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Man on the what?

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Published on: Friday, November 15, 2013

By Brian J. Karem

During the last decade, I’ve interviewed dozens of college students - some who wanted to be paid for work and some who dreamed to be interns.

Some of them interviewed me for a journalism class. That has been interesting.

I have noticed a diminishing mental capacity among the students during the last decade. One young man arriving in my office for a job interview came in sandals and a Hawaiian shirt decorated with a blue hibiscus. One student arrived for an entry-level position wondering what the retirement package was at the newspaper.

Last week I saw the bottom. It isn’t pretty nor does it bode well for the future of journalism.

A young man arrived at my office telling me he wanted to interview me for a class and needed to ask me about our newspaper’s policies regarding corrections.

I informed him it began with spelling a name. You have no credibility if you cannot spell a name correctly. And I told him factual errors are the most egregious and therefore those which need the closest policing.  I informed him of the old cliché regarding everyone being entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. He asked what I meant.

I said there are plenty of examples of pseudo-facts parading as the truth and warned against using the Internet as a first-hand source. Again, he asked for clarification and so I used my favorite: man landing on the moon. According to the Internet, man landed on the moon or didn’t or did but was warned off by aliens never to return.

I had barely begun explaining this when the young man  interrupted and said, “Yeah, I don’t believe man landed on the moon.”

I sat speechless for a moment—and those who know me well are aware such moments are not oft coming in my life. When I found my voice, at first I thought I’d been punked. I was sure Johnny Knoxville would come in with a hidden camera and explain how gullible I was. So I asked the young man’s name again, got his teacher’s name and email address and vowed to check out this charlatan after the conclusion of the mock interview. But the young man went on to explain in a rather cavalier fashion, complete with smiles and an easy-going nature – as any hoaxer would – how the NSA and conspiracies and other drivel he’d seen on the Internet had drawn him to the conclusion man never set foot on the moon.

I had sudden flashes of Buzz Aldrin punching out a naysayer who accused him of fraud several years ago and stifled the desire to engage in brutal fisticuffs.  Instead, I questioned this eager young man to ascertain his level of commitment to this fiction and found him to be solid in his beliefs. Either he was a good, very good scam artist, or he actually believed what he preached.

Either prospect is frightening. When he explained he believed in ghosts, the paranormal, Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster, but couldn’t believe man had actually landed on the moon, I very nearly lost it.

There have always been people who don’t believe in facts. The theory of evolution remains a “theory” to some. There is a whole society dedicated to worshiping the “Flat Earth.” The Holocaust is an inconvenient truth some still believe to be fiction.

Those who refuse to believe in facts rarely will turn their head when faced with a fact – they’ve already put their head in the sand.

However, what is very disconcerting is to find a future journalist – a student who is supposedly taught to seek and find facts – so easily spouting nonsense as facts.

The proliferation of pure bunk on the Internet has caused an increase of the number of H.L. Mencken’s Boobus Americanus to the point they may well breed the thinking man out of existence.

There exists in this country a huge pestilence parading as skepticism, a disease which mocks knowledge, and large numbers of people seem to be infected.

We are overrun with people whose brains have atrophied – nay, never developed. They spout pop culture as gospel. They worry about “Blue” and “Red” states. They preach and listen to those who preach fiction, pseudo-science and foment hate.

Finding this type of individual is easy enough – educating them is far harder. For the love of knowledge, will someone please teach our children?  I haven’t enough time, and I grow weary of using my shovel. Besides it won’t cure our ills, only provide me with a morbid workout routine.

I’d rather play basketball.

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