Feature 08.23.2023 8 minutes

Those Motherf—rs Aren’t Real

David with the Head of Goliath

On cultivating a healthy disgust for the almost-human.

It appears that the TMFINR woman has been identified.

If you’re not online enough to know who that is, she’s the one who went viral for standing in an airplane aisle, pointing somewhere off-camera with an odd two-fingered gesture, and announcing to everyone that she was “getting the f*ck off” because “that motherf*cker back there is not real.”

Her name’s Tiffany Gomas, and the details of what led to her outburst (as reported in the New York Post) don’t really shed much light on it. Still no word on who the MF’er in question was.

More interesting than either party’s identity, though, is the question of why Gomas went so viral and why a thousand virtual swords have leapt from their scabbards in her defense.

Know Your Meme offers the following explanation: “As the woman was celebrated by some conspiracy theorists on Twitter, ‘TMFINR’ became an acronym used in conspiratorial memes and claims that celebrities and politicians were ‘not real,’ referencing reptilian and body double conspiracies.”

But that only raises another question: Why are these particular conspiracy theories gaining traction in this particular moment? Why are we so worried that the MF’ers we see leading countries, running NGOs and multinational corporations, or just minding their own business on airplanes might not be real?

Setting aside for now the issue of our out-of-touch elites, one reason for this anxiety is the fear that our overlords will soon be able to trick our eyes. In the newly released Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, there’s a scene in which Tom Cruise’s super spy Ethan Hunt dons a pair of augmented reality glasses to trail a mark through a crowded airport. Ethan stops, stunned, having spotted a man he believed to be dead. He rips off the glasses. The man vanishes.

“That MF’er is not real,” I whispered to my wife in the theater.

The movie doesn’t do as much as it could have with the malevolent AI antagonist’s power to distort digital reality. A paranoia-inducing mind game like that would be more in the spirit of the original TV series than the high-octane extravaganza the Mission: Impossible film franchise has become.

But one can imagine a very different movie in which Ethan searches for some MacGuffin that only exists in augmented reality, like a gym in Pokémon Go. He’d have to don the AR glasses to track down each clue, but putting them on would mean opening himself up to false sensory data from the ominously named “Entity.” Hunt could’ve spent half the movie dodging fake bullets fired by unreal MF’ers.

Now, replace the glasses with neural implants that can’t be removed without brain surgery. This would certainly have its benefits. You could have a full heads-up display: waypoint, minimap, inventory, tips, health bar, the works. No need to decorate your apartment (or pod)—you can “hang” a perfect reproduction of Botticelli’s Venus on your wall for free. And then summon a 3D version to have sex with you.

The only downside is that your reality would become whatever the software’s designers decide it should be. It would certainly be a cheap way to “clean up” our dystopian inner cities. Graffiti could be digitally erased from real buildings and homeless encampments covered with AR gardens.

And then there are all the social justice applications. The algorithm could turn petty criminals’ skin bright green in real time, lest any observers draw racist conclusions. A gender-affirming filter could make the bearded pervert in the women’s restroom look just like Audrey Hepburn.

Eventually, perhaps, preferring to see people as they “truly are” rather than as they choose to appear would become a sort of microaggression. Who are you to say that the six-foot bipedal wolf sitting across from you on the subway is “not real”? Maybe that’s how he feels inside.

Orson Scott Card’s early sci-fi novel Treason features a society of “illuders” who exercise this power over the eyes and ears of others. Their homes, clothes, and bodies are ugly. They can make anything appear beautiful, so they make nothing that actually is beautiful. Their world is unreal, and they impose that unreality on others. Their spies start wars, subvert kingdoms, and poison minds. Card’s protagonist judges them worthy of annihilation.

The rise of artificial intelligence also helps create the conditions for unwitting interactions with mofos who aren’t actually real.

For Alan Turing, the very definition of “real” was arbitrary. If a computer can convince you it’s sapient, who are you to say it isn’t? Your brain, after all, is just a different kind of computer.

The most famous response to the Turing Test is the “Chinese room” thought experiment. Imagine a text-based Chinese chat program. Now imagine a man who doesn’t speak Chinese locked in a room with a paper copy of the program with all the instructions in English. If you fed him Chinese characters through a slot in the door, he could run the program manually and give you the proper responses. Does that mean he “understands” Chinese? Of course not. He has no subjective experience of understanding. It’s just input, output. No mind, no consciousness, no soul.

