Fear and… fear in the 1st world.

February 5, 2007

I grew up in apartheid South Africa. The government had kept us in fear of terrorist attacks (which were real but overstated) for so long we had become numb to it. It did not figure in everyday thinking.

When I lived in the UK in the 80’s it was still under threat of terrorist attack by the IRA. No-one really thought about it much or considered it a threat to their daily lives. In both countries there was a lack of public litter-bins, especially in crowded areas as they are an easy hiding place for bombs. Both countries had looped announcements in airports (and in the UK, on the tubes) warning of suspicious packages.

So why oh why is it so scary now? More people are not dying in terrorist attacks in the first world. A UK government document admits that terrorist attacks are down since 1982. With the exception of the 9/11 attacks in the USA which were easily preventable at multiple points- had there been an iota of competence in any single US agency from the Executive government through the CIA, FBI, air control or Republicans for Oprah; loss of life in acts of terrorism (1st world) are down.

Admittedly the new breed of terrorist seems willing to give their life for a cause, something unthinkable in an era where everyone is a sell-out for money (hey there P. Diddy, 50 cent, Rolling Stones, Limp Bizkit) but this would make you or I no less dead than if they were not. I do not make these claims without the numbers**, this will be my most researched piece ever.

I have picked the UK to look at for two reasons: (1) it has fairly reliable statistics and (2) I have lived there (twice) so I have a frame of personal reference (and the hypothermia to prove it).

Any week we are bombarded with terrorism, bird flu, AIDS, mad cow disease, serial killers, an out of control youth and grannies with automatic weapons*. Usually all on Sky News, every half hour. My, but their female Anchor is pretty…

So, what is going to kill you? What should the newspapers be reporting to you and what should the government be doing to protect you? Is it a virus with a grudge? Is it an uncle after an inheritance? Your employer working you to hard? Is it a bird? a plane..? Sue Perlman?***

The most likely culprit in your death, it turns out, is you. I added up cancer (genes, your diet, sunbathing, living near Chernobyl), smoking deaths (idiot), accidental deaths (idiot), liver disease (alcohol, idiot) and suicide (depression, idiot) to find that just under 50% of people who will shift the mortal coil in the UK will have done it to themselves.

I have not, since never meeting anyone who had a car accident that was their fault, even added vehicular deaths to ones that are your own fault. I am not even including heart disease, allowing all you fat bastards clemency, and instead blaming that on stress and your employer.

In fact, the three things most likely to kill you are cancer (153,000), smoking (114,000) and heart disease (70,000). All, barring from your genes screwing with you, easily preventable or postponable by adopting a vaguely healthy lifestyle. So, when the government tells us that we are lazy, fat and smoke too much do we welcome the information? Do we thank them? Do we bollocks! We vote for someone else. When television tells us the same thing do we listen attentively? Take notes and change our lives? Our response: “Screw the bastards! Don’t tell me how to live my life!” We change the channel.

Personally, I have no fear of death (not the same for pain, not a fan of pain). I don’t believe in an afterlife and always have tried to live my life to the fullest. And whereas I will prolong my life as much as I can I still go out in the sun, jump off bridges with rubber bands tied to my feet, eat bad foods when I want and drink when I please, in between I also eat healthy food when available, play fun sports as excercise and get laid whenever possible to keep my blood pressure down.

But even if you do not change your unhealthy, binge-drinking, fast-food eating, chainsmoking sedentary television-slave life your chances of dying are still infinitessimally small.

Of the things making the news and making people scared: in 2006 0 people died in terror attacks in the UK (worst year 2005: 37 people), in 2004 9 people died of the human version of mad cow disease (worst year2000: 28), in 2002 234 people died of AIDS related illness, 513 people were murdered and exactly 0 people died of avian flu. By the way, of the 513 people murdered most were killed by someone they new well, not by strangers. Isn’tthat nice? I think the personal touch counts.

A better way to put this, so you understand how hysterical this crap is:

60,208,545 or 99.99994% of Britons did not die of super-flu’.
60,209,266 or 99.99961% of Britons did not die of AIDS
60,209,472 Britons did not die of mad cow disease in 2000, it’s worst year
All Britons did not die of terrorist attacks in 2006
All Britons did not die of avian-flu ever.

Okay, maybe you think that’s a little unfair, playing with the numbers like that. Try it like this: You, living in Britain,

had a 0.00006% chance of dying in a terrorist attack in 2005, the worst year.
had a 0.00005% chance of catching human BSE (mad cow disease).
had a 0.05442% chance of dying of pneumonia (didn’t see that in the news).
had a 0.25477% chance of dying of cancer (or that one, much).

All right, you still think that’s unfair. How about comparing the total amount of people who died in 2005 with how they died: 512993 deaths (in 2005, but the figures don’t change much between then & 2002, where the figures all come from).

If you died in 2005 there was a 29.9% chance that you died of cancer.
If you died in 2005 there was a 22.2% chance that you died because you smoke.
If you died in 2005 there was a 0.67% chance that you died in a car accident (not your fault).
If you died in 2005 there was a 0.05% chance that you died of an AIDS related illness.
If you died in 2005 there was a 0.01% chance that you died in the London bombings or of BSE.

Time was when we lived our lives. You are not going to die today. I say this with the certainty of a person who knows by saying this to you, living in Britain, my percentage correct will be higher than I ever scored on any exam ever:

99.997666%.

You don’t get odds like that in any betting anywhere else. Ever. Stop being scared. Have a cup of tea. You’re going to live. So don’t run that credit card bill up too high.

* I made that up.

** Some are from different years, could not get 2006 stats for everything in time available. I have a life, you know.

*** phonetic joke, not very good.

reference materials: as if you care…
ref#1: (pop.deaths) http://www.statistics.gov.uk/CCI/nugget.asp?ID=6
ref#2: (smoking) http://www.ash.org.uk/html/factsheets/html/fact02.html
ref#3: (cancer) http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/cancerstats/mortality/
ref#4: (superflu) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4293765.stm
ref#5: (aids) http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=654
ref#6: (all) http://www.anxietyculture.com/stats.htm
ref#7: (statistics of war) http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2006/07/the_statistics_of_war.html
ref#8: (road deaths eu) http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/facts/UK/index26.aspx?ComponentId=7101&SourcePageId=14975
ref#9: (air) http://www.airsafe.com/
ref#10: (terror) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4661059.stm
ref#11: (mad_cow) http://www.igreens.org.uk/human_mad_cow_deaths.htm
ref#12: (heart disease) http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/in_depth/health/2000/heart_disease/default.stm

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