Friday, October 9, 2009

Satire RIP

I won't be the only one to say this, and it probably doesn't matter much, but the awarding of the Nobel peace prize to Barak Obama is a decision so inexplicably perverse as to invite speculation as to its motivation.

The prize has been a joke for decades, quite impossible to take seriously. When not giving it to terrorists or to failed politicians reduced to grandstanding, they are honouring people for being worthy in ways that do not seem to fit with the terms of the prize. And then there is the truly incomprehensible, as in the case of Al Gore and now Obama.

It's worth remembering what those terms are: According to Nobel's will, the Peace Prize is to go to whoever "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

A certain leeway is to be expected, but the award has probably always been interpreted in quite different terms, as a chance to influence world events and/or express a personal opinion on them. The giving of the prize to Yasser Arafat can be interpreted as a hope that he would bring a relative peace to the Near East by not killing anyone for a while, and to Jimmy Carter as a desire that after years of running around like a headless chicken he might actually achieve something useful. The award to Aung San Suu Kyi was an attempt to draw world attention to the situation in Burma, and that of Mother Theresa a reward to one of the world's great women (despite the sniping of worthless windbags like Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ali, who discount 60 years of selfless and tireless work bringing kindness and relief to the suffering of Calcutta because the way she did it was not idealogical pure enough for them) for sacrificing her entire life to the service of others. Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank was an imaginative choice, recognising the huge importance of prosperity in the achievement of peace, and a very successful plan to increase it where such work was urgently required.

But Al Gore, Barak Obama? What have they ever done that could possibly be interpreted as contributing to world peace? What has Obama ever done, full stop? Ronald Reagan brought about (didn't just preside over but actually brought about) a huge reduction in the world's nuclear arsenal* and effectively ended the Cold War and its very real threat of Armageddon. But no prize for him. (It could be argued that Gorbachev got Reagan's prize). Even George Bush significantly reduced the remaining nuclear capacity early in his presidency, got rid of an evil dictator and persuaded several more to retire quietly and tend to their rabbits rather than wage war on the world. No prize for him either (not that he deserves it).

But Gore, that other worthless windbag, and Obama, an uninspiring leader whose sole supposed merit is being a good orator (and that is highly debatable) and who has not actually done anything whatsoever? Inexplicable, unbelievable.

He could have done himself an enormous favour by turning it down, declaring himself unworthy. It would have been honest, and genuinely inspiring, if he had said that he hoped to be a candidate in twenty years time, but that now he had work to do.

*Something this chap doesn't seem to remember

Update: Well, no, not surprisingly I'm not the only one to comment on the absurdity of this, and I'm not the only one to think he would do himself a great favour by declining it.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Agreed, nothing to add.

Oh go on then. I'd like to nominate Kofi Annan as a close runner up in the all-time totally self-serving and unmerited winners list.

Vincent said...

He did declare himself unworthy and in his speech took the opportunity to do his job as a world leader looking after America's interests and promoting understanding between nations at the same time.

Does he deserve the award? I would say so, for his oratory and symbolic status alone.

It was a very wise move to award him the prize "before he has done anything". It would be more difficult to award the prize for peace when the complications of diplomacy and war may have muddied the picture.

One BBC commentator remarked, without noticeable satirical intention, that he got the prize "for not being George W Bush". In the path towards world peace, this, together with his oratory, is sufficient reason.