Covid-19 and the Flat-Earthers

Miguel Calmon du Pin e Almeida


Disregarding all evidence around us, there are still people who, in the 21st century, believe that the Earth is flat. They fight against the possibility of being fooled by abstract, digital models that show what cannot be seen to the naked eye. In their opinion, these models are deceitful and can lead people to believe in anything. If what they see appears as a flat surface, the Earth must be flat.

By rejecting science and scientists, these hyper-simplistic narratives try to explain a world whose complexity becomes more evident in times of uncertainty and of personal opinion’s enthroning. Their main source material are personal posts on social media that, by going viral, replace truth and rebuff all arguments that contradict them.

Each element of this information network is based on a different piece of fake news. Together, nevertheless, they build an ordered whole that has its internal logic and represents a world view filled with certitudes. As with every lie, in its absolute demand for coherence and conviction, within the flat Earth ideology, there is no space for whatever doubt or questioning. Their backers believe that they simply present an objectified truth. However, such a process does not stop at the construction of a parallel reality; it has a method too, and its bibliography comes from social media.

In order to understand how Brazil is facing the new coronavirus’s pandemic, we need to dive into a parallel Brazil – one for flat-earthers only. In this parallel country, for example, ‘gender ideology is a strategy aiming to turn our children into homosexuals’ [1]. Or else, according to Brazil’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the World Health Organization’s labeling of the new conoravirus’s outbreak as a global pandemic is inconspicuously ‘at the service of the implementation of communism around the world’[2], since it suggests the adoption of collaborative practices.

Similarly, all recent research advising against the indiscriminate use of chloroquine in the treatment of Covid-19 is bluntly disregarded. This ‘little flu’[3], defend the flat-earthers, does not cause a significant increase in the number of deaths when compared to previous years. In fact, they insist, if there is any increase, it is due to the action of people trying to inflate the number of deaths by ‘burying coffins filled with stones’ [4] in order to discredit and, thus, destabilize President Bolsonaro’s administration. Also, they go on, people do not die from Covid-19 but, in reality, from other diseases. However, doctors who also want to exaggerate the numbers in order to debilitate the government’s performance ‘fraud death certificates’[5].

And of course – allow me a hint of irony – Brazil will only face an economic crisis with violent repercussions in terms of unemployment because of the saboteurs intending to destabilize the Federal government. That is why the president, zealous of his functions and aiming to protect the Brazilian people, does not stop repeating that he will not accept to be blamed for the results of this crisis. If it depended on his will, the country would not have stopped. The social isolation strategy (recommended worldwide by WHO) is useless and only intends to undermine his administration and generate a serious economic crisis. Therefore, despite the recommendations of his own Ministry of Health, Brazil’s president goes out in the streets without wearing a facemask, promotes agglomerations, and shakes hands with those who he meets. The fact that the whole Europe has stopped, the whole of the Americas has stopped, as well as a good part of Asia, is not mentioned. For the flat-earthers, Brazil’s parallel reality does not cross the other parallel dimensions.

The way they respond to questioning is disconcerting and disorienting. Full of certainties, they allow no dialogue. For flat-earthers, it is a war. Counterarguments are lethal weapons since, in the polarized universe where they live, it would be necessary to prove that the world they invented for themselves does not exist. It means proving that they are lying. Therefore, every conversation assumes the form of a life or death, moral struggle.

On the 15th May, yet another Minister of Health left amid the pandemics, after holding the post for only 28 days! The reason for his departure: Brazil’s president believes chloroquine can prevent light Covid-19 cases, which, in his non-expert opinion, makes it the best way to control the pandemic – the very pandemic, by the way, that he called ‘a little flu’. The then Minister – a doctor – in face of research that contradicts the president’s ‘thesis’, refused to sign a protocol allowing the indiscriminate use of chloroquine. For the same reason, the previous Minister of Health had been discharged.

Thus goes the parallel country invented by flat-earthers.

The health crisis caused by the pandemic has serious humanitarian, social, and economic consequences, demanding all sorts of efforts from the whole population. On top of that, the crossing of such a crisis with the further risk of tearing the social fabric adds fear, insecurity, and uncertainty to something already defined by fear, insecurity, and uncertainty.

Psychoanalysis helped the subversion of the world’s order when it proposed that the man was not the master of his own domain. Something of his very functioning escaped his consciousness and determined a set of actions and feelings. Freud named Chapter 7 of his Interpretation of Dreams ‘The psychology of the dream activities’. That is, although isolated in a world that ignores consciousness, the dream activities have a psychology.

A great deal of this subversion was due to the fact that it ruptured with a long thinking tradition based on the logic of non-contradiction – i.e. something cannot be itself and its opposite: either it is, or it is not. Today, we accept that, in our dreams, this possibility materializes. But only in the dreams – or in madness… Would it be mad to believe that every process of understanding admits such a contradiction?

The main problem in the face of this tragic question is formulated by Edgar Morin in An Introduction to Complex Thinking and reopened for us (psychoanalysts) by André Green in Challenges of Psychoanalysis in the Dawn of the 21st Century. Morin proposes that ‘it is time to become aware of the contemporary pathology of thinking’ and that ‘the modern mental pathology is in the hyper-simplification that blinds one to the complexity of reality… The theory’s disease is in the indoctrination and in the dogmatism, which close the theory in itself and petrify it.’

This is what regards us. We, psychoanalysts, in order to maintain the vigor of our theories and avoid the risk of hardening our practice, are constantly summoned to free psychoanalysis from psychoanalysis for psychoanalysis.

[1] President Bolsonaro’s statement in September 19th, 2019.
[2] Minister Ernesto Araújo’s personal blog (April 22nd, 2020).
[3] President Bolsonaro’s statement in March 24th, 2020.
[4] Denounced as fake news in April 30th, 2020.
[5] Denounced as fake news in May 14th, 2020.

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