The Injustice of Choosing Ignorance
I am who I am today in large part due to growing up with Harry Potter. Revisiting the series as an adult, I am often struck by new revelations. One theme on my mind in the current climate is the importance of truth. We should all seek to understand and accept truth in spite of internal and external obstacles. Ignorance can have terrible consequences; therefore, choosing ignorance over truth is an evil act.
Disinformation is a thread connecting antagonists throughout Harry Potter. The Dursleys, Cornelius Fudge, Dolores Umbridge, and Voldemort all thrive on lies and discrimination. But these antagonists aren’t necessarily wholly ignorant themselves. They wield ignorance as a weapon to spread discord and fear to achieve their ends.
Don’t ask questions – that was the first rule for a quiet life with the Dursleys.” (SS 20)
Even reading the first book as a child, it was clear to me that the Dursleys were wrong to forbid Harry from asking questions. Every child’s nature is to seek knowledge and understanding. Limiting this is a form of abuse.
This abuse continues as Harry feels compelled to hide in the flowerbeds to hear the news in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The Dursleys believe that teenagers should not stay abreast of what is happening in the world. Vernon is even proud that Dudley doesn’t recognize the prime minister.
When Hogwarts rejects Petunia, she shuts herself off from Lily and the magical world. Of course, Petunia wants to shield her son from this pain, especially with her sister gone. Still, forbidding the mere mention of magic puts both Harry and Dudley in danger. Dudley’s ignorance leads to him being attacked twice. The Dursleys’ abuse has no excuse.
‘If your determination to shut your eyes will carry you as far as this, Cornelius,’ said Dumbledore, ‘we have reached a parting of the ways.’” (GOF 709)
Cornelius Fudge is supremely guilty of this crime. Even with the truth of Voldemort’s return staring him in the face, Fudge clings to his comfortable denial. By stooping to terrible lows to keep the wizarding world disinformed, he obstructs crucial actions against Voldemort.
With war looming, it’s infuriating to watch the Order of the Phoenix struggle without government support. Fudge shows his true colors by refusing to consider Sirius’s innocence in Harry’s third year. Sirius dies without exoneration because of Fudge’s cowardice.
Fudge also squashes any search for Bertha Jorkins and impetuously unleashes Dementors on Barty Crouch, Jr., all while Voldemort’s power grows. As Minister of Magic, Fudge has an awesome responsibility. He doesn’t just fail the community; he dooms it.
Following Fudge’s lead, Dolores Umbridge sows ignorance in Hogwarts students. For an entire school year, she robs a wizarding generation of life-saving knowledge and practice.
If someone is alarming you with fibs about reborn Dark wizards, I would like to hear about it. I am here to help. I am your friend.” (OotP 245)
Umbridge takes extreme measures to prevent any “false” narrative. She manipulates and encourages students to rat out anyone discussing Voldemort’s return, keeping Harry isolated. This plays right into Voldemort’s hands.
Like Fudge, Umbridge’s decision to turn a blind eye also caused others to be blind to the truth. This helped to set the wizarding community on the path towards the Battle of Hogwarts. Moody, Fred, Lupin, and Tonks are just a few examples of people who died that day. Still visible 19 years later, Harry’s “I must not tell lies” scar is a powerful symbol of the dangers of ignorance.
‘Rumors of your doings have reached your old school, Tom. I should be sorry to believe half of them.’
Voldemort’s expression remained impassive as he said, ‘Greatness inspires envy, envy engenders spite, spite spawns lies.’” (HBP 443)
Voldemort is highly intelligent. He knows the value of spreading deceitful propaganda and keeping the wizarding community in the dark. Many witches and wizards choose complacency over facts because they don’t want the pain of facing this disaster head-on. Voldemort knows this and cunningly preys on ignorance as he gains total control.
In the end, Harry doesn’t defeat Voldemort because he is stronger, smarter, or more powerful. It comes down to truth and understanding. Dumbledore arms Harry with knowledge of Voldemort’s life, goals, and habits. In the end, fearing Voldemort doesn’t do anyone any good. The solution is knowing him and seeing him as human.
There is nothing more admirable than letting the truth in, particularly when it clashes with your goals and beliefs. This is why the Dursleys’ actions are inexcusable. It’s why Umbridge is universally hated and how Voldemort nearly wins. It’s why 15-year-old Seamus Finnigan, who ultimately admits to being wrong and joins Dumbledore’s Army, is braver than the Minister of Magic.
Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon, we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” (GoF film)
It’s not easy to swallow a bitter pill. Even so, choosing to accept the truth can help end atrocities. While lack of empathy creates a society of narcissists, seeking to understand one another can only do good. The Harry Potter series teaches us to rise above the cloud of ignorance. I hope that we all recognize the value of this lesson.