What Makes Voldemort, Grindelwald, and Slytherin Bad?

Voldemort was an evil wizard. Grindelwald was a bad guy. Slytherin was a big meany. Why? What makes them so bad?


Slytherin

First, Slytherin. Salazar Slytherin was one of the four founders of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Each of the four houses at Hogwarts is named after one of the founders: Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. Each is associated with specific psychological attributes. Ravenclaws are intelligent, Gryffindors are brave, Slytherins are ambitious, and Hufflepuffs are everyone else (they're mostly known for being nice). (Ravenclaw is also known for eccentric people. Eccentric is code for weird. They are obviously the best house. I'm Ravenclaw.)

This is at a time when witches and wizards were being persecuted by muggles. Muggles are people that don't have magic. Muggles were hunting and killing witches and wizards.

It's possible for a witch or wizard to be born from two muggle parents, or a mixed couple. The idea that muggles had some influence with the school scared Slytherin. He proposed that only pure-bloods should be allowed at Hogwarts.

The three other founders disagreed with him. Slytherin decided to leave. Before he left he put a curse in the school. A basilisk, which is a giant poisonous serpent, was hidden in a secret room. He said that his true heir would open the Chamber of Secrets and release the basilisk when the time was right. This basilisk would rid the school of all of its mud-blood students. (Mud-blood means not pure-blood. By rid I mean kill.)

Basically Slytherin was trying to protect witches and wizards. So, why is he bad? Putting a curse on people seems bad. But, if those people had persecuted you would it still be bad? Killing people is bad. But is it bad to kill people that are trying to kill you?

What actually make Slytherin a bad guy is his identity politics. He divides the world up into groups and says that if a person falls in a certain category then they are good or bad based on that and only that. This is often called collectivism. It can be divided up into a lot of different categories, an infinite number of categories really. A lot of people like to pit the rich and poor against each other. Race and gender are popular ways to try to get people fighting against each other. Slytherin does the same thing, he just divides the groups among magic and non-magic people.

What would have saved Slytherin? What would have made him a good guy? Well, to be a proponent for the individual and individual rights. To judge people based on the person rather than some group identity. You can even pursue the idea of identity politics and arrive at this conclusion. This is why intersectionality comes in. The idea of intersectionality is that you are the group that is the mix of all your other groups. You are the identity at this intersection. Well, since there are an unlimited number of ways to divide people up into groups you eventually arrive at a point where all people are their own group. Now you're back to the good place, the individual.

Grindelwald

Gellert Grindelwald was a close friend of Albus Dumbledore when they were young. Together they started a movement to place witches and wizards above and in charge of muggles. This is for the greater good because witches and wizards are more powerful and wiser than muggles, having access to experiences and information that muggles know not of. There was an unfortunate incident where Albus Dumbledore's sister was killed and he and Grindelwald had a falling out. Grindelwald continued the movement to put the muggles in their proper place for the greater good.

It only makes sense that the superior people would be able to make better decisions and therefore should be in charge. This is also the argument that Plato made for his Republic. This is also similar to the idea of the divine right of kings. This is the same idea as the pharaoh appointed by God, or the emperor that talks to God. The chosen people are superior and should be in charge of the inferior people. The chosen person is superior and should be in charge of the inferior people. If the inferiors get out of line then the superiors can do anything they want to keep them in check.

It's a solid argument. Naturally, some people resist being put in their "proper" place, but these are just dissidents that need to be dealt with. The "good" people will realize that they have to sacrifice things for the greater good of the cause.

One major issue with these arguments is that they have the ring of truth to them. There are some truths there, they are just truths that apply in different contexts. There are things that Grindelwald omits from telling people. For instance, no one seems to ask who will decide what the proper place for everyone is. The answer is that the person who is able to gain the most power decides, and Grindelwald is gunning for that spot.

You'll notice that Grindelwald focuses on the "greater good". Why? Because it disengages the need to be moral. There are 8 major ways to disengage from needing to be moral. Albert Bandura is the psychologist who really delved into that area. One of the best ways is to justify the ends with the means. Another great way is to dehumanize people. These two combined are a lethal combination, literally.

What would redeem Grindelwald? What would make him a good guy? The key here is that people are not means to ends to be sacrificed by someone who has more power. People are ends in themselves. Each human is a sacred self. Your first property right is the right to your body, this is your right to life. If someone else can choose to sacrifice your body then you have no rights whatsoever.

