4 Irrational Fears That Aren't as Irrational as They Seem

Are you irrationally terrified of something that most people brush off as a distant threat that will never have any sway over the direction of their life? A lot of people are, and we love to make fun of them for it.

Is every "you have a better chance of winning the lottery" type of phobia as silly as it seems, though? We talk about that on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...

... where I'm joined by comic Al Jackson (Legit on FXX) and Danger Van Gorder from the band Countless Thousands. The first fear we explore is one of the most regularly dismissed phobias ...

#4. Shark Attacks

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You have a better chance of winning the lottery than being killed by a shark in the United States. That's the kind of statistic people like to throw around when some coward friend mentions the possibility of encountering one of nature's most efficient killing machines while swimming in the ocean.

Well, guess what? People win the lottery all the goddamn time. I understand that it doesn't happen with the same frequency as car accidents or cloudy days, but it does happen. People win the lottery, and no matter how silly people want you to believe the idea is, people do get attacked by sharks. If the threat wasn't real, Googling the phrase "protect yourself from sharks" probably wouldn't return 875,000 results. If a shark attack was something you never needed to worry about, the movie Open Water wouldn't exist.

Even Jaws was based on some truly unfortunate shit that really did happen.

The problem with this type of comparison is that it's usually taking the entire population into account. Figuring the landlocked citizens of Nebraska into shark attack numbers is absurd, as was pointed out by the Freakonomics people when that famous "vending machines cause more deaths than sharks" statistic made the rounds a few years back. There are so many factors that need to be considered before you can just toss that fact in your wallet and use it as universal shark protection.

For starters, imagine you're standing in 4 feet of water and you see a shark swimming around 8 feet away. Now, imagine you're alone in a room and there's a vending machine 8 feet away. Your instinctive response to the first situation is going to be complete and total panic. Your response to the second would be a quick assessment of whether your snack preference is skewing toward salty or sweet that day. These are completely different situations.

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Dude, look out, Type 2 diabetes is behind you!

Also, if that strikes you as a fantastical comparison, keep in mind that the world capital for shark attacks is New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where shark activity is such that scientists estimate that anyone who's been in that water has been within 10 feet of a shark. Getting attacked isn't a lottery at that point, it's more like a raffle.

Or what about lightning? People love to talk about how you're more likely to die by God's most trusted brand of fury than any number of other potential killers, including sharks. But here's the thing: Lightning can get you anywhere. In the water, on land ... anywhere. Meanwhile, when's the last time a shark attacked someone at a Herbie Hancock concert?

Sharks attack fewer people than lightning because sharks are given fewer opportunities. If sharks could move about cities and towns the same way they do in the ocean and were found in the same numbers, we'd pray for lightning just on the off chance it might take out a few of the land sharks that routinely consume our people.

Pictured: The unspeakably tragic death of Dan Aykroyd.

I'm not saying you should never go in the water, obviously, but I am saying that if you frolic in the ocean with the same "fuck sharks" swagger that you walk around with on land, your chances of getting struck by the lightning of the sea increase exponentially. If you don't believe that, check out this uncomfortably extensive list of shark attack prevention tips that I promise a lot of you aren't taking into consideration when you swim. That list doesn't exist because sharks are some kind of paranormal entity.

Yes, overall, the chances of getting attacked by a shark are slim, but those numbers you hear that make it sound like an impossible dream are factoring in that you'll probably never even be in the ocean. Once you are, it's more likely that you'll die by drowning than anything else, but if you think sharks still pose less of a threat than vending machines or auto accidents when you're thrashing around in 4 feet of ocean water, you're half the reason shark attacks happen in the first place (sharks are the other half).

#3. Bugs

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I'll be the first to admit that my fear of bugs is pretty irrational, so much so that the one that terrified me above all others as a child was the June bug. Sure, it mainly eats shrubbery and has no real means of harming a person, but have you heard that tapping noise it makes when it gets inside your home and stupidly flies into the wall repeatedly? It literally sends chills down my spine. I cannot be in the same room with a June bug, no matter how harmless it might be.

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I would kill this picture if I could.

The problem is flying ants. I was swarmed by an army of them as a kid, and it apparently scarred me to the point that I now make it clear that, no matter what type of relationship I'm entering into, be it personal or professional, the other person or persons are solely responsible for handling any bug extermination issues that may arise. I don't care if it's just me and a small child: If that kid isn't willing and able to kill a wasp, we're going to have to call animal control to fix the problem or something. I'll be too busy cowering under a table.

Again, I accept that this is completely silly, but I'd also argue that not all bugs are quite so innocuous. For example, what about the mosquito? It's the most lethal killer in the animal kingdom for one simple reason -- malaria. Those worthless pests spread that deadly disease in uncontrollable numbers all over the world, and the worst part is that it's a problem we totally had fixed at one point.

Have you ever heard of DDT? Those letters are so synonymous with death and destruction that Jake "The Snake" Roberts named his signature wrestling move after the disgraced pesticide.

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Still not sure why he was allowed to carry this into the ring, though.

It was banned from use in 1972 after a series of what turned out to be ludicrously faulty studies claimed that DDT was killing off the peregrine falcon population. Getting it outlawed is considered one of the earliest victories of the environmentalist movement. Speaking of that, here's some trivia to run past your environmentalist friends sometime: Did you know that the makers of DDT actually won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts?

A well-deserved victory indeed.

It's true. See, DDT is remarkably effective at one thing, and that one thing is killing mosquitoes. It was last used in Sri Lanka, in 1963. There were 17 reported cases of malaria that year. By 1969, with DDT no longer allowed, malaria cases skyrocketed to 2.5 motherfucking million.

Hey, at least those falcons are safe, right?


Right, because they were always safe. As stated earlier, the studies that led to DDT falling out of favor turned out to be incorrect. In some areas where DDT was used, peregrine falcon populations actually increased. Nevertheless, the use of DDT has been banned ever since, and malaria continues to kill millions each year. Thanks, stupid birds!

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