In the Spirit of Collegial Inquiry...

updated: 2 Jun 98

IQ Societies: Some Observations on the Maelstrom

EM:   What can one think about the extreme i.q. societies?. One may have an opinion, to be sure, and I do. Several, to be exact. I would define myself as an informed lurker on the fringe. I have read some of the publications, followed some of the vendettas, and met some of the participants. The first surprise I encountered in investigating these groups were that they suffered the same personality abrasions as did the groups with less exalted entrance requirements. The second was that the conflicts were more venomous, vicious and vindictive. Lawsuits abounded, the character assasination was of the highest order, with obscure literary references, not always in English or living languages.

The grammar and spelling were impeccable, a welcome relief from the online chat groups I must now endure. After many decades of earnest and futile search, I have come to the conclusion, or theory, that the purpose and meaning of life, if any, is the protection and enhancement of the individual ego. This seems to be consistent, and it does manifest in the dynamics of the high i.q. groups, as well as all other areas of human interaction, as best I can apprehend.

We all seem to have consistent and replicated patterns of telling each other we approve, or disapprove, of each other. How do I hate/love thee? Let me count the ways. Let me examine the letters to the editor of the various high i.q. publications. There is a definable pattern. There is a consistency of mammalian life form social stratification, see the currently popular writings of Edward Wilson and his beloved and infernal word "consilience". I may agree with him, and I do, but I don't have to like the word "consilience" and I don't".

Coherence is close enough for me. I think it useful and important to study the means of testing whatever it is that gets tested by these ever more recondite tests brought forth by those with no more pressing problems in life. I am much more concerned with what is important about such tests apart from a crude numerical stratification. A few months ago I saw a new test that was to clearly define the quality, or qualities, of genius. I made a list of those who most readily spring to mind when the quality is adduced, and found that none of them came even close to conformity to the qualities proposed and measured.

We can note, measure and discuss those who qualify at the highest ranges of test measurement, much as we can do the same with the annual Fortune 500 list of those who juggle a different set of numbers. If the possession of a four sigma i.q. were an assurance of a consistently greater measure of happiness in life, I could see much merit in it. This seems to me to be, unhappily, not the case. Unlike those on the Fortune 500 list who know precisely where they stand and what they have, their peers on the i.q. 500 list seem undecided and insecure, ever devising more arcane tests to determine placemnt and order. This strikes me as a function of social stratification and ego gratification.

VWB:   Is this something that all the high IQ organizations do? Have I made a mistake in placing my trust in these folks...? It seems that many of you belong to more then one group and I would just like to know what to expect. I have belonged to Mensa for some time and found them very strange and have just joined this and four other groups hoping for something better. So what can I expect from these other folks? It seems like all of the groups have a lot of fighting going on within them... why? They all seem to have people grouping into us against them (for the people who have been in a long time) and a large group of new people, who, if they don't join one side are just left out all together. Why is it so hard for people who are so smart and should be able to see what is going on to just get along? Take the time to stop and just get along. Sorry for the rambling but I guess I just had to vent.

LDL:   Your heart is very kind ... may your life experience always be gentle. There are a lot of strong egos, chemically loaded people of various sorts, lots of capacity for individualization, and determination to guide our own lives, in the High IQ groups. Sometimes, we have a determination to guide other peoples lives as well. So, we sort of have to sort each other out, find who fits well enough with our own world view to embrace as a friend. A little simplistic explanation, perhaps, but these groups seem more as a means for like minded people to find each other than for discovering sweeping solutions to worldwide problems.

That's a bit of how I see it at any rate... most of us, at one time or another, are just super smart kids in bigger, older, but not necessarily all that much wiser bodies. Thou, you, and, yes, even me! Blush!

CML:   The piece on extreme high IQ societies is on the mark, although a few qualifications are in order. I don't think every participant is an aspiring Machiavelli, but those who are tend to be much more relentless in their power plays. The reason, probably, is that the elite groups are much smaller than those beneath them, and therefore much more easily taken over by small but dedicated cliques... especially given what can only be described as apathy and distrust on the parts of the rest. If one looks at the vicious history of the elite groups, one sees the same names pop up with the tedious regularity of an unloved season.

Politics and character assassination are not what such groups are supposed to be about. They're supposed to be about solving difficult and important problems. Unfortunately, most of those who actually possess the ability to do that are too busy actually doing it to bother with IQ tests, especially the super high-end kind that can take weeks to finish.

