HT: Sarah Hoyt via Karen L. Myers.
The dining hall of my personal Hogwarts.
Ross Douthat explained last year why the Harry Potter books struck such a chord in our contemporary meritocratic world.
[I]f you take the Potterverse seriously as an allegory for ours, the most noteworthy divide isnâ€™t between the good multicultural wizards and the bad racist ones. Itâ€™s between all the wizards, good and bad, and everybody else â€” the Muggles.
For the six readers who have never read the Potter books but who have stuck with the column thus far nonetheless: Muggles are non-magical folks, the billions of regular everyday human beings who live and work in blissful ignorance that the wizarding world exists. The only exception comes when one of them marries a wizard or has the genetic luck to give birth to a magic-capable child, in which case they get to watch their offspring ascend to one of the wizarding academies while they experience its raptures and revelations secondhand.
The proper treatment of Muggles, meanwhile, is the great controversy within the wizarding world, where the good guys want them protected, left alone and sometimes studied, while the bad guys want to see them subjugated or enslaved (and all the Muggle-born â€œmudbloodsâ€ purged from the wizarding ranks).
All of this plays as an allegory for racism, up to a point â€¦ but only up to a point, because whatâ€™s notable is that nobody actually wants to see the mass of Muggles (as opposed to their occasional wizardish offspring) integrated into the wizarding society. Indeed, according to the rules of Rowlingâ€™s universe, that seems to be impossible. Youâ€™re either born with magic or you arenâ€™t, and if you arenâ€™t thereâ€™s really not any obvious place for you in Hogwarts or any other wizarding establishment.
So even from the perspective of the enlightened, progressive wizarding faction, then, Muggles are basically just a vast surplus population that occasionally produces the new blood that wizarding needs to avoid becoming just a society of snobbish old-money inbred Draco Malfoys. And if that were to change, if any old Muggle could suddenly be trained in magic, the whole thrill of Harry Potterâ€™s acceptance at Hogwarts would lose its narrative frisson, its admission-to-the-inner-circle thrill.
Which makes the thrill of becoming a magical initiate in the Potterverse remarkably similar to the thrill of being chosen by the modern meritocracy, plucked from the ordinary ranks of life and ushered into gothic halls and exclusive classrooms, where you will be sorted â€” though not by a magic hat, admittedly â€” according to your talents and your just deserts.
I am stealing this magic-and-meritocracy parallel from the pseudonymous blogger Spotted Toad, who wrote a fine post discussing how much the Potter novels and movies trade upon the powerful loyalty that their readers feel, or feel that they should feel, toward their teachers and their schools. But not just any school â€” not some suburban John Hughes-style high school or generic Podunk U. No, itâ€™s loyalty to a selective school, with an antique pedigree but a modern claim to excellence, an exclusive admissions process but a pleasingly multicultural student body. A school where everybody knows that they belong, because they can do the necessary magic and ordinary Muggles canâ€™t.
Thus the Potterverse, as Toad writes, is about â€œthe legitimacy of authority that comes from schoolsâ€ â€” Ivy League schools, elite schools, U.S. News & World Report top 100 schools. And because â€œcontemporary liberalism is the ideology of imperial academia, funneled through media and nonprofits and governmental agencies but responsible ultimately only to itself,â€ a story about a wizarding academy is the perfect fantasy story for the liberal meritocracy to tell about itself. …
In the Potter novels the selective school is conterminous with wizarding society as a whole (allowing for some elves and goblins to do maintenance and keep the books), and thus the threats to that worldâ€™s liberal integrity all come from within the academyâ€™s walls, from Slytherin House and its arrogant aristocrats, who must be constantly confronted in the halls and classrooms of the beloved school itself. Voldemort, the dark lord, has Muggle blood, but he isnâ€™t trying to rally an army of non-magic-wielders to seize Hogwartsâ€™ towers; heâ€™s trying to remake meritocratic â€” er, magical â€” institutions in his own dark image. And so the battle for Harvard â€” er, Hogwarts â€” is the battle for the world.
Which is basically the premise of a great deal of youthful liberal activism these days â€” that once the last remnants of Slytherin are eradicated from the leafy quads of Yale or Middlebury, once Draco Malfoyâ€™s frat or final club is closed and the last Death-Eater sympathizers purged from the faculty, then the battle of ideas will have been finally and fully won.
But what house was Boris Johnson in?
NewsThump reports: Destruction of Walk Of Fame star leaves Donald Trump down to his last six Horcruxes.
