April 7, 2010

What does it take to be a genius?

Here's the beginning of my new Taki's Magazine column:

What does it take to be a genius?

Europeans of the Romantic Era tended to ascribe the accomplishments of the great to an inborn spark. In contrast, in this age in which voracious competitiveness must rationalize itself in politically correct terms, American self-help books, such as Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and David Shenk’s The Genius in All of Us, denigrate the importance of talent. They even go to the comic extreme of citing Mozart, who could compose music as fast as he could jot it down, as evidence for the dominance of nurture over nature.

To reach the pinnacles of achievement, to be, out of the 100 billion or so humans who have ever lived, one of the few hundred individuals to be remembered by one name—to be a Mozart, a Beethoven, a Bach—does it help to have innate talent? How about ten thousand hours of practice? An intense work ethic? An obsessive personality? A supportive family? A conducive culture? Role models? Personal connections? Energy? Being in the right place at the right time? Not dying before adulthood? Sheer luck?

Yes.

Few of the all-time greats were fortunate enough to have every single one of these factors in abundance, but they typically had more than a few. Nobody can accomplish all that solely on his own. Conversely, no family, culture, or state can concoct a genius without a unique individual. ...

And, yet, the notion that golden age German-speakers enjoyed some genetic advantages in musical talent is not implausible. Why?

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

83 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting issue. What are the antecedents required?

In earlier times, the gap in standard of living between geniuses and those of average IQ was not so great. To the extent that geniuses joined the ranks of the officer corps, the death rate was higher than the death rate for those of average IQ (ie the best officers were out in front leading the troops and more likely to die than those of average IQ)

Today, the geniuses and their allied group, the cognitive elite (defined as the top 5% in terms of both IQ and applies knowledge) have pulled ahead of their peers to an unprecedented degree.


First of all let me state right off the bat that I have tremendous sympathy for those not in the cognitive elite that are drawn to white separatism. The Cognitive elite of the USA have imported millions of low wage workers from around the world and driven down the wages of those of average IQ. Would the coal miners who work for Massey energy have accepted such low pay and dangerous working conditions if the cognitive elite did not constantly threaten them with replacement by docile immigrants?

My class, the cognitive elite, is waging war on the non cognitive elite. The deaths of the mine workers are quite literally on the hands of the cognitive elite. I consider this a sin, but I am powerless to stop it. for non cognitive elite whites it may be quite logical to separate both from the NAMs and from the white cognitive elite.

Think about it this way - even if the USA was a 100% white nation, the white cognitive elite can always find poor whites from places like the Ukraine who are willing to come to the USA and drive down wages.

So the separatist agenda quite appropriately rests of separating from the NAMs and also separating from the cognitive elite

the question is, where can the white separatists move to in order to implement this?

fdadfaeefs said...

Genius is like uranium. It has to be triggered the right way to go boom, BUT certain elements are more naturally more boom-ish than others. Try to make a nuke device with sodium.

Luck, social support, cultural influence, etc, all matter, but not everyone can do anything. This is true even in sports. Africa must be brimming with great athletic talent, but most of the continent is poor and run-down. So, most of its naturally great athletes don't get a chance to compete in sports or in the Olympics.
Culture matters a lot too. When Jews lived under the strict laws of Torah and Talmud, they weren't allowed to use their higher intelligence freely. Their natural genius remained latent than realized.

So, Beethoven must have been lucky. First, he was lucky to have been born. If his pa and ma didn't have sex on a certain night, he wouldn't have been born. If he had died in childhood of some disease, that would have been that. If he hadn't come in contact with other musical folks, he might not gone into music. And, there must have been something in the Germanic character in all its tensions and contradictions--passionate, light, dark, brooding, poetic, romantic, hard, stormy, nature-loving, masculine, pious, freedom loving, communal, individualistic, obedient, etc--that inspired so much great powerful music.

Not surprisingly, Germany also produced one of the strangest and most mysterious philosophers of all time: Nietzsche. And though Jewish, Marx and Freud also must have been deeply influenced by Austro-Germanic aspects of culture. (I think one of the reasons why Germans culturally sucked after WWII is because Germans have been checking their true and powerful Beethovenic-Brahmsian-Wagnerian-Straussian nature out of fear that the pandora's box may unleash yet another Hitler).

Even so, there must have been many many many musical people during Beethoven's era. Many of them were prolly just as devoted, just as hardworking, just as obsessed, just as fame-and-fortune seeking. Yet, most of them are forgotten. Beethoven towers over them all. So, we cannot dismiss individual genius.

It's like Liverpool in the 50s and early 60s produced many rock bands, but only the Beatles survived to become a great act. Who really cares about Gerry and the Pacemakers? Indeed, most of the British Invasion bands have been forgotten. Like this one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGxDS10VAbg

But on the other hand, the planets must have aligned in the right place for the Britsh rock scene in the 60s. Even though there are lots and lots of shitty bands--like Herman's Hermits--, a bunch of great acts and bands emerged seemingly out of nowhere(esp. if we include Ireland): Beatles, Stones, Who, Kink, Floyd, Animals, Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapner, Fairport Convention, Van Morrison, Moody Blues, and others.

Just how did this happen and why? How did that small island nation eclipse the US in the 60s with a form of music created in the US?

ililioioikikd said...

I thinketh Sailer underappreciates Americans Foster and Joplin. Maybe their music was 'less august' but it would serve as the basis of the dominant music of the 20th century. Even classical music had humble beginnings in church music and folk melodies. For there to be Beethovens, Berliozes, Wagners, and etc, there had to have been a rich folk tradition in Europe.

Most of the high-minded or 'serious' musical culture in America in the 19th century slavishly looked to and copied Europe and produced little of lasting value. When Dvorak came to America and was amazed by INDIGENOUS American musical traditions, few 'serious' Americans took him seriously--just as it took awhile for Poe and Twain to be taken seriously by Americans. Yet, Dvorak really saw the future as the indigenous folk traditions of American music--negro, hillbilly, folk, etc--would serve as the basis of the worldwide dominant music of the next century. Jazz grew to new heights of sophistication. Country and blues fused to create Rock music. So, Foster and Joplin were geniuses in their own way. In a way, their genius was all the more amazing because they had limited access to musical training. One could say Joplin achieved more in his 'cultural poverty' than many conservatory-trained musicians of 'august' backgrounds. A genius isn't only proficient; he is original. Joplin was that.

jody said...

this is no different at all than the number of awesome guitar players in the US in 1985 (many) versus 2010 (none, literally zero).

who's the best player right now? john mayer i guess, and he's already out of his prime, and he was nothing compared to the greats of the 90s, let alone the 80s or 70s. heck, lots of guys from that era who were not famous by name, still positively smash john mayer. who played guitar for journey, or iron maiden? only guitar guys know those names, but even these "no name" players blow mayer out of the water. you don't have to get to joe perry to find somebody who smokes john mayer.

mozart, bach, beethoven? brahms, wagner, mendelssohn, berlioz, liszt, schumann? we can do the same for guitar players. van halen, page, hendrix, clapton, iommi, slash, angus, hammett, hetfield, rhoads, dimebag, satriani.

names from the last 10 years? none. not one "instant recognition by a single name" guitar player in a decade now. if you were born after 1980, video games were more interesting to you than guitars.

Anonymous said...

have a 100 billion people really lived??

kritisk_borger said...

I wouldn’t mind being a genius, but unfortunately I don’t have the work ethics or the talent needed to become one. Sometimes I even think that my IQ is just below the intelligence level required of a genius. But look at the bright side, at least I’m humble :-)

Anonymous said...

Germany during the period of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven was not a single nation. It was a jigsaw-puzzle of small principalities, ranging from some not much larger than a big country estate to substantial regional powers like Bavaria and Prussia.

Each of these principalities had its reigning prince, and his court, which inevitably included an orchestra. Furthermore many of these little countries were ones in which church and state were united under a prince-bishop (e.g., Salzburg, Cologne, Kremsier), who then had both court and ecclesiastical music to support - tam aris quam aulis. And each little court and diocese strove to outdo its neighbors, making German courtly life an example of "die schöne Kunst der Verschwendung."

