• the flat-earth movement.


    Why the flat-earth movement is the best symbol of the increasingly diminished value of truth and intelligence.

     We live on a miles-deep disc of rock and soil, a flat circle fixed in place and quite immobile.

     Right in the center, like the spindle of a turntable, stands what we call the North Pole, around which the continents are variously organized. Around those continents stretch the ocean: vast tracts of water spanning away from the land in every direction as far as the eye can see.

     At the ocean’s end towers Antarctica – or rather, the Antarctic Ice Wall, an insurmountable 200-foot glacial rampart that surrounds the world on all sides. And above everything looms a dome made of an adamantine glass. It’s called The Firmament. It protects us from harm and keeps the sun and the moon and the air inside.

     The sun and the moon, of course, are very small and very close together. Both hang in the air not far from the ground. They loop around us, heating and lighting different areas locally, and seem to disappear from view periodically – not because they’re dropping beneath the horizon, but because they’re moving too far away to see.

     It goes without saying that nobody has ever left the surface of the earth and bypassed the dome: every nation’s space program is a hoax, every soi-disant astronaut is a liar and all photographic evidence to the contrary – the pictures of our planet from outer space, the many images of the solar system, and especially every snapshot of the preposterous “moon landing” – is counterfeit, make-believe testimony to hoodwink the masses.

     “Facts” themselves are highly suspect, naturally. Science is a long con. Do some research. The truth is out there.

     This drivel isn’t the product of my imaginative fancy. These are the convictions – the firm, unrelenting beliefs – of the Flat-Earthers, a group which – as its sobriquet would suggest – insists that the earth is not round, that it is protected by a glass dome and that the prevailing mistruths about its shape represent a global conspiracy of indoctrination and control. Or not “global,” I suppose, but in any case pernicious and worldwide.

     This lunatic fringe is inflexible, tireless and cannot be persuaded by evidence or reason. Their dogma has long infected social media and contaminates the bored and gullible every day. Part trend, part cult, and part virus, the flat-earth movement is as good a symbol as any of the diminished value of truth and intelligence in 2017 — and its constituency continues to grow at an alarming rate.

     As any enterprising schoolboy will tell you, misconceptions about the shape of the Earth were convincingly rectified some time in 6th century BC; that the planet is a sphere had been postulated by Pythagoras, corroborated by Aristotle and further authenticated – with greater and greater accuracy – by mathematicians and astronomers thereafter, until it was demonstrated outright by circumnavigation in early 16th century AD. Belief in a flat earth has always been, in essence, a pre-scientific – or anti-scientific – delusion.

     And yet despite this the belief endures — and in strange places. Today the flat-earth gospel thrives on Facebook and YouTube, shared by way of memes and image macros, and on websites that look like they were designed in the mid-1990s. Like other popular conspiracy theories, it beckons outsiders with a language of fraternity, suggesting that those who accept the truth become at once a part of an intimate, enlightened group; a fellowship of those in the know.

     You’re exhorted to submit, to surrender, to accede to some higher wisdom. The facts as ordinary people understand them are a mere narcotic, and you’re urged to shake off the anesthetic effects and wake up to the flat reality. Flat-earth talk is both superior and defensive. And the rhetoric suggests a sort of proud alienation: Flat-Earthers are alone, but only because they’re the only ones courageous enough to see the world as it really is.

     Flat-earth memes – of which there seem to be tens of thousands – tend to be equal parts condescending, thin-skinned, hostile and flighty. They are, as a general rule, ineptly designed, conspicuously ugly, repetitive, illogical and painfully unfunny. They are one Minion away from resembling the kind of low-res gag pics your Aunt posts on Facebook. And yet these crude campaigns to proselytize seem to be working.

     Kyrie Irving, point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers, has declared repeatedly that the world is flat – no doubt about it; indeed, it’s “not even a conspiracy theory.” Shaquille O’Neal recently outed himself as a believer too before backtracking and saying he was only kidding. Professional celebrity Tila Tequila is a militant Flat-Earther. The rapper B.o.B. tweets his opinions on the subject with tenacious regularity. Pro-wrestlers and star athletes have pledged allegiance to their faith in a flat earth. The movement has claimed luminaries of stage and screen.

     Always their reasoning is the same: have you actually considered the idea seriously? A flat earth just makes sense.

     The sense it makes to believers is worth scrutinizing, ludicrous as it may be. It’s not so much that the flat-earth movement offers compelling evidence or data inconsistent with the usual models. It’s not so much that the movement trades in facts at all. What the revelation of their belief is founded on, instead, is instinct, feeling and the facts of what we can plainly perceive.

