I think that the most robust measurement of intelligence is whether or not you think that intelligence is a phenomenon that can be measured by spending two hours in a hall in the back end of York, ticking boxes and deciding which shapes look the most similar.
Even if taking a MENSA test can accurately assess whether your intelligence is in the top 2% of humanity, how does a comparatively planet-sized brain reason that this is an appropriate use of your time? The only response to this level of hubris is a beating served with whichever piece of MENSA merchandise you have subsequently bought to parade your aptitude, in the hope that you lose a few brain cells, you fall, and your high horse gallops off into a nearby forest to live a fulfilling life of eating grass and doing horsey things. A more fulfilling life than MENSA members hope to lead.
Maybe my judgement is excessive (don’t read into it too much before you get to the paragraph where I reveal whether I got in or not!), and that if people want to set up their own club for social events and generally good ends then that’s fine. However, when you limit it based on narrow conceptions of intellect, and one of your official objectives is “to identify and foster human intelligence for the benefit of humanity”, this speaks to a level of wankery saved only for the most ardent champions of masturbatory glee.
As soon as I announced to my housemates that I would be taking a test that would once and for all quantitatively state just how thick I was, their eyes lit up with a hunger and desire only glimpsed in that Channel 4 programme Supersize vs Superskinny when the fat one looks over at the 4,000 packets of Skips that they usually have for breakfast while they suck the life out of a withering leaf of lettuce. From that moment on, every action and conversation I had was under intense scrutiny. Luckily, the attacks largely came from housemates who study Economics.
If arriving a full five minutes late to the examination centre and interrupting the introduction for the other eleven candidates didn’t highlight my inadequacies to be there alongside them, failing to bring any stationery with me and being asked very loudly by the examiner “what sort of journalist doesn’t carry a pen” let everyone know I was an outsider before I had even answered a question.
It was a complete Kelloggs Variety pack of people there taking the test, including two people who probably still get bought them by their mothers. It was hard to tell whether the two young children, probably around the age of eleven, actually wanted to be there. Their eyes told a tale of years of pushy parenting, which seemed to have already got the best of them, resigned to the fact that the pencil they held to complete the exam would be used in the future to sign the cheque for counselling services. The rest of the assembled examinees were a diverse bunch but the neuroticism hung in the air, so thick you could almost taste it.
The tests largely revolved around patterns, shapes, and tasks where you had to decide which words were the most relational or opposite. Each test was under strict time conditions, and I was pressed for time in each test, resulting in the random ticking of numerous boxes at the end of each test.
It turns out that randomly selecting A, B, C or D may not be the worst strategy after all. On the more literacy-based examination I scored 124 (132 was the score needed to qualify for MENSA) and in the more numerical one I scored 147 (with a threshold of 148). To become a member of MENSA, you needed to pass only one of the two exams, and a sense of relief washed over me when I realised I hadn’t scored in the double figures and subsequently resigned myself to baby-proofing my house.
Failing by a single mark is arguably the perfect score. It means that I am just below the level of certified genius, which is good because it means I’m obviously very intelligent, but it won’t go to my head. It will also appease my bank balance as certifiable cleverness comes at the price of a £50 a year membership fee. Although, I could definitely have done with a big old plaque on the back of my door to remind me of my worth on daily basis.
Maybe I’ll just make my own. Maybe I could start a rival society that contains the same testing but allows you in regardless. Another of MENSA’s stated objectives is: “To provide a stimulating intellectual and social environment for its members.” Do you know anyone who is overtly very, very intelligent? Tell me that they’re not a bit knobby? A self-congratulatory intellectual circle-jerk sounds like the sort of social environment where human contact goes to die. I prefer my social interaction with at least a slim possibility of sustaining a head injury, or flippant, mildly offensive ignorance.
One moment stuck with me that sums up the whole experience, and ties up the article with a big old coloured and poignant bow – like wrapping on a present for people like me who don’t actually know how to read or write. As the final test finished and we all put our pens down, the sound of children laughing crept into the vacuous hall, and the head of the young boy sitting in front of me, swiveled around towards the sound of the place, the place where he should have been. As students, we have forgotten how to have fun. Alcohol consumption is down, coffee consumption is up. Do you know how boring people who actively drink coffee are? Caring about your own exact level of intelligence is even more boring. Being stupid and saying you’re wrong is one of the most pleasant attributes of people, in a society where being wrong is fatal, and being right gets you a job and means you can eat. I say stand with me, say yes to starvation, yes to knobby and exclusive social organisations, yes to being arsey about things and groups that don’t really matter but being obliged to write an article about it because they let you do something for free.
Sidenote: I am currently writing this article in a pub next to King’s Cross station. One of the four people sat at the table adjacent to me just said Ben Fogle really loudly in conversation. Two of the four are wearing beanies indoors. Three of the four have cases on their iPhones. These are the type of people that MENSA want to attract. These are the type of people that are deemed intelligent enough to be ordinary functioning members of our society. There aren’t enough lifeboats for us all, something the truly intelligent among us have known for quite some time.