Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for October 12, 09
I don’t understand all the furor over President Obama being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. I think some of the confusion comes from the title of the award – Peace Prize. Maybe if they renamed it the “Nobel We Keep Hoping For Some Peace Prize,” people wouldn’t be so touchy.
But let’s face it, that award has always stirred people up. I mean, every year the Committee seems to award the Prize in Literature to some obscure writer named WhoThe Hell? that nobody’s ever heard of, so in the international literary salons eyes roll and peer down sniffing noses, sneers slide onto faces and sotto-voce mutters are heard – This is an outrage! Whoever heard of WhoTheHell?’s book? It sold 40 copies, 39 to his Mom, and he gets the Nobel, while my books are international best sellers and I get bupkis?
So, this year’s Outrage du jour is no different, except it does have a couple of extra wrinkles. First, of course, is our country’s poisonous political climate. Since Obama is a Democrat, the Republicans felt they had to knee-jerk damn with faint praise as Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee Chairman sniffed, “The real question Americans are asking is, ‘What has President Obama actually accomplished?’” Which is a hilarious question coming from somebody who would qualify as a Nobel WhoTheHell?? himself. Of course, so much of what’s left of the Republican party has gone so far to the right that they’re now stuck with the likes of Bill Kristol and Rush Limbaugh, that gang of Right Wing No-Nothings who were all cheering when the U.S. lost the bid for the Olympics, which means that Republican Conservatives now Hate America And Want The Terrorists To Win.
The second wrinkle is that Obama is Commander in Chief and is heading up a country still actively mired in two wars, so a “peace” prize carries its own curious cognitive dissonance. And, since he was only in office a very short time before he was nominated and selected, the prize seems to be an a priori award, which is like giving the prize in literature to an author for a work-in-progress: A sort of Nobel Prize for First Draft Literature.
True, the historical list of Nobel Peace Prize winners doesn’t include many people who actually secured some kind of “official peace,” i.e. single-handedly negotiated a treaty or cease fire that stopped a war. And despite the best efforts of many noble people over the years toiling in the vineyards of peace, their harvests have too often been fleeting and thin, even though they got the Prize for At Least Trying. Or they got the award because their efforts on other fronts were focused on creating system changes that could help avert future wars, such as Al Gore’s work on global warning, a climate disaster that, if not mediated, will indeed lead to resource wars on an unimaginable scale.
In Obama’s case, what I find so fascinating, is that the Committee seems to be acutely aware of the old saying, “appearance is reality.” Indeed, our modern viral communications often turns appearance into actual reality in a trice. The fake can travel the world five times over before the “real” puts its shoes on, and intentions actually can shape reality. And since the Nobel Prize is powerfully about perception – the award money’s nice, but there’s nothing like having that title before your name to open doors and so move your career and hence your work forward – then an award that’s a sort of Good Job So Far, may accomplish more than an after-the-fact, Thanks for Your Past Efforts, Too Bad They Didn’t Do Much award ever could.
I mean, rewarding good effort and intentions is often a great way to get MORE good efforts. And if we want to end up with a peaceful world, we’ll need more good efforts, more good intentions, more cooperative efforts, and more world-wide problem-solving that doesn’t involve bombing people. Then, when peaceful interaction becomes the norm and not the exception, selfish, greedy, unilateral, corporate plunderers and cowboy warmongers will be considered shockingly tres gauche outliers – easier targets for the world political salons’ eyeball rolling and down-the-nose sniffing.