Satanic baby-killers don’t need to be plausible

Satanic baby-killers don’t need to be plausible June 5, 2023

• Like every previous technology since cuneiform. sophisticated “deep fakes” and realistic-looking AI-generated images will be used by some to bear false witness against their neighbors.

This bearing of false witness is inevitable because almost all of us want to think of ourselves as Good People. Our need/desire to think of ourselves as Good People makes us want to compare ourselves favorably to others. If we’re “better than those people over there” then we must be Good People, right?

These are fake. Not that it matters.

And so we welcome, eagerly receive, and enthusiastically pass along, false witness against our neighbors, figuring this testimony to their badness must also serve as confirmation of our relative goodness. The worse it makes them look, the better it makes us look by comparison, and thus the better it makes us feel about ourselves.

It is, in other words, emotionally valuable. There’s a market for it. And that market favors the most extreme forms of false witness. The most emotionally valuable strain is the stuff that makes our neighbors out to be superlatively bad, making us appear, by contrast, to be superlatively good.

Thus Satanic baby-killers — the standard for superlative evil in Christendom for the last 1,000 years or so. It’s how Western civilization answers the question: What’s the worst imaginable thing someone could do for the worst imaginable possible reason? The answer there obviously can’t be something like “Shoplifting to feed your hungry children.” The evil deed has to be the one we usually put at the top of our hierarchy of crimes: Murder. Murder of an absolute innocent who posed no threat. And the motive for this superlatively evil act must also be superlatively evil — a devotion to the embodiment and symbol of evil just for evil’s sake.

This formula can be tweaked and embellished a bit — the Satanic baby-killers can also be made out to be rapists and cannibals — but the basic form is inevitable. And so, as long as some of us want to think of ourselves as Good People there will be a brisk market in bearing false witness against our neighbors accusing them of killing babies for Satan.

New technology — Photoshop, “deep fakes,” “AI,” etc. — may make these portrayals of those neighbors seem more realistic or more plausible, but that doesn’t matter much. The market for this false witness was never based on its plausibility. Nobody has ever, in all of history, believed the claim that their neighbors kill babies for Satan because that claim seemed plausible. No one has ever been tricked into believing such a thing by realistic-seeming fake evidence. It has always and only ever been something that people “believe” because they want to, because doing so makes them feel better about themselves.

• I’m linking to a Twitter thread for this because the source article is in an academic journal behind a paywall and also in French: “New insight on the ending of Mark’s gospel.”

The context here is that we don’t really know for sure how the Gospel of Mark originally ended. Our oldest manuscripts and oldest references don’t include anything after Mark 16:8, which reads: “So [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Despite that, if you open most English translations of the Bible, you’ll find a bunch of additional verses included as Mark 16:9-20, along with an alternative shorter-longer-ending. Both of those are later additions to the original gospel which, again, we haven’t got. So one theory is that the original ending of Mark is lost forever. Another theory is that it was probably incorporated in either Matthew or Luke.

And then there’s the other possibility: That Mark 16:8 actually was the original ending of Mark’s Gospel. That reading is bolstered by the argument in the thread/article linked above, which finds precedent in Greek versions of Genesis for ending stories with this kind of awestruck terror. Or, rather, not for that as the ending of the stories, but as the stopping point for the telling of those stories. Leave ’em wanting more is usually good storytelling, after all.

(Previous discussions of the Endings of Mark here, here, and here.)

• This is an astonishing confession from a Republican Missouri state senator, discussing a radical bill that she just voted for:

One day, a freshman senator named Christy Armendariz led me to a bench in an empty hallway. She found it puzzling that a reporter from New York would come all the way to Nebraska to cover this affair. “I don’t watch the news or get the newspaper,” she said. “Is there anything going on I should be aware of?” I mentioned that other states had passed similar bills and that a federal appeals court in the same circuit as Nebraska had ruled one of them unconstitutional. “So is it a big widespread thing?” she asked. As far as she could tell, ordinary Nebraskans did not know about the issue. “I knocked doors for a year, and nobody brought this up.” She said she wished the bill had never been introduced.

She didn’t know much about it. Her constituents had never said a word about it. And she wished the bill had never been introduced. But she voted for it.

• The four-part documentary Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets debuted this weekend on Amazon Prime. The series explores the continuing influence of Bill Gothard’s “Institute of Basic Life Principle’s” — a creepy, cult-like strain of white fundamentalism that’s never more than two degrees of separation from any conservative white evangelical movement.

I haven’t gotten to watch any of that documentary yet, but here’s Steve Taylor’s take on Gothard, from Taylor’s album On the Fritz:

Taylor released “I Manipulate” in 1985, which is notable because that was decades before any of the accusations of Gothard’s personal abusive and predatory behavior had become public. It’s also notable because this was one year before the same riff centering this song was recorded by Richie Sambora using a talkbox custom-built for him by Peter Frampton.

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