The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On the ordinary and the extraodinary.

He Pingping, the shortest man in the world (at 75.6 cm) has died. He was just 21. Now, he is the second person to die, within a year of shooting a series in which Ainan also appears. The other was Kim Peek. That is pretty uncanny in its own way. Yet, that is not what moves me to write, today. What does is more chilling, than uncanny.

I came across a site, today, reporting on the death of He Pingping. One comment leapt out at me. It went a bit like this: "It's awful that these "different and unusual" people get to be rich and famous, when us "normal" hardworking people find it almost impossible to become rich and famous". I could barely believe my eyes. The young man had just died, but some commenter was expressing jealousy at his fame and how it was acquired. What a callous world we now live in. Let us, however, look beyond the callousness, to the core of what the commenter is saying. He is saying that "different and unusual" people should not be famous, but that "normal" hardworking people should be. He is actually begrudging the fame that attends difference. That he does so, shows that he fails to understand what fame, traditionally, was a sign of. To be famous, was to be special, in the sense that one is famous because one is special, and not special because one is famous. There is a key distinction there that is usually overlooked in the modern world. It used to be that ONLY special people became famous - that is why they became noted, talked about, written of and ultimately famous. Now, however, there has been a subversion of that. The ordinary, undistinguished, uninteresting, even BORING person, can become famous through reality shows, and the like. Fame has lost its connection with distinction. Yet, the commenter goes beyond the modern fetish for the ordinary and the dull - he is saying that it is the ORDINARY person who should be famous and NOT the special person. This goes one step beyond the present state of affairs in which not only can the special person become famous, but the ordinary person, too. He would have it that only the "normal" person should be famed and that the "different" or "unusual" would not be given any regard at all. This, I think, is a kind of madness. It is the ultimate end of dumbing down the world in which standards become ever lower. His standard would not allow the special any regard, at all - and only those UNWORTHY of regard, would be regarded. It is, if you like, the ultimate revenge of the proletariat over the natural aristocrats. It is the elevation of the idiot, to the highest status in society: that the utterly ordinary should be held in the highest regard and the extraordinary ignored. It is, of course, bonkers - but it is the logical end of those who think jealous thoughts that would tear down anyone or anything greater than themselves.

Yet, I am led to a darker understanding. The world we now live in is not so far from the world which this envious commenter would wish upon us. Now, people of great quality do not necessarily receive the recognition that would once have been theirs. The heroes of our time are not geniuses, but footballers, pop stars and "glamour" models. Already the elevation of the ordinary has proceeded to overwhelm our society. If present trends continue, it may not be long, indeed, before we become a world incapable of appreciating the best among us and only able to praise the lowest common denominator, the basest among us all.

Were fame apportioned with justice, many of the "names" today, would not be known and many people of which we have never heard, would be household names. The scales have become inverted such that those of least merit, often gain most attention, perhaps because the masses are comforted by their closeness to themselves in talent and natural gifts - that is little or none. Yet, for some, at least, even this situation has not gone far enough. One man today, begrudged the fame of a man who had just died, because his fame had come from his difference. Think about that, for a moment. What a life He Pingping must have lived, in which he was set apart from all, because of his size, yet he may have encountered people who resented the little compensatory fame, it won him.
Given this, one cannot help but feel that not only is the culture of the world in decline (for making famous the worthless, and making unknown the worthy), but that the people themselves are in decline.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:18 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. I have seriously no idea why movie stars get paid sooo much, along side footballers...etc. How on earth have they contributed to the world? No doubt they have contributed much economically. But in terms of development, they are probably at the lowest end of the scale.

The problem here is the current system of the world, which is based on economic contribution, which is much much easier to quantify than other more relevant contributions, which are often more subjective and requires judgment.

Perhaps governments around the world can help to counter this by introducing some form of legislation to raise the wages of scientists...etc. Furthermore, the media should reporting too much on celebrities...etc. It only serves to reinforce the current imbalance.

Instead, the media should start focusing their spotlight on scientists...etc, people who are more worthy of attention for their development. But this would be a wasted effort if people themselves were not as educated.

What i mean is that the population should be well educated in the sciences rather just an elite group. A simple example would be choosing 100 people who are well educated rather than 1 person who is way above the average and having the other 99 gossiping about celebrities.

In the end, forced policies can only go so far in combating market forces. It is wiser to change the market forces by getting the entire population to be more interested in the arts, in the sciences rather than simply 1 genius and 99 idiots. Or else, things would simply revert to the original state.

2:27 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

There have been societies in the past, such as Ancient Greece, that revered thinkers - and look what creatively wonderful a place that was.

Yes. Our basic values, as a culture, need to be less trivial and more substantial. The present system rewards too highly inconsequential people - and sidelines many of much more consequence to the future of Man.

3:40 PM  

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