why flat earth is the ultimate conspiracy theory
Any skeptic diving into flat earth literature, or attending their conventions, walked away with the same conclusions. The idea isn’t about proving that our planet is flat, it’s a rebellion against modernity by those who fear it.
Remember the days when you could say that the Earth is round without expecting an objection from someone who memorized a bunch of weird, pseudoscientific questions meant to stump those who never gave it much thought into believing otherwise? Thanks to the unholy mix of social media and crank magnetism, we’re living at a time when humans are simultaneously trying to figure out how to build a city on Mars and regressing to a soliptic, pre-enlightenment dark age, which makes pretty much anyone wonder what the hell happened to us. Why are there well attended conferences of people who think that the world is flat when we’ve known it’s not for more than 4,000 years?
Well, the answer is that this belief is really not about the Earth being flat. Well, it is to an extent. Believers do reject the basic scientific fact that anything large enough to qualify as a planet, in every sense of the term, will become a sphere due to its own gravity. In fact, they reject gravity as a thing that exists. The also reject that engineers can build satellites and launch them into orbit. And astronomers. And physicists. And astrophotography. And any study or paper from a mainstream, scientific source. If it’s not a YouTube video or a blog with a screed detailing how the world is being lied to by a secretive cabal of evil, wealthy, mustache-twirling industrialists, one of whom is surely named Evil McEvilface III, it goes right into their mental garbage bin.
In a New Yorker profile of a flat earther conference, presenter Jeran Campanella literally says that “facts are not true just because they’re facts, if that makes any sense.” Attendees accuse astronauts of being Freemasons sworn to secrecy faking their stays in orbit and say they work for a small team of “Satanists and Luciferians.” Everyone speaks about conspiracies on top of conspiracies shrouded by conspiracies underpinned by yet more conspiracies, and somehow this Tower of Babel-esque monument to paranoia all works thanks to “compartmentalization.” And towards the end, Campanella re-appears to make a very revealing quote about this self-regressing belief system…
The standard facts of astronomy are emotionally untenable — a planet spinning at a thousand miles per hour, a mote in a galaxy of unimaginable scale, itself a mote in the vast and expanding universe. “That, to me, is a huge problem,” Campanella said. “You are a created individual. This is a created place. It’s not an accident; it’s not an explosion in space; it’s not random molecules joining together.”
In other words, this is not a community of people who are having a passionate debate about certain scientific discoveries. They’re trying to rage-quit modernity and to justify it, they’ve built a conspiracy of immense proportions, one big enough to brainwash people that the Earth is a sphere and invent an immense universe that doesn’t exist all to do something evil, whatever that something is. This isn’t just taking your ball and going home. This is deflating the ball, ripping it to shreds, then throwing those shreds into the air and dancing as they come down.
If it sounds like I’m using a lot of metaphors but no science to counter flat earthers it’s because I can’t do anything else. Remember, they reject science as a tool of “the elites” to confuse and brainwash them for nebulous reasons. How could I tackle their beliefs with something they’ll dismiss on principle alone? And really, I understand why they’re unhappy with the world as it is, especially now, when humanity is facing threats like climate change, antibiotic resistance, and vast, pointless inequality accelerated by automation, i.e. threats we created and unleashed on ourselves even though experts spent decades warning us it will happen. Now, no one wants to admit that they refused to listen or care.
It’s probably very soothing to imagine that taking down a small number of evildoers by sharing nonsense on social media and retreating to a cozy imaginary universe of our ancestors, but denying looming disasters doesn’t make them go away. And as the very problems they so badly want to avoid keep festering and eating away at us, they’ll want to retreat even more and categorize their denial as righteous rebellion while nothing could be further from the truth. These people are not the faces of courage in the face of adversity. They’re intellectual cowards running to their happy place because the world is just too much for them. And we should be willing to call them out on this without flinching, or in the middle of a “sympathy sandwich.”