Sunday, 28 July 2013

Implications of the group selection of genius?


Suppose that genius benefits group fitness rather than individual fitness, as seems likely to be the case - then this is a precarious situation.

If genius led to higher fitness, then the proportion of geniuses in a population would increase with each generation. But if genius is group selected then the genetic consequence of a genius is to expand the group - and this rising tide of group fitness will raise the boat of genius.


A group-selection account of genius therefore (I think) suggests that genius grows in an expanding group, an expanding population - the outcome of genius being the expansion of that population - and the situation can only be sustained if the consequences of that expanding population include maintaining and promoting the causal requisites of more geniuses.

I think it is probably correct that each genius is a one-off - sui generis - not as a matter of necessity, but mostly because of the extreme unlikelihood of the occurrence same combination of abilities and personality factors.

This means that there is NOT a specific and definable 'genius-type' - which further means there cannot be a system for recognizing and promoting geniuses.


Which means that genius-type creativity cannot be taught, and can indeed only be described in a broad brush terms.


Add to the mix that geniuses are nearly always (not always) troublesome in one way or another - this goes with the territory because even if you cannot say with precision what the genius does do, what he does NOT doe is think like other people - and what kind of personality he does NOT have is one that goes with the flow of social consensus.


There are many consequences of this way of understanding genius - and one is that genius is tolerated rather than encouraged - and this especially applies at the local level of the people living around and with the genius - these will experience the problems of genius, but will not benefit from the genius any more than the rest of society.

Since the benefits of genius are general, there is an incentive, therefore, to shift the costs - let someone else, some other group, employ the genius and let them put up with him!


Further more, due to the activities of genius, a society, more exactly a human group - that group within which the genius functions - may abruptly switch from being one which tolerates genius for the sake of what he offers, to one which has... well some other attitude that could be actively anti-genius, or merely conformist, or short-termist, or non-functional...

(Non-functional in the sense that what genius offers is ultimately greater functionality, greater efficiency and/or effectiveness at some function - and if a group stops being concerned about functions, then there is no reason to  tolerate genius.)


My reason for exploring this point is that at some point in the past few decades, British society went from being one which in practice tolerated genius, to one which is hostile to genius - and this can be seen at almost every level.

To read of such difficult, annoying, disruptive geniuses as Dirac or Wittgenstein, and then to realize that that were Professors at Cambridge - is to recognize that such characters would nowadays get nowhere near a Cambridge chair - not least because actual functional ability is not regarded as of primary importance in modern Britain.

I personally know of examples of supremely able and creative and productive people (as close to genius as we now get) who have been in practice (and for many and various 'excuses') excluded from positions in UK universities - not just once but repeatedly.

Mediocrity is zealously enforced by Head Girl types (of both sexes) whose sole concern is their own social micro-environment.


Modern Britain values Leftist ideals far, far more highly than the ability to do your 'job' - and I mean job in the ideal sense of performing a distinctive function.

What happens now is that instead of selecting people on the basis of how they do the job, the job is redefined to include the kind of people you want to select. 

(This is, of course, the bureaucratic way of doing things - in which the bottom line is satisfying other bureaucrats whose bottom line is satisfying other bureaucrats - with bureaucratic 'turtles all the way down' and no bottom line of reality.) 

So, in such a world as modern Britain, why tolerate difficult characters whose 'only' recommendation is that they are supremely good at the real job?


Thus a society with a high concentration of effective geniuses flipped quite suddenly into a society which is in practice and almost universally (at the relevant level of effect) actively anti-genius, selecting against genius, excluding of genius.

And the whole thing is denied by the simple expedient of re-labelling: in which some creative nonentity (maybe of high status, or a nutter) is simply stated to be a genius, talked about as a genius - probably given awards and medals for being a genius - and the concept of genius is thereby relativized and even further discredited!



Robert said...

For some reason this post reminds me of the old story about the 4 types of soldiers in the German Army:

1) The great majority were stupid and lazy, but, being Germans, were obedient and brave;
2) A fraction were stupid and energetic. These solders were extremely dangerous and had to be rooted out and discharged as soon as possible;
3) The intelligent and energetic soldiers made up the non-commisioned and lower commissioned officer (staff officer) ranks. They were too busy doing things to think;
4) The intelligent but lazy soldiers were suited only for high command, but were essential to the proper functioning of the army, because they could think and took the time to do so. The creative geniuses?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Robert - thanks! That is one of those schemes which is instantly and permanently memorable (whether true or not!).