The Bigger Picture
Published on October 29th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
As I said at the end of last week’s column “partisan political conservatives were by no means the only members of the political news media in America questioning the Nobel panel’s decision to award President Barack Obama its Peace Prize.”
Not surprisingly, there were also some folks on the political left, both in America and other parts of the world, who denounced the Nobel decision because nine months into President Obama’s first term; America is still engaged in a war with Islamic extremists in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The extreme left will never accept anything less than a total withdrawal of American military forces from the region while the extreme right will claim with equal fervor that a withdrawal represents a capitulation to terrorism.
But political extremists, be they right wing conservatives or left wing liberals, are all actually cut from the same cloth in my humble opinion. The same is also true of most Christian conservatives, ultra-orthodox Jews and Islamic fundamentalists. That’s because, from a psychological perspective, they have so much more in common with each other than they do with the vast majority of other people who live in their societies.
From where I sit, political and pseudo-religious political extremists only differ in terms of their respective ideological, political and or religious views. But if you look just below the surface you will find exactly the same type of person and personality. They are all extremely fearful people who are unable to comprehend the complexities of life and adjust to changes that are simply a part of living within a society of other social beings. They are suspicious of others who don’t share their views, see conspiracies happening all around them and are prone to suffering from severe bouts of paranoia.
In short, these extremists are ruled by their numerous real and or imagined fears. They struggle to try to control those aspects of life that they are most afraid of and react to everything that happens out of fear. They simply must be in control of everything that affects their lives or else they fear that much worse things will happen to them. That is why they are so prone to trying to bully others emotionally, verbally and if all else fails, physically and quite often very violently.
They see the entire world and every issue, every decision, every position and every choice that one must make in life in very rigid terms of black or white, good or evil, right or wrong. For these poor souls there is no such thing as a middle ground or compromise with those who don’t share their exact same view of the world.
So it really comes as no surprise that such apparently disparate extremists like al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Rush Limbaugh and left wing political extremists all now find themselves in universal agreement that Barack Obama doesn’t deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. They find themselves in agreement about Obama precisely because President Obama doesn’t hew to the rigid ideological lines and perspectives on life they have.
As such, Barack Obama is a very real threat to their fragile psychological existence. If by some chance President Obama were to succeed in forging compromises that a majority of other people within their respective societies found acceptable, then what would become of the world vision they espouse? No, they simply can’t allow people like President Obama the opportunity to bring quarrelsome factions together.
What really concerns me though is the fact that some political commentators, who are generally more thoughtful and centrist in their political views, picked up on some of the reasons being given by extremists, on both the right and the left, as to why President Obama didn’t deserve the Nobel Prize and ran with them. The general argument on the part of these commentators is that Obama hasn’t really done anything to deserve such an award, or at least he hasn’t done anything substantial enough to deserve it yet.
But some of these negative opinions were also tinged with disappointment that nominees they felt were more deserving didn’t win. Indeed I can sympathize with them to some extent because there were some very worthy candidates in addition to President Obama. One example was Greg Mortenson, who has built over 100 schools to educate girls and young women in Afghanistan and Pakistan through his Central Asia Institute. But the reality of any prestigious award such as the Nobel Prize is that it is an honour just to be considered, because there can only be one winner chosen and there are equally good arguments that can be made on behalf of all of those who don’t win them.
With some others, I sensed they were afraid that awarding Obama the Nobel Prize at this early stage of his Presidency would diminish his chances of future success. These commentators genuinely want President Obama to vanquish his right wing and often racist opponents and implement the many domestic and foreign policy changes he has proposed. While I understand their concerns, I don’t see how they are helping President Obama succeed by publicly decrying his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
But after pondering why these usually level headed political pundits would respond to the Nobel announcement in such a surprising manner, I believe I have finally sorted out an explanation for their behaviour. Understanding their somewhat curious reasoning however, requires an understanding of American cultural values that extol action. Growing up in America, one constantly hears the phrases; “Actions speak louder than words.” And “Talk is cheap.” If I had a dollar or a euro for every time I have heard someone in the states quote either of these two phrases, I would be a very wealth man.
Mind you, I happen to be someone who believes in the core concept contained within both of these phrases. More often than not, what you do is much more meaningful than what you say. I’ll conclude this discussion about President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize next week.