Muggles for Harry Potter

Tanaquil2 at Tanaquil2 at
Sat Jun 17 18:16:35 EDT 2000

In a message dated 6/16/00 1:10:51 PM Eastern Daylight Time, amaebi at 

> Philip Belben said:
>  >Britta:
>  >>>  And to bring this back on topic: there's probably lots of things in 
>  >>>  some people would have similar objections to...
>  >Max:
>  >> definitely.  try the idea that you are responsible for your own life, 
>  a
>  >> start.
>  >Yes.  Especially in the US, but this is going out of fashion
>  > over here too...
>  It is probably because my politics differ from those of Max and Philip that
>  I disagree with them so strongly. I think the concept sees a lot of use in
>  the United States, as a way for people to beat up on folks with limited
>  opportunities and/or bad luck, and for folks with limited opportunities to
>  beat up on themselves.

Well, I was a little startled by this post so I went back to read what I'd 
posted.  I hadn't thought there was anything particularly offensive or 
absolutist in what I said but it seems to have come across that way so I 
can't have expressed myself very clearly.

I wouldn't presume to speak for Philip's politics because I don't know him 
other than through his posts to the list and so cannot know with any 
certainty what they are.  Nor do I feel that they are any of my business.
But I can speak for my own (with reluctance since politics and religion 
strike me as two subjects almost guaranteed to disrupt and polarize groups 
and I also feel that any political or religious beliefs I may possess are my 
own business.)
That said, I don't want political beliefs assigned willy nilly to me, or more 
to the point declared in public as belonging to me, that aren't in fact mine 
because I am more than capable of speaking for myself when I choose to 
exercise that right, so:

If anything I would consider myself to be apolitical because politics today 
seems to me to be largely a matter of voting for the candidate or political 
party who will (if you're lucky) do the least damage.  It doesn't seem to me 
to constitute real choice (sorry if I'm treading on toes here anyone--this is 
my opinion I'm talking about, not fact, and there'll be many people that 
absolutely disagree) and my view for what it's worth is that the process 
favors the wealthy which, to my mind at least, pretty much makes a joke of 
the whole political process by effectively denying access to roughly 98% of 
the population.  If I *had* to support a party I suppose my inclination would 
be towards the Greens, but the question is moot really because although I 
live in the U.S. I have kept my British citizenship and so can't vote here.  
If anyone is offended by that, well, too bad.  I don't expect anyone to 
subscribe to my beliefs and I choose other ways than voting to effect social 

I agree with you that the concept of self -determination "sees a lot of use 
in the United States, as a way for people to beat up on folks with limited 
opportunities and/or bad luck, and for folks with limited opportunities to 
beat up on themselves."

I think it sees a lot of use all over the world. There are always those who 
want to blame the victim for varying reasons that usually have to do with 
preserving the 'way things are' and they will twist all sorts of arguments in 
order to do so.

As for people beating themselves up:  my husband is a social worker and 
psychotherapist.  Hearing some of the stories he brings home, it sickens and 
infuriates me how cruel people can be to other people and yet still consider 
themselves human beings.  There are some kinds of damage that it's virtually 
impossible for people to recover from, supported or not, and *obviously* 
simply dismissing people who suffer this much abuse as 'responsible' for what 
happened makes no sense.  But his work as a psychotherapist means he must 
find some way to create a safe environment for his clients so that they have 
the space to explore what was done to them but can still work through it 
enough to be able to regain some measure of control over their lives, some 
sense at least that they have some control over their future.

I don't see personal responsibility in either-or terms. I happen to believe 
that within a framework that tries to limit an individual's control over his 
or her life, there can be opportunities for that individual to regain some 
measure of control, some sense that his or her identity is not solely that of 
victim.  You may feel otherwise and that is your right; but simply because 
your view differs from mine is not enough of a reason for me to identify 
yours as, to use your words,  'a lot of rubbish.'  You have your own reasons 
for your beliefs, and I have mine.  Nor is it a given that because I happen 
to believe it, it is automatically *because* I subscribe to certain politcal 
beliefs.  There are any number of reasons why I might believe it, none of 
which you have access to because you are not me.

Society throws obstacles in the way of whole swathes of people: women, people 
of color, children, homosexuals.  Those obstacles are real and extremely 
destructive, with the consequences impacting generations within a family and 
within a society, not just individuals.  I wouldn't dream of dismissing or 
trivializing them, and I would be a fool to try.  It would be like saying 
gravity doesn't exist.  I would also add that you have no way of knowing 
whether or not *I* have personally experienced them.  You can only make 
assumptions about me based on what tiny portion of myself and my experiences 
I choose to share on this list; thus those assumptions are necessarily 
sweeping and inaccurate because they are based on incomplete information.

However, to get back to the original post that triggered this discussion, I 
believe the subject under discussion was *ideas* that get books banned.  I 
think that the idea of personal responsibilty does exist in DWJ's books.  
Other people may and do read her books differently, but that is what I see, 
and I can only speak for myself after all.

