Mike the Mad Biologist

A Nation of Nine-Eleven Ninnies

According to the NY Times’ John Tierney, post-Sept. 11th fear of terrorism might be detrimental to one’s health:

But worrying about terrorism could be taking a toll on the hearts of millions of Americans. The evidence, published last week in the Archives of General Psychiatry, comes from researchers who began tracking the health of a representative sample of more than 2,700 Americans before September 2001. After the attacks of Sept. 11, the scientists monitored people’s fears of terrorism over the next several years and found that the most fearful people were three to five times more likely than the rest to receive diagnoses of new cardiovascular ailments.

Almost all the people in the study lived outside New York or Washington and didn’t know any victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. But more than a 10th of them reported acute stress symptoms (like insomnia or nightmares) right after the attacks, and over the next three years more than 40 percent said they kept worrying about a terrorist attack affecting themselves or a family member.

But this is the part that got me (italics mine):

Their worries were understandable, given the continual warnings from Washington. Officials repeatedly raised the color-coded level of the National Threat Advisory and sometimes explicitly warned of imminent attacks from terrorist cells supposedly operating in America. The alert level has never dropped below yellow (the third of the five levels). About a third to a half of Americans have continued to tell pollsters that they’re personally worried about being victims of a terrorist attack, and that an attack is somewhat or very likely within several months.

This tells me that “a third to a half of Americans” are fucking morons. Maybe because I’ve lived in a country where terrorism was a daily reality I’m inured to this. Or maybe it’s because I come from a long line of stubborn Jews. Still, this is insane. I realize the Bush Administration along with the security-industrial complex have a vested interest in stoking people’s fears. And watching hours of the terrorism-based torture porn show 24 doesn’t help either.

But any remotely rational assessment of the terrorism risk would make you more afraid of driving your car than of a terrorist attack. Granted, the underlying psychology is interesting, but after all of the psychoanalysis, you still have to strap on the ol’ thinkin’ cap, and not be a fucking moron.

Wimps.

Comments

  1. #1 Mark P
    January 16, 2008

    I might be a little more charitable than that, but I agree that a large fraction of the US population appears to have a tenuous grip on reality. If the media environment were different, and not so pervasive, their paranoia might be focused on worrying about mice getting into the pantry. But in this country, it’s all terrorism all the time, despite the extreme rarity of such events here.

  2. #2 natural cynic
    January 16, 2008

    … and Rudy hopes that they will stay that way through November.

  3. #3 PhysioProf
    January 16, 2008

    You are unduly harsh on the American citizens who believe what they are told by their government. Throughout history, it has always been only a small fraction of people who have the capacity to critically assess what they are told through channels of accepted authority. It is not the fault of ordinary people that they have been exploited by scientifically designed systems of manipulation.

  4. #4 phisrow
    January 16, 2008

    Depending on the nature and lethality of these excess cardiac ailments, it seems disturbingly possible that we’ve reached the point where worrying about terrorists is killing us faster than terrorists are.

    For interest’s sake, it would be nice to see a comparison of fears vs. actual risks for representative samples of various demographics.

  5. #5 B8ovin
    January 16, 2008

    It seems to me that this falls right into the controversy surrounding “militant” atheism and “passive” atheism. Either you understand that religious assumptions are ridiculous or you don’t. If you don’t you are responsible for your ignorance (new militant atheism). I tend to agree with this statement, and more so when it comes to terrorism. If this was a backwards country with little or no education I might understand how one can go about being manipulated by the government hacks who wish to exploit fears. But I think we’ve long passed the threshold where willfull ignorance can be excused or elicit empathy. We just can’t afford not to call these people moronic wimps. I’m not suggesting politicians do it, as that would be suicide, but there should be more of an effort among the media pundits and educators to relay the fact that these sleepless people have a MUCH greater liklihood of dying in the bathtub than in a terrorist attack. Well, maybe no. Sleepless unwashed paranoics would not be good…

    The point is, if we are going to run around with yellow sitckers on our cars in honor of men risking their lives for a useless unending penis measurement, the least we could expect from the homefront is basic understanding and a wee bit of bravery.

  6. #6 Pierce R. Butler
    January 16, 2008

    Most of these people just have a poor grasp of the relevant numbers.

    What else would you expect from a nation that spends billions on lottery tickets?

  7. #7 JLowe
    January 17, 2008

    I’ve observed, with over 20 years experience as a human health risk assessor involved with hazardous waste site cleanups, that a substantial plurality of Americans are ninnies about the nature of risk in general.

  8. #8 MattXIV
    January 17, 2008

    There’s nothing partiucularly unique about this. The degree of attention given to a risk affects people’s assessment of the extent of the risk. People also vastly overrestimate the risk of school shootings, getting AIDS from an unprotected sexual encounter, and having their children kidnapped as well.

  9. #9 Michael Schmidt
    January 17, 2008

    Innumeracy kills!

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