Video: Circumcision and Religious Freedom

 Posted by on 1 September 2011 at 10:40 am  Circumcision, Religion, Videocast
Sep 012011

In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I discussed circumcision and religious freedom. Here’s the video, now posted to YouTube:

The video for the question on lobbying as a career can be found here, and the video of the question on working for a statist company is here. All my webcast and other videos can be found on my YouTube channel.

A Nick of Barbarism

 Posted by on 18 May 2010 at 7:00 am  Circumcision, Health Care, Religion
May 182010

Regarding the news that the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that doctors perform a ritual cut to the genitals of young girls to prevent them from being shipped overseas for full circumcision, Mark Steyn writes:

Last week, the American Association of Pediatricians noted that certain, ahem, “immigrant communities” were shipping their daughters overseas to undergo “female genital mutilation.” So, in a spirit of multicultural compromise, they decided to amend their previous opposition to the practice: They’re not (for the moment) advocating full-scale clitoridectomies, but they are suggesting federal and state laws be changed to permit them to give a “ritual nick” to young girls.

A few years back, I thought even fainthearted Western liberals might draw the line at “FGM.” After all, it’s a key pillar of institutional misogyny in Islam: Its entire purpose is to deny women sexual pleasure.

True, many of us hapless Western men find we deny women sexual pleasure without even trying, but we don’t demand genital mutilation to guarantee it. On such slender distinctions does civilization rest.

Der Spiegel, an impeccably liberal magazine, summed up the remorseless Islamization of Europe in a recent headline: “How Much Allah Can The Old Continent Bear?” Well, what’s wrong with a little Allah-lite? The AAP thinks you can hop on the Sharia express and only ride a couple of stops. In such ostensibly minor concessions, the “ritual nick” we’re performing is on ourselves. Further cuts will follow.

(Via Amy Alkon.)

Steyn is right: this compromise can only lead to further accommodations of this barbaric practice. The problem is that the “ritual nick,” even if innocuous in and of itself, grants the barbaric premise that Muslim parents have a right to mutilate their daughters in accordance with the dictates of Islam. Ultimately, the result of accepting that principle will be more female circumcisions, not fewer.

The danger of this attempted compromise reminds me of Ayn Rand’s many sharp comments on the wrong of compromising one’s principles and appeasing evil. Here’s a taste:

It is only in regard to concretes or particulars, implementing a mutually accepted basic principle, that one may compromise. For instance, one may bargain with a buyer over the price one wants to receive for one’s product, and agree on a sum somewhere between one’s demand and his offer. The mutually accepted basic principle, in such case, is the principle of trade, namely: that the buyer must pay the seller for his product. But if one wanted to be paid and the alleged buyer wanted to obtain one’s product for nothing, no compromise, agreement or discussion would be possible, only the total surrender of one or the other.

There can be no compromise between a property owner and a burglar; offering the burglar a single teaspoon of one’s silverware would not be a compromise, but a total surrender–the recognition of his right to one’s property. (“Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?” in The Virtue of Selfishness)


Do not confuse appeasement with tactfulness or generosity. Appeasement is not consideration for the feelings of others, it is consideration for and compliance with the unjust, irrational and evil feelings of others. It is a policy of exempting the emotions of others from moral judgment, and of willingness to sacrifice innocent, virtuous victims to the evil malice of such emotions. (“The Age of Envy” in Return of the Primitive)


The three rules listed below are by no means exhaustive; they are merely the first leads to the understanding of a vast subject.

1. In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins.

2. In any collaboration between two men (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational one who wins.

3. When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side. (“The Anatomy of Compromise” in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal)

American Academy of Pediatrics has given the woman-hating Muslim fanatics a major victory… and I’m sure those Muslim fanatics know it.

A Story on Circumcision

 Posted by on 5 May 2010 at 7:00 am  Circumcision, Ethics, Health
May 052010

In response to Shea Levy’s post against circumcision — Why I Will Never Attend A Brit Milah, some folks on OGrownups have been discussing circumcision. I liked the following personal story by Kate so much that I asked her if I could post it here on NoodleFood. Happily, she agreed.

I would like to share my personal experience as a parent regarding circumcision. When I was pregnant with my son, I was on the fence as to whether or not to circumcise him. I was actually leaning more in the direction of having him circumcised. My husband and I talked about this for months (he was firmly against circumcision). My arguments for having it done were similar to those commonly espoused: I wanted him to look like Daddy; I wanted him to look like everyone else; I didn’t want him to have to worry about a potential increased risk for foreskin cancer; and I wanted him to be “clean”.

