Illogical fears damage our politics

 In this Monday, Oct. 2, 2017 file photo, drapes billow out of broken windows at the Mandalay Bay resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip, following a deadly shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas. Police who have yet to find Stephen Paddock's motive for the massacre said Friday, that they will enlist the public's help. The FBI's Aaron Rouse says billboards will ask people with credible information to call the agency at 800-CALL-FBI. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Over the summer, I had a conversation with an acquaintance about their fear of driving on the highway. They wanted to try and get out on the highway, but they felt that if they did they might have a panic attack. Most people hearing this would say something along the lines of “that’s a weird thing to be scared of” or just laugh at them. But when you think about it, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to be afraid of huge metal objects that are being driven at high speeds by creatures that are fallible and could suffer any number of ailments that might cause them to veer off course. Statistics justify this fear as well, as over 30,000 people a year are killed and millions are injured every year in automobile crashes.A healthy respect for the dangers of the highway is of course important to its overall safety, as this keeps drivers alert and on their guard. Not driving on the highway altogether is an extreme reaction. It is important not to let fear, however justified, stop us from living our lives.

It is interesting to compare that which people say they fear to the things, statistically speaking, they should fear. For example, not many people would say they are scared of driving on the highway. In fact, I couldn’t find a poll on the issue because the question seems so silly to mainstream Americans. In contrast, ask virtually anyone if they are scared of terrorism and their response will be something along the lines of “well duh.” Out of the issues voters ranked as being very important to them in 2016, terrorism was second at 80 percent.

From a numbers standpoint, it is utterly ridiculous that so many people feel terrorism, specifically terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, is a very important issue. Since the September 11 attacks in 2001, that killed almost 3,000 people, no more than 100 people have died in a year from terrorist attacks. According to a National Safety Council Study, the lifetime odds of being killed by a foreign born terrorist are 1 in 45,808 and the odds of being killed by a refugee terrorist are 1 in 46,192,893. Your odds of being killed in a motor vehicle incident are 1 in 113. In other words, you are hundreds of times more likely to be killed by car crashes than terrorists.

Additionally, nine of the top 10 things most likely to kill you are medically related: heart disease, cancer, stroke, etc. Yet for some reason health care was only the fourth most important voting issue in the election. It’s insane when you think about it, and people on both sides of the political spectrum are guilty (though a greater percentage of Clinton supporters ranked health care above terrorism).

Why does it matter that people are so frightened of terrorism that they see it as more important than things that kill hundreds times more people? There are several answers. One is that scared people don’t always react logically. Someone might be so scared of terrorism that they overlook the flaws of a candidate because they believe they can stop this one particular problem. This facilitates the election of incompetent candidates who are simply skilled at stoking fear. Second, the level at which terrorism terrifies Americans is such that we are willing to give up many freedoms, especially privacy rights (see the Patriot Act).

The most important drawback of the illogically heightened concern for terrorist attacks is that an unbalanced amount of resources will be diverted to terrorism prevention when they could be better utilized elsewhere. The hard truth is spending a million dollars on car safety initiatives will save a lot more lives than spending a million on counterterrorism. We are throwing money away, for no other reason than the irrational fear of terrorist attacks.

That is precisely the point of terrorism. It’s in the damn name. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a fear of terrorist attacks in our country. But at the same time, giving into irrational fears kills people. Dead is dead. The thousands of people who “quietly” die every year in car crashes are no less important than those who fall victim to terrorism to the trumpeting of the media.


Jacob Kowalski is the opinion editor to The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at jacob.kowalski@uconn.edu.