Racists, nerds and chocolate orgy lovers. Who and why joins the organization of the smartest people on the planet?

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Racists, nerds and chocolate orgy lovers. Who and why joins the organization of the smartest people on the planet?

Mensa from The Simpsons

Today about Mensa can be most often heard in the news, when it is reported that another child has been admitted to the “club of the smartest people on the planet”. This organization is usually represented as a kind of semi-closed club, in which people with an off-scale IQ coefficient are members. But what is Mensa really, what does it do? “Lenta.ru” plunged into the history of the most open closed club in the world.

Knights of the convolutions

The history of Mensa began in 1946. Humanity came to its senses after World War II, but a new confrontation has already begun. Winston Churchill's Fulton speech, delivered on March 5, 1946, lowered the iron curtain and made it clear that the main enemy of the “free world” is now its yesterday's ally, the USSR.

In this nervous atmosphere in England, young biochemist Lancelot Ware and Australian-born barrister Roland Burrill formed the High IQ Club, which would later be renamed Mensu. Having met on the train on the way from Oxford to Godalming, the men started talking about phrenology, popular since the beginning of the 19th century, a theory that connected human intellectual abilities with the structure of the skull. Now phrenology is officially recognized as a pseudoscience.

Racists, nerds and chocolate orgy lovers. Who and why joins the organization of the smartest people on the planet?

Roland Burrill

The original name of the organization was supposed to sound like Mensa – “mind” in Latin – but later Berrill and Ware settled on the word Mensa – “table” in the same Latin language. It meant a table at which the brightest minds of mankind would gather and share reflections. In addition, this table was also supposed to refer to the round table of the knights of King Arthur.

Initially, the organization was supposed to unite the smartest people, regardless of religion and origin. The founding fathers of Mensa hoped that it would become a free platform where intellectuals could reflect on the nature of reason and advise on the most important issues to the representatives of governments and corporations who approached them. The official birthday of Mensa was October 1, 1946.

People who passed the IQ test better than 98 percent of competitors could get into Mensa. In other words, only two percent of the brightest minds of humanity could join the organization. This rule has remained unchanged today. However, two completely unexpected circumstances became clear rather quickly.

Wrong geniuses

First of all, it became clear that people with high IQ levels do not necessarily come from the upper strata of society. Most of Mensa's early members came from the working class, which seriously upset and angered Burrill. He, like many people of his era and status, was absolutely sure of the intellectual superiority of the aristocracy over the commoners.

Racists, nerds and chocolate orgy lovers. Who and why joins the organization of the smartest people on the planet?

Lancelot Ware

At one meeting, Burrill proposed that all blacks be expelled from Mensa. The proposal was met with deathly silence, after which the lawyer had to laugh it off, and he proposed to exclude all “green people with yellow stripes.”

Wer was more confused by the fact that the “intellectual giants” in the meetings were much more interested in solving puzzles than thinking about problems of the mind.

At the very early stage of Mensa's existence, it became clear that a person with a high IQ could be anyone. It can be a nuclear physicist, or maybe a simple hard worker. Moreover, the IQ level, as it turned out, does not at all affect the interests of a person and his aspirations in life. A genius by test scores does not necessarily have to be a keen explorer penetrating the mysteries of the universe with a sharpened blade of reason.

All this has remained unchanged today. Mensa proudly declares that people of all nationalities, social backgrounds and education are becoming its members. And even age, considering that the youngest “mensovtsy” were not even three years old.

Useless brains and grandson of a Russian revolutionary

However, governments and corporations were also slow to seek advice from Mensa, and by the early 1950s she was a pretty miserable sight. About 150 people became members of the society, and at meetings they mostly drank, solved puzzles and did not in any way resemble the knights of King Arthur from the intellect.

Burrill became increasingly disenchanted with the idea, and his behavior increasingly irritated the few members of the club. As a result, the founding father left his brainchild. But, having lost its founder, Mensa was replenished with a man to whom it will owe its fame, and possibly survival in general.

Viktor Serebryakoff, as is clear from the surname, is a descendant of immigrants from Russia. True, he was not at all from a family of aristocrats who fled from the revolution, but rather the opposite. His grandfather, Esper Aleksandrovich Serebryakov, not only fought to change the established order in the Russian Empire, but even was a member of the “Narodnaya Volya”. Esper personally knew Andrei Zhelyabov, Sophia Perovskaya and Nikolai Kibalchich, who organized the assassination of Alexander II, and until the end of his days considered these radicals to be his idols.

