Are People Ignorant or Apathetic to Risk? Don’t Know and Don’t Care!

Most people do not act rationally when it comes to judging health or safety risks – they fear flying but drive everywhere; they get tested for breast cancer but not for heart disease; they think living in an earthquake zone is risky but jaywalk on the way to the office.

In one area, however, Americans seem to very aware of – or very blind to – risk. Chuck McCutcheon of Newhouse News Service reports that no one is doing much to prepare for a terrorist attack or a Katrina-sized natural disaster: “Some call it a waste of time. Others say they can’t afford it. Still others object to the Bush administration trying to tell them what to do.”

On the other hand, one group has learned something from Katrina – those concerned with the effect of disaster on pregnant mothers and newborns. The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood has organized to get public agencies to incorporate new mothers and babies into emergency planning.

Everyone else knows to stockpile a three-day supply of food, water and batteries. But they don’t. And who is to say whether they are indifferent or just aware of the low risk?

2 COMMENTS

  1. There’s no mystery here. Most people are willing to make high-risk choices when they control the outcome or merely feel that they control it, but avoid low-risk choices when they’re powerless to control the outcome.

    That’s why I prefer to drive than to fly. Someone might say I should trust the pilot because trusting people in authority makes for a nice orderly society, but they’re wrong. I shouldn’t trust anyone except me when it comes to my own mortality because survival is the responsibility of the individual.

    If you want a straight up comparison, poll people whether they’d prefer to fly than be a passenger in a car for the same length of time.

  2. Correct and correct.
    What are governments’ roles in engendering a perception of increasing risk? This simply has to also mean increased fear. When it serves a regime to enhance apprehension, where does the educated citizen draw the line at the level of daily fear he will tolerate from his government?
    What I mean to imply is that government, by its very nature, can only provide a limited amount of preparation for disaster. For one, it cannot in its structure prepare for a disaster that destroys the government.

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