A Thing Not to Do When You’re Smart
Posted on August 31, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 131 Comments
In the various recent kerfuffles surrounding science fiction and its awards, there have been a couple of people (and their spouses, declaiming about their beloved) who have been slapping down Mensa cards as proof that they (or their spouse) are smart. Let me just say this about that:
Oh, my sweet summer children. Just don’t.
If you want to be in Mensa, that’s fine. Everyone needs hobbies and associations, and if this is the direction you want to go with yours, then you do you. Not my flavor, but then, lots of hobbies and associations aren’t my flavor.
1. Literally no one outside of Mensa gives a shit about your Mensa card. No one is impressed that you belong to an organization that has among its membership people who believe that because they can ace a test, they are therefore broadly intellectually superior to everyone else.
2. Your Mensa membership does not imply or suggest that you are the smartest person in the room. Leaving aside the point that the intelligence that Mensa values is a narrow and specialized sort, a large number of people who can join Mensa, don’t, for various reasons, including the idea that belonging to a group that glories in its supposed intellectual superiority is more than vaguely obnoxious.
3. Your need to bring up the fact you have a Mensa card suggests nothing other than it’s really really really important to you for people to know you’re smart, and that you believe external accreditation of this supposed top-tier intelligence is more persuasive than, say, the establishment of your intelligence through your actions, demeanor, or personality. Which is to say: It shows you’re insecure.
4. Your Mensa card does not mean you know how to argue. Your Mensa card does not mean you do not make errors or lapses in judgment. Your Mensa card is not a “get out of jail free” card when someone pokes holes in your thesis. Your Mensa card does not mean that you can’t be racist or sexist or otherwise bigoted. You may not say “I have a Mensa card, therefore my logic is irrefutable.” Your Mensa card will not save you from Dunning-Kruger syndrome, and if you think it will, then you are exactly who the Dunning-Kruger syndrome was meant to describe. You Mensa card will not keep you from being called out for acting stupidly, or doing stupid things.
5. Your Mensa card does not immunize you from being a complete, raging asshole.
In short, it’s not actually smart to flash your Mensa card, and if you were smart, you’d know not to do it. If you have to resort to waving your Mensa card around to establish your intelligence, you’re signaling that you have no other way to do it. And you don’t have to be a genius to know what that actually means about you.
I bet you wouldn’t talk this way if it was called Womensa!
Bragging about being in Mensa is the adult equivalent of bragging about SAT scores. Sure, a good SAT score/being in Mensa is an accomplishment in which one may take some pride, but bragging about it does paint one as a bit of an arrogant ass.
And let’s be honest — we all know someone who’s pretty book-smart and pretty life-stupid. Intelligence in a controlled setting does not correlate to success in life nearly as strongly as the Mensa crowd would like you to believe.
Full disclosure: I have friends who are in Mensa. One of the reasons they ARE friends is that they don’t act like the people Our Beloved Host describes.
I used to belong to Mensa. My joke is that I was smart enough to join – and smart enough to leave. It seems an odd criterion, now, for a basis on which to belong to a group of people.
I think it was DJ Groethe who coined the term “the mensa effect”, it goes something like this:
“I am a very smart person – so obviously I am correct”
“Since you too are a very smart person, you must obviously agree with me!”
Luckily I never met a mensa-member in my life. On the other hand, with or without mensa there will always be people who pretend to be smarter than they actually are.
I always scored scary-high on those standardized tests, and after I was pushed ahead one full grade and pretty much ‘drowned academically’, I have had zero confidence in their ability to tell me anything about myself. Then, based on a great score in the SATs, I qualified for an Academic Scholarship at a specific college I THOUGHT I’d like to attend. Finally some benefit for my ability to be tested, right? Nope, I ended up transferring away and forfeiting the scholarship when I realized I had been a poor judge of colleges.
So now I just declare that I’m now too smart to get my intelligence tested and WAY too smart to waste my money on a Mensa membership.
It’s important to remember that not all Mensa members are complete idiots. Even if a substantial number of them have a lower IQ than you do. Really, IQ is a lousy measure of intelligence (and an even worse measure of worth as a human). So, if someone proclaims that they’re a Mensa member, don’t just say, “I’m sorry, I’ll talk slower.” Say, “I’m sorry, do you need me to talk slower?”
Mensa is support group for people who quickly. it does guarantee a lack of ignorance. The best preventative for that is intellectual persistence putting your head down and learning stuff. Indeed intellectual laziness can be a common weakness of those intelligent people who might never have need to work hard at school. The first class mind combines raw intelligence with persistence, but for the rest of us learning will outperform raw ill informed intelligence. just as the practised musician out performs the one who squandered a greater talent.
Commenting when over tired makes me dumber than a rock. let me try again
Mensa is support group for people who think quickly. it does not guarantee a lack of ignorance. The best preventative for ignorance is intellectual persistence, putting your head down and learning stuff. Indeed intellectual laziness can be a common weakness of those intelligent people who might never have need to work hard at school. The first class mind combines raw intelligence with persistence, but for the rest of us learning will outperform raw ill informed intelligence. just as the practised musician out performs the one who squandered a greater talent.
Is this anything like people who max out on INT and think they can get away with using WIS as their dump stat?
it took me a while to parse your comment(s) – in German “Mensa” is a university cafeteria and I couldn’t not read Mensa card as “student ID with payment function” :)
One of the things that have always confused me about Mensa card wavers, is how IQ tests are supposed to work. They’re supposed to measure innate intelligence (whatever that is), not training. So, if they actually worked, you’d get a measurement akin to, say, height. It’s something that you’re born with, it’s not an actual accomplishment. As far as I’m aware, the tests don’t actually do that though, so you end up with a measurement with an elastic yardstick at best. So. Yay – I’m really tall. Gimme a cookie.
Hmmm.. There may actually be a market for a book titled The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mensa, or Mensa… for Dummies.”
In my experience assholery is independent of Mensa membership. The organization seems to have about the same proportion of poorly socialized or unpleasant people as the general population. It hardly seems fair to scorn and abuse the group just because you ran into an asshole who tried to flaunt being a member. Every organization of any size includes some who believe that they are superior to everyone else but who lack sufficient social grace to keep quiet about it.
I went to a couple of Mensa events, once upon a time. Mostly nice, friendly, interesting people. The one exception was someone who evidently put all of his mental abilities into being an insulting asshole … and the hilarious tragedy is that he was a complete failure at being an insulting asshole. He just wasn’t any good at it.
People carry Mensa cards? And expect anyone else cares? (I have to admit, though, I do occasionally take some pleasure in being able to name-drop my @alum.mit.edu email address.)
I may know Mensa members, but if so, I’m unaware of it. The only two people I know OF who are mensa members are both prone to brag repetitiously about it in public, and have both always come across to me as exceedingly unappealing, unethical, and narcissistic personalities. Which is not a good advert for Mensa.
That said, I was once stuck for 18 hours in the Detroit airport, back before WiFi and ebooks, and around 4am, I wound up doing the only thing I could find to do in that empty, echoing airport–I picked up a tattered Mensa quiz book that someone had left lying around. It contained 6 Mensa quizzes, 3 for math, 3 for verbal skills. By the time the airport bookstore opened, I had taken all 6 quizzes. I failed 5 and brely passed one. So I am, in any case, not Mensa material.
I could wallow in despair about that… or just back to my interesting, fulfulling life and my busy full-time writing career.
