Belief can be the “community organizer” for people who have no need to meet.
For some curious reason, undoubtedly linked to what could be called the growing existential crisis around the notion of truth in the media, certain news outlets have taken to giving serious play to the outlandish belief that the Earth is flat. In 2016, Kyrie Irving, a famous NBA player, born in Australia and traveling across time zones in the US practically on a daily basis, solemnly affirmed his belief that the Earth was flat. This became a major news story, with opinions elicited from other sports celebrities. More recently, Irving revealed that it was all a hoax. He did it as a “social experiment” to prove how inclined people (and the media) were to exploit it as a source of “division.”
In recent days, numerous media have followed the drama of the engineer who has decided to launch himself on the back of a homemade rocket to take pictures from the air to prove that the Earth is flat. Wishing to deepen our understanding of this critical debate, Newsweek has just published its interviews with two believers who seek to enlighten us about who they are and how they think: “You’ll find in the community, there are a lot of people that have a lot of differences.”
So, where is this community, and how does it think and work?
Here is today’s 3D definition:
When it is not defined geographically, ethnically, politically, genetically or socially, a community can be a random collection of people who happen to have the same skewed view of anything, including astronomy, furries and the true author of Shakespeare’s plays, especially if such ideas or obsessions make no sense to the rest of society. Unlike most mortals, such people have no need to meet, exchange, speak the same language or otherwise communicate to form a community.
At a time when many Western nations are struggling with the notion of “communitarianism” in the context of the debate on multiculturalism, the idea that irrational beliefs and fetishes are enough to create a community seriously complicates the discussion. In the first case, the community is defined by two things: the possession of a common culture, religion and often language, with a set of established traditions inherited from previous generations as well as geography, to the extent that communities tend to form in certain areas of the urban landscape, but by attraction and rejection, as the host society often “prefers” to protect its own dominant community.
The “existential crisis” referred to above appears in some ways to be an unconscious parody of postmodern orthodoxy, which for many is interpreted as the idea that nothing can be taken as proven to be true, the corollary of which is that every idea — however contrary to common sense — is worth exploring. The media have been fueling this crisis because it sounds so sensational. But this also reflects a crisis in education, possibly spawned by the push by some legislators to teach the equivalence of creationism and evolution, presented as alternative theories. This ultimately justifies the idea of contesting the validity of any of the established principles of science.
In the context of US culture, where beliefs so often lead to a sense of mission — a need to convert those who do not believe — many people feel compelled to form a militant pressure group. And they are rewarded by the media, who expertly play the game of reporting on a “debate” as if all positions were equivalent, presumably to demonstrate their journalistic objectivity. It’s win-win for the media, as they will attract the audience that’s passionate about the issue on one side or the other, as well as the mass of people who get enjoyment out of the feeling of superiority with regard to the naive promoters of absurd ideas.
This false objectivity and theoretical relativism helps to explain the truth crisis that has come to dominate US politics, where a president calls everything he doesn’t like (or that doesn’t like him) “fake news” and an opposing party, the Democrats, claims that the truth has been undermined by omnipresent Russians.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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