The Prize - Introduction

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- intrigue that manipulates integrity and the people involved

What is it about us that makes us strive to win the prize, any prize? At some level such a question may seem unimportant. But there are very deep and dark forces within us that stir whenever competition is invoked. Normally that is not important in our day to day lives. We also know that this trait is stronger in some people than it is in other people. Add the fact that most people accept the idea that a little spirited competition is a proven vehicle to improve motivation and we seem to view the idea of prizes as generally aceptable.


Now put up a million dollar prize and see what crawls out of the woodwork. Some large cash prize will not always provide the most desirous results. Greed may not be a major problem for everyone, but greed is pervasive enough that I consider it universal. For some people, greed is such a factor that any offer of money can bring out some ugly behavior. Many more people control the effects of greed, but the subconscious influences of greed running in the background can create problems that are impossible to control at all times.

I like adventure, but one of the scarcest experiences I ever had was riding a horse that was out of control. We were teenagers and a girl friend wanted some help riding one of two horses that needed the exercise. We were riding side by side for a while when each horse began to “nose out” the other. At first it was nothing. But very fast it was out of control. A quarter mile ahead was the end of the path we were riding. At the end a chain-link-fence topped with barbed-wire crossed at right angles. In front of the fence was a two lane highway with a few speeding cars. No matter what she or I tried, the horses would not slow or turn. They went faster and faster. Her horse got to the fence first so my situation was a bit better. She, on the hand, was cut up pretty badly. We walked the horses back to the barn, they were none the worse for all the trouble. Like the horses out of control, it was the competition that changed the nature of the beasts.  


Good people do bad things, on occasion. When Alfred Nobel noticed his legacy would be less than noble, he attempted to rectify the situation by offering a prize for “good” science. Evidently Alfred had failed to realize that such a prize could also produce less than noble results. Nevertheless, I hereby applaud Alfred for his effort to motivate people to produce more “good” science.


Born in 1833, Alfred was a businessman, chemist, engineer, and inventor. He amassed a fortune from his inventions and enterprises. Dynamite is the most famous of his 355 inventions. When some newspaper labeled him “the merchant of death” he decided to change his image. Alfred secretly changed his will and when he died in 1896 the executors of his estate established the well known Noble Prize.


Perhaps Alfred was a bit of a cock-eyed optimist. Alfred thought his explosive creations would bring about the end of war. "When two armies of equal strength can annihilate each other in an instant, then all civilized nations will retreat and disband their troops." Obviously that didn’t happen.

When I wrote “good” science above, what I really meant by that adjective, is better understood in light of the fact that in his will Alfred said he wanted to award a prize each year to honor those whose efforts contributed to the greatest benefits for mankind in the fields of chemistry, physics, literature, medicine and peace. It was to honor “good” in the sense that it would select people who benefited mankind [as opposed to – say, causing war or destruction]. Not withstanding Alfred’s noble aims, given human greed, is it any wonder that these prizes have produced so much controversy?

Having portrayed how greed can corrupt human integrity, the history of controversy surrounding Alfred’s prize is not usually attributed to greed. It would seem that greatness courts controversy. This would be especially true during the early stages of that greatness being recognized. The idea of the Nobel Prize Committee was to recognize the greatest contributors of the previous year. That has proved problematic.


Greatness, especially the greatest of greatnesses is very hard to judge in the short term. Greatness logically attracts detractors that are duty bound to test the mettle of any such determination. This unstructured process takes time. Then it falls on the Nobel Prize Committee to consider the candidates for that year. Often the court of world opinion is still out when the Committee must announce their decisions.  Even more often, many critics are attracted only after the announcement.

Now consider the step-sister of greatness, fame. Fame attracts a different crowd. The mettle testers have not gone away; they are infiltrated by the people who are attracted to the flame of fame as well as some who seek the fame of being associated with great fame. One of the differences in this fame crowd is that they typically fan the fires rather than throw water on them. They can create unreliable stories and innuendo in support of that fame. Then there is also some that seek the fame of some different candidate.


Fame and greatness fosters a rich cousin, fortune. This connects us back to greed, but when we find all three together you have power. Fame and fortune, but especially the two in concert with greatness, is one of the more potent combinations that elevate power.

NEXT:  The Prize, Section 1 – A Sort of Sordid History, A87776789

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