Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A round and a round we go...

A few months ago a friend sent me an intriguing message. He wanted me to participate in a very small experiment he was running. Basically he wanted my take on a niche group. A bunch of people who believe something out of the mainstream. Way out of the mainstream. Flat Earthers to be exact. Go to their forums. Read their arguments. See how they interact with other people. What did I think? And if nothing else I would be able to get a blog out of something there, he was sure.

He was right. I did get a few blog ideas. Of course it was during the wasteland months so the ideas have just been sitting waiting, thank goodness the world is flat so they didn't roll off.

Okay, I'm kidding. I wasn't a convert to the flat earth belief system. But it was interesting to read their arguments why they believe what they do and why they feel they have the science to back it up.

Now here is where I come totally clean. Though I believe in science; I trust science; I think science holds answers to questions we haven't even thought of yet; I am not really good at that type of science. The stuff that incorporates advanced math. I have a degree in accounting. I like that sort of math. Cross footing makes me happy. But when you start adding in letters and imaginary numbers and complex formulas? It all starts to sound like Charlie Brown's teacher in my head. The only thing I was good at in Chemistry was lighting the Bunsen burner.

So understanding that when they would talk about how "of course the earth is flat because of lmnop+qrz-lto=ronger's theorem"* I would hear Waa...waa...waa..waa...waa...But they were convinced. And it looked really solid. And not at all what we were taught is right. So of course I balanced this with reading pages that were put up specifically to show why they were misapplying ronger's theorem** and that clearly it showed that waa...waa...waa....waa...waa...

Even though I didn't understand and couldn't follow along with the math and science on those blogs anymore than I could on the flat earth ones they made me feel better. Because someone out there was showing why they were wrong. Why it wasn't true. Why no matter how much they wanted it to work it didn't. And I took comfort in that.

Which leads me to what my friend was fascinated by in the first place. The interactions with the people in the group. The Flat Earth people are true believers.They really believe the earth is flat. They aren't doing it as a put on or a joke or to be ironic. They firmly believe this. And they will show experiments they've done that they feel prove their point. The religious ones will quote bible verses to show that they are right. The I only believe what  see ones will talk about places where you should be able to see the earth's curvature and cannot so obviously it's flat. The government conspiracy ones will talk about how it's all been set up to...umm..I really was lost here, I'm not sure why it's a big cover up or what the point of pretending it was spherical when it's flat would be, but there were reasons! But the part that really captured my friend's attention was that the people who were hostile and rude and, honestly, ignorant sounding weren't the Flat Earthers it was the people who would go in to their forums and their pages to call them stooopid.

He wondered why that was. Why did people get so hostile? Why were the Flat Earth people so calm? What was going on here?

And it is interesting to see. And totally different than a lot of the science/non-science arguments discussions. You will see the same level of heat and insults flung back and forth between anti-vaxxers and pro-vaxxers. You want to see real venom? Look at climate change deniers and climate change realists go head to head. They will rip each other apart. But not on the Flat Earth boards. The believers were really calm and the interlopers were the rude ones.

And I don't really know why. I have a guess. I think it's because they are so far out of main stream society that the only way to get people to listen is to be calm. To present their science. To show their experiments. And if they are calm then maybe people will listen. And as for why the other side was so angry? So rude? Well they are being told that what they believe, what has been taught to them as pure fact with nobody doubting it since the dark ages could be wrong. And that's a little scary.

See I think it's the people who see ronger's theorem*** laid out on those sites and have a moment of doubt who get the maddest. They are the ones whose foundation has been nudged. Me? I wasn't angry at them because I didn't understand their science anymore than the other science. And my faith is in the fact that there is no way a conspiracy this big with this many people who would have to know could have been kept under wraps for this long. I believe in the power of people to not be able to keep a damn secret, especially a juicy one. So I didn't get mad. I don't believe they are right so they aren't a threat to my belief system.

That's what this experiment led me to think about. Belief systems. Groups. Belonging. Feeling special. Feeling smart. Feeling like we know something that other people don't. That's what I think is behind the Flat Earthers. I think they like feeling like they know something other people don't. That by stepping out of the mainstream and deciding that they are right and everyone else, and I mean EVERYONE else, is wrong they are special. And they have a group of people that feed that belief. That agree with them. That tell them they are right. That everyone else is being duped.

How bad can your day be if you know that you are better than everyone else? That jerk you work with who thinks he's so smart? Well he believes NASA and the big round earth fallacy so how smart can he really be? He wouldn't even understand ronger's theorem**** if you wrote it out in crayon on the back of his lunch sack. But you, you are special. You saw through the bullshit and were able to form your own opinion, based on science you could see yourself. Not the spoon fed stuff in your text books. You are a genius. And part of a very small select group of people who also see the light that is coming from a much smaller and closer sun than everyone else thinks we have.

And it's also why I think you don't see the same calm with the climate change deniers or the anti-vaxxers. They are too big. There are too many of them. They have people they can find easily to stand with them and rage against society. The Flat Earthers don't. And the stakes are different. I don't care if you believe the earth is flat. I think it's odd, but I don't really care. It doesn't affect me. But if you and a hundred of your friends live in my city where my friends are now having babies don't get vaccinated? Yeah, I care. If you are a politician who actively fights against finding alternative fuel sources because the money from the lobbyists   you say the science on climate change isn't there? Then yes, I care about that. If what you are doing has an actual effect on my life or the life of a friend? Then I care on a different level. But if you believe that somehow the world is a disc yet doesn't ride on the backs of elephants who are in turn on the back of a giant turtle then well, okay, you get down with your bad self.

So the stakes are lower. Which means they get left alone, mostly. And the people going in a railing against them give them just enough of a touch of persecution to make them circle in closer. Which is good because we don't want anyone getting too close to the ice edge of the earth.  Brrr... Yes, I'm mocking them a bit, but this is what they believe so...

And if you read all of this knowing what you know about me you can see that I can see a lot of religious group think parallels in the Flat Earth people. They believe something that makes them special. They really want you to believe it as well. They are sure that the world is picking on them for what they believe, and in some cases are absolutely right. Because they can find others who think what they do they feel more secure in what they believe. But they are only on the level of a smaller religion right now. Once they get a little bigger they will want to start legislating what they believe like the climate deniers and the Evangelicals.

And then I will have a problem with them.

But until that point it was interesting. It was different. It shined a bright spot light on an area of my life that I am lacking in education. Not the Flat Earth part, the BIG science stuff. Like ronger's theorem.***** I really should look in to that one.

*not the actual theorem they used
**absolutely not the actual theorem
***still not the actual theorem
****yeah, you know the drill
*****did you really check?

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