Or, as the Fug Girls once succinctly put it: “If you have to write it on your ass, it might not be true.”
Plus, I always loves me some Dunning-Kruger!
I belonged to Mensa Vancouver for a few years. With only a few exceptions — one of whom, I think, hired someone to do the test for him — they were a likable group of people. The main criterion for joining seemed to be being someone (like me) who had never joined anything else. Most of us just wanted someone interesting to talk to about stuff we were interested in, and that’s what Mensa delivered.
It was a social club for people who didn’t fit in all that well in other milieus. Some of us were well on our way in our professions; others were underperformers economically but lived interesting lives. We got together in each others’ houses for “socials” — BYOB events with snacks. I started a semi-regular poker night that went on long after I left town.
In the late eighties, because of flux and churn among the members, the tone of the group changed. I thought of it as yuppification. We started having dinners in restaurants instead of socials, which meant you were stuck for conversation with whomever you sat next to or across from. Less fun. I started going to fewer events, then I moved to a small town where the only other Mensan was part of a writers group I joined. She’s still a friend (and my doctor) when I’m within reach.
I only once ever pulled out my Mensa card. That was when I showed up at a charity trivia night looking for a team that needed an extra player. I’d just recently arrived in a town where everybody knew each other and nobody knew me. The card got me onto the team — and we won.
As for IQ tests: I think they’re a very good way of measuring your ability to take an IQ test.
@Xtifr LOL “Not all Mensa…”
I think I’ve seen more people bragging about *not* being Mensa members than the other way around. It’s rather pathetic either way. (Full disclosure: I’m a Mensa member myself.)
My late father was one of those horrifically insecure types who just DESPERATELY wanted his kids to become Mensa members so he could brag about it. He even insisted on sending us both to a school that required an IQ test for admission. My sibling and I both chose to leave the snob school and both refused to apply to join Mensa, and he was heartbroken.
Interestingly enough, in addition to being desperately insecure, my late father was also a racist, antisemitic, homophobic asshole. He could be quite personable to talk to when he turned on the charm, but eventually the assholery would start to creep out.
I won’t go so far as to say that there is a perfect correlation between assholes and would-be Mensa members, but at least in my extremely limited experience, there was a definite link between the two.
So was this post the result of a random neuron firing? Or did you see someone ACTUALLY pull out a Mensa card like it was an ID or something?
@Hillary: “Or, as the Fug Girls once succinctly put it: “If you have to write it on your ass, it might not be true.””
Snort. I’m going to be laughing about this all day.
I tested high on standard IQ tests and considered applying for Mensa in the mid 70s. The only person I knew who was a member was also a creep so I didn’t. Why did I consider joining? Hoping to find a place I would fit. I am fairly sure it would have been bad for me whether it worked or not.
The best response to a Mensa card waggler is to laugh and say, “Cute. Mega Society card or GTFO.”
(I don’t have a Mega Society card, but it shuts them up a treat.)
The only time I ever discuss my cards (I have the one in question and some others) is when somebody plays the “I’m smart so you’re wrong” card and can’t back up the “smart” part. And even then I use them mostly to prove I have first-hand experience of just how stupid “smart” people can be. (As you probably know: Very.)
I should have added, if they pull out a Mega Society card, I’m not sure what to tell you. It’s never happened.
I’ll also add that I joined some of these groups for the same reason other people have cited – trying to find a social arena where I didn’t get looked at blankly *quite* so often. (I’ve never found one where I don’t get looked at like I’m *crazy,* and I’m okay with that. It’s the blank looks that get me down.) While perhaps I didn’t put in enough to expect much out, I was largely disappointed. There *were* fewer blank looks, but the social part wasn’t very satisfying. Getting into arguments with smart people is actually less fun than arguing with neurotypical people. You *know* they can do better, so the only logical inference is that they have no *interest* in doing better.
Or maybe it’s not that I’m too smart, it’s just that I’m more annoying than I think I am. “Never discount the possibility that you may just be an a-hole.”
My dad, who certainly could be a self-important superior jerk at times, declined offers to join Mensa several times on the basis that they were “obnoxious people who don’t understand intelligence or social skills.” I’ve yet to meet anyone who used their Mensa membership as ‘proof’ of their superiority who was particularly intelligent or at all likable.
Don’t know the specific posts that may have triggered it, but at least one person involved in the Hugo kerfluffle is an obvious suspect well known for trumpeting his supposed intellectual superiority. And to my complete non-surprise, a quick check of google does reveal that said claims do include mentioning a supposed Mensa membership quite often. Also ridiculously proud of his supposed skill at a particular wargame (not chess of course, there’s actual rankings for that).
I considered joining the Triple Nine Society just to be able to trump Mensa members, but I didn’t because this.
I should note that the problem here isn’t Mensa, which, again, is a perfectly fine social club if you’re into that sort of thing. The problem here is people assuming their Mensa card/membership means they are a priori incontestably the smartest and rightest person in the room, whatever room it is. Doesn’t work that way.
Yup, the majority of people I have met whom I know to be members of Mensa are also arrogant assholes. This is something of a self-reinforcing sample; the Mensa members who are not arrogant assholes apparently don’t brag about it out of context, so the organization is mostly represented, in general experience and casual company, by the arrogant assholes. This comment thread is the first place where I’ve ever seen anyone vouch for the existnce of non-obnoxious Mensans. This is sad.
By the time I was old enough to learn that Mensa was a thing I could actually apply to, I’d already gotten the impression that it was mostly composed of arrogant assholes, and never followed up.
Back in the day (pre-pre-internet) I was stuck in a rather backwards portion of the south. The local Mensa chapter was essentially a lifeboat party full of self effacing eclectic folk. The running joke was “It’s amazing how many stupid people are in Mensa”, So at that point I was a Mensa member. Ever since then, every chapter I’ve encountered in more cosmopolitan areas has been full of insufferable twits. About the only time I ever brandished a Mensa card was in response to a lady who was having a “you’re such a geek” fit over me in the same way one might brandish a pocket protector or a calculator watch…
This was the one thing about Isaac Asimov that always struck me as off.
Until I found out about his history of sexual harassment. (Just as well he died before my 16 year old self could meet him. Much easier to lose an illusion from a distance.)
When I was little I had an older cousin who was in Mensa. He told me not to bother, seemed a little embarrassed by it actually.
A Mensa membership does not trump grounding, support, logic, or facts.
No offense to Mensa members. I’m glad for support groups and socialization among sympathetic people.
But it isn’t proof of rightness.
I was a member of Mensa for many years, and if science fiction fandom didn’t soak up all my free time, I still would be.
Being very tall means you can reach things on high shelves and you might be better at playing basketball. It is occasionally convenient, but it doesn’t make one a better person. Being in Mensa, or just having the ability to do well on standardized tests, to spell without a spellchecker (give or take typos) or do arithmetic without a calculator, is like that.
I have jokingly, affectionately, described Mensa as a support group for underachievers. Really it’s just a social group. I joined because a cute girl invited me to come and meet her friends, some of whom were also nice, interesting people. One of the things I like about the group is that because the membership is defined in a non-political way, the range of personalities is diverse and people are a lot more tolerant of others’ social differences than other groups. However I share more interests with science fiction fans, and anyway most of the people I care about are also involved in or moved over to fandom.
