If you are especially good at something are you a genius? That is the question tackled in a well-researched Atlantic article titled Our Genius Problem.
We live in a time in which all terms and traits are inflated, and even the standard size at Starbucks is a tall. But “genius” appears marked for special inflation, so much so that the term “overrated genius” has begun to seem like a tautology rather than a cautious qualification. What is a genius, anyway? And why does our culture have such an obsession with the word and with the idea?
The words we use shape the way we think. “Genius” has become too easy a word for us to say. The parallel here may in fact be addiction rather than religion: as a culture, we have become increasingly addicted to the idea of genius, so we are dependent on it for a certain kind of emulative high, an intoxication with the superlative. Nowadays it takes more and more genius, or more and more geniuses, to satisfy our craving. It may be time to go cold turkey for a while, to swear off the genius model to represent our highest aspirations for intellectual or artistic innovation. If we remind ourselves that what is really at stake is creativity and invention; if we can learn to separate the power of ideas from that of personality; then perhaps we will be less dazzled by the light of celebrity and less distracted by attempts to lionize the genius as a high-culture hero—as essence rather than force. It’s not just another word that we need; it’s another way of thinking about thinking.