This piece started as a posting in a thread on the Mensa editors' list in February 2007. One editor had asked why people have to be so negative "in a society that is supposed to be positive." Another responded questioning that notion of what we were supposed to be and asserting that an optimistic denial of problems is what has brought Mensa to its present depressing condition. My off-the-cuff response seemed to strike a resonant chord among the editors, to judge from the number of requests for reprint that I received within a very short time. To oblige the editors who had done me the honor of asking, I made a few small changes so it could stand alone, independent of the list context in which it was written, and offered blanket permission. It had no title; the present one was assigned by Dave Kirby when he printed it in the March 2007 issue of Intelligencer. M.A. 2/25/07
Mensa, for Worse or for Better
Some long-time Mensans have observed an unwelcome change of character that has come over our organization in recent years. Newer members may wonder what kind of difference they are talking about.
We were once a society that held dear its unaffiliated status (no commercial tie-ins! none! the selling of our name was unthinkable, in fact) and its essential metaphor of the round table, an Arthurian image that members used to be well enough educated to comprehend: a society wherein all are on an equal footing, members participate freely and voice opinions fearlessly, elected and appointed officers take care of the business of running the organization but are neither governors nor celebrities, the national office staff serves administrative and membership needs under the direction of the AMC and supports but does not oversee or assert authority over any member for any reason, the words "official" and "approval" are hardly ever used in any context, members have ready access to one another (since that is basically all our dues pay for), and pretty much any way that Mensans choose to affiliate with one another through events, publications, gatherings, correspondence, national and local SIGs, etc., is fine as long as it is legal and does not bind or speak for Mensa.
If our society is supposed to be anything, it is that.
I have been accused of being an old-timer pining for the good old days, and there is some truth in that; I miss that earlier Mensa the way I miss the warm and bright family Christmases of my childhood, likewise irrecoverable. But let it be remembered that Mensa politics have been with us practically from day 1 and that there was never a time when we simply proceeded harmoniously and got things done in the best, most effective, and most principle-respecting way possible. Affection among Mensans was always unevenly distributed. We have been better and we have been worse, but we have never been altogether good.
Right now we are worse.
So when I hark back to the organizational model of earlier times, it is not to express a nostalgic yearning but to plant, I hope, a potent seed of possibility in the minds of younger members who will shape the Mensa of the future, if there is to be a Mensa of the future.
The day after 9/11, when all sorts of emergency measures and extreme strictures were going into effect in panic mode and there was no telling what was going to happen to our freedom in the name of an unattainable "security," I sat my two teenage sons down on the living room sofa and addressed them with every ounce of urgency and conviction in my being. "You must remember: it was not always like this. It was not always like this. You must remember, or how will we ever put it right?"
I don't believe that all the blame for painful changes can be laid on people who deny or refuse to look at problems in the society. I think the well-meaning and optimistic yea-sayers have been cynically taken advantage of by those with other agendas. But all of us have the obligation to ask questions.
No Mensan should fear to ask questions. No Mensan should fear to voice opinions.
How can fear have any place in Mensa? Fear in Mensa should be viewed as the redness and swelling that tell you where to look for the infection.
[ Back ]