Dursleyism has Overtaken America

As a Japanese person, I have trouble understanding American politics, but even more trouble explaining my opinions of it to my fellow compatriots. But I have devised a way to explain my view of the American political landscape in terms of Harry Potter which works quite well. In the strange political year of 2018, American conservatives are like an unlikely alliance between the Slytherins and the Huffelpuffs. American liberals are an unlikely alliance between the Griffindors and the Ravenclaws. The former is plagued by conflicting values while the latter is hamstrung by conflicting priorities. But the situation has been exacerbated in recent decades because the Dursleys have infiltrated both camps.

For the uninitiated, Slytherin, Huffelpuff, Griffindor, and Ravenclaw are the student houses of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter books. Students are sorted into each house according to their talents, social attributes, desires, and ambitions. The Dursleys are Harry Potters terrible non-magic step-parents.

Slytherin house, despite their standing in the Harry Potter series as the group siding with villains, do have supporters among the fans of the franchise. Their ideal characteristics are explained as focused and driven, often at the sacrifice of morality and fair play, sometimes to the point of being sociopathic, but highly capable. It seems to be a school suited in producing ruthless corporate executives, Machiavellian politicians, and arrogant experts. Sherlock Holmes in various incarnations and Doctor Strange of Marvel Comics would fit the Slytherin mold.

Huffelpufff house, by contrast, idealizes goodness and fair play. They tend to choose fairness over victory, compassion over competition, moral rectitude over social status, and the greater good over personal glory. These are people taught to favor playing fair over playing to win. They would never game the system or seek loopholes in the rule book. They would rather lose than not play fair. The house, it is explained, has a long history of producing tragic heroes and underappreciated supporting players. They would rather remain nameless than compromise their integrity.

Slytherin and Huffelpuff may seem like diametric opposites, but they are both extremely conservative. In fact, the values that Huffelpuff espouses is practically the very definition of moral conservatism. Slytherin, meanwhile, endorses the idea that people of purest blood should be chosen as leaders in spite of their emphasis on technical mastery. Both houses agree that the finest people, whether they are appreciated as such or not, are the true elites of the world. They differ only in their respective definition of “finest”.

Griffindors value courage over all else. The house was founded with the intent to be inclusionary in direct opposition to Salazar Slytherin’s insistence on racial purity. Griffindors respect challenging the status quo and endorse rebels. They seem to have a large contingent of athletic jocks who value victory and personal glory, and as such they have a tendency to be show-offy and egoistic. Harry Potter is a prototypical Griffindor. A star athlete practically from day one, he develops as a natural, but often reckless, leader. Although he matures greatly over the course of the series, he remains incapable of seeing the world as anything but two opposing teams nearly into adulthood. But the sorting hat insisted that he should have been a Slytherin. Much has been made of how Slytherin make complex characters, but they are mirror images of Griffindors. For example, would you say Tony Stark is a Slytherin or a Griffindor?

Ravenclaws value intelligence and academic excellence. But since Hogwarts is a school, every house values academic excellence. What really sets Ravenclaw house apart from the others is its emphasis on nuance. If intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in one mind, that is what Ravenclaws value. They see the world in a spectrum of greys instead of stark contrasts. When Marietta Edgecombe betrays Dumbledore’s Army, Cho Chang, a Ravenclaw, refuses to see her as a traitor and instead says that she is a person caught between two opposing ideas. (Harry Potter, in typical Griffindor fashion, can see Marietta as nothing other than an agent for the enemy, which drove the final wedge into his romantic relationship with Cho.) Ravenclaws tend to be outspoken and often endorse contrarian opinions. This tendency to accept unconventional viewpoints fosters eccentricity, originality, and wild flights of creative imagination, allowing room for lovable eccentrics like Luna Lovegood and Nymphadora Tonks. Unfortunately, this leeway for quirkiness also opens the path for self-justifying charlatans like Gilderoy Lockhart and self-deceiving quasi-frauds like Sybill Trelawney.

Griffindors are not just Ravenclaws with brawn, nor are Ravenclaws just Griffindors with brains. Because Griffindors value heroism above all else, they need to see the world as opposing factions (which is something they hold in common with Slytherin more than any other house). Ravenclaws, who value intellectual discourse, are by nature open to varying ideas. (This characteristic has more in common with the Hufflepuff creed of “I’ll teach the lot, and treat them just the same” than it does with the dualism of heroes and non-heroes that Griffindors ascribe to.) Rebels and contrarians do not always make natural allies. But they are both harbingers of change, and thus tend to be liberal in their outlook.

