Sunday, October 11, 2009

Obama and the Nobel

Has the Nobel Prize always been a political affair?  Am I missing something?  Admittedly, I am not a Nobel groupie.  Ask me who won the Literature prize last year and I'll scratch my head for a while before shrugging my shoulders.  Not that I don't respect the institution.  It is an important forum in which humanity recognizes the achievements of individuals working toward a better, more peaceful world.  The key word here is "achievements", meaning what has been accomplished.  Scientists, for example, aren't awarded the Nobel for the discoveries they make.  They win the Nobel when those discoveries begin to contribute to society in a positive way, when, in other words, the theory is used in practical applications, proving itself a valid contributor to the Nobel ethos.  This is why a physicist might only win the prize years after the theory he's winning it for was discovered (one of the winners of this year's physics prize, Charles K. Kao, made his award winning discovery in 1966).  Similarly, in the more abstract realm of Peace and Literature, awards should not be given based on the ideology (or theory) an individual holds, regardless of his potential to turn his ideas into concrete action.  It's the action that matters.

Obama's ideas about a nuclear-free, multilateral world based on cooperation is noble, but it's not Nobel.  In fact, many of us subscribe to the same ideology; it's not a new concept.  The hope we place in Obama is important, necessary, but it is still an unrequited hope.  We are still waiting.  And the process of building him up as the next great hope has its negative space as well: we set him up for an even bigger fall.

In terms of the Nobel prize, what the Committee in Sweden has done is politicize the award.  They've stamped an ideology with Nobel approval.  They did the same thing in 2006 when they awarded Orhan Pamuk the Literature prize.  Like Obama, Pamuk might have deserved the honour one day but to award it to him when they did, the Nobel committee was more interested in recognizing another ideology: the modern, secular muslim, at a time when modern, secular muslim role models are so desperately needed. In Nobel terms, the value of that ideology to the promotion of world peace, while relevant, should remain secondary to the achievements of the individual receiving the award.

But perhaps all of this is just another reflection of the 21st-century zeitgeist: the Reign of the Ideologue.  The committee members selecting Nobel recipients are not unaffected by the currents of the age; they also hope and dream.  Regrettably, the net result is the devaluation of the Nobel Prize.  When the selection process becomes ideologically-driven, what does being a Nobel Laureate really mean?


2 Responses to "Obama and the Nobel"
  1. Teresa said...
    October 11, 2009 at 7:11 PM

    My thoughts exactly (well ok, some, not so well phrased)! I thought this was a joke when I heard it on the news. My next thought was that he may show some leadership and decline the award. It is as if the pressure surrounding him, a world waiting on his words, isn't enough. Since all he really has done is talk maybe we can push him through with a nice shiny honour. Meanwhile what a knock to those who are in physical pursuit of peace, and there are plenty of them, perhaps not with the name or the face but at least with the practice of peace.

  2. Istanbul-guy said...
    October 12, 2009 at 1:56 PM

    I agree with your sentiments totally, I'm sure there are many with a biter taste toward the recipient of the laureate. What's even more ironic is that on the day this was announced, Obama was meeting with military department heads to determine the number of fresh troops he would be sending to Afghanistan - try telling an Afghani that Mr. Obama is a peace maker!

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