Intersections: A Pagan View of Modern Culture
An exploration of culture, the arts, and science through the lens of modern paganism.
Newt Scamander, Politics, and the Value of Caring
In “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” J.K. Rowling presents the familiar wizarding world she originated with Harry Potter, but turns it on its head. Instead of Britain, the film takes place in the United States. Different laws apply to the witches and wizards of America, a fact which becomes a source of both humor and tension. Our main characters are not children, but adults. Instead of spending multiple installments worldbuilding and introducing a magical system, the new series is able to jump us right into a fully fleshed out world where we all know the rules, allowing more focus on storytelling.
But more importantly, our new hero is very different. Newt Scamander is nothing like the Boy Who Lived. Where Harry knows from the day he enters Hogwarts that he is marked out as the savior of the wizarding world, Scamander is really nothing more than a dedicated animal lover who seeks only to rescue and preserve the world’s most misunderstood creatures. He’s a conservationist, not a warrior.
This brilliant article explains it much better than I can. While Harry was a swashbuckling Gryffindor, focused on courage and great deeds, Newt is a Hufflepuff - a member of the most underappreciated house at Hogwarts. If the houses are elemental, Harry is a fire and Newt is an Earth. Harry must focus on strength and justice and the will to fight. Newt’s goal is to save the earth’s magical creatures, care for them, and educate others about their importance. He’s much happier digging in the dirt to feed his beloved “beasts” than fighting wand-to-wand with dark wizards. Hufflepuff’s key word is Loyalty, and Newt is unfailingly loyal to the animals that depend on him (and he’s happy to fight and dark wizards who might happen to threaten them).
Harry exemplifies the classic Hero’s Journey. Newt’s largest concern is ensuring that his thunderbird gets fed.
The two heroes couldn’t be more different from each other, but in truth they complement each other. They represent two different ethical ideas from psychological research: The ethic of justice and the ethic of caring.
Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg was studied the moral development in children. His method was to give children a problem, known as the Heinz Dilemma, and ask them their reasoning. In short the Heinz Dilemma is as follows:
In Europe, a woman was near death from cancer. One drug might save her, a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The druggist was charging $2000, ten times what the drug had cost him to make. The sick woman's husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could get together only about half of what it should cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or to let him pay later. But the druggist said no. The husband got desperate and broke into the man's store to steal the drug for his wife. Should the husband have done that? Why?
Kohlberg would collect the children’s answers and categorize their reasoning. In his research, he identified a three-level system of moral development with two sub-stages per level. The first level focuses on following rules and avoiding punishment. The second is more about social approval and maintaining order. The final stage is when a person guides their reasoning based on higher, philosophical ethical principles.
It all sounded fine until Carol Gilligan, one of Kohlberg’s students, noticed a trend. Young girls and women tended to score on the lower levels of the scale more often than boys and men. Males were more likely to be scored in the upper categories of moral reasoning.
This did not sit well with Gilligan. What she realized was that Kohlberg was bringing a masculine bias - a concept referred to in the linked article as “Toxic Masculinity” - to rate his respondents. Gilligan theorized that men tend to reason through an ethic of justice, while women tend to utilize an ethic of caring. She developed the Dilemma of the Porcupine and the Moles to test this theory:
It was growing cold, and a porcupine was looking for a home. He found a most desirable cave but saw it was occupied by a family of moles.
"Would you mind if I shared your home for the winter?" the porcupine asked the moles.
The generous moles consented and the porcupine moved in. But the cave was small and every time the moles moved around they were scratched by the porcupine's sharp quills. The moles endured this discomfort for as long as they could. Then at last they gathered courage to approach their visitor.
"Pray leave," they said, "and let us have our cave to ourselves once again."
"Oh no!" said the porcupine. "This place suits me very well. If you're not happy, then you should leave!"
As with the Heinz Dilemma, what is important is not the answer, but the reasoning. Gilligan developed a model of morality that placed self preservation at the bottom, self-sacrifice in the middle, and the principle of nonviolence at the top. She found that female participants scored higher overall than they did in Kohlberg’s model.
I don’t believe that the two ethical approaches are as clear cut across binary gender lines as it may seem. Indeed, two men - Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi - famously exemplified Gilligan’s highest principle of nonviolence. However, I do see both ethical models as valid. And, rather than pitting them against each other, I think we should see them as partners.
The world needs its Harry Potters: the young (or young-at-heart) people willing to risk life and limb for justice. Especially now, we need our activists on the front line protesting DAPL, taking to the streets to advocate for equal rights, and taking to social media to light the fire under under everyone else’s collective asses.
We also need our Newt Scamanders. We need those who stay calm, assess the situation, and select their battles out of concern for those they care for. We need our Hufflepuffs who are willing to help those in physical and emotional pain, see to the physical needs of our more vocal activists, and to tame the wild spirit of rage that can sometimes get diffused. We need those who process calmly but get the job done. As Newt Scamander placidly states while he approaches a dangerous capture: “My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”
We are entering into a dark time, both in the Wheel of the Year and in American politics. Dark times are painful, but they can lead to growth. Dr. King intentionally led his followers into painful situations to stimulate change. The discomfort of dark times can stimulate growth and manifest will, but it takes the Hufflepuffs caring for the wounded and as much as the Gryffindors on the front line.
It was Albus Dumbledore, the wisest Harry Potter character of all, who said that Love was the most powerful force in the world. Love inspires frontline activism as much as nurturing of those who fight and those who fall. In dark times, each person needs to choose where to focus their love. Justice is vital, but so is Caring. When the future looked bleak, all of Hogwarts, even the Hufflepuffs, had to come together to defeat Voldemort's fascist coup.
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