Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Flat Earthers

Why would someone invest time and energy in trying to prove the earth is flat?

The early part of the 21st Century will be known as the crazy years - a time when people started to believe just any old thing - sometimes very old things that had been disproved and tossed in the ashcan of history, or so we thought.  While no one is doing the Charleston or swallowing goldfish just yet, people of all walks of life are suspending disbelief and engaging in a lot of wishful thinking.

Left or Right it doesn't matter - it seems, at least, that everyone is going to extremes.  Or maybe not.  Maybe because the Internet provides a megaphone for marginal views, it just seems that the crazy folks are in the majority, not an obscure minority.   For example, the news media likes to lament that 74 million people in America are deranged because they voted for Donald Trump.  They like to trot out poll numbers - that a majority of Republicans still support him, or that 30% of Republicans feel the election was "stolen."

But such is not the case.  My single-issue voter friends voted for Trump because their priest told them to, because Biden was not against abortion enough.   Once the events of last week played out, well, they had buyer's remorse big time and took down their Trump sign.   I suspect a lot of people feel the same way.  In fact, the vast majority of Americans do not see themselves as "Republicans" or "Democrats" but independents.  And in States like Georgia, where we have open primaries, there is really no point in declaring a party affiliation anyway.

So when pollsters say a majority of Republicans still support Trump, bear in mind this is only a percentage of people who register as Republican, which is a distinct minority.   And of course, we don't know how the questions were worded - if you are a conservative, you may still support many of the policies Trump enacted and judges appointed, just not the insurrection part.

But that's not a good narrative that sells clicks.  No, it is better to keep everyone on edge by making it sound like the "Proud Boys" or the "Boogaloo Boys" (both of which sound like the names of Korean Boy Bands) are a major political movement, and not a bunch of losers who are literally (and I mean literally in the literal sense) living in their Mom's basement.  They want us to think the world is coming apart at the seams - that anyone, at a moment's notice, will drop into the rabbit-hole that is Qanon and become a Scientologist as well.   The reality is, suggestible people always fall for nonsense.  This doesn't make them a political movement.

The Flat Earth Society is a case in point.   I first became aware of this when I was a kid in the 1960's.  I think my older brother told me about it, and even though we were both in the single digits in age, we both scoffed at the idea.  I mean, we were just dumb little kids, but not that dumb.   After all, this had been proven centuries ago, by the Greeks, long before even Galileo.   But of course, the sorts of folks who "believe" in a flat earth are just like other suckers who fall for Qanon or white supremacy or timeshare sales, or whatever - nothing you can tell them will dissuade them.   In fact, they want to argue with you, like the annoying man I once met, and get upset when you don't.

And like with all these fringe beliefs, the more you argue the point, the more they retrench into their little world of delusion.  By attacking their beliefs, you are attacking them, so they get their back against the wall and strike back.   Anything you can say is just bounced back with some crazy argument. "That doesn't prove anything!  Instrument error!  Everyone knows lasers are unreliable!"   Whatever - they just make shit up.  You can't argue facts with a bullshitter.  So don't bother trying.

This is the sad part.  There are people who feel a need to try to convince their Qanon parents they are "wrong" or former Scientologists who have to make a searing indictment of Scientology on their blog.  You can try to reason with people, but reasoning with unreasonable people is a waste of your time and energy.   The folks who engage in delusional thinking are dissipating their emotional energy, and if you try to "save" them from their delusions, well, you are dissipating your emotional energy as well.  It is hard, but sometimes you just have to move on with life.

Eventually, some folks come to their senses.  I've read some regrets online from former Qanon believers - who now realize that they've lost their jobs, careers, family, and everything to pledge allegiance to some shadowy people on the Internet - and for what?  Nothing ever came of any of it (of course, like any good conspiracy theory, they just punt the whole thing down the road. Wait until March 4th!  Trump will return triumphant! - sounds like end-times theology to me).

Part of what appeals to flat-earthers and other idiots like that is that they get attention with unorthodox views.   As a normal human being, no one pays attention to them.  But if they profess to believe in a flat earth, well, someone will argue with them and pay attention to them, and for many folks, any kind of attention, even negative attention, is better than none whatsoever.

These are lonely people.  These are crazy people.  These are people you should avoid in life, as they will just drag you down.   As I have noted time and time again in this blog, when you see someone about to drive their car off a cliff, make sure you are not in the back seat.   Sure, it is nice to say, "Hey, cliff ahead!  Might want to turn around!"  But don't be shocked when they say they "don't believe the science of cliffs" and moreover, going off a cliff is a smart shortcut to the bottom of the canyon, which technically, it is.  They'll beat the medivac helicopter by a good hour or more.

Are there more flat-earthers today than in the past?  Well, for sure - as the population of the earth has increased, so has the population of crazy people, even if the percentage stays the same.   With online social networking and crazy YouTube videos, it is easier than ever before for crazy people to come together under one banner (or Bannon) - which makes them appear to be larger in number than before.  When I was a kid, again, there was a "Flat Earth Society" - but joining it was a little harder than a click of a mouse.

Of course, social networking may have increased the recruitment of people to crazy ideas - this is also possible.  But I think overall, it is just that social networking makes crazy ideas seem more apparent - by elevating them to the same level as rational ideas.