The issue becomes more complicated when you consider intermediate cases. Theoretically, it would be possible to design a nanobot that performed all the functions of a human neuron. So if we replaced a person’s neurons one at a time, at what point would his mind become a Chinese room? Would it happen gradually, at a particular tipping point, or not at all? Would it be possible to tell from the outside, or would all his behavior remain the same? An ancient thought experiment asked whether the Ship of Theseus would remain the same as each of its component parts was replaced. How long, then, can we chip away at the material parts of our humanity before the whole becomes something altogether unfamiliar?

If the robots or cyborgs can tell us they have dreams, resent being exploited, and fear death, then our movies—from Blade Runner to I, Robot to the trailer for the forthcoming The Creator—suggest we’ll take them at their word. Or at least that we ought to. Empathy has become the whole of morality, and we’re told to always err on the side of it. When robots become legal persons (they’ll probably get there before unborn humans do) and everybody’s brain is two-thirds metal, only bigots and madmen will be left to shout, “That MF’er is not real.”

This broad definition of personhood, which cares more for agency than for humanity, is also emblematic of our centuries-long drift toward transhumanism. Against the Aristotelian and Thomistic emphasis on human nature, the philosophical tradition running from Rousseau to Sartre focused almost entirely on the will. The shift is from “this is the kind of being you are, so be a good one” to “make of yourself whatever you want, as long as you do not inhibit that same freedom in others.”

In this view, there can be no reasonable objection to altering or augmenting oneself. If you want to be a cyborg, or a superman, or an otherkin, go ahead.

Which brings us back to our elites, the targets of the lizard person conspiracies. They are, to paraphrase Christopher Lasch, elites in revolt, both against the common people and against the common humanity they share with them. Our overlords hate the inherent limitations of physical reality, whether in the world around them or in their own bodies. They crave immortality. And of such people, once they’ve biohacked or uploaded themselves into posthuman perfection, we can justifiably say that the MF’ers are no longer real.

“[W]hen you meet anything that is going to be Human and isn’t yet, or used to be Human once and isn’t now, or ought to be Human and isn’t, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet,” Mr. Beaver warns in C.S. Lewis’s first Narnia chronicle. He’s referring to Jadis, the White Witch, who he explains is descended on one side from Lilith, Adam’s legendary demon bride, and on the other from giants. This allusion to demonic interbreeding is clearly meant to evoke the idea of the biblical Nephilim from Genesis 6. (If you’re really interested in this topic, the podcast The Lord of Spirits devotes a three-and-a-half hour episode to it.)

Some argue that the “sons of God” who procreate with the “daughters of man” in this passage are the descendants of Seth and Cain, respectively. But that’s a later tradition. The dominant theory at the time of Christ and during the first centuries of the church was that the Nephilim were demon-human hybrids, the original transhumanists. At what point did they lose their humanity? As in the case of the metal neurons, it’s hard to say.

Far more obvious was the malign influence of these Nephilim, who so degraded God’s creation that only a universal deluge could cleanse it. But even Noah’s flood could not wipe them out forever.

They reappear later with names like the Rephaim and the Anakim, who appear to comprise several Canaanite nations and of whom Goliath is one of the last descendants. In the New Testament, the evil spirits Christ casts out were viewed by contemporary Jews as the souls of dead Nephilim. If you saw the Gadarene demoniac howling among the tombs, you’d certainly be tempted to conclude that there was something distinctly unreal about that MF’er.

The story goes that Nephilim were bred in sex rituals in which a god or goddess was invited to possess one of the human partners—hence the reference in Deuteronomy 3 to the giant bed of King Og of Bashan. Then, according to both the Book of Enoch and Babylonian records, these spirits imparted secret technical wisdom to the kings born of those unions. Tubal-Cain learned to work with bronze. The demon Azazel instructed women in “the beautifying of the eyelids”—they didn’t have Instagram filters back then.

In other words, the Nephilim interfaced with disembodied, nonhuman superintelligences to transcend their limits and master nature so they could better subjugate their inferiors, and in the process became something other than human. Sound familiar?

For certain Canaanite tribes, God’s orders were merely to drive them from the land. In the generations that followed, Israel was meant to be a light that would draw them toward YHWH. But the Nephilim tribes, having apparently become unredeemable, were to be blotted out entirely.

In the end, the Almighty Himself appears to have concluded that those MF’ers were not real.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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