See what you think.
One thing that has precluded me from taking part in Mensa events, which have mostly been ‘Meet and Eat’s, in the past, is the inherent assumption (which, I would contend, is exclusive) that we can all afford to participate in such an enterprise. Poverty precludes such participation and the vast majority of those of us with high IQ, just like the vast majority of the rest of the population, struggle to get enough money together to meet our basic needs and obligations, which makes booking a seat at a table in a restaurant an activity we undertake to mark only very rare events, if, indeed, at all.
Of course, I don’t resent those who can participate in such events: bon appetit! I say. But let’s stop the pretence that this is an inclusive invitation: it is not. Some recent events (particularly those organised by Ger Heaney), however, got me thinking about how it is possible to increase inclusivity, to make Mensa meetings much more democratic (including ones that look at Democracy in Action!). If we want to allow a much broader cohort of Mensans to meet, and, perhaps, even broaden the conversation to include thinking about what being a Mensan might mean, how we might contribute to supporting one another in the struggles and challenges we face, perhaps as a result of having high IQ, then we have to use our intelligence more creatively. This, by definition (I would argue), we are eminently qualified to do.
Being part of a society whose elitism is based on intelligence (if, indeed, intelligence is an elite trait: I’m not sure that it is, but it’s certainly undervalued, in my experience, in the broader society) should not extend automatically to an elitism based on wealth. Wealth and intelligence most certainly do not go hand in hand. High IQ and creativity, inventiveness, resourcefulness, fun, wit, curiosity, a thirst for knowledge and, I would argue, at least a potential propensity towards wisdom, on the other hand, almost always do.
This is my situation: I am underemployed, and, as a consequence, I am (relatively speaking) poor. I have been wealthy in the past, but various conditions, including, very possibly, my own IQ, caused me to ask so many questions, and uncover so much that was nonsensical, absurd, corrupt and unjust about the way that society and culture encourage a deliberate ignorance about how to live, that I could not but rock the proverbial boat, tipping myself out of the right to privilege, into a sea of indifference.
Attempting to change any system from within is nigh on impossible, according both to my brilliant supervisor, Barbara Harrell-Bond, and to the wonderful Leonard Cohen, who knows about these things. Shifting perspective, however, subtly alters the relationships between all other interconnections. No higher power will extricate us from the mesh we’re in, but we can use our wit and wisdom to change how we look at it, and alter our attitude, and that has powerful ramifications. By working out ways to meet that allow for more inclusion, more participation, we are using the very tools that have drawn us together in the first place: our intelligence, our capacity to problem-solve.
Four Mensans and various members of their families met to circumnavigate Erris Head over the weekend. None of us ordinary, all facing various manifestations of the same mundane and draining difficulties that come from living on the edge, in more ways than one. It was fun to have one of them to stay, and to spend a bit more time exchanging ideas, and seeing what light one person’s experience sheds on another’s.
Relationships are reciprocal. None of us benefits from precluding the participation or contributions of those who have something to share, particularly in a society set up in the name of all of its members. But it takes an effort to use our intelligence so that we find ways to ensure that there are opportunities even for those of us who are chronically strapped for cash, to bring what we have to offer to the table. We don’t want crumbs. We most certainly don’t want a scrap: we’ve enough and more to struggle with already. But we do want a place at the table, as fellow Mensans, having established our right to be here.
Ireland, the isle of saints and scholars, has a long history of thoughtfulness (despite the stereotyping by her powerful neighbour of her people as ‘thick’, uneducated, unwilling to be educated, doltish or otherwise unintelligent). Dr Tom Duddy explores this in his book, A History of Irish Thought. What’s interesting, though, is that scholarship is associated with intelligence, a kind of analytic, morally neutral quality of intellectual investigation, whereas sainthood is associated with a focus on ‘the good': what acts will benefit us, as people, to further the common good?
