Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Putting Orlando in perspective

By my rough estimate, 10,000 people will die today due to waterborne pathogens.  10,000 died yesterday.  Another 10,000 the day before.  Another 10,000 the day before.  Another 10,000 the day before.

10,000 will die tomorrow.  Another 10,000 will die on Thursday.  10,000 more on Friday.  20,000 next weekend.

Shall I continue, or have I made my point?

My estimate comes from the World Health Organization.  A quick search on their site gave me an estimate a few years old of 3.4 million deaths due to waterborne pathogens per year.  Dividing by 365, that gave me just over 9315.  Adjusting a few years for growing population, I rounded up.

If you want to see murder rates from the FBI data, here's the link.

When a "mass shooting" occurs, people talk about it as an "epidemic."  That sullies the term.  An epidemic is the obscene death rate from waterborne pathogens.  You aren't going to be shot.  You aren't going to be killed by a terrorist.  You are much more likely to die in a car accident, or as a result of your own fat, lazy American lifestyle.  What happened in Orlando was horrible for the victims, their friends and family.  And it was a threat to the LGBT community that must be taken seriously.  But there are worse epidemics of diseases you've never heard of.

So why do people obsess over shit like Orlando?  I'm a political scientist, so I should probably put this in social science terms.

1)  News is news because it's rare.  The 10,000 people who will die today due to waterborne pathogens?  Not news.  So you won't hear about it.

2)  Most of them live in impoverished countries.  Even the Whole Food-shopping, self-righteously-worldly lefties don't really care as much about faceless people in distant and impoverished countries as nightclubbers in Orlando.  If that's you, go fuck yourself.

3)  It can't happen to me.  This isn't really about sympathy.  It's about personal fear.  In America, we have clean water.  Mostly.  If we don't live in Flint.  Regardless, most Americans at least reasonably think they are more at risk of dying due to gun violence than waterborne pathogens, and fuck the rest of the world, because me, me, me.

4)  As Tversky & Kahneman pointed out long ago, people suck at evaluating comparative risks.  We are simply seeing biases play into #3.

5)  Delusions of government competence.  There are things the government can do.  And there are things they can't do.  Stopping a lone shooter?  Nope.  They suck at that.  But, liberals have ridiculous fantasies about how the government can snap its fingers and make guns disappear, and conservatives harbor delusions that tough talk and bluster can scare Muslims into converting to Christianity.

6)  Delusions of incompetence.  Strangely, people forget that we really could do something about the waterborne pathogen issue if we cared.  We know how to sanitize water.  It isn't even that expensive, comparatively.  The fact that the problem is elsewhere doesn't mean we can't fix it.

Your probability of dying in an incident of gun violence is absurdly low.  If you worry about it, you are an idiot.  Your probability of dying in a terrorist attack is absurdly low.  If you worry about it, you are an idiot.  Far more people die due to waterborne pathogens than either.  They just do it elsewhere.  If you spend more time or energy worrying about, or trying to push for policies on gun control or terrorist surveillance, then you are a horrible person.

And I haven't even bothered talking about malaria.  Do you know how cheap mosquito nets are?

Quit whining about guns and/or terrorism.  10,000 people will die today due to waterborne pathogens, and His Holiness, Barack Obama won't be giving a heartfelt speech about it, nor will throngs of people engage in candle-light vigils, nor will politicians make ridiculous, position-taking stances on bills that won't pass and wouldn't do anything anyway.

And think about this.  Donald Trump doesn't give a shit about waterborne pathogens in impoverished countries.  If you are more concerned with Orlando too, then you are no better than Donald Fucking Trump.

Yes, I'm an asshole.  I never claimed otherwise.

OK, that was a downer.  Here's this...

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