Vox Day sort of denies he is a flat earther

I say “sort of” because he really doesn’t believe the Earth is more or less spherical. One of Day’s recruits to his video streaming thing has been the comedian Owen Benjamin https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owen_Benjamin. Benjamin had the beginnings of a Hollywood career including co-starring with Christina Ricci in an obscure film in 2009. However, his career got derailed by his increasingly extreme views. These days Benjamin pushes extreme anti-Semitic conspiracy theories which amount to a kind of unified theory in which her thinks everybody is trying to make you believe lies about the moon landing etcetera as part of a Satanic plot. It’s the usual nexus of anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia with epistemic paranoia. The central theory is that people are lying about everything to make you believe lies in general.

What’s interesting here is that Day appears to be following Benjamin down the same path. Not that Day also doesn’t push the same kind of fallen-world anti-Semitic nonsense but that he’s being more open about how out there some of his beliefs about the world are — including flat earthism.

The specific pretext is this 2012 interview with a NASA data visualisation person: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/about/people/RSimmon.html The interview explains how he helped create an image of one hemisphere of the Earth as seen from space by stitching together multiple higher resolution images of Earth. Aha! Say the flat Earthers, Manipulation! Lies! etc etc.

It’s something you see a lot from falt-earth to vaccine denial to global warming denial: a rejection of any data, images, graphs etc that relies on any kind of inference or data cleaning etc. The demand is for evidence that is an unfiltered capture of external reality — which is impossible. Heck, not only is it impossible but which we know is myth at least since the time of Plato. What you see out of your own eyes is stitched together and processed and inferred.

Day sums up his position:

“Notice that ALL of the hemisphere photography we think we’ve seen has turned out to be nonexistent. It’s becoming clear that from the evolution fairy tale to the Blue Marble fraud to the dinosaur fraud and the satellite myth, the world is very, very different than we have been told it is. What is the point? To deceive you into serving Satan rather than God.”

Interestingly he gets a lot more pushback in his comments than he normally does. I guess even Day’s followers aren’t keen to adopt a flat-earth although structurally it’s no different than the anti-vaxx and anti-evolution stuff Day peddles.

In the comments Day responds with a weak equivocation:

“VD October 24, 2019 12:20 PM Jesus… The earth is not flat. What part of “fraud is being committed concerning X” leads you to immediately conclude that this means “Therefore Y”? I don’t believe the Earth is flat. But I don’t believe the mainstream narrative concerning the nature of the Earth either, because it contains too many lies. Binary thinking is usually a serious mistake.”

The “mainstream narrative” here being that the world is more-or-less spherical.

Unfortunately Day really does need to engage in some binary thinking here. Just by visiting different places in the world we can quickly observe that whatever curvature the Earth has it’s pretty much the same everywhere. Sure big mountains are pointy and oceans are flat but in both places you can observe that whatever is going on it’s pretty much the same everywhere. That is seriously limiting to the range of possibilities for the curvature of the Earth. A flat or curved disc with an inaccessible underneath would have edges with a radically different curvature. Any shape that you could circumnavigate, if it wasn’t basically a sphere, would have some spots with extreme curvature that frankly everybody would have noticed i.e. the Earth really isn’t a cube.

A sphere isn’t just one option among many for the shape of a thing. It’s a particularly special shape. If you want a uniform (more or less) curvature and no edges, then let’s just say your options are limited. Or…maybe the devil is making me say that…

61 thoughts on “Vox Day sort of denies he is a flat earther

  1. In recent months I’ve watched a bunch of videos by guys who debunk flat-earther claims on Youtube, exposing the various elements of fraud and sheer utter incompetence involved. As someone who last paid much attention to flat earthers in the early ’90s, the Fringes of Reason/High Weirdness By Mail era, I was profoundly startled to see how much that scene had changed culturally and stylistically. It had clearly gotten subsumed into the wider reactionary movement of our times.

