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!
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
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
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