Living in my comfy bubble of music appreciation, I had thought myself insulated here against the manic idiocy on display in a culture that has willfully separated belief from facts—like believing in a caravan of vicious immigrants coming to do harm, or believing that removing assault weapons from the hands of average citizens means that “they’re coming for your guns.” It’s a vicious cycle, because at the same time, facts then become things that don’t have to be believed. The end result—and boy will historians have a field day with the current generation, if there are any historians left—is that flagrantly misinformed people may believe themselves possessed of great knowledge, while simultaneously accusing those who actually work hard at collecting and analyzing factual information as being the hoaxsters.
Oh it’s a wonderful formula. This is how the current American president can time and again accuse news organizations—staffed by people who are trained in the actual skills of gathering and reporting on actual occurrences—of being “fake,” while he himself utters lies in a more or less continual stream. This is not partisan information this is actual reality; the fact that anyone might think this is a partisan swipe shows how successfully facts have been degraded in our present moment.
Anyway, as I said, here in my sheltered world of listening and writing about music, I have felt removed from this otherwise stubborn problem of what might be called intellectual pollution—until a few days ago, when I received an email from a musician announcing a “Revolutionary Music Submission,” offering a “story of unrivalled [sic] and unprecedented significance.” This turns out to be a song that, according to the email, “forever disproves the proofless spinning globe Earth theory.” It’s an email about how the Earth is flat, in other words, complete with an accompanying explanatory song.
“I realize you may find this proven reality difficult to accept,” the email, quite reasonably, goes on to say. After that, not as much reasonableness; the note continues: “It’s time to wake up, detach oneself from the mainstream media matrix of deception, realize the scientifically proven truth and accept it. This important informative song needs to be heard by every human alive who is not already awakened & aware.”
I’m not going to name names because the point isn’t to quarrel with one random guy with off-kilter beliefs. And I suppose I should have read it and shrugged it off. “People!: what are you gonna do?,” and so forth. But it bothered the hell out of me. Even here, even here, there’s a guy insisting that reality is fake, a guy so drunk on the democratization of opinion (thanks, Twitter!) that he proudly asserts that the experts who study the universe and reproduce observations under properly controlled conditions are the ones pulling the wool over our eyes, while he, musician-guy, he is the one who sees to the truth of the matter, he is the one offering (and I quote) “scientifically proven truth.”
(Side note: this same flat-earth proponent has more than 33,000 Twitter followers.) (Extra side note: I suppose there’s always the chance that this guy is some sort of troll-cum-performance-artist, who doesn’t believe a word of what he’s saying. This is a side ring in the circus of our so-called “post-truth” era: provocateurs purposefully spreading hoaxes, just for laughs. Maybe this is what Andy Kaufman would be doing were he still alive, who can say.)
And look, I know that music has been used in the service of all sorts of nefarious schemes. But my long-standing gesture to the world with Fingertips has been to offer a place of support and solace and tolerance and (I’ll say it) beauty. As such, I feel sullied by the existence of this particular email. Hey, I can stomach all sorts of dopey songs and hype-heavy press releases. The people behind such things may be producing music I don’t care for, but at least they’re doing their best, living here in the real world. But this “Wake up, sheeple!” flat-earth email made me sad, first, and then angry. Angry at the world we have created with our technology, which has mindlessly empowered all sorts of ignorance and malevolence. Who could have anticipated, back in 1989, when we were celebrating, with a hopeful surge, the destruction of the Berlin Wall that all too soon in its place would be constructed not a physical wall but metaphorical one, aimed at disuniting fact from belief, and that, all too soon, forces of greed would rise to weaponize this wall. Misinformation is right at the top of the list of tools used by the corrupt to gain and maintain power. (Walls are another.)
Meanwhile, outside of the bubble of insanity fostered by online algorithms, real scientists remain at work. Just this week a group of astrophysicists unveiled the first-ever photograph of an actual black hole (see above). To the Flat Earth stalwarts, this must look like just another bit of fakery, and as such more evidence of a vast conspiracy to push this Round Earth idea down the throats of the masses. To me, this is proof of the actual mystery of the universe, which is far grander and more pervasive and unfathomable than the feeble concept of reality promoted by people obsessed with denying the accuracy of provable information.
One last question occurs to me: What is the conspiracy here?? I mean, conspiracy theories by necessity are grounded in the idea of hidden powerful people pulling unseen strings for their own evil purposes. So: who is making money and/or accruing power off faking the idea of a round earth, and keeping it going for 2,000 years? I guess that Aristotle really pulled a fast one and made out like a bandit, deducing from assumptions he found logical in his own place and time that the planet we live on—like all other observable heavenly bodies, I should note—is round. About the saddest thing going here is that this doesn’t make any sense as a conspiracy in the first place.
But, obviously, sense is not the operative element. It doesn’t make any sense that a grown man with a concrete track record as an amoral con man, with a demonstrable record of bankruptcies and scams and sexual harrassment to his credit, was elected president of the United States either. Abandon sense all ye who enter the 2010s. The world as we knew it ended on 11/9/16, no 150-foot ice wall around the flat edge of our ailing planet necessary (look it up if you must). And, as of now, with apologies to Michael Stipe, I don’t feel all that fine.