My impression is that, insofar as IQ tests of various types are often divided into language and math skills, the average fan (middle of the bell curve of the fannish population) could pass the language part of such tests, and I would guess at least a quarter of the membership at a typical SF convention could pass a Mensa test. It’s not that hard and it’s not a big deal either way.
As to citing oneself as an authority on any subject because of an IQ test, that’s just a logical fallacy. I studied rhetoric in school and my mom was a physicist; what I learned from this background is that the way to persuade people is to provide relevant and verifiable evidence.
I haven’t paid dues in a decade but I will still identify as a Mensas. I do not expect acceptance; just the opposite. Just as a gay person will own the term “queer”, I’ll claim it in order to help make it more acceptable. There is a stigma to being and acting intelligent (I think Orson Scott Card explains this in his book Characters and Viewpoint as a trait to indicate a character is a villain). Anti-intellectualism is hardly the worst form of prejudice, but I know people who have been hurt. Also it’s like fat-shaming; we’re not a protected class and some people think it’s okay to show disrespect.
Mensa is a safe, comfortable social environment for a certain type of person, and that’s a good thing. But to anybody who thinks that having a Mensa card makes you somehow superior, the Mensas of my acquaintance would be among the first to point and laugh.
Don’t know the specific posts that may have triggered it, but at least one person involved in the Hugo kerfluffle is an obvious suspect well known for trumpeting his supposed intellectual superiority.
And yet is apparently unable to count up to five correctly in public. Which is probably why he’s waxing hysterical about his innelectal kerdentals again.
Around the time I was starting my junior year in high school, my father, a man of some wisdom, said something to me along the lines of “An abundance of one virtue in doesn’t let you off the hook for cultivating the others. You still have to show up on time, keep your word, be a person that other people want to work with, and many other things. So don’t just do the stuff that comes easily to you. Do the things you’re NOT good at. In time, you will be.”
That’s just about the best advice I’d had up to that point, with the possible exception of my third grade teacher who said once or twice a day, “Mitchell, shut up and pay attention.”
As I type this I realize that it’s sort of the converse of a remark my grandmother used to make about taking the actions you can, even in the face of burdens: “We might be poor, but we can still pick up the yard.”
The first rule of Smart Club is, YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT SMART CLUB
I took the test around ten years ago because a friend was doing it and wanted some support. I did join for a couple of years, because the aforementioned friend wanted support there, too, but I didn’t find the social aspect of it particularly useful and I didn’t bother continuing after I moved countries.
If I want to discuss interesting topics, I go to fandom!
Pulling out the Mensa card has sometimes been tempting, but only when my professional competency is being doubted (I’m a woman working in IT) and it’s much more satisfying to fix the programming problem that my male colleagues are stuck on ;-) Using it as a reason for why my opinions are worth more than anyone else’s…just no.
Mensa is no worse than a selective college, let alone law school: There’s a huge difference between “has the capability to learn rapidly” and “has learned.” Being smart enough to potentially understand statistical thermodynamics does not keep one from proclaiming discovery of perpetual motion (or 1980s “cold fusion”) unless/until one actually studies statistical thermodynamics. Applying this distinction to politicians who are smart enough to go to a “top” law or business school (or, in the UK, Eton et al.) but never understand why substantial blocks of people are in poverty is left as an exercise for the frustrated voter.
Well, yeah, I went to a couple of events. I was new in town and hoped I’d make some friends. O gave up after someone asked me out and at my refusal said “You can’t mean that. This is MENSA.”
So then I joined a knitting group and a programming group (surprising amount of overlap) which were rife with pleasant and interesting people. My takeaway is that people can be unsocialized jerks in any setting and that for myself a social group formed around sharing a skill is more enjoyable.
To his credit, Asimov was pretty critical of Mensa and the anti-scientific attitudes of some of its members despite being its vice-president.
This x10. :-(
Yowza. When I think of Mensa I think of Sheldon, Leonard and Raj. Makes a great TV show, but wouldn’t want to live it.
Back in the mid 80’s, I had some good friends who were members of Mensa. They convinced me to join.
The first meeting I attended featured a talk by an interior decorator. She seemed to think it was impressive that she could do a wonderful job decorating anyone’s home using artwork that ‘only’ cost $10k each. (Again, this was the late 80s.) After the talk, I was cornered by a twerp who thought I should be impressed that he had a Mensa card (at a Mensa meeting?!)
That was also the last meeting I attended, and I let my membership lapse.
I’m still friends with the people who convinced me to join. They did rescue me from the twerp.
These days, pretty much the only time I mention my membership is when I’m forced to work with someone with a terminal case of Dunning-Kruger. It seems to convince them that I’m their equal, which in turn makes them a bit less condescending.
I would never join any club for smart people that was dumb enough to accept me as a member.
But Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?
IQ tests (what Mensa uses) are tests of aptitude. They are basically measuring how easily and quickly you will learn and absorb concepts of all types, and solve new problems. How accurate they are is almost beside the point because really they are irrelevant in most situations including arguments about topics.
How easily you could learn is not a measure of how much you know.
If two people sit down to learn a skill and one can attain expertise in 1 hour and the other needs 1.5 hours that is interesting. However if the first person never spends the hour learning the skill then the second person is absolutely the one you want around when you need that skill set.
The biggest problem in my opinion, is that we use really slippery worlds when we discuss intelligence. It’s too broad of a concept. If you meet someone who has a PHD in Astrophysics you are likely to call them “smart” or “intelligent”. But that PHD is the result of years of hard work and diligence. That specific individual is absolutely accomplished but how big is their IQ? Does it matter? It’s very possible it’s a perfectly average IQ. They just worked very hard and put the time in that they personally needed to to learn the skill.
While I was in college, I decided to fulfill a childhood ambition and join Mensa. Went to a couple of meetings. Didn’t care for the people, and the dues were more than I could afford, so I left.
Of course now I realize that the kid me just wanted to join because he was an insecure nerd looking for validation. Nowadays I’m slightly more comfortable in my nerdiness and know that there are better ways to justify my existence.
I was never particularly interested in trying out for MENSA (though, of course, I have no doubt that I would score impressively high on their little tests if I could be bothered to take them), but I am extremely proud of my OFFICIAL Heywood G. Banks Fan Club card. I like to let that casually fall onto the counter at every opportunity, and then gather it up with a little, deprecating chuckle. Call it a weakness. Just thought I’d throw that in.
@Phoenician in a time of Romans
Hey, you take that back! He can actually count up to Five twice!
I think the point here isn’t Mensa or Not-Mensa, it’s the sort of person who feels that intelligence should stand in the place of any other ability.
i.e. If you (not you-you, but the theoretical mensa-card-extender) are incapable of winning the argument/discussion/debate in the first place, perhaps trying to derail the argument by stating that being good at something else should win it for you indicates that you don’t actually deserve that card.
Raw intelligence/known data is useless without the ability to understand the world in which the known data resides.Call it social intelligence, or experience, or wisdom, or whatever, but if you’re really good at just one thing and still incapable of using it effectively, most people just call you broken even if they’re nicer about it.
To me – Points 4 & 5 sum up my issue with Mensa. Yeah people who join Mensa often seem to be using it to shore up insecurity. We all have a crutch for our insecurity, so I won’t throw stones there.
But if you claim to be smart – use the brain to see points 4 & 5. MENSA membership is not part of a critical argument. It provides you with no authority except possibly on MENSA itself. Using it as evidence does more to ruin the MENSA ideal of intelligence than anything else does.
I’ll take a meme and change it to match the topic.
