“I’m With Stupid — Me!”

There isn’t a pragmatist to be found among those who are conspiracy believers

The title of this post refers to my suggestion to someone regarding the t-shirt that could have been worn by anyone attending the modest-size convention of the Flat Earth International Conference in early November 2017. Apparently there were sufficient attendees to populate such an event. Of course, any rational human would react to such a conference as a meeting of dunces. How is this even a thing in the twenty-first century.

These individuals are part of the strange socio-political cult of conspiracy theorists, of whom I’ve written about a couple of times. Those who wallow in the muck of conspiracy theories have fairly well defined psychological profiles that seemingly create a predisposition to such theories regardless of well-documented facts that contradict them. Intelligent refutation of them is lost on true conspiracy believers.

For example, if one notes the abundance of photographs of spherical earth and moon, and earth’s shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse, the response is that these are fake (you know, like news). The greater the rational rebuttal of the flat earth assertion, the more the believers believe, citing emphatic defense of reality as simply more proof that their flat earth beliefs are correct. This, of course, is an inane rationale that would basically eliminate knowledge of all kinds as having value to humans.

There are a variety of possible motivations for embracing conspiracy theories, but often they are reduced to two or three common varieties. In terms of flat earthers, one is…and this will not be a surprise…biblical. You know, that highly regarded scientific tome from the Bronze Age. In terms of literalism/inerrancy, the need to believe each and every word in the bible — because believing only parts of it would be a big problem — forces some to wage war on science. Whole websites are filled with photos (of dubious provenance) and graphs meant to demonstrate that a spherical earth is the work of many seeking to discredit the bible, with the worst offender being government.

That last item is a common thread among most, if not all, conspiracy theory obsessives. Government, untrustworthy and driven by secrecy, is invariably the source of whatever the focus of a theory might be: moon landing, assassination of Kennedy, spherical planet, suspicious deaths (there are many of these)…a long, bizarre list. Suspicion is the functional center for conspiracy true believers, and this is particularly important to focus on and remember, because suspicion drives other uniquely American idiosyncrasies.

One of them is the obsession with the right to bear arms. Keep in mind that roughly three percent of the population owns a majority of firearms, and they accept no restrictions regarding this, including wanting to carry guns both hidden and open everywhere they go. The impetus for this is a deep suspicion that without these firearms the government would curtail or eliminate their freedom. Although it defies reason, evidence and history, they are convinced without any doubt that their liberty exists only as long as they posses as many firearms of any type that they want. This suspicion has become superstition, a catchall of human idiosyncrasies that exists outside of rationality.

Suspicion is highly corrosive and destructive, and it impedes or completely blocks critical thinking, problem-solving and wisdom. Facts and data lose all meaning because there are endless fabricated “reasons” for refuting them — we know these reasons as “talking points,” but they are really just ideological gibberish masquerading as knowledge. Because suspicion takes on a life of its own, all of the conventionalities we take for granted — information, knowledge, reason — are dispensed with.

There isn’t a pragmatist to be found among those who are conspiracy believers, driven by their suspicions and superstitions. Flat earthers are willing to ignore, dismiss or denigrate the obvious (twitter.com/neiltyson/status/934906611088359426/photo/1) because they cannot cope with the alternative to their obsession, no matter how absurd the rest of the world views it. If anything, it makes them band together for support. They can’t and won’t accept that while they can have their own opinions, they can’t have their own facts.

To quote Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The us is those who show disdain for rational thought, for actual truth, for critical thinking. Pragmatists embrace these and other important qualities, such as knowledge and wisdom, because there is no other sane approach to reality. While a tiny number of individuals — relative to the population of the planet — insist the earth is flat, we know they don’t matter…for two reasons. One, they are obviously wrong, and two, reality doesn’t change because some pretend it does.