    I’ve been saying for a little while now that I expect to see flat earth doctrines become more popular among the MAGA crowd in the US and its counterparts elsewhere. They’ve got everything such assholes want: the veneration of old, long disproved dogmas from previous centuries [1]; obsessive attention to isolated details in the vast sea of contradictory facts; opportunities to throw around big technical-sounding words with no real grasp of what any of them mean or signify; LARPing of Richard Feynman’s speech on “Cargo Cult Science”; the whole “being a persecuted minority that is also about to take over the world and crush our enemies” thing as per Umberto Eco’s characteristics of ur-fascism; stupid ignorant hateful followers keen to give them money. Oh, and the rejection of things like gravity in favor of “relative bouyancy disequilibrium”.

    So I’m completely unsurprised to see Day making the trip. I expect he’ll go all the way, and that lots of others like him will do the same.

    1: The indispensable reading for people curious about the context is Jeffrey Burton Russell’s book Inventing The Flat Earth. Russell, a historian probably best known for his multi-volume history of ideas about the nature of supreme evil, shows that belief, or rather recognition of the fact, in the roundness and size of the Earth was ubiquitous among educated folks for a really long time. The charge that they believed anything else developed in the 17th-19th century among some of the rationalists and other intellectuals of the time out to establish themselves firmly as protectors of noble truth against the howling errors of their opponents. It was a time for lots of lies from the same individuals and communities as part of the same general project.

    Things got ironic when anti-rationalist anti-skeptical champions of what would gradually become fundamentalism took up such ideas and made them part of their own dogma. Toxic groups bouncing off each other ended up creating convictions that really hadn’t existed in anything like that way before. Shades of Foucault’s Pendulum, to bring Eco into this again.

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    1. Eco (who weirdly is one of Vox Day’s literary heroes) really did see all this coming: the resurgent fascism and the capacity for people to delude themselves. I really should do a long essay on Foucault’s Pendulum (which is itself a demonstration of the Earth’s rotation & sphericality if you set one up at multiple latitudes)

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      1. Oh, you’ll like this, Camestros. Now, you won’t be surprised to hear that flat earthers passionately hate Foucault’s pendulum for its beautiful, elegant demonstration of the truth. Anthony Riley, one of the big names in that small pond of Dunning-Kruger exemplars, decided at one point to do an ad hominem hit piece on Foucault. So he produced a video attacking Michel Foucault, based on Wikipedia and some screed by one of the “postmodernism is Satan and all recent humanities are postmodernist” right-winger types. Not Léon Foucault, the pendulum’s inventor.

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    2. I may have to look up that book about the creation of the flat-earth idea, because it touches on something that I have been wondering about for awhile. The Divine Comedy was written around 1308-1320 AD, and Dante clearly believes the earth is round; not only does he use that roundness in constructing the poem he describes time zones (as in, it’s dawn in Place A, noon at Place B, and sunset at Place C, all at the same time) and the behavior of circumpolar stars as an observer moves towards the equator. So if it was common knowledge then, why would it have become unknown in later years?

      From what you say, it didn’t.

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      1. Nancy Sauer: Excuse if I jump in, but it wasn’t forgotten. The idea that learned people in the Middle Ages though the earth was flat was more or less invented in the late 18th or early 19th century. Columbus critics were not against his ideas because they thought the earth was flat, but because they thought the distance to far. And they were right; without the Americas being where they are, Columbus and his men would have died.

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  2. in 1991, I was part of the crew which took HMCS Mackenzie from Victoria to Auckland, Sydney and several other places in the Pacific Ocean. The courses we set during the trip depended on the Earth not being flat. If instead the Earth was flat, we’d never have gotten where we were going. Therefore I have proof that the Earth is not flat.

    The problem for the Flat-Earthers is that the proof depends on knowing how to navigate, and it also takes a couple of weeks so their attention spans would not make it through the trip.

    And of course Teddy isn’t interested in actual, real-world proofs that disprove his fantasies.

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    1. It’s also why he’s going for some bizarre “Not Flat, But Not a Sphere!” stance right now.

      So he can feel special.

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      1. I mean, technically it’s an oblate spheroid, but…
        Well akshuly, if we’re insisting on dividing rabbits, it’s really a Geoid.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. One of the active Youtube debunkers, Wolfie6020, is an Australian who’s a commercial pilot. He does fascinating videos on things like how commercial aircraft’s HUD displays work. At least one more, Bob the Science Guy, is an amateur pilot (and, we learned just recently, part of Michigan’s medical marijuana program as a physician and the person responsible for successfully advocating for PTSD as a condition eligible for medical marijuana, which makes him a hero in my eyes). Their explanations about flight give the flat earthers fits, as you may well imagine.

