The most recent "the universe is full of morons" thing to grab my attention is this NPR piece about the things parents fear for their children. For the record, the top five things I worry about as possible causes of my child's death are:
1. Getting hit by a car.
2. Robbery of house when we are not home.
3. Not being ready for his Bar Mitzvah -- which will prompt me to kill him.
4. Freak nuclear/mystic accident that, tragically, does not result in super powers.
This last is pretty much hardwired after nearly two thousand years of ancestors going to bed every night thinking "if the neighbors show up with torches, I have some kopeks and rolls in the bundle by the secret exit in the basement so the children won't get hungry as we flee for our lives." I concede the fourth is sort of unusual, but I still think super powers are more likely than not. The third, I would argue, is normal in the religious Jewish community. If you substituted for #4 "contracting some horrible disease, God forbid, that I can't even think about and now I'm all faklempt thank you very much for making me think it!" I would say this is standard for most traditional Jews.
Apparently, however, surveys of parents show the five most common fears for children are:
2. School snipers
4. Dangerous strangers
Exsqueeze me? Number 2 is flipping school snipers? Meanwhile, the actual top five causes of death for one's child are:
1. Car accidents
2. Homicide (usually committed by a person who knows the child, not a stranger)
I will note that my number one fear actually turns out to be the number one source of death for children (go me!). All kidding aside, this one seemed intuitively obvious. My child spends a lot of time around cars, whether riding in them or crossing streets or shopping in a mall when blues singers on a mission from God cruise by. Cars kill a lot of people. Worse, you can be doing exactly the right thing, crossing with the light, whatever, and some idiot can drive out of the blue and hit you dead. Therefore the thing I worry about is my son getting hit by a car or being in a car accident. My refusal to worry about the other leading causes of child death result from the fact that my child doesn't swim alone, or have particular access to dangerous swimming places. He spends remarkably little time in situations where he could be subject to abuse. And I see no indications of potential suicide. Sure, I might be fooling myself on the last. But as between worrying against some possible hidden suicidal urge and a freak nuclear accident, I'd prefer to worry about the later imaginary fear I can't do anything about. The only alternative is to treat my child as a potential suicide every waking moment of the day, which is pretty silly.
But not of the most common fears made my top zillion list. In fact, they are so ridiculous (to me) I could not figure out how they made the list. The author of the study theorizes it is because people fixate on the stuff that makes headlines, even though these things make headlines precisely because they are so uncommon as to constitute news.
I'd like to think that this only impacts moronic parents who can't figure this stuff out. But it doesn't. It permeates every nook and cranny of policy and is re-enforced by social pressure. Which is why not watching the news does not save you, and why your certainty that you are "not affected" by media and media policy is ridiculous unless you are living as a hermit. You are surrounded by morons who do watch the news, and who insist that we install metal detectors to catch the snipers. You are surrounded by idiots who demand that your school take away your child's freedom and train him/her to submit to the most horrible invasions of privacy, up to letting people watch him/her pee on demand, to protect them from drugs. These same idiotic parents, watching the media you don't care about because you believe yourself unaffected an uninfluenced by it, want to give the government all manner of surveillance powers, want to place significant limits on the utility of social networking sites, and generally want to control every facet of reality to protect their children from the least likely threats imaginable. But these same moronic parents do not trouble to make sure their children buckle their seat belts, wear bicycle helmets, or swim with a buddy.
I'm just a bundle of cheerful observations these days.