Be happy

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In this the holiday season in a United States heavy on fear, anger and acrimony, could there be a better time to look at the data on how far we have come collectively since the Revolutionary War that is in one context so long ago and in another so recent.

Two-hundred-thirty-five-odd years is a blip in the life history of the planet, but measured by the average time people lived in colonial days, it was more than six-and-a-half human lifespans.

We can start right there with the changes for the better.

For those born in 1760, which by the standards of the time would have made them old enough to fight in the war that began 15 years later, the average lifespan was 36 years.

Today, life expectancy is more than twice that at 78.6 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Diseases like cholera, dysentery and tuberculous which once haunted the nation are now rare.

Dysentery was once almost as deadly as bullets. It killed an estimated 95,000 soldiers during the U.S. Civil War, according to the American Civil War Facts. Typhoid killed another 35,000.

“The reason diseases killed so many soldiers…was the lack of basic sanitary and hygiene practices,” the website notes. “…It is estimated that nearly 400,000 Civil War soldiers died from disease compared to 200,000 from other causes….Unfortunately doctors and nurses during the American Civil War just did not know that hygiene was important for health.”

The war itself, as everyone knows, was fought to end slavery. It ended that deplorable practice, but it didn’t fix America’s problems with racial discrimination. That issue lingers to this day, but it is a shadow of what it once was.

Less violent, not more

Part of this might simply be due to a general, overall decline in violence in America.

In a country where the media delivers the news of any mass shooting with such lightning speed that it seems as if it might have happened in your hometown if not your neighborhood, it is easy to lose sight of how safe the nation today.

Homicide rates in colonial America have been estimated at 100 to 500 per 100,000 population. They didn’t improve much as the country moved west.

“To appreciate how violent the West was, we need to consider not only the annual homicide rate, but the risk of being murdered over time,” the Criminal Justice Research Center at The Ohio State University notes. “For instance, the adult residents of Dodge City faced a homicide rate of at least 165 per 100,000 adults per year, meaning that 0.165 percent of the population was murdered each year—between a fifth and a tenth of a percent. That may sound small, but it is large to a criminologist or epidemiologist, because it means that an adult who lived in Dodge City from 1876 to 1885 faced at least a 1 in 61 chance of being murdered.

“An adult who lived in San Francisco, 1850-1865, faced at least a 1 in 203 chance of being murdered, and in the eight other counties in California that have been studied to date, at least a 1 in 72 chance. Even in Oregon, 1850-1865, which had the lowest minimum rate yet discovered in the American West (30 per 100,000 adults per year), an adult faced at least a 1 in 208 chance of being murdered.”

The murder rate in Oregon today is 1.96 per 100,000, according to the independent Death Penalty Information Center.  That’s even lower than the national 2.5 per 100,000 rate the FBI reports for the countries peaceful “suburban cities.”

White Americans, in particular, live in a pretty safe world. As the CDC has noted, it is a different story for black Americans, many of whom live in economically distressed areas.

“In 2015, homicide rates were 5.7 deaths per 100,000 for the total population, 20.9 for non-Hispanic blacks, 4.9 for Hispanics, and 2.6 for non-Hispanic whites,” the CDC reported. “During 1999–2015, rates of deaths from homicide were highest for non-Hispanic blacks and lowest for non-Hispanic whites and declined the most for Hispanics.”

Some inner cities have come to resemble war zones. St. Louis is now considered the homicide capital of the country with a death rate of 60.9 per 100,000 focused on poor black neighborhoods. Baltimore is not far behind with a rate of 51 per 100,000, again focused on poverty zones.

“Last year in St. Louis, most killings were concentrated in neighborhoods like Greater Ville and the adjacent JeffVanderLou, which sit just a few miles from the city’s downtown, and each recorded a murder rate of 162,” The Trace reported. 

The country is not perfect. That can’t be ignored.

“We continue to abandon generations of young people of color,” Justice Policy Center leaders observed in the Baltimore Sun just days ago. “They’ve grown up in neighborhoods with poor-performing schools, crumbling infrastructure, high rates of violence and the attendant trauma, and a lack of economic opportunity. They’ve learned since day 1 that we value their lives less. And they often have to grow up too quickly – supporting themselves and their families from a young age, forced into alternative, and often unsafe, economies. For many, that route ends up in the ‘cradle to jail’ pathway of violence and mass incarceration.”

But most of us don’t live in inner-city Baltimore or inner-city anywhere else. We live in the parts of the country that provide employment capable of supporting lifestyles that leave most people worrying most about mass shootings, healthcare, the 2020 Presidential election, climate change and immigration, according to a November Harris Poll.

Judging risk

Healthline calculated the risks on some of these.

