The Royal Smart Person, as they say on Sesame Street, is L.L. (for Lancelot Lionel) Ware, 65 years old. He's a lawyer, he hails from Surrey, England, and he's all rapport.
That's his word, "rapport." It's something he gets almost mystical about, this little white-haired guy who looks like he might have written the books about the Hobbits; like he might have put together the world's greatest collection of Toby mugs; or like he'd be the founder ofMensa, which is the club for people who score in the top 2 percent on IQ tests. Which he is.
Though he is not the megacephalic mad-genius type you see in cartoons. Not at all.
"People think we are eggheads or intellectuals. Some are, but I find them crashing bores," he says, sitting in the fern-hung sunlight coming through the window of a local cafeteria.
What Mensans are, instead, is merely the top 2 percent. That's all they have a common. You don't have to be a veteran, a descendant of the Huguenots, an Esperanto-speaking midget or anything else. No secret handshakes. No putting up signs at the edge of town, like the Lions, the Odd Fellows, the Optimists and the Soroptimists, the Elks, Moose, or the Polish Falcons.
Think how weird it would look: a sign out there next to the last cornfield before you get to the grain elevator: "MENSA -- Meetings Tues. 8 p.m. at Grange Hall (Not You, Stupid)."
"You don't mention Mensa socially," Ware says. "And inside Mensa you don't mention your test score."
The point being rapport. Not score. Or crashing bore.
To join, all you have to be is very good at taking IQ tests. There are about 4 million of these people in America, but only about 45,000 of them have chosen to joing Mensa since 1961, despite Mensa literature which contains slogans such as HOW BIG IS YOURS?
Well, how big is his?
Well, you're not going to find out, though the careful listener will come to suspect that L.L. Ware, founder and vice president of Mensa (the word means "table" in Latin) is actually in the top one percent when he tells the tale of the founding.
"It was a typically English approach to a problem. My father died in 1940, and I had a sister 10 1/2 years younger whom I had to educate. I wanted to know how far she would go. I had heard of intelligence tests and so I tried them out on her, then on friends. I noted a curious thing: that their IQs correlated with my personal opinion of their intelligence rather than their level of achievement. I noticed there was an immediate rapport with people in the top one percent. One enjoyed one another's company. These people were, so to say, 'your kind.'"
His kind walk around with IQs of about 130 or above, depending on the particular test administered: the Stanford Binet (Form L or Form M), the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, the Wechsler-Bellevue 1, and so on.
The american club was founded in 1961. It leads in total members, and members per capita. It gets a lot more publicity than the mother club in England, which was founded in 1946 and has only 5,000 members. (A few thousand more are scattered around the world.) Ware has never been interviewed by the press at home, he says. "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country. Also, the English tend to understate. Having been the founder, one doesn't go around and say what fine fellows we've produced."
Ware is fond of the notion that Mensa may be too democratic to fit the English pattern. "Unlike most English clubs, Mensa was intended to include people rather than exclude them. Anyone can join, with a high enough test score," Ware says. He takes a lot of pride in saying that "there is very little correlation between high IQ and financial or political success."
He thereby renders moot the old American rejoinder: "If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?" And he suggests that Mensans, in a fine American tradition, would rather be right than president.
But the important thing is this "rapport."
So why not join the Lions or the Elks, instead? They run pretty rapprot-heavy, themselves.
"I have addressed the Lions Club and similar clubs. What they have is a pseudo-rapport," says Ware, proving, at the very least, that he's never been in a hotel elevator full of them.
Could people with IQs of, say, 110 to 130 form a club (Densa?) and have their own rapport?
Says Ware: "I think you'll find that those people have less cerebral control. The lower down the social scale you get, the more misunderstandings you have, the more problems people have understanding the other fellow's point of view. Traditionally, the aristocracies of the different countries of Europe had far more in common than the people of those countries. You do find that the better well-to-do people on the whole produce a larger percentage of high IQs, though the probability spread is very complex, a number of genes being involved in the determination of IQ."
Hey, what's all this stuff about aristocracy and well-to-do? Wasn't the point that there's little correlation between IQ, money and power?
This argument could go on all day. But you don't have to be a Mensan, or English, to know that the top (or bottom) 2 percent of almost anything -- shoe size, height, anything -- tend to feel left out. Strange. Clannish. -It's a condition sort of like being from New Jersey. The high-IQ crowd even gets called names: wonk, grind, professor, or as Ware recalls from England, "swot." And who gets the dates and wins the popularity contests in high school: the quarterback and the cheerleader, or the president of the chemistry club?
This situation bothers L.L. Ware not at all. He accepts it as the natural order of things. "A rowing blue [a member of the crew at Oxford] is more apt to get along with people, compared with an atomic physicist."
And atomic physicists, or L.L. Ware, if they're looking for people to get along with, can always head over to a Mensa meeting, which can be anything from a lecture to a yard sale to a recent hugging contest in Baltimore. Mensans have this reputation, in fact, for flat-out rowdiness at some meetings.
Says Ware, who does not, himself, seem to have a secret mud-wrestler or chugalug champion lurking inside him: "Their rowdiness is maybe a way of overreacting to a roomful of people they don't know very well."
If you can't outsmart 'em, outdumb 'em!