The Earth is round. I just want to say that up front. The planet we’re on is an oblate spheroid and it spins. Space is both real and really big, and it is expanding outwards at an incredible pace. The Sun and the Moon are also real. The Moon revolves around us and we revolve around the Sun and everything in our solar system is revolving around the centre point of our galaxy, which in turn is doing… something, probably. These are some things I believe to be true.
10 years ago I would have told you that just about everyone shares those beliefs with me. 10 years ago was a very different time — a time when if I saw something about a flat earth on the internet, I assumed it was some sort of inscrutable, impossible to detect satire done by science nerds.
But now, all of us are burdened with the knowledge that — after a brief few thousand years out of fashion — belief in a flat earth is having a renaissance. To the extent that extolling pre-classical period conceptions of what the Earth looks like can go mainstream, it has gone mainstream. They get on the news for rocket launches. Disgraced, fridge-sized YouTube personality Logan Paul goes to their conferences. They go on cruises.
I am not unfamiliar with conspiracy theories. I read a lot of stuff about Bigfoot and a lot of stuff about aliens and I can understand the people that believe in these things. A conspiracy to conceal the existence of a mysterious wood-ape or a secret government relationship with extraterrestrials is unlikely, sure, but it’s not easy to disprove either. While the burden of proof doesn’t quite work that way, you could still happily live your life without ever seeing anything that would make you question your belief that little grey aliens have a handshake deal with the US government to provide futuristic technology in exchange for free rein to abduct people in the American midwest. This is not so much the case with a flat earth.
It seems like your belief in a flat earth would be challenged regularly. The photos from the moon. Regular photos from the ISS. Ships disappearing over the horizon. The shadow of the earth during an eclipse. The existence of GPS. The circumnavigation of Antarctica. Footage from high altitude balloons. Direct flights between continents in the southern hemisphere that would be impossibly long on a flat earth model. The list goes on.
I’ve never quite understood what sort of person is able to sustain this idea in their heads — is able to exist otherwise perfectly normally in the world while also believing it to be laughable that the world is spherical. In a way, I’ve never fully believed they existed at all. I decided to do what anyone doing any serious, rigorous investigation would do: listen to some podcasts. This is what started my love affair with the aptly named The Flat Earth Podcast.
In its current incarnation, The Flat Earth Podcast is hosted by Dave Weiss and Matt Long. Dave is a “renewable energy business man and avid kiteboarder from the east coast” who has previously hosted another conspiracy podcast called Down in the Rabbit Hole. Matt, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, works in the “construction and development industries” and has “[pursued] ventures in electricity, natural gas and solar energy”.
West is a circle. Sorry you don't understand that pic.twitter.com/1z0fJaF7Jo— thomas violence (@thomas_violence) January 17, 2019
Dave is the bigger personality of the two. He’s sarcastic, quick to joke, and tends to drive conversations. Matt, by contrast, is quite reserved. Matt is deeply religious, something he is not at all shy talking about. Dave is very much not religious, something he is not at all shy talking about. They don’t seem to have known each other for a particularly long time, Matt (who is disarmingly hot, as a side note) appears to have joined the podcast as a replacement for a previous host around September last year.
The format of the show (which has 132 episodes, at time of writing) is pretty straightforward. They are played in by a flat-earth-themed song, they talk for anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour about whatever is new in the flat earth world, and then they play short recorded messages and questions from fans and discuss them.
“How much about the flat earth is there to talk about?” I hear you ask. “Surely you say the earth is flat and then you’re done?” Not so, compadre. The world of the flat earther is a complex one. Every flat earther is in a constant battle with two forces. The first, obviously, is the ‘ballers’ — foolish people like you and me who believe that the world has a noticeable curve to it. The second is fellow flat earthers.
My understanding from listening to the podcast is that every flat earther has a YouTube channel and a podcast and they are all always deeply embroiled in conflict with each other. While they mostly seem to be able to ignore most ideological differences (for instance, Matt is a biblical literalist while Dave is, well, the opposite of that), these things still frequently come to a head. They love to accuse each other of being shills and disinformation agents — plants from the government put in place to make flat earthers look bad. As an example: one guy made a 17-minute long video claiming that Dave is a government agent because he jokingly referred to having ‘handlers’ one time.
What I’ve described might lead you to believe that these episodes are the unhinged rantings of two madmen, but the show is shockingly easy to listen to. Matt and Dave, despite their huge differences, have an easy, pleasant chemistry. Dave will roast Matt for his decision to have an alcohol-free wedding on New Year’s Eve with someone he only met a matter of months ago (real example) and Matt will accept it in the convivial spirit with which it was given. Matt will roast Dave for his foolish lack of religion and Dave will accept it knowing that they maintain a relationship of mutual respect for each other’s beliefs.
They air their grievances with their fellow flat earth personalities with jovial good humour, doing mild jokes at their expense while expressing that they would still be open to talking it out with them. They discuss their attempts to flat-smack (read: convert to flat eartherism) the people around them with cheery optimism but also with good-natured frankness about how ‘ballers’ see them.
They are endearing. In one episode, Dave repeatedly refers to Logan Paul as being Matt’s biological son, because Matt hates him and it’s funny to say that. It’s a good bit. They both share earnest excitement talking about the flat earth meme coffee table book together, which is too expensive for them to make and sell, but which they offered up for free in digital form to anyone who wanted to print it themselves.
I don’t like to think of myself as a particularly mean person, but I assumed going in to the podcast that most of the laughs that I had would be at the expense of the hosts. This did not turn out to be the case. Occasionally, a turn of phrase will get to me (“Jim is not an enemy of flat earth” or “BoJack Horseman is an endorsement of bestiality“) but for the most part, I find myself laughing with them.
Maybe it’s a form of Stockholm syndrome, but after listening to a bunch of episodes, I can now only see things through their point of view. I find myself siding with them in my head when they talk about ‘baller trolls’ in their comments raising the same tired pieces of very true, very real scientific evidence as to why the earth isn’t flat. I’ll find myself nodding along in agreement, only to realise that the thing they’ve said is completely insane and easy to disprove with a single google search.
Not only do I now understand why they aren’t convinced by any argument in favour of a ball earth, I occasionally catch myself dismissing those arguments under the same terms. ‘Well NASA would say that, wouldn’t they?’ ‘Of course it looks round, it’s a fish-eye lens.’ ‘If the ISS is real, how come that astronaut dropped a screw that one time?‘ I don’t believe the Earth is flat by any means, but when it comes to a disagreement between two lovely, strange men and the belligerent ballers being rude to them just because their conception of the world is objectively wrong, I will always side with Matt and Dave.
Is this how it happens? Am I only a few more episodes away from telling people to check out flat earth in the review section for cameras on Amazon, as the hosts suggest?
A lot of radicalisation tends to happen by the manipulation people’s fear or prejudice, but I feel like I’m being radicalised to flat earth by something much more benign: having a ridiculous ideology put forward by two people I would enjoy having a beer with. Except I don’t think Matt drinks.