Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Nation of Fear

I was listening to a show broadcast on BBC called "World Have Your Say" a few days ago. The show has a great format where a few topics are presented and English speaking participants call in and voice their opinion from all over the world. There is a link to the website here on my blog. The question asked on this day in particular was "Are you afraid of al Qaeda?" Not many people, even from the US said they were. It is a very liberal attended program so that wasn’t a shock really. But it got me to thinking. What would American’s in general say they were afraid of, and how does it stack up logically to what threatens their life.


If you believe the politicians, and by extension policy, represent the fears of the people, then you would believe that most Americans do fear al Qaeda above all other. I could cite budget figures till your were lost and bored out of your skull. If you would like to see a graphical representation you could look here. When all the figures wash out, we spend at least 10 times more money "fighting terrorism" then we do developing and funding education, enforcing border security, curing diseases, or improving general quality of life. We spend many times more money killing people in terrorist acquainted countries, then we do on researching how to gain energy independence. Many of these countries and eventually the terrorist groups get money from our own oil purchases.

We have become a nation of fear. It seems to be the only thing that motivates us. The media and its advertisers have found it to be quite profitable. Think about how much you alone spend on fear. Anything that includes the word "insurance" is a cost associated with fear. Auto insurance is fear of getting in an auto accident. Health insurance is the fear of encountering health problems. Home insurance is required if you fear you couldn’t repair or replace your home. Generally if you are an insurance sales man you are a leach to the American free market economy. It has become a symbiotic and necessary occupation. But one that serves no propose other to be the middle man between the mechanic, doctor, or carpenter.

The only exception to this rule might be the life insurance salesman. He is more of a gambler. Everybody is going to collect on that someday. His job is to set the rules and play the odds that he is going to use the money you give him to make more then the amount eventually paid out. You may never get in an auto accident (unless you live in Oklahoma City), you may never get sick, you may never have your house damaged, but you will die. No matter how much money you spend on insurance the agent will not be able to fix that.

Fire alarms, security alarms and equipment, auto theft device, and even the concealed weapon are all designed to set fears at ease. How often are you offered warranties and guarantees? They are a vendor’s way of quelling your fear of a substandard product.

The media through influence of vendors have made us afraid of what we eat, afraid of where we go, and who we talk to. There are programs that make you self conscious (afraid) about how you look, how your house looks, how your kids act, and how your life is run in general. This type of fear has lead to an un-confident dysfunctional generation that beg, "rate me", "judge me", "vote for me".

I spend more time quelling my wife's "superstitions" and unwarranted fears then I do just hanging out with her. From fear of spiders, bugs, and traces of dirt, to public perception and approval. It is humorous to consider the things she doesn't consider "fear"able. Things like health, finances, and family relationships. She is more the average American then I am. This is evident by the state of our national health, economy, and family structure relative to the prosperity of companies that offer beauty and perception products. A strong media emphasis on these shallow attributes has been instilled through repetition through generations. Despite 2 doctors, 3 nurses, the Lamaze coach, and a few friends telling my wife that you no longer have to boil water for the baby’s bottles, she still insisted. This was mainly at the drive of her mother. The marketing was so strong that even trusted experts were not trusted on this issue.

Many of these precautions are necessary. The question is the logic of use of resources compared to the potential of the risk. Huh? There you go again. Let me put it this way. Here is the top 10 reason people die in the United States according to CDC for 2004, the latest compete data.

  1. Heart Disease
  2. Cancer
  3. Lung Disease
  4. All Accidents (Auto, home, work)
  5. Diabetes
  6. Alzheimer’s Disease
  7. Flue and Pneumonia
  8. Kidney Disease
  9. Septicemia
  10. Suicide


Top 10 and you notice what isn’t in there? "Terrorism". As a matter of fact Homicide squeaked in at number 15 that year. Terrorism would have been listed as a sub-category of that field. Yet we spend 500 billion per year just in direct cost on defending ourselves from a foreign agent. There is about 2.5 million deaths per year in the US. So in 2003 your chances of dying at the hands of a terrorist was .12%. Yet we spent 1/5th of the budget on that issue. See it graphed here. (Note that the "emergency spending bill for Iraq was not included. It’s been going on 4 years, how could that have not been an pre-estimated?)

The NIH grants a mere $28 billion in research money for diseases. This is spread out over 300 universities. Look down that list again. 8 out of the top 10 reasons for dying in the US is a disease. Yet we spend less then a 16th % of what we do on defending against terrorism. Much of that defense money is poorly invested after all of that.


What is the drive behind the American voter who would so willing spent their money, send their sons and daughters, and caste their votes influenced by a fear of something that has little chance of effecting them? If the end result of spending tax dollars is meant to protect "Americans from dying" why not pump more money into disease research. Hey how about any drugs developed under government funded programs are given out free or greatly reduced to Americans who paid for them!!


The problem with this environment is that it counter intuitive to the ideology that is required to be the United States of America. Could you imagine if out relatives and forefathers were to given into their fears. Those strong enough to face their anxiety and the ridicule of others are leaders. Followers are what you find in the extreme sectarian nations. There the leaders use fear to keep the people subservient.

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.-- Helen Keller.

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