Americans are more apprehensive of terrorism now than in any of the years since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a December 2016 CBS poll.
Since then, events such as the 2015 Paris attacks and the 2016 Orlando shootings have only escalated this fear. This fear has even extended to the government. President Donald Trump’s 2017 immigration ban, for instance, was based upon the idea that terrorist attacks were a prevalent threat to the American people. However, according to Business Insider, Americans are more likely to win a lottery jackpot than to die in a terrorist attack.
In his book “The Culture of Fear,” Barry Glassner wrote, “Most Americans live in what is arguably the safest time and place in human history.” In the United States, life expectancy and average wealth are on the rise, while levels of crime and poverty are rapidly decreasing.
However, as 2019 approaches, we are increasingly afraid of near-apocalyptic disasters which are not actually significant threats, and this is distracting us to such an extent that we are no longer responding rationally to everyday situations. We have been so desensitized to everyday issues that we often forget to engage in elementary safety precautions such as using seatbelts while in a moving vehicle or wearing helmets while operating a bicycle.
But how did we come to be so apprehensive of events which, statistically, we are unlikely to face even in our lifetimes?
“We are living in the most fear-mongering time in human history. And the main reason for this is that there’s a lot of power and money available to individuals and organizations who can perpetuate these fears,” Glassner said.
Large franchises, media companies, insurance companies, and others employ scare tactics in their rhetoric, manipulating consumers’ fears in order to influence their behavior.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average individual’s chances of being burglarized are 1 in 667, or roughly 0.15 percent. However, an average of 4.69 billion dollars’ worth of home security systems (approximately 7,000,000 individual systems) were bought in 2017, according to the Consumer Technology Association.
Such a discrepancy hints toward an inherent issue in our culture: we are so afraid of outside threats that our emotions hinder our ability to make rational decisions about what is necessary for our safety.
Technology is also a major contributor to widespread fear. Events such as kidnappings, robberies, and the recent Camp and Woolsey fires are broadcasted live on TV and discussed extensively on social media and news websites, ensuring that such occurrences receive national, and often global, recognition, thus inspiring more fear within Americans.
An issue inherent within the world of news media is the manner in which news is received and reported. It is primarily events which are atypical and can attract attention best, such as global pandemics, terrorist attacks, fires, and kidnappings, that are reported on the news. Events which are less noteworthy but more prevalent, such as drunk-driver accidents, drug overdoses, and health-related deaths, are less noticed and thus less feared.
If Americans truly valued a safer America, they would, logically, vote for politicians who aim to discourage driving under the influence, introduce programs to better help prevent drug abuse, and reduce rates of obesity and heart disease; rather, they voted for President Trump, a man who claimed about Mexican immigrants in his 2016 campaign, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
However, our fears do not stem from logic.
We must recognize that our fear of large-scale catastrophes is distracting us from other significant threats that we are far more likely to encounter. Though we should not be ignoring devastating events such as 9/11 and the 2002 abduction of Elizabeth Smart, we cannot allow our emotions to compromise our rationality in everyday situations.