This originally started off as a rebuttal to this post, linked to me by notyourexrotic but then I got distracted and ended up talking about a lot of things and a lot of personal headcanons about the wizarding world & politcs & economy & war.
Because that’s my thing.
1) We don’t know for sure that wizards hadn’t made all sorts of interesting discoveries and that these discoveries weren’t being suppressed for political reasons. Given the way the wizarding world’s political system and economy is structured, I’d say that chances are, a lot of the discoveries which could have turned up over time concerning magic and the way it worked, could have also disrupted the comfortable system in place by which the rich grew richer and richer while everyone else sort of bumbled around trying to get along.
Sorry, not could, would. It almost certainly would have disrupted this heavily caste-based society and created all kinds of trouble if people were forced to admit that actual incontestable fact showed that muggleborns were just as good at magic as purebloods. Or worse, that muggles could have a form of magic just that it wasn’t quite the same as wix magic - and that the muggles called it things like telekinesis or telepathy. Or that there could be squibs in the muggle world.
The wizarding world is crony capitalism at its worst and its not even a democracy, so what are the chances that the Department of Mysteries had come up with interesting inventions which were suppressed by the Wizengamot?
Pretty high I’d say.
(I’d also like to point out that the only time we ever even get a moment’s look at the DoM - arguably the most interesting department in the Ministry of Magic and also the only department dedicated exclusively to research - is in the middle of a battle and its mostly kids going “ooh weird shit” and that’s literally it, so you also have to take the flawed narrator perspective into account when dissecting HP canon.
And if you’re considering flawed narrator perspective, you’d also have to consider the fact that we only ever get to see the bits of the wizarding world that Harry gets to see and interestingly enough, its the not so well off parts of the wizarding world we get to see - not the homes of the rich purebloods who’d arguably be able to afford fancy gadgetry that the Weasleys can’t.)
2) Scale. everambling points this out in this post over here. Even if we are generous with their estimates and set the upper limit on population at 100,000 wix in Britain that’s approximately 2 wix per 1000. That gives you approximately 3,920,000 wix in total in the whole world.
Tbh, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for wix to have large amounts of money to invest in non-utilitarian research AND it certainly doesn’t allow for much diversity of thought, enough to warrant people collaborating over research while holding up an economy and a complicated (and regressive) system of government. There’s going to be lots of room for confirmation bias and the constant reinforcement of prejudices held in society, because that’s what happens when you get a non-diverse group of people together.
3) Using examples from the HP books to back up claims that wizards are regressive freaks is very contentious because a lot of those examples were played for shits and giggles, exoticizing the wizarding world in a way. In fact there’s a lot to be said for a sort of Orientalistic approach that JKR takes towards the wizarding world (classic exoticization of the other, depiction of them as “backwards” in terms of “scientific progress”, structured around a very ritualistic and strongly-caste based society, barbarian for endorsing this segregationist society and its treatments of its subaltern classes etc.) but that’s a topic of discussion for another day.
I’m more interested in looking at the things JKR never explicitly mentions but are the first thing you’d think of if you were in the middle of a bloody war.
Things like their pitiful military strategy - no spies at all really?
The fact that fifty men and women managed to terrify the fuck out of at least a hundred thousand other people scattered over a geographically vast area and that no one managed to catch enough of these men and women to be able to dismantle this group of terrorists.
The fact that a hundred thousand wix came to depend on a boy to save them. Without, you know, trying diplomacy and calling in allies?
I’d say the key problem with the wizarding world is the fact that its a world which seems to have been structured around the cult of personality.
Look at the way their wars are structured. In the grand scheme of things, the Death Eaters are basically minions who cause as much trouble as possible and the Order is basically the “clean up” team. The crux of the battle still depends on Harry defeating Voldemort. Defeat Voldemort and the Death Eaters magically disappear into the woodwork.
Ditto Grindelwald and Dumbledore.
And lets not forget the four Hogwarts Houses which basically sorts kids on the basis of what four people at some point in early medieval history decided was what they wanted the kids who studied under them to be like. And these kids then proceed to have enemities based on the enemities between these four original people.
The thing about “muggle inventions” is that a vast amount of our “progress” especially from about the eighteen hundreds to the fall of the Communist bloc, was - directly or indirectly - the result of warfare, colonialism and laissez-faire capitalism. Tarmac roads & railways? Useful for transporting troops through difficult terrain in the colonies. Also useful for transporting raw materials from ports to industrial centres and then to consumer centres elsewhere. The only reason men got put on the moon & in space was because Russia and America were busy flexing their muscles at each other in a not-so-subtle “mine’s bigger than yours” argument. Radar was the result of the world wars. The first few supercomputers were used for weather forecasts aaaaand aerodynamic research. The Internet was the result of the US government commissioning research into the development of no fault computer to computer communication systems. The World Wide Web was originally conceived of to create a more effective communication system for CERN - the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
And the reason all of this is so inextricably linked to our history of war, imperialism and capitalism is because wars in the muggle world happen on a completely different scale, involving hundreds of thousands of people - seriously, most armies were larger in size than the population of wizarding Britain - and necessitated inventions to match the scale of those operations, to actually put one group of people ahead of another in the whole war biz.
