Why is it that people tend to focus on imagined or highly unlikely threats but ignore more serious dangers? Fear permeates our society, or at least a sizeable segment of it, and this fear results from a near paranoid distrust of everyone and everything. That paranoia is being manipulated by the media and those holding political power.
As I’ve said previously, much of this is a result of society’s growing anti-intellectualism and rejection of “authority”. Under this new paradigm beliefs mean more than facts, pundits and politicians are given greater credibility than scientists or experts, and much of the public is easily swayed to accept falsehood as truth.
- A fear that we are all going to die from something. Without really giving it much thought I can recall times when people were almost in a panic over bird flu, swine flu, Ebola, Mad Cow Disease, AIDS, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and other perceived epidemics. Yes, some people do contract these diseases and yes, some people die from them, but the likelihood of that happening is statistically very small. Headlines such as Bird Flu Could ‘Make Ebola Look Like a Picnic’ from Newsmax (an unreliable news source) really are counterproductive.
- “They” are planning to take our guns away. Who are “they”? The Supreme Court has allowed some restrictions on gun ownership over the years, but in 2008 the Court affirmed individuals’ rights to gun ownership for lawful purposes, and that included the ownership of handguns. There are an estimated 310 million guns in the United States. How can anyone actually believe the government plans to take them away?
- A fear of immigrants. As I’ve stated previously, immigrants do not kill Americans but we do a pretty good job of killing each other. Like it or not, credible research indicates that illegal immigrants are actually good for the American economy. In fact a very large portion of our food is produced or picked by illegal immigrants. By one estimate, for example, the cost of American milk would increase about 60% were it not for the immigrant workers. And most research indicates that the taxes immigrants pay outweighs government benefits they receive.
- Fear of a terrorist attack. A little more than 40% of Americans say they fear a terrorist attack. Yes, in all likelihood America will eventually suffer another such attack, but the odds of dying at the hands of terrorists is 1/9.3 million. Your chances of dying in a bathtub drowning, car accident, choking on food or a dog bite are much, much higher but media’s constant reporting on terrorist activities leads us to believe otherwise. Media should be warning us about the dangers of scalding tap water because that is more likely to kill us than is a terrorist act.
- Fear of Islam. A couple of weeks ago the city zoning board in Bayonne, NJ rejected an application to build a mosque. The public hearing was nasty with one woman asking “How many children have died under this so-called religion?” A whopping 47% of Americans believe Muslim values are at odds with “American values” and way of life even though 83% say they know nothing about Islam. These views are promoted by politicians such as President Trump who proposed banning Muslim entry into the U.S. and Ben Carson denigrating Islam in public statements.
There is seemingly no limit to our irrational fears and paranoia and we have become easy prey for those wanting to manipulate our opinions. An unscientific review of stuff folks have posted or re-posted on their Facebook walls should be enough evidence that we are pretty darned uninformed, but polls validate the argument.
- A study by University of Chicago researchers determined that 37% of Americans believe that the Food and Drug Administration suppresses “natural” cures for cancer and other diseases because of pressure from pharmaceutical companies. Another 20% still believe children’s vaccinations can lead to autism, 12% believe the CIA deliberately infected African-Americans with HIV and another 37% had no opinion either way.
- A 2013 poll found that 37% of Americans believed global warming was a hoax, 21% believed an alien ship crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947 and the government was covering it up, 28% believed Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks, 7% believed the moon landing was faked, and 28% thought there was a secretive global conspiracy to create a “new world order” under authoritarian rule.
- An older poll (1999) found that 18% of Americans believed the universe revolved around the Earth. That statistic hasn’t changed much because a 2014 study found that 25% of Americans believed the Sun revolved around the Earth.
- A 2010 study found that 1/3 of the folks living in Texas believed humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time. Another 30% wasn’t sure.
- A 2014 Annenberg survey found that only 35% of Americans could name one branch of government and about 65% could not name all three branches. About 21% thought that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision would be sent to Congress for consideration. similar polls have demonstrated that Americans can identify the judges on The People’s Court (a TV show) but have no idea that John Roberts is America’s Chief Justice.
