Reports have recently surfaced that Bill Gates befriended the notorious Jeffrey Epstein in the hopes of being given an award somewhere down the line. And not just any award. According to an ex-staffer at the Gates Foundation “He [Gates] thought that Jeffrey would be able to help him, that he would know the right people or some kind of way to massage things, so he could get the Nobel Peace Prize.”
I think a story like this just underlines how silly the business of such awards is. They are subjective, and what’s more based on whatever the whims of a handful of not very knowledgeable or well-informed individuals happens to be feeling at the moment. Of course Barack Obama had done absolutely nothing to deserve a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 except replace George W. Bush as president, but that was enough at that particular historical moment.
But the Nobel name, for no good reason whatsoever, continues to have enough cachet to make people like Bill Gates, who should know better, want to pursue it. I gave up long ago trying to find any rhyme or reason to the Nobel Prize in Literature. But why should there be any rhyme or reason? The handful of members of the Swedish Academy who do the picking might as well be throwing darts at a wall as naming some writer whose work they will in most cases be entirely unfamiliar with. Bob Dylan one year. Kazuo Ishiguro the next.
I don’t understand why anyone still buys into this, or into prize culture in general. Such awards are in no way, and never have been, meant to provide any kind of objective or even rational assessment of achievement. They continue only as a way of credentialing celebrity or the professionally well-connected and as an exercise in branding. Bill Gates should have just been allowed to buy a Nobel Prize for a billion dollars, and the money given to charity.