From a Charlie Rose interview with JK Rowling, broadcast in October.
JKR: Well, for example, I’ve just talked about the fact that I was in a very precarious situation for a few years. I was probably as poor as you can go without being homeless in the U.K. Which is not to say that friends and family didn’t help me, because they did. But, you know, it was tough.
CR: And you were writing a book, and had to depend on the government.
JKR: Well, yeah I did, although I was working part-time. The law, at that time, was that you could earn up to a very small amount a week without forfeiting housing benefit, which was the thing that was keeping us homed. So I worked up to that amount. I had a clerical job in a church at one point, and then I was teaching, but we were still existing partly on benefits. I couldn’t wholly support us.
Then the miracle happened. Harry was published, and we really didn’t look back after a few months. It changed my life.
But that period of my life was a formative experience for me. It shaped my world view, and it always will shape my world view.
The experience of having been part of a mass of people who are very voiceless, the experience of being scapegoated and stigmatized – because that was the political climate at that time – really has colored my world view ever since. I don’t think I’ll ever lose that.
This is very interesting, yet very typical of the way that Leftism has inverted reality; and the way that when state bureaucracy replaces individual charitableness it not only drains love but induces hatred.
JKR and her daughter were dependent on the government because she had separated from her husband who lived abroad, and had returned to Britain with the young child needing to be supported by 'other people'.
This support of the separated mother and child was in fact achieved by coercive extraction of resources from 'other people' by taxation, and distribution of some proportion of these extracted resources by the state bureaucracy manned by officials.
Naturally JKR does not feel gratitude for being kept alive at a level which was luxurious by world-historical standards; why would she feel grateful to other people who had no choice in the matter but pay their taxes?
And naturally she is not grateful to state officials who make their living (often a very good living) from the job of collecting and distributing such resources.
Instead (since there is no such thing as neutrality of attitude) JKR feels a burning, and apparently lifelong, resentment that she was supported by others at a lower-than-average level for Scotland at that timepoint (i.e. relative poverty - not absolute poverty, where people are in danger of death from starvation, disease, exposure etc), and that she was supported in such a way, and in such a cultural climate, that she was regarded as having low status ('scapegoated and stigmatized').
Ever since this time, JKR supports a set of Leftist political programs that would apparently entail (since neutrality of attitude is not possible) that people such as her former self (e.g. women who leave their husbands and ask to be kept alive by the labour of others) are not 'scapegoated and stigmatized' but instead regarded as high status and admirable, and privileged by being supported at least at the average material level for their societies, maybe higher - but certainly not in relative-poverty.
In almost all societies before the twentieth century, and in much of the world even now, a woman and child in the position of JKR (having left her husband in another country) would have been dependent on the active and chosen charity of specific people (her family or a patron, or pehaps an exploiter), or from specific charitable institutions of a religious nature; or else first her child and then she herself would have died from starvation, exposure or disease.
Presumably JKR would regard this as unacceptable, since voluntary charity might not be forthcoming; yet she also regards the Leftist welfare state as unacceptable in its actually-existing form, since it is unloving and supports at the below-average level of some degree of relative-poverty.
Consequently JKR (by her expressed preferences and charitable giving) advocates a 'rights'-based model of support; dependants having the right to be supported at average (or above) levels of material welfare by 'other people' whose resources are coercively extracted; and with the additional element of moral inversion (encouraged by 'education' and other forms of propaganda, and sanctions against those who resist it) such that the welfare dependent becomes officially of higher-status than the welfare funder.
Indeed, the welfare funder gets not just zero credit for supporting welfare dependents, but less-than-zero; since under Leftism the producers are regarded as having zero right to the fruits of their labour, and are actually blamed for having obtained a larger share of resources in the first place.
The welfare state is often criticized for its economic unsustainability, but the damage it does is far deeper and worse - as exemplified by the corrosion of character produced in someone like JK Rowling.
It is understandable (from all I describe above) why she (and those like her) are not grateful to be supported by the state, and it is understandable how they would tend to react by an assertion of moral superiority to those whose resources have been coercively extracted in order to support them (at a lower level than they think they deserve).
All this is understandable, and in a sense natural.
But the really significant damage comes from moral inversion, the failure to recognize one's own resentments as evil; and instead the elevation of such resentments into a source of pride, of boastfulness - as Rowling rationalizes her shameworthy response to soulless bureaucratic humiliation into what purports to be a ringing declaration of conviction politics: her solidarity with, championship of, the "mass of people who are very voiceless."
This is to boast of one's own sinfulness, to encourage others to share in your sin; and to work to create and sustain a coercive bureaucratic state in which the incentive to this particular sin will become even further institutionalized than it already was, back in the time when JK Rowling was a single mother on benefits.
[Note: To understand the context of the above post, new readers should search the blog using 'Potter' to access the many previous discussions of JKR and the greatness of her achievement with HP.]
