The Bookworm Beat 1/12/15: Two completely random thoughts about narcissists and college

Woman writingI know a narcissist.  One of the interesting things about talking with her is that she takes very personally things that are, to non-narcissists, manifestly impersonal.

For example, while talking about clothes, I might say to my narcissistic friend something along the lines of “I’m not a big fan of these new infinity scarves.”  Unbeknownst to me, she likes infinity scarves.  At this point, a normal person would say, “I actually like infinity scarves.  I think they look pretty, they’re easy to use, and they go with pretty much everything.”  But she’s a narcissist, so what she says is, “What do you know about fashion?  Your dress is disgusting.  I can’t believe you left the house that way.”  When I protest about the vicious, personal nature of her attack, her response is “You did it first.”

See, that’s the thing with narcissists.  Not only do they take things personally, but they perceive anything that challenges their own beliefs and self-image as a mortal threat that must be revenged at all costs.  If anything you say doesn’t harmonize perfectly with their beliefs about anything (including clothes), they perceive that act of dis-harmony as a violent, direct attack on their self-respect — and they will respond with atomic force.

Islam is a narcissistic religion.  What we see as free speech, satire, humor, casual disrespect, or academic commentary, they see as knife to the heart.  That’s why they respond with bloodshed, rather than their own versions of free speech, satire, humor, casual disrespect, or academic commentary.  For them, any challenge is a deadly personal attack requiring an equally deadly response.


I’m meeting more and more high schoolers who are choosing to take gap years, to work before college, or to go to state or community colleges for the first one or two years.  Parents and students alike are agreed that this is a good way to save money.  It’s stupid to send an 18-year-old with no specific goals to a college that, after tuition, housing, food, and all the other costs, runs about $75,000 a year.

There’s something else to be said for delaying college, though.  I don’t think students 40 or more years ago were any more mature than our kids are now.  In those days, though, the colleges and universities still had some vague idea that they were supposed to act in loco parentis.  They therefore took seriously such things as drug and alcohol use or premarital sex.

Even though schools started loosening up by the time my generation hit college, there would still be single-sex dorms (or at least single-sex floors) and there were definitely single-sex bathrooms.  These too were part of the college’s vague feeling that 18-year-olds need some guidance.

Nowadays, colleges do nothing to protect young people from themselves or their peers — and this is despite the fact that most colleges have science departments churning out research confirming what observant parents have always known:  an 18-year-old is not a fully developed, mature person.

I suspect that a lot of 18-year-olds understand this about themselves too.  The thought of going off to college, which is more like a bear-garden than a supervised transition to adulthood, frightens them.  Even if they want to move out of their parents home, they know inside that they’re not ready for the drunken orgies that characterize so much college life.  This is probably part of why so many students readily believed the UVA rape hoax — it’s not that there are a lot of rapes, it’s that even young people recognize dangerous debauchery when they see it.

Compared to the scary Roman bacchanal that is a freshman dorm, staying home and going to community college, or going to a more staid state college, or living in a family home abroad, seems like a safe option.  Even the military seems like a good idea because, apart from the risk of getting killed in battle (as opposed to the risk of alcohol poisoning at a frat or dorm party), it’s a very structured, constrained community where the rules are clear.