Harvard's Freshmanistan Problem
The curious story of 10 incoming students who had their acceptance letters rescinded.
What follows is a story that was originally intended to appear in Chapter 2 of Wanting. A special thanks to Dan Wang for making me aware of it. I’ve made this short excerpt available here as part of the extended cut material I plan to release to premium subscribers to this newsletter in 2022.
In the summer of 2017, ten members of Harvard’s incoming class of 2021 class had their offers of acceptance rescinded after administrators discovered a Facebook group of newly admitted students sharing raunchy memes. At one point, the group was called “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens.”
The newly admitted freshmen had started out in a “normal” Facebook group set-up by the university itself with the intention of helping classmates get to know each other. But soon after the group was formed, a few members broke off and started a secret spinoff group.
To join the secret group, students in the original group had to post a “dark” meme publicly to prove their worthiness to enter the private group. The memes quickly became sexually explicit and offensive, targeting minorities and feminists (among others).
Cassandra Luca, who joined the official Harvard Class of 2021 Facebook group—but not the “dark” group—tried to explain why the original group started to get edgy. It was, in her words, a “just-because-we-got-into-Harvard-doesn’t-mean-we-can’t-have-fun kind of thing.”
Maybe. But what was the second group about, then?
One possible answer comes into view with an awareness of how mimetic rivalry works in a closed environment where everyone has a lot in common. This is what I’ve referred to in this book as “Freshmanistan”—the world of internal mediation, where desires are mediated to people from inside of their own world. Yes, the irony is deep: these Harvard freshman, like all freshmen and first years anywhere, are literally in Freshmanistan.
The most plausible raison d'être for the second group, at least from a mimetic framework, is that it was a Just-because-we-got-into-Harvard-doesn’t-mean-we’re-alike kind of thing.
The question of identity was on the line for each of the students. In an environment where everyone is smart, they needed a way to figure out who was who. Everyone may be smart, but not everyone can be, or wants to be, a shitpoaster.
A dividing line had been drawn, and it helped to relieve some of the initial terror of being in a room where everyone looks the same.
Recall this fascinating fact from earlier: Identical twins are always involved in stories of violence against one another in nearly all of the world’s mythology. Sameness is a threat. And no threat is more dangerous than the sameness of desire.
It’s one thing if someone mistakenly wears the same shirt that we’re wearing; it’s another thing entirely if they wanted to wear the same shirt.
Now when we’re talking about hundreds highly ambitious Ivy League
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