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TobyBartels comments on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 119 - Less Wrong

4 Post author: Gondolinian 10 March 2015 06:10PM

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Comment author: TobyBartels 10 March 2015 07:58:10PM 5 points [-]

No love for Emma Watson?

Comment author: Coscott 11 March 2015 01:45:27AM *  1 point [-]

There is no way Emma Watson can get behind a story that angered feminists so much.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 11 March 2015 02:30:18AM -1 points [-]

With good reason. Hermione was essentially stuffed into the fridge (warning: TV Tropes!) for half the story. The story is great, but there are completely legitimate feminist criticisms of how it went.

Comment author: CellBioGuy 11 March 2015 03:49:34PM 6 points [-]

Apparently I missed the existence of an internet argument.

Good.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 11 March 2015 04:18:06PM -1 points [-]

Can you expand on what you mean? I'm not sure I understand.

Comment author: CellBioGuy 11 March 2015 04:20:41PM *  9 points [-]

I'm glad I had zero idea about there being some kind of internet-controversy about feminism in HPMOR. I hate internet-controversies.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 March 2015 04:28:15PM 0 points [-]

The fact that Harry Potter is male is an unforgivable offense, natch.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 14 March 2015 03:28:20AM 0 points [-]

I was going to ignore this comment when it was at -5. But it is now at +7. so I'll respond (although I have to note that this is an oddly rapid change in a comment of this nature).

So to be clear: absolutely no one here has made any argument that Harry being male has anything wrong with it. That's a complete strawman which is utterly irrelevant to anything under discussion. The problem is not that Harry is male. The problem in a nutshell is the portrayal of the major female character and her role in the story. Everyone got a power boost in the story but Hermione. Major characters get to make serious novel discoveries about things, but Hermione. And when Hermione, based on her explicitly stated feminist ideals tries to be a heroine, she is ignominiously killed off. That collectively is the problem.

Comment author: Lumifer 14 March 2015 04:40:57AM 0 points [-]

That's a complete strawman which is utterly irrelevant to anything under discussion.

That's because I'm not participating in this discussion which resembles a bar-room brawl much more than a reasoned conversation. I'm just pointing a finger (well, maybe sticking it up X-D) and laughing.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 14 March 2015 01:57:59PM -1 points [-]

Please don't deliberately damage the signal to noise ratio.

Comment author: skeptical_lurker 11 March 2015 07:19:21AM *  6 points [-]

So, what you're saying is that in any story, the female characters cannot die or otherwise its sexist? This is even worse than the 'I'm a feminist and a strong independent woman, therefore I can beat a man twice my weight in a fight, despite us both being trained' which keeps ruining TV.

What would have happened if Draco had died instead? Hermione's mother would have gone before the Wizimagot and demanded... oh, wait, nevermind. Guess we'd just have to abandon that entire plot arc.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 11 March 2015 12:42:34PM 3 points [-]

So, what you're saying is that in any story, the female characters cannot die or otherwise its sexist?

No. But what has been noticed here is an aggregate pattern: female characters who die as part of an attempt by a villain to impact a male character. That's the classic fridging and that's exactly what happened here.

And it also really doesn't help that Hermione was a character who was trying to be a heroine and her death saved no one at all.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 March 2015 01:33:45PM 5 points [-]

I would rather if she'd been more part of the last long chunk of the story. It's not so much that her death had a major effect on Harry as that she was taken offstage.

Comment author: Vaniver 11 March 2015 01:35:39PM 0 points [-]

I would rather if she'd been more part of the last long chunk of the story.

There is one long chunk left; I would wager that Hermione will play a significant role in it.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 March 2015 03:37:28PM 4 points [-]

I hope so, but (ambiguity around "last") Hermione wasn't part of the most recent bunch of chapters.

Comment author: skeptical_lurker 11 March 2015 04:59:20PM 9 points [-]

But its not an aggregate pattern in EY's work specifically. Harry has to be the main character, its in the title of the story. If any main character is going to die, its going to be a sidekick.

