Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize only four years ago. When pressed on the issue of why the committee had selected someone who had just taken office, people praised Obama’s departure from Bush-era policies and hoped the award would influence him to carry through on his promises.
(My regular readers are probably already wondering how I’m going to pull this topic off in my typical nonpartisan way. I don’t blame them.)
So let’s review: A Democratic president won the Nobel for expressing disavowal of his unpopular Republican predecessor’s policies. So: politics as usual and telling the people what they want to hear is Nobel-worthy.
I don’t bring this up to attack Obama. Now that we’ve had the NSA controversy and drones and the continuation of Guantanamo Bay and similar things, I believe we can learn a lot from reviewing the Nobel Committee’s discredited motivations.
Most significant is the presumed ability to influence others who may have loyalties and beliefs one hasn’t considered. This isn’t limited to the Nobel committee; I’ve seen it in my personal life as well. “If we embrace you, you will consider yourself one of us; if we exclude you, you will realize the evil of your ways.” Problem is, how many of us process self-reflections based on what a single individual (or group) believes?
Yeah, yeah, I know… peer pressure and all. But it’s one thing to urge a person to do something and a completely different action when people assume that their opinion will be decisive. After all, everyone has many voices clamoring for their attention.
Megalomania, anyone? Classical and operant conditioning only work when you give me a treat or a punishment. Your opinion of me counts as neither.
Of course, the Nobel Committee has something that the people in our daily lives do not. The Committee can reasonably expect to be admired to at least a small extent. But when people turn their backs on those who express views they disagree with, operating under the assumption that their disapproval (or approval) is meaningful to the person being ignored, someone needs to call the asylum. The people who do this only reveal their incapacity for dialogue and, in so doing, they become less credible people to take cues from. As we can see from Obama, a person’s words, actions, and beliefs can change independently of the praise or criticism that emerge from so-called influential people. In healthy individuals, motivation comes from the inside.
Ironically, Obama is no longer telling the American people what they want to hear… and the actions he’s promoting aren’t Nobel-worthy. So perhaps the Nobel Prize is just a huge popularity contest after all.
“Popularity contest” isn’t the worst thing I could call the Nobel, so I’d like to close with a bit of dark humor. Here’s the official announcement of Obama’s win from the Nobel website. The committee’s clairvoyance will startle you:
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.
Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.
Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.
For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”
Oslo, October 9, 2009
So who’s ready for an international party in Syria? Maybe the U.N. will spring for drinks.