Current day America in real life is a highly polarized political climate. Still, if you cut away all the hateful rhetoric, belligerent name calling, and antagonistic accusations, this is a divide between two alliances: A conservative alliance between laissez faire capitalists and conservative Christian moralists versus a liberal alliance between social reformationists and academic sophists. Neither side is a stable or logically consistent alliance. This is why, in the real world, it is the conservatives that are perversely anti-abortion (or “pro-life”, as they say) when in fact accepting and utilizing abortion as an option is a coldly pragmatic (and decidedly Slytherin) thing to do. Meanwhile, it is the liberals who are perversely in favor of gun control even though retaining power in the hands of the (potentially rebellious) little people is a liberal (and Griffindor) cause. (Replace “guns” with “wands” and you will immediately see that Griffindors would be chanting “Pry it out of my cold dead hands!”, while Slytherins would be in favor of selective ownership of wands.) Due to the nature of these illicit unions, and because politicians must pander to two sides of their alliances, real world politics are contradictory.

A polarization along these lines is not harmful in and of itself. What is harmful is the intrusion of a fifth value system on both sides. And that value system is that of the Dursleys. Uncle and aunt Dursley, who are the adoptive parents of Harry Potter, initially deny the existence of magic even when messenger owls invade their house and Hagrid is staring at their faces. But it is revealed in later volumes (Spoiler Alert) that they knew about Hogwarts, Azkaban, and all the wizarding world all along. Their strategy was to deny the truth that is staring at them in their faces. I suspect they employed this strategy to more than problems relating to magic. Denial seems to be their general modus operandi. When their child is unhappy, their solution is to shower him with more material gifts. When their guests look uneasy, they try to distract them by offering more cake. They reek of unhappiness, like all common bullies, and they try to dull the pain by acquiring more material comforts and indulging in occasional cruelty to their hostage nephew, all the while shielding their eyes from inconvenient truths.

The marking trait of our era is our denial of obvious truths and unrestrained bullying. On the liberal side, the political correctness brigade and the “safe space” people work tirelessly to stifle honest conversations that relate to unsavory narratives, and on the conservative side, any data that does not fit their favorite narrative is brushed aside as “fake news” or patched over with “alternate facts”. This is Dursleyism, and it is destroying civil discourse. When liberals call for a reform of social programs the conservatives cry “Socialism!”. When the conservatives call for data driven criminal prevention the liberals cry “Racism!”.  This is unproductive name calling. Not all forms socialism are evil and not all racial data are practical to avoid. (If you disagree with the former, you may be blind to the fact that Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and Veterans Affairs are all socialist policies. If you disagree with the latter, you may be blind to the fact that categorizing “white” extremist violence is just as much racial profiling as categorizing Muslim extremist violence.) Both parties are guilty of Dursleyism. They are turning a blind eye to the inconvenient lapses in their logic and drowning out the objections by merely yelling louder. If your mind is spinning with “But! But! But!” in objections to this statement, trying to defend the incongruities of your side of the political spectrum, you might need to take a deep breath, step back, and assess whether you are practicing partisan Dursleyism.

The moment you become a Dursley, you no longer belong to any house. Not Slytherin. Not Hufflepuff. Not Ravenclaw. Not Griffindor. You are no longer magical. You must hang up your robes and leave the discussion. Sadly, this rule is not enforced, which has lead to the chaos that American politics is today.

It was back during the Reign of George Bush the Greater that the Republican party started using the phrase “family values”. Every Republican candidate running for office lined up their sons, daughters, and grandchildren in their photo ops, lavishly projecting their procreative powers along with their staged love for family. Right wing pundits, who were not as duplicitous or Dursleyfied as they are today, were not entirely pleased. Charles Krauthammer was openly skeptical. “Shouldn’t we rather have leaders who would sacrifice their family lives in a focused service to their country?” he asked. Spoken like a true Slytherin. And he was right. AND it was okay to be right. Krauthammer exposed the pandering of Slytherins to the Hufflepuffs in the Republican supporter base, pointing out the conflicting values within the conservative alliance. Similar things happened in the liberal side as well. People used to be aware of these contradictions without feeling the need to paint over them. My belief is that American politics needs to get back to that time.

And that is my assessment of the current state of American politics as explained in terms of the Harry Potter universe.

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