We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

On parents, religion, and children

My comment the other day about a rather imperfect – if interesting – article about the late F.A. Hayek suddenly turned into a comment thread argument about whether religious parents have the right to have the genitalia of their children adjusted (as in the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc cultures). Now, I am not all that interested in the specific health or medical arguments here, although I would be interested if those with actual medical knowledge could give some ideas on the value or otherwise of said. What interests me, as a defender of liberty, is what should be the boundaries on what parents should observe when it comes to raising their children when it comes to actions that actually affect the bodies of their kids. For example, suppose a parent of religion/ideology X decided that he or she really wanted to put a small tattoo on the forehead of their son with the symbol of their family faith? Suppose the operation to do this was painless. Would it be justified? (In my view, no).

I put this point because in the comment thread attached to my post about Hayek, one commenter called Gabriel argues that banning such operations on children done for religious reasons constitutes discrimination against his faith. Such an argument is, I think, an example of multiculturalism gone mad.

On a related theme of protecting kids, David Friedman – son of the great Milton Friedman – has thoughts.

100 comments to On parents, religion, and children

  • Ian B

    Just wrote a long comment and scrubbed it, I’ll just state what I believe the law should be-

    No such faith-based inflictions should be legal until the child is of a legally competent age. What that age should be is a matter of debate perhaps; I’d set it at 16 as with most other things currently. You can make an argument for legal competence at 14. It’s noticable that traditionally rites of passage into adulthood occurred not long after puberty (e.g. Bar Mitzvah) and that makes some sense.

    Anyway, above that age the person can do as they wish with their body. Below it, it should only be irreversibly interfered with for good medical reasons. You could make the same argument for cosmetic surgery or tattoos, as well. If a young man wants to be circumcised, that’s up to him. But he should be of an age when he can competently decide that he is a believer in Judaism, Islam or any other belief, and able to judge the potential risks of undergoing the operation. It should not be done because his parents are believers and want to lock him into their faith by branding his body. That is in my view an act of assault which should be punishable by law, as with clitoridectomy.

  • Dale Amon

    It has nothing to do with multiculturalism and everything to do with self-ownership, privacy, non-interference, non-coercion…

    It comes down to the question of what sage organization would be tasked with policing family values? And once they have power to do X how are you going to stop them from doing what all bureaucracies do? They are like ivy growing on your house. You start with a small sprig and eventually you cannot even open your window.

    The only truly safe bureaucracy is one that is killed at birth.

  • It’s all very well dealing with abstract principles intended to deal with hypothetical religion X (and coincidentally those principles most resemble the beliefs about religious initiation found in Protestant Christianity) but actually Islam and Judaism existed for hundreds or thousands of years before your principles did, and if you draw up a set of principles that prohibit the practices of those religions you can’t claim it was in ignorance of those practices.

    This is why individualism is a pretty poor basis for dealing with relationships between communities. You either accept Jews and Muslims or you don’t. You don’t let them be part of your society, tell them they are your equals under the law, and then declare later that, on reflection, they can’t actually practise their religion because it offends the recently developed ethical standards of your society.

  • Ian B

    ou either accept Jews and Muslims or you don’t. You don’t let them be part of your society, tell them they are your equals under the law, and then declare later that, on reflection, they can’t actually practise their religion because it offends the recently developed ethical standards of your society.

    So what you’re saying there then is that no British government can pass any law which is not approved by all the world’s faiths, cults and belief systems then? They have precedence, do they?

  • Gib

    You say “one commenter called Gabriel argues that banning such operations on children done for religious reasons constitutes discrimination against his faith.

    Yeah, well, I agree that it is discrimination against his faith. The same way that protecting women is discrimination against wife-beaters, prosecuting killing is discrimination against murderers, protecting children is discrimination against priests and other pedophiles.

    And, more relevant, having an intelligence exam is discrimination against stupid people gaining entry to universities. If only there was a similar barrier of entry to blog comments, we wouldn’t have had to hear the opinions of Gabriel.