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      1. Pilots know that the Earth isn’t flat.Like Sailors, they have to use that fact to get where they’re going. Unlike Sailors, they can fly straight over Antarctica to get from South America to South Africa or Australia. They can take films, and their journeys take much less time than weeks, which is good when dealing with the Flat-Earthers’ limited attention spans.

        Astronauts can do the trip in minutes, They’re pilots who go really high and fast 🙂

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  3. And of course, the ultimate proof that the Earth is not flat. If it was, cats would have pushed everything off of it centuries ago.

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      1. Earthquakes are not in fact caused by crustal plates colliding. They’re caused by the cumulative effects of everything cats knock off of tables each day. The waves reverberate throughout the Mantle and are magnified by the core until they reach a point where they’re felt at thin spots in the Earth’s crust.

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  4. So if it’s not flat and it’s not a sphere, what shape does Beale think the Earth is?

    I always thought that Beale was mainly opportunistic, wanting to rise up in the right-wing “sphere,” with a side order of theocracy. But this sounds like he’s paranoid and superstitious.

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    1. He’s all of the above. Yes, he’s opportunistic and attention-seeking, but he’s also getting high off his own supply, so to speak–there’s a level on which he genuinely believes this bullshit.

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      1. Following the lead of Harry Frankfurt’s excellent essay “On Bullshit”, I think there comes a point where there’s no real meaningful distinction between “what I’m saying at the moment to get you to do something” and “what I believe”, in a lot of cases. For people like Beale, the attitude of superiority – individual superiority, sexism, racism, homophobia, the works – is real and fundamental, and everything else comes and goes.

        Click to access frankfurt__harry_-_on_bullshit.pdf

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    2. Yes. I think it is also a way of establishing sincerity. Day in particular does many things that should invite distrust in normal human interaction. By adopting an absurd stance on something that can only harm his reputation as a thinker, he demonstrates that he has no ulterior motive. A liar wouldn’t say something obviously false therefore he’s telling the truth <- yes, that makes no actual sense

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    3. Possibly he believes it has no actual shape? That it is something like a computer simulation, where the observed bits have whatever shape they appear to have to observers, but it makes no sense to ask what is the shape of the thing as a whole?

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  5. He flirts with a lot of crazy without putting a ring on it: holocaust denial, moon landing was a hoax, creationism, Pizzagate, the Berenstein/Berenstain bears thing, and now this. I truly can’t decide if he’s just nuts but doesn’t want to fully commit in public or if he’s just a trust fund troll who enjoys jerking his “Ilk” around.

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    1. In the ’90s, I became friends with several folks active in the Discordian and Sub-Genius scene of the time, who were much given to ironically trolling on behalf of all kinds of stupid, malign causes. To a one, they all insisted that of course they would never fall for any such thing themselves, and claimed that the practice in fact helped them maintain their skepticism and intellectual freedom. “Convictions make convicts” and all that jazz.

      A quarter century later, one of them has given it up as a dangerous as well as foolish game, and is a strong supporter of a bunch of worthwhile left-wing causes, and deploys his humor in ways that don’t require pretending to be part of the problem. Every single one of the others is now a sincerely committed MAGA-brand right-winger.

      When I encountered Kurt Vonnegut’s line in Mother London, “We become what we pretend. So we must be very careful what we pretend.”, I was prepared to say, “You know it”, in response. Because I did know it, having watched it consume some people I used to like and bracing myself (with justification, alas) to see more of it in years to come.

      We know that Beale thinks of himself as a genuinely superior person above all the fray and folly that we lesser mortals are prey to. So did my old acquaintances. It’s an outlook that makes one especially vulnerable in some ways, I think.

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      1. Yes, to switch quotes to Feynman: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.” Assuming that you’re more clever than everybody else and can’t be fooled is one way to guarantee that you will be, because you’ll refuse to admit it afterward.