Perhaps she should be stripped of all her undeserved success (since it is the people who gave it to her anyway) and her wealth redistributed equally among all women who are not her but feel they deserve a better standard of living. We can even put it to a vote to make it legal and democratically moral.
Why thank you.
1,410 postings and *at last* I have satisfied you!
I agree, I have never liked her public personality, and this was a factor in delaying my reading of the books - I assumed that if written by her then they couldn't be any good.
(Of course I was completely wrong about that - they are much better than 'good'.)
Far too keen to paint herself the victim. I think many successful women are instinctively inclined to do this, as a tactic to neutralize and deflect the envy of other women - Oprah, for instance -the poor thing...
What a sad contrast in attitude to Tolkien and Lewis, who took part in prolonged trench warfare with the extreme horror and misery which that entailed, but seldom mentioned the fact.
'What a sad contrast in attitude to Tolkien and Lewis, who took part in prolonged trench warfare with the extreme horror and misery which that entailed, but seldom mentioned the fact.'
I'm sure there is an old proverb that describes this contrast. Something about how people who experience truly terrible things rarely talk about them, while people who have their egos bruised can't stop talking about it.
This is an example of something i've been thinking about lately. People were made of better, sterner stuff in the past. It's more than just upbringing, though i can't put my finger on it. Maybe the blood of Numenor has truly been spent.
Great post! Best description of this dynamic I've seen yet.
Once someone has absorbed this, they will be better equipped to understand other instances of the same dynamic, e.g. how American blacks have developed such a culture of defiance and resentment since the civil rights movement.
@JC - this dynamic is extremely well dealt with, although at much greater length, in books by Shelby Steele.
I am not shooting fish in a barrel here: I regard JK Rowling as just about the most important writer alive - and the Harry Potter books as potentially an immense force for good (and I mean Christian good).
She had done this; had somehow resisted the Potter books being sabotaged by their superficial and acceptable political correctness, to give us a deep and contemporary and very enjoyable meditation and exhortation on the reality of the transcendental, on courage and self-sacrificing love.
Thus I need to understand her apostasy; how someone with such profundity of understanding as was displayed in The Deathly Hallows can throw all this over and yield-up so fully to the shallow, fashionable, and evil incoherence of modern secular Leftism.
This is little short of a tragedy for reactionaries: it is something like our war leader changing sides: Saruman all over again!
A fine post.
I wonder where she pays her taxes? Off-shore like Bono perhaps?
@Cameron - I don't know the answer; but I am NOT accusing JKR of hypocrisy or careerism in the Bono/ Geldof mould.
Actually, I am accusing her of much worse than that!
Separate topic, but I love the quote about Bono attributed to the Sex Pistols 'Johnny Rotten/ John Lydon':
“Every time I see Bono in those big fly glasses and tight leather pants I just can’t hack it. I can’t see that as solving the world’s problems.
“He’s crushing his testicles in tight trousers for world peace.”
Secular leftist plans to make every newborn a dependent of the state are proceeding as planned. 40% of all children born in the US are to single mothers:
Clearly the "father" will be the state and its array of support mechanisms.
@Jacob - a neglected tragic aspect of this fact is that the Family is the best metaphor for Christian life in relation to God; and the experience of a (good) Father is the best metaphor for understanding our proper relationship with God. Absent the family, absent a Father, makes being a Christian that much harder (not, of course, impossible - but more difficult, more abstract, less experience-based).
I just read John Granger's article in reaction to this one and I am very pleased that he sees things mostly as you do. In this I see he is a real Christian.
I was wondering why he was silent after an account of his first rapid reading of "Casual Vacancy". Everybody who likes Harry Potter is certainly disappointed at the Saruman-like fall of JKR. (Congratulations for this metaphor. It is very appropriate.)
I was surprised at this downfall because I did not follow any interview or any news about JKR's public life. Mr. Granger expressed the hope that she would not become a cartoon of the Left, but I think she is in good way to become just that. Maybe the bright side of the story will come from that part...
I have not read much in the Potter saga, my direct opinions are limited to the Snape character and Luna Lovegood being remarkably well written, Harry's "love life" being embarassingly badly written, and the desire for a world without Americans (i.e. without the descendants of former Englishmen and others who Rowling's ancestors chased and starved out of their homelands generations ago) being achingly or shamefully evident. However, I also think that, if anything, Dr Charlton, you underestimate the talent of JRR Tolkien, and he too was ungrateful to those who selflessly protected him (i.e. the Royal Air Force in WWII who he Grima-like compared to the Nazgul), and ungrateful to those who created Englishmen's comfort with their own language, a comfort that he did not earn all by himself (such as Shakespeare, whom I believe he Denethor-like unfairly criticized on at least two unpleasant occasions), and I have read a biography and his letters and he never seemed to have demonstrated the loud public moral courage (against government support of abortion, for example) that a Christian with his position and gifts should have been expected to show. (I may be wrong about all this, I am just describing my non-scholarly impressions ) So I am not so nearly disappointed in the Harry Potter author as you are; she appears to me to be a gifted woman with normal human weaknesses, although I probably disagree with her views even more than you. By the way, thank you for your fascinating website ...
@stephen C -
My position is not, of course, that JKR is now an exceptionally wicked person; but that she has abandoned those good (and Christian) principles which structured the HP novels.
How? Quite simply by her failure to repent sin. Her failure to be a witness to Christianity.
She used Christianity covertly in the HP novels, but after this was unmasked (for those with eyes to see) in the Deathly Hallows, then she had either to make her Christianity public, explicit and a structuring principle, or else her failure to do so would amount to a denial of Christ, with all the consequences that entails.
I have read many interviews with JKR and she refers to Christianity seldom and with tentativeness and expressing her doubts and struggles, or expresses dislike of 'fundamentalist' Christians (understandable in light of the idiotic things such people have said about HP - but still, these are minor faults in the scheme of things).
She is bitter and angry against 'prejudice', in fact regards it as the single worse thing in the modern world: and she means by this exactly what the Left means by prejudice.
To regard prejudice as the worst of sins, and to regard prejudice as the major problem in modern West (where it is less than ever at any point in world history or in the world today) is a gross, deadly and indeed insane level of misunderstanding.
But this is what happens when a Christian rejects Christ, becomes ashamed of Christ, tries to minimize and hide her Christianity, attacks intolerant Christians while admiring licentious materialists... and so on.
SO at one level JKR is merely a representative figure; but at another level in her apostasy she is a tragic and irreparable loss to Christian evangelism.
We are engaged in spiritual warfare, like it or not, and as well as being responsible for our own souls, we are all in it together; and for Christians the defection of JKR to the other side is a severe defeat.
I don't think a person defects of Christianity if she hasn't ever belonged to it.
Yes, she was a kind of liberal Christian (which means 99% liberal and 1% Christian).
She used Christianity values in her novels (but I think she only was capitalizing on tradition).
I think she is in the same place she has always been.
@Imnobody - My personal experience is that the Christian understanding deployed in the Harry Potter knowledge is profound and serious; I feel that they enriched my personal understanding considerably.
If I have any discernment (which of course I must believe, or I am lost) then Rowling has been a real and deep Christian in the past.
The only question for me is whether this faith has been abandoned, and the signs are that it has been.
This can happen. I think I know of a few examples. Of course, it can only happen by the deliberate decision to leave God's family and cut oneself off.
In the case of Liberal apostasty this happens, sometimes incrementally, by replacing God with what-you-would-prefer-God-to-be.
It is the Saruman strategy of pretending to oneself that an alliance with Mordor does not *really* change anything , that the motivations are still the same as they always were before:
"We can bide our time (...) keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order, all things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak and idle friends."
For JKR Leftism is probably self-presented as merely a swifter, surer and more direct route than traditional orthodox Christianity towards the Ultimate Purpose that "we have so far striven in vain to accomplish".
Thanks for your explanation, Dr Charlton, I did misread your comment, leading to my overreactive reply - plus, even though I did realize that you have stated in the past that the Potter and friends saga is through and through Christian, I assumed that this was osmotic Christianity on the author's part, not the actual recognition of God's truth that you have just described (and the apparent abandonment of which is so troubling)(and which, unabandoned by JRRT, is my favorite aspect of Tolkien's stories, exceeding by far even his wonderful deployment of philology, narrative, characterization and so on)
Thanks for your reply, Dr Charlton, my overreactive response was due to misunderstanding your post because, although I have read your previous descriptions of the Christian demonstrations made in the Potter and friends saga, I had assumed it was an osmotic Christian element, not an actual apprehension of truth - a falling from which is actually very serious, as you point out
I posted previously, but for some reason the comment does not appear (was it deleted?)
I don't see JK Rowling's resentment, but a painful awareness of how it sucks to be poor and how to top it all off you are blamed for it, even as her success proved later on that she was a talented person.
It baffles me how most right-wingers are so blind to the fact that the best do not necessarily get ahead in a capitalist society. The most workaholic perhaps, the "bugmen" as the reactosphere is fond of calling them now.
Paying the dole to the likes of JK Rowling is an excellent investment, much better than her toiling away at some meaningless underpaid job.
How many of those who pontificate about poor have really been in their shoes? All I see is conservative commenters with cushy jobs in academia and journalism.
And your argument that "abject poverty" no longer exists is meaningless. Poverty is always relative. In order to socialize, to have a family, to fullfil your sexual needs, you need money, way more money than in the past. Therein lies the key.
@OCc - I didn't publish your comment before, because it has several factual errors of significance that I can't be bothered to correct. I still can't!
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