Mensa, Response to Scott Holmes Posting of January 10.

Sun, 15 Jan 1995 14:50:36 -0600

Scott Holmes:

I returned from vacation and perused the multitude of messages in
my email file and found yours. I had followed the Mensa debate from
a few newspaper clippings while away. While I realize that January
10 is eons away in email-time, and it does not appear that your
listing elicited any comments, I think it worth responding.

You characterized Bateson's theory of learning as `inflammable'.
It wasn't entirely clear what you meant by that or by the comment
that the theory was more emotionally than intellectually defendable.

By way of an initial comment on the Mensa debate, I was not entirely
surprised that to see this line of reasoning from some Mensa members.
Murky stuff, but in a way it seems to dove tail nicely (if extremely)
with the thinking of Charles Murray in the Bell Curve. How interesting
that within a group that comfortably falls into Murray's definition of
the `cognitive elite' - that 2% of the population with IQ's over 132 -
that such a discussion would unfold, and do so with such open eugenic
vehemence. To a certain extent I suppose such thinking is part of
the current social-darwinian mood which pervades the nation. I doubt it
will attract more than fringe support. Still...

After all to call for the `dispatching' - humanely of course - of
`mental defectives' takes the discussion even far beyond the parameters
of the early 20th Century American eugenic enthusiasts, - which included
many prominent US physical anthropologists - most of whom saw
involutary sterilization as their goal for eliminating mental illness.
True there was a fringe that toyed with a euthanasia-type solution, but
they tended to tread quite lightly on such matters. (For those interested
in a fuller discussion of floating the idea of the physical liquidation
of mentally retarded in the USA - I suggest the very compelling article
`Euthanasia and Mental Retardation: Suggesting the Unthinkable' by
Russell Hollander in Mental Retardation. 27:2:55-61 April 1989
and the articles immediately following it).

The Mensa `debate' also comes a few weeks after the tv airing of
an excellent documentary on the Nazi euthanasia policies of the 1930s:
`Selling Murder: The Killing Fields of The Third Reich'. The film detailed
how the Nazi's built popular support for the gassing of some 250,000
physically and mentally retarded people and the forced sterilization of
perhaps four times that number, by portraying such policies
as `humane'. By the way, they too targetted the homeless. The documentary
was based on the discovery of what were at the time, two widely
distributed Nazi propaganda films in the archives of the now-deceased
German Democratic Republic. German physical anthropologists of the day
were an essential link in the chain that led to Auschwitz.

The extermination of mentally retarded people in Nazi Germany ended in
1940, after a number of quite courageous Lutheran religious leaders
publicly condemned the policy as organized murder. This episode was of
course a prelude to even worse horrors. The rest of the story is well
known. The Nazis applied the techniques they had developed in eliminated
mentally and physically retarded people on Jews, Gypies, Slavs
and political opponents - Soviet POW's, French miners, Yugoslav and
Greek partisans.

Strange to see these issues once again resurfacing with such force. Suggests
what I suppose is obvious - that we are experiencing, among other things,
a rather profound crisis in cultural identity in this country.

Rob Prince/Metro State College/Denver