        See also, pretty much everybody from the Intellectual Dark Web that was commented on earlier.

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  6. As a point of fact, aren’t the images from DSCOVR’s EPIC camera exactly the pure hemisphere photos he’s claiming don’t exist? Or is using just the RGB from a ten channel camera too artificial for him?

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  7. I recall reading some research that concluded that once you buy one conspiracy theory, you become more susceptible to others, which in turn makes you more susceptible to buying into more, and so on.

    Beale has bought into a lot of conspiracy theories.

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  8. What I’d like to know is, what happened to Beale’s near-slavish devotion to Aristotle? Who quite clearly knew what shape the Earth is…. The ancient Greeks, of course, managed to work out the shape and size of the Earth with some accuracy, using nothing more than sticks, holes in the ground, observations of the heavenly bodies, and general cleverness. Beale can muster, well, three out of the four himself, can’t he?

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  9. Is he still promoting the binary thinking that serving God is always better than serving Satan?

    And, if so, does he actually believe it, or is he just telling his ilk what he thinks they want to hear?

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  10. A creationist and former columnist for the Worldnet Daily whose sovereign citizen father is if I recall correctly in jail for tax evasion and threatening a judge is also a flat earther? Color me shocked. (I think it’s kind of a pale purple.)

    I look forward to him rejecting all post-Aristotlean science.

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  11. I would guess he is going for spherical earth geocentrism. He can then show that he understands arguments about curvature, but is at the same time able to conspiratorialy denounce NASAs heliocentrism. Thus he can show himself smarter than everyone, and on top of that keep Aristotle.

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  12. I have seen diagrams based on medieval philosophers that theorised using the bible in ways that are not exactly straightforward, suggesting that the Earth is shaped like an elongated dome, like the lid of a chest. This would neatly combine the problems of a flat Earth with the complications of a spherical* one.

    * Oblate whatever, Geoid etc.

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    1. Medieval philosophers generally knew the earth was round, so I am quite curious of what you are talking about.

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      1. Okay what I thought I was remembering was the idea that Earth is the same shape as the Tabernacle*, the tent that god lived in between the exodus from Egypt until the Israelites conquered and settled in Canaan. Or rather that the Tabernacle was in the shape of the Earth, that having been created earlier. Having actually gone and done some research, it seems that this was the idea of Cosmas Indicopluestes in the 6th century, trying to debunk the ideas of the pagan Greeks, and he had a flat earth that he put inside a tabernacle shaped universe. Even at the time this was considered eccentric.

        * The word I had forgotten

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  13. Y’know, I had an idea that Vox was, well, not smart, but not really stupid either. I mean, he mentioned Aristotle! Okay, he didn’t understand Aristotle, but it meant he knew that mentioning Aristotle makes you sound smart — it showed movement in the right direction. And when he writes, his grammar is actually better than the average internet troll’s, though the logic behind the writing can make you run screaming into the night.

    Now I see I was far too charitable. The man is no smarter than a US president — well, if you limit your sampling of US presidents to the current one, anyway.

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  14. “I mean, he mentioned Aristotle! Okay, he didn’t understand Aristotle, but it meant he knew that mentioning Aristotle makes you sound smart — it showed movement in the right direction. ”

    Otto West : Apes don’t read philosophy.

    Wanda : Yes they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it. Now let me correct you on a couple of things, OK? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not “Every man for himself.” And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up.

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  15. I’ve long suspected that the earth is actually a polyhedron with sides so small it merely appears to be spherical to the naked eye. Sort of like how we just blindly accept Pac-Man is round despite the obvious jagged pixels around his circumference.

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  16. I once went to a talk by a mathematical physicist who had accidentally inserted himself into a vicious academic argument about trouser universes (a somewhat cylindrical universe that splits into two somewhat cylindrical parts further down (the inevitable simplification for the sake of easier math (exact cylinders) is called a tin man universe, because physicists get a bit like that sometimes)). Since then I have been enchanted by the idea of a trouser shaped reality. Maybe we really are in one and VD is heading down a different leg to everyone else…

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    1. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld includes the concept of the Trousers of Time: a single present with multiple different *pasts*.

      This has a certain plausibility, given how much people argue over history.

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