There was thus much more potential patronage for musicians in Germany than there was, for example, in Britain or in France. In those countries it was easiest for the court, or for the opera-houses and theatres that were beginning to become popular, to import a musician from Germany - as, for example, Handel was brought from Hanover to London.

We see the same phenomenon today in the high-end restaurant/hotel business, where every operator worth his artisanal sea salt has a chef from France, or if not, perhaps from Austria or Italy. There is simply no rivalling these countries for training such an abundance of such people. Similarly, how many native-born Americans take up bespoke tailoring? All the best tailors I have known in the U.S. have been Italian immigrants.

Where there is high demand for a skill, it will flourish.

dfaffwere said...

"this is no different at all than the number of awesome guitar players in the US in 1985 (many) versus 2010 (none, literally zero)."

This could be because (1) everything that could be done has already been done with the electric guitar. I mean how can anyone top Hendrix and Page.
I'm sure there are lots of expert guitarists but they are merely imitating the old masters than doing anything really new... just like there are lots of excellent classical instrumentalists but not many great originals.
(2) Since the late 80s, electronic keyboard and other gizmo stuf have attracted the top talents in pop music. Electric guitar is almost passe in the age of techno and hippity hoppity.

Same goes for Jazz. There are lots of expert players but few originals. Everything that could be done with Jazz has been done. It's an exhausted art form. Classical too. We must preserve and admire them like we do architecture, sculpture, literature, and paintings of the past.

Dahlia said...

Wow, Steve, thanks for this!

I didn't know about Luther's push for vocal music for the masses and the role it might have played.

I was thinking last night how disturbing it is that the only German influential modern music I can think of is Kraftwerk! Nothing against them, my husband likes them, but perhaps there is something to what fdadfaeefs said about them being overly cautious. It's been true in all other German art forms.

Wasn't your father-in-law a conductor or involved with the orchestra in some way? What was his nationality? Did your wife or children inherit musical ability?

Another German to check out is the polymath abbess, Blessed Hildegard of Bingen, born about 1098. She was the 10th child in her family, dedicated to the Church by her parents, and a genius.
Wiki has a good entry that seems pretty good at conveying her brilliance and accomplishments:
She wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, poems, and the first surviving morality play, while supervising brilliant miniature Illuminations.

Anonymous said...

"Even classical music had humble beginnings in church music and folk melodies."

Hmmmmmmmm - medieval monastic music and stuff like that wasn't exactly humble or "non-august." The level of complexity may have been middling, but the level of emotional-spiritual profundity was quite rarefied. Some folk or popular music is also extremely "high-minded," though on average not as much so as a high-cult canon that accumulates over centuries by selecting the great and discarding the rest. For example the folk-poem/song "Tom A'Bedlam" is one of the very finest few poems in English.

There is also pop music that may be truly immortal. Just not very much. An example might be Crosby Stills Nash & Young's song "Country Girl" or Joni Mitchells "Songs to Aging Children Come." A couple Portishead songs might also qualify. And there are a few other such works. What is a lot more common is for a rock song to be really, really flipping awesome but lack the clarity and purity that could make it immortal.


"have a 100 billion people really lived??"

I was skeptical too. I wondered how far back this went - like, does it go back beyond agriculture, to a time when there was no culture anyway? But, I found that 46 billion people are estimated to have lived just in the time between 8,000 BC and the year zero. The number who lived before 8,000 BC is insignificant.

To see these numbers, go here and scroll down to the unformatted data table:
http://www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message714468/pg1

Anonymous said...

fdadfaeefs said...

"Just how did this happen and why? How did that small island nation eclipse the US in the 60s with a form of music created in the US?"

One theory for why Britain eclipsed the U.S during the 60s when it came to Rock music was because of the puritanism("music is sinful") and racism("black music is especially sinful and Satanic") that was endemic in much of American society at the time.

Although Elvis and various other white rockers were immensely popular during the 50s, they also had a lot of haters, whites who hated seeing whites performing "black" music. This attitude didn't mysteriously disappear during the 60s, and when coupled with the religious puritanism of much of the U.S population at the time, greatly limited Rock n' Roll's evolution in the U.S.

In Britain during the 1960s there were no such inhibitions; if white British kids wanted to play "black music" and form bands, there was virtually no strong racism(in the manner that much of the U.S at the time was racist) to stop them. Similarly, Britain was generally less religious than the U.S, and more urbanized.

This isn't in any way meant to challenge the idea that the British had a good amount of innate talent(with their smaller population), but that the talent in the U.S, after the initial Rock n' Roll explosion of the mid 1950s, was hindered by racism and puritanism.

ffrrgwere said...

Germany during the period of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven was not a single nation. It was a jigsaw-puzzle of small principalities, ranging from some not much larger than a big country estate to substantial regional powers like Bavaria and Prussia.
Each of these principalities had its reigning prince, and his court, which inevitably included an orchestra... And each little court and diocese strove to outdo its neighbors, making German courtly life an example of "die schöne Kunst der Verschwendung."


This is interesting and prolly has much truth to it. But, I really think there was something mysteriously musical about Germans. There was something in their soul, culture, bloodstreams.

After all, if patronage by rich folks is what matters, Germans should have produced lots of masters in painting too, but it wasn't so until the the 20th century. Sure, there were some good German Romantic painters, but can they be ranked among the greatest? No.

And, German and Austrian architecture, though grand and impressive, were mostly derivative. And, German literature lagged behind that of Brits and French.
It was in the realm of music that the Germans, along with Italianos, outshone all the others. There must have been deeply musical about the Germanic soul.

Besides, Germany has lavished tons of subsides on the arts in the 20th century. The product of this has been, for the most part, underwhelming, especially in the post-war period.

And then consider the case of Dutch painter Gogh. He sold one painting in his lifetime. He lived poor. He was misunderstood. Yet, he's now remembered as the greatest painter of the 19th century. He didn't get no patronage from rich folks. He had inner genius.
And consider that Mozart--according to Amadeus the movie anyway--actually got less support than someone like Salieri. Salieri won more plaudits, more money, and more support. And lived to a ripe old age. But, whose music had greater longterm impact?

And, in rock music, Bob Dylan sold far fewer records than Herman's Hermits and the Monkees in the 60s. HH and Monkees got more industry support. Yet, whose music has greater lasting value?

And then think of Orson Welles. He had trouble getting his movies financed all his life, but even his lesser films now look more daring and awesome than the big
A-production movies of many of peers of Old Hollywood.

Anonymous said...

You take yet another swipe at Malcolm Gladwell: Calling Outliers a "self-help" book.

I don't think Malcolm would agree with that designation.

i see what you did there, though.

dfdafdfasdfsaf said...

Maybe culture is like culture in a petri dish. What happens to bacteria or yeast? At first, there's just a few, and we see them grow slowly. But, they keep multiplying and ones already multiplied multiply and there is sudden explosion of growth. But then there is overgrowth and the yeast or bacteria start choking on its own 'shit' or toxins. Yeast eventually produce so much alcohol, which kills the yeast.

Now, take any art form. It starts humbly, with few simple ideas and clever people. But these ideas spread around and are shared; so, there are more people doing it and more people getting interested in it as patrons or audiences. In time, since there are more people aware of or interested in the artform, there's a vaster pool of talent to choose from. Among them are geniuses who take what started out as humble or simple artform into something of great complexity, sublime-iness, sophistication, or perfection. This inspires others of equal or greater genius to do as well or even better. But eventually, the artform cannot be advanced any further or any higher. Its possibilities have been exhausted or the peaks have been reached. This is when the artform reaches an existential crisis. The excitment had been predicated on creating ever greater or newer variations, but none is forthcoming. The thrill is gone, it's gone away. Some try to regain the excitement by going back to the roots, the sources, but as they say, 'you can't go home again'. Innocence lost cannot be regained. A modern painter trying to paint like a 14th century painter will only seem quaint. When John Lennon sang 50s rock n roll in the 70s, it sounded strained and phony.

