Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

Critique of President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech

with one comment

The world must remain a place where citizens read the comments of political leaders and subject them to common sense analysis. Let us avoid the alternative: a world where we become dulled by the drone of meaningless speeches and the profusion of political nonsense — until we are no longer able to think critically about issues ourselves.

Following are short excerpts from Mr. Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, each followed by my comments.

Now these questions are not new. War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease — the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.

Atop his many other accomplishments, it now seems Mr. Obama is an anthropologist, too. Why is he certain that war “appeared with the first man”? Is it possible that early humans were peaceful? Why assume that the human love for peace, deep and untaught, is a recent development, or something less basic to our nature than war?

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes.

Well not if we don’t try. But make the effort and we might be surprised.

Why doesn’t the president stand at the podium, the world as his audience, and say, “I present to you, citizens of the world, a bold challenge: let us seek to end war in our lifetimes.” Wouldn’t that be more worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize winner?

President Obama is participating in the peculiar form of schizophrenia that is modern government. As individuals we know that war is wrong and in almost every case unnecessary. He stands there there telling us something we don’t believe, pretending that he doesn’t know we disbelieve it, and expecting that we’re going to play along.

For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

This is the low point in his speech, and reveals the absurdity or irony his receiving the award. Evil does indeed exist. But the reason war continues as an institution is precisely because people persist in the illusion that whoever opposes them, or simply dislikes them, is not just acting badly, or influenced by evil, but is Evil itself. Obama is here equating al Queda with Evil incarnate. This simplistic, black-or-white thinking is the problem. Hitler, perhaps it could be said, was as close to pure Evil as one can imagine; he institutionalized genocide – an utterly terrible, horrific thing.

But usually things are more complex: Evil – whatever that may be precisely – affects the judgment of basically good people. Evil sets us against one another. Evil is the true enemy. Our human opponents are still God’s children, made in His image and likeness. They are tricked by Evil. So are we.  If we wish to fight our true opponent, Evil, let us end war.

From one point of view, the terrorists seem motivated only by the urge to destroy and hurt. But perhaps their own view is that they are fighting a war against a giant, oppressive, military super-power, by the only means they have available. Of course I don’t condone terrorism – far from it! But I am not unable to see even terrorsts as human beings with positive and negative traits not so different from mine.

What we must beware, as Carl Jung and other psychologists inform us, is the human tendency to project one’s own unacceptable dark side onto others. We fight with our own demons by projecting them on other people. The sign of such projection is when we see or respond to events with greater irrationality than circumstances would warrant. War will continue as long as people and political leaders lack the sophistication to understand this.

It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine and shelter they need to survive. It does not exist where children can’t aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within. And that’s why helping farmers feed their own people — or nations educate their children and care for the sick — is not mere charity.

Alas, he is here only paying lip service to these principles. Where does he suggest that America will take on these challenges?

Perhaps there is such a thing as a just war, a war of self defense. Perhaps sometimes a war is necessary to achieve peace. But how much more often is peace necessary to achieve peace! The US spends hundreds of billions of dollars trying to gain peace through war. What if we spent even one tenth that amount on tangible gestures of friendship and assistance?

What, for example, is the United States doing to assist Latin America economically or culturally? At least John F. Kennedy (to whom Obama alluded more than once) promised this in his inaugural address. Kennedy didn’t follow up on his promises, but at least he kept the vision of the country pointed in the right direction.

And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, the determination, the staying power, to complete this work without something more — and that’s the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there’s something irreducible that we all share.

Mr. Obama fails to recognize that religious institutions already demonstrate this moral imagination. I wonder if he has ever heard of the 1967 encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples), or the encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, penned 20 years later by Pope John Paul II. Such works constitute the true state-of-the-art of enlightened people to grapple, in a sincere, loving, and ethical way, with the social needs of the world. The principles by which the human race may proceed on the paths of peace and justice are already outlined, yet arrogant civil officials ignore them.

The one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature.

But this is not true! That this is a common mistake does not excuse Mr. Obama here. If there is indeed one rule at the heart of religion, it is not love of other people, but the love of God!  This is an incredible error on Obama’s part.  (And an illustration of his arrogance, that he considers him an expert in everything — in this case, religion!)

To love other human beings is, in itself, no outstanding virtue. Even bad people love their family and friends. What sets a religious person apart is love of God. From this loves springs a deeper and more meaningful love of other human beings. For one thing, this form of love for others is free from self-interest.

The expressed sentiment of “love for all men” without love for God has no more substance than a Coca Cola commercial. Obama here is repeating the mantra of European Liberalism, which has tried to make a secular religion – one based on human instincts, including a bland appeal to “love for all” – in place of a solid, genuine one based on God.

The purely human form of “love for all” is egoistic. You love those you like, who are nice to you, who benefit you – if only because you feel “warm cuddlies” by helping them. What is needed is the kind of love that that extends to enemies as well as friends.

So there you have it in a nutshell. Mr. Obama seems to fancy himself walking in the shoes of Dr. King. But Dr. King was a Christian; he knew the meaning, importance, and necessity of loving ones enemies. There is not the slightest trace in Obama’s speech of his understanding or believing this principle.

Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace.

His speech at this point has degenerated into nonsense. The absurdity of his nomination has led to the absurdity of this speech – it could do nothing else. His vision as expressed here is the opposite of clear-eyed. Nothing he has said has demonstrated the necessity of war. And even if war is necessary, to wage peace – in the form of energetic initiatives aimed at promoting justice and welfare around the world — is much more needed. On this he is silent.

Written by John Uebersax

December 15, 2009 at 4:15 am

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