My wife is currently working in the United States, and in conversation yesterday she expressed her unease about being there in light of the terrible events in Boston. That is at once both completely understandable, and utterly illogical. But sadly as a species our ability to assess and balance risk is utterly under-evolved to cope with the realities of modern life.
Even she realised that staying in a city where the local shopping mall has a sign saying “No Guns” at the entrance might mean that her chances of a sudden and violent death are relatively unlikely to come from a terrorist incident as from an all-to-common gun crime. But when you look at US mortality rates you soon realise that you are far more likely to come a cropper as a result of an accident, and that self-inflicted death through suicide is also much more common in my wife’s age group than at the hands of a third party. If you want to look for the enemy within at the ages 25-44, look in the mirror.
Of course, whilst that analysis is logical, it’s not emotional. And our emotional reaction to horrors like that that took place in Massachusetts completely outweighs the cold, rational analysis of probability. Our 24-hour news and social hubbub further amplifies the emotional as short snippets of crisis are repeated over and over until it becomes embedded in our minds as being the “normal” but not acceptable.
The tragedy within all of this is that the emotional response is what perpetuates acts of terror. Uplifting them to a scale where we will wage “war” on them makes them important enough for others to follow in footsteps. “Evil” is a badge, almost, of honour when “idiotic” or “deluded” may carry less cachet.
Please don’t misunderstand; what happened in Boston was terrible. But on the day in which 3 people were killed in that idiotic act, on average 1,600 would have died from heart disease, a similar number from cancer, 330 from unintentional accidents and over a hundred killed by their own hand. And those numbers repeated yesterday, and will again today, and will every other day this year.