There is a huge gap between intelligence, even brilliance, and stupidity. Ten students admitted to Harvard got caught in it, and their admission was revoked.
Harvard College rescinded admissions offers to at least ten prospective members of the Class of 2021 after the students traded sexually explicit memes and messages that sometimes targeted minority groups in a private Facebook group chat.
A handful of admitted students formed the messaging group—titled, at one point, “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens”—on Facebook in late December, according to two incoming freshmen.
In the group, students sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children, according to screenshots of the chat obtained by The Crimson. Some of the messages joked that abusing children was sexually arousing, while others had punchlines directed at specific ethnic or racial groups. One called the hypothetical hanging of a Mexican child “piñata time.”
If you’ve ever stumbled onto Funny Junk, 4chan or any number of sites where the terminally immature do their utmost to achieve popularity amongst their peers, this might not seem particularly surprising or offensive, in the sense that these are not necessarily kids who are seriously racist, sexist or twisted. And yet, twisted memes persist, to which these stunted adolescents snicker.
What is wrong with them?
First, the notion that they could do this in a subgroup and not be noticed is utterly foolish. It smells of the infantile sense of imperviousness, that nothing they do will result in harm to them. This is the group of kids who, because they were so smart, so accomplished, got away with anything such that they lacked the capacity to believe that they would ever suffer consequences for their conduct.
Second, they didn’t grasp that anyone would take them seriously enough to be offended. They weren’t actual klansmen, crosses in hand to be burned. They were just goofing around, making “edgy” jokes. Memes, for crying out loud. Everyone knows it was just memes.
What is wrong with them?
They didn’t get it, that there are lines that you don’t cross, not even in jest. So what if there is a snarky, nasty, awful underbelly to the geek internet where the most outrageous and offensive is tested in some childish catharsis? What makes you want to go there, to do this? What makes your very smart yet very immature head go to places where outrageous memes are the currency of popularity?
It was not merely right of Harvard to take note of this happening under its auspices, but to address it. But that only deals with one aspect of this scenario. These students spent their lives doing the things that gets one into Harvard. They had the smarts to do so, and engaged in extracurricular activity the distinguished them from the tens of thousands of other brilliant students who were found unworthy. And poof, it was gone.
This was a teachable moment for Harvard. Not just for the ten students whose admissions were revoked, but for many others as well. And it’s a teachable moment for the rest of us as well, as these students are far more likely to be spectacularly immature than seriously disturbed. The lesson for the rest of us is that even the smart kids, the brilliant kids, need to grow up. Instead, the same forces that hate what they did enable perpetual immaturity.
The Crimson makes no mention of what will become of these students. Will they be able to attend their second-choice schools come fall? Will they be constrained to blow off a year? This will certainly alter their lives, but how much? Is revocation of their admission the message Harvard means to send to them? To others?
There are a lot of sick memes floating around out there, and a lot of geeks who think they’re hysterically funny, though politically incorrect, if not completely offensive. Harvard, which was well within its authority to revoke admission, will not rid its student body of kids who love memes. The brighter ones will take it underground, go the TOR route, delete their viewing history, but they will still engage in the same nasty stuff.
And then there’s the other message, the tacit message that most won’t consider but needs airing. Had this subgroup written about white genocide, like Drexel associate professor of politics and global studies George Ciccariello-Maher, would they have been tossed?
Ciccariello-Maher wasn’t fired for this twit. He was given the opportunity to explain it away, to rationalize why it was in furtherance of his vision of social justice. The ten Harvard rejects at least have a legitimate claim to abject immaturity. A professor does not.
So what exactly is the takeaway from Harvard’s decision to revoke the admission of these ten twisted minds? That indulging in childish offensiveness is wrong and intolerable? Sure. That it’s unforgivable? Clearly. That they are irredeemable and don’t deserve the opportunity to recognize the foolishness of their actions? Apparently.
But it’s also a message that it’s simultaneously acceptable for an academic to wish genocide on others, as long as it’s for the right cause. Or hit people with U locks if they support the wrong candidate. Or punch phony neo-Nazis.
The lesson isn’t that hate is wrong. Or that violence is wrong. The lesson is that hate and violence are perfectly acceptable, as long as they’re for a social-justice-approved cause by people mature enough and smart enough to know better. These were ten dopey children. Harvard sure taught them a lesson.
Update: Here is a link to the memes involved. Lacking context, I asked some younger folks what they thought of the memes, whether they were particularly bad. The response was they were “edgy, but fairly innocuous. Basic freshman shit.”