Personally, I'm trying to turn that around. I've solved quite a few major problems myself, although I'm afraid that getting the solutions acknowledged is another matter entirely. Nevertheless, I think the best thing to do, if one is repelled by the constant bickering and negativity, is to outperform the bickerers, show them what a high IQ is really good for, and shame them into silence.

AL:   I agree with your analysis; my own, similar, view is that if a high IQ is a culture-bound measure of one's ability to solve the most challenging problems, then bickering is an insidious trap and energy-drain... possibly even an escape from all-too-real problems beckoning to be solved.

But then, I wouldn't know about the dynamics of these groups first hand, as Collegium** was the first I'd joined. After having read "A short and bloody history of... hi-Q societies" on the Chimera web-page, I'll admit that I was glad I'd waited. I view the combination of a high-IQ and a contentious disposition to be most alarming, or rather, more alarming than the disposition alone, owing to the sheer power and fluency (not to mention the literary references in Ancient Greek) behind such an individual's thoughts, words and actions. And yet, I'm certain there's much to be gained within these societies, in spite of the spite.

As for showing them "what a high IQ is really good for," some would argue that hi-Qers are not obligated to perform feats of greatness for society. In fact, I've read justifications of this view in a Giftedness newsletter. There's something noble and almost lyrical, though, in seeing a gifted person (particularly someone with prodigious ability) soar to, or approach, their limits. If their goals help advance society, all the better, IMHO. These are the people I most admire. (I'm just humanity's toady. {g}) Then again, there's that double-edged sword wielded by Einstein and Oppenheimer...

I've moved beyond your analysis in my meditations, Chris. My apologies. :) Any takers? Be gentle, my caffeine hasn't kicked in yet.

N.B. Would that all major, original accomplishments were properly acknowledged!

CML:   By the way, I too am a little confused by Julia's reaction to the knowledge that a couple of Collegium** members are "on the inside", as they say. Did they do something particularly heinous? Has it been proven that they falsified their credentials or cheated on the entrance exam? It seems a shame to break up a group that seemed to be going so well. Julia's been doing a great job, but I can't help feeling that a bit more explanation would be nice for those of us in the dark.

LDL:   I doubt that a high IQ in and of itself is good for much of anything... in my life I have known mentally retarded people who have a better grasp on the meaning of it all. A dog, possibly even a bright cat, has more grasp of the meaning to life than many so-called intelligent people who grasp for this, for that, struggle and strain, weep and wail, and die alone, bitter, and feel like failures.

We have one life to live and even if, as some believe, we have more than that, we must live this one as if it was the only one; else if there is only one, we lose all. Be as happy as we can be, knowing that there are others living in misery. Make as much as you can of every moment, knowing that however long you live it will most likely seem too short at the end. Find people to love, people who love you, and make them and yourself, your first priority. All else is mere illusion, games to console yourself in the uncertainty that is the only certainty.

Alpha ape, arghh, me no ape, me chimpanzee. Chimps are scientists. Apes are warriors. Remember Planet of the Apes? Apes are always alpha on the planet of the apes. {GriN!} With that said your points are well taken and if you have any ideas how to diminish such conflicts I would be most interested in your opinion. Quite frankly, as much as I felt I owed a certain loyalty to TNS, in the end, I had to quit. I had been a member for more years than I care to remember. It bothered me more than I care to admit. But I felt helpless to do anything to help right the cart, once the cart had tipped over. Julia resigned with me for essentially the same reason.

CLF:   For many high IQ people, the sense of "self" is tied to the workings of the mind; such a person may identify himself as being primarily "what's in my mind, what thoughts my mind can generate". His worth as a whole person ties directly to, is determined directly by, the worth of his thoughts. When those thoughts are challenged, when the "products" of the mind seem exposed as "lesser in quality", "inadequately precise", trivial, etc..., his self-esteem plummets; the challenge to his thoughts is also a challenge to his worth as a person. Likewise, he becomes defensive... more defensive than those without such a definition of "self" would think warranted; he defends a "mere idea" as though he were defending his very life.

Such an extreme reaction hardly seems rational; a person probably will still eat tomarrow, still be able to see the azaleas and hear the bees hum, even if his line of reasoning is shown to contain faults. Ironically, however, such an extreme reaction seems especially common among those who pride themselves most in their rationality. And so, many of the high IQ society battles seem to revolve around "unimportant things", seem to involve a lot of semantic nitpicking... while the core issues, if any ever existed at all, are hidden entirely.

