Ticking Mensans (The Director's Cut)
by Doug Miller
January 2002

I'm sitting in front of my computer staring at a blank screen wondering why on earth I was asked to scribble out a 'What Makes Mensans Tick' themed article. I want to rationalize that it's because the fine editorial staff of the Mensa Bulletin believes I have some sort of special insight about the thought processes of a 'typical' Mensan. But considering that I just managed to burn off about a quarter of my left eyebrow while lighting a cigarette from my gas stove, I'm not sure the editorial staff knew what they were getting themselves into. Adding to my doubt is the fact that I have a package of nicotine gum in my pocket. Hmmm...

What I need is a good idea to use as a foundation for this essay. Unfortunately I haven't exactly been full of good ideas lately. In fact, the last 'good' idea I had was, "I want some peanuts." And that was over a week ago. I decided some research was in order. I tracked down Carl Peterson, a Mensan I recently recruited, to discuss the one idea I have (aside from that peanut thing, which I have decided is still a good idea). Since I've already managed to recruit him, I can now switch tactics and be brutally honest. As I see it, Mensans are a group of people who have received scores on a standard intelligence test that are statistical outliers from the general population. In other words, freaks. There is nothing else that is common to all Mensans. Please don't send me hate mail, if you don't like the term 'freaks' simply mentally substitute whatever word or phrase you find acceptable wherever you see the word 'freaks' in this essay.

As usual, Carl is able to expand on this thought. (For the record, Carl disliked my use of the word 'freaks'. He preferred replacing it with 'geeks'. Whatever.) He explains that people join Mensa to satisfy a specific need. For instance, one of the needs that Mensa may satisfy is to provide a forum for a member to interact with other members, giving the person a chance to occasionally surround himself or herself with other highly intelligent people. If a person is able to fulfill this need elsewhere he or she probably won't join. Similarly, if the person does not have this need, he or she will also not join.

This sends my mind spinning in a new direction, one of the reasons I love yakking with other Mensans. I see that I was wrong about the whole freaks thing. Sorry. As I see it now, one person in fifty qualifies for membership, around five million in the U.S. alone. But membership in American Mensa is only around fifty thousand (don't look at me, I recruited Carl, which is more than you did today). So it turns out that only 1% of the 2% of the population that qualifies for membership actually joins Mensa. Apparently Mensans are not just freaks, we're freaks among the freaks. Disconcerting.

Or maybe it means that we know something that the lower 99% of the top 2% doesn't know. Notice how I imply that the people who join Mensa are in the top 1%. I like to think it balances out the part where I referred to Mensans, in writing no less, as freaks. Remember, even a half-assed compliment is technically still a compliment. Please consider that when you write to tell me what an awful, awful person I am. Or worse, when you write to correct my grammar. (That last bit was a sentence fragment for those of you keeping score.) Wow that ticks me off. Hey, there's a good idea. Instead of writing about what makes Mensans tick, I could write about what ticks Mensans off. Aside from calling them freaks that is.

But that brings us back to the reality that, as a group, Mensans don't have anything in common. You might suggest that there are some things that Mensans have in common, like a love of chocolate. You would be wrong. I've read complaints from a member about articles that focus on how great the chocolate at an event was. See the November 2000 issue of InterLoc if you're having trouble believing this. I should mention that the article was about more than just chocolate. InterLoc is a newsletter for an exchange of ideas between Mensa officers, leaders within Mensa, and any other members who are interested. If you're not an officer you can still receive the newsletter for free just by asking (see the web site for details). The author of the article I'm referring to was pointing out that only a minority of Mensa members actively participates in Mensa activities and that, as leaders, we should attempt to do more to serve the inactive majority. The September 2000 issue had an article stating that only 15% of Mensans are active members, active being defined as members who serve as officers, attend events, or contribute articles to their local group newsletter. While I agreed that we should do more, I had no idea what 'more' was. And since the inactive members weren't saying, I decided to conduct some independent research (hey, I'm a leader).

I attempted to develop my mind reading skills so that I could figure out what the inactive members were looking for. I'm sort of ashamed to say it, but I felt it more responsible to test my skills on animals before applying them to humans. A friend gave me permission to attempt to read the mind of Jungle Cat, her pet. I cleared the room of distractions (bits of string, litter boxes, etc.) and slowly began to focus on what the cat wanted. I stared at the cat. The cat regarded me indifferently. Then, a flash. I'm not certain how to describe it, but I could sense that the cat had a need that she couldn't, or wouldn't communicate. I'm not exactly sure what muscle I was flexing, but I flexed it harder. Then it seemed that I had the cat's attention. She looked at me and seemed to want to tell me something. As I continued to focus my concentration, the atmosphere of the room became almost electric. Just as I thought we were about to have a breakthrough, Jungle Cat gave me an exasperated look and peed on the carpet. I guess I shouldn't have removed the litter box.

The experiment also failed on another level. I may as well confess that my intentions had nothing to do with improving Mensa for inactive members and everything to do with using the power of hypnosis to get more dates. The court order prevents me from describing exactly what happened when I worked up the courage to repeat the experiment on an attractive young lady I met at the bar. I can say that I had to pay all associated cleaning costs. Let's move on to the whole point of this essay, what makes Mensans tick. Since my contact with other Mensans has been limited to the active ones, and I haven't met all of them, I can only report on my opinions about the portion of the active 15% of the top 1% of the 2% of the population that I've been exposed to at Mensa events. Did that last sentence make sense? Hold on, I'm going to get some peanuts before continuing.

Maybe I'm not really qualified to discuss other members. Perhaps I should stick to what makes roughly 0.013% of the active 15% of the top 1% of the 2% of the population in the U.S. that qualifies for membership in Mensa tick. Let's just refer to this group as me. If you did the math, and I'm certain that some of you did, you'll notice that the result was slightly less than one (if you're using the same estimates I am for the population of the U.S., membership of American Mensa, etc.). Before demonstrating your mental superiority by sending me a more 'correct' solution (which I will show to my incredibly witty and stunningly attractive friends so that we can all make fun of you, laughing over our drinks while you sit at home on a Friday night, staring at a silent telephone and wondering why you don't get invited to more parties) you should take into account that occasionally I have no idea what I'm thinking (refer to the opening paragraph for supporting evidence). So I contend that a number slightly less than one is more accurate than anything you may come up with.

What makes Mensans tick? I haven't got a clue.


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