Monday, August 08, 2005

My Adventures in Hi-IQ Land

(Note: this article was originally published on the Hamilton Academical supporters website "Acciesworld" back in 2002. It was subsequently published here (IQ Magazine: the online journal of the International High IQ Society). Understandably, a few of the pop culture references are a little dated).

Relaxing in the Jacuzzi at Casa del ionesco, whilst some grinning buffoon rejoicing in the epithet Britain’s Sexiest Proctologist flexes his telegenic biceps menacingly in the general direction of Kylie’s anodyne, aerobicised ass, it’s hard to resist the conclusion that televisual dumbing down has finally bottomed out.

It could be said that any society is “rewarded” with the popular culture it deserves. If so we can only postulate that Planet Earth is an off-world penal colony populated by the recalcitrant criminal underclass of some alien civilisation. Needless to say we, the incarcerated inmates of this outpost, are subjected to a daily dose of noxious mind-rot masquerading as entertainment. Lobotomy t.v. as prescribed by Dr.Murdoch of Global Media Conglomerate Control Mechanisms Inc.

Intravenously administered infomercials, edutainment, reality t.v. and lowest common denominator game shows “starring” maddening micro-celebrities, Neanderthal nonentities and wearisome wannabes. Fame junkies fighting eachother for the pop pap pusher’s placebo. In this Warholian world only curmudgeonly hermits residing in caves are spared the harsh light of the media glare. I stand corrected: “Britain’s Sexiest Curmudgeonly Hermit” approaches like an imminent migraine, as inexorably and inevitably as death, taxes and the new series of Big Brother.

Needless to say in this dumbed down, democratic dystopia everyone is a star, everyone achieves “A” grade at A level and every second-rate educational establishment for the academically-challenged is awarded “University” status. I needed a quick culture fix. Not that ersatz “off the peg” culture but the real deal. Erudite, educational and reassuringly elitist.

Even the absurd spectacle of that surgically-depleted goon Michael Jackson thanking David Blaine for his "Artist of the Millennium" birthday cake on the MTV awards show (hold your horse right there Jacko, you’ve got another 998 years to wait for that one buddy!) couldn’t cheer me up. Even Britney in her “Nazi leather whore from Hell” fetish gear couldn’t float my boat.

Then I remembered another night of television hell from the near past. Ann Robinson’s Test the Nation on BBC1. Blondes, builders and teachers limbering up for their imminent appearances on Britain’s Sexiest by flexing their grey matter in some bogus “intelligence” test. Could an ability to remember Mr.Phillips from Pontypridd’s post code really tell us something about the nation’s intelligence? I was sceptical but intrigued.

I remembered some grinning goon on the show posing as “the friendly face of UK Mensa” and I realised this organisation must be a one-stop shop for all your intellectual dietary requirements. It’s pretty hard to get in they say. Good. I need a little rest and relaxation away from the detritus of democracy, far from the flotsam and jetsam of the “fame” game. A world away from the text-messaging teens, the shell-suited savages and the baseball-capped barbarians. An on-line test, a home test, a supervised test and the best part of eighty quid later and I was “in”. The reassuringly elitist 98th%ile cut-off should keep out the riff-raff at least.

Wrong. I’m in the door 5 minutes and I’m greeted with the news that I’m joining a long line of “gifted people” including “celebrities” Jamie Theakston, Gary Bushell, Carol Smillie and Jimmy Saville. Can I have my money back? One look at the Mensa mag. and I know I’m not exactly hangin’ with Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table. Mensa’s just a social club for a bunch of sad geeks who can solve simple puzzles quick. The temptation to join the Star Trek, Dr.Who and Red Dwarf SIG’s (special interest groups) was far from overwhelming, shall we say. They’ve even got a “Thick as a Brick” SIG for those proud “thickos who just scraped past the entrance exam” and which promises resolutely “unintellectual” activities. I soon realised smart people join Mensa but the really smart ones take one look around and leave. Taxi for mr. ionesco..

High IQ societies are proliferating on the internet at an incredible rate. The higher cut-offs of the 99th%ile and above “ultra-high IQ societies” held some initial promise until I encountered a member of the Sigma Society who preferred his pick-up truck to philosophy. I bet the Olympique Society, which has a cut-off at the 99.9999th%ile (i.e. one in a million), and which to date has a meagre 5 members out of a potential 6,000, or so, world-wide has 4 bona fide intellectual members and one guy “who just scraped past the entrance exam”. I bet he’s always dragging the rest of them down the pub for karaoke. The Olympiq Society are probably being sick over the barmaid and challenging the doorman to a fight right now.

