Misplaced Fear

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend recently. Not that it’s a recent trend, I’ve just begun to notice it.

People are irrationally afraid of things that they will likely never experience.

As an example, let’s look at terrorism. More people seem to be afraid of getting killed in a terrorist attack than they are of being killed by cancer. That fear is mind-bogglingly irrational.

If you live in the western world, you are more likely to die from almost anything else than you are to be killed in a terrorist attack. Here are some statistics I’ve compiled from data about the United States in particular. I’ve rounded off most of the numbers since there tends to be a bit of ambiguity in the sources.

  • Since 2001, <4k people have died from terrorist attacks (The vast majority being the 2,977 people who died in the 911 attacks)
  • 303 Americans were killed by religious extremists in the decade from 2004 to 2014
    •  24 of those were on US soil

In the same decade…

  • 100 people were killed by vending machines
  • 500 people were killed by lightning
  • 6,000 people died from autoerotic asphyxiation
  • 300,000 people were killed by guns (the majority of which were suicides)
  • 500,000 people were killed in car accidents
  • 610,000 people died from heart disease…every year

If you look at it objectively, it’s obviously not something to worry about. But we still do.

It’s a fear of the unknown. A worry that you don’t know when or where the big bad evil person will come for you. That you could be going about your day and someone could come along and kill you just because they believe it’s the right thing to do. They might even believe in a perversion of your own religion, yet still want to kill you to support their own goals. It’s a scary thought.

But why is it scary? You’re 1000 times more likely to die in a car accident today than you are to get killed by a terrorist, but you’re probably not scared of that happening.

We’re too concerned with fear of the flashy things. Our minds focus on the things that are vivid and interesting, and not on the things that are most likely to happen.

It’s an irrationality, one that you should rigorously work to beat out of yourself.

What Should Scare You?

Statistics are not trusted by a lot of people; they can be massaged to say just about anything. However, statistics viewed properly can reveal the truth.

If you find yourself scared of something that’s obviously irrational, like a terrorist attack, look at the statistics. What is the most likely thing that’s going to kill you? Obviously terrorist attacks are low on the list, hell, it’s below lightning. (Incidentally, while looking this up I learned that lightning only kills you 10% – 30% of the time, so lightning isn’t all that bad.)

Here’s a nice little graph I borrowed from Wikipedia that shows the leading causes of death by age.




To figure out what’s most likely to kill you, you need a little bit of Calculus. Since you’ve already lived to whatever age you are now, ignore everything to the left of your age group. For each cause of death, add up the area under the curve to the right of your age group and see which comes out to be the most likely cause of death for the rest of your life. Now this is a real challenge, so if you need to go review your old Calculus textbooks, I can wait.

Ok, now, raise your hand if you got terrorism. Anybody?

That would be pretty impressive, considering it’s not even on the damn list.

In fact, you’d have to be planning to kill yourself before 75 for you to get anything other than Cardiovascular Disease as your answer.

Your Heart Will Kill You

I’m not trying to be depressing here, I promise I’m trying to help.

Part of what makes terrorism scary, as I’ve discussed before, is the feeling that you can’t do anything about it. You’re scared that somebody else will come and take away your opportunity at living for their own reasons. I hear you, I don’t want to get murdered either.

But luckily for most of us, that’s not going to ever be a problem.

Far and away more likely, your heart is going to give out. Or you’ll die from cancer (that’s the second one on the list by the way, “Malignant neoplasms”).

And these things, the things that likely will kill you, are preventable.

Not entirely, obviously. I’m not some crackpot running around preaching that cancer is curable by eating broccoli once a day (though to be fair I did point out that Cold Showers might help fight tumors, the key word being might). But you can reduce your chances of getting heart disease or cancer in the first place through lifestyle changes.

Even though you can’t cure them you can reduce your odds of getting them or delay the onset with relatively little effort. By acting now you might add years of healthy living to your lifespan.

How to Live Forever

(As much as that heading is a joke, only 91% of all homo sapiens who have ever lived have actually died)

You already know what I’m going to say here, but I’m going to say it anyways.

The odds of dying from heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes, and Alzheimer’s can all be reduced through proper diet and exercise.

While everyone else is worried about getting killed by other people, people who pay attention to statistics are over here eating right and exercising. There’s never a guarantee in life, but taking care of yourself has the potential to add years of healthy living to your life.

In contrast, worrying about a violent attack is more likely to just increase your blood pressure and kill you sooner.

So don’t let the terrorists win. Eat your veggies.