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.