Recently I’ve been doing some research. That’s not abnormal for someone in my particular state of academic indentured servitude, but the topic I’ve been looking into might be a little out of the ordinary. A while ago I learned that some people believe the Earth is flat. Not long after, I learned those people have a website. From that first meeting on, I have been enraptured by the Flat Earth Society. I’ve never even remotely subscribed to their beliefs, but I want so much for them to talk to me, to give me the chance to get to know them, to understand them, to really see into the minds that flattened the Earth.
To do this, I’ve plunged into their website which you can find here.
This is a log of my journey to the center of the Flat Earth.
The Flat Earth Society condemns the recent vandalism of a community park in Pennsylvania and warmly welcomes Dr. Shaquille O’Neal to its ranks. Pete Svarrior writes that “the Flat Earth Society is appalled to hear that there are people in our community who would willfully damage public property,” a flat, unequivocal denouncement of the vandals. Svarrior also acknowledges an understanding of the zeal individuals might feel in regards to spreading the message of the planar nature of our great blue pancake as no astronauts have famously called it. Svarrior concludes his brief reprisal with a call to action: “please continue educating people on the Earth ‘s shape. Do encourage them to research it and formulate their own opinions. But please, do so in ways that do not harm the community around us. Let’s do better than this.” If this levelheaded critique and call to action are any indicator of the quiet dignity of the Flat Earth Society, then Dr. Shaquille O’Neal is going to be right at home.
I’ve seen a fair few home pages in my time, and The Flat Earth’s is clean, well organized, and host to the most recent posts by prominent members of the society. Imagine if you met a guy at a bar and he drunkenly confesses to you that he’s the one who discovered the ingredient they put in peanut butter to make it taste so good when paired with milk, and then imagine that he pulls out a thousand dollar iPhone and shows you his amazing website. That’s what the Flat Earth Society is like.
I continued my search by reading into Pete Svarrior’s profile.
Pete Svarrior’s profile indicates that he is not online, but it does inform me that he has 5862 posts, his age is “N/A,” his location is the letter “e,” he joined on March 15, 2012 at 11:50 AM, and it offers unique insight into the person beyond the screen. Svarrior ambiguously writes “Do I really have to write 6000-word sentences just to remove all ambiguity from everything I’m saying?” but it would take five thousand nine hundred and eighty-three more words to understand exactly what he meant by that. Under the option for “personal text,” he has included a happy little emoticon, composed of parentheses and symbols and looking like it has a flower on it. I wonder if the whimsy this emoticon lends to his profile is an accurate summation of his true personality, if the flower runs deeper than the screen, if unlike the flat Earth’s planar boundaries, Pete is a character of vast and ambiguous depths.
The Flat Earth’s personal wiki page looks enticing. I will move there next.
The Flat Earth’s website is “dedicated to unraveling the true mysteries of the universe and demonstrating that the earth is flat and that Round Earth doctrine is little more than an elaborate hoax.” In elaborating how the society came to the conclusion that the Earth is less a cosmic bowling ball and more a great frisbee, the society cites the work of Dr. Samuel Birley Rowbotham, a lecturer from the 19th century. If my doctor told me she was medicating me based on research done 200 years ago, I would run from her office because there is a very good chance she would be oiling her favorite bone saw and telling her nurses to strap me down. However, the society specifies that Dr. Rowbotham’s data was “easily reproducible” with only “a long body of standing water and a little trig to conclude that the water is not convex.” Much like my own experiment to ascertain whether that my cat prefers Temptations brand cat treats more than the generic Dollar Tree substitute I buy her instead, the data from the experiment is poorly gathered, and the results do not equate any tangible measurement of reality because she ate both piles of food. I wonder was Pete thinks of the idea of lining a bit of string up with the horizon, seeing both appear to be level, and declaring with all the confidence the 19th century could instill that the Earth is clearly flat.
They have a frequently asked questions page. I must go to them. I must know what people ask them. I must know what they answer.
Members of the Flat Earth Society take themselves seriously at a level directly inverse to how little they are taken seriously by everyone else. The more critics and scientists and cartographers argue about the spheroid nature of the Earth, the harder the Flat Earth Society will rage against it. For every globe they are sent, they have an intern with a sledgehammer whose duty it is to pound the third dimension until it resembles a more manageable second. What is real if the Earth is flat, what could be trusted if, as the Flat Earthers claim, so much of modern humanity is founded upon a lie. On the subject of photographic evidence of a round Earth, the Flat Earth Society says “In general, we at the Flat Earth Society do not lend much credibility to photographic evidence. It is too easily manipulated and altered.” Text can be edited, pictures doctored, sound distorted. That something has the possibility of being false does not guarantee its falsehood. I could lie to my nephew, fill his world with distorted truths that will be the foundation of his existence forever. But I’m not going to do that, and when he’s an adult, and he learns that I had the potential to saturate his spongy baby brain with lies, he won’t suddenly distrust every single thing any person has ever told him just because lying is something people can do.
By the time you’ve delved into the Flat Earth Society’s website long enough to find the page titled “The Conspiracy,” the Flat Earthers have demonstrated something truly dangerous about their ideology: they can choose what to believe. The problem with truth is that, when confronted with the evidence, a rational person has no choice but to acknowledge that truth. Fact is not a choice. However, the Flat Earthers have found a nefarious way to circumvent the trappings of fact by systematically discrediting for themselves any evidence they do not want to believe. Pictures can be doctored, so the pictures the Flat Earth Society accepts as evidence are credible only if they decide those particular pictures have not been edited. Videos can be staged, and The Flat Earth Society has a lot to say about the faking of the moon landing. According to the Flat Earth’s analysis of video from the first moon landing, the astronauts were on a stage, supported by wires, and the entire endeavor was a ploy to distract the world from the real goal of NASA which was to put ballistic missiles into space. The source the Flat Earthers continue to cite and rely upon is Dr. Rowbotham’s Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe, but I could just as easily say that the bulk of Dr. Rowbotham’s work was done under duress as he was held hostage by map printers who, upon seeing the growing globe industry, had to do something drastic to keep their two-dimensional maps a viable business. Knowing as I now do that Dr. Rowbotham was forced to make such farcical claims, I cannot in good conscience believe a thing he says or anything from anyone who believes in him.