Maybe only another(hungrier and more 'innocent')culture or people can do something new with old stuff again. Take cinema. By the 80s, Hollywood and European cinema had their best artistic yrs beyond them. New directors were steeped in this rich cultural heritage, but they were also burdened and intimidated by it. They couldn't top it, they couldn't reject it, they couldn't 'go back home'.
But, what happened in Hong Kong? A bunch of guys re-invented cinema as it had been in the 20s and 30s in Hollywood. In the early yrs of Hollywood, there was a kind of 'anything goes' thrill and excitement about cinema. It was independent of stuffy or snobby high culture or THEORY. Even as high brow people looked down on movies, cinema was shaping into a dynamic, evolving, and living artform in REAL PRACTICE. Cinema was less self-conscious than the other arts.
Same can be said for jazz vs serious music in the first half of 20th century. Serious people disregarded jazz as silly music while taking very seriously the works of, say, Alban Berg. But who gives a shit about Berg today unless you're a snobby music major? Yet, Jazz is taken seriously by music scholars and fans alike. There were many SERIOUS avant garde musicians--living off state subsides--in the 60s, but who really gives a shit about guys like John Cage? Yet, Dylan, Beatles, and Stones are forever.
So, Hong Kong films in the 80s, though silly in terms of plot and character, had the kind of energy and excitement lost in Western cinema.

But, as with rock music, the thrill couldn't last. Eventually, HK cinema too exhausted itself, just as rock music exhausted itself out. There will always be good movies and good rock songs, but the general thrill of a great adventure have been lost.

dfdafdfdfdsfdsfd said...

America has been culturally lucky due to its diversity. Just when Eastern Coast Brahmins lost their cultural energy, it was picked up by those in the South or the West. When whites lost it, Negroes found their own voices. When Anglos faded in the literary arts, Jews stepped in. When whites have lost interest in classical music, Asians took their place. Some groups have been more culturally interesting than others to be sure.
Even in Canada, the two greatest filmmakers have been the Jewish Cronenberg and the Armenian Egoyan. I wonder if Canada and Europe have been eager to increase immigration from envy of the US. Maybe they figure America has grown so rich, culturally interesting, and etc due to its mixed heritage. In America, even when old Anglos have grown tired and bland, others have kept the cultural torch lit. When Hollywood seemed kaput in the 70s, Italian-Americans brought it back to life. Not so in homogeneous white countries. I mean what's come out of Sweden in the last 50 yrs--other than ABBA, but even ABBA was imitation of American pop?
And, Brazil had great music because of black Samba and afro-influenced Bossa Nova.

Of course, what stupid liberals fail to realize is that diverse nations, while culturally more interesting, may be socially more explosive as well. And, most Africans and Muslims are not the most creative people on Earth, especially in our McDonaldized world where most immigrant kids seem to care for little than dumb rap music.

Anonymous said...

>each little court and diocese strove to outdo its neighbors

In Schweitzer's book on Bach, he compares the German city states musical focues to the Greek city state focus on theater- in both cases the center of art and society was also the religious center. And the proportion of German golden-age musicians who were also jurists was very high- the smartest folks in the governing class had a good chance of being both. Like General Sophocles.

Schweitzer also claims that this was mostly wasted effort- no real genius until Bach, and fifty years after Bach he was remembered only by a few: Mozart, and (his reviver) Mendelsson.

Nanonymous said...

Of course it is sheer luck. Genetic part is obviously sheer luck. No one seriously argues against the role of the environment but for all practical purposes it is also sheer luck - we neither understand what is "right" environment, nor can predict its effects (beyond ball-peen hammer's kind of effect, that is).

Anonymous said...

It's not just I.Q. You can have a decent IQ (140 +) and have almost zero creative ability. You will be damn good at analysis, and deductive and inductive logic, but the spark of new inventions can be missing from such a mind. The inventive ability is in some different part of the mind perhaps.

Cicero said...

fdadfaeefs: "And though Jewish, Marx and Freud also must have been deeply influenced by Austro-Germanic aspects of culture."

I just want to correct the myth that Marx was a Jew. His father was born Jewish, but converted to Lutherism before Karl was even born. Mrs. Marx was an ethnic German. By both German and Jewish law Karl Marx was a German.


Furthermore Marx had no emotional or intellectual connections to Judaism. He was indeed very unsympathetic to Jews in general, believing that they brought persecution down upon themselves by refusing to assimilate to European society, and that anti-Semitism would end when the Jews accepted that.

Just thought you should know.

Anonymous said...

I surprised that Steve missed this one from Gene Expression

http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/05/toxoplasma-gondiis-south-american.php

Although it is so bizarre I almost wonder if it is tongue in cheek.

Charlie said...

"The Cognitive elite of the USA have imported millions of low wage workers from around the world and driven down the wages of those of average IQ."

Um yeah, except there is no "cognitive elite". People with higher IQ's tend to be richer. Very large numbers of people with high IQ's are not rich. Lots of rich people are not remarkably smart. Nice to know you have such a healthy sense of self-esteem though.

Steve, I would be leery about suggesting that Germans had a genetic predisposition to musical brilliance, considering that your star example is named "van Beethoven" and even looks like a Dutchman. Nobody ever said the Dutch are a musical people.

For Beethoven it probably helped to have Asperger's. He was a loner, had strange outbursts of temper, a rather pompous manner, and although he was a virtuoso pianist his supposedly-horrible violin-playing suggests he had some of the physical clumsiness associated with the syndrome.

Around 1813 after composing some rather worthless cello sonatas he simply lost interest in music for several years and became obsessed with a legal battle for custody of his nephew - then suddenly became obsessed with music again. That's really not how normal people act. If there weren't so much mythology attributing his strange behaviour either to the "eccentricity of genius" or to alcoholism, I think he would be a pretty obvious diagnosis.

As for why the German principalities did produce so many great musicians - you could as well ask why Italy did so; during the 16th and 17th centuries it was the "music capital" of Europe, and even in the mid-to-late 18th century it's not as if Clementi and Boccherini were so much worse than Haydn and Mozart. You dismiss the straw-man of a "Dan-Brown like conspiracy" but an artist's reputation does have something to do with things other than his ability.

For instance, the very idea of a "musical canon" was formed as recently as the 19th century - largely by Germans (who I'm sure had no prejudices). Until then, people forgot the previous generation of music as cheerfully as they do today - when Mozart wrote about "Bach" in his youth, he always meant J.C. He did rediscover J.S. Bach and Handel, and by 1800 the cognoscenti (like Beethoven) appreciated the Baroque, but it wasn't til Mendelssohn that it was re-popularized.

Moreover, even when posterity does identify the best artists of the time, it often makes a "primer inter pares" out to be some lonely giant sprawling across the age - which is one of the problems of Murray's approach to identifying "the best artists". When overall standards of quality are low, it's easier to get a place in the history books. For the Boccherini's it's tougher.

Anonymous said...

Jody, that's crap. Just because guitar hero rock isn't popular now doesn't mean there are no guys who shred...

Look at drummers. Does anyone play the old 20-minute drum solo anymore? I have a friend in his fifties who still gigs around Boston, and he says (and I agree) that there are kids playing metal bands today who make John Bonham look like Dennis Wilson! Listen to any Tool album and you'll hear stuff that none of the dinosaur rockers would even attempt.

And John Mayer can't hold Nuno Bettencourt's guitar pick!

Brutus

adfafadsfdasfdasf said...

I just want to correct the myth that Marx was a Jew. His father was born Jewish, but converted to Lutherism before Karl was even born. Mrs. Marx was an ethnic German. By both German and Jewish law Karl Marx was a German.
Furthermore Marx had no emotional or intellectual connections to Judaism. He was indeed very unsympathetic to Jews in general, believing that they brought persecution down upon themselves by refusing to assimilate to European society, and that anti-Semitism would end when the Jews accepted that.
Just thought you should know.


There is more than one way to define Jewishness. Marx was not religiously Jewish but he was ethnically Jewish. Judaism, unlike Islam and Christianity, is a ethno-religion. Marx didn't believe Jewishly but he was born ethno-Jewish. His father converted not out genuine spiritual conviction but for socially practical reasons. As the Marx family came from a long line of Talmudic scholars, he was bound to be influenced by Jewishy-ness if not embrace Jewish faith. In Japan, the samurai class was disbanded in the late 19th century, but samurai culture still informs Japanese culture. Same goes for Jews.

