Tuesday, October 13, 2009

And The Nobel Winner Is...

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

As Alfred Nobel recognized, peace cannot be achieved by one man or one nation. It results from the efforts of men of broad vision and goodwill throughout the world. The accomplishments of individuals need not be remembered, for if lasting peace is to come it will be the accomplishment of all mankind.” – Henry Kissinger, from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech December 10, 1973*

For those of you that tuned in last week and read "Collaborate and Win (a Nobel Prize)" you may have noticed a few Nobel prizes absent from my analysis. (For those of you that missed last week’s post) I had used the historical record of the Nobel Prize for Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine to demonstrate the increasing importance of collaboration in these scientific fields. Those with even the most basic awareness of Nobel happenings however probably recognized that I did not incorporate Literature, Economics, and the Nobel Peace Prize into the breakdown.

The history of scientific endeavors – those of physics, chemistry, and medicine – generally speaking is characterized by the gradual build of one idea upon another. Previous work becomes the basis for new revelations and discovery. There are inherent links from one scientific exercise to the next if only because science is measurable, testable, and repeatable. In some respect, the history of science could be viewed as one, big collaboration.

Literature does not share these qualities. Although literature has historical traditions with influencers that shape its arc, new literary endeavors are not dependent on prior knowledge and history as in scientific endeavors. Unless you consider the work of editors, agents, illustrators, and publishers as a form of collaboration worthy of inclusion in such circles as the Nobel Prize, writing by its very nature is a solitary endeavor. A piece of literature can and often does exist as a reflective point in time, created by a lone genius. It should come as no surprise then that the Nobel Prize in Literature has never been awarded to collaborators.

In the annals of scientific history, economics is a relative new-comer. Some view it as the bastardized child or distant cousin of real science. It does not include some might say the rigors and traditional measurements and corresponding experimentation of other scientific fields of study. And thus is not worthy of sharing the same stage. Even the Nobel Prize (which isn’t actually awarded by the Nobel Foundation but rather Sveriges Riksbank, Sweden’s Central Bank) wasn’t established until 1968, and was awarded for the first time in 1969. There is some evidence to suggest however collaboration is still an important element within economics. Since 1969, including the 21st Century, it appears 15 prizes (including my personal favorite John Nash in 1994) were awarded based on some type of collaboration. It’s worth noting however that even in these cases some appear to have been awarded to economists who shared fields of interest and investigation but whose actual collaboration may have been loose at best.

So what of the Peace Prize?

To what extent is collaboration rewarded in this realm? The very nature and purpose of the Peace Prize seems altogether different than the other Nobel Prizes. Peace seems like such a monumental endeavor that to award the Prize to an individual would be oxymoronic. To some extent though I suppose the prize must simply be viewed symbolically.

Since the first award in 1901, the vast majority of Nobel Peace Prizes have been given to individuals. A few organizations, such as the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and the United Nations have also been recognized, but there are only ten or so other instances of identifiable collaboration. The most famous of which include Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin in 1978, Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk in 1993, and Arafat, Peres, and Rabin in 1994.

There has certainly been much hullabaloo around the recent Nobel Peace Prize given to President Barack Obama. I’m not concerned though whether you think President Obama is “the person who 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.” The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize isn’t up to you or me. It simply is what it is.

Yet for whatever President Obama has or hasn’t actually accomplished to date, I’m led to believe he does understand the true nature of lasting peace – collaboration.

Excerpts from remarks made by President Barack Obama shortly after receiving news of the award include:

“Let me be clear, I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.”

"Throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement, it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes."

“These challenges can't be met by any one leader or any one nation. And that's why my administration has worked to establish a new era of engagement in which all nations must take responsibility for the world we seek.”


Perhaps more so than any other endeavor, peace requires (demands actually) an unprecedented level of responsibility and collaboration.


*As the Laureate, Henry Kissinger, was unable to be present on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, December 10, 1973, the acceptance was read by Thomas R. Byrne, Ambassador of the United States to Norway.

You can read the full text of President Obama’s remarks here.

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