Stabbing a copy of The Art Of The Deal with a Basiliskâ€™s tooth is the next step to eliminating Donald Trump, according to experts this morning.
Donald Trump howled in agony and demanded a flask of serpentâ€™s milk to help him recover some strength after the destruction of his first Horcrux on Hollywoodâ€™s Walk of Fame yesterday.
Trump, whose unusually-styled hair is believed to hide a face on the back of his head, is understood to have concealed fragments of his soul in multiple receptacles in an attempt to protect himself from defeat in the forthcoming election….
Read the whole thing.
Mallory Ortberg has another episode of Harry Potter as written by Ayn Rand.
â€œThe Ministry of Magic has fallen,â€ Neville said in despair.
Harry laughed long and loud. â€œYou should not mourn the government,â€ he told Neville. â€œThe state has never shed a tear for you. Why waste your tears on it?â€
He picked up his wand. â€œFor my part, I withdrew my consent to be governed years ago. Taxation is destroying private resources.â€ A smile played across Harryâ€™s lips. â€œI hope they destroyed the national bank, while they were at it. I should like to see the goblins of Gringotts face their real enemy â€” deregulation.â€
HERE LIES DOBBY, the stone read, A FREE ELF.
Underneath, in slightly smaller letters, it continued: What is the basic, the essential, the crucial principle that differentiates freedom from slavery? It is the principle of voluntary action versus physical coercion or compulsion. Freedom, in a political context, has only one meaning: the absence of physical coercion. It does not mean freedom from the landlord, or freedom from the employer, or freedom from the laws of nature which do not provide men with automatic prosperity. It means freedom from the coercive power of the stateâ€”and nothing else. If one upholds freedom, one must uphold manâ€™s individual rights; if one upholds manâ€™s individual rights, one must uphold his right to his own life, to his own liberty, to the pursuit of his own happinessâ€”which means: one must uphold a political system that guarantees and protects these rightsâ€”which means: the politico-economic system of capitalism. Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries. Since knowledge, thinking, and rational action are properties of the individual, since the choice to exercise his rational faculty or not depends on the individual, manâ€™s survival requires that those who think be free of the interference of those who donâ€™t. Since men are neither omniscient nor infallible, they must be free to agree or disagree, to cooperate or to pursue their own independent course, each according to his own rational judgment. Freedom is the fundamental requirement of manâ€™s mind. A rational mind does not work under compulsion; it does not subordinate its grasp of reality to anyoneâ€™s orders, directives, or controls; it does not sacrifice its knowledge, its view of the truth, to anyoneâ€™s opinions, threats, wishes, plans, or â€œwelfare.â€ Such a mind may be hampered by others, it may be silenced, proscribed, imprisoned, or destroyed; it cannot be forced; a wand is not an argument. It is from the work and the inviolate integrity of such mindsâ€”from the intransigent innovatorsâ€”that all of mankindâ€™s knowledge and achievements have come. It is to such minds that mankind owes its survival.
The gravestone was seven and a half feet tall.
NINETEEN YEARS LATER
â€œIâ€™m taking the children down the Platform 9 3/4s to see them off to school,â€ Ginny said to Harry. â€œWant to come?â€
â€œI build trains,â€ Harry said, adjusting his hat so that the brim sat low over one eye, â€œI donâ€™t watch children board them.â€
Ginny respected him for it.
Today, March 14 is Pi Day, the date selected by uber-nerd Eliezer Yudkowsky aka Less Wrong for the release of the 122nd and final chapter of his widely-acclaimed Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.
Wrap parties celebrating the conclusion of what is, in the eyes of many readers, the greatest all-time performance by a piece of fan fiction will be taking place in Singapore, Bombay, Melbourne and Sydney, Cambridge, Berkeley, Mountain View, Brussels, London, and Berlin.
If we wanted to capture the ultimate Boone and Crockett Club record-book specimen of Nerdus Americanus to be mounted and displayed in a diorama in the Museum of Natural History, we’d be hunting for Eliezer Yudkowsky.
Yudkowsky is an autodidact who quit attending other people’s schools after 8th grade. He nonetheless is pretty successful. He co-founded his own university, the Singularity Institute, and he hobnobs with and advises billionaire capitalist Peter Thiel on change-the-world tech projects.
HPMOR differs from J.K. Rowling’s original in its ruthless consistency. All the background sob story is removed. Harry grows up happily and without being neglected and abused. Neither is Harry is humanized. Harry is not unhappy or insecure. Harry is one of us, a gifted intellectual and thoroughgoing rationalist of keen scientific bent, skeptical of authority and completely self-confident. He knows he’s smarter than everybody else. This Harry is not willing to accept Magic as traditionally taught at Hogwarts. This Harry intends to understand Magic in the light of Muggle science.
