Take Risks

There’s an interesting article by John Goekler at Counterpunch (‘The Most Dangerous Person in the World?‘) which says something stark about our perception of risk.  As Goekler points out,  it’s not a terrorist, but us, our own lifestyle choices which are most likely to do us in.  Between half a million and a million Americans die each year as a result of smoking, drinking, eating crap and staring into the televisual abyss instead of taking exercise.  Another 75,000 die as a result of bugs like flu and pneumonia.  Toxic agents (asbestos and such) found in consumer products kill another 55,000.  He says that American deaths due to terrorism have been less than 15 per year since 2002 — all of which have been abroad.  Peanut allergies kill many more of us each year.  We don’t spend trillions trying to prevent peanut allergy attacks.

Not sure where the numbers come from, but let’s grant that we are rubbish at assessing risk.  What should we conclude from this fact?  Goekler’s conclusion is a bit of a non sequitur, but the claim is that security is a perception, and we’d have it if we lived with more dignity and less fear.  Maybe so.  Philosophers might be better at wondering what our failures in this connection tell us about human nature — not just the personal failures in our everyday lives, but the large scale social failures too.   What sort of thing are we?  To garble Descartes, we are thinking things, things that hope to win the lottery, that fear evil doers, and like McNuggets.

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