Friday, May 26, 2006

Friday Reflection: Ability, Power, Choice

There's a southerly breeze blowing into Brooklyn, NY tonight, bearing with it the faint stench of the lies being told by Bush and Blair, about 250 miles away. We live today in a Brave New World, where murder, torture, criminally negligent homicide, extreme rendition, and the unlawful incarceration of hundreds without charge or even identification, are deemed "missteps". So I thought it would be a good time to call in (the late?) Professor Dumbledore of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for a few comments about power.

Professor D—I have to ask you about what you said to Harry after his encounter with the basilisk: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."* Surely, you're one pretty talented and powerful wizard—the greatest of your age, most people say—how can you say that choice is more important than ability?

"I have been a teacher and headmaster at Hogwarts for longer than I would care to admit—longer, let's say, than many of my colleagues have been alive. I have seen as many students and wizards pass through the gates to this school as would be sufficient to populate one of your mid-sized Muggle cities; and I can tell you confidently that every one of them has been utterly unique in his and her ability.

"Too often, we equate talent with power—you just did so yourself, if I am not mistaken—until we're claiming that this fellow here is greater in his ability than that one over there. The problem is that such judgments tend to become fixed, particularly when they find their way into the Daily Prophet. Especially when they're repeated in the press, such labels turn to stone—many an undeserved reputation and an ill-gotten fame has been perpetuated on the foundation of these fabrications, which are themselves blown up out of an airy obsession with appearances.

"This sort of image-making based on the perception of ability is a spell that has nearly as destructive an effect as any of the unforgivable curses, because it confers power on a person. And power not only places those without it into a position of being oppressed; it also puts an intolerable burden upon those who wield it. Some of the most renowned wizards I have known in my life have been driven to madness by the power that was projected onto them. Perhaps you have had some experience of this in your Muggle world.

"Now I am hoping that you will be more eloquent and efficient at instructing your readers about the consequences of power, but allow me to mention here that all power is an illusion; and every illusion is, inevitably, destructive. There is no skill, no level of ability, that justifies the use of power. Likewise, there is no title or name, however ringing its sound or gleaming its symbol, that justifies the manipulation or intimidation of others. This, I understand, is a lesson that the so-called leaders of your Muggle world still struggle to learn.

"So to avoid confusion and prevent myself from making more errors than I already do, I tend to focus the children's efforts on choice rather than ability. It is not so difficult to find out what your abilities are—just find out what you love. But choosing what to do with your ability, that can be a challenge. Every wizard gets a wand, one that is utterly unique to his or her personality and ability; but many, I am afraid to say, never learn what to do with it; for they never learn to choose correctly for themselves."

*J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

No comments: