A cynic, after all, is a passionate person who does not want to be disappointed again.
Zander and Zander
After the rather emotional posting about Mensa, let’s look at it from a more … cognitive perspective (even though the dichotomy between emotional and cognitive is false).
What was good about Mensa, what was bad, and what was ugly?
- Some of the people. Especially in MHN (the academic “branch” of Mensa), you have lots of interesting and capable people. While Mensa does contain a lot of … not so capable people (see: The Bad), most of the ones in MHN are … well, impressive. They do organize a yearly conference (pre Covid, that is) with great speakers and events.
- The MinD-Akademie. The above mentioned conference organized by the MinD Hochschul Netzwerk (roughly translated: Mensa in Germany University Network). Cool event, usually characterized by lack of sleep and super-high energy levels.
- Mensa Events. These did include a few New Years eve events that were fun.
- The Presentations. I did do a few presentations at the MinD-Akademie and at other events. And I loved each and every one, incl. the reactions. Was fun, fun, fun and if I do miss one thing (not only due to Covid), then it’s doing presentations in front of an audience that has an open mind and is willing to listen. And especially the ones in MHN are … smart like adults but with the willingness to learn of a boy (when the topic is dinosaurs). Sure, you have those in the university as well, but in MHN they make up perhaps 95% of the audience, in the university perhaps 20%.
- Impetus for this website/Organizing Creativity books. Given that many presentations were about creativity and organizing a PhD, the MHN gave a huge boost to this website.
- Social Interaction On Demand. I dislike groups (and have left a few other groups in 2021 besides Mensa) and Mensa was very good in letting each member decide whether and how to interact. For someone who is rather introverted (I agree with the meme: alone is normal, two is a party, three is armageddon) that was really helpful. And yeah, after each MinD-Akademie, I had to decompress for a day or two (They were fun, just … also taxing. Too many people.).
- Biotope to See Social Behavior. Much of my social behavior was … consciously learned (e.g., Why do I have to greet my fellow students in school anew each and every day? I saw them yesterday, I will see them tomorrow, I know who they are and they know me?). So it was really … refreshing to see that there are some who are even worse at this stuff than I am.
- Semi-valid Feedback about my IQ. The original reason why I tried out the Mensa test. Probably the easiest way to get a somewhat valid measure of your intelligence.
- New people to get to know. Given the only criterium is a high IQ, the members are an extremely heterogenous mix. It’s nice to talk to people who are not limited by one single interest or background.
- Lack of a common purpose. While Mensa does have an original goal — bringing people with different views together at one table — I am not sure whether it actually achieves this purpose, or whether it is even shared by its members. Does it actually do good? Help to reason out well-argued and supported proposals? Perhaps develop projects that help others? While there are probably some people who work together and achieve it, they likely would have done so outside of Mensa.
- Low tolerance of viewpoints that deviate. This does not apply to all members, but I got the impression that the overall reaction to viewpoints that are not widely accepted is the same in Mensa as in the general population. Even when it comes to discussing ideas just to see where the ideas lead you (à la Aristotle’s “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”).
- Intelligence alone is rather useless. I got the impression that there is also the same vulnerability to misconceptions and … well, believe in things that do not make sense as in the general population. Intelligence is no protection here, on the contrary, you have to have high intelligence to reason yourself into some quackeries.
- Being different is fine, being difficult is not. There are some groups who are as easy to organize as herding cats. Mensa is one of them. I don’t mind different viewpoints, on the contrary, but there is a difference between being different and being difficult — or a jerk. While MHN membership meetings are okay, Mensa’s membership meetings are … hard to watch. The online only meeting in 2021 took the cake and was the main impetus for me leaving the organization. And it was not a problem with the technology, as usual, the little green men did an incredible job, it was how the meeting went, the process and the decisions that were made. And it’s not only the meetings. For example, when Mensa members wanted to create an online forum, it ended up with two. The two people who were working on it got into an argument and refused to continue to work with each other. While setting up a forum for people in an organization that wanted to bring highly intelligence people together at one table. You can’t make this shit up.
It’s a society, with all that this entails. I put this under ugly, because it’s what made me leave Mensa. Like written above, I always prefer to work with individuals, in 1:1 settings. I dislike groups, and I am mistrustful of societies. All too often, other aspects come into play, ranging from people seeking social power (via formal or informal leadership positions, or even via gaming meeting rules), putting forth their own agenda (e.g., promoting so-called social justice), and the like.
I consider such things a waste of time and it’s one of the main reasons I do not like organizations. I’m more a libertarian, and I want to be left alone to decide for myself. And I get very angry if other people claim to speak for me. Which they do when they use a society that I support.
So, yeah, tough shit. Some memberships I have to tolerate (e.g., being a citizen of this country and being subject to, e.g., … inconsistent and badly argued pandemic laws), others — like Mensa — I could tolerate.
But said membership meeting did show me — by listening to the proceedings, the discussions, the chat, what was decided and how — just how different my view is. Even when it comes to kicking someone out. And yeah, that person was totally incompetent on many levels to argue his case — shouldn’t that have been a reason to help this person express his position better? To hear that viewpoint?
Parts of Mensa dissolved into a mob of self-righteous people who are not interested in discussions. Because, roughly paraphrased, we all have our opinion and thus discussions are worthless. Or, to use another example, after one member wrote in the chat that from now on, he feels embarrassed to be in Mensa, the reply was “then leave the society”.
And yeah, I guess it would be possible to change Mensa — after all, Mensa is what its members make of it. And I spend two days thinking about it. But looking at the state Mensa is in, my dislike for social power plays (I consider them a waste of time, I want power over my life, nothing more, nothing less), and considering what else I could do with my time (fingers crossed) — this society just wasn’t worth it to me. I would have to completely contort myself — and for what?
And yeah, that is a hard judgment, and yeah, as the other posting shows, still an emotional one for me (cf. also the quotation at the beginning of this posting). But perhaps it was another lesson I needed to learn: Societies — including Mensa — just aren’t for me. But they still might be something for you. In that case, I’ll still stand by my assessment in the other posting: Make sure you take what you need.
So, that’s the more rational list. I might expand it if I remember other things.