We both did a lot of research on the topic. We also talked to our pediatrician about it. To my surprise, she told us that the percentage of boys being circumcised in the U.S. is only 50%, and the percentage of boys being circumcised in our state (Washington) is only 40%. So, my argument for him looking like everyone else went out the window. She also said that foreskin cancer is extremely rare, and removing foreskin was a bit like removing a healthy appendix in order to prevent the possibility of appendicitis. She told us that keeping an uncircumcised penis clean is not an issue, as you simply have to teach the child how to do it (just as you would teach him how to clean any other part of his body). The decision to circumcise is essentially based either on religion or esthetics . As neither of us would circumcise our son for religious reasons, it was really a matter of esthetics.

At this point, I was leaning more towards not having our son circumcised. However, I was not completely convinced. During one of our birthing classes, the instructor showed us photos of a circumcision. I was horrified at what I saw, I and I began to cry. I could not believe that I had thought of putting my son through what to me looked like a mutilation of a perfectly good organ, simply because I preferred the looks of a circumcised penis. We decided not to have our son circumcised, and it is a decision we do not regret.

I recommend parents (or future parents) do a lot of research before making a decision, including interviewing your pediatrician.

You can find my own views of circumcision, as well as that of Leonard Peikoff, in this post.

Update: In the comments, “Restoring Tally” posted a link to these pictures of a circumcision. They’re very graphic, and I’m now even more horrified by the practice of routine circumcision. It might be done in a sterile hospital, but that doesn’t make the practice any less barbaric.

Circumcision as Mutilation

 Posted by on 20 January 2009 at 12:01 am  Circumcision, Objectivism
Jan 202009

I’ve been catching up on my listening of Dr. Peikoff’s excellent podcasts (available via iTunes) over the past few weeks. I have been enjoying them immensely — although I definitely prefer his solo podcasts to the group discussions. The questions have become increasingly interesting, and his answers are often a bit surprising. I don’t always agree with him fully, and I find our minor disagreements of great interest. All in all, I think these podcasts are a fantastic contribution our understanding of Objectivism — particularly its application to the ordinary problems of daily life. So if you’re not listening to them, you’re missing out!

A few weeks ago, my ears perked up in his discussion of circumcision in Podcast #34. I am adamantly opposed to that practice — on the grounds that it inhibits a man’s natural potential for sexual pleasure. Admittedly, I was a bit petrified to hear what Dr. Peikoff might say. (What if he didn’t think it was a big deal?!? Yikes!) But I need not have worried: he knows his stuff. Here’s the transcription, courtesy of Flibby:

Question: Medical issues aside, what right does a parent have to alter a child’s body? On one end of the spectrum, I could imagine a parent wanting to remove an abnormal but benign growth, say, a sixth, non-functioning finger. On the other end of the spectrum is circumcision, which I regard as mutilation.:

Peikoff: By the way, I agree with that 100 percent. There can be no legitimate reason for anyone to circumcise a boy. It’s either primitive religion, abject conformity, or the evil of destructiveness. Now this question goes on.

Question: Aside from from those two extremes of the sixth finger and circumcision, somewhere in the middle of the spectrum are things like ear-piercing on which I am undecided.

Peikoff: Now, my view would be this: If there is no violation of the biologically normal, then a parent may make changes. He may make changes in that which is abnormal or that which is required by the health. For instance, I do not think parents should have the right to withhold blood in the case of a child who is going to sicken and die for lack of a transfusion. That should be absolutely mandatory on similar grounds on what I said on the further question. But aside from this, I think anything else that would be permanent should be left to the child once he’s 18, forbidden by the parent until he’s 18. For instance, even piercing ears to wear earrings, piercing the tongue, having indelible tattoos — all of that I think should be prohibited by a parent and impermissible to a parent to do when the child is their ward and doesn’t know well enough what to do.

So that’s a pretty old-fashioned view but that’s definitely my view.

I was allowed to get my ears pierced after I graduated from 8th grade. That seemed way too late to me at the time, but in retrospect, I’m glad that I was mature enough to make my own decision and to care for the wound as required. (A friend of mine who got her ears pierced some years before me was so grossed out that she couldn’t touch them.) I don’t think that was problematic — but only because ear piecing is such a small thing, without any negative implications for a girl’s life. I wouldn’t say the same about a tattoo, piercing another area of the body, or a boy piercing his ears. I think those should be forbidden by the parents while their child is still a child.

