There’s something I’ve always found mesmerizing about watching animals in the wild.
They have the most incredible instincts, honed from countless generations of survival against constant threats.
Animals have a keen sense of danger. They know immediately when something doesn’t feel right, and they act on it without hesitation.
I saw an incredible example of this last year when I was visiting a remote wildlife reservation in Zimbabwe.
It was late in the afternoon on a hot summer day, and my friends and I were ensconced in a hidden observation bunker situated on the edge of a water hole.
The animals all began to arrive, one species at a time, to cool off before nightfall. First the elephants. Then Rhinos. Zebras. Giraffes. Baboons.
It was a playful mood; all the animals seemed to be enjoying the water, when without warning, there was a stillness. The gazelles froze. The zebras’ ears perked.
Something wasn’t right. A smell. A sound. Something.
So they got the hell out of there.
We found out later that a ravenous pack of hyenas was on the prowl nearby, so the animals’ instincts were spot-on.
Deep, deeeep down, human beings have the same highly refined instincts.
Our long-lost ancestors struggled against every imaginable danger. And those lessons are hard-coded in our DNA.
We sense threats. We can feel it when something’s wrong.
The difference between our species and animals in the wild, though, is that we humans have way too many external influences that muck it all up.
Case in point: last week was obviously a tough one for anyone with any sense of humanity.
Acts of terrorism are scary.
And hearing about completely innocent people on a popular pedestrian promenade getting mowed down like bowling pins by some madman is definitely going to cause some discomfort.
But down here in Latin America at least, there was ensuring wall-to-wall news coverage for the next several days in a way I hadn’t seen since 9/11.
It’s all we saw. Terrorism. Terrorism. Terrorism.
This really amps up the fear factor for something that is already difficult to stomach.
So it’s easy to understand why I keep hearing people say things like, “We’re living through the most dangerous times in human history.”
It’s easy to lose perspective. But on the balance we have it pretty good.
13th century Europeans faced a far greater threat with the approaching Mongol hoard.
A century later they faced an even more terrible fate with the onset of the Bubonic Plague, which ultimately wiped out around 30% of Europe’s population.
Even in more recent times, the threat of nuclear annihilation between East and West posed a constant threat.
Yes, acts of terrorism are appalling. But taken in historical and mathematical context the danger is actually quite low.
The Cato Institute published some data recently showing that the chances of dying in a terror attack are around 1 in 3 million.
Statistically speaking, you have a better chance of being crushed to death by a vending machine.
But we don’t demand that our governments spend hundreds of billions of dollars that taxpayers cannot possibly afford in order to protect us from vending machines.
That’s because deep down we sense that vending machines don’t truly pose a threat.
But with terrorism our senses are heavily manipulated until we believe that the threat is far greater than what the statistics show.
The real irony is that the manipulation works both ways.
Just as we are manipulated into being terrified of certain risks that pose no real statistical threat, we are manipulated into ignoring other risks that are far more likely.
I would raise financial markets as an obvious example.
The stock market in the United States is at an all-time high, with valuation metrics that have rarely been higher in more than 100 years of data.
Bond markets around the world have literally never been more expensive… EVER.
In order to return to levels that are more in-line with long-term historical averages, stock and bond markets would both have to suffer steep losses.
But instead of encouraging investors to independently assess these financial risks, mainstream media often dismisses such assertions as pessimistic bugaboo.
Or another obvious long-term risk– that Social Security is going to run out of money.
I write about this one frequently. The Social Security Trustees, including the Treasury Secretary of the United States, state very clearly in their annual report that Social Security’s major trust funds “will be depleted in 2034.”
Yet despite the totally predictable, unavoidable, widespread consequences to Americans’ primary source of retirement income, the public is manipulated into ignoring this threat as well.
Instead of the truth, we continue to hear the same tired mantra– “Social Security is just fine,” despite every shred of objective evidence to the contrary.
We’re also told to believe ridiculous axioms like “the US government’s debt doesn’t matter,” even though they have $20+ trillion of it and spend like drunken sailors.
But no. The experts tell us that this is not a risk worth concerning ourselves with. Angry brown people want to kill us. Focus on that instead.
Human beings have a 1 in 3,000,000 chance of suffering from a terror attack.
Yet there is currently a 100% chance that Social Security runs out of money in 2034.
Only one of these manages to find its way into the news.
Not to mention, if properly informed, people can actually DO SOMETHING about the latter. There’s plenty of time for intelligent people to prepare.