IQ is like a penis, it’s a perfectly fine thing for one to have and take pride in, but when one takes it out and waves it in one’s face we have a problem.
It always amuses to me to think of Foghorn Leghorn in Mensa.
“I do dahclare, I’m smawtah than most men, suh!”
How about advanced degrees? Can I wave around my PhD as a get out of jail free card? I’m sure I’ve got the diploma in a box somewhere; maybe I should find it and put it in my wallet in case some random person on the street disagrees with me…
I’ve never crossed paths with Mensa. I suppose they’re a thing in Canada but really, I just couldn’t be bothered. IQ tests simply aren’t important to me or my self identity. But it’s NEVER cool to use membership in a voluntary club as a shield against accusations of jerkdom (various) or a cudgel to try and score easy points in an argument.
Especially since the benchmark for winning an argument with some of these people seems to be that they kept arguing after everybody else got bored and left. THAT’S NOT THE SAME AS WINNING!
Lumen: “IQ tests (what Mensa uses) are tests of aptitude.” No, they’re not. There’s actually quite a large literature on the limitations of IQ measurement. We don’t have any way to measure aptitude as far as I know. (Back in the day, the SAT supposedly stood for “Scholastic Aptitude Test.” Eventually, the Educational Testing Service admitted that it didn’t measure aptitude, and as I understand it, SAT doesn’t officially stand for anything except the SAT test.
Alex: “… what I learned from this background is that the way to persuade people is to provide relevant and verifiable evidence.” It depends. The most effective and certainly the most popular way to persuade people, in my observation, is to point that your opponent is fat or Republican or a funditard or an asshole. I prefer to learn from relevant and verifiable evidence myself, but most people don’t, and most people who style themselves rational aren’t nearly as rational as they like to think. (This is on my mind right now because I just criticized a meme posted on Facebook by a liberal which contained a fabricated quotation from Sarah Palin. The poster was outraged, and told me to get off her timeline. She knows she’s superior to the conservatard Republitards and above all to the Palintard, and mere evidence won’t change her mind. Alas, she’s far from unique.)
“Anti-intellectualism is hardly the worst form of prejudice, but I know people who have been hurt. Also it’s like fat-shaming; we’re not a protected class and some people think it’s okay to show disrespect.” Being in “a protected class” doesn’t mean that others can’t “show disrespect” to you, nor should it. “Protected class” is a problematic legal term that means the law will protect you from certain specified and more-or-less carefully defined forms of discrimination. But showing disrespect is fine, and hardly anyone really believes that it isn’t — except disrespect to themselves. For example, almost everybody wants respect for their religious affiliation, and discrimination based on religion is forbidden by Civil Rights law in certain spheres. But just about everybody has some religious class — liberals, fundamentalists, “Cafeteria Christians,” etc. — they love to mock and disrespect, and they’d be outraged if anyone told them not to. And the other part of the First Amendment guarantees our right to do so, as it should. So sure, it’s perfectly okay to show disrespect to intellectuals — a different group than the intelligent, by the way.
FFS. I came to the same conclusion at the ripe old age of sixteen (full disclosure, it was at a PhilCon Mensa Meeting). Between waving Mensa Cards and spouting Ayn Rand quotations, I’ve concluded the real problem for a lot of these folks is that they haven’t emotionally matured past adolescence.
Back when I was new to my current city and hadn’t found my people yet, I applied to Mensa and got in but ended up not ever actually joining because I found other groups in the meantime. That said, I still get their email newsletter and it’s always got interesting stuff in it. I have friends who are/were in Mensa and they’re pleasant folks, but they don’t talk about Mensa unless it otherwise comes up in conversation.
So, yes, I’ve observed the same thing others have: the arrogant, insecure, and narcissistic tend to lead with “I’m in Mensa!” if they don’t have anything better to lead with. But the majority of the people in Mensa that I’ve met are perfectly pleasant folks.
Who bragged about being in mensa? I work in IT. I have met a number of people in mensa. They are cool. Never met one who bragged about it. They all said they basically get together and solve puzzles.i wouldnt join because I would feel stuck up due to the premise.
So seriously who bragged about being in mensa?
@katherine jay i am sure tou know that pulling out the mensa card would just annoy people. Doing good technical work is how you slap down techs. Women can be just as bad as men can in our profession when it comes to tech fights. I am sure its not just guys you get into arguments with.
Based upon some good SAT scores in high school, I was invited to be in Mensa. Went to one meeting, met a bunch of fairly boring but nice people who had nothing in common with me (I’m now an engineer), and decided to follow Groucho’s maxim that “I wouldn’t join any club that would have me as a member.” My main objection at the time was the reliance on formal tests such as the SAT or the GRE as a basis for joining Mensa. My wife, as smart as she is, is horrible at taking written tests (she keeps out-guessing herself), but has an amazing memory and will pass the same test verbally with flying colors. My idiot brother can’t walk and chew gum etc., but has some innate talent for passing written exams. Guess which one got invited to join Mensa and brags about it?
Over the year’s I’ve run into a few “card carriers” who would bring up Mensa in any conversation, typically people who haven’t done anything better in life. My response, especially when Mensa comes up as a non sequitur, is always “yeah, so?”
If a job interview requires a Mensa card then show it, if not, tuck it away. it’s like the Buddhist monk who proclaimed to all he was a master, everyone walked away in silence..
I am so impressed to find another kerfuffle user.
Before this posting, I think only wife knew I was ever in Mensa. It was interesting but not really for me.
As a summer child, I think I resent the association of summer children with Puppy types….
A cliche that is widely used in another circle seems to apply in this scenario very well.
“If you’re carrying, don’t get made.”
LOL :) My middle daughter and I both took Mensa tests (at different times); she’s about 20 points above me. Neither of us joined. Me b/c I found it pretentious & her b/c she couldn’t be bothered. 20 yrs later she really doesn’t understand how the world works; me? I’m enjoying (a form of) retirement. I’m happy; she’s disgruntled. Superior test-completion doesn’t guarantee a happy life or even satisfaction :)
My mother was excessively fond of appearing publicly superior, despite her own quite obvious intelligence and noteworthy career. She had me tested at age 12 and insisted I become a member. Since the local chapter normally met in a pub, I never did go to many meetings or meet many other Mensans at that time. I stopped paying my dues the minute I left home. I’ve since met some quite nice people (and a few jerks) who are members, and I’m sure it is a useful social club that many members enjoy, but the fact that I was introduced to its existence as a way to bolster my mother’s insecurities did not endear the organisation to me.
I was an Army helicopter pilot in Korea in 1976-77. An obnoxious fellow pilot was a well-known braggart about his Mensa membership. Any intellectual discussion in which someone disagreed with him was met with the response “that’s what the lower 98% say.”
This was so annoying I researched Mensa, and found out that my high school college admissions test (ACT: is that still a thing?) score met their criteria for admission. So I applied, got in, and the next time he made his 98 percent remark, I whipped the card out and got the best blank “I don’t know how to respond to that” expression.
It was totally worth it.
I haven’t told anyone in nearly 40 years that I temporarily had that card – never renewed it. John’s post about this brought it all flooding back.
Well, I’m another of those quiet Mensa members. And I recalled that US Mensa has a searchable database of members. Bearing in mind the comments above about a certain Puppy, I went searching.
There is exactly one Beale with a first name beginning with T in the database, and it belongs to someone with a gender-nonspecific first name who lives in the continental US. There is no evidence of a Theodore Beale in US Mensa.
