[The destructive myth of the universal genius]

As the concept of universal genius evolved throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, it celebrated unique talent and cognitive superiority. 

But the shift from deep learning and thinking to divine inspiration and insight had profound social and political consequences.

………..Projecting an unrealistic amount of intelligence and insight onto a single person has become a mainstay of business leadership in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. 

Warren Buffet, Elizabeth Holmes, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Donald Trump, and Mark Zuckerberg, to name just a few, have built personality cults around their supposed genius-level abilities to apply unique, innate brilliance across a range of disciplines and problems. 

And their supposed genius gets referenced to justify all sorts of bad behavior.

******HEAD OF A GENIUS/MATTER: George Afedzi-Hughes, mixed media – acrylic, oils and enamels on canvas, 162 x 162 cm, 1999. Signed and dated lower left corner. Private collection, purchased from the artist 2002 in Accra. Illustrated : AFRICAN ARTS, Spring 2001.******

Of course, not all theories of genius are theories of universal genius. 

Indeed, some theories of genius focus on learning, study, and effort instead of divine inspiration. 

Those theories of genius can be beneficial, particularly in studies of creativity and innovation. 

Da Vinci was almost certainly a creative genius, as were Einstein, Katherine G. Johnson, Frida Kahlo, Jagadish Chandra Bose, and many others. 

There is no shortage of people throughout history that have been expansively educated, deeply thoughtful, and profoundly accomplished. 

ARTCapital Ghana

****LA SACHE: Pierre Segoh, mixed media on canvas, 58 x 63 cm, signed lower mid frame, 2003. Private collection.******

Understanding how and why is a worthy pursuit.

But when genius-in-general takes on the qualities of universal genius—divinely-ordained, uniquely insightful, applicable across any domain of knowledge—it feeds demagoguery and us-or-them thinking, reinforces inequality, and obscures symptoms even of extreme danger. 

And as history tells us, when used to prevent criticism, the myth of universal genius takes us inexorably down a destructive path. 


The full article can be read here:

The Destructive Myth of the Universal Genius

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