Happy Good Friday, y’all, the day that celebrates the improbable feat of derring-do attributed to a certain Jewish fellow Who died and then somehow was still not dead and also still isn’t. You probably heard recently that Shaq apparently believes the world is flat. I’m here this week to explain why he is perhaps not a raving lunatic for saying such a thing, and to offer my support for all well-meaning spectacular and incredible claims, be they religious or secular in nature.
Upon learning of Shaq’s adherence to the flat earth theory, the internet immediately erupted into hysterics, with most people landing somewhere between mockery and indignant reproach. While some were satisfied with simply lambasting this professional athlete for being an idiot, others leapt into the fray clad in their science-armour, these brave, stalwart heroes of empiricism, gallantly defending against overwhelming odds the embattled belief that the fucking world is round. WE KNOW THE WORLD IS ROUND.
Bless you, Shade of Galileo!! For a moment there I nearly forgot what shape planets are! Thank God you’re here to drop your “SCIENCE” on me!
Shaq later clarified: “I’m joking, you idiots!” Given the reaction, though, I think people are really missing the point on this whole thing. Sometimes when people make claims like this (whether they admit it’s a joke or not, which, for the record, it almost always is) they’re going for something a little more subtle. I think, particularly in the case of flat earth theorists, the point is to highlight the necessity of challenging received wisdom. The flat earth idea is great for this because it highlights a palpable manner in which our lived experience clashes with what we’re told. Everybody tells us the earth is round, but dammit, it fucking feels flat. Shaq states this eloquently.
So, listen, I drive from coast to coast, and this shit is flat to me. I’m just saying. I drive from Florida to California all the time, and it’s flat to me. I do not go up and down at a 360 degree angle.
If you take him seriously there, he sounds like an insane moron. But just before that, he said:
Listen, there are three ways to manipulate the mind — what you read, what you see and what you hear. In school, first thing they teach us is, ‘Oh, Columbus discovered America,’ but when he got there, there were some fair-skinned people with the long hair smoking on the peace pipes. So, what does that tell you? Columbus didn’t discover America.
His stereotypes aside, he has a point. Columbus didn’t discover America. People were already living there. Yet generations of schoolchildren were and still are being taught that ‘fact’. I think Shaq is very cleverly and subtly using the flat earth idea as an ideological weapon against the whole concept of received wisdom, or at least the uncritical acceptance of said wisdom. He’s effectively saying “If you can invent history, if you can just make shit up and tell us it’s real and expect us to believe it despite all evidence to the contrary, then what if I say I believe the world is flat? How will you refute me without being a hypocrite?” It’s worth noting in this context that a staggering number of people still think the same reprehensible tyrant Columbus ‘proved’ the world was round; this is flatly not correct but people still believe it, and why? Some idiot taught them that in school.
The same point was made by another NBA flat-earther, Kyrie Irving, a few weeks before Shaq’s big reveal:
I think people should do their own research, man. Then, hopefully, they’ll either back my belief or throw it in the water, but I think it’s interesting for people to find out on their own. I’ve seen a lot of things that my educational system said was real and turned out to be completely fake. I don’t mind going against the grain in terms of my thoughts and what I believe.
The importance of galling people into giving a shit about the truth becomes paramount when we look at the current political climate, for obvious reasons. The constant stream of bald-faced lies oozing out of the White House is only possible because the American populace no longer really gives a shit about whether things are true or not. In a climate like that, saying in public that you believe in something that everybody 100% absolutely knows for sure is bullshit is a great way, maybe even the only way of making people notice again and pay attention to truth’s inherent superiority over falsehood.
I’ll give you another example. Maybe you noticed that Bigfoot has been on the rise lately. There’s Bigfoot documentaries all over Netflix, the show “Finding Bigfoot” is on its eighth season, there’s popular Bigfoot people on Youtube and Twitter. And the International Bigfoot Conference is bigger and better than ever.
Mostly just mentioned them so I could show their logo, which is just so, so awesome.
Bigfoot as a theory is generally regarded by most people as pretty dumb, maybe not quite as dumb as flat earth theory, but still pretty dumb. So why the sudden uptick in Bigfoot shit over the past few years? I’ve noticed that it seems to coincide pretty closely with the public debate over climate change and climate change denial. I think the Bigfoot people are doing a sort of ecological version of the same sort of thing Shaq is doing with flat earth; they’re saying “if you can simply deny that this horrible natural catastrophe is happening, when mountains of evidence prove its existence, you’re essentially saying that empirical evidence itself, as a means of verifying truth, is irrelevant. If we grant that, why can’t I say that Bigfoot is real? There’s no evidence, but as far as you’re concerned, evidence doesn’t matter. So how will you criticize my stance without revealing yourself as a hypocrite?”
That’s what I think is going on, anyway, but maybe I’m being a little too cerebral about it. Let me know what you think.
As a palate cleanser, I’d like to point you to something that’s kind of the reverse of the flat earth theory. This is the theory proposed by the wacky late-19th century religious group, Koreshanity. According to their cosmology, the earth is indeed round, but it’s hollow, and we live on the inside. The sun and stars and all that we see in the sky are contained in the middle of the sphere and we live on its inner surface, whereas outside the sphere there is nothing at all, or as Cyrus Teed (aka Koresh) put it, “Inside the shell there is life, outside a void.”
There’s a lot we don’t know, and a lot of what we think we know isn’t real. Reason, open-mindedness, and compassion are. Let’s use them whenever we can. Have a good weekend.