In our modern world the word 'genius' is used far too frequently. One hears it everywhere, often applied in the wrong context, for the wrong reasons, to people of limited talent who do not deserve the appellation.

Whether this is because our standards have lowered in recent times - perhaps because, in an always 'relative' world, we no longer have the 'shoulders of giants' upon which to stand and have therefore opted to settle for those of shorter stature - or because an overuse of the word by the media has caused us to lose touch with its real definition so that our judgement has become flawed, I cannot judge. I know only that the term is applied immediately that someone performs at any level greater than the accepted norm... no matter the standard of the accepted norm! (My italics).

Patently this is nonsense, and the term should be applied no sooner to various writers, television producers, and even sports persons, than it should be applied to any diligent worker who, caring and careful though he may be, performs a series of routine tasks with competence but without the virtuosity that accompanies true genius. The refuse worker may be diligent; he may be careful; he may even be skilled ... but is he a genius because of these traits? I think we would all agree that he is not. Genius is not simply a matter of intelligence, of IQ rating; a point I have tried to make repeatedly over the course of my academic career. I, personally, have a high IQ rating; high enough indeed to define me as a 'genius' in terms of the criteria applied by Mensa, yet I am not a genius! Merely I am someone with a high IQ. This distinction is of paramount importance.

Genius is something beyond IQ. Genius is the sublime made flesh. Genius is the ability, as Americans say, to 'think outside the box'. Genius is a fusion of extraordinary abilities made to look ordinary. But, and here is a principal point, these extraordinary abilities are too frequently confused with mere 'talent', or equated with commercial success by fawners who are in awe of the wealth of others. Babbage was a genius; Bill Gates is not. Mozart was a genius; Bruce Springsteen is not. Einstein was a genius; Oprah Winfrey is not. Sir Thomas Newcomen was a genius; Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber is not. And so on. I think we can agree that these distinctions are self-evident. Until we cease to erect faux memorials on a whim, until we raise the acceptable standard of 'genius' to its former level, until we tear down the false gods of commercialism and poor taste that cause us to so lower our standards that everyone will be soon hailed as 'genius!' who is capable of something as mundane as opening a jar of pickled onions, until that moment the human race will continue to wither spiritually, morally, and intellectually. Not until we meet again the giants who cast their great shadows over the multitude in bygone times will ordinary human beings aspire to greatness once more. As Goethe remarked: 'Return to us our heroes, and from among that small band let us find those who would stand before us proclaiming genius'. (My italics again).

The following famous people are not geniuses: Cat Stevens, Robert De Niro, King Farook, Condoleezza Rice, Germaine Greer, the Brazilian football player Ronaldo, Bill Gates (the software magnate), George W. Bush (U.S. politician), Prince Charles (heir to the English throne), Bernard Matthews (the turkey magnate), the snooker player Ronnie O'Sullivan. Many are rich; many are accomplished, even talented; but they are not geniuses.

The following people may be geniuses: Geoffrey Winterton (Dept. of Modern History, Magdalen College, Oxford), Shakespeare (for defining the human condition), the Brazilian football player Pele (I doubt this is open to any debate at all), the English football player Wayne Rooney (although for football-playing ability obviously, rather than intellectual accomplishment), Irish writers Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde (but not George Bernard Shaw), humorist and auteur Woody Allan, composer Rimksy-Korsakoff, physicist Professor Steven Hawking (for synthesizing pre-existing ideas), entrepreneur PT Barnham (for synthesizing commercialism and human frailty), Dr. Albert Schweitzer (for synthesizing music, theology and medicine), revolutionary Prince Souphanouvong (for synthesizing the Laotian coalition), Brian Eno (for synthesizing generally), Richard von Kraft- Ebbing (for connecting syphilis to general paralysis), and Peter Stringfellow. There are others; the foregoing is not a definitive list. Thus, I think it can be seen, quite clearly, that very fine distinctions must be drawn if we are to gain any actual, useful information from the use of the appellation genius.

Selman-Troytt was a genius.
Professor Berthold Strell
Magdalen College, Oxford, 2006

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