“The lifetime risk of dying in a mass shooting is around 1 in 110,154 — about the same chance of dying from a dog attack or legal execution,” it reported. The healthcare worry is hard to calculate. It appears to be more about cost than death. The Presidential election worry?

It’s hard to even guess what that might be about. Liberal voters worrying wildman President Donald Trump gets re-elected? Conservative voters worrying wildman Trump doesn’t get re-elected?

Climate change? That’s certainly a cause for concern, but if you want to worry there are a lot of things that could kill you long before climate becomes a serious threat. Healthline declared U.S. fears “out of sync with the actual risks.”

That is true. But maybe it isn’t our fault.

It might be that after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution in an environment where we were constantly at risk of death we acquired an evolutionary drive to be fearful coupled to a necessary ability to rationalize away fear in order to function?

This would nicely explain our relationship with motor vehicles

The lifetime odds of dying in a motor-vehicle accident are 1 in 103, according to the National Safety Council (NSC), but nobody thinks about that because motor vehicles make our lives so much easier.

The odds of dying in a fall aren’t far behind, according to the NSC.

It makes those almost 1,000 times greater than the chances of dying in mass shooting, but almost no one gets up in the morning, gets out of bed and straps on a helmet in fear of suffering a deadly traumatic brain injury in a fall.


Maybe because we now lead such safe, comfortable lives compared to our ancestors of even 100 years ago that we need truly exotic dangers to drive our fears: mass shootings, diseases or injuries that might happen; a warmer climate to which we might not be able to adapt; a president who might do what?

Beyond heating up the nation’s political rhetoric and widening the partisan political divide, Trump really hasn’t done much at all. It’s hard for a president to do much while at war with one of the houses of Congress.

The reality is that the American political system is designed to protect the status quo. Trump lacks both the patience and the focus necessary to make fundamental, longterm changes in the federal bureaucracy.

The Deep State will be around long after he is gone for the same reason former President Barack Obama, who was elected on a theme of “change,” changed so little.

Most Americans don’t really want change. They’re comfortable enough that what they want is increased security to satiate what they now fear. And most of us seem pretty hard-pressed to admit how comfortable life is – even for those of us hanging onto the lower middle – in this 21st Century.

So maybe it’s time to take a moment to say thanks for how lucky we are to live in these times.

In Alaska, for sure, they beat the Bow and Arrow War Years.



















15 replies »

  1. For the time being we are individually safer, but a meaty -or could wipe us out before we know we’re toast. Or quarks.

  2. Going to ask a trick question, because I already know the answer..Ok, here we go…. why do black Americans continue to want to live in economically distressed areas”, even after trillions of dollars have been spent to “uplift” them??? After spending quite a bit of time in several inner cities I can assure you it isnt my fault.
    Wat??? That’s racist?? Um ok…

    • Why do rural white Americans continue to want to live in economically distressed areas, rather than getting an education and moving to where the jobs are (the cities)? Because it’s hard work and takes gumption and initiative and faith in yourself to change. It’s much easier to just stay where you are where it’s cheaper to live and you don’t have to learn new things.
      Whereas in general black people have to work through that same inertia, yet have more barriers to their progress than white people.
      Try reading the book Educated by Tara Westover. Or if you are ambitious read The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, it’s a masterpiece.

      • Gail,

        The City’s collective problem here appears to be the same as what fundamentally lost 2016 for the Democrats. Local jurisdictions have Constitutional chips in the kitty.

        Cities are always looking for more ways to effect greater power over larger swaths of the landscape … for which they actually don’t hold the constitutional chips, and someone else does.

        By steadily cutting into the base of the wider countryside, cities grow their demographic chip-share, partially offsetting Local Rights.

        In the 1950s, this was known as Urban Man (starting in LA, in the ’30s). Walt Disney was an early subscriber, and he encapsulated the ethos in The Jetsons. Nothing but robot-tended fields, between cities.

        The mythos still breaths, while the ethos packed it in with the end of Soviet mega-architecture, and HUD Housing, in the ’60s. Which tells us, the smart seats at this Game-table cashed out, 50 years ago.

        While city-power can be tempting, and very pragmatic … Hong Kong was already a chronic gut-ache for Beijing, long before the British Empire got involved. And it really only works slick, in contexts like we see with the Asian port-states … and less convincingly, our West Coast lay out. Chicago is a bit of a quirk.

        The city-state mushroomed with the organization of shipping (same old Tech, new Management). The Hanseatic League (a shipping cartel) morphed into Imperial Maritime Europe. Canals were an important extension of it. But a key part of that success, was the continuing severe hit in all forms of land-transport. Railroads took the wind out of the City-sails, and highways have extended that, big-time.

        The Founders in the 1780s could read this one right off the page.