After the assassination of the emperor, it became more and more difficult for the People's Will to live in their homeland, and in 1883 Esper Serebryakov went abroad. There he wrote articles for the émigré anti-monarchist press, managed to command the Danube flotilla of the Bulgarian Principality and settled in Great Britain. In emigration, his son Vladimir was born – the father of Viktor Serebryakoff.

Victor, born in London in 1912, clearly inherited a powerful and active nature from his grandfather. During the Second World War, he served in the army, where he learned about his remarkable mental abilities thanks to the IQ tests, which were required to pass recruits. After demobilization, Serebryakoff quickly made a career in the timber trade, where he was mainly involved in the introduction of the latest technologies. He joined Mensu in 1949, when the organization had only a few dozen members, and its future was more than vague.

Racists, nerds and chocolate orgy lovers. Who and why joins the organization of the smartest people on the planet?

Victor Serebryakoff. Photo: Truman Moore / Getty Images

Since the beginning of the 50s, Serebryakoff began to actively develop Mensu. It was thanks to his efforts that programs for gifted children appeared, which are still in effect. A respectable British businessman with Russian roots traveled all over the world advertising the “club of the smartest” and became the founder of the American branch of Mensa, which is the largest today.

In other words, it was Viktor Serebryakoff who created a large international organization with tens of thousands of members from an amorphous bunch of people with a high IQ who had not understood why.

And the grandson of the Narodnaya Volya became famous for having compiled several popular books of puzzles, so beloved by the mensovites. Some of them were published in Russia as well.

What are you?

In fact, the tasks of Mensa are defined in its charter, and they can be briefly described as researching human intelligence, creating educational programs for children and advising on any issues. Programs for the younger generation complement regular school education and should contribute to intellectual development. True, any significant success in this field is not widely reported. Mensa publishes intelligence research journals and has a research unit.

However, the majority of the members of the organization, like 75 years ago, perceive “Mensa” as a place for fun parties. The gatherings are more like a gathering of former classmates – booze, dancing, board games, and talent contests – and in no way resemble meetings of a society of the elite.

There were, of course, those who decided to infiltrate the ranks of Mensa in order to study society. And they found among its members not only amateurs to indulge in the innocent fun of “nerds”.

For example, the American comedian Jamie Loftus, who spent a year in society, revealed the ultra-right group in the American Mensa. Members of this community on their Facebook page talked, for example, about how lucky the black residents of the United States were that their ancestors fell into slavery, because now they do not live in the “African garbage dump.” After Loftus drew public attention to the circle, he was promptly shut down.

Sophie Gilbert, a Washingtonian journalist who joined the organization to write the article, said that Mensa's meetings are more like a gathering of “socially unadapted people who get together to play board games and find someone to sleep with.”

Racists, nerds and chocolate orgy lovers. Who and why joins the organization of the smartest people on the planet?

Meeting of Mensa members (USA). Photo: Mensa US Facebook page

In the Washington branch of Mensa, of which Gilbert became a member, she met “a man with blond curls, a beard and painted lips,” a man who “clearly knew the codes for nuclear warheads,” and an ardent racist. In addition, she turned down insistent offers to participate in a “chocolate orgy”, whatever that means.

By the way, getting into the “club of the smartest” itself turned out to be not so difficult. There are many videos on YouTube on how to take IQ tests and get the points you need to join an organization. And the same Jamie Loftus claims that she passed the entrance test to the “Mensa” with a hangover from nothing to do.

Why do you need Mensa?

Attempts to understand why people join this strange club suggest that there are two main reasons – narcissism and the desire to avenge the universe for a childhood full of bullying. At least, to prove to yourself that the offensive nicknames “nerd” or “bespectacled” are not received in vain. The same Sophie Gilbert admitted that, having become a member of Mensa, she was filled with pride in her intelligence.

Racists, nerds and chocolate orgy lovers. Who and why joins the organization of the smartest people on the planet?

Meeting of Mensa members (USA). Photo: Mensa US Facebook page

Psychiatrist Todd Grande of the University of Wilmington believes narcissism is one of the main motivations for people to join Mensu. Membership does not give any special privileges, but the opportunity to put in a prominent place a mug with the logo of “the society of the smartest” is quite a weighty reward for many narcissistic individuals.

It should be added here that the overwhelming minority of intellectuals aspires to get into the Mensa. For example, the largest American branch of the organization in the world has about 50 thousand members. At the same time, according to Mensa itself, there are up to six million people living in the United States alone who are able to pass the entrance test. And this despite the fact that all over the world there are only about 145 thousand active members of the organization.

Most famous

Probably the most famous Mensa member is still Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons. The Springfield branch of the organization, surprisingly, reflects well the real state of affairs at Mensa.

