The Inflexible Flexibility of Harry Potter

Jonathan Lear has famously argued we need flexibility because each of us individually and as a species are vulnerable to things like cultural breakdown. Lear cites Plenty Coup–his life and the lives of the Crows to make this case.

Over the years, I have either agreed with him or taken issue with numerous points in the book Radical Hope.

What I want to do today, on International Harry Potter Day, is draw lessons from the Harry Potter series that we may learn about flexibility.

Contrary to Sitting Bull, Plenty Coup sided, in various ways, with the United States. The Crows had scouts working with the United States, for example.

We can get into historical debates about these facts. For instance, we can point to the fact that the Crows and Sioux were already enemies prior to the United States’ invasion.

But let’s just stick with the facts.

It is well-known the Crows sided with the United States–or worked with the United States–in many ways.

Sitting Bull is famous for not working with the United States and for fighting for freedom and resisting tirelessly the United States’ policies.

Which one is the best choice?

Lear sides with Plenty Coups. In the past, I have sided with Sitting Bull. But I wonder if this is not a false dichotomy. Let us turn now to Harry Potter.

Although the Potter series is fictional and has the familiar trappings of being such, there’s simply tons of realism in the books. I have mentioned flexibility as one of the virtues Harry and gang needed in order to defeat Lord Voldemort. And it’s true. Read to books, if you haven’t already, to learn all the ways Harry Potter had to be flexible and resilient. In fact, I would argue that without these virtues, it’s basically impossible for Harry to have defeated the Dark Lord.

But was Harry also a bit stubborn and stuck in his ways–the way Lear argues Sitting Bull may have been?

Of course.

After all, it was a sustained effort, taking several years, to defeat Lord Voldemort. But Harry didn’t budge.

The other day, when talking about flexibility, I told a couple of people, “You have to be a little bit Gumby.” And, it’s true. You do.

Growing up, I had a Gumby figurine and I can tell you that, although it was pretty flexible, it certainly would go back to its shape and it only moved within a certain range. So the figurine had a lot of flexibility, but it also remained the same.

I think we can learn something from Gumby and from Harry Potter. There are certain things we ought not budge on. But, for many others, keeping flexibility will be a huge part of our successes in life.

This is the story Lear probably should have told about flexibility.

After all, it would be heroic for a young woman to basically tell Hitler, “Fuck you, motherfucker.” That’s not being flexible about Hitler’s policies. On the contrary, that would be utterly grounded in the Good. But, in order for a young woman or group of people to actually defeat Hitler, it took sustained effort and, well, flexibility.

Harry Potter can teach all about the contextual sort of adaptability.


Author: Jennifer Lawson

Philosopher. That is all.

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