It is disgusting but not shocking to hear about terrorist attacks in Paris last night.
This morning I received an email from my university’s office of communications and external relations reassuring our community that university officials “have not heard of any student who has been harmed or is in danger . . . All are safe.” Furthermore, there is no indication that any faculty or staff member “has been harmed or is in danger, either, in France.”
Although it was good to know that no member of our university community had been harmed, I was surprised to read that the university also believed that none were “in danger” and that they “are safe.”
The very fact of the terrorist attack that created the need for the communication suggests that no one in Paris, no one in France, no one anywhere is safe and out of danger.
At the same time, as people ratchet up concern on social media and the 24 hour news cycle kicks into high gear, I remind myself of the work of Steven Pinker showing that we live in the most peaceable time in human history.
So, we are probably safe, but not certainly safe.
I think about Pinker also as I prepare to travel to Washington, DC for a conference this coming week. Washington, DC seems like it would be a major target for terrorist activity, and yet I try to remind myself that I am more likely to die in a car crash driving to DC than I am to be a victim of a terrorist attack. I’m more likely to die from the saturated fats I will consume while I am there. More likely to die from the work-related stress of preparing for my presentation. More likely to die from the exercise I won’t get because of the conference. Even more likely to die from being attacked in a city with a high rate of violent crime and limited civilian access to the means of lethal force for purposes of self-defense.
The infographic above is for the UK, but the risk factors for death are very similar in the United States. In the end, I’m afraid that in so many ways we are our own worst enemies.