People remember the part of Dunning-Kruger that’s about low-scorers overestimating their abilities, but forget the finding that the top quartile of test scorers tended to underestimate their abilities. http://www.talyarkoni.org/blog/2010/07/07/what-the-dunning-kruger-effect-is-and-isnt/ is an approachable recap.
@Numenaster: Nobody’s naming names, but the names that nobody’s naming are Antonelli and Hoyt, not Beale.
I enjoyed your comment; loved the airport story! I appreciate your last paragraph, but I do have a question. Do you think if it hadn’t been 4:00 AM, your results might have varied?
@Laertes, thanks for setting me on the proper path. Antonelli is for real: he’s even gone to the trouble of uploading a bio to the Mensa website. There is exactly one female Hoyt listed, and she has a different first name, middle initial and state of residence from the Puppy supporter.
Earlier in life, I was a lab rat for several years. One of the things that meant was regularly taking tests, IQ tests among them. More than once, it was suggested to me that I take the test to join Mensa. I’ve never done so and doubt I ever will. I’m me. I’m content with being me. My wallet doesn’t need any more cards. Mensa’s fine, I just don’t care.
I’ve been working mainframe IT since I graduated from college in 1985, with a bunch of people who are smarter than I will ever be, and I only remember one person ever mentioning a Mensa card.
I came to work one morning, and found this person at his desk in the same clothes he had been wearing the day before, locked in mortal combat with a COBOL program. He admitted that he had been there all night, and asked if I would mind taking a look at the program, as he was worn out and was going home. As any programming veteran will have seen coming, my fresh eyes had seen the problem and it was fixed, compiled, and tested before he made it to his car. When I told him, his comment was, “Maybe I should turn in my Mensa card.”
Which probably is why I haven’t heard many mentions of it. Computers have a way of humbling you, just when you start to think you’re pretty smart.
@Robert Reynolds, if you’ve spent much time taking IQ tests at all you probably already have qualified already. Mensa accepts the results from some 200 intelligence tests as “prior evidence” for admission. You can even look up on the website what a qualifying score is for the 35+ most popular ones. And when Mensa runs testing itself, candidates actually take two separate tests. Meeting the bar on either qualifies you for membership.
Has anyone mentioned that MENSA was originally an outgrowth of the eugenics movement in the 1920s? Makes it being used for “I’m better than you” pretty creepy (and it’s something smart people could easily research before throwing down credentials).
Anyone I’ve ever known who brags about it to strangers has invariably been an asshole. So I would argue that it serves as a very good signaling device — just not the one they think it is.
I suspect over half the membership of your average Worldcon qualifies. I suspect very few of the !Kung of the Kalahari do, but I can tell you who I want on my side during a natural disaster, or being lost in the desert.
An aptitude for standard tests say nothing about your kindness, your work ethic, or your ability to do anything other than standardized multiple-choice tests.
@Laura Resnick: I couldn’t pass any of the Mensa tests either. I would qualify through my SAT scores… so they’re not even measuring whatever it is they think they’re measuring. And I just read the latest “Chicks” anthology, and your story was at least 98% more delightful than the Puppy’s.
My mother, God rest her soul, refused to have any of her children IQ tested, or if we had to take a test, refused to tell us the scores. She was proud that we were smart, but she also valued things like generosity, volunteering, leadership, the arts, and exercise. So she raised one baseball-playing Lieutenant Colonel, one professional artist/college professor, and a con-attending occasional writer/editor/programmer who ice skates badly, but has managed to stay married for over 30 years. She loved us all, and we all like chamber music and can cook a tasty meal. And she graduated from college at 18 and never joined Mensa.
Add in the eugenics origin, and yikes.
It has been my experience that the more noise I make about my intelligence/training/smarts, the more likely I am to be in the middle of making a hideously embarrassing mistake. As a result, I have (slowly) learned not to make much noise about my intelligence/training/smarts.
Besides which, who wants to be the living embodiment of a classical logical fallacy?
It is almost amusing that I get both of the relevant blogs via email. I read this entry and had a what-the-frenchtoast moment.
A couple hours later, I read the other one and the light bulb went on. It was almost amusing*.
Quite frankly, this response is a bit over the top, IMHO.**
The use of Mensa card was not intended as “look how smart I am”. It was intended as “I’m not an idiot, so please stop treating me like one”. There was a lot more going on then just a Mensa rant.
The person that inspired the Mensa card throw down is, IMHO, being a little stubborn, a little dense, or a little clue resistant. Someone else can pick which one is more appropriate. They are wrong about something and then offered a “you are too stupid to know better” apology.
The whole mess started with an ad hominem that I would not have used and thus won’t repeat here.
*except for the steady global decline in our ability to have reasonable disagreements.
**assuming that I have the rest of this correct. If I’ve picked the wrong players, then this could quite well be an appropriately measured response. But if I have the proper players in mind, then an 8 paragraph rejoinder to a 1 sentence statement? Ayup. Just a tad excessive.
Your assumption is that this is a response to one person and/or a single event.
I used to be a Mensa member but let my membership lapse awhile back. Most of the folks I met in the organization were good people. There were a few losers but that’s been true for every organization I’ve ever been a part of so I don’t hold that against Mensa. I took the test to see if I could do it and at the time I was interested in the confirmation of, uh, something I guess. Not sure I would do it now but at the time I was looking for some sort of nerd type validation and got it.
I don’t remember the numbers, they are different for different tests, but my score was the cut off so when I went to a Mensa event I was the dumbest person in the room.
And I remember the first national newsletter I received from them. It had an interview with someone, I think a Broadway producer or something like that, who was gay. The article was prefaced with what we would call a trigger warning now that told us this article was going to talk about aspects of the ‘gay lifestyle’ and if that was upsetting to someone, they should skip the article. That just made me think that an organization that is supposedly filled with smart people and do do some dumb shit just like any other organization.
I read the blog posting I believe John is refereeing to here before he responded and at the time I was thinking “You were losing the argument already when you sunk to whipping out your Mensa card, you’re not going to recover.” It’s been a very few times I’ve seen people resort to pulling out their Mensa card in an argument and it’s never worked out.
You are correct. If the timing of this item was not informed by the events that I suggest, then I apologize for suggesting anything untoward about it or yourself.
I’ve known lots of people that use the “I’m a (fill in the blank)” to short circuit a discussion. “Mensa” can fill that blank as well as “car aficionado” or “wine lover”.
People lets take a step back a moment. A lot of people here have made mention that either they never met a Mensa member, in your day to day life. or if they have they have all been assholes. I doubt that is true. Mensa membership is a lot like a wearing a toupee, as you only notice the bad ones. I am sure all of you have met nice Mensan in your day to day life.
In my case if anyone works in a large office building and have met the gentlemen in the work pants and t-shirt sporting a three day beard who comes to fix your air conditioner, you may have met a Mensan. How you would know I belong to that organization is beyond me. My family knows, a few friends know, and my mailman knows, because he brings the magazines.
I had to sit my son down and explain to him that having a high IQ is in fact a mental disorder. It is something that separates you from the norm, and that is the true definition, is it not? If most people were four feet tall, would a person four foot one be considered short?. It is not a bad thing, but it is different, and as my wife likes to remind me a normal person can buy a toaster without researching it first.