  • David Friedman needs to do more research before criticising the Australian Government over the “stolen generation”.

    Start by reading what journalist Andrew Bolt has written on the subject and the inability of anyone to actually name a child taken from its parents for the reason that the state disapproved of the culture.

    He could also bother to find out what is actually happening to children in some aboriginal settlements even today.

  • Pa Annoyed

    There are two separate issues here – the extent to which religion is different from any other belief system in the respect (or otherwise) we give it, and the extent to which the principle that people should be allowed to make their own mistakes extends to making mistakes on behalf of their children. I’ll concentrate on the latter.

    There are many other beliefs people have that have been said to do harm to their children. Parents who don’t get their children vaccinated, through misinformed health scares. Or issues Libertarians might have more sympathy with – parents who homeschool, who allow their children to partake in risky activities like sports or playing outside unattended, who allow or disallow certain controversial medical treatments, who put their children on weight-control diets, or those who fail to. Even, it has been said, parents who raise their children with incorrect and mentally crippling beliefs, like Socialism.

    It is a fundamental of J S Mill’s liberty that people have sovereignty over themselves – even in cases where they do themselves harm, and based on nutty beliefs. And for children (or for those adult incapable of looking after themselves) it is clear that some other responsible agent must stand in their stead. (Who must potentially do them harm based on nutty beliefs until they are old enough to do so themselves.) Errors cannot be avoided entirely, and it is sensible not to base your policy on the delusion that they can. The question is, would you rather it be the state’s mistakes (bearing in mind that the state is at least nominally under scrutiny to prevent the worst abuses) or the children’s own parents (with the cases discussed here being possibilities)? Where are the better odds?

    On the other hand, I do think with Mill that it should be explained to people in the clearest of terms and with the best evidence presented that their beliefs are insane, entirely without foundation, and harmful to their children. Consent should be informed.


    However, I’m in two minds about the concept that children should be allowed to sue their parents on achieving majority, should they decide they don’t like the decisions made for them.

    It’s a bit like military decisions – the officer who gave the order is held responsible for the consequences, but has to be judged on the basis of what they believed at the time they gave it. When faced with a choice for which you don’t have the information you need and where there may be no right answer, you have to give them some protection from 20-20 hindsight blame, otherwise they’ll never take chances or even proper decisions and you’ll lose the war.

    That’s a lesson that could be learned by any bureaucracy that suffers from bureaucrats spending more time and effort covering themselves than doing the job they’re paid for.

  • Gabriel

    I did not say that exactly, or even at all. I said that a prohibition to infant circumcision is, on point of fact, tantamount to a ban on the practise of Judaism and that (though this may say very bad things about Jews) it would result in the exodus of the majority of Jews from the country.

    Now all this is completely 100% true and as a native of this country I’m not exactly thrilled about Ian B’s claim that as a member of an alien culture I have no right to bitch. (Remember when you once claimed that I had a deep-seated hatred for all foreigners, which I clothed in a superficial erudition or something?)

    Anyway, more importantly I and others pointed out that:
    a) Your concept of child rights based upon consent is moronic. Its partial application leads to spoilt unpleasant children. Taken to its logical extreme it would lead to a whole bunch of dead children who refused their medicine. It does not seem to me sensible to ban something based upon a wildy incoherent ideology.
    b) Banning infant circumcision is a pointless introduction of violence into society to deal with a completely non-existent problem. There are no observed problems among either U.S. males or Jews that need fixing. You are in this regard no different from the worst exhibitors of Progressive Bansturbationism.
    3) Infant circumcision of males has always been legal in the U.K. and was until not very long ago was completely ubiquitous amongst the upper classes. No matter how you try to paint this, you are introducing alien elements into our legal system.

    If only there was a similar barrier of entry to blog comments, we wouldn’t have had to hear the opinions of Gabriel.

    Lol.

