Saturday, October 10, 2009

"Freedom" and the peace prize

Hal Pepinsky,,
October 10, 2009
There’s enough lingering Norwegian in me to be astounded by the cultural blindness so uniformly reflected in US media reaction to Obama’s peace prize. All the talk, left right and whatever, I hear here is over whether Obama earned this award. Five Norwegian men, retired parliamentarians who comprise the prize selection committee, are blamed for being out of touch with reality. Well, I’m an ageing white man too. My Norwegian roots were laid my last year of secondary school, 1961-62, when I was the only non-local student in a centuries’ old “cathedral school” in Trondheim. My fellow Americans, I think you just don’t get classic Norwegian-think.
US evaluation of the merit of Obama’s award led me to look back at the intro to my first book (Crime and Conflict: A Study of Law and Society 1976), which at p. 7 reminds me:
In a very real sense, this study began more than ten years ago. During a year’s stay in Scandinavia [my psychology parents were in Trondheim on Fulbrights and a Guggenheim], a Swedish psychologist, Magnus Hedberg, questioned the present author’s definition of ‘democracy’ predicated on a system of laws that established and protected people’s right to live without interference from others, and that helped to define the duty of a citizen to work for others...’Can you conceive of a political system that represents freedom to do things and to work with others?’ he asked.
I recall that when I told Magnus that I saw no difference between the two, he smiled and assured me that I would have no trouble going back to the US.
He was wrong. I came back to the US indelibly sensitive to the difference between individualistic ideas of freedom and collective counterparts that living Scandinavian brought to my awareness. In words from the Norwegian peace prize committee, I hear a response that falls on largely, culturally tin US ears: We give Obama this award from NOT trying to gain credit for US-led international intrusion. The willingness to negotiate unconditionally (as with Iran) has paid off, although US responses I hear dismiss the significance of having open IAEA inspection of Iran’s second uranium enrichment plant. I keep hearing old-style Norwegian voices affirming: this is progress. This is enjoyment of the freedom of working WITH others. It means that achievements are by definition ours rather than US, another notch on a president’s international pistol. As I understand it, President Obama is cited by the Norwegians for subordinating personal and national glory to international cooperation. I share their sentiment.
I spent my first year in Norway in the wake of WWII, in a country that had not yet discovered oil. Ideological lines have become blurred in years since, but at the time, there was a clear Norwegian consensus that inequality was a threat to social security. “You shall not stick out” was a common watchword. Obama’s reaction to news of the prize would do this tradition proud; he was humble, self-deprecating, and appreciative of the responsibility that living up to expectations placed first and foremost on himself rather than on others. Thank you Mr. President. I like your attitude. Love and peace--hal

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