Also, there was more to Jewishness than merely religious faith. Jewishness was also defined by how Jews saw non-Jews and interacted with them. It was about HOW Jews thought and felt about mankind, world, truth, etc.
Also, even as Jews abandoned their religion, the psychological structures of Judaism survived. Jews continued to seek the one and only god, except in the secular realm. In this sense, Marx was a modern Moses. Rand's ideology was opposite that of Marx, but she had the same personality and outlook. The same arrogance, all-knowingness, the same mono-mania, the same hostility to any opposing ideas, and a total intolerance of anyone who disagreed with her.

Also, like so many Talmudic scholars, Marx buried himself in books and wouldn't do menial work. He was too good for that. This blend of elitism and egalitarianism has always marked Judaism, for good and bad.
Just thought you should know.

PS. My point, at any rate, was that there was a Germanic aspect to Marx as well. Germans have been knowing for their HEAVY thinking, sternness, thoroughness, and labyrinthine views of the world. That was Marx too.

PSS. Speaking of Germans, the old psychological structures of Germanness still survives in liberal democratic Germany. Germans no longer goose-step to Nazi marching music, but they are still crazy about hygiene, order,and etc. Environmental greens in Germany run their operations like Nazi ran the concentration camps.

So Jewishness or Germanness can serve the left or the right, good things or bad things. But, there is a kind of ur-Jewishness and an ur-Germanness.

Anonymous said...

This post was great but what is amazing his how good the comments are so far.

fdfdrerefas said...

"It's not just I.Q. You can have a decent IQ (140 +) and have almost zero creative ability. You will be damn good at analysis, and deductive and inductive logic, but the spark of new inventions can be missing from such a mind. The inventive ability is in some different part of the mind perhaps."

This is true, but most geniuses tend to be creative AND intelligent. Creative people with high IQ can better formulate and fine-tune what they are doing.

Creative people with lower intelligence can only rely on feeling and instinct; when they lose the muse, they just burn out.

But creative people with high IQ kinda understand what makes their talent work and how it works; so, even after they lose their muse, they can still churn out interesting works. They have the formula down pat.

I think Norman Mailer said as much. He said he lost the burning flair for writing that he had in his youth, but he came to understand the ART of writing better, so that he was able to keep writing interesting books in his later yrs.

Jack Kerouac, on the other hand, lost it after his youthful zing left him.

Noah said...

I don't know what it takes to be a genius, I was just born that way...

:D

Veracitor said...

Let me propose another question to you:

What does it take to get your name remembered for a long time?

I've got a tentative answer: you must be a great entertainer, either on purpose or by accident (that is, your story as told by others may be very entertaining).

Brahms, Mozart? check.

Jesus, Julius Caesar? ditto-- if you think about it. Not only was Julius famous in life for his antics, but his story is so interesting that people keep retelling and embellishing it.

Will Stalin make the cut? Perhaps-- but he may end up as obscure as Tamerlane is now.

Note that some fictional characters like Robin Hood are as well-known as most historical figures-- I say because they represent a high entertainment factor.

Why is James Clerk Maxwell unknown to the public, but Benjamin Franklin is famous? Franklin was much more entertaining.

Anonymous said...

> medieval monastic music and stuff like that wasn't exactly humble or "non-august." The level of complexity may have been middling, but the level of emotional-spiritual profundity was quite rarefied.


The song "Veni creator spiritus", probably 9th century, is a great example of what I mean. Note that this video is mistaken about the authorship: the song is not by Hildegard.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-Sj3blczB8

Vernunft said...

"I just want to correct the myth that Marx was a Jew. His father was born Jewish, but converted to Lutherism before Karl was even born. Mrs. Marx was an ethnic German. By both German and Jewish law Karl Marx was a German."

his father converted his DNA? :confused:

Dahlia said...

Charlie,
When the first Anonymous mentions "the cognitive elite", he is borrowing the term from "The Bell Curve" whereupon Murray and Herrnstein stipulate that the power-brokers, opinion shapers, politicians, etc. arise from the cognitive elite. The problem as they saw it is that this group is isolated from the people they rule and influence and they are not wise in their governance.

Beethoven was 1/4 Flemish, 3/4 German.

I have no idea what ailment may or may not have afflicted Beethoven. Jason Malloy has done good work on exploring the link between musical ability and schizophrenia. That doesn't imply that a musician will have it, but that the genes that produce a musical genius with one child, have a higher likelihood than average of also producing a schizophrenic sibling or even a musician who is touched.

It is self-evident that the Germans had a genetic predisposition to musical brilliance and it would be still so if nobody labored to bring those works to light. For example, we would all appreciate the musical ability of Blacks from unbiased observations of those around us regardless of whether Scott Joplin had ever been born. That he was and his music was loved drives home that point to all but ideologues.

Also, genetic talent flows and cannot be contained, assuming a robust population growth (the larger the population, the faster change takes place).

Anonymous said...

That was pretty good. I'm fascinated by the idea of emphasis in a society. While Germany has many great musicians, England had many great poets in the classical period. There are greats in other societies, but I think English far outstrips other European countries in terms of poetry. We have Shakespeare, universally regarded as one of the three foremost European literary figures with Goethe and Dante, but then see how many figures there are next to Shakespeare in merit, such as Milton, Chaucer, Spencer and Wordsworth! Then in the next tier there are so many greats: Shelley, Keats, Byron, Pope, Dryden and on and on. And England pioneered the novel with Henry Fielding and Sir Walter Scott. And who can match our tradition of fantasy, with Tolkien and HG Wells?

But then you have to question the fame of people like Einstein, doing "work" that is so esoteric and untestable. He's different from musical figures. You can't just "lisen to the formulae". You need specially trained and groomed "experts" to tell you what to think.

Mark said...

It seems unlikely that all the best compositional talent in human history happened to be born in a small fraction of Europe over a fairly short spell.

In other words, culture matters, just as culture influenced Soviet Armenians into a more criminal lifestyle than their overseas relatives, just as it is culture that is responsible for the declining birthrate (especially among the educated), just as it is our culture, not our DNA, that has created political correctness and its enforcement.

HBDers ignore the influence of culture to our doom.

My class, the cognitive elite, is waging war on the non cognitive elite.

Let's decide that one for ourselves, Sport - I mean the part about you belonging to the cognitive elite.

Germany during the period of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven was not a single nation. It was a jigsaw-puzzle of small principalities...Each of these principalities had its reigning prince, and his court, which inevitably included an orchestra.

That's an interesting point. Also, the Lutheran Church had a strong musical tradition in the cantata, which was kind of a short, one-act religious opera produced every single week. Bach composed a new one each week for over 6 years.

mozart, bach, beethoven? brahms, wagner, mendelssohn, berlioz, liszt, schumann? we can do the same for guitar players.

The fact that anyone thinks the two groups are even remotely comparable makes me weep for our future.

In America, even when old Anglos have grown tired and bland, others have kept the cultural torch lit.

Wow, what a coincidence that just as one group loses its cultural nfluence another comes along to replace it! Couldn't have anything to do with one group squeezing out another, could it? Couldn't be that consumers are replacing a difficult, older culture with a dumber, simpler new one?

jody said...

"This could be because (1) everything that could be done has already been done with the electric guitar."

it's a possibility, but i'm not too sure about that. i remain convinced that the explanation is no more complicated than this: video games now take up all the man-hours of suburban teenage boys. they don't bother learning guitar anymore. learning guitar is hard. learning guitar is boring. learning guitar takes years of effort before you can do anything satisfying with it. video games are easy. video games are fun. video games offer instant gratification, not 1000 hours of sheet music, scales, blisters, and $30 an hour lessons from some old guy. want to play guitar today? guitar hero. not real guitar. real guitar is stupid. south park nailed this topic.