- In 2012 1/3 of Americans could not pass the citizenship test administered to naturalized Americans and 63% could not name one of their state’s senators.
As usual, I could continue with the depressing statistics, but you get the idea. If we are uninformed we are easily manipulated, and a fairly sizeable number of Americans is uninformed. So…instead of paranoia over bird flu or terrorists, Americans really should fear one thing above all others:
(Three personal notes: 1. The end of the school year is crazy busy so I’m not posting to the blog as often, and I apologize. 2. There is no way to know how many people are actually reading my posts so I never know if ANYONE actually reads it. I understand if readers don’t want to comment, but if you could otherwise let me know that you are reading it I’d really appreciate it. 3. I would also appreciate your suggestions for topics and, if you do enjoy reading the blog, I wish you would share it with others. THANK YOU!!!)
I am reading! and learning. and being prompted to thought.
also, confessionally, I recently had the *actual* thought “hmmm….do we still have fallout shelters? bomb shelters? or did we figure out they are useless? we have really let our nuclear attack training go by the wayside…”
True, but I remember being told to climb under our school desks in case of nuclear attack. I’m not sure how useful that would be!!
Enjoy reading your blog David.
Thanks so much, Mike!
Great article again! I read every one. Do you know if the 1/9.3 million statistic regarding terrorist attacks includes those both perpetrated by domestic and foreign entities?
Those numbers were calculated in the US for the last five years (I think). The likelihood of an American dying anywhere via terrorism is about 1/20 million but most of those died in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. http://reason.com/archives/2011/09/06/how-scared-of-terrorism-should
I’m reading! I also forward your blogs sometimes too. ????
Thank you, Rachel!
I’m reading, David. And sharing every post with friends and family. You are doing a great job and I find your posts to be very informative and fair. I hope you will continue with your blog — we need calm voices. Can you track readership and sharing with metrics from your blog host? I think getting people to comment is hard, especially when they might, in their heart-of-hearts, lean toward anti-intellectualism or toward the kind of paranoia you speak of in this post. I’ll confess here that I live with an infectious disease professional who says that the bird flu business is nothing to sneeze at (so to speak)! Dialogue one-on-one is challenging. People might be afraid to commit their thoughts and feelings to text on the www. Love your work, my friend.
I really appreciate you supporting my efforts, Kristin, and I understand why a good many folks are hesitant to comment. I, on the other hand, have never been hesitant to speak my mind (and that has gotten me in trouble more times than I can count)!
An interesting take on anti-intellectualism. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/problem-thinking-know-experts/
Good reading. So we can’t bomb Agrabah?
As always, Dr. Roebuck, another thought-provoking blog. Of course, I have all but sworn off so-called mainstream media and other alternative media sites a long time ago because it has become very difficult to separate fact from fiction. It’s the byproduct of the 24-hour news cycle; we do not have reputable sources anymore, just personalities that get a lot of attention by making a lot of noise. The statistics and poll results that you spoke of are both depressing and disturbing because of the numbers of individuals that are so uninformed with no clear idea of how to fix it. I’m at a loss.
Thank you for the kind words, Joel. And I agree that the lack of understanding, often a willful lack of understanding, is just depressing.
“They” will take away our guns is an argument I hear all the time. I sort of enjoy taking polls when people call me, guilty pleasure maybe. In 2012 I received a call from a Super PAC and they swore up and down that if Obama was elected we would lose our guns. This last year, I happened to be in the car with my very conservative, well educated dad when I received a solicitation call from the Greitens campaign. They asked if I had heard of Eric. I said “yeah I have, what’s up that stupid gatling gun commercial?”
“Well we just want to show that he’s pro 2nd amendment.”
“Ok… Chirs Koster has a better NRA score, and I am personally not scared of anybody taking my guns away”
“Well you’re an idiot” and hung up. True story. So my dad told me how if a liberal was put on the court we would lose gun rights. “Oh I thought that was supposed to happen 4 years ago.”
I’m sure there’s an example of the left propagating fear, I just tend to hear the “They’re going to take our guns” shtick a lot.