You'd think saving that many people would make his name a household word:
Borlaug under-estimated the success of the programs he brought to the developing world. As Gregg Easterbrook reported in The Atlantic Monthly, in 1950, there were 2.2 billion people in the world and they produced 692 tons of grain. By 1992, there were 5.6 billion people and they produced 1.9 billion tons of grain. That is, there was a 220 per cent increase in global population, but a 280 per cent increase in global wheat production. For numerous food staples, this pattern held true. Furthermore, this increase in food production necessitated an increase of cropland of just one per cent due to Borlaug’s more efficient agricultural techniques and improved genetic strands.
The widespread ignorance of this hero bodes ill for our society. It speaks of a culture with inverted values and a subtle bigotry that goes almost entirely unmentioned. If you want to know why we live in a morally and intellectually declining world, the low profile of this man is a pretty good starting place.
1) He was an agronomist. People worshiped Steve Jobs because he gave rich Westerners lots of cool toys. But in the grand sweep of history improved agricultural techniques have done far more for mankind than any fancy phone or electronic tablet. Without cheap food nothing else is possible for a society. Not industrial development, not a middle class and certainly no clean and comparatively pleasant office jobs. Nope. Without the work of the agronomists we'd all live much worse lives, assuming most of us would have lived past infancy. But agriculture just isn't sexy. It's dirty and smelly. This is combined with the unfortunate conceit that farmers are dumb yokels. Despite the fact that the typical farmer in modern North America has more real skills than the typical office worker.
2) He was an American. While people the world over still adore American popular culture they regard it as ephemeral. It's hard for many people in Europe and the developing world to admit that their lives, and those of their countrymen, rest upon the innovations of an American genius. This refusal to give Yankees their due is a bit comical. Much of the modern world would be impossible without American genius. But nationalistic pride gets in the way of a lot of things.
3) He wasn't a development aid scrounger. As has been noted in many places in recent years, development aid is a racket. The bureaucrats and politicians who administer these schemes are unindicted racketeers. They know that their "work" provides little real value to anyone but themselves, and certainly almost nothing to the intended recipients. They are the real pirates in neckties. Someone who genuinely helps the poor of the world is an implied threat. Compared to their pious sounding words, actual accomplishment is a dangerous embarrassment.
4) He made the poor independent. In the psycho-drama of the modern Left the world is comprised of three broad groups: 1)Poor victims, typically ethnic and racial minorities. 2) Evil Rich White Men. 3) Enlightened Utopian Altruists. They naturally assign themselves to this last category. In their narrative of the universe it is they, and they alone, who must help the wretched of the earth. A great measure of their self-worth, as well as net worth, comes from attempting to help the less fortunate. Should the less fortunate ever improve their fortunes, the self worth and net worth of the Enlightened Utopian Altruists would implode. If there is no one left to help, their raison d'etre vanishes. This was perhaps Norman Borlaug's greatest crime. He taught poor people how to feed themselves, removing the role of the western alms giver.
5) He wasn't a celebrity. He didn't appeal to the lowest common denominator. He didn't say stupid or absurd things on television. Instead he made a real difference in the lives of billions. In our present tense culture that's simply past understanding. If it does not amuse, entertain or flatter us it isn't worth the bother. Previous generations made an effort to look up. Our culture makes a point of looking down into a dirt far deeper, and far less fertile, than that which engaged the energies of Norman Borlaug.
6) He didn't save a lot of white people. It is human nature to be self-absorbed. Part and parcel of a good education is to acquaint the student with the big wide world out there. But sometimes self-absorption leads to something a bit less understandable. There is a old rule of thumb: Think the opposite of what they say. When a woman keeps telling you she's a lady, she ain't a lady. When a politician keeps telling you he's a leader, he's a coward. When a businessman keeps telling you he's honest, he's likely a crook.
Now think about the rhetoric of the modern Left. What is the one term they fling at conservatives and libertarians without the slightest hesitation? Racism. Modern North America is the least racist society in human history. It's not even close. Yet the Left never stops talking about racism. There is a racist beneath every bed and buried in every closet in the land. We are flooded with racist rhetoric at a time when racial minorities have been given more legal rights than at any time in history. For years I thought this was the Left simply trying to smear the Right. Mulling it over I think it's much, much worse. The Left isn't trying to smear the Right so much as it's projecting its own deep seated contempt for minorities.
Let's say you were moved by the plight of modern American blacks. You saw the breakdown of the black family, the revolting tragedy of the public schools and the quiet decimation of future generations of blacks through wide spread abortion. What would be the logical course of action? Strengthening the black family, discouraging single parenthood, smashing the public schools monopoly and attacking the abortion culture. The Left will propose none of these things. Partly this is because of immediate political self-interest, but that carries us only so far.
The Left has given up on minorities. It is a tendency among all elites to have a paternalistic contempt for their social inferiors. Having spent trillions of dollars on the War on Poverty, and almost as many trillions in foreign aid, very little has been accomplished. Those with a modicum of modesty would step back and re-think their approach. But elites rarely have modesty or much in the way of self-awareness. The problem is never their theories, it's the stupid people who just won't live up to their expectations.
This is the implicit bigotry of the modern Left. They hate blacks, Hispanics and certain Asians because they have refused to response correctly to their tender ministrations. American black culture has withered and become immensely vulgar under the tutelage of the Left. Much of Africa fared much worse after de-colonization than during the colonial period. The Left could choose either to blame socialism or blame blacks. They chose that which was most dear to them: A failed theory rather than a living human reality.
A man who saved the lives of the most despised among us is unlikely to be remembered well.