THE C NSPIRASPHERE
As darkness falls at noon, at least in the United States, NOEL ROONEY looks online for terrifying signs and portents following in the path of totality...
A DANGEROUS 40 DAYS
Once upon a time our ancestors, primitive beings that they were, saw portents of evil in the sky; and a solar eclipse was among the darkest of them. A dragon was eating the Sun; the gods were expressing their anger by withholding the light of life; poison would contaminate any food cooked under the eclipse (although flowers planted under its baleful gaze would bloom with an unnatural brightness). Superstitions attached themselves to the phenomenon right up until relatively modern times: during the solar eclipse of 1818, visible across most of England, whole villages gathered in parish churches and prayed for redemption.
Then came the age of science, of scientism, a harsh spotlight that shattered the webs of myth and ignorance and shone the clean light of knowledge on the mysteries that clouded the minds of the ignorant; now we could see, and understand, that the strange dance of planets above us was nothing more than the turning of senseless gears in a firmament devoid of deity or purpose. The odd fact that our Moon was 400 times smaller than the Sun, but also 400 times closer to us (clearly a minor cosmic coincidence and not remotely significant), was evidence enough to dispel the miasma of superstition, and explain the nonetheless awe-inspiring spectacle that is a full solar eclipse.
Then science lurched on, like an endlessly productive juggernaut, and eventually invented, among other very fine things, the Internet. And lo! The acme of communications and collaborative thinking, the virtual world of ideas and shared wisdom, performed an ironic U-turn, dropped its ethereal trousers and mooned in the face of science, and rational thinking, and blew clouds of conceptual methane in the general direction of common sense.
So on 21 August, when a solar eclipse loomed once again over our apparently unsuperstitious skies, one that would be visible almost exclusively in the United States (a country where Intelligent Design is allowed equal space on the school curriculum with Darwin’s theory of evolution), despite the valiant efforts of rationalists such as the great Neil deGrasse Tyson, the cogs that turned the quickest weren’t those of the scientific cognoscenti. The avalanche of online doom-mongering that accompanied the American eclipse (can you hear the word ‘apocalypse’ when that phrase is spoken? You’re not alone) would not have looked out of place inked onto fevered vellum in a mediæval scriptorium around the turn of the 10th century, or scratched in runes on antler fragments next to the remains of a slightly over-filled psilocybin prescription. Among my favourites was the nimble synaptic spacewalk performed by Michael Snyder, who manages by means of numerology to link the collision between a US Navy warship and an oil tanker, the eclipse, the illness of Senator John McCain, Yom Kippur, and the book of Revelation into a slam dunk End Times prophecy, a kind of Advent calendar for Nibiru watchers and overly bright-eyed alt-right I-told-you-so survivalists.
Under the god-like amusement of sceptical geographers of the Conspirasphere lies a sobering realisation that our engine of progress is not actually taking us anywhere: Fort was right. Every rational step ‘forwards’ is actually a blind bunny-hop into an ocean of nonsense; we reserve our amnesia for the realm of reason, and remember every daft notion onwards from the dawn of time.