Wednesday, June 13, 2018

What Motivates Flat Earth Believers

Lamar Smith is back with more on flat earth.


I wanted to follow up on my earlier thoughts on the Flat Earth movement and, just to prove to Peter Reilly that I could  not mention Kent Hovind even once.........DANGIT! Ok, no more after this.

I’m fascinated by the individuals, the movement and the thought processes behind social phenomenon such as the Flat Earth.

I haven’t been able to gather more than anecdotal evidence but I suspect a fairly sizable crossover between Flat Earthers (FEs) and 9/11 “Truthers.” Whether this is broadly true or simply for those to whom this  does apply, it seems likely that it is a “logical” extension. Given the length of time and the dwindling media coverage of and interest in the 9/11 conspiracy peddling, maybe one explanation for the flat earth is that it’s simply the conspiracy theory du jour. 

I’ve heard FE debaters give their bios along these lines: “Well, I was into 9/11 and just kept looking and now I’m into this.” So, “logical,” right?

There is a great deal of research on what makes otherwise functioning members of our society latch on to conspiracy theories of all sorts.

Evolutionary psychologists refer to the “tiger in the weeds” phenomenon. Our ancestors on the savannah noted a rustle in the weeds. Individuals that attributed it to the wind or thought nothing of it at all might continue happily munching on some carcass and find they lost the opportunity to become our ancestor, pass on their genes and avoid the beast that began happily munching on them.

Those that lived long enough to become our ancestors were those that saw agency in the rustle and scampered up the nearest tree even when it was just the wind. Paranoia has a survival advantage but also creates a species prone to what scientists refer to as false positives and confirmation bias. In one sense, seeing agency (read conspiracy) even when it isn’t really present is hard-wired into humans.

Psychologists refer to another glitch in the human mind that demands a bad answer rather than no answer at all. One of the most difficult parts of training to be a scientist is the requirement to be comfortable with not knowing. Scientists live on the frontier between what is known and unknown. The budding scientist who sees a hole in our knowledge and simply inserts something without the proper foundation is excoriated by her peers. 

The scientist who posits “I don’t know what this is.......  It MUST be......” and it doesn’t matter how brilliant the next word or words that follow are. That scientist’s peers will eviscerate his work in peer-reviewed journals. If you don’t know what it is, the conversation is over until you do. If a researcher doesn’t know something they are required to say as much.

Not so in the world of conspiracy theories. It almost seems in that world that you win points for coming up with the most outlandish untested and, often, untestable theory. Lump multiples of those together and you double your bonus. It’s the opposite and antithesis of Occam’s razor. Rather than minimize assumptions, Conspiracy Theorists revel in multiplying them.

Much of modern science has simply passed the layman by, myself included.  I’ve heard scientists themselves say “the easy problems have all been solved.” The cutting edge mysteries being worked on now require multiple nations, millions of dollars and at least a 30 minute conversation just to describe what’s being studied in the most rudimentary way. We’re way past the time when an amateur with zeal, working alone in his basement in his free time can push the boundary between the scientific knowns and unknowns. 

Some of those that long for those days and are working to recapture them are conspiracy theorists. These zeal-filled folk can’t discover the Higgs boson but they have the internet and don’t have to have a particle accelerator or leave their basement to “contribute” to the flat earth movement. They do this, in other words, because this is what they can do.

We’ve all heard “knowledge is power,” and psychologists have studied the power dynamic of conspiracy theorists. Doing this, whatever their ‘this’ is, gives conspiracy theorists a feeling of power and control in a world where few of us experience a surfeit of either given the pace of change in our modern world. We’ve all felt that rush when we knew something before everyone else in our office or family or local bar knew it. Same with knowing something no one in our circle will ever know if we don’t tell them.

Whether what the conspiracy theorist knows is factually correct is completely beside the point.

On specifically the Flat Earth movement I approached this question the same way I did following 9/11. Forget the minutiae, that’s where FEs live and breathe and you’ll never get those minutes of your life back that you waste on it. 

Look at the big picture of what is really being proposed. Their map, when they give you one (it’s more difficult than you think to get one from them) fails. No matter how they lay it out, there will be two points that their map says are far apart that just aren’t. They usually propose something like one of the maps shown here

So, ice in the middle, an ice ring around the perimeter and a tiny sun, really close to the earth that doesn’t provide heat in any logical way.  Frequently gravity is denied.

To conclude, though, let’s remember that this is a Conspiracy Theory. Set aside the question “Why would so many people and groups even bother?” because there isn’t a good answer that I’ve heard. Let’s focus on the Conspiracy. It makes 9/11 look timid by comparison. Who is in on it? 

An incomplete list:
1) Every major nation, certainly every nation with a space or satellite program. You know, the Government.  Governments. Even the ones that hate each other.
2) NASA of course. All lying. Every astronaut is an actor and we never went to the moon.
3) Google and their satanic Google Maps.
4) Every international airline which takes the trouble to fly inefficient and expensive routes to maintain the fiction.
5) Every major shipping company
6) Every astronomer and observatory
7) Every scientist from a relevant field for the last 300 years.

No single entry to this list could maintain a Conspiracy, much less all of them. Our President can’t keep a meeting of 8 White House officials about leaking secret. 7 of the people in that meeting leaked and that’s just a meeting about trying to stop leaks.

That list is nowhere near exhaustive but the simplest evidence for a globe earth I know came from my time in the US Army (also in on it). I did basic training at Ft. Benning in Georgia and had the privilege of visiting the Army Shooting Team’s barracks. 

This is a clip from ‘Suicide Squad,’ one of the many super hero movies in vogue just now. Will Smith plays Floyd ‘Deadshot’ Lawton, an assassin for hire who gets imprisoned and then coopted to join a super hero group of villains deemed expendable. He agrees to this to shorten his sentence so he can try to reunite with his daughter. Spoiler alert, they succeed in their mission and he’s granted some time to visit his daughter. Pay close attention to what he says to her about long distance shooting:

Long before Flat Earth became a thing a fantastic marksman in the Army confirmed that fact to me. Seems rather obvious, no? Shoot long enough and you have to factor in the curve of the earth and snipers are not in the business of missing to maintain a conspiracy.

Believing in this, thinking about, writing about it and even having conventions about the Flat Earth may fill some of these people’s lives with meaning, no matter how misguided. What FE’s future may be can’t be known but we’ll all keep our eyes on the horizon, even if it is fake, for the next Conspiracy Theory to come along.

See, Peter, I did a whole post without mentioning Hovind.........DANGIT!!!

Lamar Smith taught high school history in Texas for twelve years.  He is a regular contributor to YTMP.

No comments:

Post a Comment