  • Gabriel

    I would advise those who have less than perfect confidence in JP’s account to read Squalor Two’s complete refutation of JP and Ian B’s arguments at 3:34, which he does with suitable vigour, but minus my not inconsiderable tetchiness

  • Pa Annoyed

    Gabriel,

    a) The concept is informed consent. Children are treated differently to the extent that their consent cannot be informed. You could equally argue (and authoritarian fundamentalists of various stripes have) that liberty leads to spoilt and unpleasant adults.

    b) “pointless”!!! Ho, ho ho.

    3)?!! “That’s the way we’ve always done it” has never, on its own, been a good enough excuse for anything. Were our reasons for allowing it in the past good ones? Is the Status Quo satisfactory?

  • Ian B

    Pa, I think you’re looking at it the wrong way. The tendency is to look at this like a left-winger, in terms of the state protecting people from themselves, e.g. stopping them making wrong decisions or believing dangerous nutty ideas, and the state intervening. Since we’re libertarians and don’t agree with state intervention in those things, we must allow parents apparently complete carte blanche, then, is the conclusion. But that’s the wrong way to look at it.

    We must note that there are already many things parents are barred from doing which even libertarians would agree with. They can’t murder their children, or starve them, lock them in cellars, have sex with (rape) them, or saw off their legs for a laugh. All these things would draw the attention of the law. The reason is, they are all forms of breaking laws which apply to every citizen. You may not murder another adult; you may not murder your child. You may not rape another adult, or your child. And so on.

    So it’s not a slippery slope of the state intervening to run family life, any more than a law against murder is the state interfering with your relationships with adults. The prohibitions on these things stem from the basic liberatarian rights; integrity of life, liberty and property. And all we do is ensure that they are applied to children as well as adults, and adults do not get a free pass because they are the wards of their children.

    Injury of another person is against the law. It would not be against the law for me to injure another person to save their life, e.g. hauling them away from a fire even though it damages their leg. Doctors would operate on an incapacitated adult even if no consent could be found (e.g. after a bomb blast). But to injure another person for no reason is against the law, and rightly so.

    All we do is apply that law. I said in the other thread that I see allowing religious circumcision of boys is akin to times past when wife-beating was tolerated; an inconsistency. It was always against the law to beat another person, so all that was done was ensuring that the law was equally applied to everyone including wives. This is simply the same thing. Indeed, many muslims believe that the Quran recommends wife beating. That doesn’t matter. They’re not allowed to do that here, because the law applies to everyone.

    It is simply a matter of ensuring that parents do not commit arbitrary violence against their children, which is already against the law and applied in virtually all other ways. Circumcision is an exception to that which exists for abritrary historical reasons and needs to go the same way as wife-beating. You don’t even need new legislation to do it. We don’t let it happen to girls (or at least we’re not supposed to, though the multiculturalists are apparently turning a blind eye). We shouldn’t let it happen to boys either.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Ian B,

    You can’t give absolute power to either. Yes, there are limits beyond which it is clear that a parent is not acting on behalf of a child. I wouldn’t except a religious practice from that principle simply because it is religious, or because the particular community would pick up and leave. But at the same time I think it is a more delicate question than you imply as to what those limits are.

    Consider the child who is allowed to ride a bike outside unattended (in my day, even without a helmet!), and comes back with skinned knees from falling off. Blood and tears everywhere. And yet, in most cases it was regarded as normal and expected. Falling out of trees was another good one, as was getting into fights with other kids. There was a far more casual attitude to pain and injury than the cotton-wool society we have today.

    Sustained abuse over months or years is different. I am in no doubt that circumcision is a cruel assault, and I’ve no sympathy with religious excuses for it, but I’m at the same time unconvinced that it’s a large enough assault to justify bringing the state into a family’s private choices. I can see how a case can be made either way, and I don’t think either of you is unquestionably right or wrong. But liberty does not allow the prevention of all evil.

  • Ian B

    Also, Gabriel, you’ve brought up circumcision of the nobs a few times, saying it was ubiquitous until recently. That’s not really a fair portrayal. It was common until a few decades ago, but was more of a fad which began in the mid 19th century, stoked up by various campaigners, a fear of syphilis (the AIDS of its day), an obsession with “cleanliness” which obtains to much health quackery. It is not an historically normal British practise; there was a phase when it was done, then the reasoning for doing it was seen to be false by the medical community, and it died out. You’re being disingenuous in implying a continuity of circumcision extending into the past- and of course, as even you admit, it was only among the higher social classes.