And then, there's that old drive for dominance, the urge to be the Alpha ape. This can take many forms: Owning the fastest and shiniest sportscar on the block, building muscles which all contenders must envy, flaunting the most extravagant wardrobe of any lady at an elite club. Among high IQers, this may show in commonplace (but tedious and annoying to onlookers) political power plays, in equally mundane (and more irritating) character "assassinations", in games of intellectual one-upsmanship, and sometimes in threats / harassment.

Communication between members occurs mainly through the written word... which may create a unique "group dynamic". When responding in writing, one enjoys a "lag period", time to compose, reconsider, edit one's reply. Likewise, some initially irate people might, after taking time to think things over, suppress an initial impulse to respond with a battle cry; others, however, may use this "lag time" to strategically plan out an even more clever offensive, to analyse their "opponent's" shortcomings thoroughly, and respond with comments far deadlier than any they would think up in ordinary conversation.

Listeners who are irritated by all this, if forced to endure such company in real life, might then act as mediators, doing things to distract people when mere debate escalates into warfare (this is when someone interrupts to offer "more drinks"), making comments which help people recognize their "common ground" as well as their differences, etc... However, in a written forum, these potential mediators often react by simply skipping all the contentious letters/articles; they avoid the fray because they can, may end up lurking or dropping out of the society, etc.... Likewise, a small number of people who thrive on such adversarial power plays become the most outspoken (sometimes the only speakers) in the group, dominating its journals with their bickering, even though their antics might irritate the majority of the group.

LDL:   I'm not sure that is the problem. I tend to identify myself as primarily what's in my mind, what thoughts can my mind generate. However, my worth as a whole is not tied to those concepts... my own thinking, while held primary in consideration over other people's thinking, is really a second order priority. A hug, a kiss, a little tender cuddling, a camping trip into the woods, good conversation with friends, a sunset, another sunrise, these are high order priorities and what I use to define my worth.

Am I sufficiently perceptive to know when to support those I love and when to encourage them to take on a task without me? Do I know enough about them and their thoughts to appreciate who they are, to let them know how special they are to me? One can be self-identifying without being self-absorbed. As for having my thoughts exposed as "lesser in quality" or "inadequately precise". Well that wouldn't be the first time!

How could I grow and learn if I let such things upset me? Yes, like most of us here, I am inordinately used to being right, but that's just the way it is... it's what I do, not what I am. I also pride myself on rationality, but part of that rationality is listening to others and trying to determine who is right with the realization in mind that I, and whoever I am discussing with, are both human and can be mistaken, no matter how strongly we hold something to be true.

I extol the scientific method, but sentimentality can have a place and may, for many, be a far better love. Rationality works for me, but I know it doesn't work for everyone. Is it more important that we agree philosophically, or that we both enjoy a game of ping pong together? Do we need agree on a definition of god, or, in my case, a lack of one? Or is it better to discuss how we manage to survive in a too often hostile world?

Can a person who believes the myths are true, find friendship with someone who loves the myths but thinks them false, and those two find further friendship , with someone who finds the same consolation in historical tales of real men and women? If not, why not? How are they different? Must we antagonize each other over trivialities? Can we appreciate each other without being of a similar outlook? Are our differences real and therefore hostility unavoidable, or are they mere contrivances that can be set aside by any good hearted person? These are questions I ask and while they may seem self answering, apparently for a great many human beings they are not. Why?

Afterthought... with the stipulation that one must actively oppose those who would do physcial harm to another, or instigate same, or to another's property, or to children. There are some lines in the sand that must be drawn deeply and sharply defined. But, in discussion, those lines are generally never in question. All replies would be most welcome...

CML:   The recent exchange has brought up some key elements in superhigh-IQ group dynamics. However, it sometimes seems that some of us take the view that the incessant acrimony is proof that a high IQ is good for nothing but misery. That's not true. A high IQ or IEQ is a necessary but insufficient component of genius. It does whatever its bearer's psychological makeup predisposes it to do.

Of course, a very high IQ or IEQ has its own set of components, one of which seems to be mental aggression... the ability to "turn up the heat" on any intractable problem, be it a problem in logic or in group dynamics. This form of aggression provides raw emotional energy for solving very difficult problems.

