It started out as a curiosity. My wife frequently must wake up much earlier than I need to for work and goes to bed at an ungodly boring hour, long before I’m tired, leaving me to my own devices. On such occasions, with mostly rubbish on television, I’ll settle into a cocktail, fire up my laptop or phone screen, and turn to social media for entertainment. This is how I first came to debate “flat-earthers” on Facebook.
On its face, I thought that it was either a ruse that would quickly be abandoned when engaged or innocent ignorance that could be vanquished with a quick fact or observation. For it seemed to me — a person with a college degree and a healthy passion for astronomy — that proving a truth that has been commonly accepted for millennia would present no real challenge. I did not understand, however, that the belief is not rooted in fact or proof, but is instead based on a feeling that the “other side” is lying.
So on random nights, with technology Eratosthenes could never have dreamed of and more information than was housed in the Library of Alexandria available at my fingertips; I engage with and goad people who believe in a flat earth simply for sport. It is a bit like playing basketball against your adolescent child. If you were to play straight up, there would be no fun. So certain consolations must be made. Perhaps he tells you that you must play from your knees and shoot only with your non-dominant hand. He is allowed to travel and double dribble.
When you score, it’s “loser’s outs”; for him, it’s, “make it take it.” Such is the same with the special rules and intellectual gymnastics that those making an argument in favor of a flat earth must be permitted. All photos from space are “NASA fakes” and inadmissible; vanishing point is the argument used for why ships shrink and disappear over the horizon, but the same does not apply to the sun’s size as it sets; the difference of the night sky in the north and south hemispheres is dismissed by saying they are the same. Every argument has a counter argument that points to a vast network of liars, fake science, and distortions of reality. In the face of incontrovertible evidence, they still believe.
On occasion, I’ll take a pause from arguing why you don’t see the Empire State Building tilting away from you when you look at it from Jersey, to mentally spar with Trump-supporting friends of mine. It becomes much of the same. I especially like to engage those who like to flaunt their Christian beliefs and do similar mental gymnastics to marry their religion to their incongruent politics. I point out that their views on immigration and the poor seem to diverge from the tenets of their faith, but they distort their own religion to accept their politics. They argue that the 2nd amendment protects their right to take up arms against an oppressive government while proclaiming their support for the troops and police without seeing the irony.
When I point to the times in our history when such actions would be justified, they demonize the Black Panthers or Black Lives Matter movement as divisive and adding to the problem. When the topic of school choice arises, they paint it as beneficial to urban (read: African-American) areas but dismiss my questions of what happens to those left in the abandoned public schools. Their arguments are hypocritical but that does not matter as they are not the party of inclusion. But all Democrats are held responsible as hypocrites when the actions of few run counter to our message of love. Something as trivial as the amount of people in attendance at Trump’s inauguration sparks controversy and acceptance of “alternative facts” and if you don’t believe that, your news source is fake.
Both of these games are rigged. Conservatives have whined for so long and so loudly about the media being biased that news agencies that play it straight appear to be liberal. They have flooded the internet with so much factually inaccurate “news” that it has become difficult to differentiate from the legitimate; when liberal sites do the same, it just promulgates their claim that it is normal. Facts, reason and proof are no longer necessary because it is no longer a debate but has become a game of winning and losing.
“The game is rigged. But you can not lose if you do not play.” – Marla Daniels, The Wire