Dear fellow Americans: We don't need to be so afraid.

I want to talk about the Republican debate. But first, we need to talk about "Shark Week."

Ladies and gentlemen, the star of "Shark Week!" Photo by Hermanus Backpackers/Wikimedia Commons.


Once a year, the Discovery Channel airs seven days of captivating, ostensibly educational nature programing that is, in reality, single-mindedly devoted to scaring the living daylights out of everyone who watches it.

It is — to put it mildly — the absolute greatest.

The slate for "Shark Week" includes dozens of sober-minded documentaries that nobody watches about the incredible variety in the global shark population and the conservation challenges faced by its dozens of endangered species, alongside a few pieces of terrifying horror porn with titles like "Bull Shark: The World's Deadliest Shark," "Anatomy of a Shark Bite," and "Great White Appetite" that everyone watches and movies like "Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives" about deadly sharks that don't actually exist but that you should be scared of anyway just to be safe.

From the looks of it, you would think sharks were going around eating thousands of humans a year with impunity, high-fiving their fellow sharks and dropping sick shark raps about all the bodies they've dropped.

The average number of people killed annually by sharks in reality?

Five.

Last night's GOP debate was a little like "Shark Week."

Ladies and gentlemen, the stars of the GOP debate! Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

The nine top Republican candidates and the four in the undercard debate gathered in Las Vegas to talk amongst themselves (or in Chris Christie's case, to glare directly into the camera with the uncomfortably piercing gaze of a disappointed father). It was billed as the "National Security Debate," or, alternately, the "Foreign Policy Debate" — the sort of description that might lead one to expect a passionate discourse on the nuances of statecraft, or an in-depth dialogue on how conservative diplomacy might offer notes of contrast with the current administration's practice of the same.

Instead, the basic gist of the whole event was: Look out behind you! ISIS terrorists are coming to your house. Be afraid! Be very afraid.

Christie declared, "We have people across this country who are scared to death." Marco Rubio suggested that ISIS is "not just the most capable, it is the most sophisticated terror threat we have ever faced." Rick Santorum, in the JV session, legit argued that "We have entered World War III."

The words "terror" or "terrorist" were mentioned 77 times in the main debate. 120 times if you include the earlier debate.

The candidates' ideas for defeating the extremist group ran the gamut, from dropping the same amount of bombs as now but bragging a little bit more about it, to carpet-bombing cities in Syria and Iraq to ensure that when we kill a few dozen ISIS operatives, thousands of innocent people who also hate ISIS die too.

And perhaps most plausible solution of all: saying the words "radical Islamic terror" over and over again until the terrorists presumably throw their guns into the sea in panic and turn themselves in.

Overall, the debate was really entertaining. And also extremely scary.

You can't really blame the Republicans for going whole hog on the terror threat.

A whole hog. Photo by abbamouse/Flickr.

Fear can be a highly effective political motivator. If you're scared, there's a good chance you'll blame the current president and be more willing to take a chance on the guy from the opposing party who promises to keep you safe.

And while the candidates' reactions may have been a tad on the severe side, the question they posed is totally fair game and worth talking about:

How scared of "radical Islamic terror" should we really be?

A memorial to the victims of the November attacks in Paris. Photo by Matthieu Alexandre/Getty Images.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks committed by Islamic extremists have killed an average of just over three Americans per year. Three people is certainly not nothing! If three people I knew died randomly and horribly, I'd be pretty upset — and I'd definitely put preventing more people from dying the way they did near the top of my priorities list.

However, here is a brief list of things you're more likely to have on your death certificate than "killed by radical Islamic terrorists" if you're an American:

It's not at all wrong to be scared of terrorism. The whole point of terrorism is that it's scary. It's violent. It's unpredictable. And it's committed by human beings, many of whom are quite terrifying. Every time some vicious jerk walks into an office party with a gun or sets off a soda-can bomb on an airplane, I launch into the same fear/panic/despair cycle that my therapist is entirely sick of hearing about.

But the fact is...

We've survived way worse.

World War II, an objectively really scary time. Photo via the German Federal Archives/Wikimedia Commons.

Put simply, America has seen some shit. We survived a political and military revolution, centuries of brutal human bondage, a bloody civil war, two world wars, legal segregation, a 47-year-long nuclear standoff with a global superpower, and four seasons of "Mind of Mencia."

When it hits the fan, we can be pretty stone-cold about shutting it down.

ISIS is certainly evil and pretty ho-hum about killing people. But the idea that the group poses an existential threat to the United States — like Nazi Germany or the nuclear arms race or slavery — is ... more than a bit far-fetched.

And the people who ISIS does pose an existential threat to? Many of the same folks talking tough on stage last night are pretty dead-set against letting them move in next door.

