Because Scarey Things Scare Us

What’s really more likely to getcha, Ebola or the flu? Max Fisher has an article at Vox that simply points out some facts, such as the fact that the flu kills thousands of Americans every year. In 2004, a particularly bad year, 48,000 Americans died of the flu. We’ve had one death from Ebola and the nation is freaking out, but how many of those freaking out about Ebola have bothered to get a flu shot?

I got my flu shot a few days ago, by the way. Go thou and do likewise.

In fact, at the moment you are in greater danger of being crushed to death by your own furniture than of dying of Ebola. About 30 Americans die every year when a bookcase or other heavy furniture tips over on them, Fisher says. About 40,000 people suffer serious injuries from their own furniture every year. This is not to say Ebola should be ignored, but it shouldn’t be that hard to contain here even given the, um, quality of hospital management.

What about ISIS? “Presently, the threat to Americans outside of Iraq and Syria is extremely low,” Fisher writes, “as ISIS has no demonstrated intent or capability to launch such an attack. And since 2001, the US has gotten much, much better at preventing terror plots.”

However, the Right is obsessed with the idea that ISIS terrorists are in Mexico and trying to get across the border. Huh? Even PolitiFact, generously giving these claims many benefits of doubts, labeled this one “mostly false.” PolitiFact traced claims that “we know” ISIS is in Mexico, spouted by several Republican politicians, to the right-wing organization Judicial Watch. “Without knowing anything about Judicial Watch’s sources — such as rank or agency — it’s hard for us to assess the article’s credibility,” PolitiFact said. Indeed. It appears that all the “reports” of ISIS in Mexico are wingnuts quoting each other. There is no source.

Not only did independent experts consulted by PolitiFact say that it’s really unlikely ISIS is planning to cross the Mexican border, if they were planning to come to the U.S. they’d probably just take a plane.

“There is big difference between a theoretical risk or a risk that is worth worrying about,” said David Schanzer, director of Duke University’s Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.

The general sentiment among experts was: It’s possible that ISIS could sneak through the border — illegal immigrants do it every day. But why would they?

Schanzer noted that ISIS members who have U.S. passports or visas could enter the country legally via plane. (The 9/11 hijackers had U.S. visas.) Whereas if they crossed the border illegally, they would run the risk of getting caught.

Things a lot more likely to kill you than Ebola and ISIS include (in ascending order) a thermonuclear World War III breaking out in the Balkans (unlikely but not impossible); climate change, guns, and traffic accidents. Heart disease and cancer tied for the number one spot. And if you are a reasonably well educated and well read person, I shouldn’t need to look up the data for you.

On the Right, it is not acceptable that we should not be terrified of Ebola or ISIS. One wingnut raged,

Shockingly, he finds global climate change to be a greater “threat” than ISIS or Ebola. Household furniture, televisions, and driving a car he deems to be more dangerous than ISIS or Ebola. 2nd Amendment rights are more dangerous than Ebola or ISIS. It is odd how he lumps Cancer and heart disease together.

It is abundantly clear that Max does not know the difference between a list of causes of death and an actual threat analysis.

Except the wingnut in question offered no argument or data to explain why we should be more afraid of Ebola and ISIS than of the flu and being killed in traffic. And, frankly, it seemed to me Fisher’s “threat analysis” was pretty good. He was not analyzing how dangerous a thing is in the abstract but how dangerous a thing is to someone within the United States. Of course an ISIS terrorist is very, very dangerous, but only to those in the vicinity of one. If you are in Peoria you really are more likely to be killed because some Second Amendment absolutist leaves a loaded gun unattended than by an ISIS terrorist in Syria somewhere. And flu will kill many more of us this year than are likely to die from Ebola. That’s just a plain fact. For that matter, more American men have accidentally shot themselves in the genitals than have died of Ebola. Seriously.

The Right gets furious at the rest of us because we’re not perpetually afraid of things. Righties have a proclivity of working themselves up into a frenzy of fear all the time, but they are only afraid of exotic things, not the everyday things that kill most of us. It fascinates me how their fear of undocumented Latinos, Islamist terrorists and Ebola have all congealed into One Big Boogeyman in their simple little brains, and they fear Ebola-infested terrorists crossing the border from Mexico, and they are all certain they heard some official source say this, although the actual source can never be found. Social psychologists, take note.