Part of the reason for fridging female characters in general could be that they don't play an active role in the story, but in HPMOR Hermione was playing a major part.

A second reason is that people care more about women than about men - that's why reports of disasters are often phrased "X died, including Y women and children". But this is sexist against men.

In short, if Hermione had served no purpose except to generate emotions in Harry, then I could see your point. But she played a major role, if anything being more independent than in canon.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 11 March 2015 05:41:34PM 0 points [-]

But its not an aggregate pattern in EY's work specifically.

It isn't an aggregate pattern in almost anyone's work: it happens in individual cases and adds up. The problem is made all the more severe because it is very clear that Eliezer is aware of all these tropes and issues.

If any main character is going to die, its going to be a sidekick.

Sure. What about Neville or Draco?

Part of the reason for fridging female characters in general could be that they don't play an active role in the story, but in HPMOR Hermione was playing a major part.

Sometimes. Look at the trope page- there's a large amount of variation on how much of a role they've played prior to fridging. Moreover, Hermione while she did play a role, she also had the least power boost of anyone in the story.

A second reason is that people care more about women than about men - that's why reports of disasters are often phrased "X died, including Y women and children". But this is sexist against men.

Sure, and obvious way of helping get rid of this sexism is not to reinforce it in stories by using gender as a quick emotional tug.

That's not to say that there were not legitimate reasons to have Hermione be killed, and from a "is this a reasonable thing for Voldemort to try to do" perspective it makes some sense (although it does indicate that he may not understand the importance of martyrs for how people think). But there were many other options, and again, her death wasn't even heroic, she saved zero lives and wasn't even in a position to save lives. When she's explicitly trying to be a heroine out of feminist ideals, and she then gets quickly killed, what does that look like?

Comment author: skeptical_lurker 11 March 2015 06:38:09PM 4 points [-]

Sure. What about Neville or Draco?

As I said, Draco tries to kill Hermione wouldn't work, because Hermione's family don't have the influence to send Draco to Akazaban, which starts the chain of events leading to the death. Neville isn't as important a charicter as the other two.

Moreover, Hermione while she did play a role, she also had the least power boost of anyone in the story.

Ron and Hagrid have both been presented as imbeciles when they were heroes in canon.

Sure, and obvious way of helping get rid of this sexism is not to reinforce it in stories by using gender as a quick emotional tug.

What if its wired into us at the biological level because a tribe can repopulate after losing 90% of the men more than after losing 90% of the women?

Comment author: JoshuaZ 11 March 2015 06:55:09PM *  0 points [-]

As I said, Draco tries to kill Hermione wouldn't work, because Hermione's family don't have the influence to send Draco to Akazaban, which starts the chain of events leading to the death. Neville isn't as important a charicter as the other two.

Neville in many ways had more actual character development than Hermione. If anything, Neville's death would have been far more tragic if he had died trying to be a hero in the sense of having an impact on Harry. Neville is only at all heroic because of Harry. It would have been a far more emotional rebuke to Harry if Neville had tried trying to be a hero.

Ron and Hagrid have both been presented as imbeciles when they were heroes in canon.

Sure, but Ron was an idiot in canon also, and there are literally multiple subgenres of fanfic to get Ron out of the picture because so many people dislike his character. See for example Ron the Death Eater (again standard TVTropes warning.) And Hagrid being an imbecile is simply taking the issues with the character already and putting them into a serious context where actually harming children might actually have a real response. This is for example parts of Wait, What? (which in its own way is a rationalist fic).

What if its wired into us at the biological level because a tribe can repopulate after losing 90% of the men more than after losing 90% of the women?

That seems very strongly like a just-so story. I'd be very interested in seeing some sort of evidence backing up that this sort of attitude is strongly cross cultural. There are other cross-cultural reasons this might happen but that would be the minimum level.

Note also that just because something is innate doesn't mean it is a good thing: that's most of the point of learning to deal with cognitive biases for example.

