“Or perhaps in Slytherin,
You’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means,
To achieve their ends.” —The Sorting Hat
I am a firm believer in the power of fiction. Books of fiction often have the power to convey ideas that nonfiction books never could hope to attain. If nonfiction can be regarded as handbooks, information deposits, a source for references, then fiction is a journey of the mind.
Reading a smart book is the same as having an intelligent conversation. A person (or a book) gives you ideas, some of them are new for you, and some of them are not. After finishing reading the book, and after finishing your conversation with a smart person, it is impossible to walk away unchanged: the mere process of having been exposed to new ideas is enough to change. If you approach these ideas with an open mind, then you change a lot.
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
— Winston Churchill
Fiction is powerful because it is not only an information depository. It is an initiation of a process of thinking. If you follow the narrative presented in the book, the ideas that the characters think about, the challenges they face, the decisions they make, their ways of behaving and doing things – you absorb much more than you would in a nonfiction book. The personal nature of books of fiction brings not only information, but also inspiration. The information you get, you have higher chances of applying it. The ideas you not only learn, you internalize them. Take the Dune series, for example: it is a story about the interaction of politics, religion, economy and ecology. I have taken so much from Dune I cannot even begin to describe its influence on me. Is this blog not a blog about becoming a Bene Gesserit (a faction in Dune)? Yes, I have named it Becoming Overhuman, but what true difference is there between an Overhuman and a Bene Gesserit?
Some fiction books haven’t had a big influence on me, and some haven’t had an influence at all. These books I will not name because I tend to remember the remarkable, not the unremarkable. Maybe one day if I read them again, I will find greater value and greater pleasure in reading them.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling has played a great role in my development while I was in elementary school, but its use hasn’t ended even today. I reread it in another language and then I read the fanfiction Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and discovered new and wonderful ideas and thoughts that found their way into this very blog. So, today’s subject will be The Slytherin Component.
(For those that haven’t read the Harry Potter series, there are four Hogwarts Houses where young wizards and witches are sorted into: Gryffindor, the House of the brave, Ravenclaw, the House of the wise, Hufflepuff, the House of the hard-working and Slytherin, the House of the ambitious.)
Slytherins. Evil, power-hungry, they will stop at nothing to gain what they wish to gain.
This is simply not true.
These are some of the wrong answers to the question “What makes a Slytherin?”
The more true answers are being ambitious, being cunning, seeking greatness, will to improve, intelligence, practicality, ingenuity, knowing how to navigate the world of humans, achieving goals…
Being evil has absolutely nothing to do with being Slytherin. Even the word cunning has an undertone of evil, which is a reflection of the general populace’s stance on intelligence, the same with the word “manipulation”, even though education of their children is nothing more than manipulation. Not being lawful good is not the same as being chaotic evil – there is plenty of room in between, and the fact that the Slytherin sees rules as an arbitrary deal between people, not as divine law that is its own purpose, is by no means the same as being an evil person.
So, what does a Slytherin make?
Ambition, yes. Cunning, yes. A thirst for greatness, yes. But a Gryffindor can also be ambitious, a Ravenclaw cunning and there is no reason for a Hufflepuff not to wish to be great.
No, the unique feature of a Slytherin is that s/he has a plan. The Slytherin is ambitious, and wishes to see his/her ambitions realized. A Slytherin doesn’t linger in simply wanting things, s/he actually does things to get his/her goals. Everything happens for a reason, and if there is no reason for something to happen, then it doesn’t. There is no time to waste on uncertainties and on not working on your goals. There is always an agenda, and a Slytherin always has this agenda in mind. This can be a purely evil agenda, gaining power and not stopping at anything in order to get it, like Frank Underwood, a true Slytherin if there ever was one. Or the agenda can be a neutral one. Or the agenda can be a good one, change the world for the good. But this ever-present agenda, proactively doing stuff to achieve your goals using intelligence and good planning – that is a Slytherin. A Slytherin may decide to be secretive about his/her plans, and that often happens. Sometimes, s/he will be completely honest and open about them. A good Slytherin will circumvent irrational laws and obsolete rules, a bad Slytherin will break what the rest of us call moral codes.
Do you have an inner Slytherin? If you do, I would advise to use it, because Slytherins get things done.