Terrorism vs. Indifference

Peanut Corp. of America CEO Stewart Parnell claimed the 5th Amendment 4 times in front on Congress. While he didn’t speak, company emails told volumes. Emails from Parnell complained that waiting for test results were costing him “$$$$.” Despite doubts over his product’s safety, Parnell gave the okay to “turn them loose.”

All in all, 1,800 various products had to be recalled and American peanut consumption dropped 25% in the last two weeks, and Parnell’s Peanuts killed 9 and left 600 others ill.

Question of Scope

Americans seems to shrug off these failures in consumer safety as the occasional hazards of modern life.

I am baffled as to why people are so scared of terrorist? Why people want to spend so much time, money, effort, and lives fighting people in Iraq? Why does it seem that majority of people think national security is about TSA checkpoints and war lords in Kabul?

Granted, I saw 9/11 as the towers fell on TV. Most of the world did and it was terrifying…as terrorism often is. But how much of my life and safety is at risk from religious fanatics?

How much more is from failures in simple product safety? China, our biggest trading partner, has sent deadly milk.  lead poisoned toys, and infected contact-lens solution that left people blind. Domestically, tainted tainted tomatoes, peanuts, and bagged salads have all threatened more Americans more immediately than any terrorist.

The Wrong Focus

Maybe it is because terrorism is so much more spectacular of an enemy than just filthy food processing conditions. People’s brains are wired to fixate on extremes, not matter how unlikely, instead of mundane things. That is why more people probably buy lottery tickets than tuck $10 a week into a retirement plan. A slim chance at $60M seems like such a better outcome than a couple hundred grand by age 65, even though the actual odds will tell you otherwise, by a wide margin.

Maybe it has to with motivation. Terrorists hate us. They want to kill us. Stewart Parnell didn’t want anyone to die. He just didn’t care. He wanted to make money and was indifferent to the danger his peanuts posed. Many people have made dishonest decisions in pursuit of riches. They can relate to Mr. Parnell. We can all understand the temptation to take the cash and hope for the best. His indifference to others seems to be less awful than terrorist’s hate.

But at the end results are the same. Capitalist indifference kills. Religious extremism kills. But we are wired to focus on the slight chance of another plane from the sky and will spend billions to prevent it from falling, all the while we ignore and underfund simple safety.

If only Mr. Parnell told us that he knowingly turned loose deadly peanuts to kill infidels and to punish America in the name of the one true Jihad.  If only he waved a fist and claimed triumph in causing deaths instead of pathetically pleading the 5th and making it clear that he was indifferent to the risks to his customers in pursuit of cash. If our safety were under terrorist attack, the Dept. of Homeland Security would be checking food packages right now. Instead killing in the name of a cause, he left people for dead and ruined for greed. In America, that doesn’t make the news anymore.

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