What say you?

Um, I Think Not

 Posted by on 10 June 2006 at 7:47 am  Circumcision
Jun 102006

I’m very much opposed to both attempted cures for homosexuality and circumcision, but somehow the combination of the two in Dear Abby letter from a grandmother strikes me as just too absurdly ridiculous to take seriously:

DEAR ABBY: I have reason to believe that a young man in my family may be gay. (He is 15.) I have been thinking a lot about it lately, and have been wondering if circumcision would cure it. What do you think? — GRANDMOTHER IN MISSOURI

Ah yes, surely a young man’s attraction to other men can be undone by slicing off a portion of his penis! That’ll teach him… something!

As expected, Abby wasn’t so keen on the idea.

In Defense of the Intact Penis

 Posted by on 12 April 2002 at 8:34 am  Circumcision
Apr 122002

Andrew Sullivan has some excellent comments on male circumcision under the heading “The Mutilation of Children.” He writes:

I may be a broken record on this but the news today that circumcision may have a small effect in restraining transmission of the HPV virus strikes me as likely to be misused. The argument against the circumcision of infants is not that it might not conceivably have some future health-benefits. The argument against infant male genital mutilation is that it is the permanent, irreversible disfigurement of a person’s body without his consent. Unless such a move is necessary to protect a child’s life or essential health, it seems to me that it is a grotesque violation of a person’s right to control his own body. It matters not a jot why it is done. It simply should not be done – until the boy or man is able to give his informed consent. And to perform such an operation to protect the health of others is an even more unthinkable violation. It’s treating an individual entirely as a means rather than as an end. I’m at a loss why a culture such as ours that goes to great lengths to protect the dignity and safety of children (and rightly so) should look so blithely on this barbaric relic. Yes, I know there are religious justifications for it. But even so, religions should not be given ethical carte blanche over the bodies of children. Would we condone a religious ceremony that, say, permanently mutilated a child’s ear? Or tongue? Or scarred their body irreversibly? Of course not. So why do we barely object when people mutilate a child’s sexual organ?

Well put.

When I first investigated the issue of male circumcision, the barbarity and pointlessness of the practice was immediately and painfully obvious to me. (Actually, the practice isn’t really pointless, as it does serve the purpose of diminishing sexual pleasure.) Circumcision is a rights-violation, in either boys or girls. The justifications often cited for the practice were transparently ridiculous, as such arguments would never be used to justify other types of child mutilation. For example, circumcision is falsely said to eliminate the (already very low) risk of penile cancer. But it would be unthinkable to remove the breast tissue of newborn girls (if possible) so as to reduce the much greater risk of breast cancer. Life comes with risks of disease. We do not remove useful body parts in advance of any problem, particularly not without informed consent, so as to reduce those risks — except in the case of the male foreskin. Nor do we remove body parts because parents are squeamish about teaching cleaning procedures or because young men might not be so diligent about performing the necessary cleaning — except in the case of the male foreskin. As Andrew Sullivan indicates, circumcision is a glaring exception in our generally respectful attitudes towards the bodies of children.

The gross inadequacy of these arguments is yet another instance of people failing to develop or apply the all-important philosophical skill of thinking in principles. People simply don’t often-enough ask questions like: Would this sort of argument hold water in other, similar cases? As a result, they accept all manner of ludicrous conclusions simply because the arguments, taken in stark isolation, seem unobjectionable. As a result, people who would never dream of cutting off a child’s ears so as to eliminate the problem of dirt collecting behind them are willing to cut off the foreskin so as to prevent the collection of smegma.

For many, however, the problem may be more psychological in origin. As a woman, the most mind-boggling aspect of male circumcision is that most men seem to be suffering from a variant of Stockholm Syndrome as a result of the procedure. They generally steadfastly refuse to admit even the possibility that the circumcision was harmful to them. They deny that the removal of foreskin might have reduced their capacity to feel sexual pleasure, even though they clearly have no way of knowing a priori what it would be like to have sex or masturbate uncircumcised. They seem determined to ward off any thought that their parents might have seriously damaged them at an age when they could not even be aware, let alone protest, the injustice. As a result, these men go on to circumcise their own sons. It is abominable.

Men need to start standing up for their own sex.

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