Donald Trump’s flat earth
I can’t be sure but it may have been during my teenage years when I first became aware of an entity called the International Flat Earth Society. I was sure that it had to be a joke, a thing one joined as a gag to amuse people at parties. That was true for some. But it turned out that the Society, devoted to the notion that the earth is flat and shaped like a pizza, was exactly as old as me and was founded in deadly earnest by a humourless signwriter from England known as Samuel Shenton.
For my part, back then I was convinced (wrongly) that the question of the shape of the earth had been settled by Christopher Columbus. It turns out that the question had been settled a long time before that by the Hellenistic Greeks using ingeniously indirect methods more than two thousand years before. From that time to this only the very ignorant believed that the earth was flat, if they thought about it at all.
And yet the idea has become more popular today than ever, enjoying a kind of idiot’s renaissance thanks to the bane and boon of social media. Adherents to the pizza planet theory are never a surprise. They are routinely inarticulate, scientifically illiterate and peculiarly uncharismatic. Some of them even foolishly agree to engage in debates where they are summarily destroyed.
The Pancake People subsist where they belong, largely beneath the notice of most rational adults, save for those few who cannot bear the idea that anyone would believe anything as stupid as that. I present them to you here and now, brothers and sisters, as a cautionary reminder that some human beings will believe anything about anything, and they will do so despite empirical counter arguments so crushing as to defy belief.
While admittedly amusing and deserving of the ridicule they attract, flat earthers, moon hoaxers, 9/11 “truthers,” anti-vaxxers, global warming deniers, Holocaust deniers, election deniers, etc., remind us of the sad decay of the truth. They remind us of how many of us are prepared to believe rubbish without even checking to see if it’s true or not.
It’s a depressing reality that most — not some, but the vast majority — of people who believe this crap don’t know a single counterargument. In other words, they have never bothered to learn why what they believe is a controversy and is easily explained by other far simpler, far more rational means. Instead they parrot the same crap endlessly, and they keep on parroting the same tired talking points to infinity.
It’s a near certainty (but for the fact that I’m mentioning it here) that some pious conspiracy junkie will breathlessly and furiously write something in the comment field of this article about Building 7, something that they learned about from a guy on YouTube posing as an engineer. That’s right, “posing.” Because it’s a peculiar artefact of the conspiracy mindset that many adherents of their fatuous fables pretend to have credentials they do not possess. (One of the Pizza People claiming to be a commercial pilot was recently exposed as a fraud. This kind of thing happens all the time in Conspiracy Land.)
So what do we do? I’m not entirely sure. I suspect the answer is to ignore them. But a better answer might be to patiently instruct them in science, to gently but firmly show them the errors of their ways. Again, I’m not sure what the answer is. Maybe you do.
But I do know this. We are living in a time when the ultimate fate of knowing is at high risk. This is good news for dishonest people who wish to exploit us. Because for an alarmingly growing number of people, evidence no longer counts.
We can conduct stunningly successful investigations, such as the investigation by the January 6 Committee into the insurrection, full of testimony upon testimony, tweet upon tweet, email upon email, not just demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that Donald Trump tried to unlawfully steal the 2020 election, but demonstrating it beyond all doubt. And yet, all we hear from the opposition is speculation about what is on Hunter Biden’s laptop.
It’s maddening, because we know we are right and we know they are wrong. We know it by every sane measure of rational thought and evidence. But it’s rational thought and evidence that they reject, unless of course it works in their favour. Truth is at stake, and truth is being sacrificed.
Just as surely as people will look you in the eye and tell you, sincerely, that they believe the earth is flat, they will tell you that Donald Trump is an honorable patriot who should be president again. The only thing we can do with glassy-eyed ignorance this staggering is to press on and endure, keep voting and keep fighting.
We live on a globe and Trumpism is wrong. Those are facts, and facts can’t be changed no matter how hard anyone believes otherwise. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.