The following is a true story ...
So there I was, strolling into the local grocery store to pick up a few things, cash my paycheck and catch up on a bill or two. Just your typical Friday afternoon, the sun shining and not a care in the world (except for dishing out hefty amounts of cash paying said bills, of course). I believe it was late spring, possibly April or May, and I was completely unprepared for the conversation I was about to overhear.
Life, as they say, is full of surprises.
After a quick perusal of Chenango County’s Hometown Daily – a brief scan of the front page – I made my way to the service desk, noting the strange man standing at the counter; animated, talking with his hands and with an impressively filthy duffel bag lying at his feet. On the counter, a stack of papers, slightly crumpled and also none too clean. The first portion of this obviously heated conversation I heard?
“I’ll swear to you right now on a stack of bibles that this is all true. I did the research myself.”
Now granted, it’s no secret that we have a small (yet mostly entertaining) population of crazies roaming the streets of downtown Norwich, and for one born and raised here – like me – well, you kind of get used to it. I had never seen this gentleman before, however, and I was intrigued. What could be so important that this man was willing to put his very soul on the line to prove his point?
The look (and roll of the eyes) the cashier gave me should have been warning enough, I suppose, but my curiosity was piqued, I simply had to know. A nonchalant glance over the man’s shoulder was all it took. The topmost document, obviously a computer printout of some sort, sported a larger than life declaration, all caps, in big, bold lettering ... PRESIDENT OBAMA’S BIRTH CERTIFICATE A HOAX.
If that were all, I probably would’ve shaken my head in disbelief and forgotten all about this little incident, yet underneath that (ridiculous) momentous claim, a list of other “conspiracies,” including Neil Armstrong’s “staged” lunar landing, 9/11, Pearl Harbor, the New World Order and – of course – December 21, 2012, a.k.a. The End of the World, among others.
This guy, without any shadow of a doubt, made other conspiracy theorists look like a group of uneducated, unruly children. He had his facts straight (or at least thought he did) and – as I continued to “eavesdrop” on this one-sided tirade – an “I’ll be damned if you think you can change my mind” attitude. This guy was serious and he meant business. And while I’ll never know how this particular conversation began, I must applaud the young lady behind the counter for her calmness, as she continued to assemble a Western Union document of some sort for her new friend.
Regardless, being a patient man and in no particular hurry, I stood there in line for probably ten minutes while this discussion wound its way to conclusion. Once it had – and following a brief conversation of my own with the now-frazzled-looking cashier – I made my way out of the store and on with my life. Looking back, however, I remember thinking – without any kind of surprise, really – that some people ... some people will believe anything.
A lot of that, of course, can be blamed on the Internet; that all powerful, all knowing presence that resides within the confines of our laptops, cell phones, tablets and home computers, which has changed the way we live our lives. Let’s face it, kids nowadays have trouble functioning without their minute-to-minute updates and the ability to socialize online at their pleasure. Yet for all that the Internet is an invaluable tool, particularly when it comes to research.
Like any other tool, however, if used improperly, it can be dangerous.
From the birther movement (scary people) to your unrelenting 9/11 conspiracy nuts, to those who refuse to admit that our president is not a Muslim or communist, people are simply too easily led to believe what they want to believe. Facts matter very little at that point, yet they can “back up” their ridiculous claims with what they mistakenly claim is information gathered from a viable source. It’s almost laughable, yet it’s also more than a bit disturbing.
I don’t know why I spend so much time worrying about it, though, considering Dec. 21 is right around the corner.
Damn those Mayans.
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