this crisis as a reason to a: start a war; b: suspend elections; c: let the most vulnerable of us die; or d: all of the above.

 

As a teenager, I would sometimes watch Letterman on LSD. Anyone familiar with the psychedelic experience might relate to having somewhat extra-sensory perception in this state. I remember seeing Dave through my screen like I’d never seen him before. It was as if I could, for lack of a less cheesy metaphor, see his soul. And what a good soul. David Letterman is like a lightning rod or an antenna for all that is right and true, for values of decency and honesty. We need to summon that spirit and broadcast it, and we need to do it now. I wouldn’t recommend psychedelics particularly, but we do need to see the world through “acid eyes”, to see through the skin right through to the very essence. We even need to see Donald Trump as a fellow human being — a deeply flawed, possibly insane, enormously unpleasant human being, but a human being nonetheless.

 

I don’t really have answers. But I think what I am going to do now is to leave this account alone for a while, and hope that you Letterman/Genius Glitch fans will figure out how to get that unpleasant and insane man away from the driver’s seat. We all need levity and joy, but this isn’t a laughing matter, and I’m almost out of relevant screenshots anyway. Simply put, as the kids say, this hits different now.

 

With love, Ryan

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