I must confess that the first time I heard of Norman Borlaug was a week or so ago in a segment at the end of the Evening News. The occasion was that of Borlaug being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his life long work of successfully fighting world hunger. An agronomist still active at the age of 93, he is credited with "saving the lives of a billion people."
The fact that I (like most others, I would guess) had never heard of Norman Borlaug, reflects more on me and the rest of society than on this extraordinary man and his exemplary life. We are too distracted by the wall to wall coverage of the inconsequential and lurid celebrity of politicians, Hollywood airheads, athletes and even criminals and murderers, to pay attention to the likes of Borlaug whose dedication to his life's work has quietly influenced and changed the lives of millions. We, the consumers of glitzy sensationalism have lost our touch and taste for celebrating the true heroes.
He Only Saved a Billion People
July 30, 2007 issue - It's a trifecta much bigger and rarer than an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony. Only five people in history have ever won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal: Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Elie Wiesel ... and Norman Borlaug.
Norman who? Few news organizations covered last week's Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for Borlaug, which was presided over by President Bush and the leadership of the House and Senate. An elderly agronomist doesn't make news, even when he is widely credited with saving the lives of 1 billion human beings worldwide, more than one in seven people on the planet.
Borlaug's success in feeding the world testifies to the difference a single person can make. But the obscurity of a man of such surpassing accomplishment is a reminder of our culture's surpassing superficiality. Reading Walter Isaacson's terrific biography of Albert Einstein, I was struck by how famous Einstein was, long before his role in the atom bomb. Great scientists and humanitarians were once heroes and cover boys. No more. For Borlaug, still vital at 93, to win more notice, he would have to make his next trip to Africa in the company of Angelina Jolie.
The consequences of obscuring complex issues like agriculture are serious. Take the huge farm bill now nearing passage, a subject Borlaug knows a thing or two about. Because it seems boring and technical and unrelated to our busy urban lives, we aren't focused on how it relates directly to the environment, immigration, global poverty and the budget deficit, not to mention the highly subsidized high-fructose corn syrup we ingest every day. We can blame the mindless media for failing to keep us better informed about how $95 billion a year is hijacked by a few powerful corporate interests. But we can also blame ourselves. It's all there on the Internet (or in books like Daniel Imhoff's breezy "Food Fight"), if we decide to get interested. But will we? Sometimes it seems the more we've got at our fingertips, the less that sticks in our minds.
The rest of the story here.