Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Why should modern society - why should *any* society - be bothered about geniuses?

The reason is not that geniuses deserve more concern than other kinds of people - the bottom-line reason is societal self-interest.

Geniuses are 'for' the good of the human group; they are people with a special gift for solving specially-difficult problems; and all human societies are confronted - sooner or later and usually sooner - by the kinds of problems that can only be solved by geniuses; lacking-which, the problems are simply not solved.

Thus geniuses are people who combine an especially high intellectual ability with a spontaneous tendency to focus on some abstract (by 'abstract' I mean not-social) problem, and the inner motivation to maintain this focus, to quest for an answer, for relatively long periods of time.


Most non-genius people, no matter what their abilities, are so focused-upon and bound-up-with social affairs (especially sexual matters) that they lack interest in or do not notice non-obvious underlying problems, and they lack the motivation to work seriously on them in a strategic fashion.

The genius is, by nature, always an Outsider to a significant extent. And it is this, together with his high abilities, which makes him so (potentially) useful.

Geniuses are rare, and it is even rarer to have the right kind of genius for the particular problem which is most urgent for a particular society; nonetheless, most traditional societies tend to recognize the value of the genius type - since anthropology regards the 'shaman'/ medicine man/ magician/ charismatic priest type of figure as pretty much a universal of human tribes.


How come such simple and unselfconscious societies spontaneously recognize something much like genius? The reason is just that most human societies just are serious; they recognize that life is a serious business, that there is a reason for it all. For them, the human condition is (one way or another) significant.

But modern society has lost this sense of the seriousness of life; for modern man lives inside a vast system of stimulating and distracting and manipulative lies, propaganda and attention-seeking destructiveness - I mean the (almost) all-pervasive complex of communications from the interconnected mass media and the bureaucracies of state and business.


So modern society is in practice indifferent to genius and the products of genius; since we are trivial, evasive and dishonest. For us, problems are merely part of the world of sensation and entertainment - continually defined then re-defined; and genius is just one of many millions of things to be taken-up, contemplated briefly, then impatiently set aside in the unending quest for novel stimulation.

Modern society is indifferent/ hostile to genius for the simple reason that as a human group we lack basic self-interest. Not because we are altruistic, but because self-interest has been replaced (inside the media bubble) with self-hating suicidality.

Insofar as modern society is aware of geniuses having provided solutions to real and vital societal problems, these answers are vehemently rejected. We don't acknowledge problems, we don't want answers - we just want to be pleasantly distracted unto extinction; and if pleasant distractions are not on offer, then almost any kind of distraction will suffice.



Valkea said...

In conversations with academics I have noticed that they have a couple of overconfident beliefs which make them undervalue geniuses: 1) They believe that large scale information production supersedes the need for geniuses. They e.g. claim that in little bit over ten years from now we have ten times more (supposedly useful) scientific information about the world and it's inhabitants than we have now. They say that the use of this large information base in various ways by vast numbers of scientists, e.g. data mining, other statistical analyses, other mathematical manipulations, creative solutions by numerous single scientists or groups, multitudinous interdisciplinary collaborations etc. will produce more breakthroughs than small number of geniuses. 2) They depreciate past geniuses in many ways, e.g. by saying that if the particular genius would not have done it, someone else would have done it soon. The scientific breakthrough "was in the air, and it was just a question who would grab it first". 3) The constant stream of news about scientific findings in the media have convinded them that we live now in the age of the fastest scientific progress in the world's history, and that this progress is accelarating. To them more scientists and resources means in straight relation more scientific progress. They are in constant state of excitement about the predictions what will be in the near future because of "sure and inevitable" inventions, like limitless cheap energy because of fusion power; creative computers; gene technologies, which solve among other things food production problems and increase the intelligence of people soon very much; etc.

Bruce Charlton said...

@V - I agree - that is exactly the kind of things they say.

Nicholas Fulford said...

The essential problem of man is both simple and extremely difficult.

We have an over-abundance which allows people to be distracted to form a Mouse Utopia.

Given sufficient reserves, the impetus to labour must be an internally driven one. But, few are driven due to the inertia of laziness. After all, if you have everything you 'need' in terms of shelter, food, security, and sex - (without the labour required to raise children, which are increasingly viewed as an impediment to obtaining the rewards of more leisure time and toys.)

Here is a fundamental question: Has genius - in aggregate - solved Mouse Utopia or permitted the accrual of reserves that permit Mouse Utopia?

People require something that compels them to step up to their potential, and to not merely acquire surplus to rise socially. Money is the wrong measure, and a failure is seen in the behaviour of most people who acquire what most of us would consider substantial wealth. Being rich does not equate to being engaged, fulfilled, or happy. It merely means that one is rich, and what happens? Most rich people use their wealth to indulge their pleasures, which once again fail to fulfil or contribute to their health or the health of society.

Here is where we need a particular type of genius. It is the genius to see, prescribe, and motivate people to live in a way that is personally and collectively healthy. But as much as people want this on a deep level, as much as they hunger for it, they are bound by the chains of comfort and fear. And hence, they persist until some accident or health issue destroys them.

Keith Glass said...

I would suggest that the current bureaucratic powers-that-be are quite satisfied with their current positions and power, and thus possess a vested interest in NOT having geniuses focus on solving societal problems.

In fact, it could be argued that they are placing significant effort at MAINTAINING those problems, as so to cement their positions of power, and the perq's that come with it. ..

Bruce Charlton said...

@KG - Agreed. But past societies were more long termist, and more courageous.