Tuesday, April 6

It's Your Fault You Suck

As described on a recent-ish (two weeks ago! I'm so slow....) interview on the Brian Lehrer Show, The Genius in All of Us, Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong by David Shenk argues that, for the most part, genius is not in the genes. Though some people may be genetically advantaged (or disadvantaged), these advantages do not in themselves "cause" genius. Far more important is practice practice practice and a persistent mindset — a hunger, really — that drives one to learn from failure and push oneself beyond one's current abilities. Shenk does not claim that talent is solely the result of practice or that there is a recipe for creating genius, but he does believe that by thinking about giftedness in the ways we usually do (i.e., that it is innate), we are probably selling ourselves short.

These ideas don't seem to be particularly new to me. Anyway, as a feminist, I've long been suspicious of arguments that claim that any particular human qualities are innate, because such arguments have tended to be used to keep women in whatever place the culture finds most convenient. (I've just read Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's take on this tendency in her preface to Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species and was moved to tears.) Nevertheless, new or not, I find the idea liberating: it doesn't take genius to be a genius, it just takes hard work!

But of course, with freedom comes responsibility, and thus, I suppose, the somewhat angry calls to the Brian Lehrer Show. Easier by far to believe in the specialness, the otherness, of genius than to find out who you really are, dig in, work hard ...

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