The Intense and Utter Weirdness Of 'High IQ Societies'
You've probably heard of Mensa, and maybe you've also heard of their reputation for socially awkward stuffiness. Members must grade in the 98th percentile on a standardized intelligence test, meaning that only about one in 50 people can get in. "Intelligence tests" are an objectively terrible way of measuring actual intelligence, but hey, boring nerds need a clubhouse as much as anyone, and we respect the aims of any society capable of screening us out of membership.
But then there are high IQ societies that look down upon Mensa. They declare, "1 in 50? Pshaw! We would never deign to associate with such plebes!" The Triple Nine Society requires you to hit the 99.9th percentile, which is one in 1,000 people (even though these supposed geniuses think that it's a good idea to use the bastard son of Papyrus for their website font). If that's still too lowbrow for you, the Prometheus Society says that only one in 30,000 could pass their test, a benchmark for "extreme intelligence that often makes it difficult to find understanding and intellectual camaraderie in the general population" -- probably at least in part because they talk like that.
Not to be outdone, the Mega Society claims that their test can only be passed by the 99.9999th percentile, at which point it really just seems like they're trying to make themselves feel special. And yet as the intelligence standards go up, the web design quality goes way down.
The Omega Society also claims a literal one in a million standard, but with the added bonus of sounding like an organization that's trying to murder the X-Men. Although their own claims to intellectual godhood are dubious, given that their site's view counter (remember those?) is nowhere near seven digits.
There are more of these societies, but you get the idea. The moment you set a standard, some people want to show off by going well beyond it. That's how you encourage people to accomplish great things, but it's also how you end up with a weird combination of unintentional comedy and sinister undertones.
Again, we're far too stupid to join, but we do have access to many works by these societies, where we learn that the Western world's great intelligentsia are, uh, talking about what a hassle it is to own a Porsche, providing updates on their cats, and writing silly poems to make fun of club leaders that they don't like. They're also arguing about the existence of God (they haven't reached any definitive conclusions) and complaining that they're "outside the 'window of comprehension' of almost all the population" -- a problem that "hardly exists for most Mensans."
It's a mix of the adorably mundane and the insufferably pretentious. These are people who clearly wrote their clubs' exhaustive constitutions, not because they needed them, but because they wanted to write a constitution. Wait, are high IQ societies just Reddit for old people?
But there's also outright arrogance. One member compiled examples of what he saw as club executive overreach, quoting Thomas Jefferson in his rambling essays about the cruel tyranny of not having a financial audit conducted to his satisfaction. In the midst of this, he casually mentioned, "This archive is intended to serve as a rallying point for those who object to authoritarian control in the high-IQ societies. If exceptionally intelligent people can't throw off the yoke of tyranny the world at large has little realistic hope of doing so." Hopefully he gets those issues sorted out soon, so that he can move on to peacefully bringing down the North Korean government!
There are many little moments like that, where it's lamented that society isn't built for the genius of people who are really good at anagrams. Most of their members don't have that overt elitist streak, but there's still a certain unspoken assertion in declaring that people must ace something called the Titan Test if they wish to be considered an equal to the Prometheus Society. Those of you who are up on your mythology will of course remember that Prometheus gave humanity the ability to strive for progress and scientific truth by running a Yahoo group and sporadically publishing a newsletter containing unusually difficult crossword puzzles.
The point of all of this isn't to just make fun of nerds, although that was very much a factor. But we as a society are still obsessed with the idea of intelligence as something that's proven as a statistical fact, rather than something that's demonstrated through useful action. There are parents who give their toddlers intelligence tests and spend hundreds of dollars on products and fads that offer the false claim of boosting a child's intelligence. The now-debunked Baby Einstein videos and toys made hundreds of millions of dollars, and only one generation prior, a bestselling book of bullshit promised to boost your child's IQ by 30 points.
Parents are pushing schools to get their children labeled as gifted, not because they think their children need a specially tailored education, but because it's viewed as a status symbol, something to brag about after someone else's kid tries to eat a battery. The vague, dubious term often does more harm than good. These high IQ societies have no shortage of "highly gifted" people discussing the fact that they had painful, difficult childhoods. But we still hear the term and assume that any child with the label is destined to cure cancer, or at least become the next Elon Musk. (But like, Elon ten years ago. The impressive Elon.)
Intelligence is a hugely complicated concept. Distilling it down to a single number is convenient, but also has the tendency to either make kids crack under immense pressure or send the message that they can cruise on their intelligence instead of learning how to work. Many "gifted" kids grow up to lead respectable average lives, yet feel like they squandered their potential, and we've all encountered adults who brag about their IQ because it gives them something to feel confident about in lieu of any tangible accomplishments. One of those people is the current president, which alone should destroy the dubious link between IQ and professional success.
And we always, always have to remember that otherwise-smart people can believe very stupid things. Like double Nobel laureate Linus "I'm one of the most important goddamn scientists ever" Pauling believing the quackery that consuming dangerously large amounts of vitamin C can cure cancer ... right up until he died of cancer.
Thankfully, you don't just have to take our four-cracks-at-the-sixth-grade opinion on it.
High IQ societies make for a weird microcosm of the many different places a "gifted" person can end up in life. One of the Prometheus Society's most famous members is a successful writer and lecturer, although with a last name like Savant, she may have had destiny on her side. Another is best remembered for assembling a dictionary of the occult that seems legitimately worried about the threat of magicians and vampires. Other members range from professors to bouncers, from the happily married to the bitterly divorced. Some have fun conversations with their pals, and some are snobs who accomplish little of note beyond squabbling over nothing.
Learning is great, but it's what you do with it that counts, which is an attitude that you can have no matter what a test says about your intelligence. But whenever someone says, "Why are all these idiots in charge of the world? We should be making the smartest people run our governments and corporations!" keep in mind that doing so wouldn't get you a utopia. You'd pretty much get reality just as it is today, wherein some people are trying to be productive members of society, and others ramble at the internet about magic vampires.
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