Any Mensan that would show his card is already an ass, don’t blame us. Most Mensans are not impressed with themselves, but do enjoy the time we spend with others who understand us.If new mothers gather together to support each other, do we think they are flouting their fertility to the rest of the world?
And lastly have any of you who have met these vocal Mensans ever asked to see their card? Believe it or not it happens frequently. As a member, I like it when someone mentions that they are a member. A quick, “what chapter?” often stops the conversation.
Thanks for listening. We are not all that bad. Now I do like to brag about my membership in the large phallic club, and try to work that into every conversation possible. Don’t ask to see the card as I lost it many years ago in a popup tornado!
*a large number of people who can join Mensa, don’t, for various reasons*
Damn right. I’m also secure in my intelligence, and quite happy to recognize others on my level *or beyond it* and having a thesis shot up is good cause to rethink, rework, and actually frigging *learn* something. I like the learning thing; it makes my brain bits tingle in happy ways.
The point is not that Mensans are assholes.
The point is that people who TELL YOU they are Mensans as if it proves they’re superior are assholes.
The proof is seen right here in these comments, where some very sensible people are/were members, but have only mentioned it here — where it is the topic. Had John not mentioned it, we’d never have known. Because they’re not assholes about it.
And while certain recent assholes may have prompted this essay, it’s also possible they didn’t. Again, the comments show that this has happened to a lot of Whatever readers over the years. John might just as easily have come across something that reminded him of that asshole in his dorm freshman year who was always waving his card around during late-night arguments.
My grandmother scored zero on the WRAF entry tests, but as a fluent German speaker, spent the war, translating German pilots radio transmissions, she served
Her training camp was run by Jean Conan Doyle
It’s a funny world
@Sean Moore: ” … as my wife likes to remind me a normal person can buy a toaster without researching it first.” Ah, but a practical person wants to know s/he is getting a reliable brand :) .
I never looked into Mensa membership. My high school college placement test scores were good, but because “girls can’t do math” was part of the curriculum back then (let’s just say I’m older than our host) my math scores were lower than the other ones. From other posts here, Mensa tests math skills as well as language. I’d probably fail that part unless I took prep classes first, and it’s not worth it to me.
But thanks for the tip about asking to see the card. There’s one of the mouthy ones in the local fan community, I’ll have to remember that the next time he patronizes me for not being a member.
Leah, there are a bunch of tests and none of them are exclusively math content. The one section I’ve seen that IS math related, actually rewards you for finding shortcuts around evaluating the equations because it’s intentionally longer than most people can finish if they take that approach.
I’ve met a lot of people who have been told they seemed like Mensa material, who did not take the test because they feared they would fail. Pretty much all of these people were women I met at Mensa Annual Gatherings after they decided to take it anyway. Often they had attended events with their Mensa-member husbands for years, believing themselves to be somehow less. It’s a sad fact that they believed it for so long. You sound just like them.
They tested my IQ in school and the result means I’m probably eligible for Mensa, but I have had neither the money nor the inclination to join.
People who use things like a Mensa card to make themselves feel superior kinda make me wanna try so if someone does it to me I can do my unimpressed face and point out I have one too, but it’s too my effort and money for what amounts to an intellectual dick measuring contest. In the end as with a lot of things size is less important than what you can do with it…
Okay, now that we’ve established that a rather uncomfortably LARGE number of your fans believe they are eligible, have tested and proved their eligibility, or have actually joined Mensa, it might be a good idea to sit for a moment and reflect on how this started. It was a screenshot of a message from someone’s husband wasn’t it? And that message was sent to a writer you’re acquainted with and she posted it on FB, correct? I just hope your Great Aunt isn’t in Mensa, but I wouldn’t be surprised because these things do run in families and the school you graduated from doesn’t hand out diplomas based on boyish good looks.
My first thought when I saw the message on that writer’s FB page was that it was a Red Herring delivered by a puppy-lover to lure everyone away from the real bone of contention. I also didn’t see any mention in that message that the hubby or the wife actually claimed to BE Mensans. I only read that slapping down a Mensa card was necessary to disagree with them, but I could be mistaken.
Regardless, it’s been a trying few months and some radical changes have taken place in all of our lives, fandom as a whole has been under attack from a small number of doofusses and you’ve just finished a particularly arduous book tour. Sometimes it’s very hard to stop fighting when the war has been won. Perhaps this would be a good time for a nice bowl of ice cream. I know it always does me a world of good.
I have an in-law that probably would belong to Mensa, currently lives in a car, never actually finished a degree (professional student) and expects the perfect, young woman to fall in love with his brain (he is currently about 65ish. Hi IQ does not mean you will have a productive, happy life. BTW, who was the idiot who pulled that stunt? Just so I can avoid accidentally inflating his ego.
A.M. Donovan said: “I have an in-law that probably would belong to Mensa, currently lives in a car …”
Is it an Impala. I heard of one puppy type mensa that goes by the name… “The Impala”. Or something like that.
Or in other words (and vastly summarised) “The type of person who waves a Mensa card, by and large, acts as a pretty good example of why INT and WIS are separate scores on the D&D stat sheet”.
(I say this as another example of the same overall principle).
Now I want a browser extension that automatically changes “show your Mensa card” to “I peaked in my early 20s, how about you?”
Have to admit I’d never heard of this Dunning-Kruger syndrome before, but in looking it up I am relieved to find that whatever else my flaws are, I probably don’t suffer from THIS particular malady. I am all too aware of all the things I absolutely suck at.
As I mentioned on Twitter when this came up, I’ve worked two cons as a vendor where we were opposite a Mensa convention. I…do not treasure those memories. One, they were just a bunch of people clotting up the hotel (though I still treasure the fellow in the elevator who asked me about the fur industry–it was a furry convention, and he leapt to the Most Wrong Possibility) but the other one I got someone who wanted to touch everything at the table and acted like he was doing me a favor with it. (Look, you’ve got the OCD where you touch things or straighten things, fine. I will grit my teeth a little, yes, but that’s wiring at work, and it’s okay. But don’t keep telling me you’re making my display better. At that point I get to quietly loathe you.)
I got off easy, though–friend of mine had to deal with one woman insisting that “The ink on this card is too black” and “I’ve given you a bunch of money already, so I’m just going to take some of the other stuff from your table.” She still twitches when the name comes up.
Now, I knew someone who had come up to the Mensa meetup to hook up with a friend, and she is lovely, so it’s not a blanket declaration by any stretch. It is possible we just had a very unfortunate run of luck. But there did seem to be a somewhat larger contingent than usual of I-am-superior-so-I-don’t-have-to-modify-my-behavior-in-any-way-to-meet-social-norms types on the loose at that one. Still, my reaction now is always going to be wariness if you tell me that we’re sharing a hotel with a Mensa meetup.
…the Charismatic Catholics, now, THAT was a group.
The late, great Johnny Carson often said the first rule of comedy is if you have to explain it, it isn’t funny.
The Mensa card flasher variation on that would be if you have to announce how smart you are then no, not so much..
And quoting Johnny Carson makes it apparent the only card I’m flashing these days is AARP.
Mensa. I remember that something happened involving me and some people and Mensa when I was a teenager. Shrug.
IQ: How well a person scores on IQ tests.
Intelligence, wisdom, education: None have anything to do with any of the others.
Intelligence: problem solving speed. Assuming those asked to solve a problem know the same things the smarter person will do it faster, unless they are paid buy the hour.
wisdom: being wise. *
education: for those who brag on it, another circular definition.