Comment author: skeptical_lurker 17 March 2015 06:46:14PM 1 point [-]

Sure, but Ron was an idiot in canon also .... And Hagrid being an imbecile is simply taking the issues with the character already and putting them into a serious context

My point is that Ron and Hagrid were not upgraded, and as such I see no overall pattern where the males are upgraded and females like Hermoine are not.

That seems very strongly like a just-so story. I'd be very interested in seeing some sort of evidence backing up that this sort of attitude is strongly cross cultural. There are other cross-cultural reasons this might happen but that would be the minimum level.

I'm neither an anthropologist nor an evolutionary psychologist, so I can't say whether this is the case with high certainty. I'm also not saying its a good thing to have substantially higher empathy for females over males, but if biases such as this exist, then it does make fridging a little more understandable. Even if you consciously believes in gender egalitarianism, you're still running on what is, from your POV, corrupted hardware.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 March 2015 07:47:39PM 3 points [-]

Moreover, Hermione while she did play a role, she also had the least power boost of anyone in the story.

Hermione was the smartest student in canon-- what would a thoroughly power-boosted Hermione look like?

Comment author: b_sen 12 March 2015 01:41:22AM *  5 points [-]

I don't have a link offhand, but I recall EY stating his reasons for not boosting Hermione:

  • She doesn't need the boost to compete with the other characters, including Harry
  • If she was boosted, the story would be "Hermione Granger Discovers the Methods of Rationality and Becomes Omnipotent" (i.e. a thoroughly power-boosted Hermione would break the story)
  • A boosted Hermione would plausibly be smarter then EY
Comment author: JoshuaZ 13 March 2015 04:46:57PM 1 point [-]

Sure. Those are all reasons to not boost the character as much as the other characters get boosted. But that doesn't mean any boost is a problem. It isn't difficult to imagine what a slightly boosted Hermione might do. I gave an example elsewhere in this subthread. But one can easily imagine other similar examples.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 11 March 2015 07:55:54PM *  1 point [-]

That's a good point. But I imagine a more powerful Hermione would not only have a good memory she'd be able to use it. If Harry makes an offhand comment like

"Most spells are from garbled Latin" she should be able to say something like:

"Around 80% of First Year spells fit that description. I noticed it when I was looking at my textbooks and based on linguistic analysis I suspect that the direction is actually reversed: Latin was at some point heavily influenced by spellwords. Here's my data and the linguistic evidence."

But that doesn't happen even to that extent. We don't get her making any discoveries at all. Instead the power boosted Harry makes fundamental discoveries about potions and transfiguration and about casting the Patronus. Why can't Hermione make any on her own?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 March 2015 08:08:20PM 4 points [-]

That's a good point. Fortunately, HPMOR is hardly the last Harry Potter fanfic.

Comment author: skeptical_lurker 12 March 2015 09:05:13PM 2 points [-]

Why can't Hermione make any on her own?

She's 11/12. Harry Potter is Tom Riddle who is 65. This is why Harry acts like an adult, including making discoveries, while Hermione acts like a very intelligent child.

Comment author: CAE_Jones 11 March 2015 08:41:01PM 1 point [-]

The tricks with the Basilisk and the Proddian[sic] charm seem like they could have been adaptable to HPMoR, but at the same time, canon Hermione was older when she accomplished those things.

Even in canon, discoveries in potions were plainly not her thing, at least; see Half Blood Prince.

Comment author: Subbak 11 March 2015 06:35:45PM 3 points [-]

I don't think this line of analysis works for determining that a work is sexist. At least, it's not sexist in a problematic way (i.e. we need to get rid of it, or at least be aware of the sexism when reading it), it's sexist because the world we live in is sexist and it's practically impossible to write anythong non-sexist. Does HPMOR do anything to advance the condition of women? No, but neither does it do anything to adress racism, ableism, homophobia and plenty of other societal issues. That's not why the book was written. On the other hand, it has two strong female characters that have agency, and no female "characters" that are boobs on a stick, or a reward for the hero, or anything of the sort. Remember that EY was working from canon and could not exactly add plenty of important characters unheard of in the book. He already promoted Daphne, Tracey and (to a lesser extent) Susan compared to their role in the series (although I guess that's partially to make up for the lack of Ginny or Luna in Harry's first year). If your strongest argument to say a work is sexist in a problematic way is "a secondary female character dies without accomplishing anything", then I feel that's too strong a criteria. Hell, even in "Blue is the warmest color" (the book, not the movie, which was admittedly quite sexist in its direction), the main character dies a stupid death without ever having accomplished anything, and you'd be hard pressed to find that book sexist. In Worm, an important secondary female character is killed in an anti-climatic way by a villain we had almost never heard of until the chapter where he kills her. Is Worm sexist? I don't think so.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 March 2015 07:44:03PM 4 points [-]