Also haha, most of the money that poured in to fund muggle research? Money pulled from colonies or built upon the back of the slave trade. And of course, the amount of money pouring out of these countries was in literal billions. So don’t talk to me about how muggles were smart and brilliant because the only reason they got round to inventing shit was because they had enough money to play with.
I’m not saying wizards weren’t just as bad, because my posts on the Shafiqs and the way wand-using wizards thought of non-wand using cultures indicate that they could have been equally problematic. However, I do maintain that wizards could not have colonized on a similar scale, because of, as I mentioned above, population sizes - and even if they did, the wand/non-wand dimension of segregation is less potent as is the pureblood/muggleborn classification system, so it would have probably played out quite differently. And it certainly wouldn’t have allowed for the plunder of resources to fund large scale research or necessitate research into solutions for handling large and unruly populaces.
Wizarding wars, though, unlike muggle wars are much more up close and personal. They literally revolve around the one-on-one duel (which tbh, is a seriously inefficient method of war and I imagine there’s some sort of cultural framework - one potential framework I’d come up with earlier was a trumped up notion of masculinity and honour, revolving around hand-to-hand kills being valued more than things which get the job done - that has restricted the wizarding world for so long, probably in an effort to prevent the population from going completely extinct).
Examples of wizarding warfare being structured around the cult of personality:
e.g. Dumbledore being called in to deal with Grindelwald. The fact that Dumbledore is pretty much credited with winning the war against Grindelwald - and apparently his Lightning Guard just magically evaporates/disappears along with him.
e.g. the fact that after Voldemort disappeared none of his followers who were still roaming free ever carried out any terrorist attacks, attempted to keep his group running with a different leader at the helm or to keep recruiting new members (who aren’t their sons/daughters).
e.g. the fact that after Voldemort disappeared, Harry, a one year old baby, became the hero the wizarding world would use as a crutch, instead of putting effective preventive measures into place to prevent a terrorist group from arising in the future and actively trying to use propaganda to effectively combat prejudice against muggleborns and half-bloods. And the fact that the Order never bothered strengthening ties with werewolves and other magical creatures who were at risk for recruitment by Voldemort, so as to prevent any further recruits in the future.
e.g. the fact that in the end, even with all the help Harry received from his friends, the story still revolves around Harry having to defeat Voldemort. No one else can defeat Voldemort. Only Harry. Dennis Creevey cannot pick up his wand and kill Voldemort. Oh no. Only Harry can kill Voldemort. Yes this is the result of the prophecy and Voldemort accidentally putting his soul into Harry, but given the reveals in DH, its a bit hard to ignore the fact that Harry-Voldemort falls back into the Dumbledore-Grindelwald trope.
e.g. the fact that people blindly follow their chosen leaders/institutions - Dumbledore, Voldemort, the Ministry - without really questioning the choices of their leaders, or at the most providing only very feeble resistance. That the only person who questions their choices because of a higher moral standard and not because of some person, is Regulus Black whose tale, as told by his brother, is one of a person getting too involved and wanting out - i.e. cowardice.
If you’re structuring warfare around leaders and armies literally being made or broken depending on whether or not their leaders remain undefeated in battle, that doesn’t really give much cause for people on the ground level to innovate and come up with clever ways of fighting their opponents, because either way the war that matters happens at the top out of their reach.
Its very, very easy to slip into a kind of fatalism if this is the world you’re living in, or at least to develop a completely different understanding of what progress is.
4) Progress =/= more technology. Progress = what improves the standard of living in that society, for all its people, while being relevant to that society.
What exactly would the purpose of borrowing electronics from muggles be if electronics and muggle artifacts don’t work around wizards because of magical interference?
They’d have to reinvent everything from scratch and that makes no sense if you can just create a spell to achieve the same effect.
We know that Fred and George Weasley invented a whole lot of stuff while they were at Hogwarts, so its reasonable to think that there was some sort of innovation going on, just not in the same direction that we muggles were moving in.
Its not unreasonable to expect that some of the Hogwarts professors were involved in this innovation themselves what with McGonagall’s history of having excelled in Transfiguration research and Snape having discovered ways to modify standard potions formulae so that the process became a lot more streamlined. Its not unreasonable that there were wix businessmen inventing things and selling them to the wizarding public. And its certainly not unreasonable to expect that the Department of Mysteries wasn’t doing some of this innovation itself - or at least studying and classifying the innovations of other wixes and making the more harmless ones available to the public for use - possibly through pamphlets, possibly through handbooks and guides, possibly also through the syllabus at Hogwarts (presumably spells have changed considerably in form over time and the ones we see in HP are not the same as the ones the founders of Hogwarts would have used).
The problem is not a lack of progress in the wizarding world. The problem is its political and economic structure, which allows for monopolies of knowledge, power and wealth and moreover, the way it exerts complete control over how knowledge is disseminated and what knowledge is disseminated.
The problem is knowledge suppression.