Trickiness of Genius

January 7, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

Genius is suspicious. Federal prosecutors, in mounting their accusations against JP Morgan Chase, suggested they should have “known better” because much of Madoff’s magic was beyond the normal ways and means. Magic tricks and extraordinary skills are just two pieces of that odd wonder we call genius. In those in whom we deem it, it is an ethereal feature where one’s abilities are so far stretched beyond our sense of reality that we aim to give it room.

A common response to genius is to let it be. Dangerous are the actions that stifle genius or otherwise limit its potential. In her biography, A Beautiful Mind, Sylvia Nasar highlights a similar reaction. The story details the response of John Nash’s family in light of his battles with schizophrenia. Fearful of hindering his mind and denying the world of the great discoveries it was likely to find, they were skeptical of treatment and preferred instead to allow the troubled genius to remain in struggle.

Genius is a tricky thing. Often seen as a powerful force beyond human understanding, many are fearful of hindering its full blossom. One wonders whether JP Morgan Chase saw in Madoff the fetid fumes of genius. Might their failure to act be less about willing negligence and more a factor of some awe for potential genius? Maybe it was less about their easy profits and the sketchy details, maybe they were less interested in seeing how the sausage was produced. In the end they, and all who proffer genius status on the undeserving, suffer for their foolishness: Madoff, not a genius, was merely sneaky crook.

Genius is a tricky thing. Mysterious in nature, we are quick to gift it to another and when rightfully assigned the benefits are endless. Shakespeare writes Macbeth and Rembrandt paints The Night Watch. Miss the mark and something other happens: genius imitated is disaster waiting to happen.

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