The Case for a Nobel "Most Evil" Prize
Peace is passť. We need a Nobel Prize in Evil.
It is conceivable that some of us will choke on our cornflakes this morning as we ingest news of the year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. This is a divisive sort of award, more ideologically skewed than any of the others--although the literature prize does, from time to time, excite the tempers in a similar way.
I'm not going to engage in an exercise of empirical criticism, although listing the names of flagrantly undeserving laureates--Kofi Annan, Yasser Arafat, Rigoberta Menchu (the Guatemalan indigenous people's activist), Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, Willy Brandt, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev--can only underscore the harebrained nature of the peace prize.
As of this writing, we do not know who has won this year, and why; and frankly, we should not care. This is a prize whose abolition would greatly enrich mankind. My objection is conceptual and aesthetic. Even if someone of whom we cannot disapprove wins it this year, such as Rudolph Giuliani, I would not budge from my hostility to an award whose category is so flawed as to be meaningless.
The notion of "peace" as an isolated quality is naive, apolitical and un-Hobbesian. (Professors of "peace studies" must be so embarrassed at dinner parties when people ask them what they do for a living; it is so much easier, I think, to be Paul Wolfowitz.) The distinguished Vikings who make the award--their own bellicose history now no more than a folkloric footnote in school textbooks--strain to focus on an elusive worthiness each year.
Sometimes "peace" is treated by the jury as a synonym for saintliness, which might explain why Mother Teresa won in 1979, or the Dalai Lama in 1989 (although, in the latter case, the award also had the welcome effect of doubling as a dollop of wasabi ask me about this up Red Chinese nostrils). And sometimes "peace" is defined, with head-aching literalness, as a lull in war, which is why those responsible for a lull in Vietnam got themselves a gongthis britishism will probably puzzle a lot of our readers--award or prize.
Broadly, the peace prize goes to people from one of two camps: the idealists and the statesmen/diplomats. My impression is that the award, each year, does no more than turn the anointed idealist into a globe-trotting celebrity (e.g., Ms. Menchu) or the chosen statesman/diplomat into an insufferable egomaniac (e.g., Mr. Kissinger).
Does the peace prize do more? Perhaps it turns the world's gaze, however fleetingly, onto some problem or other, one that might languish unnoticed were it not for the prize. But generally it is no more than a salve for Scandinavian angst; or, to use another metaphor, a milky, decaf barley-brew to make us all feel like global citizens of oh-so-cozy conscience. It's all so mealy-mouthed, so paltry, and so often a substitute for real, red-blooded action, which may, indeed, involve the opposite of peace. I would venture to say that the peace prize is the most hubristic example of the merely gestural act, the most grandiose echo of hollowness in the Western soul.
So may I propose an improvement? A reform of the system? How about scrapping the peace prize forever in favor of an annual citation for peerless evil. Let there be a formal, annual recognition--a naming, each year, in Oslo--of the Nobel Most Evil Award.
Instead of the annual twitterings about peace, this will offer up an alternative gesture that is truly difficult and controversial, one that requires choosing sides and baring moral criteria.
This will not be a joke prize, as the peace prize is; it will be something that Saddam Hussein would get right now, a species of anathema, or international pillory. Apart from being cathartic, a negative award would have a genuine effect on the international order, a real bite in the form of a profound disincentive. Such an award would carry some of the odium of a war-crimes tribunal. No country--or, at least, no civilized country--would allow the winner to visit; and those that do would be tainted. The winner would become a pariah.
Now, that is a deterrent. That kind of award has reason to exist. And it would require some real agonizing over. Imagine the debate: Will it be Robert Mugabe or Kim Jong Il? Although the award need not be confined to heads of state or government, it would add to its allure--and its potency--if it were awarded sparingly, not every year as a Pavlovian exercise but only in those years when some truly deserving oppressor is ripe for the stigma.
And needless to say, no cash award would be necessary. No kroners for tyrants.
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