"I mean how can anyone top Hendrix and Page."

lots of players have gone way beyond those two guys. if you could only play like them you would be stuck in a tiny, narrow box.

"Since the late 80s, electronic keyboard and other gizmo stuf have attracted the top talents in pop music."

i don't think this is what happened. the studio keyboard musicians have always been around, doing their thing. they became the predominant mainstream music by default, not by being better.

MTV was lollapalooza central in 1993. pearl jam, nirvana, smashing pumpkins, red hot chili peppers, soundgarden, alice in chains. rock bands were making diamond albums and actually being allowed to get their music on MTV. metallica and guns n roses had both just released diamond albums. even ozzy osbourne had just released his best selling album. rock was dominant in 1993. what happened next was, the guitar guys started dropping out of music completely around 1998, gradually leaving the studio keyboard musicians as the only pop musicians around. the entire american music industry took a major blow when the guitar guys started leaving music. today the industry leans heavily on country musicians, who were, ironically, forced to develop all of their own media outlets in the 1980s because the mainstream music media refused to play their stuff. this protected them from MTV's deliberate format flip to "all rap and reality shows, all the time" because country musicians weren't even on MTV in the first place, so they could not be locked out the way rock musicians started to become locked out after 2000 or so. all the country musicians were on CMT and country music FM stations, dedicated outlets that did not flip formats.

this is why it took all the way to 2009 before a country musician, taylor swift, became the first country musician to win a major MTV music award. because MTV just plain flat out rejected country music for 25 years, and only started playing it in 2008 as a last resort. without the guitar guys, MTV slowly dropped off the radar year by year, to the point that in 2009, MTV was all the way down to like the number 20 rated cable station. spike TV has double the ratings of MTV. MTV had to do something drastic to get viewers again. so they caved, and started playing country. it was the most mass appeal, mainstream country they could find, but they caved all the same. note that country music is vibrant, in the real sense of the word. country albums can outsell studio produced rap/pop music albums, and major figures in country music are in their prime right now, today, writing classic songs that country music fans will look back on in 20 years as standards.

Anonymous said...

i keep forgetting to put green day in the lollapalooza crowd. yet another diamond rock album from 1994 when MTV played rock music. i see green day and soundgarden are headlining lollapalooza 2010. so basically, that's 15 years where nothing happened musically. the headliners from 15 years ago are still headlining today.

there is an explanation for why the LA area music scene has been demolished. it has gone from producing major bands like green day, metallica, and van halen to producing taco stands. but we talk about this particular reason in every other thread.

Stilmarl said...

You take yet another swipe at Malcolm Gladwell: Calling Outliers a "self-help" book. I don't think Malcolm would agree with that designation. i see what you did there, though.

Steve should be congratulated for all "swipes" at Gladwell. Gladwell is an intellectual garbage man.

America, in the grip of "intellectuals" like Gladwell and Friedman, Rich, Frum (and all of the other authors George W Bush likely read during his presidency) is now a land of apparatchik lightweights.

Borders Books bestseller authors don't deserve a lot of respect. We are literally sinking toward an intellectual output equal to, say, the glorious GDR of the 1970's.

Cicero said...

adfafadsfdasfdasf said...

"...On Jewishness"

Interesting stuff, and there is truth to what you say. However, I have a feeling that Karl Marx as a Talmudic scholar would not have come to the same conclusions he did as a secularized, Germanized intellectual who absorbed the teachings of Hegel and Stirner, who both also chased the "one and only god, except in the secular realm." Engels also helped to support Marx and develop his ideas, and he was also a full German.

At some point you have to stop looking strictly at a person's bloodline and instead take gauge of their full character.

steve burton said...

Charlie writes: "Around 1813 after composing some rather worthless cello sonatas he simply lost interest in music for several years and became obsessed with a legal battle for custody of his nephew - then suddenly became obsessed with music again."

Beethoven's marvelous 4th & 5th Cello Sonatas, Op. 102, were composed in 1815. The 28th Piano Sonata followed in 1816, and the massive 29th ("Hammerklavier") in 1818, followed by the Diabelli Variations in 1819.

Yes, he was preoccupied, on and off, throughout this period with the guardianship of his nephew. But to say that he "simply lost interest in music for several years" seems wrong.

Anonymous said...

Both of Karl Marx's parents were born Jewish and converted. I don't know where you are getting the idea that his mother was ethnically German.

Sid said...

For a person to have the potential to be a genius, they need high intelligence (at least IQ 115, but 140+ is more likely), a creative mind (often conditions like ADHD and bipolar disorder help trigger this, though one can certainly be creative without them) and an extreme work ethic, willing to take hours and hours of labor to realize an internal vision.

A culture ought to appreciate genius, and have norms which promote genius (Charles Murray identifies them as personal autonomy and a sense of purpose in life). I'd also like to add that there need to be new forms for the genius to master and fill with content. To be a Latin poet with the ability to produce an epic in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD would be to write second rate works, as Virgil filled up the potential of the medium.

ffdsfdere said...

"It seems unlikely that all the best compositional talent in human history happened to be born in a small fraction of Europe over a fairly short spell."

What about Ravi Shankar or Ali Akbar Khan? What about Japanese flute and koto music?
What about Bossa Nova?

And how do we know they didn't have great music in ancient times. If they had recording technology or at least sheet music back then, we would know better. I'll bet a lot of great music was made but lost. Precious little written material from ancient times survive to this day. Almost none of the music survives.

dfdferess said...

"Today, the geniuses and their allied group, the cognitive elite (defined as the top 5% in terms of both IQ and applies knowledge) have pulled ahead of their peers to an unprecedented degree."

I guess in primitive society, there isn't gonna be much of a difference among Einstein, Bill Gates, Mike Tyson, Larry Ellison, and Crackhead Bob. They are all gonna have to hunt to live and sit around the same campfire.

This kinda reminds me of class. Most of the kids were of middle class background; and smart kids and dumb kids took the same classes and ate the same foods. In highschool, the smart kids began to take advanced classes and a division opened up between the smarties and dummies. But they still rode the same school bus, and etc.
After highschool, smart kids went to good colleges while dummies didn't go to college, joined the army, or went to community colleges.
After college, the smarties made lots of money and bought huge houses. Dummies got crappy jobs and lived in apartments... at least until they got huge loans from smarties in the banking industry and bought huge homes whose mortgages they couldn't keep paying... which goes to show, smarties can be pretty dumb too.

MK said...

Just regarding Shenk's book 'The Genius in all of Us', here is a review by Bill Chapman from Gotham Skeptics (HT Galtonian).

http://www.nycskeptics.org/blog/david-shenk-fails-to-deliver/

Anonymous said...

I believe one other factor is focus. There are many extremely talented people who are "jacks of all trades and masters of none," or "renaissance" if you like. Focusing upon one subject, like music, and pouring that talent into it - instead of dispersing it into several avenues - contributes to singular success. What's really frightening is the intellectual capacity of someone like Da Vinci who was still a one-namer in history, but did SO many things so well.

Anonymous said...

Both Mozart and Beethoven seem to have been profoundly lucky in having as fathers domineering musicians who quickly recognized the raw talent of their children and pushed them harder all the more.

Charlie said...

It does seem Beethoven was only a quarter Dutch (although it seems to be that Dutch quarter from which he got his musical inclinations), but I'm not sure how "German" the rest of him was. Ever since Germany became a country, Germans (like Nietzsche) who don't want to think of themselves as "German" will often have a good excuse in their geneaologies. Beethoven probably would have too - I have no idea where his mother's maiden name "Keverich" comes from but it sounds awfully Slavic. His Dutch grandfather married a woman named "Ball" which is generally English or Irish.

That's the problem with talking about the genes of "Germans".

RGH said...

I don't know what it takes to produce genius, but I have a pretty good idea how to stifle it: Send it to school. The notion that you can force a child to sit in a desk doing exactly as he is told for twelve years without dulling his wits is ludicrous. The decline of genius over the last 150 years that Charles Murray laments in his book correlates very well with the rise of mass compulsory education. To quote Albert Einstein: "It is nothing short of a miracle," he said, "that modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry. For this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom."

Anonymous said...