I settled down at the IHIQS (International High IQ Society) for a while. An undemanding 95%ile entrance threshold didn’t prevent it from being populated by some pretty sharp cats. But the denizens of High IQ Land are a strange breed. They really believe in IQ. I’m a bona fide psychometric sceptic. I don’t believe you can reduce intelligence to some simple numerical representation. Imo an ability to jump through Mensa’s hoops is indicative only of an ability to jump through Mensa’s hoops. There are plenty of bogus internet IQ sites eager to push feelgood IQ booster pills. A plethora of pushers will happily send you a framed certificate attesting to the “fact” that you’ve been psychometrically evaluated by a qualified psychologist as “smarter than Einstein” ; in exchange for your 50 bucks of course. A vain validation junkie and his money are easily parted.

Americans, in particular, seem to buy into this bogus pseudo-scientific malarkey. I’ve a feeling psychometrics is their version of the class system. As anyone who visits the States regularly will attest PBS broadcasts a constant diet of terrible UK sitcoms such as Keeping Up Appearances and Are You Being Served? I’m sure Rupert Murdoch has got a studio somewhere churning out unsubtle pastiches of the British class system tailored exclusively for American consumption. Anyway our democratic, meritocratic, “classless” American friends have bought into the rigid Social Darwinism of psychometrics in a big way.

Most of the high IQ societies on the net are full of Yanks whining about how no-one understands them and are populated by a roughly equal contingent of “losers” and “uppity geeks”. The “losers” regard High IQ Land as a self-help group for the “much maligned, misunderstood gifted” community. The “uppity geeks” regard themselves as Nietschzian Supermen or “Ubergeeks” and regard anyone with a lower IQ than themselves (i.e. everyone from Einstein on down) as lower primates.

The “losers” moan about how they’re too intelligent to commune with the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker and not intelligent enough to commune with the uppity geeks. It’s a sado-masochistic relationship for sure. The “Ubergeeks” wear fascist attitudes like a cheap suit in the hope of attracting some masochistic “loser” chick to their Dionysian dance.

There’s always an IQ cut-off the “losers” can’t quite attain, a fabled society populated by Olympian Gods of intellectual discourse they can only dream of aspiring to. No-one questions the credentials of the “Olympian Gods” though. Xavier Jouve, Nik Lygeros and the other self-appointed gurus of Ultra-High IQ Land preside over admissions and their judgement is final. Their self-designed, self-administered tests are allegedly exhaustively normed for psychometric accuracy.

Yeah right. Maybe 100 uppity geeks world-wide have even heard of their tests let alone gone through the tedious rigmarole of actually taking the damned things. According to this self-selected cartel of “Ubergeeks” the brightest guy in the world (and brighter than historical geniuses Kant, Descartes, Beethoven, Newton, Voltaire and Galileo, Shakespeare and Da Vinci) is probably Dr.Petri Widsten, a Ph.d. student from Finland specialising in wood technology. His c.v. claims he’s fluent in 9 languages but his review of the Sigma test reads: “I like immense of Sigma Test because I consider in many problems is need high intelligence and imagination for solving.” So I’m guessing English isn’t one of the 9? Oh yeah and there’s Chris Langham, a nightclub bouncer from the U.S. who’s beaten Steven Hawking to the punch and published a “definitive” unified theory of everything which he calls the CMTU.

The Mensans revere the Prometheans and despise the common man. The Prometheans revere the Olympians and despise the Mensans. On the IHIQS site a friend of mine (the brilliant Will 13) posted a transcription of a Promethean meeting.The entire transcript was an anti Mensa-lite/Mensa wannabe diatribe in which the 120-140 (s.d.16) IQ fraternity (132 is the Mensa cut-off on s.d.16 in the States, 148 on s.d.24 which applies in the UK) were characterised as the spawn of the Devil or “acadummies”. Bright enough to be a nuisance but not bright enough to contribute anything useful to society. Needless to say this provoked a lot of soul searching and existential angst amongst the American Mensa-lite “loser” community. I pointed out that caffé latté and sympathy wasn’t appropriate. Poor little Mensans shot by both sides (the proletarian mob on the grassy knoll and the uppity Prometheans high in the Book depository). Who said they had to drive down Dealey Plaza with 120-140 tattooed on their foreheads? This “revelation” had genuinely never occurred to them. Could they really escape from the psychometric straitjacket?

