Harry Potter Update

My defense of Harry Potter against Chris Suellentrop has attracted more high-quality commentary than, perhaps, it deserved: first from Kieran Healy and now from Ampersand.

[UPDATE: Sisyphus Shrugged is also on the case. Sample: “If Harry actually existed, Fred Barnes would write nasty columns about him.”]

My original note expressed doubt about whether Suellentrop’s Slate essay wasn’t some sort of joke that I had somehow failed to get. LeanLeft thinks so, and so does one of my correspondents: Suellentrop’s intended target, they agree, was George W. Bush. That never would have occurred to me, but I believe they’re correct. My bad.

All I can say in my own defense is that Suellentrop, Kieran Healy, and Glenn Reynolds all seem to think that there’s no essential or morally relevant difference between being lucky, brave, and nice and being lucky, weaselly, and nasty. Ampersand and I disagree.

In some sense, of course, everything we are and do depends on our innate characteristics, features of the environment, and random chance, in some combination. (What else is left? Free will? Free of what? Of any determining factor whatever? Then it must be chance.) Even deliberate attempts to change character must themselves be either determined or random, with respect both to the attempt and to the extent of success.

None of that seems to me to change the fact that some people have admirable characters and some have execrable ones, just as some are physically beautiful and others aren’t. It may be unfair, but it it’s still the case.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com