Intellectual Freedom Manifesto

Kevin Langdon

I joined Mensa 40 years ago, in 1961, and I have been a member of at least ten high-IQ societies with various cutoff percentiles.

From the earliest days of my involvement in this community of intellect, there has been a struggle between those who are willing to allow others to hold and express their own opinions and those who wish to exercise power over others. Almost invariably, the control freaks invoke what they call "civility" as a justification for preventing others access to the forums maintained by the societies to speak their minds.

Admittedly, there is speech which is actually problematical, which, in order of seriousness, includes:

  1. threats of violence
  2. libel
  3. fraudulent representations
  4. denigration of others' intelligence
  5. sexual and scatological characterizations of others
  6. ad hominem arguments

I have no quarrel with the establishment of controls over truly abusive language.

However, time and again, there have been attempts to restrict the right to criticize persons' conduct as officers of the societies, their ethics in general (based on actually-reported behavior, not guesswork), and their ideas, and to bar from the forums of the societies anyone who demands the freedom to speak his mind.

Without the freedom to critize officers' conduct there can be no substantive democracy. Without the freedom to criticize the ethics of various kinds of behavior a whole realm of intellectual discourse has been ruled off-limits. And without the freedom to criticize ideas meaningful intellectual dialog is impossible.

Another area of abuse is overly-broad definitions of the numbered points above. Things that are not, in fact abusive are misidentified with these abuses. Here are examples of practices wrongly construed as each of these points:

  1. legal action to enforce one's rights and announcements of one's intent to do so if abuse directed one's way continues
  2. true statements which reflect badly on a person or institution (truth is an absolute defense to libel)
  3. unintentional errors and omissions, especially if they have already been corrected
  4. characterization of ideas as stupid and statements to the effect that others have not met a burden of proof or have presented invalid arguments
  5. making fun of dumb things others say
  6. overgeneralized conceptions of ad hominem, which properly refers only to arguing from the personal characteristics of a speaker to the invalidity of his arguments

It is ironic that these societies are full of persons holding libertarian views who scream bloody murder about any attempt by governments to exert control over their private lives but are willing to allow officers to tyrannize the members of the societies, scientists who accept strongly-worded controversy in their scientific specialties but are outraged when ideas are attacked in the publications of the societies, and members who decry "contentiousness" and "insults" but are willing to castigate and belittle others who, in their opinion, are "contentious" or "insulting."

This is hypocrisy.

In order to defend ourselves against those who would choke off intellectual exchange in these societies, I call for the establishment of a community within this community, a network of people committed to opposing tyranny wherever it rears its ugly head and defending all who are the victims of authoritarianism in the societies.

One area of particular concern is secrecy in societal governance. All the organizational affairs of each of the societies should be open to active participation by any member, including both reading and writing access to the venues in which the societies' business is done, though it is legitimate that only duly elected or appointed officers and committee members should be able to vote in representative bodies. Official secrecy is the mother of abuse.

It has been my intention for many years to establish the principle that at least, here, in this community of intellect, tyranny will not be tolerated. Please join with me in this endeavor.


Kevin Langdon, P.O. Box 795, Berkeley, CA 94701; (510) 524-0345;