In society, the most strange characters consist of a painted city. Liza is an intelligent, but unpopular girl of social liberal views at school. Headmaster Seymour Skiner is an outright loser, a Vietnam War veteran living under the total control of an oppressive mother. The comic book dealer, whose image also cannot be called a role model, is a classic obese geek. There you can also find Dr. Hibbert – quite a competent doctor, who, however, is sometimes prone to eccentric and extremely cynical behavior, and Professor Frink, who, despite his really outstanding intellectual abilities, can be called a “mad scientist”.

Racists, nerds and chocolate orgy lovers. Who and why joins the organization of the smartest people on the planet?

Mensah from The Simpsons. Frame: the animated series “The Simpsons”

However, there were also real flesh and blood celebrities in Mensa. Writer Isaac Asimov has long been a member of the organization and even served as its vice president. True, it was not easy to persuade the great science fiction writer for this honorary position. He was embarrassed by the very people – “proud of their brains and ready to gnaw their throats for their IQ level.”

For example, the famous porn actress Asia Carrera with an IQ level of 156 points also joined Mensu. Among the members of the club is the creator of the game Minecraft Markus Persson.

One of the most famous criminals in Britain also got into the ranks of Mensa. Alfred George Hinds, who robbed a £ 90,000 jewelry store in 1953, was convicted, and after the verdict disappeared from Nottingham prison and went into hiding for eight months. The press immediately dubbed him “Houdini from the underworld”

During the eight months spent on the run, he managed to make a career in the construction business, and after being detained, he fled twice more. After the third attempt and capture, the indefatigable fugitive still calmed down and served his term. Released in 1964, Hinds wrote a bestselling book about his escape and his relationship with the English legal system. Later, being already a national celebrity, he joined the “Mensu” and even was the secretary of the organization's branch in the Channel Islands. The stolen money, by the way, was never found, and many researchers believe that Hinds later lived on it.

The smartest “termites”

However, the main thing that Mensa managed to show is that the IQ level is, of course, very important, but in reality it has little effect on life. This cannot be found in the sources of the organization itself, but the evidence is the most serious.

An experiment begun back in the 1920s by Stanford University psychology professor Lewis Theremin revealed interesting properties of intelligence. Theremin selected fifteen hundred children and adolescents with an IQ level of 140 points and above in a special group called “Termites”. Then he and his colleagues began to track and direct the development of his charges, recording their successes and failures.

At the beginning of the study, the psychologist was convinced that the level of intelligence is the most important factor affecting the quality of life and human accomplishment, and his “termites” will become the best people not only in the United States, but also on the planet. Theremin handed out bravura interviews, promising to soon almost bring a new breed of American geniuses

However, 30 years later, it turned out that the “smartest children in America” for the most part turned into quite ordinary adults. Yes, quite talented writers and scientists appeared among them, some “termites” made successful careers in business and in the civil service, but no one became a world-class star, received the Nobel Prize and did not cover himself with immortal fame in other fields.

Racists, nerds and chocolate orgy lovers. Who and why joins the organization of the smartest people on the planet?

Lewis Theremin

In general, their lives could be called more successful than those of people with “normal” IQ levels, but no revolution happened. Moreover, the selection of “termites” was carried out mainly from wealthy families of the upper and middle classes. Among them there were almost no Jews, very few blacks and Hispanics, and there were no Asians at all. It can be said that most of the “Theremin children” would have achieved success in life anyway thanks to the excellent starting conditions.

The most prominent of Theremin's wards was probably Jess Oppenheimer – writer, director and producer, creator of the cult American television series of the 1950s, I Love Lucy.

In addition, two future Nobel laureates – physicists William Shockley and Luis Alvarez – were not included in the selection of “termites”. They missed those IQ scores. Before his death in 1956, Lewis Theremin admitted that IQ and success in life, if connected, are insignificant and non-obvious.

Mysterious “Mensa”

The history of Mensa looks like the plot of an absurd novel. The organization was born out of a train conversation about racist pseudoscience a year after the victory over Nazism. In the ranks of “Mensa” were and are really outstanding people from various fields of activity, but the bulk of the members are a bunch of geeks who make up for joint drinking and solving puzzles.

Today, almost everyone can join this strange community, but there are not so many who wish, even among intellectuals. However, one can perceive “Mensa” and as a monument to human idealism, which has brought itself to the point of absurdity.

However, who knows, maybe Mensa's victories are still ahead, and one day people will really come out of its ranks who will create a better future for all mankind. May be. Or maybe not.

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