Dylan Evans - of Beethoven fame - writes a piece in yesterday's Guardian urging us to give individual genius its due: not to resent or feel humiliated by it. I have no quarrel with this in itself, though I think Evans exaggerates the extent to which people do resent genius, rather than admiring it, and I also leave aside here the issue, which he comments on, of appropriate material rewards for exceptional talent. But it's the complement of his main argument that I find dubious. Evans writes:
It is precisely the realisation that I will never be the equal of Mozart or Goethe that allows me to sit back and enjoy what they have bequeathed to me. It is my recognition of their greatness, my admission of the immeasurable superiority of their talent, that redeems my mediocrity. It is good to be human, not because every human can be great, but because a few people have shown us the heights to which humanity can occasionally ascend. Without the shining achievements of these few, the human race would be a waste of space.What a cramped and miserable estimate. The heights to which humanity can ascend are not just a matter of individual genius, they also result from the actions of quite ordinary people, whether day in and day out or in exceptional circumstances - and from collective human effort. The genius of humanity is not only the 'spark' demonstrated by extraordinarily able individuals; it is the shared possession of us all. Evans's contemptuous 'waste of space' judgement is both false and reactionary.