HPMOR somewhat examines the automatic lack of respect adults have for children.

Comment author: seer 14 March 2015 01:59:15AM 5 points [-]

it's sexist because the world we live in is sexist and it's practically impossible to write anythong non-sexist.

That's because reality is 'sexist'.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 14 March 2015 03:15:37AM 0 points [-]

That's because reality is 'sexist'.

This is both an incredible strawman and not at all relevant to what's even being discussed. The article you linked to discusses that average human male is strength is higher than average human female strength. That's accurate and utterly irrelevant to the characterizations in question.

Heck, I'll even spot you that average male IQ is higher than average female IQ and that male standard deviation is higher than female standard deviation of IQ so there are more very intelligent males than there are very intelligent females.

Still wouldn't matter.

We are talking about A) giving people a power boost. B) that Hermione didn't get any boost even as other major players, not just Harry, but Dumbeldore and Draco did and C) that this is in the context of her being killed off ignominiously.

If you think your comment is at all relevant to any of these issues, I'd be very much interested in hearing an explanation.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 11 March 2015 06:44:15PM 0 points [-]

I don't think this line of analysis works for determining that a work is sexist.

Well, I'm not sure what it means for a work as a whole to be sexist. So in so far as that doesn't seem well-defined I agree.

At least, it's not sexist in a problematic way (i.e. we need to get rid of it, or at least be aware of the sexism when reading it),

Hang on. Full stop. The idea that any form of sexism in a work means we need to get rid of that work is something I strongly, and fundamentally disagree with. No amount of sexism is a reason for censorship.

it's sexist because the world we live in is sexist and it's practically impossible to write anythong non-sexist.

Possibly, but there are degrees of sexism, and there are issues when reinforcing certain sexist norms. I'd point out that for example, Brandon Sanderson Mistborn series is an excellent example of a series without any sexism issues in how the author approach things. And that's far from the only example.

No, but neither does it do anything to adress racism, ableism, homophobia and plenty of other societal issues.

Actually, racism is definitely addressed in the context of Muggles v. wizards, and homophobia has been addressed- see the point where one of the young wizards suspects that claims about homophobia in the Muggle community are an anti-Muggle slur. That was meant as a humorous aside but it was a clear dig at certain attitudes.

I agree that Eliezer did a wonderful job of promoting Daphne and Tracey. If he hadn't the situation would look very different.

But the argument isn't just that Hermione died without accomplishing anything, but rather that it was in a context where the male wizards (Harry and Voldemort) both received substantial power boosts, where Hermione was trying to be a heroine for feminist reasons, where people had already complained about feminist issues being treated poorly in HPMoR, and then having Hermione killed without accomplishing anything specifically because the villain desired it to have an impact on the primary male protagonist. It is that totally of issues that made this so bad.

Comment author: seer 14 March 2015 01:57:07AM 5 points [-]

Hang on. Full stop. The idea that any form of sexism in a work means we need to get rid of that work is something I strongly, and fundamentally disagree with. No amount of sexism is a reason for censorship.

But you claim that any "sexism" (however you define it) in the work is bad.

Comment author: WalterL 11 March 2015 03:39:59PM 3 points [-]

I read the whole "unicorn/troll/horcrux" part of Hermione's arc as the author's ironic contrition.

"Antifeminist, am I? Preposterous! LOOK HOW SHINY THIS PEDESTAL IS!"