“Until 2001,” he writes, ” far fewer Americans were killed in any grouping of years by all forms of international terrorism than were killed by lightning, and almost none of those terrorist deaths occurred within the United States itself. Even with the Sept. 11 attacks included in the count, the number of Americans killed by international terrorism since the late 1960s (which is when the State Department began counting) is about the same as the number of Americans killed over the same period by lightning, accident-causing deer, or severe allergic reaction to peanuts.”
Further, Meuller noted that transportation researchers at the University of Michigan calculated than “an American’s chance of being killed in one nonstop airline flight is about one in 13 million (even taking the Sept. 11 crashes into account). To reach that same level of risk when driving on America’s safest roads — rural interstate highways — one would have to travel a mere 11.2 miles.”
Driving is, in fact, one of the most dangerous things we do, and yet most of us are quite willing to accept that risk. Author Bruce Schneier, in Beyond Fear (Springer, 2nd edition 2006), observes that, “In America, automobiles cause 40,000 deaths every year; that’s the equivalent of a full 727 crashing every day and a half — 225 total in a year. As a society, we effectively say that the risk of dying in a car crash is worth the benefits of driving around town. But if those same 40,000 people died each year in fiery 727 crashes instead of automobile accidents, you can be sure there would be significant changes in the air passenger systems. Similarly, studies have shown that both drivers and passengers in SUVs are more likely to die in accidents than those in compact cars, yet one of the major selling points of SUVs is that the owner feels safer in one.”
Many of our fears, of late, involve children – everything from being afraid for them to being afraid *of* them. Surveys have found that kidnapping tops parents’ list of concerns for their children. Yet the biggest safety issue for kids is basic simple safety measures in homes and public places. The risk of kidnapping by strangers remains incredibly small – under 1% of the nation’s more than 64 million children are seized by non-family members and actually returned. A far smaller number die.
And those killer Columbine type kids? They’re statistically almost non-existent. 80% of our nation’s counties never experience a juvenile homicide.
But are things getting worse? “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know, “said Harry Truman.
“A new army of 6 million men are being mobilized against us, an army of delinquents. Juvenile delinquency has increased at an alarming rate and is eating at the heart of America,” declared a Juvenile court judge – in 1946.
There are “predatory beasts” on the streets, hordes of teens and preteens running wild in city streets, “gnawing away at the foundations of society,” said a commentator – in the 19th century. In 1850 in New York alone, there were more than 200 gang wars fought mostly by teenage boys.
The youngest American ever executed for murder was 12 years old. She killed the baby in her care – in 1786.
So how did we get so scared? Our fears, suggests Glassner, are carefully and repeatedly fed by anyone who wishes to create fear, often by manipulating words, facts, news, sources or data, in order to induce certain personal behaviors, justify governmental actions or policies (at home or abroad), keep people consuming, elect certain politicians, or distract the public’s attention from allegedly more urgent social issues like poverty, social security, unemployment, crime or pollution. The most common techniques for social haunting include:
- Careful selection and omission of news (some relevant facts are shown and some are not); (reporting that the number one problem teachers faced in 1940 was talking and gum chewing, and in 1990, pregnancy, suicide and drug abuse; distorted from a National Center for Education Statistics survey inquiring with principals, not teachers, about crimes – when actually asked, teachers today site problems parent apathy and lack of text books as their biggest problems)
- Distortion of statistics or numbers (declaring 800,000 children missing each year, but failing to break those statistics down meaningfully)
- Transformation of single events into social epidemics; (going “postal” isn’t a postal service epidemic – that remains one of the safest occupations)
- Corruption and distortion of words or terminology according to specific goals;
- Stigmatization of minorities, especially when associated with criminal acts or degrading behavior;
- Generalization of complex and multifaceted situations;
- Causal inversion (turning a cause into an effect or vice-versa).