"Brutus said: Jody, that's crap... Look at drummers.... there are kids playing metal bands today who make John Bonham look like Dennis Wilson! Listen to any Tool album and you'll hear stuff that none of the dinosaur rockers would even attempt."

But, but, but...

"Daniel Edwin "Danny" Carey (born May 10, 1961 in Paola, Kansas) is an American drummer best known for his work in American Grammy Award-winning progressive metal band Tool."

At 48 Danny might as well be called a dinossaur kid.

James Kabala said...

The way that this discussion got sidetracked by discussion by rock guitarists reminds of a thought I once had that it would be fun to apply Murrayan methods to lesser genres. There are numerous reference books out there with titles like Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll or Complete Guide to Science Fiction Writers that could be used for such studies. One would have to ignore Murray's 1950 cut-off date, of course.

Anonymous said...

Love how this low-key "nature of genius" post has predictably devolved into an ethnic pissing match. Ah, White people.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, your point that Italy had many great musicians in the 16th-17th centuries is not incompatible with that about the German principalities - since Italy, too, at this period was a crazy-quilt of small states each with its own court and church establishment trying to outshine the others in splendor. For example, the court of the Gonzagas at Mantua, which supported Claudio Monteverdi and Salomone Rossi, was very similar to that of the Esterhazy princes 150 years later, who gave Haydn their patronage for most of his life.

German music during the 18th century was in fact a synthesis of Italian and French styles. Of course, the "French" style owes much to Lully, who came to France from Italy as a young man. But certainly by the time Lully was a mature composer, French music had a distinct character, and Italian music - as represented, for example, by Stradella, Legrenzi, the elder Scarlatti, Pasquini, and Corelli - had another distinct character. The Germans were capable of imitating both (as seen in J.S. Bach's "Italian Concerti" and "French Suites." They developed a cosmopolitan style of composition, combining French and Italian elements, which may be heard (for example) in the works of the elder Muffat, the great music theorist J. J. Fux, and reached its culmination with Handel and Telemann. It was on such foundations that the later classical composers built.

Anon. of 4/07's point about composers with legal educations is an interesting one. Fux was a lawyer, and as the kapellmeister of the Imperial Court in Vienna, and author of the counterpoint text "Gradus ad Parnassum" was both highly placed and quite influential on other composers long after his death. Telemann had a legal education, and I believe Handel at least started on one.

An interesting lawyer/musician - though not a German - was Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, 2nd. Bt., a lineal ancestor of James Clerk Maxwell (mentioned by Veracitor). Penicuik was sent by his father to the university of Leyden for a legal education, but became interested in music. His university friend Herman Boerhaave, the chemist and physician, wrote the Latin lyrics for some of his cantatas. Penicuik eventually went to Rome and took instruction from Corelli and Pasquini; his epithalamium for an heir to the dukedom of Devonshire was performed in Rome, with Corelli in the orchestra. After all this he returned to Scotland, helped to draw up the Treaty of Union of 1707, served in the first parliament of Great Britain, and was appointed a baron of exchequer, a position he held for the rest of his life.

Ffrgwere, reliance on "Amadeus" for the details of Mozart's life does not yield the best understanding of his fortunes and misfortunes. Mozart was a highly successful composer and well-connected socially. He was also a spendthrift and loved gambling. His supposed poverty was not due to the machinations of Salieri but to his own profligate habits. He was, furthermore, not good at self-promotion, as was (for example) his near-contemporary, Gluck. He finally had the misfortune to have come of age at a time when the old system of courtly patronage was receding and the newer one of composing for the middle-class patrons of concert halls and opera-houses was just beginning to be significant in central Europe (as it had already been for a generation or more in England and France). This transition took place at the very end of Haydn's career, as evidenced (for example) by his late "London" symphonies; and had already happened before Beethoven's great achievements. They did not experience the hardship that Mozart faced as a consequence of such change in the midstream of his productive life.

Dahlia said...

Charlie,
Steve said, German-speaking in the article which is more accurate for the point he was trying to make. "Germanic" is too inclusive and makes a less valid point. Steve only mentioned a few surnames and left out among many one of my favorites, the Austrian, Franz Schubert.

Murray in his book talked of a "European core" that produced geniuses of all kinds. And these people are closely related. These nations were no slouches in any art form or academic subject and if one group has an advantage over another talented nation in a particular area, it shouldn't be controversial. If we praise German scientists, for example, this would not take away from Newton, Boyle, Mendeleev, Avogadro, Lavoisier, etc. or the nations that produced them.

steve burton said...

"...reliance on 'Amadeus' for the details of Mozart's life does not yield the best understanding of his fortunes and misfortunes..."

Heh. The author of the 19th anonymous post on this thread is a master of understatement - among other things.

Steve Sailer said...

Basically, you can draw a line from Naples to Glasgow and a large fraction of the eminent names in Murray's tabulation are from a few hundred miles on either side of it. The Rhine River stands out as central.

Mark said...

For a person to have the potential to be a genius, they need high intelligence (at least IQ 115, but 140+ is more likely), a creative mind (often conditions like ADHD and bipolar disorder help trigger this, though one can certainly be creative without them

The notion that ADD/ADHD is somehow advantageous is too preposterous a notion to take seriously. Perhaps some people benefit from it a bit but the fact is that it's considered a disability for a reason - you cannot concentrate for long periods of time, and concentration is precisely what's required to master complex subjects, like math, engineeering, and even music.

I have ADD; have had it since childhood. I was never diagnosed with it, though, until flunking out of college (though my standardized test scores were always > 98th percentile), at which point I was placed on Ritalin, went back to college, and graduated in EE. I am now on Adderall, and, believe me, I don't know where I'd be without it - ringing up your groceries probably.

Ray Sawhill said...

Much interesting stuff here.

All that said, I think a lot of you take the "greatness" thing

1) a little too seriously, and

2) as much too settled a question.

It's basic to a life in the arts that you have to get used to the fact that reputations come and go. Also, critical-authority-historian-type figures do make mistakes, and fall victim to fads, and just not display much in the way of taste.

19th century academic painters were laughed at 30 years ago; today they're considered pretty hot stuff. Movies weren't considered much of an art form by many serious people until the 1950s and '60s. Today you don't get laughed at if you say you consider Buster Keaton one of the 20th century's greatest artist. (My own opinion, btw.)

Plus there's the personal factor. I got to spend 15 years in and around NYC book publishing, for instance. I read loads and loads of what was hot and respected, and hung out with loads of people in publishing and the media. And the list of books I thought were fab and authors who I respected a lot overlapped with the general critical consensus by not very much at all.

In other words: If you formed your impression of What Was Important from circa 1985 to 2000 from following the serious magazines, critics, etc ... Well, I think you were taken in and badly misled.

For instance: I thought Skvorecky's "Dvorak in Love" was one of the best novels I read during that stretch, right up there with the best Garcia Marquez. Yet hardly anyone read "Dvorak in Love." I thought Lee Smith was 'waaaaaaaay better than Updike, De Lillo, or Toni Morrison. I thought (and think) that the crime writer Donald Westlake was one of the most phenomenal writers of fiction we had, but most of the lit people I was familiar with barely knew who he was, and couldn't be bothered taking a mystery writer seriously anyway.

Perhaps, of course, I was wrong. On the other hand, my qualifications for making judgments and recommendations (if we can talk about qualifications where saying things like "I like this book better than that one" goes) were at least the equal of the people handing out the Pulitzer and National Book Awards. And will justice ever be done -- Ie., will my list of faves and greats ever emerge as the True and Right One? Doubtful. Yet, y'know, I still think my prefs and tastes are better than the official class'. And I was there.

More generally, ANY time I've looked into a nook or cranny of art-entertainment history more closely than just accepting the usual list of major suspects -- any time I've really investigated first-hand, given a lot of "forgotten" and "minor" works a try, etc -- I've come with quite a different list of faves than the standard art-history-book one.

Which isn't to say Mozart wasn't great, of course. Just that this whole tendency people have of accepting what's in the textbooks and history books as settled critical judgment is maybe something to be a little wary of. The list of artists who are considered great that people have in 2200 might well turn out to be considerably different than ours.

