The age of Celebrity… but at what cost?

Fame v expertise

My wife drew this Facebook post to my attention and it so moved me that I wish to share it with you. Written by Michael Arnovitz. Bravo Michael!

I saw something on twitter today, and it made me want to interrupt my Facebook hiatus for a quick moment in order to talk about perspective, and what really matters in this world. Proper perspective, for example, is going to play a vital role in our defense against the non-stop gaslighting that awaits us during the upcoming Trump administration. But deciding what really matters is critical too. Here are some thoughts I have about all of that:

Like many of you, I’ve often been caught up in the outpouring of grief over the loss of so many celebrities this year. Although Snopes assures us that 2016 wasn’t actually the worst year for celebrity deaths,( certainly seems like it. And of course it’s touching to see so many people bond together in the shared loss we feel when one of our cultural icons leaves us.

But then there’s the guy on the left of the photo below. He died this year too. Yet if you’re like me (or I assume most people) you probably have no idea who he is. And that is deeply unjust, because his name is Dr. Donald Henderson and he was responsible for eradicating smallpox. And it’s difficult to overstate just how big of a deal that is. During the 20th century alone the “red plague” was responsible for the deaths of as many as 500 million people. That’s a half BILLION people.

Because of Dr. Henderson’s efforts however, it’s been nearly 40 years since the last known naturally occurring case of smallpox. Which means that even in that short time period, Dr. Henderson probably saved over 200 million lives.

Numbers that big turn into mere statistics. So for some perspective look at the image below on the right. That’s a Bangladeshi child stricken with smallpox. That used to be the reality for untold millions of people around the world. Smallpox was a ghastly disease. It killed a third of the people who contracted it. And those who survived it were often scarred, crippled and/or blinded for life.

But that is all gone now. Dr. Henderson took that horror from our world.

By any objective measure, at least in my view, that makes Dr. Donald Henderson one of the greatest men who ever lived. But men and women like Dr. Henderson don’t get parades, they don’t get TV specials, and they don’t get celebrities tweeting about how amazing they were. Most often, as in the case of Dr. Henderson, they pass with barely a mention.

To be clear, I have no objection to honoring the work and lives of popular celebrities and artists. But as we move forward into our new year and our new reality, maybe it wouldn’t be the worst idea to start thinking a little more about what we value, and why.

We live in a nation that has spent decades over-valuing fame and under-valuing expertise. That did not happen by accident, and it’s a large part of why a reality-TV host is now the president while a man like Dr. Henderson died in near obscurity.

No matter how much pundits like to insist otherwise, we do not live in a “post-fact” world, and we never will. As a society, any collective decision by a large faction of us to ignore facts/truth doesn’t change the reality of those facts/truth. On the contrary, the only things that change are the consequences.

There are real facts in this world. There is real truth in this world. Men like Dr. Henderson used real facts, science and expertise to change the world for the better. Men like Trump manipulate and distract us away from real facts in order to pursue their own agendas.

Sadly, many of our fellow citizens can no longer tell the difference. Worse, many of them don’t want to. That means its up to the rest of us to speak for the truth. And we will.

Back soon…