I really didn’t know where to begin on this one. Well, actually, how to continue because I had already begun laughing hysterically.
The post title derives from a comment by a person who recently attended a Flat Earth Conference in North Carolina last year. One of quite a number of attendees, apparently. It is to one of them that I owe the inspiration for what follows. So, after beginning with hearty laughter, let me continue by giving credit where credit is due.
Here’s to Alan Burdick (@alanburdick), a The New Yorker staff writer who followed his muse (or his editors) to attend, reflect, and write about his Conference experience here (this is a must read, even better than another article on Quartz about a recent similar conference in Birmingham, UK).
Beyond learning about Mike Hughes, who attempted to launch himself into space on a homebuilt steam powered “rocket ship” last March (he reached an altitude of nearly 1900 feet), we also learn about the Infinite Plane Society (a live-stream YouTube channel that discusses Earth’s flatness amongst other things; just Google this), The Daily Plane (a flat-earth information site), another site called Enclosed World, and that there is quite a bit of serious participation on them. Including ~500 people who paid $249 to attend the conference, not including travel.
Of course, the conference was not just focused on Flat Earth discussions, it made ample time for other ‘known conspiracies’: the moon-landing hoax, the International Fake Station, and so-called satellites. The various flavors of attendees (but ‘not a single tinfoil hat’) were attention getting, but so were some of the ‘real truth’ beliefs they shared.
You see, they found that the truth shared in the news media was too unnerving, too terrifying. There was only one conclusion:
“If we can agree on anything anymore, it’s that we live in a post-truth era (1). Facts are no longer correct or incorrect; everything is potentially true unless it’s disagreeable, in which case it’s fake.”
Ok … ??
Burdick notes: The Flat Earth is the post-truth landscape. As a group, its residents view themselves as staunch empiricists, their eyes wide open. The plane truth, they say, can be grasped in experiments that anyone can do at home. (“Hold a ruler up to the horizon at the ocean or a lake. It’s flat. What pond, lake, or sea have you ever seen where the surface of its waters curves?”)’
Let’s hear it for ‘scientific observation’ – performed by non-scientists who don’t understand testing or confirmation. Their solid justification: “If you believe it, it’s not a lie.”
However, supposedly reaffirming that we are not actually dealing with wackos is a statement by the Flat Earth Conference organizer, Robbie Davidson, reported by Burdick:
Davidson was careful to note that the Conferences are unaffiliated with the Flat Earth Society, which, he said, promotes a model in which Earth is not a stationary plane, with the sun, moon, and stars inside a dome, but a disk flying through space. “They make it look incredibly ridiculous,” he told me recently. “A flying pancake in space is preposterous.”
Thank heavens for a touch of down-to-earth, post-truth rationality…
Fortunately, proofs abound. One YouTube video is ‘200 Proofs that Earth is Not a Spinning Ball.’ “If Earth were spinning at 1000 miles per hour at the equator (true), why isn’t there a powerful wind blowing?” (The video author also offers: “The proof that the Earth is at rest is proved by kite flying.”)
Another proof is a more general plea to the ‘obvious’ – trust your own senses:
“Ninety-nine per cent of received wisdom is questionable; if you can’t observe it for yourself, it can’t be trusted. “It simply comes down to, Have you been there? Have you been to Saturn? Have you been to Jupiter?” “
Hmmm…. So how are we able to ‘see’ streaming video and live television? There are no wires!!
Burdick also observes,
One attractive aspect of the Flat-Earth theory, it seemed, was that it served nicely as an umbrella (collection site) for all the other cover-ups. “It’s the mother of all conspiracies,” more than one person told me, and further, “Believing in a Flat Earth is hard work; there is so much to relearn. The price of open-mindedness is isolation.”
Not laughing. Now I have a headache. Moving on …
I realize and now appreciate that it is really nice to have so many other talented researchers and journalists (good ones) travel the world and document their observations and experiences, to say nothing of their data, that consistently reinforce so many of the Fundamental Principles I’ve discussed in these posts. At my age, going out and collecting all that data would be rather time consuming, costly and difficult. And now with the Internet, one doesn’t even have to dig, although you do have to have a good bulls*it filter.