Back in 2007 I wrote a response to one of Little Lulu’s hissy fits about New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg not taking some ridiculous terror plot (to blow up JFK airport) seriously. Lulu’s position was that if one is not living in a constant state of terror, one is an ostrich. One is in denial of all the scarey things one must be afraid of. And I wrote that people can’t live their lives that way.  Not in New York City, anyway. I wrote,

I’ve got news for you, toots: People can’t live that way. And some of us, you know, live here. And if we choose to stay here, we must expose our precious flesh to the dangers of subways and tunnels and bridges and high-rise office buildings and Muslim taxi drivers every single damn day.

But just because we are not in a constant state of mind-numbing, inchoate fear, does not mean we are not mindful of what can happen. A whole lot of of watched the worst that terrorism can do with our own eyes. We were not sitting safely in our living rooms watching a little picture on a television. We were there. We lived with it. And we lived with the shrines and the smell and the sorrow for weeks after.

Believe me, you don’t forget something like that.

And the fact is, fear doesn’t make you safer. Not a bit. It doesn’t wrap you in a cloak of invincibility or put out death rays to kill your attackers. It does, however, interfere with rational thinking and cause you to make rash decisions. And constant stress increases the risk of heart disease, I’m told.

There’s your threat assessment, dude.

17 thoughts on “Because Scarey Things Scare Us

  1. Primal things scare us.

    This is, after all the ni**er plague — two primaeval terrors, out of Africa, and out of the middle ages. Many thinking that, though few are coming right out and saying it.

    Scratch an American, find a 14th c. Burgundian peasant.

  2. If Walt Whitman were alive today he’d have written: I hear America clucking. Granted, that’s calling Americans chicken, and most chickens are braver than us.

  3. Fear is easy to sell…fear is easy to manipulate…the smell of fear permeates the entire gop/bagger group…Fear works…now, what do you think about the HATE???

  4. Dear Isis –

    We know you sneaked across the Mexican border in the dead of night with your sacred beheading Americans sword. Here’s what we really, really don’t want you to do. Don’t go to the center of American patriotism and behead the most loyal and patriotic (did I say patriotic?) Americans who work and broadcast from :

    1211 Avenue of the Americas in New York City. It’s a big building – follow the signs to the Fox News Studios.

  5. And constant stress increases the risk of heart disease, I’m told.

    Yes, that’s the one silver lining about the wingnuts non-stop hysteria: their constant fear-induced stress (along with their instance on eating bad diets to stick it to the Food Nazis) will drive them into early graves, thus ridding the world of them.
    With luck, they’ll become extinct before they can stampede the sheeple into accepting the wingnuts’ capitalist police-state permanent-war dream world.

  6. Maybe this is a good place to introduce Job’s famous quote…”That which I feared the most has come upon me’.
    I say that because that is the exact thought that entered my mind when the Repugs crashed the economy back in 07/08. I don’t obsess with thoughts of terrorists or other man made calamities that in the extreme “could” threaten my existence, but I do experience a sense of fear when I see guys like Paulie Ryan preaching and being given credence in their preaching to the idea that people like me aren’t worthy of an existence solely because I don’t meet their criteria for what constitutes worthiness in our society.

  7. Now I know that GOPpers are not logical thinkers. They only “know” things by the feelings in their guts. So I find an inherent contradiction in the idea that there are ISIS terrorists infested with Ebola coming into the US by way of Mexico. If a terrorist had an active case (and based on what we know it doesn’t lie dormant, say like shingles), they would be sick and dying or dead already. That would mean they are arriving and going immediately to a hospital or they came with family members to process the body for burial. (Ah, yes, it’s the family members who will spread the Ebola…)

  8. A tornado scares me. That’s why I fear hurricanes ; they spawn tornadoes. There have been several touch down around my house. They always come late at night. When we get severe weather alerts in the evening, I get little if any sleep. I fear alligators when I’m wading and they suddenly drop beneath the surface. I’m afraid of certain dog breeds, pit bulls in particular. I’m afraid some real jack ass politician might start something that spirals out of control.
    Snakes, frogs, scorpions; no problem. A komodo dragon on the loose would be pretty scary. A person running around shooting a gun would scare me, but it’s not something I think about often. Wreckless drivers and fog on the interstate before day break are pretty scary. That’s about it.

