I was going to start this little rant-post by telling how I want to unpick the following soundbite:
“Alone in the USA and Canada approximately 40 people are killed each year by pigs – six times more than by sharks worldwide.” [source]
But that would be about as misleading as the soundbite itself. I don’t want to unpick it, I feel driven to unpick it, compelled towards it with all the criticism and cynicism I have to hand.
It’s a cliché I’m sure we’re all familiar with. An animal or activity that we associate with death and danger is compared to a completely irrelevant activity or animal in an attempt to make the supposedly dangerous one seem safer or friendlier by comparison.
More people die in their beds than at rock concerts. You are more likely to break a leg getting out the bath than be struck by lightning. Skydiving reduces the risk of cancer.
I could attack all of these (people in bed are more likely to be ill, you take more baths than storm-walks, and that last one is made up) but I’d much rather focus down on the one I started with, and the message it tries to put across.
Pigs kill more people than Sharks. Ergo, sharks aren’t as bad as you think, and you should be more afraid of pigs.
Swill, of course. Pigs kill more people than sharks because pigs have more access to people than sharks. We are in their homes, in their lives, completely and utterly connected to their daily routines from the moment they are born and pulled away from their parents to the moment they are pushed down metal chutes and made into yummy.
Sharks on the other hand, do not spend anywhere near as much time with us. People don’t, as a rule, build enclosures for sharks next to their houses, jump into shark habitats to push and shove them around, or drag sharks to a quick and tasty death. Not without years of specialised training, lax fishing laws, or something a bit more secure than a pair of muddy boots, anyway.
Even outside of the specialised spheres offered by farming and marine biology, we’re still much less likely to bump into a shark than an a pig. Yes there are a lot of bathers, sailors, surfers and divers in the water at all times, but there are many more people simply out wandering somewhere near where a pig might be, who might have the unfortunate misfortune of stumbling into one on a bad day. When sharks run away from home, they stay in the sea, when pigs run away from home, they run into ours.
Furthermore, shark meat is fairly lean, whereas pig meat doesn’t have to be and really shouldn’t be. Even in death a pig has a greater chance of killing someone through high cholesterol or obesity issues, a posthumous weapon of which the lean and seldom-consumed shark can only dream.
More people are killed by drowning than by jumping head first into volcanoes. That doesn’t make volcanoes our friends, and doesn’t make water something to fear, just as we shouldn’t fear pigs and cuddle sharks just because statistics tip in their favour.
P.S Anybody remember when I used to write about politics and human rights?