Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nobel: "Put Up or Shut Up"

I have thought very carefully before adding my voice to the discussion about the 2009 Nobel Prize for Peace. What I've discovered is that few, if any, have written or talked about the irony of the award, concentrating on whether Obama "deserved" the prize.

It is obvious that Obama has not "earned" it. But that's not the point. As many have noted, the Peace Prize has indeed been awarded in the past on an "aspirational" note in the hope that certain efforts had sown the most fertile seeds in the soil of hope. But y'all know how I feel about "hope": hope don't feed the bulldog.

I think what the Nobel Committee is saying to Obama is nothing less than "Put Up or Shut Up". It is a recognition that Obama talks a good game most of time, even considering the contradictions between what he speaks about on the stump and the policies he's continued or created. The actions don't match the words - it's as simple as that. The Committee is saying, "Look, man. Talking peace and making peace just ain't the same breed of cat".

Truth be told, some pretty nasty folks have been in the mix in the past. Hitler was nominated. Stalin made off with one. Run your finger down the list of 208 winners and you get the impression that the criteria are sometimes pretty questionable. Even more questionable when you factor in the resouces of the Nobel Institute, the organization of scholars, researchers, and impressive resources which advises the Committee on its selections. George Will's recent on-the-air comment about "seriousness" is well taken. So awarding the prize to a man who has done little besides make speeches about peace is really not so odious. At least they didn't choose Ahmadinejad.

As Matt Taibbi notes in "On the Nobel Prize for Occasional Peace",
It’s hard to believe, but there have been sillier moments in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize than this recent fiasco involving Barack Obama — it’s just so hard to remember them when you’re rolling around on the ground and spitting up greenish foam in a state of shock, as most of us were this past weekend as the news of Obama’s amazing award rolled over the airwaves.

The Nobel Peace Prize long ago ceased to be an award given to people who really spend their whole careers agitating for peace. Like most awards the Prize has evolved into a kind of maraschino cherry for hardcore careerists to place atop their resumes, a reward not for dissidence but on the contrary for gamely upholding the values of Western society as it perceives itself, for putting a good face on things (in Obama’s place, literally so).

Even when the award is given to a genuine dissident, it tends to be a dissident hailing from a country we consider outside the fold of Western civilization, a rogue state, “not one of us” — South Africa from the apartheid days, for instance, or the regime occupying East Timor.

You never, ever get a true dissident from a prominent Western country winning the award, despite the obvious appropriateness such a choice would represent. Our Western society quite openly embraces war as a means of solving problems and for quite some time now has fashioned its entire social and economic structure around the preparation for war ...
Therein lies the problem - and bolsters the question of whether the Nobel Committee is to be seriously considered or just another version of Dancing with the Stars.

Taibbi brings out the most obvious contradiction: we are a culture that has succeeded because it has, for the most part, made war (although, starting with Viet Nam, not so much lately). Thus, the Nobel "aspirations" seem to me very disingenuous. For the paradigm change needed in order to contribute fully to a culture of peace must be just that: fundamental and total.

In a recent piece at Common Dreams ("If We Want Peace, We're Going to Have to Learn to Say No"), Daphne Bramham notes ...
Ending war means a massive societal shift.

"We must create the idea that to even think of war is horrific," says [Irish Nobel laureate Mairead] Maguire, whose own peace prize was awarded for her work in ending the fighting in Northern Ireland.

It means transforming millennia of solving problems by fighting with solving conflicts through talking. It will be hard, but perhaps not impossible, says Maguire, who cites the mind-shift about smoking. In a very short time, smokers went from being cool to being pariahs.

As with smoking, it starts with children and education. Kids are already taught at home and at school that violence is bad. But as a number of University of B.C. researchers are finding, using programs that emphasize empathy and compassion can reduce children's aggression.

But much of what children learn doesn't come from either parents or teachers. It comes from television, movies and video games. All of which are becoming increasingly violent.

A decade ago, UNESCO research found that 93 per cent of children in 93 countries with access to television watched for three hours a day and saw five to 10 violent acts every hour ...
It is not, unfortunately, just the surface violence that we must reject. We must root out and replace all the sources of and justifications for violence, even in its seemingly subtle forms.

Capitalism, for example, is a very violent sport. Profit at any cost seems to be the only rule, competitive greed the object in play, destroying the competition the only goal. The field is covered with dead and dying players, while the owners are building castles with uncrossable moats. Many of their owners have turned war into a profit center - some even supplying all sides with the means of production destruction. Religion and nationalism are not far behind in undermining our deep desire for peace.

I am sorely tempted to call the honor bestowed on Obama the "Nobel Peace Pipe Dream". As noted by Taibbi, Obama is no dissident. His philosophy and his policies are fully rooted in the same garden that has grown war for centuries and he will continue to strive to "win". His message to Muslims and others is clearly, "We must have peace, but on Western terms - or else!"

Some commentary on the prize has suggested that it represented a hope that America would rise to world leadership in a grand journey to world peace. Sigh. I, for one, think we need to look elsewhere. I don't think we're up to it, judging by the actions of late at town meetings and the words of threat from a familiar "news" channel. It just doesn't seem to me that a country moving so quickly toward civil war is a likely beacon of peace on a troubled planet.

Others have said that Obama was not so pleased to receive the prize - that it challenged his true imperialist, bellicose agenda. It undoubtedly presents a conundrum, seeing as how making peace by making wars has been thoroughly discredited. We can hope as we might, but Obama will have his wars.

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[originally posted at P!]

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