Mensa Shmensa

Posted March 20, 2009

Reading an excellent post by the always thought-provoking Orac at Respectful Insolence which is basically a rant about an individual that is particularly annoying (intelligent, but irrational people often are), I stopped to make a comment. In doing so, “Mensa” caught my eye several times as I scrolled down through the comments of those before me.

Here are just a few of those comments:

Oh, and is it just me, or does anyone else generally assume that anyone who brags about being a member of Mensa is highly likely to be an insufferable tool?

Whatever its original purpose, Mensa these days seems more like a circle jerk for people who insist they are just soooo much more intelligent than the mere peons who actually do something. Actually boasting you are a member not only indicates one is a tool, but an insecure one as well.

The bumper stick I need: “I’m smart enough not to join Mensa”.

In my younger days I looked into joining mensa. Yeah, I was a tool. Iou know, young and oh sooo damn smart, I thought “I should hook up with other smart people”.
What did I find? A group of idiots. Smart idiots, but conspiracy theory prone, woo fostering, idiots who use the same logical fallacies, albeit more effectively, than normal idiots.
“Being smart” has virtually nothing to do with “knowing things” or being open minded enough to learn things you don’t agree with.
When I hear someone mention they are in Mensa I always snort.

The comments made me think. They made me question myself — my motives, my mindset. They made me realize that I do not always understand my own actions.

It’s a very small thing, really, but it is so core to my current “mission”, that I cannot ignore it.

You see, until today, I listed “American Mensa” under “Affiliations” in my links on the left.

Here’s the problem: I agree with the comments. I do not think much of Mensa and I do not know why I put the link on this site. I can only guess that some part of me knows that the general public thinks Mensa=smart, and I would like to be considered smart.

I’m ashamed of that, since I can come up with no other reason and must face that I am insecure. I certainly didn’t put it there to promote it. About the only think it’s good for, IMO, is that it is a relatively inexpensive way to find out your IQ. Not that IQ means a whole lot.

I joined Mensa in my late teens or early 20s; I really don’t recall exactly when. I thought it would be a good place to meet people with which I shared interests and beliefs. I thought it would be fun.

I never went to a meeting or gathering. I joined a few Special Interest Groups (SIGs) which, at that time, were mostly newsletters sent by snail mail. Those groups were things like “Scrabble by mail” and “Writer’s Club”. I learned quickly from the newsletters of local chapters that Mensa consists mostly of snotty, closed-minded pseudointellectuals who think they are superior, but really have nothing of substance or truth to say. There was little “intelligence” to offer through SIGs or gatherings. No philosophical discussions of epistemology. Few science-oriented groups. Little activism. What I wanted most was completely missing: skeptical inquiry & debunking.

Instead, what I found was a schedule of purely social gatherings (no problem there), a lot of gaming (no problem there, either), and many, many SIGs about astrology, religion, the paranormal, and other metaphysical topics.

Eventually, I let that membership lapse.

A year or two ago I gave them another try. My boys have benefited a great deal socially from their school’s gifted programs. I thought they might benefit from this, too. I was wrong.

It hasn’t changed all that much. The list of SIGs contains a few more groups I might be interested in joining such as:

  • A secular study of the Bible with discussions of contradictions, etc.
  • Grammar Police — do I need to say anything else?
  • Problem Solvers

But, these are by far outnumbered by the groups whose topics are the opposite of intelligent and the vast majority are completely unrelated to intelligence (hobbies, etc.). I do not begrudge the latter a place and would probably join some, but why are there so many? Why are there so few groups that are trying to make a difference in the world?

Most of all, why would a group that claims to consist of those in the top 2% of the population intelligence-wise include and tolerate so much stupidity?

The Mensa Bulletin is a joke. The mostly-fluff pieces are often poorly-researched, poorly-reasoned opinion statements full of logical contradictions. The only critical letters to the editor that are published are those that are either very general or barely critical at all. Few address the logical problems and misinformation in the articles themselves. I may be bitter, as my one attempt to address a particularly bad article in the “Green Edition” last year was not printed, but anyone who can get their hands on a few copies of the Bulletin can find out for themselves.

