Flat earth offers no hiding place from reality

Earth orbit - A satellite view of the Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominic

Earth orbit - A satellite view of the Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic Photo: NASA - Credit: Zuma Press/PA Images

It's increasingly difficult to pick out individual instances of insanity from the constant droning white noise of craziness, says MITCH BENN

We live in an age when lunacy, in many forms and at many levels, romps (largely) unchallenged through civil, political and international discourse. As such it's increasingly difficult to pick out individual instances of insanity from the constant droning white noise of craziness. Indeed, an event has to be what used to be considered a once-in-a-lifetime jaw-dropper just to garner a moment's attention.

This week saw the revelation, in a New York court, that the mysterious 'third client' of President Trump's 'lawyer' Michael Cohen is none other than Sean Hannity, barrel-headed right wing pundit, staunch-to-the-point-of-devotional advocate of the US president and pretty much cock of the walk over at Fox News these days (since a flurry of sexual misconduct accusations forced previous big dog Bill O'Reilly to resign and spend more time apologising to his family).

This is the kind of outrageous plot twist that gets television soap operas cancelled. George Lucas is probably watching CNN right now thinking: 'This is all a bit of a stretch...' It's hard to escape the conclusion that reality has finally jumped the shark, and it's time to reboot the format and bring in some new writers for the next season.

Yes, it's hard to be stupid or crazy enough to stand out nowadays.

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And then we come to the Flat Earthers.

Some of you may remember that I touched on this a few weeks ago; that desperately though we might wish that this were all an internet wind-up, it is a fact that there is a growing body of opinion – among people who can actually use computers – that the Earth is in fact a flat disc, and that all evidence to the contrary (that is to say, all scientific progress since Aristotle) is a foul hoax, perpetrated by... well, we'll get to that in a minute.

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I ended up wasting a decent sized chunk of last week on a Twitter 'debate' with two of these dingbats. I say debate; it's hard to debate anyone whose response to any objection to their brain-fryingly obviously false premise is that literally all information that contradicts their position is a fraud, disseminated deliberately to conceal the truth.

There are so many flaws in this argument it's hard to know where to start, but the major one is this: if, as these nutters propose, there has been a 4,000-year long conspiracy, by The Powers That Be (and, evidently, have always Been) to promote the 'false' theory that the Earth is a globe, and to prevent at all costs the discovery that it is in fact flat... why are the Powers That Be perfectly content to let these guys and their mates blurt 'the truth' all over the internet? I mean, the stakes would appear to be pretty high, if hiding the true shape of the Earth has necessitated constructing an entire spurious scientific framework and promulgating it for centuries. Those dastardly Powers obviously consider it incredibly important that nobody ever finds out that the world is flat, and yet, for all their omnipotence, they can't get it together to have a bunch of YouTube videos taken down.

I think that's what lies at the heart of a lot of conspiracy theories; the desire to live in a regulated world, even if it's regulated by the bad guys. I've been involved with the sceptical/humanist movement for a few years now, and I've met, and read testimonials by, many activists who were raised in a strictly devout environment and then broke free of religion; a common theme is that the hardest thing to give up was that idea that the universe is being supervised, that things are happening according to a conscious design and that ultimately, everyone gets what they truly deserve.

If that's the kind of universe you've always believed yourself to be living in, then abandoning that belief and accepting that you're stuck in a universe in which there is no guiding intelligence, in which things just happen because of blind cause and effect, and in which, horrifyingly, there is no justice beyond that which we can impose, and bad things will always happen to good people and vice versa, must indeed be terrifying.

So it is with conspiracy theories; that the world is in constant turmoil because The Powers That Be desire it that way and engineer events accordingly is perhaps a less worrying concept than the truth of the matter; that no-one is in control of events, there are no Powers That Be, that our ostensible leaders are almost universally out of their depth and improvising like crazy and that literally nobody knows what the hell they're playing at.

Watching the unfolding shambles of Brexit, and the Trump White House being exposed as not just a criminal enterprise but an incompetent criminal enterprise, I don't know how you could come to any other conclusion.

There's also, while I'm here, an element of one-upmanship between conspiracy theorists these days with regard to how far down 'the rabbit hole' their theory of choice goes; a competition to see what level of 'truth' they think they've uncovered.

It's not enough these days to blame global poverty on a shadowy cabal of Jewish financiers; since the rise of David Icke you have to blame it on a shadowy cabal of Jewish financiers who are secretly shape-shifting alien lizards or risk being dismissed as a credulous fool. Similarly, while for decades we've had the 'moon-truthers' saying to the rest of us 'Ha! You fools! Do you really believe we went to the moon?!' now you've got the Flat Earthers saying to the moon-truthers 'Ha! Do you really believe the moon EXISTS?!'

No. Really. They think it's a big lamp.

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