The Shia LeBeouf Paradox clearly states that no matter how out-there you think you are, there’s always someone further out on a limb. Sure enough, COVID conspiracy theorist Ian Brown began to look positively Whitty-esque this week, when Deftones guitarist Stephen Carpenter appeared on conspiracy podcast Tin Foil Hat With Sam Tripoli, expounding theories that would have Jim Corr organising an intervention.
That Stephen has clearly mistaken ‘virus’ for ‘antibodies’ in his forensic virology research isn’t his only schoolboy error. “There’s never been one single vaccine that’s ever worked ever,” he claimed, reciting the classic anti-vaxx argument that the Polio vaccine – which has reduced global cases by 99 per cent since 1988 – has “never eradicated” the disease. Here they mistake ‘high-efficacy preventative measure’ for ‘cure’.
The dumb is strong in this one, so it was perhaps no surprise for him to also declare himself “a flat Earth guy”. Flat Earthing – or, to use the medical term, ‘disenbraining’ – is unusual in conspiracy theorising in that it bases its logic not on fanciful ideas of shadowy all-powerful puppet-masters (although it resorts to that when it gets stuck) but purely on what it sees with its own eyes. The Earth looks flat from where they’re standing, ergo it must obviously be flat.
It’s a theory that places the direct evidence of the senses and limited personal perspective as paramount above the overwhelming wider evidence. A logic that would have me arguing that decent word rates are a myth, live football is a Sky Sports conspiracy and Mumford & Sons have been a hoax since Glastonbury 2013.
Strictly for the LOLs, let’s linger a moment on the back-of-a-fag-packet thinking behind the flat Earth theory.
In their nonsensical Discworld, the Arctic is at the centre of the Earth and Antarctica forms a 150-foot wall of ice around the outside, guarded by some gargantuan secret army of NASA patrol-people, none of whom anyone has ever met, to stop us trying to jump off. The sun, rather than a gigantic fireball 93 million miles away, is just 32 miles wide and circling the disc at a height of 3000 miles, providing ‘daytime’ across continents like a torch-light as it goes (the stars are just pin-points a hundred miles higher up).
Gravity, meanwhile, is the result of the Earth disc accelerating upwards at 32-feet-per-second squared, propelled by, well, something or other. We’re not part of some glorious cosmic tapestry, it argues, but insects in some circular celestial terrarium.
This can all be debunked in a single word: ‘seasons’. Not to mention ‘eclipses’, ‘sunsets’, ‘constellations’, ‘time zones’, mountains appearing to rise out of the ocean as you sail towards them and the fact that, despite being just 3,000 miles away, we can’t see the sun shining on the ‘day’ zone at night, as we would the light from a spotlight in a theatre.
Believing only the evidence of their own eyes also means that flat Earthers have to dismiss the slightly more complicated evidence of their own eyes. It also relies on the sworn secrecy, for no real reason, of the makers of millions of rigged aviation GPS devices, and on NASA having bought off Aristotle, Eratosthenes, Galileo, Francis Drake and Yuri Gagarin, and tucked Michael Palin a hefty bung to be on the safe side.
All of which hasn’t stopped music’s most red-pilled minds leaping on the idea of the Earth as God’s mankiest vinyl copy of ‘Highway To Hell’. In 2015 rapper B.o.B. posted a photo of two distant cities 16 miles apart and daring Twitter to spot the curve (of approximately nine feet) between them. He’s since launched a GoFundMe to raise $1million for a satellite to prove the planet is flat, even though a remote camera on a high-altitude weather balloon could prove the opposite for a couple of hundred quid.
Ostensibly, Carpenter’s views seem cranky but harmless. Historically, musicians have had a free pass on outlandish opinion and bizarre beliefs; we’ve revelled in their UFO sightings, ghostly encounters and exotic acid spiritualities. But when they start to align with dangerous trends in anti-scientific misinformation, they stop being hyper-real communication nodes with the supernatural and start becoming mouthpieces for an age intent on sowing confusion and discontent by undermining clear, apparent truths and virtues: astronomy, biology, democracy.
In uncertain times, music fans look to the bands they love for some level of sense and guidance; this isn’t the time to help tilt the planet into chaos.