Peggy Noonan gives a good image to the sense of our times. Noting that the world appears to have moments of good fortune that bring together geniuses of one kind or another — a genius cluster — to resolve a particularly complex problem or set the world on a different path, she asks where they are in our time. Instead, we appear to be living through the script of a Western:
Everything feels upended, the old order that has governed things for 70 years since World War II being swept away. Borders have disappeared before our eyes. Terrorism, waves of immigration transforming whole nations, Islam at war with itself and parts of it at war with the world. In the West, the epochal end of public faith in institutions, and a dreadful new tension between the leaders and the led. In both background and foreground is a technological revolution that has actually changed how people experience life.
It is a world crying out for bigness, wisdom, steady hands and steady eyes.
We could use a genius cluster.
I’m not quite seeing its members coming, are you? Maybe they’re off somewhere gaining strength. But the point we’re in feels more like what a Hollywood director said was the central tension at the heart of all great westerns: “The villain has arrived while the hero is evolving.”
That seems about right, although I worry about Noonan’s desire for human saviors. The evolution of the hero isn’t all that’s necessary; the people make the heroes and the genius clusters and give them their platform.
Perhaps the reason the hero always seems delayed is that it takes a bad time to test who will stand firm and for others respond to the “wisdom, steady hands and steady eyes.” That is, Noonan errs in saying that the “world [is] crying out for” such leadership. The world needs it, but it will take people actually standing up and proving that one can stand up before the world responds.