There's also a very good chance that people in 2200 won't care less about art from the past. They'll be too caught up doing multimedia blogging in the present to care.

The reason I say this is that this whole thing about making canons and lists of past greats and such has its own history -- it isn't eternal. As we know it, the art-history way of thinking about the arts hasn't been around forever. It really started with Winckelmann and was elaborated by Burckhardt. It's only a couple of hundred years old.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_history

Who says that it's gonna last forever? There's zero guarantee that it will. And when it's gone, what purpose then will all the arguing about who was great and who wasn't have served?

Anonymous said...

Did a genius invent the wheel or was it luck?

Glenn Gould thought Mozart was overrated and thought Bach was greater.

Anonymous said...

When Jews lived under the strict laws of Torah and Talmud, they weren't allowed to use their higher intelligence freely.



Or they didn't have higher intelligence. An intelligent person would consider that possibility.

Anonymous said...

Judaism, unlike Islam and Christianity, is a ethno-religion.




What the heck is an "ethno-religion"?

Anonymous said...

When Hollywood seemed kaput in the 70s, Italian-Americans brought it back to life. Not so in homogeneous white countries. I mean what's come out of Sweden in the last 50 yrs--other than ABBA, but even ABBA was imitation of American pop?




Sheesh ...

American pop is derived from British pop. You remember Britain. At the time it was the musical trendsetter for the world, the fifties and sixties, it was a homogeneous white country. It's total lack of black people failed to make it a musical wasteland.

Anonymous said...

"What does it take to be a genius?"

I guess nobody knows the answer to that. But an interesting thing about these outbursts of genius is that they are so compressed in space and time. The "Golden Age" of Greece was pretty much confined to one smallish town (by our standards) and about three generations. That's an extreme example, but what happened in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries was similar. So you have to wonder - what makes it begin, and what makes it stop.

Vincent said...

Anonymous wrote:

"The 'Golden Age' of Greece was pretty much confined to one smallish town (by our standards) and about three generations. That's an extreme example, but what happened in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries was similar. So you have to wonder - what makes it begin, and what makes it stop."

Same with English drama's peak, confined as that was to the 70-odd years of Elizabeth I's and James I's combined reigns. Practically no worthwhile English plays immediately before Elizabeth's accession or after James's death. Another, smaller, theatrical efflorescence took place in late-17th-century England (John Dryden, Thomas Otway, William Congreve). Then, again, zilch.

Same, also, with Russian literature. Name one major Russian writer before 1800. I'll bet you can't. But between 1800 and 1917, Russia managed to produce at least seven literary greats: Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Chekhov. Then the Bolshevik lobotomizers got to work, doing what they do best: destroy Christendom.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

When Hollywood seemed kaput in the 70s, Italian-Americans brought it back to life. Not so in homogeneous white countries. I mean what's come out of Sweden in the last 50 yrs--other than ABBA, but even ABBA was imitation of American pop?"

The Hives:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_NESyzbNZ8

fdferefsf said...

"What the heck is an "ethno-religion"?"

It's a religion you're born into. Hindus are born into certain castes. Officially, one cannot convert to Hinduism. Buddhism, on the other hand, is a credo-religion. It is a matter of belief or conviction.

Judaism did have a credo-aspect to it, and some Jews did try to convert non-Jews. Today, reform Judaism does allow this. But essentially, Judaism was about being born Jewish, which is why most Jews share common genetic material.

ffferefssfs said...

"Sheesh ...
American pop is derived from British pop. You remember Britain. At the time it was the musical trendsetter for the world, the fifties and sixties, it was a homogeneous white country. It's total lack of black people failed to make it a musical wasteland."

You're just pulling our legs, right? You do know McCartney was crazy about Little Richard. That Led Zeppelin was steeped in the blues, as were the Stones and Yardbirds. That Clapton was also a blues freak. That Britain had one of the biggest blues scenes in the world. That Dusty Springfield was considered the 'soul of britain'. That House of the Rising Son is heavily black-ish.

Anonymous said...

About guitarists... there's definitely way more *technical* skill among guitarists today than there ever has been, including in the golden age of classic rock (late 60's/early 70's) - even giants like Hendrix and Page can't really hold a candle to some of the shredders out there now. So not everything can be blamed on video games.

What is lacking in modern rock music, and pop music more generally, is any kind of stylistic innovation or creativity. What pop music is there on the radio today, in 2010, that would have sounded out of place in 2000? Very little that I can find in any genre, including rock, country, and rap/hip-hop. This obviously would not have been true in previous decades.

Svigor said...

Steve should be congratulated for all "swipes" at Gladwell. Gladwell is an intellectual garbage man.

Garbage men take garbage away.

Truth said...

"You're just pulling our legs, right?"

No, quite unfortunately, he wasn't.

Anonymous said...

"Just how did this happen and why? How did that small island nation eclipse the US in the 60s with a form of music created in the US?"

One theory for why Britain eclipsed the U.S during the 60s when it came to Rock music was because of the puritanism("music is sinful") and racism("black music is especially sinful and Satanic") that was endemic in much of American society at the time.

That is only part of the answer.

Britain is a small island, but a well-connected densely-populated island in the centre of a former empire - and empire based as much on trade as it was on military conquest.

Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in the 60s were arguably just as British as britain, but due to their isolation never produced rock music in the same quantity or quality. And they didn't have the American racial/religious issues
either.

The urban slums that spawned the Beatles, Stones, and Dave Clark Five may have been poor, but they were not unworldly. Sailors and dock-workers lived there, and had regular contact with far-off exotic places such as India and Jamaica. That may have been the key - contact with non-white cultures but no significant non-white population. The
kids could embrace such culture but not feel threatened by it (and of course their parents, as in "puritanical racist" America.)

So much of British pop music in the 60s had that Indian sound, and even actual Indian instruments such as the sitar and tabla drums. "Bus Stop" by the Hollies for example - you can almost smell the curry in the melody, yet the lyrics were solidly about Western romantic love.

Similarly, Britain was generally less religious than the U.S, and more urbanized.

Or religious in a different way. Certainly more urbanized. And full of snooty aristos who looked down their noses at "vulgar" rock just as much as an American southern baptist bible-thumper might consider it be be sinfully black.

Maybe the British class structure made the poor lower-class cockneys more independent of the aristos and their opinions, than the poor white Americans of their preachers?

Maybe the Brits were more confident of their whiteness, and less afraid of being "corrupted" by rock and roll?

Anonymous said...

Hans Eysenck's 1995: GENIUS: A Natural History of Creativity
deserves far far more regard that these posts seem to accord it.

Anonymous said...

The urban slums that spawned the Beatles, Stones, and Dave Clark Five may have been poor

I dont think one can say that any of the Beatles or Stones came form the slums. I dont know about the DC5.

Some of the Stones were certainly quite middle class in origin, Jones and Jagger.

For the rest of the Beatles and Stones; all from what used to be called the respcetable working class or lower middle class. None of them grew up in what could be described as slums.

Anonymous said...

One of the great things about isteve is the quality of the commentators - yes even Truth & Whiskey!

Gladwell's otoh are just a dismal parade of low-wattage types spouting PC goodthink/groupthink platitudes.

Ive tried to get into a good fight over there - hardly worth the effort, no sport in it at all.

Anonymous said...

Ethno-religion - good concept, not heard put so clearly before.

Jews are always claiming 'just' to be followers of a religion or to 'just' be an ethnic group (when it suits them?)

Liberals are always parroting the line that Islam is a religion not a race, though everywhere in the west Islam is synonymous with a some ethnic group or other.

Anyhow its good to have some useful shorthand to help nail down some of the concepts.

Anonymous said...

Sweden's better exports include Wahloo and Sjowall, not just ABBA--Sweden wasn't limited to music.

Vincent said...

A fair few Irish and Polish people would be inclined to think of themselves as believing in an ethno-religion, even if they wouldn't call it that. Sometimes, when talking with a dyed-in-the-wool Irish or Polish Catholic, one finds it hard to remember that Catholicism includes Portuguese and Peruvians and Paraguayans and Panamanians and Palauans and Papua New Guineans as well.

meep said...

