Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Be careful before you wish for more geniuses: you might get what you ask for!

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What makes you think you want more geniuses in the West; what makes you think they would improve matters?

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Of course, only geniuses could save us from where we are now.

But reflect:

1. We do not want to be saved.

2. We will fight against anyone who offers credible hope of salvation.

3. We will try to corrupt and invert creative genius into destruction.

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The genius is a person with a massively amplified and manifold impact - and this also applies to evil geniuses, and to the evil products of genius and the evil misapplication of genius. Thus one single person may generate vast misery, annihilation, demotivation and despair.

Geniuses led to the distinctively great achievements of Western Civilization - also to the bad stuff on a colossal scale: individuals like Rousseau, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao unleashed unprecedented wholesale horror.

And except for Hitler, all these are revered figures among our current ruling elites.

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Outside of the politically neutral areas of mathematics and theoretical physics; modern geniuses (and near geniuses) mostly have been and are being systematically ignored (they are the lucky ones) or persecuted, tormented, crushed and corrupted - especially by mass media-generated celebrity culture, mob frenzies and hate-fests.

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What makes you think a generous crop of future geniuses (assuming such things were possible; which seems doubtful) would fare any better, or yield any better results?

Are modern conditions better than those which led to the evil and destructive geniuses of the past couple of centuries?

Does our social treatment of recent and current genius lead you to be optimistic?

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I do not want more recognized and empowered geniuses - indeed I fear the consequences if there were more high-impact geniuses.

Under prevailing conditions the only high-impact geniuses will be bad geniuses; or geniuses from whom the bad is abstracted and amplified.

First must come repentance - and only somewhere in the far-side of a Christian revival, might there come to exist a situation where genius might reasonably be expected to do more good than harm.

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6 comments:

Nicholas Fulford said...

Hitler, Mao, and Stalin can all be linked together. Outside of nationalists in Russia and China, few would regard Stalin and Mao as anything but evil. Lenin tended more towards deep shades of great than pitch black.

Rousseau and Marx are different, and I will take particular exception with Rousseau.

Hence although men had become less forebearing, and although natural pity had already undergone some alteration, this period of the development of human faculties, maintaining a middle position between the indolence of our primitive state and the petulant activity of our egocentrism, must have been the happiest and most durable epoch. The more one reflects on it, the more one finds that this state was the least subject to upheavals and the best for man, and that he must have left it only by virtue of some fatal chance happening that, for the common good, ought never to have happened. The example of savages, almost all of whom have been found in this state, seems to confirm that the human race had been made to remain in it always; that this state is the veritable youth of the world; and that all the subsequent progress has been in appearance so many steps toward the perfection of the individual, and in fact toward the decay of the species.

Our vaunted social structures combined with intelligence allow us to have the surpluses to allow us to amplify our worst tendencies in forms you often deplore. A simpler society - one in which the surpluses that allow decadence and dangerous inventions do not exist - is a grand state for man. Without being constrained we expand to the limits of what is possible, all the while our Mouse Utopia's permit the negative genetic load to increase. Man consumes and expands beyond what nature would allow, but for the ability to hold the consequences at bay with technology - for a time.

The industrial revolution brought the start of it, and in the last two hundred years we have seen such wonders and horrors as would have had the ancients shaking in terror. Man's greatest sin is hubris. From musket to hydrogen bomb was a mere 150 years. From horse and buggy to man on the moon 150 years. From the first computer - the ENIAC in 1946 - to today's supercomputers is a mere 69 years.

Man has acquired great power, but it is not something he wields well; he is like a sorcerer's apprentice and indulges his worst individual and collective tendencies.

So in my mind Rousseau had a point, at least with regard to what he said in the quote given. He is no evil genius, but he is a genius.

Unknown said...

Nicholas,

When I look at photographs of the wide smiles on the faces of children in the developing world -- children who live no longer in primitive tribes but nevertheless in relative poverty -- I also wonder if Rousseau had a point in his speculations.

But really, why romanticise tribal life? Every day a struggle. Starvation, disease, parasites, predation, extremes of hot and cold. No dentistry. Evil spirits apparently lurking everywhere. Daily discourse dominated by myths and the worst sort of gossip (celebrity gossip might actually be an improvement since at least celebrities volunteer for the role).

Early death. 15% of deaths caused by other humans (as revealed by forensic archaeology).

The individual who violates tribal norms is swiftly shunned, punished or killed. Because 'hubris' was feared back then just as it is now.


You're right; our surpluses have permitted decadence. Many people are afraid, guilty and unhappy. With their new-found leisure they've made bad choices, consumed trashy media and failed to create good purposes in life.

Yet wealth and knowledge are strictly necessary in order for civilisation to even survive!

We face greater and greater problems. Famously there's the environment, be it warming or cooling. Asteroid impacts. Epidemics. Gamma ray bursts. An unlimited number of yet unknown problems.

Life is good. Hard problems are good. They are surely at least part of the antidote to decadence.

-- Tom

Dexter said...

I do not believe that Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao were geniuses. Their intelligence was not exceptionally high so far as we know. Yes, they were hailed as geniuses by their bootlickers but that means nothing. Their skills primarily lay in the realm of the judgment and manipulation of other men.

Karen said...

Do you have any actual evidence supporting these assertions? Can you provide a verified citation to a leader of any NATO country making an admiring statement about Stalin since 1950? Can you cite any such statements from any celebrity?

Bruce Charlton said...

@K- I don't regard Stalin as apolitical genius, but some people do; I have also read admiration of Stalin from many/most Leftists of the 1930s there were a lot of Communists in that era, and Communist nearly always meant pro-Soviet. More tellingly,those unrepentant Communists who who admired Stalin- like premier historian Eric Hobsbawm - have this regarded as a charming foible. Furthermore, Stalin is regarded as 'well-intentioned' in a way that Hitler is not. Finally, virtually nothing nowadays is taught about Lenin, Stalin and the Russian Revolution is English schools (Nazis are taught over and again). There is no doubt at all that there is a covert sneaking admiration of Stalin among the ruling elites - certainly they hate and shun those who criticize Stalin (anti-Communism is regarded as worse and more dangerous than Communism; the Cold War is regarded as 100 percent US Right Wing paranoia).

Dexter said...

@Karen,

The deepest and most fetid swamp of Stalin admirers, apologists, deniers and useful idiots is in academia. They may not count as "celebrities" but they are definitely in the ruling elite.

Another way of looking at it is this: how many politicians since 1953 have denounced Stalin as evil? And how many have denounced Hitler as evil? I imagine the ratio is something like 100:1 denunciations of Hitler to denunciations of Stalin. Which tells you who they really think was evil.

But to return to the original topic... to say that we can't have any high-impact geniuses because they'll only be evil is to succumb to despair.