Words have real consequences.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

ISIS is indeed scary. It's totally fair to note that. ISIS also adheres to an extremist brand of Islam. It's similarly fair to point that out and debate what it means for how we fight them. But there's a responsible way to do that, and then there's this — the leading presidential candidate of a major U.S. political party arguing that ISIS's barbarism justifies barring all Muslims from entering the United States.

It's easy to forget that if you go around on national television blurring the line between "Islam" and "what you should be scared of," sometimes people listen.

There have been over 45 documented Islamophobic incidents in the United States since the Paris attacks in November, including vandalism, attacks on mosques, and straight-up physical assault — sometimes of children. While politicians may not mean to incite acts of violence with their anti-Muslim rhetoric, extreme fear can lead people to do things they otherwise wouldn't, hitting back indiscriminately at the wrong target in the name of feeling a little bit more safe.

Beyond that, it just kind of sucks to be scared all the time.

Here's what not-scared people can do! It's pretty sweet. Photo by SimonP/Wikimedia Commons.

I like watching horror movies. I can watch all manner of gruesome, terrifying torture and gore if I know there's catharsis coming at the end. But I resent it when people try to scare me in an open-ended way. 'Cause being scared with no hope for release is pretty much the worst.

Terrorism is scary and random, but it's not even close to the most pressing danger facing any of us on a daily basis. It's not always easy to internalize that — in many ways, it feels counterintuitive. But once you do, it's pretty easy to cease being afraid, or at least stop letting that fear rule your life.

Go out! Go to concerts. Walk through the park. Take a lap around the mall. Browse and don't buy anything at Brookstone.

Something bad can happen when you're doing pretty much anything. Every time you shower, there's a not-zero chance you could slip and die. Most of us still do it every morning — and enjoy it too.

So take a deep breath. We've been through this before. And we'll get through it again.

Photo via the FDR Library/Wikimedia Commons.

Remember the Great Depression? Probably not, if you're effectively navigating the Internet without the assistance of your great-grandchild. But it was one of the objectively scariest times in American history. Unemployment skyrocketed to over 25% (as a comparison, following the financial crisis of 2008 — the biggest U.S. economic catastrophe in recent memory — unemployment peaked at 10%). Millions lost their homes, farms, and entire livelihoods. Fascism was on the march worldwide, and many feared (and some hoped) the United States would be next.

In the midst of all this, at the beginning of the worst year of the Depression, brand-new President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stepped up to the mic and dispensed some sage, fortune-cookie-ready advice. Not "Pee your pants, everybody" or "Hide under the covers forever" or "Oh God, oh God, oh God" while rocking back and forth in a fetal position.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," he said.

Though 80 years have passed since then, and there are fewer apple barrels around these days, the sentiment still rings pretty much true.

Because as a wise Jedi muppet once opined: "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to..."

...a chill weekend at Comic-Con. Photo by Doug Kline/Flickr.

(Please, no "Star Wars" spoilers.)

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Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

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Yesterday I was perusing comments on an Welcometoterranova article about Joe Biden comforting the son of a Parkland shooting victim and immediately had flashbacks to the lead-up of the 2016 election. In describing former vice President Biden, some commenters were using the words "criminal," "corrupt," and "pedophile—exactly the same words people used to describe Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I remember being baffled so many people were so convinced of Clinton's evil schemes that they genuinely saw the documented serial liar and cheat that she was running against as the lesser of two evils. I mean, sure, if you believe that a career politician had spent years being paid off by powerful people and was trafficking children to suck their blood in her free time, just about anything looks like a better alternative.

But none of that was true.

It's been four years and Hillary Clinton has been found guilty of exactly none of the criminal activity she was being accused of. Trump spent every campaign rally leading chants of "Lock her up!" under the guise that she was going to go to jail after the election. He's been president for nearly four years now, and where is Clinton? Not in jail—she's comfy at home, occasionally trolling Trump on Twitter and doing podcasts.

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Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

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Racist jokes are one of the more frustrating manifestations of racism. Jokes in general are meant to be a shared experience, a connection over a mutual sense of humor, a rush of feel-good chemicals that bond us to those around us through laughter.

So when you mix jokes with racism, the result is that racism becomes something light and fun, as opposed to the horrendous bane that it really is.

The harm done with racist humor isn't just the emotional hurt they can cause. When a group of white people shares jokes at the expense of a marginalized or oppressed racial group, the power of white supremacy is actually reinforced—not only because of the "punching down" nature of such humor, but because of the group dynamics that work in favor of maintaining the status quo.

British author and motivational speaker Paul Scanlon shared a story about interrupting a racist joke at a table of white people at an event in the U.S, and the lessons he drew from it illustrate this idea beautifully. Watch:

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With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

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