It is also true that the world is a very complex place, and the higher one's IQ or IEQ, the more attuned one becomes to its messy details. This, of course, can lead to an obscuration of the forest by the trees. While a truly stratospheric intelligence is able to turn this into a real grasp of the big picture, that's a laborious process that many high-IQ types are not willing to endure.

What we can't lose sight of, however, is that most of the acrimony is ultimately personal, and should not be confused with the central point of any logical discussion. If two high-IEQ types are clawing each other to shreds over a point of binary logic, the thing to do is not to mollify the one who is wrong at the expense of logic by reducing the argument to a "matter of opinion". It is to skim away the emotional contamination and decide the matter objectively.

That requires both time and concentration. Were there no well-meaning and intelligent people up to this challenge, humanity's intellectual progress would come to a standstill. Unfortunately, a high IQ often reveals that it is much easier to pervert a matter of fact into a matter of opinion than to admit that one is factually mistaken, or to quietly go along with others who do this. But not every problem can be solved by compromise.

Of course, other problems can be. I now understand Julia's concerns a little better. On the other hand, I'm sure that there is also something to be said on Greg's behalf... e.g., that he believes in the importance of rehabilitation, and knows that ostracism only precludes it. Somewhere, their views intersect.

JWC:   Having attended six annual meetings of TNS as well as several Mensa gatherings where ISPE and TNS members were present, I have had the opportunity to put, not only the face, but the real person in place of the written word. I agree totally with Charmaine that so many high IQ persons appear to value themselves, at least in print, as determined by the worth of their thoughts, which go unchallenged at the time of inscription.

It is amazing how differently that reaction translates when social graces must be incorporated into the face to face meeting. I have seen no less that three people leave because no one agreed with their ideas, even before those ideas were presented. I have seen the most belligerent, if not dynamic personalities, get upset if other people at the dinner table ordered the 'wrong' food. I have seen, on at least six occasions, public chastisement of one person to another over petty annoyances.

I have even observed, though mercifully to a small degree, attempts to impress the group with 'how smart I am', not 'who I am'. What strikes me the most is that the experience is 'no more - no less' what I see in everyday life. I guess you could just say, there are a lot of socially inept persons at all levels of intelligence. Perhaps what the more intelligent person has developed is that 'more creative' level of social ineptness.

EM:   Julia, you were a bit mystified by my {earlier} comment about Ron Hoeflin. It was relative to the publication he edits, In-Genius, which seems to be devoted to the presentation, examination, and evaluation of extreme high i.q. tests. At times it examines the test devisers, and the perfidy, obtusity, and general misanthropic nature of said individuals. As for the tests themselves, I blithely breeze past all such perplexities and exercises in intellectual masochism.

I really was clever forty years ago, and nobody cared. Now I am a senior citizen, much dimmer, and still nobody cares. The moral of all this is that one should not lose much time in worrying about who cares and how much, you get old anyhow. Let me address a few comments to the desired membership of the group, as to intellectual qualification. A cutoff at 99.5 is not aiming for the mainstream, to put it most charitably. One in 200, perhaps?

I would not much be concerned about the lesser lights becoming unknown interlopers in such a group. If someone with an i.q. of a hundred can mislead me for an extended period of time, I no longer would have any need of a high i.q. group for discussion. I would probably find daytime television fascinating, and save large annual expenditures on books and magazine subscriptions.

LDL:   ...In the high IQ organizations... bickering and fighting have driven many of us off, having far more interesting things to do and to accomplish. My life voyage has placed me on many different sides of these issues and one determining factor seems to be a matter of aggression exacerbated by male hormones; which are over-represented in high IQ groups. At one time, insecure and very young, I went toe to toe with others... part of the problem, rather than part of a solution.

CML:   With all due respect, if nobody were willing to go toe to toe with opinionated people... if everyone lacked the necessary male hormones, heh heh!, there would be nothing but opinion. Unfortunately, the defection of self-styled rational people from quarrelsome high-IQ groups has reduced said groups to just this state. That's why they're sufficiently unproductive that there exist so many "more interesting" pursuits for your enjoyment.

JCC:   That's a perfectly correct observation, and it defines what has been a circular process. Discussions become more heated and angry, escalating to personal attack, including the threat of litigation. More introspective folk, who may just have some keys to the substantive issue, withdraw from the arena, moaning something to the effect of "Life's too short." Go to beginning of loop... down the line one finds a group diminished quantitatively and qualitatively.