*wisdom: Was a seeing eye dog. and some kind of courtroom test. They arranged the chairs in maze. The dog looked at the maze and led the person around it. Wise dog.
You pretty much summed up my feelings on the whole being smart thing whether it is mena cards, GATE, or whatever…
“I have a high IQ!” is the Internet equivalent of “My mom says I’m handsome!”
I went to a MENSA meeting once back in college. A writer I know was invited to speak and asked me along; I think the Mensans worried him. I got the impression MENSA attracts a lot of people for whom scoring well on an IQ test is the most interesting thing about them. They were pleasant enough.
I will admit to taking a bit of pride in having SFWA and WGA cards in my wallet, back when I was writing and selling more regularly. (I let them both lapse when circumstances led to a long period of fiction-writing inactivity. Working to re-qualify.)
The most important test I ever took was the Postal Service exam, because that led to a career that not only provided a comfortable income, but good medical insurance without which we would have ended up in bankruptcy and/or living under a bridge many times over. (Lots of medical issues for my wife, and multiple surgeries.) The funny thing is that I only took that test because one of the other soldiers in my Army unit was getting out about the same time I was, and badgered me into taking the postal exam with him. (Thanks, dude whose name I can’t even remember now.)
“Okay, now that we’ve established that a rather uncomfortably LARGE number of your fans believe they are eligible, have tested and proved their eligibility, or have actually joined Mensa, it might be a good idea to sit for a moment and reflect on how this started.”
Once again, in itself, Mensa is not the problem.
FWIW, I was so damn sure that you had the Dunning-Kruger thing around the worng way. I thought I’d better look it up before I started “fixing the internets”.
I’m obviously not mensa material :)
Self-aggrandizing Mensans should always recall the words of Socrates, who was deemed the wisest of humans by the Delphic Oracle: “How could I be the wisest if all I knew was that I knew nothing?”
Or the mathematician Paul Erdős, who wanted his epitaph to be, “I’ve finally stopped getting dumber”.
It’s always been my assumption that over well over half of the attendees at any random traditional SF convention (you know, the kind where people actually READ the stuff) were Mensa-qualified, and that most of them had never bothered to join, or had joined and didn’t make a big thing about it.
The “I have been proven to have a huge, swollen intellect and therefore must be right about my statements” type is not unique to Mensans: I know people in their 60s who still remember their exact SAT scores, and I’m sure there are equivalents in any country with a similar test.
I’ve been very happy in Mensa. Made lots of friends, and met my wife at the Denver national gathering seven years back.
But no question Mensa membership doesn’t bar arrogant jerks, sexists, racists and crackpots. Though I doubt there’s more of them than any other group.
Alex, far up the thread, said there is a stigma to being and/or acting intelligent; that’s especially true for women, and is one reason I never joined Mensa. The other main reason is that there was no local group, as far as I knew, other than a small clique of socially maladroit professors and graduate students at my college. I was sufficiently socially maladroit without getting reinforcement from others with the same deficits.
I have been known to flaunt the fact that I won a fellowship to the Georgia Tech graduate management program. :-) However I am quick to follow up that I fled the scene after a single semester, having found the place a nest of aspiring Gordon Gekkos.
I never really understood the idea of seeing intelligence, as something measurable.
1) There are different types of intelligence. For instance, I’m pretty good at languages and reading comprehension, but terrible at numbers and assessing the size of various things – so, there would be situations where I’d come across as the dumb one and situations where I’d be the smarter one – among the same group of people. How would something like IQ reflect that?
2) As others have pointed out, there’s also training. Maybe if I hadn’t avoided the use of numbers so much, I wouldn’t suck so much at it, you know?
3) Circumstances. Now, I happen to sometimes have anxiety and sometimes depression and while we can agree that this does not, in fact, make me any dumber, it does impair my ability to process information. Even if it’s something that I have a knack for and have studied a lot – then I might do badly, if my brain can’t brain that day or if it brains way too much, but in the wrong way. Other may have other issues affecting this.
How could a simple number, such as IQ, ever reflect on this or tell you how well someone might perform a specific task? If you want to know how well a person does something, the best way to do that is to watch them try, I’d think.
Regarding Mensa and Eugenics, this isn’t just a sands-of-time distant history issue either. As recently as twenty years ago they faced massive flack for publishing that the homeless should be killed.
@Simon: Ye GADS. Eugenics all the way, considering many of the homeless are mentally ill or suffer from addiction or both. Ironically, I knew a homeless Mensan who didn’t have those problems — presumably showing his card would have kept him out of the purge?
I never really understood the idea of seeing intelligence, as something measurable.</i.
There are very basic laws for human society:
i, Once you get over the magic number of about 150 people, interactions will be increasingly formalized and legalistic. You can't deal mentally with that many actual people as personalities in your head, but you can deal with them if you reduce them to roles and duties – such as, for example, "employees" or "citizens".
ii, Hierarchies and bureaucracies become the dominant means of organization.
iii, A bureaucracy will always seek to quantify its environment. This includes its major resource, people. In fact, this is how writing started – the Mesopotamians used tokens to denote goods and produce and the tithe obligations of people, and turned these into symbols.
iv, In such a situation, anything that might be quantified WILL be quantified, regardless of how badly such quantification actually represents reality. And then people will take that quantification FOR reality.
You might find this book interesting – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technopoly
Sorry to hear you had a lousy conversation with someone.
I joined Mensa after I’d moved to a new town and wanted to make friends. I’d already tried to usual route – hanging out at bars with co-workers, etc. The problem with that came the day one of them (drunk) dropped his arm around me saying, “Mill, yer good people. We love you. But yer too deep. Y’read the paper over lunch and you leave the bar to go to those writers group meetings. Yer kinda stuffy.” Ouch. Later, an ad in the paper said that Mensa was offering their entry test. Wanting to find my pack, I thought maybe there would be other stuffy people. So I joined.
Whether people love or hate Mensans, they’re over generalizing. The same could be said for loving or hating all softball players, or loving or hating all gingers, or loving or hating all . . . well, you get the idea. IMHO, the organization fails to address poor behavior, not only outside the group but also at events. However, it does a lot of things right. There are ample ways to connect with people on an international scale – I’m constantly meeting really neat people. (And yes, a few attention-seeking jerks, who I ignore and move on.) Also, it’s a good networking opportunity. There are designated travel contacts in each chapter. The gatherings are really, really fun. I could go on. I stay because it’s more good than bad.
If you knew me in person, you wouldn’t know about my membership for quite awhile. When it did come out, it would be because you’d started asking specific questions about my upcoming trip to Scotland, coupled with the fact that I’m a shitty liar. My point is, I’m very active in this organization . . . and I hold out on that disclosure a lot longer than the average softball player would keep that under hat. (If they admit to being an athlete, are they a braggart?) At any rate, I am not alone. Most Mensans are ‘in the closet.’
However, I’ll admit that when I see blog posts like this, I wonder why the other person didn’t whip out something from their wallet and say, “Well, yeah? I use AAA!” Or even grab that beer-soaked napkin and write, “Queen of the Universe” on it. Can they top your Queen of the Universe card? I suspect not. The blogger card isn’t a bad one, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that this post gives that person allll that attention they were looking for.
