Globe head. Globe tard. Lobe. I had never encountered such terms before. But, there I was, late on a Monday night, sifting through a group called “Flat Earth-No Trolls.” Globe head, as I learned from a post, refers to someone who believes the Earth is a globe, evidently an unwelcome perspective in the group. After a good deal of time scrolling through the page, it became quickly apparent that this wasn’t just another meme page my friends had added me too. I learned that Flat Earth is for real, only confirmed by a pinned post that revealed a neatly written “code of conduct” along with a prodigious list of links to Flat Earth websites and documentaries.
To many, a spherical earth is a scientific certainty, a basic understanding of the world taught to us at an early age. The Flat Earth model has long been dismissed, as early as the time of Aristotle. But in 1956, amidst the Space Race between the US and the USSR, the Flat Earth society was founded by a skeptic from England. And as of late, it has become no laughing matter. With the help of several celebrities, the Flat Earth theory has re-entered the public sphere, some 2500 years after it was first dismissed by the ancient Athenians. In particular, singer B.o.B has become an active proponent of the movement, even starting a GoFundMe page to purchase weather balloons for Flat Earth experimentation. According to the Economist, Google searches for Flat Earth have tripled in the last two years.
Looking at the 45,000 members of “Flat Earth-No Trolls” revealed a dedicated community. There were numerous links to websites that discussed Flat Earth Theory and a host of YouTube channels. Last year, Raleigh, N.C. played host to the first “Flat Earth convention,” with invited speakers, plenty of merchandise for sale, and hundreds of Flat-Earthers eagerly awaiting to share their ideas. Additionally, Britain’s first Flat Earth conference is happening this weekend (at the time of this article’s writing). On these dedicated groups, Flat-Earthers openly discuss aspects of Flat Earth theory such as the lack of visible curvature of the earth, or a “Flat Earth” map, which resembles the United Nations logo with Antarctica encircling the Earth on its fringes. Followers also show interest in making Flat Earth friends and incorporating Flat Earth into their daily lives. One concerned patron talked about the problems of having a “globe head” fiancée, and asked for tips about convincing a significant other of “the truth.”
So this raises the question for us globe heads: why? How could a group of people believe that the Earth is flat? What has happened?
Conspiracy theories have always existed, but Flat Earth is particularly baffling. It’s similar to other popular conspiracies, like the moon landing theory, in the sense that it accuses the government of lying to further some sort of agenda. Flat Earth groups often call out NASA, accusing it of using CGI and faking most, if not all, of its missions. In a way, this deep-seated suspicion of all governmental activity is what binds all of these conspiracy theories together.
But Flat Earth requires something beyond other theories: a complete rejection of the scientific order. This burden is reflected in the quasi-intellectual approach to building principles of Flat Earth that many actively discuss. Contemporary Flat Earth theory calls for the dismissal of many basic scientific principles such as gravity and the Coriolis Effect. Ironically, what many would call an anti-intellectual movement tries to mimic the work of scientists. The more seasoned Flat-Earthers document their experiments online, often picking and choosing from scientific principles that could bolster their theory.
It’s clear that there are a variety of reasons why people choose to adhere to the theory. For some, it’s a matter of religion. One poster shared a picture quoting 200 verses from the Bible purportedly backing up the Flat Earth model and theory. For others, the evidence isn’t there. Many posts point to the supposed lack of curvature from the human-eye, from weather balloons, from looking out into the distant horizon over the sea. For them, sensory perception trumps scientific theory.
But sifting through Flat Earth forums at two in the morning reveals a distinct quality: the enormous pride Flat-Earthers have for being “in the know.” Posters often rally against the modern educational system, decrying it as formal indoctrination. One user argues that education is merely a repetitive system of beliefs that doesn’t require intelligence. Another was a little more crass.
“Being a flat-earther is putting away the bullshit we were taught and going against popular opinion,” one Flat-Earther wrote on Facebook. “Not conforming to the previously approved paradigm that we are force-fed.”
This desire to be “different” bolsters a collective narcissism, reserved only for the true believers. Being in-the-know thus fosters a sense of community by elevating the group to a level above all others. It also represents the extent of boundless speculation, a quality largely reflective of many conspiracies. If, according to theorists, we were to assume that everything we are told is correct, then we are just mindless cogs repeating what we are told. Perhaps it also highlights an issue of education, whereby people fail to differentiate between critical thought and fiction. Looking at photos from NASA and believing that they show what they purport requires, surely, a small level of trust. But even this quality is an affront to the Flat Earth community.
Yet, the Flat Earth community, one that prides itself on thinking critically, also represents a more genuine quality: it’s an easy fix to the difficulty of comprehending the world.
“Nobody likes this uncomfortable feeling of being this tiny ball flying through space,” according to prominent Flat-Earther Mark Sargeant.
There are a number of reasons why the Flat Earth community has become a thing we talk about. Maybe it’s a problem with boundless speculation, or the way we teach people, or blatant narcissism, or an issue of trust, or anti-intellectualism. But ultimately, Flat Earth is an echo of all these qualities writ large in the modern era. And that’s why the movement is likely here to stay. As we move collectively towards scientific heights that were once deemed unimaginable, Flat Earth stands out as an alien reflection of us all.
Tobias Wertime is a member of the Class of 2020 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.