There is a silver lining to all of this - although it may not be readily apparent.  If you are hiring someone for your business, or looking for a mate, or just hanging out with friends, you can use these fringe beliefs as an easy filtering mechanism.   For example, if I was hiring someone at a company, I would take the time to walk out to the parking lot and look at their vehicle.  If it was covered with crazy bumper stickers (professing allegiance to anything, really) I would take a pass - particularly if they stuck them to the paint.

Of course, these sort of folks are often very clever at hiding their strange beliefs - they know what they believe is wrong, of course, but they won't let go of it.   If you meet a cult member who is trying to recruit you, they will never come right out and say, "I'm a member of Guru Bob's cult - wanna join?  All you have to do is pledge all your money to him!  It's fun!"   No, rather, they try to love-bomb you and invite you to a "seminar" where you are slowly immersed in the group-think.  And sadly, the Internet makes this possible to do, remotely.

With dating, this is particularly a problem.  There are a lot of bad men out there - sad to say.  Sure, there are crazy women, too, but when it comes to stalkers, rapists, and murderers, we men have the women outnumbered 10 to 1.  I recounted before how my dental hygienist lost her daughter to such a creep.  He seemed sort of normal when her friends fixed him up with her, but she sensed something was "off" when he dominated the conversation on their first date with political talk and conspiracy theories.  She broke it off with him, but he wouldn't take no for an answer, and after months of harassment, stalking, and a restraining order, he ambushed her one night and shot her.  I think he got like 10 years in jail for manslaughter, too.  Men, what's not to like?

Of course, you have to wonder what kind of "friends" would set you up on a date with a creep like that - and maybe her friends were also conspiracy theory believers and didn't see anything amiss.  Maybe, maybe not.   It is an extreme example, but it illustrates the point - when you hang out with crazy, bad things will happen to you.

If you find yourself with family members spouting Qanon nonsense, or conspiracy theories or whatever, don't try to engage - it is pointless, and will only drain your personal energy.  Move on - there are plenty of other normal people in the world who aren't crazy, whose company will not drain your energy, but actually add to it.  If these are family members, it is harder - but then again, as you get older, it is perfectly natural that you see less and less of your "birth family" and form a family of your own.

Sure, there are some families where everyone is best friends - or Dad and Lad go into business together.  We are all jealous of that, for sure.  But it is an exception, not the rule.  If you are a minor, it is especially hard, as you are dependent on your parents who may not be entirely rational (BTDT!) and arguing with them is not only pointless, but could be dangerous as well.  Just bide your time, your 18th birthday will come soon enough.

What I have no respect for are people who live with their argumentative parents, well into their 20's and 30's - even if they have good paying jobs and can support themselves - and complain loudly about what a rotten deal they got out of life because their parents are crazy.  Hey, move out.  Start your own life, don't sacrifice it trying to "convince" Dad that Qanon isn't real or the earth is not flat.

Such folks are little better than the flat-earthers.  They become the friend with the perpetual problem, and instead of dissipating their emotional energy on a conspiracy theory, they dissipate their emotional energy trying to disprove it.

Many years ago - decades in fact - I was drawn into one of those "alt" discussion groups, back in the days of dial-up modems and DOS.   There was an interesting copyright case involving Scientology - could the "church" of Scientology claim copyright in its "Bible"?   Well, of course, they could, but by putting their "Bible" into evidence, it became publicly available for anyone to read, which sort of gave away the game.  Of course, they still manage to recruit people today.

The fellow who was sued in the case was publishing these texts online on his website, which of course, is a violation of copyright.  He wasn't just excerpting portions or paraphrasing sections under "fair use" exceptions, he uploaded the whole damn thing, which is like making an infinite amount of copies online.  So, it  was a pretty open-and-shut case, and in Copyright law, you can get something called an Ex Parte Writ of Seizure which allows the Copyright holder - not the police or the court or whatever - to seize the infringing goods.  So you can imagine how this paranoid ex-Scientologist felt when the Church of Scientology came a-knockin' and seized his computers - all his paranoid fantasies came true!

Anyway, what I found interesting wasn't that the Scientologists were bat-shit crazy, but the ex-Scientologists were slowly losing their minds.   It wasn't enough for them to just leave the religion and move on with life, realizing they made a mistake.  No, they had to go on a mission to "expose" the church and its teachings, knowing full well their efforts would not go unopposed.  It was a classic case of a martyr syndrome - people who claim they are saving the world, when maybe they should save themselves.  Sort of the like the windshield wiper guy who litigated for decades, only to finally win less far less money than he was originally offered.   I don't know about you, but I would have taken those millions and been happy.

That is what a rational person would do.

It took me a long time to learn this, too.  When I was younger, I had naive ideas about saving the world, or saving people.  But I realized, over time, that the world didn't want to be saved, and people - crazy as they are - have these weird ideas that what they are doing is what is best for them.  It is like in AA - they teach that people have to "hit rock bottom" before they turn their lives around.  You can't offer them a shortcut, even though it seems like the human thing to do.

The humane thing to do is save your own life by running in the opposite direction from crazy people, whether they are flat-earthers, cultists, Qanons, timeshare salesmen, Trumpists, or Bernie Bros.  You'll never convince them of anything, but odds are, their negativity and craziness will bring you down, over time.

If enough people simply walked away from flat earthers, maybe they would get the hint.  After all, what's the point of expressing strange beliefs to try to get attention if it doesn't get attention?