Friday, 5 December 2008

Fear, Instincts and the Patented Lightning Test

Our mass-media (meme-propagation system) has increased in efficiency tens or hundreds of times faster than our context-supplying instincts.

We evolved in loose groups of 150-250 individuals. If you heard about someone getting eaten by a tiger then, chances are you should watch out because he was likely only a few hundred metres over that way, so the danger to you was very real.

Then we started to hear about things that happened to someone at the other end of the country, and suddenly it seemed like there were murderers and rapists and nutjobs everywhere, because barely a day went past when we didn't hear of someone getting killed in an inventive or gruesome way.

Now we've got the web, and e-mail, and satellite TV, and blogs, and we hear about it if a mouse farts in Buttfuck, Antarctica. And now it's not even safe to let your kids walk to school for fear of them getting molested, you can't get on an aeroplane for fear it'll be bombed out of the sky, and you can't visit the toilet in your own house without getting abducted and beheaded by terrorists.

The only way to tackle this is by recognising what's going on and overruling your instincts. They served you well ten thousands years ago when you lived in a tree and had to avoid tigers, but now we're living in condos and keep small tigers in the house as pets.

Try my patented Lightning Test: Look up the statistics of whatever the latest mania/terror/panic is about, and only worry about it if it's more likely than… oh… say… getting hit by lightning.

Try terrorism - look up the number of deaths from terrorism each year, then look up the number of people who get hit by lightning.

Now if someone's advocating taking away civil rights because of terrorism, or locking up our children because of paedophiles, you can apply the simple test: Are they also advocating the compulsory wearing of earthed metal hats and rubber gumboots?

If not, then their little pet crusade is clearly disproportionate and can be safely ignored.


This has been a Public Service Announcement from the Lets All Get A Fucking Grip Society. Have a nice day.

6 comments:

Mike said...

haha that was pretty amusing. It's amazing what a little fear can do to people.

Symphonic_Nightmare said...

Here at my workplace my supervisor has often used the phrase, "...more likely to get hit by lightning while riding a unicycle than..." It's a very apt metaphor to describe the insanity and unjustified fear you describe. It's also led to the uncomfortable reality of college aged people no longer being able to fend for themselves.

Shaper said...

"more likely to get hit by lightning while riding a unicycle than..."

I like it!

Anonymous said...

It's never safe to ignore frightened humans.

homily52 said...

The world is not a safe place but, I don't watch the local news because they are always starting with the tag line: "OMG, something is going to KILL YOU!" Then they wait until the last two minutes to tell you what this horrible thing is. Oftentimes it is something that I heard about months ago. The reality is that we should all live as if the world IS safe, as if our neighbors are not out to get us, and as if the people who built bridges and buildings actually knew what they were doing. Most of the time we don't get struck by lightning, etc.

John said...

How many people were killed by terrorists in 2001 and how many were killed by lightning? Terrorist acts don't occur in a uniformly random manner, having had one recently means more are more likely. Childhood sexual abuse is also much more common then lightning strikes, so by your criterion we should worry about it. Ignore enough unlikely dangers and it will become likely that one of them will affect you. Yes the most resources should be devoted to avoiding the most likely dangers, but don't discount the unlikely dangers which can be reduced 'cheaply'.