But, as Nick Maxwell points out in his extensive study of wisdom and the campaign to encourage institutions devoted to learning to extend their remit, and focus on helping humanity learn to live more wisely, wisdom and intelligence are not entirely separable. In fact, it is our unhealthy obsession with research as a tool for profit in business, without any questioning of the basis for such a social and economic model, that has led us into our present predicament.
The tradition of linking wisdom with intelligence, or scholarship with a modern-day interpretation of saintliness (defined simply as the desire to benefit humanity, and the wider world, altruistically, or in recognition of our interconnectedness), has deep roots here in Ireland. Jonathan Swift in his ‘Modest Proposal’ was clearly pointing out the brutality of thinking without an accompanying sense of empathy. Beckett explores the agony, but also the necessity for honest acknowledgement, of living without traditional reference points, and how we still seek to reach for some connection, to make a noise within the absurdity and nonsense, that might mean something to someone else.
However, there are also many Irish examples of the collective, or individual, use of intelligence to undercut, or harm, communities or individuals. Eamon de Valera has a mixed reputation, as does Bono, with his (perhaps understandable) unwillingness to contribute to the tax coffers of the country (coffers that have been ransacked to benefit a tiny proportion of bondholders while the majority of contributors still bear the brunt of the national debt – something of an example of collective scoundrel-ism). Michael O’Leary has not necessarily created social cohesion or benefitted the environment, or even created job security for many of his employees, although his business model has certainly helped make flying more affordable. More seriously, there are no doubt many good reasons why those who joined religious orders became abusers, but the harm they perpetrated is an enduring legacy of horror and shame. No doubt you can think of other saints who were scholars, or scholars – or at least relatively intelligent individuals – who were scoundrels.
What of the future? What of current attempts to create a coherent strategy that will benefit all? Mostly, now, we think of this happening at the political sphere. But scholarship has an important role to play in creating a thinking space for how to live. Scholarship is never neutral. There are always underlying frameworks, how the scholar imagines, consciously or unconsciously, the world to be, or the world as they would like it to be. An enquiry into how we can live not just intelligently, but wisely, is worth pursuing, even if the questions such an endeavour raises are difficult and controversial.
To see more of Maxwell’s work, go to http://www.ucl.ac.uk/from-knowledge-to-wisdom
The rich do not create jobs in the same way that ordinary consumers do. More equal societies create more jobs, because more people have relatively more money. More unequal societies create fewer jobs because most people can’t afford to buy more than the basics. Jobs are a consequence of a feedback loop between consumers and suppliers. Higher taxes need to be collectible through internationally applicable legislation that does not allow the super-rich to salt money away in tax havens.
A more equal society is a fairer society, but only if the super rich are not able to escape a globally applicable tax system.
The Gamanrad was a tribe that came to (invaded??) Erris from the Continent, probably in two waves, 1000 BC, and around 600 BC or perhaps a little earlier. They were a section of the people known as Fir Domnann. A few years ago, I began to see if I could network with a loose collective of people in Erris who were interested in ecologically mindful action – not just beachcleans, but deeper thinking about how we connect with this place, and what we can do to ‘tread lightly’, as Yeats said, on our own dreams and visions of the future. After some meetings, and with the agreement of the 20 or so people who came along (I advertised these meetings as widely as I could) we decided we would maintain a loose network, rather than form a formal group. I called the group Gamanrad, after this early tribe, because they developed a highly sophisticated culture, but left little trace, except stories and myths. If you want to be a part of this loose collective, if you consider yourself already to be a part, then please get in touch. The kind of things we think about are the status of a large portion of Erris as an SAC, and what that might mean; conflicts in the use of loughs, land and marine areas, and what might be done to respond to these; littering, burning, and other damaging activity, and how to address it; walking access and old rights of way; protection of species; native species restoration; and any other thoughts people have that they want to share. There is no hierarchy to this group. Anyone can be a member. All I would ask is that no one creates a hierarchy or tries to lead it. It has no ideology. It has no end. It is entirely means-oriented, which means it is the way that we interact that counts, each and every single time.