Thursday, October 02, 2014

What are we so afraid of, anyway?

Dr. King stares down from the monument on the national mall in Washington.

The most remarkable thing about terrorism is how rare it is here in the U.S., despite our plentiful and easily obtained weaponry, which would make carrying out such an attack so uncomplicated.

According to the Global Terrorism Database, since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a total of 49 Americans have been killed in terrorist incidents. The New America Foundation, focusing only on jihadist acts of terrorism, counts 25 Americans killed in that time. Your chance of dying from almost anything else, including getting struck by lightning, is far, far higher.

According to FBI crime statistics (with a little extrapolation for 2014), more than 200,000 Americans have been murdered since September 11, 2001 —just regular folks killing their wives, neighbors, and business rivals, mostly with guns but also with knives, poison, paperweights, and what have you. Over the same period, somewhere between 2.7 million and 5.7 million of us died because of preventable medical errors. Around half a million Americans died in car accidents.

Most of us appreciate, at least intellectually, that our chance of dying in a terrorist attack is approximately zero, and even if it increases, that increase would mean it has gone from approximately zero all the way up to pretty much zero. But that's not how we act and react. ...

[Imagine what would happen after a hypothetical attack. Republicans would] go on TV to denounce [Obama] for being so weak that the evildoers struck us in our very heart, and proclaim not only that the blood of the victims is on the hands of every Democrat, but that more attacks are coming and we're more vulnerable than we've ever been. Dick Cheney would emerge snarling from his subterranean lair to warn us that this is only the beginning and we really need to start bombing at least five or six more countries. Senator Lindsey Graham, who has already said about ISIL that "this president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home," might just tear off his shirt and scream, "We're all gonna die! We're all gonna die!" right on Fox News Sunday.

And the public would follow right along. In a recent CNN poll, 41 percent said they were very or somewhat worried that they or a member of their family would be a victim of terrorism—which, to repeat, is about as likely as they or a member of their family getting hit by a falling piano. ...

Paul Waldman, the American Prospect

Indeed we've become a nation of cowards.

I'm chewing on this while mentally preparing for a visit this morning to the Birmingham, Alabama Civil Rights Institute. These were people who knew real fear and many of whom overcame that fear.


Rain Trueax said...

It depends on how you define terrorism. The ones I know who are concerned are worried about the domestic kind that hits our schools or a movie theater and has no political purpose that anybody can figure out. The kind that has a man come into a building with a machete determined to kill. It would be foolish to imagine that kind cannot be a danger to us but we can't really protect ourselves from it either. if we had better mental health programs, it'd be a start and maybe stop the kind of shooting that nearly killed a Congresswoman and did kill others at the grocery store where i sometimes shop when in Tucson. There are no programs being put in place to make that less likely to happen again.

I don't know how fearful people are (probably the most fearful regularly watch cable or tv news) but someone has to realistically be aware it can happen and has nothing to do with Islamic radicals-- here anyway... for now. But even with our domestic violence, getting in a car and driving somewhere is more risky...

janinsanfran said...

Rain -- I think you make a very important and (to me) valid point here. Our culture seems to allow and accept an extraordinary amount of random, apolitical, violence that has no social purpose. We are afflicted with a lot of untreated and little-restrained individuals who feel a need to express their individual being (pain?) by hurting people.

I think the easy availability of military grade armaments doesn't help, but clearly there's more going on here.

This stuff keeps us all anxious and that anxiety certainly augments our unrealistic fears of terrorism.

Rain Trueax said...

It's unrealistic for us now but sure not for nations in the Middle East. We though have to watch how our media milks these things. Like Ebola. Time will tell about its true danger, but they love to stir people up. The best idea right now is turn them off and read about what's going on in newspapers where it's easier to get details (depending on the one) and avoid the sensationalism.

The thing though is whether terrorism is to fear in the future, torture is still wrong and gains nothing. Your mate's book is right on. We are fools to condone it as it only lowers us to a savage level, where at least most of us would rather not be. And we are selling our souls for something that does not work.

Hattie said...

It seems as if we are supposed to get into a frenzy, all right. Most of us are pretty safe. It's interesting to compare reactions to scaremongering to the real scare we're getting here as the lava flow closes in on the small town of Pahoa. When confronted with actual danger, people have all kinds of responses.

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