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538. The army (V)

I popped out for some curtain hooks and found myself at an out-of-town shopping centre; on the side of the home improvement store, someone had scrawled in spray paint: “Search flat earth.” This was a few years ago, when the “flat earth meme” was at its height; and it is true, the earth is flat. This will upset certain people, certain people who will snort that this was obviously disproved centuries ago—so that only the terminally online and brain-mushed black boxers, such as Mike Tyson, could believe such a thing. “He’s just doing it for attention.”

Modernity has a birthday: 1567—from then on most European countries began to mark the new year from January 1st, not Easter. It was a replacement and a return: Christ’s resurrection was swapped for the old Roman custom that the year began on the first of January. The French had made the change slightly earlier, the French being a very modern people; and perhaps that decision explains their bloody revolution and long red ebb to nullity. From 1567 onwards, Christendom was at an end, the Renaissance was underway, and modernity beckoned. Now it is 455 years old, not so old—though perhaps old enough for another change.

Calendars count and count than in more ways than one; as Burroughs observed, the Mayan calendar was itself an elaborate control mechanism, a time travel device. As with the Mayans, so with us: if you start the year with Christ’s resurrection then that orders your entire society, if you start with a long-forgotten Roman custom then that is another order altogether. Would New Year’s Eve feel the same in April? No, every action would be quite different.

At about the same time as we marked the new year in a new way, we forgot that the earth is a plain—when viewed from a certain perspective. When you drive your plough beneath Orion on a crisp November morning—an early, early farmer’s morning—you feel that the earth is a plain covered by a black dome, perhaps a heavenly river will turn your field into a flood plain. The various constellations above you tell when to plant or sow; actually, they tell you—and the local wise woman—about deaths, births, and marriages. The trees have messages too; they have their own language, just as contemporary semiologists chart implicit sexio-racial power relationships in Bulgari ads. There is a language to trees and stars, a language of visual rhymes—when a leaf falls on your foot as you trudge back from the fields it means Old Man Geoffeys, so long sick, has died.

This heavenly celestial order, partly predicated on the earth’s plain and the stellar canopy, cannot be called incorrect. There were geniuses in past ages, forgotten Keplers and Newtons in Egypt. They had a genius for nature’s semiotics, for sympathetic magic—for the way the stars rhymed with the flat earth below, the stars being gods as it happens. This knowledge was not nothing, it was very sophisticated; even today, people struggle to grasp it. Graham Hancock, who popularises ideas along these lines, still forces everything back to the modernistic worldview—the only one the public understands. Hence “a catastrophe in Heaven” must mean, for Hancock, a cautionary prediction as regards an actual comet strike; really, Noah’s flood was not a literal flood—it was a flood in the Heavens, a celestial shift that dissolved one aeon and heralded another. This did not necessarily mean physical disaster on earth, just a precessional move to a new sensibility.

So it is not contradictory to hold that the earth is both flat and spherical; it could be said that “the earth” is flat, whereas “the Earth” is spheroid. Those militant graffiti artists and memetic warriors who are partisans for the flat earth are not so idiotic, though they are still probably too modern—too willing to shoehorn the flat earth into modernity, though it will never fit; it is its own true world.

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