I also think that quite a few parents expect their children either to follow 
precisely in their footsteps adopting all their beliefs wholesale and 
perpetuating the family traditions, or create an environment where it is 
never spoken but is nevertheless understood that the child is to live out the 
unlived aspects of the parents, do those things the parent never did but 
always secretly wanted to.  These are *my opinions*, not facts.
These parents, whom I will call hypothetical for argument's sake, would have 
a vested interest then in preventing their children from thinking 
independently, and these parents would dismiss fantasy and children's 
literature as filling children's minds with nonsense, lies and dangerous 
ideas.  They would argue strenuously that fantasy prevents children from 
being able to distinguish between fiction and reality, and campaign to have 
these books banned.  But I suspect that the real threat in these books comes 
from the fact that these stories present other ways of being and, more to the 
point,  may suggest that other ways of being have validity.
Perhaps I am completely off base here, but my sense has been that by and 
large it is parents rather than politicians that campaign to ban children's 
books, protesting at PTA meetings and the like. Not that politicians aren't 
also parents, but that is my impression.  If politicians do then jump on the 
bandwagon it seems likely to be in part because they believe it will win them 
the votes of these parents.  The campaigns may appear to be about various 
dogmas or beliefs, but my suspicion would be that what ultimately gives them 
their intensity is that the individuals who participate feel on some level 
that their very sense of identity or definition of self is under threat.  My 
feeling is that it's hard to be that passionate about a principle unless 
there's some personal stake invested.

>  And in fact, I think that as an absolutist statement, it's a lot of 

Well, maybe so.  Absolutist statements often are rubbish, almost by 
definition, because they focus on one tiny aspect of reality at the expense 
of all the others.  But I don't think it was a particularly absolutist 
statement.  It certainly wasn't intended as such.

>  Human life is a series of interactions. I certainly don't know anyone
>  important enough to be solely responsible for the conduct and results of 
>  their interactions, and I don't believe that n persons (n>1) can all be
>  solely responsible for the results of an interaction among them.

Well, I disagree somewhat here because I happen to think everyone *is* 
important enough to be solely responsible for their own conduct.  Whether 
they are mentally/emotionally  competent  to be responsible is quite another 
question that gets into the realm of mental illness which I'm not qualified 
to speak about.  But important, yes; I do feel that everyone is important.
But I agree that a person would be misguided if they sincerely believed they 
could be solely responsible for the results or outcomes of all their 
interactions.  I wouldn't be surprised if there were a clinical term for that 
sort of delusion.

But within the scope of each interaction I think that *by and large* 
individuals can take responsiblility for their own conduct.

It makes me think of two scenarios.

the first one would be learning how to be yourself without hoping or 
expecting to influence another person by doing so.
So, say for example I was having an argument with my husband.
If I said, "you said such and such and it made me feel such and such a way" 
that's okay. But if I say "you said such and such and it made me feel such 
and such a way and it's not fair and you're a big fat meanie" that's not okay.
The first way says how I feel and leaves it up to him what he wants to do 
about it.  He might say "Good. Serves you right." and I might not like it but 
that's just too bad for me. It respects his right to control his own conduct.
The second way says how I feel but it's also sneakily trying to manipulate 
what he does with the knowledge because it automatically labels him a big fat 
meanie if he disagrees with me. 
So he might say "I'm sorry, you're right" but inside he might still be 
thinking "Good. Serves you right."  And I haven't really got what I 
apparently want--an honest and open relationship--just the illusion of one.  
What I end up with is a relationship that has been muddied with 
unacknowledged power struggles which is what manipulation in this instance 
would boil down to.  Nothing has changed, nothing has grown because by trying 
to control the outcome I haven't given it space to. 
And that serves me right for thinking I could take over the results of that 
particular 'interaction' and steal his right to decide for himself what he 
wants to do.  My responsibility begins and ends with stating as honestly as I 
can how I feel without all the little strings attached.
(And before anyone speaks for me and suggests that I am claiming to be 
holier-than-thou, let me be perfectly clear in stating that our actual 
arguments are much more likely to be of the big fat meanie variety, but at 
least it's not quite so unconscious.)

Well, all that's on a very personal one on one level. I think it changes 
somewhat the larger the group gets, so here's the second scenario.

If someone experiences some sort of 'ism' (racism, sexism, ageism etc) it's 
unlikely that that one individual will be able to affect and alter the 
behavior of the discriminating group unless they're someone exceptional like 
Gandhi, because it takes a huge amount of resources and massed support and 
time to overcome institutionalized 'isms'.  The whole infrastructure of 
legal, political and social systems and attitudes has to change.
But what that one person *can* control is whether or not he/she internalizes 
that "ism" and believes it to be valid.  Rejecting the label society tries to 
stick on him/her enables that individual to keep going despite overwhelming 
obstacles, because that person knows they deserve better.  That doesn't mean 
it's easy; it doesn't mean that it's always even achievable.  But the 
possibility exists at least and sometimes that's all the hope we get to keep 

So that, *to some extent*, is where I stand politically and otherwise, 
apologies for any crushed toes, and sorry if I wasn't clear enough before and 
opened the way for misinterpretation.  But no apologies for the length of 
this post.  While I welcome strong opinions from others, and couldn't care 
less if someone calls me names, I take strong exception to people speaking 
for me or categorizing me.

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