Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Be Afraid, But of the Right Things

There was a very interesting article in this past Sunday's issue of Parade Magazine titled Fears 2015. It's worth your while to read, so go ahead and do it while I finish drafting this post. I'll be done by the time you finish reading.

Done? Well, if you paid attention while you were reading, you got the message that most of the things we spend a lot of time worrying about are not the things we ought to fear the most. Meteor impacts, mass murderers, and the zombie apocalypse are things that are vanishingly small dangers in comparison to things that represent real threats. The article featured a "fear this, not that" chart that summarized the difference between the things we fret about and the things that are truly dangerous. Here's my cleaned-up version of the chart:

The point of the article is one that is pretty obvious, and yet generally overlooked. We tend to fear the things that are gruesome and play well to credulous audiences, and not the things that are the real immediate and long-term threats we really ought to be worrying about. You are far more likely to die in a car crash caused by your need to send that life-or-death text message than you are to die in an airplane crash, yea though the airplane crash is far more likely to get lots of media coverage because of its visual impact and large body count. There are relatively few mass murders engineered by crazy people with guns, but there is a real epidemic of low-level gun violence that kills thousands of people each year. We fret about the possible side effects of vaccines and stop using them ... and then die of the diseases they prevent. True enough - these are all things to worry about. But which are the ones most likely to be real dangers? 

How do we start worrying about the right things? According to one expert quoted in the article, we can watch less television news* ... she notes that "The media loves to tap into the fear response because it doesn't engage with the rational mind. Scary headlines and disturbing images are captivating." Rely on facts when weighing relative risks. As another expert quoted in the article says, "When fear sets in, try to let your rational brain have a voice. If you do, your choices will be healthier."

You can kill two birds with the proverbial one stone by just shutting off Faux News, where rational thought doesn't play to the desired audience.

Have a good day. Worry about the things worth worrying about ... like a Congress full of irrational, drooling wingnuts.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* I remember a political joke I learned when I was studying Russian in college: the two major newspapers in the former Soviet Union were Pravda ("Truth") and Izvestiya ("News"), and Russians used to say that in "Truth" there was no "news," and in "News" there was no "truth."


eViL pOp TaRt said...

That's a very good chart, summarizing relative risks of certain problems. Right now we're in the midst of flu season: be sure to watch your hands for at least 30 seconds with soap and water, and avoid unnecessary exposure to crowds.

Linda Kay said...

Angel's right...just take some reasonable preventive measures for things fearful. And really live for today, take on the things for which you have control.

Edwin Frownfelter said...

Fear this: antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Not this: GMOs, toxins, whatever naturalnews is bleating about this week.

Retired English Teacher said...

I also read this and thought it was right on. We need to get our priorities right when it comes to worry. Ok, that sounds just a bit off, but you know what I mean. Congress is something I do worry about!

Chuck Bear said...

What! We're not supposed to be afraid of clowns!

Mike said...

Imagine the news reporting every death from car accidents. It would be a 24/7 program.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

I don't think it's necessary to single out Fox News. News in general becomes selected for coverage based on its eye catchiness, convenience in coverage, and the fact that local and even regional news is hooked on materials generated by press releases by sources having a vested interest in its coverage. i.e. -flacks

Anemone said...

Where do earthquakes and tsunamis fall in the scheme of things?