Lesson Four

Limitations, Ethics and Dilemmas

Welcome everybody to the last lesson of Occlumency class. As you might have gleaned from the syllabus, this is where we will talk about limitations, ethics, dilemma and other interesting bits that touch upon the subject of Occlumency.

Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories and allow themselves to be provoked this easily - weak people, in other words - they stand no chance against his powers! He will penetrate your mind with absurd ease, Potter!

In this quote by Severus Snape, we can already see the main limitation of Occlumency, emotional transparency. This is why Harry Potter was not good at Occlumency. Rowling said that Harry's emotions were always near the surface, but that he was also always very in touch with what happened to him, and with his feelings. Because he is so honest about his feelings, he would never have been able to properly suppress them, which is what is needed to perform a successful Occlumency. Draco Malfoy on the other hand, is incredibly capable of compartmentalizing his life and his emotions, which makes him a successful Occlumens, something we see later in the series.

The biggest ethical concern or dilemma when dealing with Occlumency is breach of privacy. Though Occlumency is a defense against the mind from external penetration, also known as Legilimency, you need to be subjected to Legilimency to know how to use it, which brings forth the question of privacy. How ethical is it to breach someone's right to privacy in order for them to be able to defend against it? There are no regulations around it, but then again, the wizarding world is pretty lax around laws and privacy in general. The only time we hear about privacy being directly protected under law is in regard to Imperius Curse, which is strictly forbidden. Even there, it is more about the person's autonomy and integrity of the body rather than privacy of the mind.

Privacy is hard to define, because its boundaries and content of what is considered private differs amongst cultures and individuals within those cultures, but privacy of thought is considered a basic right in almost all, if not all, of them. The right to not be subjected to unsanctioned invasion of privacy by governments, corporations or individuals is a part of many country's privacy laws and constitutions. Some of the examples are United States Constitution, which while does not explicitly state the right to privacy, implicitly grants it under 4th Amendment, and Article 8 of European Convention on Human Rights. Interestingly enough, United Kingdom, where most of Harry Potter universe takes place, does not have a freestanding right to privacy in its common law. Instead, others torts are used, such as breach of confidence and intention of harm being some of them. It seems that Muggles and Wizards are the same when it concerns privacy laws.

As mentioned before, privacy is hard to define. However, all of those different definitions can be secured as one of the eight concepts of privacy, which are as follows:

  • the right to be let alone;
  • the option to limit the access others have to one's personal information;
  • secrecy, the option to conceal any information from others;
  • control over others' use of information about oneself;
  • states of privacy;
  • personhood and autonomy;
  • self-identity and personal growth;
  • protection of intimate relationships.

We mentioned the Imperius Curse, which falls under breach of personhood and autonomy, but what about invasion of one's mind? It can be either breach of secrecy, since our concealment of personal information, even if in the mind, was affected. Or, we can say that with the use of Legilimency, we were unable to limit the access of the Legilimens to our personal information, though one might argue that thoughts are not our personal information.

Where does that leave us with privacy in regard to using Legilimency to learn Occlumency? Well, in many countries privacy can be voluntarily sacrificed, usually in order to get benefits, such as winning a prize by offering your personal details. If the gatherer of information is more transparent when it comes to telling how the information will be used, people are more inclined to sacrifice. Same principles can be adopted for teaching of Occlumency. However, we must realize that the sacrifice applies to private information about the person, rather than the privacy of someone's mind. Here, the willingness of people to sacrifice their privacy might be a bit different. Sadly, it seems that the wizarding world still has a long way ahead when it comes to privacy of its inhabitants.

For the end, let us touch on something more positive. Besides being able to defend yourself against a Legilimens, what else is Occlumency good for? Going by Severus Snape's words to Harry Potter in the first Occlumency lesson, Occlumency uses the same principles as resistance to the Imperius Curse, namely, mental discipline and willpower. So, it is entirely possible that someone who is adept at Occlumency can throw off the effects of Imperius Curse. Same goes for Veritaserum. The potion works on the unsuspecting, the vulnerable and those insufficiently skilled to protect themselves against it as per Rowling. Since Veritaserum compels you to tell the truth, one could argue it is similar to a compulsion of Imperius, it is entirely possible that an accomplished Occlumens can successfully resist its effects.