The facts don’t back our fears of terrorism

Terrorism article pic

This article first appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser

ARE you worried about terrorism? About the possibility that it might happen to you? Or someone you love? You shouldn’t be.

It’s as unlikely as winning the lottery. Depending on what lottery you’re playing of course, and whether or not you bought a ticket.

The chances of you being involved in a terrorist attack are around 20 million to one. Ask any statistician or economist if it’s worth worrying about, and they’ll all tell you the exact same thing.

No. Not even slightly.

The reason we’re all so afraid of a terrorist attack though, and I include myself in this group, is that our brains are busted.

Thanks to evolution, we’re all sucked in by shocking images and great stories, but we’re terrible with numbers.

It’s why we love going to the movies, but nobody’s interested in seeing an accountant perform live.

Even if that accountant is an expert at juggling numbers, balancing spreadsheets, and making your tax debt disappear.

Although I know all this, whenever I get on a plane, I’m still worried.

It could be hijacked, or explode, or be used to ram a building. All those things have happened before, and not just in the movies.

For all the media attention terrorism gets, it doesn’t feel like twenty million to one, but more like the toss of a coin.

This fear is one of the big reasons so many of us are against immigration, helping refugees and being decent global citizens.

So despite the tiny chances of it happening, why does everyone seem to be always talking about terrorism?

Well fear sells stuff, and if you’re not afraid? Well you’re not buying anything.

It’s why the millions and billions of Muslims who condemn every terrorist attack barely get a mention. Nobody’s afraid of them.

Tell people that a terrorist attack is imminent, however, and we’re all tuning in, and once again, I’m talking about me too.

Did you know that the odds of dying by falling out of bed are two million to one?

Drowning in the bath. That’s half a million to one. About the same as your chances of being struck by lightning.

Yet we put children in baths, and sleep with a bed every night of our lives.

The odds of dying in a car accident are about 8000 to one.

That’s 2500 times more likely to happen than a terrorist attack, but nobody is told to watch out for suspicious cars.

Every single time I’ve been through airport security, I’ve never seen them once stop one car.

Unless it has a beard. Or it’s wearing a headscarf. Or it’s carrying some fruit.

The most likely things to kill us are heart disease, which is one in five, and cancer, which is one in seven.

However the products that cause both of those are widely available and advertised everywhere.

Then airport security, and this is going to break your primitive pea brain, because it certainly broke mine the first time I heard it. Airport security is there only to make us feel safer. It doesn’t actually make us any safer.

If it’s really necessary, why don’t we walk through a metal detector before going into a shopping centre? A sporting event? Before getting onto a bus or a train?

The truth is that the terrorists have plenty of other options, but some risks are just too big and awkward to worry about.

Now that I know all this though, I’m still against doing away with airport security.

As pointless as it is, the thought of getting on a plane when nobody has been through security?

Well that still terrifies me.

This article first appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser

Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian.

His second comedy memoir ‘Going Out of My Mined’ is available now.

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