Flat Earth Theory Is Back, Baby! Why 2015 Is The Perfect Year For The Flattest Conspiracy

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The Flat Earth Society was founded in 1956, fell into abject irrelevance by 1980 and became a joke upon its return in 2004. Since then Flat Earth theory has been reduced to a curio, more quixotic example of human ideological breadth than a voice in the conspiracy discourse. That has all changed in recent days, with Flat Earth theory making an unexpected return to conspiracy theory discussions. Flat Earth theory is back in a big way, but why?

The Flat Earth Theory Renaissance

My first run-in with the new Flat Earth theorists was this Eric Dubay blog post, proposing "200 Proofs Earth is Not a Spinning Ball". This new Flat Earth theory compendium is about as rigorous as you’d expect.

 

It may seem like a joke, but many Flat Earth theorists, Dubay included, are quite serious. While his posts may seem comically ignorant, their beating heart is poisonous conspiracism of the standard sort. For Dubay the world is run by a Masonic and Jewish conspiracy, therefore any knowledge believed by the majority of people is dubious by default and complicit in an immense New World Order.

While I can’t pinpoint Dubay’s comprehensive rundown of modern Flat Earth theorizing as the beginning of a new wave of interest in Flat Earth theory, there’s no doubt that the concept is popping up more and more in genuine conspiracy circles.

The reasons why has to do with the way modern online conspiracism operates.

Flat Earth and Modern Conspiracy Theories

If there’s one easily identifiable trend that is universal to all varieties of conspiracy theories it’s the rant-y YouTube video. Ushered in by the astounding success of 9/11 Truth hoax video “Loose Change,” the modern conspiracy theorist takes on an aura of intellectual grounding using the modern multimedia gish gallop that video enables.

It’s a common enough sight in conspiracy theory threads. A skeptic will debunk a single point, only to be met with a 90 minute YouTube conspiracy video that “conclusively proves” the conspiracy theory true. Since nobody watches 90 minute YouTube conspiracy videos except conspiracy obsessives the conspiracy theorists’ torrent of bullshit goes unchallenged while other theorists see the lack of rebuttal as shoring up the entire edifice, validating their "facts."

The old, quaint Flat Earth Society didn’t do videos. But now the Flat Earth theory has entered the conspiracy theory modern day.

The other primary component that might help explain the recent rise of the Flat Earth theory is not about tactics but tone. Not since the 90’s heyday of the right-wing, conspiracist militia movement­­—stoked by vicious cretins like Milton William Cooper and his Behold a Pale Horse—have conspiracy theories been so reliably based in suspicion of government and thirst for violent revolution.

Combine the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing security state, Snowden’s NSA revelations, and a financial collapse that fattened the very crony capitalists responsible and it’s easy to see why people are widely distrustful of government and capitalist institutions. The conspiracy theory “mainstream” is itself a funhouse mirror of that wider societal anger, twisting it into false flag mass shootings, crisis actors, 9/11 Truth, and all the other assorted fatuousness we’ve come to associate with Infowars and r/conspiracy.

The new Flat Earth Society, with its vaguely leftist, New Age-y vibe (the original Society was mostly Biblical literalists) under the leadership of the mild Daniel Shenton, felt distinctly out of step with the times, so far as conspiracy theory messaging goes.

 

Adorbs.

If only someone could freshen up Flat Earth theory for the new conspiracy theory hotness, perhaps by suggesting that the Creation story of the entire modern movement, the 9/11 attacks, secretly had everything to do with a Flat Earth…

Combine 9/11, Masons, Jews, and Flat Earth and you’re left with a syncretic conspiracy theory capable of sustaining a vocal contingent in conspiracy theory circles. And indeed what you find at r/theworldisflat and other Flat Earth theorist clubhouses is exactly that mix of military cover-up, groupthink reinforcement, anti-cult cultism and The Big Lie holism that defines every other conspiracy theory subculture online.

Of course, other conspiracy theorists have another explanation for the 2015 emergence of Flat Earth theory. In a Reddit post titled “Flat Earth bullshit” TheCocaineFairy advanced a popular conspiracy theory:

It's kind of suspicious that these flat earthers all popped out of nowhere and started bombarding every single conspiracy forum only recently. New cointel pro tactic? Maybe they are trying to decipher what exactly ‘convinces’ a conspiracy minded individual to blindly believe in whatever theory. We all know that these types of forums are littered with disinfo to derail/confuse/distract people from real issues. Maybe they wan't to create the perfect concoction of pseudo-science bullshit and fabricated statistics to see who will blindly follow. They can then set up or use the same tactics to further lead the conspiracy community astray. Who else thinks this is a psy-op?”

Government agencies have been caught altering Wikipedia, buying up sockpuppet software, and even spying on World of Warcraft, so the idea that conspiracy theorists are monitored isn’t exactly far-fetched. But if Flat Earth theorists are all New World Order shills we're talking quite an advanced operation just to target people already willing to nurture a persecution complex without prompting.

Is Flat Earth theory really more discrediting than most recent r/conspiracy theories? Is it stranger to believe that the Earth is a flat disc surrounded by a wall of ice or that underground nukes went off in downtown Manhattan without anyone knowing? Is the idea that planes are all equipped with devices to trick pilots into believing the Earth is round stranger than the assertion that pesticide companies are engaged in a plot to break down gender and advance transhumanism by sterilizing men?

Only the all-seeing eyes above the 33rd degree can say for sure.

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