  3. Craig,
    I must applaud your effort but the writing on the wall shows many signs of decay for the American Military nation.
    After 2 decades of full time foreign conflict, our nation shows the signs of War’s traumatic effects.
    Drug and Alcohol dependance that is leading to a drop in life expectancy along with a sharp increase in suicide.
    These statistics show that without a change in leadership we will continue down the path of little hope.
    Currently 22 military veterans commit suicide a day…this is more than any modern era in U.S. history.
    “In terms of deaths from suicide, Bernstein writes that there is a huge disparity between urban and rural Americans.
    The suicide rate amongst urban residents is 11.1 per 100,000 people, as opposed to rural residents’ 20 per 100,000.”
    “Higher suicide rates in rural areas are due to nearly 60 percent of rural homes having a gun versus less than half of homes in urban areas,” psychiatrist and behavioral scientist Keith Humphreys of Stanford University says.
    “Having easily available lethal means is a big risk factor for suicide.”

    I guess we should all be happy that there is not another “conscription” to enslave our youth into dying for the corporate Oligarchs like our country has done so many times before!

    • Steve, keep thinking that way. As you know I was just in China. 20yrs from now they will appreciate your sentiments when they blow through today’s younger generation like chit through a goose.

      • Bryan,
        If you are so damn worried about China, then you should really tell Trump to pardon Ed Snowden and bring home our best online “hacker” in history…cause after reading Ed’s new book I am convinced we need him now more than ever.

    • Steve Stine,

      National strength and preeminence don’t seem closely linked with clean living and healthy lifestyles. It might well be nice, to be nice, but it’s certainly not necessary for winning.

      Although drunkenness and drug addiction are a scourge, they’ve often been way worse in the (recent, middle & distant) past. True rumor.

      Cain & Able in the Bible show that this is not a new problem. Not just in terms of whatever the original story was, but in terms of its later adaptation & interpretation, in the version we now have. There is a collection of Bible stories, now obviously missing pieces of the original plot, yet still meeting valuable goals.

      Was little-brother Able’s herd encroaching on Cain-the-farmer’s cropland? (Perhaps after Mister First Born greedily claimed all the quality ground?) Or did Able’s pastoral roaming keep his mind sharp and his spirit in touch with nature, while Cain’s drudgery with plow & hoe made him a dull boy?

      The Judaeo-Christian version no longer has the backstory … but no matter … it still works to show that conflict is the lot of all people … that Polarization & Politicization are not new, and not the harbinger of decay & decline. In fact, it often seems exactly the opposite.

      There is tragedy & sorrow among us, but overall, we’re on a roll.

    • “These statistics show that without a change in leadership we will continue down the path of little hope.” Not sure how those statistics show that, but go ahead and try and spread your partisan nonsense.

      We have arguably had less warfare over the last two decades than ever before, in that our current form of warfare impacts far fewer than ever before. Even with all the warfare seen under Presidents Obama, Bush, and Trump percentage wise the overall impacts are far, far less. As far as a change in leadership, we’ve tried that. Obama replaced Bush and ramped up warfare. Trump has at least tried to get out of certain theaters of War, and the peaceniks have suddenly turned into warhawks.

      Americans are a much less violent, racist, and class based society than 50 or 100 or 200 or even 400 years ago, much to the chagrin of America haters.

    • “Having easily available lethal means is a big risk factor for suicide.” I would say having easily available lethal means is the number one factor in suicide, without a lethal means suicide is not possible. Sometimes people say things just to say them, and sometimes people repeat what others say without thinking about what was said.

      Some easily available lethal means:
      Sharp objects
      Dull objects
      Blunt objects
      Fast objects
      Slow objects

      Trying to blame guns for suicide is not only intellectually dishonest it is simply lazy and nonsensical.

      • “In the United States, suicides out number homicides almost two to one…
        Research shows that whether attempters live or die depends in large part on the ready availability of highly lethal means, especially firearms.
        A study by the Harvard School of Public Health of all 50 U.S. states reveals a powerful link between rates of firearm ownership and suicides.
        Based on a survey of American households conducted in 2002…colleagues at the School’s Injury Control Research Center (ICRC), found that in states where guns were prevalent—as in Wyoming, where 63 percent of households reported owning guns—rates of suicide were higher.
        The inverse was also true: where gun ownership was less common, suicide rates were also lower.”

      • Steve Stine,

        The Harvard findings are pure correlation, and typical of lazy Public Health research involving guns. The most influential factors on suicide are cultural and demographic, factors present in “the West” of both Canada and the US (and the rural areas of most countries). “Gun access” is an afterthought, coincident with the same cultural, demographic factors. It is not a driver, as similarly higher rates of suicide in otherwise culturally and demographically similar areas in countries with lower gun ownership rates but similar or far higher suicide rates demonstrate. People determined to commit suicide, as opposed to simply “cry for help” choose the most lethal method available to them, no matter the country.

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