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The Culture of Fear

The Culture of Fear
An Interview with Barry Glassner

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As a contrarian traveler I get deals by visiting places others avoid, like the Caribbean in summer or Europe in winter. Tourists also often avoid destinations they consider tainted -- even if the rap isn't deserved. Take Bali, Indonesia for example -- lots of tourists have stayed away from that island paradise because of demonstrations in distant Jakarta -- which would be like not visiting Burlington, Vermont because of rioting in Washington DC. So I talked with Barry Glassner, author of a new book -- The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Worry About the Wrong Things and asked him, why are Americans afraid to visit Greece or cruise the Adriatic when the conflict is hundreds of miles away in Yugoslavia.

Glassner: "One factor is that Americans have a very poor sense of geography. We are very nototious for that. So I think we think in terms of parts of the world so that when we hear about a problem somoewhere we think that the whole region must be infected it's sort of like if you think about a disease as if the disease could somehow be spreading throughout the whole body through the whole continent."

Now there certainly are places I wouldn't visit like Algeria or Kosovo where they've actually been fighting. But Glassner says worrying too much about paper tigers can actually hurt us.

Glassner: "The great irony is that by paying attention to isolated incidents and scares that get... blown way out of proportion we don't pay attention to what are much more proximate and serious dangers and therefore put ourselves at greater risk. I like to talk about the fact that if you are in an airplane you are infinitely safer than if you are in a car but it's very hard to keep that in mind."

Especially after that crash in Little Rock where nine people lost their lives. But Glassner says the images of bodies and wreckage that frighten us just obscure the fact that flying is safe.

Glassner: "I had a tremendous fear of flying before I did the research for the chapter in this book and then I spent a year really researching airline safety and it had a phenomenal effect on me I'm no longer afraid of flying and the reason is because I know that this is the safest place I can be. I know airline safety is so extraordinary because we have invested in this as a nation in a way we have not in any other area. We don't invest this way to make highways safe, schools safe, food safe, workplaces safe to the same degree by a long shot."

Now we're not telling you to ignore danger. It's up to you to decide what your comfortable with, but I'd hate to think any of my listeners would pass up a potentially great trip because of unfounded fears.

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