Friday, June 30, 2017

Potter Anniversary

Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for The New York Times marked the 20th anniversary with a column The Muggle Problem. Douthat thinks that central problem with the series is not that it portrays conflict as being between good and evil, Dumbledore's Army vs the Death Eaters. What bothers him is that the wizarding world has no real interest in Muggles, no desire to integrate them into the wizarding community. He may be right about that, but I think he's missing the point. Although he's right that the wizarding world is a meritocracy and that getting the Hogwarts admissions letter is a bit like getting one from an Ivy League university, I think he misses the underlying critique of meritocracy in the series.

The battles in the series aren't only about the future of Hogwatrts and  the wizarding world. The Dark Lord's quest for power, if it were successful, would be as disastrous for Muggles as it would be for wizards. As Douthat himself points out Voldemort and his minions want to see Muggles "subjugated or enslaved."  What prevents that from happening are the young heroes of the series - Harry, Ron, Herminone, and, most surprisingly of all, Neville Longbottom.

In spite of what Douthat seems to believe, meritocracy is not bad. What is bad, perhaps even worth labeling as evil, is a meritocracy which exists solely for itself, in which real and often remarkable talents are used only to enrich those who possess them and not for the common good. When Harry uses his magical powers to protect his cousin from dementors, risking his own future at Hogwarts, we see meritocracy at its best. When Lucius Malfoy beats his house elf with his silver-headed cane, we see a man of great abilities who cares nothing for anyone but himself and those who can enrich him. That's the kind of evil meritocracy against which Harry and his friends risk their lives, a meritocracy that would destroy both wizards and Muggles.

Several years ago I had the privilege of preaching for a congregation of about a dozen members of a search committee. One of the things I said was that in the final battle between Harry and Voldemort what was decisive was not who was the more talented wizard. What mattered was who was the better person. Harry, I said, was willing to die for his friends. Voldemort was willing for the Death Eaters, who were never his friends at all, to die for him. That, I think, is what Rowling was trying to get us to see. Whatever gifts we have, whatever brilliance, out merit lies in our willingness to use those gifts, that brilliance, for others. As Harry might say, that's brilliant. 

Obamacare Repeal and Replace

Jeff Jacoby, a conservative columnist for The Boston Globe,  wrote recently about the “unhinged rhetoric” of critics of the GOP health care bills. I wrote to Mr. Jacoby, agreeing in part with his column, but expressing my opposition to the GOP bills in personal terms.

I agree that there is more than a little unhinged rhetoric in the debates about health care legislation. However, as the CBO analysis states, either of the current bills would result in millions of Americans no longer having health insurance. Without regular access to health care, the consequences for some of them could be disastrous.

Two years ago my my primary care physician noticed something that turned out to be a leaky heart valve. Echocardiograms over the next year revealed that I have an aortic aneurysm. The aneurysm isn't large enough to warrant surgery now but I may need surgery in the future. What would have happened had I lacked health insurance is, of course, not possible to say with any certainty. What is clear to me is that I have a better chance of making it to my 80th birthday because I have health insurance.

Unhinged rhetoric aside, the current bills would do more to hurt than help Americans get health care.