Literally my only run-ins with Mensa were when I was a waitress during some of their gatherings. They kept trying to get me to join, perhaps in part because they doubled as a swingers group. I have publicly said on more than one occasion that the best thing that ever happened to me was losing 20 IQ points when I was kicked in the head by a horse. A friend pointed out to me that I literally got two college degrees cum laude with a quarter of my brain (my dead left frontal lobe) “tied behind my back”. Yes, I’m still eligible, but now my wisdom score has gone up enough that I’m no longer tempted. Of course the brain injury left me with some impulsiveness issues, which caused me to occasionally brag about my lack of intellectual vanity, but such is life. ;-)
@Ursula V.: …the Charismatic Catholics, now, THAT was a group.
I know this is probably a specific denomination, but I can’t help picturing just a busload of *really* good-looking Catholics.
“*All* our priests are Father Whatawaste.”
@Isabel C: Heh.
It’s a particular group who’ve had to share a hotel and event space several years running with a con. They were scared of us the first year, but after that they realized we were harmless and they’re very polite. Mostly older folks. The real brave ones even talk to us sometimes! They seem to all go back to their rooms after dinner and don’t go to the bar, so other than the restaurant and a few hallways, there’s not much interaction.
It beats the hell out of sharing a hotel with high school jocks and cheerleaders, let me tell you. Particularly when the vandalism, noise, and drunkenness gets blamed on entirely the wrong group. (Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be jock boys. And don’t let your girls hang out with them.)
It’s not really Mensa or Mensa membership cards that’s the problem. It’s the notion that intelligence is an accomplishment, rather than what you do with intelligence, and that the Mensa card is somehow scientific proof of you being a genius and as a genius therefore you can whip anybody in an argument, so nobody better argue with you or point out that something you said isn’t backed up by facts.
There are a lot of geniuses who can’t argue their way out of a paper bag, while there are a lot of charismatic, talented debaters who never went to college. And intelligence, knowledge and accomplishment are all three different things. And none of those three different things make you inherently superior to anybody else, especially as all three often rely on advantages that quite often are just handed to people by luck and the economic status of your family.
So when someone whips out a Mensa card as part of a discussion or debate, they’re trying to trash talk and intimidate the person they’re talking to. Which usually is not that effective.
I can remember bringing a former boyfriend over to my parent’s home for dinner with my family. Pretty early on, it became clear my mother was a highly successful star in the aerospace industry; my stepfather was a mechanical engineer whose inventions are still being used today, and my little brother is the owner of a business firm that engages in something called, “Human Systems Engineering”. During the drive to my place afterward, my boyfriend asked how I could deal with dinners with my family at all. He said, “You are a metalsmith and flooring installer, so it must be so miserable to sit with them and listen to how much brighter and more successful they are than you.” I am a person who smiles a lot, and I gave him one of my biggest, heartfelt, grins as I confided in him. “What makes you think they are smarter or better off than me?” I said. “They spent the entire dinner moaning about how tough it was to be them and to do their jobs, and to be so underappreciated for all they do. I love the challenges my careers give me, and I love and respect the people I work with. I don’t care if I am not as smart or as highly regarded as them, and I care little for what strangers think of me. My life is much happier because I can thrive without those kinds of expectations of myself or others.” After a too long silence I shrugged and said. “I was about to tell you that I feel sorry for my family. If being so smart and successful made them *happy*, then to me, *that* would be what made them both ‘smarter’ and more ‘successful’ than me.”
A lot of years have passed since then, and I lost my way career-wise when my chosen professions began the decline they are still in today. I finally made the return to who and what I really am, and that old sense of happiness and self-confidence is slowly coming back. The “stupidest” thing I’ve ever thought and done was to lose faith in “me” just because what makes me happy isn’t making the income it once did.
A closing thought here about really smart people. I wonder if you’ve ever been in one of those months where it seems like everyone you talk to can’t walk and chew bubble gum at the same time? Or, you are stuck daily with someone whose banality is so powerful, it threatens to undermine your sense of self-preservation? I have, and this has helped me to understand the healthy reasons for clubs like MENSA. People who have really high IQs find it nearly impossible to have fulfilling conversations with most of the people they meet every day. It’s like being a professional doctor with nobody to talk to but sheep farmers. The “smarts” is not the issue so much as not having a lot in common the majority of the people you must interact with every day. It gets lonely real fast, and in time, your mind slowly devours itself for lack of a connect outside itself. Don’t automatically assume this is ego. It’s not “ego” for anyone to need and want to be with others that they can relate to, and who can relate to them. You never cross that line into ego until you start thinking that others are less than you. It is at this point that your intelligence begins a rapid decline, and you begin to underestimate them and overestimate yourself. Now, *this* is “stupid”-squared. Thanks for reading my rant.
The only place I promote my Mensa membership is on my resume.
I may have absolutely no social skills, but I *am* smart enough to know that bragging about being a Mensa member does not impress anyone, not even other Mensans.
And if I *was* that smart, I’d have figured out better social skills in the first place… /sigh
The people who have to tell you how smart they are are usually not very smart. In particular, it’s worth remembering that the Internet is large. So without loss of generality: Yes, someone reading this is probably smarter than you. Or me. Or whoever else. And the people who are bragging about their intelligence are not usually the top of the line; they’re the ones who haven’t yet figured out that this is a losing strategy.
Usually I make a point of letting them “discover” that I never finished high school. And generally they respond by running with it and spending a lot of time crowing about my lack of education and knowledge. They virtually never stop to ask things like “do you have any degrees, though?” before running with it. This is because they are not as smart as they think they are.
I don’t think it’s a good idea to put Mensa membership on your resume, either (though what you put under clubs or activities shouldn’t rightly count against you). I’ll cop to sometimes putting National Merit Finalist on mine, but that’s an actual academic honor, and I work in fields where it could be seen as tangentially relevant.
Sadly true, Phoenician – and so New Public Management was born. Have I told you lately that I despise it? Oh, how I despise it – let them count the ways!
Since nobody here has mentioned it – I’ve always liked Feynman’s attitude towards measured “intelligence.” According to his sister Joan, “When I was a kid, I sneaked off and got into the files and looked up our IQ’s. Mine was 124, and his was 123. So I was actually smarter than he was!” Feynman happily told someone who suggested that he join MENSA that he couldn’t, since his high school IQ score wasn’t high enough.
My Mensa-member sister just passed me this link with a big sigh and a “Yay, stereotype reinforcement”. She’s the first to agree with you, but I think she wishes she didn’t have to agree with the sentiment quite so often. I’ve been to a few Mensa-related events with her, and have had a fun time hanging out with her friends. But there’s always “that one guy”…in one case, the new guy who thought there was nothing odd about hitting on the visibly pregnant lady while her husband was just out of earshot. All that paper says is that you test well, it doesn’t say you’ve very smart. But if you move into a new area, it’s not a bad place to meet people.
Qualified but didn’t join; the people I met were nice enough, but were mainly socially-awkward dudes looking for a girlfriend. A room full of “Leonards”, if you will.
There’s something like the Principle of Mediocrity that suggests that the odds against you being the smartest person in the room are significant (unless you’re at a Trump fundraiser, or course).
When I took the Mensa test in California when I was 17 (there was a whole family drama dynamic thing going on at the time), they gave you 2 tests, the Cattell & the California Test Of Mental Maturity. The questions on both were almost identical to the questions on the SAT and the AP tests I’d recently taken.
I will say, though, the experience ultimately lead to hearing THE best ‘I’m bored at a party and don’t know what to say’ line – ‘So you’re an Astrophysicist?’