To the extent that we temper zeal with self-control, there is the opportunity to create an environment that in the cycle of discussion becomes increasingly supportive, warm, and conducive to the spirit of problem solving. Perhaps that's the ultimate IQ test: a collective enterprise. We honor each other in renewed intention to aspire to the best part of discussion... coming away not as warriors, but fencers, with tested edge, slightly wider horizons, and respect for friends who offer a worthy challenge. When done right, even committed lurkers come away feeling that the time has been well spent!

LDL:   But, does a high IQ cause a happiness disability? Of course not! Is it good for nothing? Well, IQ tests test the ability to take IQ tests and, perhaps, a need to have some sort of social validation. Those who have high IQs seem little more, if any, resistant to suggestibility, to dishonesty, to various forms of superstition, to screwing up their lives, to depression, to anxiety, to mental and physical affliction, to maintaining life-threatening habits, or to unhappy relationships. In fact, high intelligence may be a big stumbling block in sexual relationships, particularly for the male. Enuff said!

CW:   It would seem that the stumbling block is that many people would like to be acknowledged for solving important problems before having actually solved any of them. When that isn't forthcoming everything becomes a little unhinged. That is to some degree the problem of using IQ tests to attract/select people... some of them actually want to know their IQ. Apart from possibly meeting other collaborators in a HIQ society, this knowledge is of little practical utility.

LDL:   Have there been any human problems solved by any high IQ group? ...implemented into the world? I know Dave Kret was gifted children's coordinator in Phoenix Mensa and made some strides in creating educational programs form the children of Mensans. That's pretty good, but he did it as a state legislator, not as a Mensan.

CW:   We might want to investigate some of the techniques on utilizing intuition presented by organizations such as the Intuition Network. I have a pretty good video from them. One technique that makes a difference but is not covered in their video is good record keeping. If you have ideas always keep something around to record them. In your pocket, by your bed. Record them, anything, no matter how silly it seems and forget about it. If you do this on a regular basis you might be surprised by the mass of material that is continually coming up. I am, I've been doing this for about two years now and I've got a file full of ideas, some of which might even be useful.

CLF:   Difficult question to really answer. The high IQ groups, as recognizable entities in themselves, don't seem to have made significant direct contributions; however, it's difficult to know whether they may have contributed indirectly to an individual member's contribution. For example, on-line or journal discussions might have been the catalyst which stimulated a member to think more deeply about a subject, research it more rigorously, and ultimately make a scholarly contribution.

Or, a person might meet people at a gathering who, in turn, introduce him to others who become invaluable in the networking needed to advance his ideas. On a more prosaic level, being accepted into these societies might boost someone's self confidence just enough, so that he is now willing to present his ideas to others. My guess (and just a hunch, I haven't collected tangible data) is that membership may be one of many factors contributing to accomplishment and that the exact role played by the high IQ society may vary.

For example, one might propose that David Kret's legislative strides in advancing gifted education were helped by the greater awareness of giftedness issues which he acquired through Mensa membership; with such an awareness, he would then be able to speak with greater conviction to his fellow legislators, and be able to back up his assertions with persuasive anecdotes and facts (many learned through his Mensa association).

CW:   One problem that I have noticed is the variation in educational level of members in hiq groups makes it difficult to discuss technical issues in depth. One interesting finding about intuitive group process is that the non-experts frequently notice more than the experts in any given field. Good example of this relating to previous comments is Penrose writing a book on neurology and cognition... subjects that he didn't have university training in when he wrote about them.

** Notes: Certain incarcerated convicts sought and secured membership in "IQ" societies as a means to respectability and outside support. One can't really blame them for that. The problem was that (1) members' names and addresses were circulated without consent behind prison walls; (2) two of the three prisoners achieved far less than the qualifying scores; (3) members were not informed or consulted, surprise!; (4) direct requests for explanation were ignored; and (5) instead, intention was expressed by the coordinator of Collegium to hide the reality of a prisoner clique. Beyond that are serious concerns about the use of various tests of subjective content. In my book, a critical mass of poor judgment or worse. With regrets, I resigned, steering my online group back to the original concept as "Colloquy". Collegium was quickly disbanded, then reconstituted as "Poetic Genius Society" with the same monthly publication, Apotheosis. -Julia.

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