So What Are You Worried About?

Recently, Square Dealer told us about properly judging what makes us happy and what we should spend our money on. Last week’s Time cover story, on the other hand, tells us what we should be worried about, and how terribly wrong we usually are in judging threats. Of course there’s the old saw about airline travel (a couple hundred deaths annually, in a bad year) being much safer than automobile travel (44,000 deaths annually), but there are even better examples in the article (unfortunately I have yet to find online the chart that accompanied the print version). It seems our prehistoric brains are programmed to respond more strongly to the big, cataclysmic events that are out of our control (such as airplane crashes or terrorism), or to the novel threats (such as bird flu or mad cow, which have yet to cause a single death in the U.S.), than to the more mundane, but far more likely threats (such as heart disease, which kills 685k annually, or cancers, which kill 557k annually, or even regular flu, which kills 36k annually). Even our fears of violent crime are somewhat unjustified, as roughly twice as many people die from their own hands (31k) than from the hands of others (17k homicides annually).

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