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The Weird and the Wicked

Dangerous Nonsense.

by Barnabas
October 16, 2002

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The Weird and the Wicked_Barnabas-Dangerous Nonsense.
Authorities are investigating whether a tarot card found near the scene of the latest sniper shooting -- with the message "Dear Policeman: I am God" -- could shed any light on who is responsible for gunning down eight people in six days, sources told CNN.
— CNN, October 9, 2002
I am working a whole week ahead, with the fervent hope that the story I am commenting on will be stale news by the time this appears one week from today—that the D.C. area sniper will be either behind bars or dead. I will be on a journey, so am working this far ahead.

What will not become stale for some time will be the continued marriage of the weird and the wicked in human behavior. Not all weirdness is wicked, nor is all wickedness weird; but I’m never surprised when a connection surfaces.

A great many people believe in the tarot (fortune-telling) cards; to such believers there is a controlling power in human events that is neither human nor divine. This belief, and therefore even the cards themselves, give people with a normal psychology of religion—no, I am not going to define that—“the creeps.” The cards are weird. They may be nonsense, but they are dangerous nonsense.

Belief in them disregards ethics and thrusts human behavior into the realm of the absurd. In the present case, this observation applies whether the card was left by the killer or a prankster. The killer is already an outcast, a target bearing no mark of Cain for protection. The moral outrage of the community is vast: the least hostile resistance to surrender when in the sights of a police weapon, and the killer is dead. If a prankster left the card, unlikely because the crime scene was surely better secured than that, the connection between weirdness and wickedness still holds. Mockery at a time like this is by itself a moral outrage, even apart from the blasphemous reference to God scribbled on the tarot card.

When I assigned myself to this column and the editor agreed to it, I chose absurdity and ethics in the news because I enjoy absurdity and am somewhat in earnest about ethics. I didn’t think of them as especially connected.

But as I continued to write, I began to recognize what some of you may have known all along, that absurdity and ethics go together in this respect: while not all absurdity bears on ethics, all unethical behavior is absurd. In ethics, ethics is the presence of order and value in human expression and behavior; absurdity is their absence. (Of course, there must be order and value somewhere, or we would not be able to imagine their absence. They would be like primary colors to a person born totally blind. It is impossible for the cosmos to be totally absurd.)

There is plenty of absurdity in the news, but it is usually not as entertaining as I thought it would be. Very often, as today, it is dangerous nonsense and not funny at all.

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