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The Famine of Genius By Brian Simpson
Guess what? Genius creates civilisation, but today geniuses are few and far between, so we are in deep longer-term trouble according to the IQ worshippers such as Lance Welton:
“British code-breaker Alan Turing was the father of computer science. It is difficult to imagine what life would be like in 2017 if Turing hadn’t lived and hadn’t been employed by a university to research. But, as the movie The Imitation Game poignantly showed, Turing had few friends, was chronically shy, lacked social skills and was often shunned by his colleagues. Turing was a genius. But there’d be very few people like him working at universities today. This is a serious problem and, according to a new academic book recently published in the UK, the decline of religion is part of the reason for it. So argue anthropologist Edward Dutton (Oulu University, Finland) and psychiatrist Bruce Charlton (Newcastle University, UK) in their fascinating 2016 tome, The Genius Famine. According to the two British academics, geniuses are a distinct psychological type. They have extremely high intelligence, meaning they excel at quickly solving cognitive problems. This strongly predicts socioeconomic, educational and even social success. But geniuses combine this with relatively low conscientiousness and low empathy. They also tend to be uninterested in worldly things—money, sex, power—focused intensely on the intellectual pursuit of solving whatever seemingly unsolvable problem has come to obsess them. New ideas always break established rules and offend vested interests, but the genius couldn’t care less, claim Dutton and Charlton. This is why it is the genius who is able to make original, fantastic breakthroughs.
These kinds of people are fundamental to the growth and survival of civilization, the authors maintain. They are behind all major innovations. But, frighteningly, levels of genius have been in decline during the twentieth century. Measured from 1455 to 2004, macro-inventions—those that really changed the course of history—peaked in the nineteenth century and are now in on the slide. So, what has happened? Why is genius dying-out? The answer these authors provide may surprise you. Genius, they claim, is dying out, in part, because we are less religious. In his bestseller The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins tells us that religion is in opposition to science and civilization. Science values reason; religion values faith. And most geniuses are irreligious by the standards of their societies. Turing was an atheist and intelligent people are (slightly) more likely to be atheists than believers. But the rise of atheism has had a significant impact on the fall of genius. Until the Industrial Revolution, we were subject to Natural Selection. This meant that every generation 50% of children did not reach adulthood. And there were two crucial points about the children who did. Firstly, they were more likely to be the children of the rich and educated. The wealthier 50% of 17th century testators in England, for example, had about 40% more surviving children than the poorer 50%. Secondly, they would be physically fit; they would have the lowest numbers of ‘mutant genes,’ which accrue each generation and are almost always damaging. In that social status is predicted by intelligence (which is 80% genetic) and intelligence is negatively correlated with genetic signs of high mutational load—such as an ‘asymmetrical’ (ugly) face—it seems that we would have been becoming cleverer and cleverer every generation and this is documented by proxies for intelligence such as literacy or numeracy.
But we were also selecting for religiousness, which is around 40% genetic. In terms of individual selection, knowing God loves you and is watching you, you’ll be less stressed, more pro-social, and less likely to be ostracized. Dutton and Charlton use the example of a peacock. A peahen sexually selects a peacock with a big, bright tail because the tail displays his genetic quality. He must have good genes to be able to grow nice plumage and cope despite being weighed down by it. In much the same way, it has been shown that in humans both sexes sexually select for religiousness. Religiousness is a sign that you are cooperative, have self-control, can be trusted, have access to a useful network of people and are industrious enough that you survive despite making material and other sacrifices to the religious group. And then there is group selection. All things being equal, the more religious group—convinced that a moral God is watching it, that non-believers are Satanic, and that the group, and life, has eternal significance—will dominate the less religious one, the authors show. It will cooperate better, be more aggressive to outsiders, and be more likely to engage in extremes of self-sacrifice for the good of the group. In computer models of group selection, groups with these qualities always triumph. So, this all meant that we achieved a cooperative, stable, wealthy society which could provide a space for geniuses to flourish. And that the genius minority themselves became cleverer and cleverer. Then a tipping was reached where their innovations were so brilliant—in the form of the Industrial Revolution—that their impact on the standard of living was able to outpace the negative impact of population growth, leading to a soaring population with ever improving material standards. However, this set off another process: an inter-related process of intelligence and religiousness decline.”
The more interesting part of the argument is that regardless of the origins of geniuses, they are in free fall now, and the universities not the places for the remaining ones to flourish. Hence, there will be diminishing returns from technology, and ultimately techno-industrial civilisation will collapse from this stagnation. Now, I think that this conclusion is right even though I regard the road to it as involving a lot of hand waving. The culture does not exist to allow true genius to flourish, mainly because the universities and broader society does not value it at all, wanting stale conformity and across all disciplines punish dissent, for genius involves taking a radical departure from what presently exits. Thus, human problems are not going to be solved by the mediocre punters, and it will all fall apart, needing to be rebooted and rebuilt in another 1,000 years’ time, if the genes of geniuses even survive, which is most unlikely given their low reproduction rate.
The human race does not learn from past disasters, will appear on humanity’s tombstone.