The diffusion of genius

Last week a couple of things collided on my personal mindscape which led me to ponder…

First and foremost was the death of Steve Jobs. Regardless of what you think of his legacy, accomplishments or style, there is little room to deny his influence in the field of personal computing and personal electronics. He was a modern visionary. Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately) vision is useless without the social and technological skills to implement such vision. There are millions of toy visionaries idling away time in their dark bunkers across the globe. Many of them, alienated bloggers, no doubt. Jobs’ management and personal style perhaps draws the most criticism, but one does not ricochet the trajectory of culture by playing nice and innocuous.

The second item was a post which appeared on “Ask A Korean” which examined the modern phenomena of the “super person.” He linked to a NY Times editorial which questioned the wisdom and pertinence of certain 21st Century high-achieving persons who, as the article cited, might excel in a physical activity while simultaneously mastering multiple languages and molecular science. Essentially, they are the modern Renaissance men and women (or boys and girls, as is often the case). Intrinsic to such multi-pronged feats is the putative demonstration they share for bloating “college resumes” which, in today’s cutthroat and competitive college admissions environment, is the unquestionable necessity that prospective university students use to distinguish themselves from fields of thousands of applicants.

It naturally followed that after Jobs’ death, with the “super people” notion still rattling about in my head, I interpreted his career and accomplishments within the context of “super achievement.” Jobs, a renowned (early) college dropout, hardly fulfilled the archetypal Super criteria as what it is understood to connote in today’s parental helicoptered environment. I witness some examples of fledgling Superdom in local lore and boastful word of mouth. Kids who cheerlead, play sports and otherwise seize life with a physical gusto while still excelling in school and mastering intricate fields of esoteric science and language; while still mastering an unusually precocious skill designed to flabbergast the ruffian outsider. And always, of vague veracity. In fact, from the NY Times article, there is this:

Since that book [Judith Warner’s “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety”] was published in 2005, the situation has only intensified. “One of my daughter’s classmates has a pilot’s license; 12-year-olds are taking calculus,” Ms. Warner said last week.

These children and young adults are truly super. I’m not demeaning their accomplishments nor their frantic striving. I personally confess that I don’t have the ability to learn 4 languages while I kayak through violent Alaskan rapids (all of this while advanced mathematical equations sit in the forest lodge awaiting my welcome solution). There is no envy on my part. If parents see fit to indulge their children in such a morass of activities, and their subjects find it satisfying and enjoyable, more power to them all. Even if I had the physical and mental acumen to multitask to such an astounding degree, I don’t believe I have the personality to burden each day to the brink with activity. I value downtime, of the mental and physical variety. The moniker of Super is rendered meaningless because it ultimately is the most pliable concept of excellence.

Would Steve Jobs have been considered Super by such standards? Doubtful. Super people by definition should attend and graduate from a designated and societal-approved list of elite colleges. Super denotes a standard of conformist definitions of pre-approved excellence. You must rise clamorously through the hierarchy of post graduate education while entertaining certain activities those in the “know” are groomed to exclaim in aghast amazement due to their wondrous and unapproachable nature. Super within the context of the NY Times article is a limited, narrow path which seeks to immerse its subjects in as many varied interests and activities as possible. Simultaneously, of course.

I don’t believe the “Renaissance” spirit is beneficial when it’s overly expounded as a rite of passage for the genius and physically gifted. Specifically, it’s not beneficial to our culture and society. “Renaissancsim” is a vainglorious display of hereditary self-absorption. It is propelled by the overbearing and egotistical parental drive that leads mothers to cloak their young daughters in cosmetics and enter them in under-aged beauty contests. Renaissancsim is ingrained. We do not enter it naturally. The fact someone can both pilot a small plane, quarterback a football team, and tackle neurochemistry in one grand sweep benefits no one. It is Super as an ostentatious display of accomplishment. There is real genius at work but it is diffused by the command to channel the genius into every field imaginable. For what? For boasting purposes?

Which brings me back to Jobs because his accomplishments and those of many others who have had a marked influence on culture and distinct fields of knowledge were not just another nameless ingredient in a broad and cosmetic cornucopia of vast accomplishments. Most specific progress is fueled by genius level monomania. Monomania is activated when the shackles of conformity are lifted and freedom from a drive to cultivate peer-approval is realized. Would the Steve Jobs of 2011 have dared to drop out of college? In an environment constructed from such a narrow designation of what it takes to be “super,” would anyone be so bold as to drop out of college after 6 months if they wished to advance in our consumerist matrix? Such an act is now heresy. In 2011, heresy is not doing. How much of the genius in today’s young people might not otherwise realize its lofty potential unless it was channeled singularly toward a specific function or passion instead of being diffused by the self-absorbed matrix of Renaissancsim which is invariably a reflection of parental egotism and its mutant offspring of children as an objectified status symbol? Proud parents speak of their children as they would a car (which gets 35 mpg, hits 60 in 5.3 seconds and seats 6 comfortably, before you can take a breath).

Renaissancsim is futile. It is a waste byproduct, and if propounded across all present and future generations, will only serve to embolden the featureless swath of conformist (but very high achieving) youth. If a child’s interests guide him in one direction, let him concentrate on that instead of foolishly steering him to dabble in all acceptable interests and so-called passions for the sake of college admissions. This a forced sense of Renaissancsim. My fear is that it will, and has begun, to seep into the common population and become the standard against which all children are held against. I believe the practice of entering 8-year-old girls in beauty pageants presages the next stage of this perverted evolution of parental manipulation. It was charming while it involved cerebral activities. Now it is obnoxious.

Individuals will find themselves lauded with empty applause and lavished with amazement, and civilization will suffer for lack of individuality.

And most dismaying, the trailblazing spirit will be banished to the dustbin of commonly perceived underachievement.