Monday, 17 April 2017

Reasons to be fearful

How fearful should we be of terrorism?

Answer: horribly fearful if we are caught in the midst of an atrocity. I know if I was near a terrorist attack I would be petrified. But should the anticipation of an atrocity generate fear in our everyday living? If we allow terrorism to generate morbid fear, are we not fulfilling the hopes and desires of the terrorist? In statistical terms our chances of being hurt by a terrorist attack in the western world are infinitesimal in comparison to other things we should be fearful of but aren’t. We are more likely to be killed by cars or the effects of sugar or the consequences of excessive alcohol. Women are more likely to be killed by domestic violence. If we live in America we are statistically more likely to be killed by a gun, either intentionally or accidentally – and by a person we know rather than a terrorist.

Think don’t feel….

A cool look at UK official statistics should help us reconsider what we worry about:
  • In the UK between 1970 and 1984 there were 2,211 deaths caused by terrorism
  • In the UK between 1985 and 1999 there were 1,094 deaths caused by terrorism
  • In the UK between 2000 and 2015 there were 90 deaths caused by terrorism
Look at those numbers again: in three 15-year periods, deaths from terrorism in the UK have fallen from over 2,000, to just over 1,000 to less than 100; but the Media do not portray it that way. Looking back to my years as a teenager, despite the efforts of the IRA, it would be easy to think that the 1970s was a terrorist-lite period, compared to now. But the facts tell me that it was a far more threatening time. The 1970s and early 1980s were statistically more dangerous (as far as terrorism goes) than 2017.
What SHOULD we be afraid of?
By way of contrast to the terrorism statistics:
  • In the UK over 100 women every year (NOT every 15 years) are murdered by their partner
  • In the UK over 1,700 people are killed every year in road traffic accidents (down from over 3,500 in 2003, which is a good news story but I don’t know why terrorism provokes more fear and outrage than our acceptance of deaths by traffic, given the statistics)
  • Hidden sugars in food contribute to obesity, organ disease and diabetes; more people suffer from the food industry’s over-use of sugar than from terrorist atrocities. Why aren’t we afraid of sugar?
  • In the UK over 8,000 people every year die as a result of the excess consumption of alcohol, but the scare stories about alcohol are few and far between. We are not afraid of alcohol in the same way we are afraid of terrorism.

Is it the same in the USA?

  • In the US in the last decade, fewer than 60 people have been killed by terrorist incidents
  • In the US in the last decade, more than 280,000 people have been killed by “violence-related gun deaths”
If you extend the statistics to include the year of 9/11 World Trade Tower attacks, gun deaths still outnumber terrorist deaths many many many more times. The countries where terrorism is justifiably worth worrying about are Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan.

Go Figure.

Why does the western Media stoke fear about terrorism? To gruesomely entertain us or increase our addiction to bad news? To generate more income for the source of the story by attracting viewing figures, readers or clickbait? Could it be, could it be, could it be, could it be, could it possibly be…. in the interests of the moneyed classes to perpetuate fear to justify financial and political alliances that prop up lucrative arms deals and justify budgets that divert money away from social care, the environment, transport, education and health? Surely not….

Friday, 14 April 2017

Our fears do make us traitors


In Shakespeare's Macbeth Macbeth himself recognizes that:
        Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings
In Romeo and Juliet Juliet imagines waking up from her death-like sleep in a tomb with the bones of her ancestors, including the recently-murdered Tybalt. She knows the bones, smells and shrieks will be in her imagination but still exclaims:   
O, if I wake, shall I not be distraught,
Environed with all these hideous fears?
Shakespeare's famous exploration of the power of FEAR - Macbeth

Laughing off fears

Of course Caesar in Julius Caesar is tricked into disbelieving his wife’s prophetic dreams that harm that will come his way on the Ides of March:
How foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia!
I am ashamed I did yield to them.
And off he trots to his assassination! And, more poignantly Lady Macduff debates the actions of her husband fleeing to England to enlist the aid of Malcolm in the fight against Macbeth and she thinks being afraid is traitorous:
ROSS: You must have patience, madam.
LADY MACDUFF: He had none:
His flight was madness; when our actions do not,
Our fears do make us traitors.
By the end of the scene both she and her young children have been slaughtered.

Imaginary fear versus legitimate fear

Macbeth and Juliet are afraid of things that have not yet happened and seem unlikely. Caesar and Lady Macduff decide that being fearful is unpatriotic. All four of them die at the end of their journey in their play. Perhaps the fears in those plays were well founded. Fear is a real human emotion but Shakespeare knew that our imaginary fears are corrosive and take away our capacity for enjoying the blessings of living. Politicians and the Media portray a world that is fearful – full of fear – but we are statistically living in a period in history when fewer people than ever before die from war, disease, violence and accident. Hard to believe, I imagine, if you are one of the people who fall under the spell of the politics of fear. I myself have to work hard to remind my heart and brain that we had more real reasons to be fearful in every century before the one in which we are currently living.