This idea of the individual as sacred is the main piece. Grindelwald sees the group as the essential unit, not the individual. Ultimately this is self-defeating because if you sacrifice enough individuals you end up not having a group. It seems weird that people would join groups that believe in sacrificing individuals. But, those people don't realize that they are going to be one of the sacrifices. They think they will be part of the superior group that sacrifices others. That's why protecting another's rights is protecting your own rights, and why supporting the violation of another individuals rights is leading to the violation of your own rights later.

(There was a Harry Potter day at John Ball Zoo that I went to with my aunt. It was fun. A lot of the events and activities were for kids, okay, all of them, but we still had fun. There was a table set up where you could write a letter to your favorite witch or wizard and send it to them via the owlery. My aunt wrote a letter to Ginny. A good choice. I wrote a letter to Grindelwald. The woman working the table was very surprised when she saw the name that I wrote on the front of the letter.)

Voldemort

Voldemort is considered the greatest evil in the "Harry Potter" universe. The entire "Harry Potter" series is based on the actions of Voldemort, he drives the entire plot. Without the person of Harry Potter you would have another hero. Without Voldemort there would be no story at all. Voldemort is much more important to the "Harry Potter" story than Harry Potter is, oddly enough.

Voldemort has a sad story. His mother was a witch that fell in love with a muggle man. Her father and brother were sent to prison after cursing this muggle. Then she used a love potion on him. Eventually she tried to not use the love potion, because love potions produce infatuation, not love. The man hated her and left. She was pregnant. Voldemort was born to a traumatized mother, an absent and betrayed father, with an uncle and a grandfather in prison. Soon after the birth of Tom Marvolo Riddle his mother died and he was sent to an orphanage. It's a bad way to start life.

At the orphanage Tom Riddle was picked on and bullied. At some point he found out that he could put people in pain if he was in the right state of mind. He could be the bully instead of the bullied. He could get things by stealing them. Snakes came to him and told him secrets. Tom had found a way to survive - take what you want, find secrets, and hurt those who would hurt you.

Tom had magical gifts and was recruited to join Hogwarts by Albus Dumbledore. Tom was very gifted and excelled. But, he still had the will to survive at all costs ingrained into him from his childhood. While studying at Hogwarts he learned that he was the heir of Slytherin, the last heir of Slytherin. He also learned that there was a way that he could become immortal, invulnerable to death. He pursued this.

To become immortal he had to break his soul apart and hide parts in objects. These objects are then called horcruxes. To break your soul apart you have to kill someone. Tom killed his father and his father's parents. Then he opened the Chamber of Secrets and the basilisk killed one girl. Revenge for betrayal, resentment for abandonment, fear of death, and hate drove him to his first murders. (Realizing your own capacity for such evil can be quite traumatizing.)

After leaving Hogwarts he started to develop a para-military organization called the Death Eaters. A lot of the recruiting was based around the idea of pure-bloods and putting muggles in their proper place. He was working on taking power by force, these ideas were just a means to an end.

There was a prophecy that said a child born at a certain time would be his downfall. He sought out this child to kill him. The child was Harry Potter. Voldemort was able to kill Harry Potter's parents, but when he tried to kill Harry the curse rebounded killing Voldemort.

Luckily Voldemort had already implemented his immortality plan. He still had some loyal followers, although most of his organization was dismantled. Eventually he was able to rise to power again. The "Harry Potter" series is about this rise to power.

Now, you can see that Voldemort does fit the description for a psychopath quite well. But, with that kind of a history what else could he turn out to be? He had a lot of bad things happen to him, starting from before he was born. His life is essentially one long story of traumatizing incidents.

The two key emotions that drove Tom to commit his first murders were resentment and fear. These two emotions can destroy you. In this case we are specifically seeing resentment over being betrayed and abandoned by family, and fear of death.

What could have redeemed Tom? He would have had to overcome he understandable psychotic break from his childhood. To let go of his resentment and to accept the inevitability of death. To voluntarily confront his own limitations and the limitations of others. A truly Herculean task.

Conclusion

We can see some themes here, and some unique things. This idea of treating people in a certain way according to their group rather than as individuals seems to inevitably lead to evil. If people are not ends in themselves then there is nothing wrong with sacrificing them. If we centralize power then there can be no freedom or peaceful change. We see clearly in Slytherin and Voldemort that fear and resentment lead to destruction.

Slytherin, Grindelwald, and Voldemort are perfect examples of what evil is, where it comes from, how it grows, how it recruits, and how it is sold. Sad stories of death and destruction, all. Warnings just as applicable to our world and our lives. Take heed.

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You can find more of what I'm doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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