As HPMOR develops, Yudkowsky follows the pattern of the early portions of the J.K. Rowling original, but he continually revises. The reader looks on in admiration, noting with astonishment that Yudkowsky is certainly right. Again and again, he successfully improves upon the original.
It’s a great achievement, but it did not go entirely smoothly. Writing HPMOR took years and years, and Yudkowsky found himself distracted from continuing by his own reviews. He bogged down about halfway through, and production slowed to a trickle. He made promises of completion, which he broke. His readers have been sitting around, tapping their feet impatiently, for all of last year.
Today, at last, it’s all finished. Yudkowsky will be releasing his final chapter.
It’s going to be interesting to see what he writes next.
Eliezer Yudkowsky was once attacked by a Moebius strip. He beat it to death with the other side, non-violently.
Inside Eliezer Yudkowsky’s pineal gland is not an immortal soul, but another brain.
Eliezer Yudkowsky’s favorite food is printouts of Rice’s theorem.
Eliezer Yudkowsky’s favorite fighting technique is a roundhouse dustspeck to the face.
Eliezer Yudkowsky once brought peace to the Middle East from inside a freight container, through a straw.
Eliezer Yudkowsky once held up a sheet of paper and said, “A blank map does not correspond to a blank territory”. It was thus that the universe was created. …
Mallory Ortberg‘s Randian Harry Potter is back.
The merpeople brandished their spears fiercely. Harry looked around. Ron, Hermione and Gabrielle Delacour drifted lazily through the water, arms bound uselessly behind their backs. Where was Fleur? And where was Krum?
Harry turned to face the merpeople. â€œThe true test is not whether a Triwizard Champion can perform an act of charity â€” an act of mercy â€” whether I am capable of saving these victims, these leechers, these children. I can, I assure you. The question is whether I can do without them, whether I can exist solely as my own entity. Whether I can perform an act of accomplishment.â€
Harry carefully began placing the heaviest stones he could carry over the rope connecting Ron and Hermione, until they were hopelessly enmeshed in the lake bed.
â€œThe answer, of course,â€ he said clearly, â€œis that I can.â€ He swam away. He swam alone. He had lost the task, perhaps, but he had won the only tournament that truly matters â€” the tournament of self.
â€œI hope youâ€™re not expecting me to apologize,â€ Harry said without looking up the next day when a very muddy and a very angry-looking Ron and Hermione appeared in front of the door to his study. â€œAnd donâ€™t come any closer. Youâ€™ll track lake water all over my new rug.â€
Hat tip to Leah Libresco.
Mallory Ortberg imagines how the saga might have read if Ayn Rand had written Harry Potter.
â€œGive me your wand, boy,â€ Voldemort hissed.
â€œI cannot do that. This wand represents my wealth, which is itself a tangible result of my achievements. Wealth is the product of manâ€™s capacity to think,â€ Harry said bravely.
â€œThere is a level of cowardice lower than that of the conformist: the fashionable non-conformist.â€
Voldemort began to melt. Harry lit a cigarette, because he was the master of fire.
â€œThe smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities. The minimum wage is a tax on the successful. The market will naturally dictate the minimum wage without the government stepping in to determine arbitrary limits.â€
â€œIâ€™m going to sell copies of my wand at an enormous markup,â€ Harry said, â€œand you can buy one like everyone else.â€
Voldemort had been defeated.
â€œHe hated us for our freedom,â€ Ron said.
â€œNo, Ron,â€ Harry said. â€œHe hated us for our free markets.â€
Hermione ached with desire for the both of them to master her, but nobody paid her any attention. They had empires to build.
Read the whole thing.
Peter Blair contends that popular fiction written for young people is prone to channel directly from the culture’s psyche. The replacement of the Harry Potter series in the bestseller list with Hunger Games books may indicate that the popular attitude toward authority has grown increasingly negative.
The Hunger Games and Harry Potter are among the two most successful and influential cross-media franchises in recent decades. The books were widely read, the movies widely watched, and the arrival of a new book or movie in the series was a big cultural moment. When pop culture objects become as wildly popular as these two series, they often take on a greater importance and resonance than those who occasioned them intended. We can only speculate, but in light of the enduring success of the latest Hunger Games movie, Catching Fire, itâ€™s possible to read the evolution between these two series as a sort of hardening of heart toward government that reflects the increasing anger Americans feel towards political authority.