  9. What sends shivers up my spine is the Christian fundamentalist mind. You’d think that some sort of alien creature with oversized eyes and huge fangs dripping with saliva strings would be the ultimate horror, but that doesn’t come close to giving me the willies like a possessed Christian.
    I once saw a TV show where a beautiful young women was kidnapped by a nasty looking Christian with caked teeth. He was possessed with the idea that the Lord had given him this woman to be his bride, and there was no dissuading him. He wasn’t the type of guy that a woman would really like to get next to.. If you know what I mean?
    But what I found most frightening in watching the show was the fact that he was possessed with the conviction that he was acting in accordance with a directive from the Lord. Scary shit! Also the fact that the story was plausible given the understanding that some men insist on having their way with a woman by just being based on their male gender, but when its been buttressed with the belief that it’s ordered of the Lord it changes the whole dynamic.

  10. I have to go along with Swami. I seldom have nightmares, but I have had several with a variation on the same theme. The nation is collapsing and we are reorganizing locally. Nearly all the people in our area are fundamentalists. So, suddenly we are living in a mini-theocracy like “The Handmaiden’s Tale.”

    As we have discussed here, few of us, if any, are as rational as we think we are. The primary value of discourse is that the failures of our logic are more visible to others. If they point them out, we can revisit our own argument. But, the participants have to be well-intentioned, and that is rarely the case nowadays. I suppose that I am pretty set in my ways and patterns of thought. But, for my friends on the right, Faith has morphed into a rigidity of mind and the loss of any capacity for self reflection. Extreme views and the hatred of people who think differently are signs of dedication to the cause. These harmful traits and qualities are considered virtues.

    I don’t think there was a well planned conspiracy that brought about our current situation. But, clearly, as the scope and efficiency of public relations developed, think tanks and other organizations grew more adept at manipulating public sentiment. The result of that is the toxic stew that has replaced our political debate. Opposing sides barely exist in the same world.
    David Neiwert wrote a great series years ago about how ideas are introduced in a mild form, then amplified and intensified. So, “small government is best” becomes government is inefficient and finally, government is the enemy. Voter fraud, becomes fraudulent election, becomes democracy doesn’t work, and better to search for a good CEO or a benevolent dictator. Maybe ideas and political movements tend to begin with some success and flexibility, but become more intense and rigid until they become dysfunctional, or they might become corrupt by dilution. Maybe this thing we call “intelligence” is a mixed blessing

  11. I had just thought that next they would be suggesting limiting travel to and from Dallas, when I read that a Maine school district put a schoolteacher who had recently returned from a convention in Dallas on paid leave,

  12. I never considered the fundies to be dangerous. Curious and quirky, but not dangerous. Then again, I don’t live in a small mountain town that’s crawling with them.

  13. erinyes.. Didn’t you ever watch the movie Deliverance? The guys who got Ned Beatty weren’t only inbred.. they were born again believers, the same as the Dynasty Duck guys.

  14. Yeah, swami. I’ve seen tee shirts in north Georgia with “paddle faster, I hear banjo music!” Printed on the back. Here in beautiful kissimmee, the population has shifted from white southerners to brown and black folks from all over the Caribbean. Jerk spice is pretty easy to find now, fried chicken gizzards are no longer available at the corner gas station.

  15. Maybe the dangerous fundamentalists only populate popular culture and the occasional nightmare. But, sometimes the line between religious epiphany and psychopathology is difficult to map. Maybe the world really is a confrontation between Good and Evil, and each of us takes our place in the great drama. Events of our day and time parallel the words and events of the Old Testament and God really liked things just the way there were in the Bronze Age, before uppity women and hippies corrupted the handiwork of his kindness and loving.
    In the real world my fundamentalist neighbors have been helpful and honest. At the risk of cheap irony, we live next to each other, but in different worlds. I can’t say that my world view has any fewer inconsistencies or eccentricities than theirs or any less terra incognita. Although, we might disagree over whether terra incognita is a good or bad thing.

    Curiosity can turn into mistrust for no reason. Sometimes when a fundamentalist is defining their concept of evil, they seem to be fleshing out my facebook profile. Fortunately, they seem not to notice.

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