Thursday, June 11, 2009
MENSA AND ... MADNESS
Yesterday's attack at the Holocaust Museum is disturbing. But not for the reasons that you might think. It turns out that the killer, James W. Brunn, was a member of Mensa.
[Mensa is the association of geniuses. That is to say, it is an association of people who have passed the standardized intelligence quotient tests with flying colours. Leaving the limitations of the test itself aside, it can be perhaps be thought of as an organization of people with a genius for passing IQ tests.]
Normally I prefer to think of bigots and extremists as being less intelligent than myself. That is in any case what I assume. It is a very comforting thought. But people like James W. Brunn and Theodore Kaczynski prove me wrong.
Balance, perspective, and common sense may go hand in hand with intelligence, but do not necessarily do so, and there is little evidence that more intelligent people are also saner. Some brainiacs, in fact, can be startlingly loopy. When we moved to the Netherlands in 1962, my parents joined Mensa. It seemed like a good idea, as, they assumed at the time, it would make it easier to meet English-speakers with a certain level of education. They were wrong.
Mensa made it easier to meet people who believed that Amelia Erhart had been kidnapped by space-aliens and was held captive in a giant green triangle flying around the sun. As well as individuals who had joined Scientology and were convinced, CONVINCED, that the solution to all of mankind's problems lay in worshipful obedience to Elron. Plus other beliefs even more absurd.
Many of these people were adept at twisting words, and experts at "finding" evidence that supported their views. The more able they were in this regard, the less open to reason or rational conversation they proved themselves. Having a super-brain set them aside from normal social interaction, and made them susceptible to creative re-interpretation of reality.
You cannot have a normal conversation with someone who is mad as a hatter.
My parents dropped out of Mensa within a few years. Dealing with brilliant nutballs was not nearly as stimulating as they had hoped.
[Personally, I doubt that it was stimulating at all - several of the staggeringly insane people whom I know due to living in San Francisco are of genius level. I do not find them stimulating, and I wish to have naught to do with their stimulation.]
Later on, one of my father's colleagues finally was allowed to join Mensa. And was extremely surprised to find a person in the list of members with the SAME NAME as my father. Was my father a relative of this man? Did he know him? Where they, perhaps, distant cousins? How interesting that someone had the same name! And had my father ever been accidentally mistaken for that man? Had he met him?
My father solemnly confessed that no, he had never been mistaken for that man, in fact had no idea that there was another person in the whole of the Netherlands with the same name, how remarkable that the names were identical! If he ever met that man, he would be sure to express wonder at the fate that had given them the same handle.
It was very perspicacious of you to notice that the names were the same.
And congratulations on being a member of Mensa.
We had NO idea that you were so smart.
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