Flat Earthers Around The World: The Psychology Behind Their Rise
By Levi Sharpe
JUL 26, 2016
In the 21st century, it’d seem that nothing would be as irrefutable as the earth being round, but a growing number of people believe that the earth is flat.
The Flat Earth Society, a website dedicated to disseminating flat earth doctrine, has a forum with over 8,600 members, and their Facebook page has over 18,000 likes. Not only are there other Flat Earther websites — Meetups have popped up around the U.S.
“I’ve unfortunately come to the realization that everything we know and think we know about society, the government has been completely false, completely falsified,” said Jonathan Vincent, who recently started a Flat Earthers Meetup in New Jersey.
As he spoke, he smoked a cigarette and fiddled with a lighter decorated with a woman in a bathing suit.
"The intent of the group was to find, I guess root out any possible flat earth believers, kind of reduce the isolation factor for believing in something this eccentric," he said.
To Flat Earthers, the earth looks like a flat disk while Antartica is the ring around the perimeter that keeps the water from falling off of the world. The sun and the moon are roughly 3,000 miles above the earth and "chase" each other, which is what causes seasons, as well as night and day.
As for lunar eclipses, Flat Earthers believe that instead of the earth casting a shadow onto the moon, there is an invisible anti-moon, which blocks the non-invisible moon. Some Flat Earthers believe that gravity is caused by the earth is accelerating upwards like an elevator, and that is what pushes everything down.
Many Flat Earthers also believe in what is called the firmament, which harkens back to the bible. They interpret it as an invisible dome around the earth.
“It says that we're perfect inside of this thing and that we are the center of the universe,” said Vincent.
“This whole idea of us being a speck of dust floating through space just an insignificant accident is nothing anyone would ever tell to their kids you know — ‘Hey Johnny, just want to let you know that you're an accident so get out there and win today.’ It doesn't feel right and it doesn't seem right, but for the powers that be, that's exactly what they want us to think."
Vincent said “the powers that be” are a group that includes NASA, which controls our monetary system and manipulates scientific literature. He said they orchestrated a mass deception, tricking us into thinking that the earth is spherical, to hide the fact that there is an abundance of resources, so that they can control us.
What do natural resources have to do with the world being round?
To Flat Earthers, an important trait of a flat earth is that it creates an abundance of natural resources, because for all they know the earth could go on forever.
“They could be hiding a whole entire continent and we wouldn't know,” said Vincent.
Viren Swami, a professor of social psychology at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK, said that while the common perception of conspiracy theorists is that they must have some kind of mental disorder, research shows that half of all Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory.
“Given the number of people who believe in conspiracy theories it's probably unlikely that all of them are suffering from some kind of psychopathology,” he said.
He said the biggest predictor that someone will believe in a conspiracy is their belief in other conspiracies.
“Someone who already believes, for example, in the 9/11 conspiracy theory is much more likely to accept the Flat Earth conspiracy theory, because it fits into their world view that there are people who are manipulating and doing bad things,” said Swami.
And the most plausible reason people believe in conspiracy theories, said Swami, has to do with stress and empowerment. When some kind of stressful event happens such as a terrorist attack, or even when someone feels helpless in their life situation, they have a need to make sense of why these things are happening.
“People who lack agency or lack power in some way are much more likely to accept a conspiracy theory because it gives them a sense of agency,” said Swami. “If for example you can personify the threat, now you can challenge them, now you can go on twitter and have a rant about it.”
A popular rapper named B.o.B went on a rant about his Flat Earther beliefs on Twitter in the beginning of 2016. His views reached so many people that celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson felt the need to shut him down, not only on Twitter, but on television as well.
“Issac Newton said if I have seen farther than others it’s by standing on the shoulders of giants…so that’s right B.o.B, when you stand on the shoulders who came before, you might just see far enough to realize the earth isn’t fucking flat — and by the way, this is called gravity,” said Tyson as he dropped the mic on The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore on Comedy Central.
Swami said he hopes that the more we talk about conspiracy theories and point out why they are scientifically implausible, the more people will stop believing them.
Featured on NHPR's Word of Mouth.