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  • Vlad Ivlev

Flat Earth: Reb-Earth of Guerrilla Science

Updated: Mar 12, 2019

It’s of no surprise that flat earthers use science as a midpoint between two pre-supposed certainties. Its not out of sheer incompetence, its rather due to the tantalizing nature of unconventional truth in a great ocean of lies. So, at an attempt to understand their line of thinking, here’s my pre-supposed conclusion that I will perform any degree of mental gymnastics to reach: I would not be surprised if in the near future presidential candidates will be divided on the basis of Earth’s shape. Sounds insane, right? That’s because it is. Yet here I am, passionately writing a piece trying to prove myself right. I don’t need you to believe, I need you to have that idea in your head. See how this is playing out? Politics have become so absurd that there is a very high chance that you will come to a desperate enough time in your life where you will be inclined to believe me. Same goes for flat earthers. As self-defense, they do not expect you to believe them. Yet, they try to convince you anyway. Why? They need that idea in your head. They know that the authority of the science community is wavering, and, if you’re are a social outcast, you’ll find comfort in being part of the righteous minority.

We are no longer offended by the lie, we are offended by the lie that is put forward unconvincingly.

Allow me to make something perfectly clear. I am not here to pander to anyone. No matter how genuine flat earthers may seem, I do not trust them. On the other hand, I do not trust the science community either. Not because of their findings, but because of their sentiment, which will lead to more and more untrustworthy findings in the future. Both sides simultaneously share an uncompromising confidence and an untrustworthy sentiment. So, I’m less interested in whether Earth has a curvature or not, and more in looking at both communities as political identities, which they undoubtedly are. Now we’re thinking like flat earthers. Uncompromising confidence: check. Untrustworthy sentiment? I’m not the one to ask, although I can assure you, I am perfectly untrustworthy.

Let me ask you this. What is your first reaction when scientific mouthpieces like Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye shrug off flat earth theory in an exponentially more grandiose fashion? Is it “gosh this guy seems very confident of himself, I’m inclined to agree with him”? Or is it “gosh darn this guy seems very confident of himself, it’s kind of annoying”? I am not going to assume what your answer is. But then again, scientists when confronted with pseudoscience adore using Popper’s falsification theory as their trump card. But can you look at a person like DeGrasse Tyson, who openly believes society should be structured around a scientific directorate that prescribes moral truths on the basis of scientific facts, and expect him to genuinely believe that he himself can be falsified? If science is based on the opportunity to be falsified, then why are there cults of personality surrounding these people? Not that flat earthers are any different, looking at people like Mark Sargent, but you can’t possibly expect a fledgling movement without figureheads to work. The point is, science is an institution, a very profitable one at that. When you reach a point of unquestionable authority, why shouldn’t you extend your authority into subjects you are not technically qualified in? This is where the magic happens. When science decides to have a say on moral values, when science becomes politicized, they enter a world of tribalism. Us vs them. Good vs evil. Pure vs impure. This inability to affirm a difference in identity, can only lead to resentment. And what other way can that resentment be expressed by the establishment but with condescension? Pity, which is the passive counterpart of condescension. Being tolerant of someone different than you is not affirming your difference. Your tolerance is your superiority complex. But pity, as Nietzsche said, will also be the death of God. God’s overwhelming pity for humankind has become insufferable, suffocating. So, when DeGrasse Tyson hilariously drops his mic on live television to prove to the horde of ignoramuses that gravity is real, that mic breaks through the floor and reaches hell itself, where all these people he patronized reside in an endless sea of displeasure. Tyson’s personal hell now has a mic.

Basket of deplorables.

Whoops, did I just say that? Pardon me, I’m sure you could make that connection yourself.

But I digress. To progress we will need to sketch out a more or less plausible timeline of events leading up to this point. What point is this? Flat Earth International Conference. That point. There is a myriad of factors that punctured the scientific community’s authority, too many to go through all. So, here’s a few that can give us an idea. NASA gained so much momentum during the Cold War that they couldn’t keep up with when it was over. The Cold War desperately needed scientists, so an education campaign (e.g. Bill Nye) was in effect. When the Cold War ended, the mass appeal of science began to wane due to its past association. The commercialization of academia imbued a very apparent mistrust of experts in the general public, Layman’s Postmodernism was born. Internet outcompetes mass media, causing news channels to focus more and more on ratings rather than actual news (two different effects on two different demographics: either mistrust the media or become susceptible to sensationalism). Budget cuts to humanities undoubtedly imbued a certain self-sustainable confidence in the scientific community. Scientists become celebrities, either gain an unfettered sense of narcissism or become associated with the establishment. Popular media is liberal, symbiotic with the moral progressivism of the scientific community. Conservative scientists become ostracized (e.g. James Watson). An overarching agenda between media and science, whether real or not, becomes visible to conservatives. Mass paranoia about “fake news” further entrenches the possibility of a grand conspiracy to demographics susceptible to it. Neoliberalism, in its effort to commercialize political identities has an intrinsic function of alienation. More social outcasts mean more conspiracy theories. Anti-Vax and Flat Earth movements are born, have an extraordinary rise in appeal, become a political phenomenon.

Whether you like it or not, Flat Earthers are the populists of the scientific political identity

Now, Flat Earthers cannot cause an epidemic, which is the reason why Anti-Vax will likely never be a presidential issue (unless it involved mandatory vaccination). On the other hand, Flat Earthers point out a political agenda in popular science, to the delight of all fossil fuel companies across the magical land of Oz. Imagine another recession (not so hard to I know). A presidential candidate decides to cut NASA’s budget on accounts of economic instability. Who is he going to appeal to but the Flat Earthers? Which by the time of the next recession will gain a considerable membership. Climate change denying goes hand in hand with Flat Earth, so why is this so hard to imagine? I know, because you’re lying to yourself. Same reason Trump won. You were lying to yourself. And the fact that Trump won because of denial paves the road for even more obscene political phenomena. Confirmation bias and denial, common across all political identities, whether Flat Earthers or Globe Truthers. “It’s not an issue until it becomes an issue” is one of democracy’s weaknesses.

So, what do we do? I don’t know about you, but I am going to sit back and enjoy. Not only because I’m some kind of a political perversion, but also because there is a very interesting element in the Flat Earth movement. Independent research, what I would call Guerrilla Science. Unlike, anti-vaxxers, Flat Earthers are not completely science denying. Flat Earthers do not deny science, but the authority of science as an institution. A great deal of them engage in independent experimentation using scientific methodology. Of course, confirmation bias is rampant in these attempts, nonetheless the communal aspect of it is very life-affirming. The reason why I call this piece the “Reb-earth of Guerrilla Science”, is because during the Enlightenment science was more akin to guerrilla warfare, they had to evade authorities whilst simultaneously subverting and undermining it. A deconstruction. In a sense, by bringing the scientific method back unto the average individual, it undermines the authority of the scientific institution. This is a double-edged sword of course. On one hand it encourages potentially criminally negligent ideologies like anti-vax and climate change denying. But on the other, by undermining the authority of the scientific institution, it brings forth a possibility for a “rhizomatic” view of knowledge. A theory of knowledge without hierarchy, where all ideas, descriptive facts, evaluations and aesthetics are equally interconnected on a flat field. Where no idea takes precedence, and requires to consider as many forms of techne as possible, just like Nietzsche’s perspectivism. I doubt the Flat Earth movement would even consider that, but maybe a subset of it, or its legacy will.