I see a few other people have pointed it out, but having come across a few geniuses [of the intelligence sort, not necessarily a getting-useful-things-done sort], one will notice that those at the very far end of the tail need a lot of help to survive, as they usually have mental, emotional, and/or social problems. Modern universities are a great way to escape the repercussions of some of these issues [this is where I ran into some of these people.]

Every so often you come across someone like J.S. Bach, who was extremely productive and rather normal [okay, he had a lot of kids, many of which were well-known for their musical ability as well...might not be considered "normal", but he was solidly in conventional culture and mores and had a good sense of humor. He was very well-liked.]

But many "geniuses" we laud come across as complete anti-social assholes. That's not a good survival tactic in many societies.

meep said...

Thinking on it, and the steve-sphere's concentration on evolutionary effects, geniuses such as Bach have a far greater impact genetically, given that he was relatively normal in the social sphere [and had loads and loads of kids]. Those with convential religiosity/mores are more likely to have progeny and to inculcate those values to the next generation.

But other geniuses, on the order of Socrates or Mozart... the iconoclasts -- they can have cultural impacts, but they become evolutionary dead ends.


But then there's Ben Franklin.... hmmmm. Not totally conventional, but definitely prolific in both the scientific and biological sphere [even if some were bastards]. Richard Feynman could definitely get it on [and unconventional].

I guess I will have to go back to the mental illness/brain issues bit -- geniuses with mental illness seem to be able to survive longer in modern society [even if they don't produce kids] and have big influence in thought and culture, but those without can be influential and very, very successful conventionally [in terms of sex, money, etc.]

I recently read an autobiography of Temple Grandin, who is famous in slaughterhouse design circles. She's autistic [and not of the "mild" sort a la Ausperger's]. I don't know if she's a genius, but she's been very successful in her field.... but socially, not so successful. In this age, though, she can connect to the odd and the focused.

Lucille said...

Jews are always claiming 'just' to be followers of a religion or to 'just' be an ethnic group (when it suits them?)

Can you give some examples of Jews who have made both claims? If Mr. Cohen says A and Mr. Goldberg says B, neither is contradicting himself, and if someone implies that is the case, then he is almost certainly working from an unconscious, unexamined notion that Jews are a hive mind.

fdfafafdsf said...

Sometimes, you need to be removed from the action to see the forest and not only the trees. American whites were able to do things black Americans couldn't with black music because whites could see things(the forest) which blacks could not, immersed as they were in the trees. Similarly, the British saw things in American music that Americans could not. Americans were immersed in fun dance music. Brits, from a distance, appreciated it intellectually and theoretically as well as sensually. They were able to develop a new kind of music.

There could be other factors too. Rock n roll petered out in the US by 1959 and there was the rise of folk among young kids. Though the folk movement did spawn Dylan, it was ideological, dogmatic, and musically often dull. In contrast, the Brits were still obsessively catching up with mythical rock n roll and blues. Also, blues, for some reason, was much bigger in Britain than among American whites.
And maybe there was also the element of class rebellion. America had a race problem and a youth crisis in the 50s. But white kids soon embraced 'race music' and their parents couldn't do much about it. With rising affluence, most white American kids were content and complacent with their freedom, music, and goodies.
Britain, on the other hand, was less prosperous and socially more rigid. Thus, there was something more fundamental for British kids to rebel against. This class rage may have fueled some of the creative anger and energy of British pop.

ffeaffadfdfd said...

"Just how did this happen and why?"

One theory... was because of the puritanism("music is sinful") and racism("black music is especially sinful and Satanic")... endemic in much of American society...


This explanation seems bunk because Britain had a prissiness all its own rooted in class consciousness. And hoity toity British propriety certainly wasn't very rock n roll-ish. Also, during much of the late 50s and early 60s, British youth music was a pale imitation of the American: Cliff Richards, etc.

My guess is the British succeeded because they took the music to the next level, as did Bob Dylan in the 60s.
In fact, American whites had a similar relation with black music. Why did whites do more with black music--often with the electric guitar styles innovated by blacks--than blacks did--with exception of Hendrix. To be sure, rock n roll has roots in both white and black music, but black music was crucial. In the early days, Chuck Berry and Little Richard played a key role in its creation. But soon white acts outshone black acts. Why did this happen? It could be blacks were not interested in expanding the horizons of the music whereas whites were. Blacks, especially in blues, wanted to keep it black whereas whites wanted to use it as the basis for something more ambitious. Whites loved blakc music but also brought and added white elements. Whites pulled black music out of its cultural ghetto. (Similarly, blacks were able to see things in white music that whites couldn't and utilize them to develop stuff like ragtime and jazz. Gentiles saw stuff Jews didn't in the Jewish religion to create a new Christian theology. Jews appreciated WASP culture in fresh ways and came to dominate postwar American literature.)

So, a similar argument can be made as to why the Brits got so good at rock. Initially, they only imitated American pop. But eventually, the Brits began to take a different approach. For Americans, pop music was pop music. Fun music. Dance music. It wasn't taken seriously. Kids listened to it for pleasure and funning around. And American rock n rollers wanted girls and fame.
Britishers wanted fame and fortune and fun and dancing too. But, they had greater respect and fascination for the music--culturally and intellectually(even mythically). So, while Americans were still producing guys like Four Seasons even in the 60s, the British produced the more seriously minded The Who, Stones, Floyd, Moody Blues, and Beatles(who grew mature). In America, perhaps only Dylan sensed that rock n roll could evolve into what came to be known as 'rock', an artistically mature and more adventurous(and individualistic)form of pop music. But keep in mind Dylan was an outsider x 2--he was Jewish and grew up as a rural Jew(estranged from urban Jews).

James said...

Meep says:

"Every so often you come across someone like J.S. Bach, who was extremely productive and rather normal [okay, he had a lot of kids, many of which were well-known for their musical ability as well...might not be considered 'normal', but he was solidly in conventional culture and mores and had a good sense of humor. He was very well-liked.]"

Certain other musical geniuses were pretty normal too. Handel was normal in a roast-beef-of-old-England sort of way. (There's not a scrap of evidence for the frequent allegation that he was homosexual.) Palestrina was normal. Rameau was normal. Haydn was normal. Verdi and Rossini were very normal.

Mendelssohn was pretty normal except for the fact that he was about the greatest freakin' child prodigy that music has ever produced, surpassing even Mozart in some ways.

It's odd that even after the onset of the Romantic era, when one would have expected that great composers would become total sociopaths, so many composers avoided this fate. For every Wagner or Liszt or Hugo Wolf chewing the carpet, there was an utterly down-to-earth musical master like Dvorak or Puccini or Richard Strauss.

Anonymous said...

Thus, there was something more fundamental for British kids to rebel against. This class rage may have fueled some of the creative anger and energy of British pop.

Well, that nails punk down to a T.

Anonymous said...

meep:

I see a few other people have pointed it out, but having come across a few geniuses [of the intelligence sort, not necessarily a getting-useful-things-done sort], one will notice that those at the very far end of the tail need a lot of help to survive,

Geniuses need good parenting and mentoring, something which was rare especially in the so-called golden age of 1945-1985. They need "hothouse" treatment, not stalinist factory schools.

In the true golden ages of genius (Romantic Germany, Regency and early-Victorian England, Classical Greece, etc.) society cut them a big break, and gave them privileges modern people see as unfair. By modern standards, they were home-schooled, privately schooled, or tutored.

as they usually have mental, emotional, and/or social problems.

Many of those problems are caused (or at least worsened) by society, school, church, and all the other hallowed institutions that work well for average people.

Modern universities are a great way to escape the repercussions of some of these issues [this is where I ran into some of these people.]

Modern universities undid some of the damage caused by pre-secondary public schools.

David said...

>as they usually have mental, emotional, and/or social problems.

Many of those problems are caused (or at least worsened) by society, school, church, and all the other hallowed institutions that work well for average people.<

True. One size does not fit all. The doctrine of human equality is false and pernicious.