Earth isn’t a galactic Frisbee but, just recently, we took something of a deep dive, using science to posit what life would be like if our pale blue dot was flat. As it so happens, we’d sneeze ourselves into outer space, but before we did that, we’d be drinking absolutely awful wine on the surface of a geologically defunct discus.
There are numerous hypotheses being bandied about that attempt to explain why people would genuinely believe the world is flat, despite the significant decrease in life quality. As far as we can tell, it's pretty likely to be the same reasons anyone believes in any outlandish conspiracy theory: It’s a novel way of explaining an overwhelmingly complex world, one that’s partly driven by the human tendency to see things that aren’t there, a phenomenon known as “magical thinking”.
Leaving the psychology aside for the moment, we were curious about another aspect of this out-of-step ideology. Namely, what do Flat Earthers (trolls and die-hard believers) think or claim is motivating everyone else to cover up the “fact” that Earth is flat?
In Veritate Victoria!
The Flat Earth Society (TFES) is renowned for a few things, including their fundamentally off-piste belief system and their unnervingly persistent courtesy on their curious Twitter account. They also have their own Wiki, which is far more bellicose in its support for their belief system than their social media acolytes tend to be.
In it, their mission is described as if it’s a call to arms. Vowing to meet the “common round earther in the open,” to “declare that his reign of error and confusion is over,” their brief manifesto also hints at their thought process when it comes to the average person: We just haven't figured out the truth yet.
“The soldiers of truth and reason of the Flat Earth Society have drawn the sword, and ere another generation has been educated and grown to maturity, will have forced the usurpers to abdicate,” it notes. The use of the word usurpers is an interesting turn of phrase, as it suggests that those pesky round earthers have essentially robbed them of the mantle of truth.
In case you’ve forgotten, we have known that Earth is spherical – or technically, an oblate spheroid, thanks to its equatorial bulge – for several millennia. By the time that the lovely Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle came along, the idea that Earth was flat had largely fallen out of favor.
This is presumably the critical point of the usurpation that TFES hint at. You’d think that thinkers like Aristotle and Eratosthenes would be labelled as persona non grata to such societies, but no, not as far as we can tell: only their proofs are commonly “debunked”, and their motivations for concluding that the planet is spherical were simply born out of human error, not a mischievous urge to lie.
To Infinity And Beyond
Under their FAQ section, the topic of spaceflight comes up fairly early on, and it’s safe to say that themes of hoaxes and nefarious deceptions come up a lot more frequently than they do with ordinary folk.
Lamenting the lack of revelations from astronauts declaring that the planet is flat after all, TFES explains that “the space agencies of the world are involved in a conspiracy faking space travel and exploration,” something that they say began in the Cold War’s Space Race.
As it turns out, the US and Soviet Union had to keep out-faking each other for political gain. Nowadays, “the conspiracy is most likely motivated by greed rather than political gains, and using only some of their funding to continue to fake space travel saves a lot of money to embezzle for themselves.”
So NASA, ESA, and SpaceX are faking spaceflight in order to gain funds from silly round earthers. This argument is actually curiously similar to one used by climate change deniers, who often note that climatologists fake data in order to gain more funding.
That would neatly explain why astrophysicists, engineers, and climate scientists are the richest people on Earth.
Jarringly, TFES take the position that “there is no Flat Earth Conspiracy”, but there is a “Space Travel Conspiracy”.
“The purpose of NASA is to fake the concept of space travel to further America's militaristic dominance of space. That was the purpose of NASA's creation from the very start: To put ICBMs and other weapons into space (or at least appear to),” the Wiki explains.
“The Chinese have also been faking their space missions.”
Rather entertainingly, TFES’ Wiki also explains that Flat Earthers are suspicious that – after the tragic, fatal disaster of Apollo 1 – NASA seemed to get increasingly better at spaceflight. The suggestion here is that they had to fake it to make it, but we’d suggest that they just got better as the engineering improved. Classic scientific progress, basically.
The members of the International Flat Earth Research Society (IFERS) seem to base their ideas on trains of thought percolating out of the group’s forums. They’ve got a long list of “global earth propaganda” examples for you to peruse through, including The Who song I Can See For Miles.
NASA comes up a lot, as does the fact that echo chambers on Facebook (which are real) reinforce the “mainstream” belief that the world is a globe (which it is). We won’t go into more of their thoughts, however, as a look at their forums also feature the promotion of other, far more morally reprehensible conspiracy theories, ranging from the Holocaust being faked to mass shootings being government false flag operations.
According to The Flat Earth Society – no, not TFES, another group – there are three reasons why we’re all lying about the shape of our planet: 1) to support the notion propagated by governments, space agencies, and science in general, 2) to “hide the truth of the Bible”, or 3) to deny the rest of the world of Antarctica’s resources, which is guarded by a giant ice wall for some reason.
Ultimately, they suggest that “without toppling the Planar Conspiracy there is no real way to know” why we’d lie in the first place.
As you may have gathered, Flat Earthers don’t all have precisely the same belief system. Just as there are multiple groups attempting to push their own explanation for why we’re on a cosmic coaster, different groups – and in particular, different individuals – differ on why everyone else doesn’t agree with them.
This disparity was clearly on show at the inaugural International Flat Earth Conference back in 2017. As documented by Vice News, there seems to be a general distrust of the US government, and although there are large numbers of people that are more than just a little wary of the powers that be, this is certainly a fringe, extreme example of that anxiety.
Satan, the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Zionists, the Vatican, and “NASA, of course” – clearly, the prevaricators-in-chief – were also mentioned. Although motives weren’t elucidated upon, these (sometimes non-existent) groups are all seen as powerful entities, so there’s a chance the general population rejects flat Earth theories because they’re constantly told that they’re wrong by the upper echelons of society.
So it appears that the global lie about Earth’s shape is motivated by greed, money, and power; when it comes to the general population, we just haven't opened our eyes to the "truth" yet.
In that sense, it's just like any other conspiracy theory.