We think we live in particularly violent times.
Right now – today! — we are less likely to die a violent death than at any time in history.
What fuddles our perspective is an inability to assess risk.
And so, we presume terror attacks are more likely to kill us than, say, automobile accidents… or “falls in the home.”
In the last decade, 400,000 Americans died in automobile accidents, and 200,000 more falling in their homes.
In that same decade, 2700 died in terror attacks.
Death rates from physical violence and auto wreckage continue to plummet, but bin Laden sowed such terror in American hearts that we believe this moment in history is especially violent when, in fact, the opposite is true.
Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, author of “Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” notes that among “tribal societies, hunter-gatherers and hunter-horticulturalists, an average of about 15 percent of people met their ends through violence. In the 20th century, if you try to come up with the highest estimate you can — combining all the wars, all the genocides, all the man-made famines — you get to 3 percent.”
It bears mention that violent death from murder-and-suicide is about as frequent as traffic fatality and that per capita traffic fatalities are approximately twice as high in the United States as in Europe.
If we followed Europe’s lead in designing safe autos, better road construction methods, jurisprudential reform etc. we could easily save 100,000 lives a decade.
Instead, we focus on 2700 people who died ten years ago while ignoring the hundred thousand Americans who will die – quite needlessly — in the next decade.
Listen to the silence roar through the graveyard where a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians are buried – victims all of Bush/Cheney’s Whimsy War.
While researching this article, I was surprised to learn that the U.S. suicide rate is nearly twice our homicide rate. (Consider “The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies” – Yale University Press – http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300091069)
And finally, although Mexico is besieged by a horrifying torrent of drug-related deaths, even “south of the border” violence is far less than it seems. In fact, Mexico City has fewer violent deaths than Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., New Orleans and Detroit. http://thecatalist.org/2010/08/violent-deaths-in-mexico-everything-is-not-as-it-seems/
Canadian Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, put it well: “In politics, madame, you need two things: friends, but above all an enemy.”
Having tolerated the intrusion of Truth, however briefly, we may now resume our delusional embrace, our fond vision of apocalyptic catastrophe.
Ah, for the days of sugar plums dancing!