     “You want science? Open your eyes,” reads the About section to a popular flat-earth support group on Facebook. “Per the scientific method (sic), science is proven through observation and the faculty for observation begins with our senses. I see no curvature; I feel no spinning earth beneath my feet; I feel the warmth of the sun close, not 93 million miles away (a distance we cannot even comprehend).” Therefore, the thinking goes, there is no curvature at all, the earth does not spin whatsoever, the sun must not be many millions of miles away. The facts are obvious. If the earth were spinning around and around, wouldn’t you fly a few feet backward anytime you jumped in the air?

     It doesn’t help to point out that the very purpose of science is to demonstrate the reality of that which we cannot perceive ourselves; that plenty of things which seem apparent to our eyes and our ears are not at all as they seem and never have been, and that the process of this understanding is the very narrative of our evolution as a species. These processes the Flat-Earthers dismiss as propaganda.

     Photographs of the earth from space – photographs which quite clearly show that it is round – are rejected, indeed practically laughed off, as the product of a few spare hours and a copy of Photoshop. The simplest explanation that may account for an anomaly of perception – why skyscrapers don’t appear to tilt away from us in the distance, say, or why we can’t see the curving horizon while standing flush with the ground – are sneered at as disinformation, fabricated wholesale to fool. Science is spin. Facts are “fake news.”

     Why would generations of scientists lie? Well, they are leagued in conspiracy against God. Why else? “The number one reason (they lie),” explains a website dedicated to the flat-earth cause, “is a Biblical and gospel related reason. The ball earth is the foundation for evolution and the Big Bang, which both put God completely out of the picture (sic). If the world is run by the Satanic elite (which it is), then their primary goal would be to discredit and hide God, making us believe He doesn’t exist… Without the globe earth lie, all of Satan’s deception (sic) are blown out of the water.”

     But of course. It’s all so simple. NASA – “which has ties to Satanism and/or the Occult,” according to another reputable flat-earth source – has manufactured this globular chicanery for infernal gain. The Bible says the world is flat, or anyway says something to that effect. We should open our eyes and see the divine truth.

     The particulars of flat-earth devotion are easy to ridicule. But it isn’t difficult to understand why people are seduced by the tenor of the message. The flat-earth movement, in its own peculiar way, appeals to the arrogance of the ignorant, arousing a dormant sense of being meant for something special. It empowers you to overcome confusion and conquer stupidity – not the hard way, by learning and understanding, but in a way that’s much easier, by redefining the things you don’t understand as wrong in the first place.

     It’s the same quick-fix attitude that’s besieging our political landscape: information that doesn’t accord with your carefully manicured world-view is “fake news,” opinions that don’t cohere with your own are offensive, everything you dislike or that frightens you can be wedged between scare quotes and rejected out of hand. Never mind the “expertise” of “professionals” and “elites.” You still matter. You know everything you need to know.

     The irony is that we have never before had readier access to the truth. It’s never been simpler to disabuse ourselves of misbelief. But perhaps it’s precisely this deluge of information that has entrained our retreat from its power. It’s difficult – frustratingly difficult – to believe a falsehood when five seconds of research is enough to refute the point.

     And sometimes what we want are falsehoods. We want the comfort of having our dearly held opinions confirmed; of thinking that, say, Muslim immigrants pose a threat to the security of our nation, or that gun control does little to curb violent crime. So instead of allowing the facts to dissuade us – instead of permitting the truth to challenge our ideas –we take the facts that please us and throw the rest away. It’s not only specific evidence that becomes dubious: it’s the entire principle of research, the entire scientific method that’s cast in doubt. Why defer to reason if reason risks telling us something we don’t want to know?

     “The discovery begins within,” proclaims a flat-earth Facebook group. “Empirically, the human senses are the most powerful way in which we connect to source and yet we’ve been taught to deny what they tell us. We’ve been programmed since birth to trust pseudo-science (sic) over our own connection to source (sic)… We have awoken from the globe illusion, a planetary confinement, and freed ourselves from the 3D prison matrix for the mind. We opened our eyes and witnessed the limitless magnificence of this realm we call Earth. All dimensions have opened up to us and we are now the Pilots revising the map.”

     Doesn’t that sound appealing? To have things opened up to you, to witness the world in its limitless magnificence? It is a kind of liberation – liberation from serious thought… (By Calum Marsh).


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