Cold Light of Day, by Justin E. H. Smith

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From an interview with Sam Kriss conducted by Justin E. H. Smith for The Point’s What Is X? podcast, which was released in May. Flat-earthers are conspiracy theorists who believe the earth is an intelligently designed disk surrounded by an ice wall.

sam kriss: The thing about flat-earth theory is that our experiential relation to the universe is that the earth is flat. I remember being told as a child on the beach looking out at the sea, “Oh, you can see the curvature of the horizon.” As a matter of fact you cannot. It is actually impossible to ever see the curvature of the horizon. People have known that the earth is round for a very long time—Plato describes it. But the roundness of the earth has always been abstracted from human experience. It’s a piece of instrumental reason, as it were. It’s a brute fact that doesn’t relate to the human sense of being in the world. Modern flat-earthers came out of the mid to late nineteenth century with the explosion of the Industrial Revolution. People were being enslaved as never before, to the steam engine and the clockwork mechanisms of the world. And flat-earth seems to me a way to claw back a certain sovereignty over reality, to be able to go: “My experience of the world is such and this is important.” Much of the enslavement of human beings by machines depended on the roundness of the earth in the sense that it was all for rapidly expanding global trades. The round earth is a disenchanted earth. What’s very interesting about flat-earthers is the way that they describe their flat earth. It’s very cozy, it is our home. It was designed for us. A flat earth does not emerge through natural processes. A flat earth is a nurturing home for human beings and a round earth is a ball of exploitable materials.

justin e. h. smith: They want to take back the way that living on earth feels, primordially. I can remind myself however many times I want of how many stars there are in the galaxy, how many galaxies in the galaxy cluster, how many galaxy clusters in a supercluster, and so on. I’m aware of the numbers involved. And yet if you were to wake me up in the middle of the night and say, “How many stars are there?” I would probably say, “Uh, I don’t know. Three hundred? Four hundred?” It’s just so natural to me to think in terms of the visible night sky.

kriss: Yeah, I think flat-earthers broadly want to live in a world in which their human life has meaning. One of the baser conspiratorial elements of the theory is that the globe-earth lie is propounded so that people will believe their lives are meaningless. And it is very important to believe our lives have meaning. I tend to think of a conspiracy theory as a kind of metaphor in the sense that it has been literalized in a way. Some kind of sentiment about the world is being presented. My approach to a lot of this stuff is literary, where what I deal with is the text. And the text is often very beautiful, or, you know, very inventive or creative or wonderful. Take the LED sun theory, for instance—

smith: Tell me about this.

kriss: The LED sun theorists are a very minor community. They don’t have conferences. But the idea is that the sun burnt itself out some time ago and no longer exists. And that to stop us from panicking, the powers that be have installed a giant artificial light bulb in the sky. And you can tell that this is not actually our true sun because the quality of the light that shines from it is subtly different. Our sun was warm and yellow and the sunsets more colorful, and it was a more nurturing sun. And the sunlight object that shines above us now is a cold white LED. And these people share these kind of very touching reminiscences of their childhood under the yellow sun. “I miss the old sun.”

smith: When did the switch take place?

kriss: Basically the switch took place when you lost your innocence and left childhood behind.

smith: Right, yeah.

kriss: It seems to communicate something. Like Kafka in one of his aphorisms, this is an entirely different place, which is lit by another sun. We are living our lives under a different light. Things are disclosed to us differently than they ought to be.


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