There is much more to being rational than what is measured using tests of abstract reasoning (IQ tests).

BTW, one can still qualify for Mensa with scores from tests of crystalized intelligence (knowledge) — SAT & GRE scores, for example — if they were taken prior to specific dates. One out of 50 people in the civilized world qualify. That’s not as elite a group as some members seem to think.

Do I think all members of Mensa are insecure, irrational snobs? Of course not. I’m still a member myself (until it’s time to renew, then I’m out). I think the organization is a joke, though.

If you want to socialize with intelligent people, I highly recommend looking into groups like the Skeptic Society, CTEG, & JREF. There are wannabes and pseudoskeptics, just as there are pseudointellectuals, but you are much more likely to find free-thinking, rational, & fun-loving people with whom you can relate. There is no test to join. The only criteria are interests in promoting truth and exposing B.S. (like Mensa…)


LC on March 20th, 2009 at 21:39

Strolled over here from Orac’s site. One of the comments is mine, so I think I should expand a bit.

The important thing is the words ‘boasting’ and ‘bragging’. If one just says ‘I’m a member of Mensa’, most people would nod and continue on without a problem. The difficulty is when people use Mensa as a ‘badge of Authority’.

Boiled down, Mensa is a club with specific ‘entry criteria’. This is not unusual in itself — eg: I’m a member of an aeroclub club whose criteria is having a pilots license. I’m a member of a RPG group whose criteria is knowing how to play a specific game. The main reason for a ‘club’ is social interaction with people who have a similiar interest. The aeroclub has a common interest in air craft, the RPG club one in games, a sports club a common bond in a sport, etc.

And this I think is where the wheels fall off Mensa. At one point Mensa may have been a club — where people in ‘high intelligence’ diciplines could meet people with similiar interests to talk shop. Not to meet people who were ’smart’, but to act as a ‘clearing house’ or ‘Meta-club’ encompassing a range of ’sub groups’. A mathematician had a higher than average chance of meeting someone else who was a mathematician or with an interest in that area with the understanding that the people they met would not be ‘Joe Blow’ off the street. Hence the SIGs.

But the core critera of Mensa remained ‘have a specific level of intelligence’, and the lack of a ‘non abstract’ point to focus on meant trouble. You would have some joining up, thinking that merely being a member made them special, someone who couldn’t find a SIG they liked would wander around wondering what they were doing there.

People who found a group with a similar interest (say the gamers) had no need to remain in the metagroup of Mensa and drifted away. Others who said ‘maybe this isn’t for me’ drifted off elsewhere, and eventually all that remained in the core were the presumputious wankers who thought ‘I’m Mensa, I’m special’. And this has poisoned the meta-club image, even if the SIGs are perfectly reasonable and likeable.

Rambled on a little more than I wanted to, so I will wrap up. Don’t worry over it too much. You’re a member of Mensa — good for you. You have a link? No problem. But those who prance around bragging about it as if being a member of a club meant something — they wont get the time of day.


Alex on March 26th, 2009 at 17:26

Knowing little about Mensa except it was for “smart” people, I went to my favorite go-to, Wikipedia, and I found this gem:

“Roland Berrill, an Australian barrister, and Dr. Lancelot Ware, a British scientist and lawyer, founded Mensa in the United Kingdom in 1946. They had the idea of forming a society for bright people, the only qualification for membership being a high IQ.[4] It was to be free from all social distinctions (racial, religious, etc.), represented by the name of the organization, which comes from the Latin mensa, which means “table”, indicating that it is a round-table society of equals.

The bold part is what is most striking. IQ tests at the time were highly culture-biased, increasingly biased the more of a minority you were. Still, today, there is an evident bias toward WASPs. Not as bad as when Mensa was formed, but there.

Just to add, Mensa is a stupid name, and its meaning is even lamer. Why not just call it “circle”?

Comments for this page are closed.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email