All this Flat Earth stuff simply reinforces the fact that we all live in our own little bubbles, each well stocked with its own limited supply of ‘consistent information.’ These bubbles also come with a living ‘skin’ (filter) that grows thicker with age and experience (and ever more impervious to incompatible or ‘disagreeable’ information). And while we all don’t ‘get’ everything, most of us ‘get’ that this is the case. However, there will always be an ample supply of people who don’t ‘get’ that they don’t ‘get’ some things, but think they do. (Inadvertently, this serves to protect their bubble). This is Fundamental Principle 7c. At times, this can be entertaining. At other times, it can be downright frightening. This is what Stan Freberg meant when he asked, “Funny Ha-Ha, or Funny Peculiar?”
As if Flat-Earthing itself wasn’t enough, I noticed that the words “cover-ups” and “conspiracies” flowed through their conversations almost like water. It seems concluding that a “spherical Earth” was a huge conspiracy opened the floodgates to all sorts of other conspiracies, and that ‘crowdsourcing’ them together under one circus tent somehow lent credibility to all of them.
We’ve dealt with various conspiracy theories since history began and there can be a reasonable explanation that these are initially triggered by Gap Theory, where the immediate need to understand a situation results in creating a narrative out of thin air (or in some cases, whole cloth) to fill the immediate vacuum of Missing Information (Fundamental Principle 6) or the inability (or unwillingness) to understand the information that isavailable.
One expects, or hopes, that the eventual availability of reliable information would lead to clarity and understanding. One would hope.
But what motivates people to continue to pursue off-the-wall explanations when reliable, reproducible, verifiable information exists?
Serendipitously (really fortunate), an article by the researcher Roland Imhoff, ‘Why Do People Believe in Conspiracy Theories?’ addressing this question appeared on Quartz at the same time as the reports on the Flat Earth Conferences.
One standard explanation about why people pursue and believe in conspiracy theories is that this is an attempt to regain control in their lives. From the Quartz article,
The rationale behind this is that lacking control increases the need to engage in the compensatory illusion of control—that is, in conspiracy theories.
While there’s something to this, it isn’t the full story. This Compensatory Theory portrays conspiracy theorists as nothing but the poor victims of control deprivation, clinging to conspiracy as the last defense against a chaotic world. This almost stereotypical image, though, is contradicted by the often vocal, evangelizing conduct of actual conspiracy theorists, their claims to superior insight, and their degradation of non-believers as ignorant sheep. (What’s also been apparent in the above articles).
What this observation (the stereotypical image above) suggests is that adopting a conspiracy belief doesn’t always have to be mere compensation for a lack of control but can be instrumental in its own way. Belief in conspiracies can serve to set oneself apart from the ignorant masses—a self-serving boast about one’s exclusive knowledge. Adherence to conspiracy theory might not always be the result of some perceived lack of control, but rather a deep-seated need for uniqueness.
One can follow their confirming experiments in the article. They conclude,
Seeing evil plots at play behind virtually any world event is not only an effort to make sense of the world. It can also be gratifying in and of itself: It grants one the allure of exclusive knowledge that sets one apart from the sleeping sheep.
In our first article, Burdick boldly concludes, “Solipsism is the new empiricism.” Solipsism is the belief that only the self can be known, but it has more generally become applied to the worldview (bubble) that “I’m unique! It’s All About Me!”
The unfortunate bottom line is that as the post-truth era brings everything into question, rather than test, validate, learn and grow, an increasing number of people just throw out anything inconsistent with their worldview.
It’s far easier.
It thickens the bubble’s skin.
And becomes all about Me.
For the Flat-Earthers, it’s a return to the geocentric theory with Earth at the center of the universe.
For everyone else, it’s the creation of a Me-o-centric universe.
Do we need less entertaining evidence that our education system is not performing to expectations?
1 Post-truth era: facts are considered subjective and any information that conflicts with one’s personal opinion is justifiably questionable.