I’m sure these Yanks have better things to do than bemoan the fact that their IQ’s are “only” equivalent to the average neurosurgeon’s. They need to relax and get back to traditional American pursuits like voting Republican, rigging elections, depleting the ozone layer, turning up the heat from “global warming” to “global we’re really cooking now” refusing to sign the Kyoto protocol and unilaterally invading Iraq.

The sinister side of psychometrics was only just becoming apparent. Lots of pseudo-scientific waffle about how Aryan races scored high on IQ tests and African Americans scored low and that even “culturally fair” IQ tests confirmed this disparity. A worrying convergence of “conservative” and “very conservative” political views on the IHIQS membership survey and a few loose canons with overtly fascist agendas. One letter to the Mensa mag. suggested, in all seriousness, that only Mensa-eligible parents should be allowed to rear children).

Despite the lunatic fringe I like Nate Haselbauer’s IHIQS joint. Nate’s a succesful Wall Street trader who started the New York High IQ Society. Now the renamed IHIQS has more members world-wide than anyone bar Mensa. Thousands take their tests rather than the handful who try the Sigma, the 916, the Mega, the Titan etc. So their norms might actually mean something. If you gave any credence to psychometrics that is. From the moment I joined I was the “psychometric sceptic”, a WWF type character keen to engage “Johnny Reverential” and co. in some no holds barred surrealism.

My maxim is “When in Rome, act like a Barbarian.” so my approach was to attack the pseudo intellectuals and bogus geniuses with a dose of reality t.v. The mere mention of the names Neitschze and Wittgenstein is tantamount to provocation on a football site but you don’t get past the velvet rope in High IQ Land without a rough familiarity with these German cats. Dead philosophers rather than dead presidents is the currency in these joints. To antagonise the uppity geeks you really need a strong pop culture portfolio. Brittney, Kylie and Heather Graham worked for me.

I proposed starting up my own high IQ society with positive discrimination in favour of pop culture princesses. My reasoning was that I’d rather hang out in a “high IQ Jacuzzi” with Kylie and co. than a bunch of ripe Germanic philosophers and Star Trek aficionados. The geeks weren’t having any of it. Even Michelle Pfeiffer was considered “sub-Mensa”. I conceded she was a definite no-no circa Grease 2 but she’d gained a few IQ points by the time she was hangin’ poolside with Tony Montana in Scarface. And when she draped herself over that piano in The Fabulous Baker Boys she could have told me she was the Emiratus Professor of Philosophy at King’s College, Cambridge and I would have believed her.

For a moment or two it seemed like High IQ Land was going to embrace this visiting surrealist. My “fly in the ointment” approach clearly intrigued the geeks. I was invited to join a couple of Ultra High IQ invitation only societies and made it onto “Glenn’s list” (the IHIQS top table). However I preferred to remain one of the hicks from the sticks heckling from behind the velvet rope. When Steve Rubell finally opened the doors to Studio 54 I told him I didn’t really want to hang out with his narcissistic crowd anyway.

Despite being invited to become one of “High IQ Land’s adopted sons” I’m finished with these freaks, fascists, vain validation junkies, puzzleheads and pseudo philosophers. Give me Britney, Kylie, Becks, Clay Aiken, Simon Cowell, Ozzy Osbourne and co. any day.The company is better here in the “real” world. For that matter I’ll take Ryan Seacrest over most high IQ geeks. Or maybe not..

Ewan McNaught 2002


eugene ionesco said...

This rant originally appeared on a Hamilton Academicals supporters' website and was picked up on by Simon Garfield of the Observer, amongst others. A link to the resulting article follows: OK, if you're so clever

aguy said...

"The “Ubergeeks” wear fascist attitudes like a cheap suit in the hope of attracting some masochistic “loser” chick to their Dionysian dance."
I found it quite hard to understand the above, roughly translating it as:
"The non-sporty, bespectacled computer buffs with inflated salaries loudly declare their adherance to intolerant, exclusivist and hierachical social theory in order impress self punishing women with academic degrees and get them drunk."
I still dont quite understand it.
I'm not acquainted with Wittgenstein, but I do like Heineken and Carlsberg.

J.A.H said...

Aren't we all vain validation junkies to some extent?
What's blogging...

Anonymous said...

Made me laugh,..must be at least half true,..have it printed on bus stops.

Anonymous said...

Quite amusing. Enjoyed the read.