    It’s interesting to note how modern health scares are leading some of its proponents to attempt to spread it again. The latest suspicious idea is that it protects against AIDS; the research seems highly dubious. Crazy ideas never want to die.

    And looking at crazy ideas, we note that the American fascination with it was again driven by health quackery- to prevent masturbation and that cleanliness thing again, the same fascination with odd definitions of cleanliness that leads the higher social classes to have their arseholes jetwashed, to purge and detox. It seems that the more obsessed people become with purity, the more obsessed with their bottoms and genitalia they become.

  • Ian B

    Pa, I clearly wasn’t clear enough. Your counterexamples are best described as negligence. Whether or how much the state should be involved in negligent acts is an interesting question but doesn’t concern us here. This is an issue of proactive harm. I think there is a clear distinction. To be crude but hopefully illustrative about it, that’s the difference between letting a child play unsupervised near a fire resulting in burns, and actively putting your child on the fire with the intention of burning them.

    Nanny statism is a matter of ever more intervention in (potential) negligence and tighter definitions thereof, or in ignorance i.e. protecting adults from themselves. This is a matter of protecting children from deliberate harmful acts by adults.

  • Frederick Davies

    Libertarianism is to allow others to make their own decisions, and not have others decide for them. Libertarianism is NOT about substituting anyone’s right to make their own decisions based on their own ideas for the Rule of Reason. If people want to be irrational in their decision-making, as long as it does not affect others, it is nobody else’s business. Rationalism and Libertarianism are not the same thing, no matter that some people in this blog would like it to be. Militant atheists are as un-libertarian as the most rabid Islamic fundamentalist.

    The crux of the matter here is what happens when someone’s decisions (rational or irrational, it does not matter) affect their kids. Those that try to make kids like little adults with their same rights are guilty of moonbattery of the same kind we sometimes accuse Socialists of (sacrificing sanity for the sake of consistency; see the blog glossary). Kids are not adults and it is against all sanity to pretend they are; they are not endowed with the same rights and obligations as adults. Kids must inherently be the wards of someone, and if I have to choose between their parents and the State: I choose their parents. The State is just too dangerous to be given such power. I do not propose to give parents power to do whatever they want, but as long as the kid’s life and sanity is not endangered, it is not my (or anyone else’s) business how much skin a boy’s penis is to have; to propose otherwise is just Socialism with a Libertarian name. A certain amount of toleration of other’s private practices is indispensable for any free society that wants to stay that way.

  • Andrew R

    Ian B:

    This is a matter of protecting children from deliberate harmful acts by adults.

    By whose definition of “harmful”? – if simply ‘non-consensual,’ then there does seem to be a fair point that children refusing to take medicine are being harmed if they are coerced.

    If something else – some abstract standard of good-parenting to which deviant parents should be compelled to adhere – then it falls to you to delimit the boundaries of this before you can argue that circumcision is unacceptable, but forcing a child to take medicine is acceptable. It strikes me that the ‘easiest’ (though possibly erroneous) way out is to consider whether the act was intended to harm the child; plainly, with religious circumcision, it was not.

    Frederick Davies:

    Kids are not adults and it is against all sanity to pretend they are; they are not endowed with the same rights and obligations as adults.

    Which raises two questions (to my mind, unanswerable ones) – how many days after birth does one become “endowed with the same rights and obligations as adults,” and what are the precise rights of children prior to their becoming an adult?

    Simply claiming, as you do, that people who are consistent must be wrong seems to me to be a rather curious line of attack…

  • Ian B

    it is not my (or anyone else’s) business how much skin a boy’s penis is to have

    Firstly, the foreskin isn’t just “skin”. It’s a specific organ with a specific function (protection and lubrication of the glans penis). Dismissing it as skin is the same as dismissing eyelids or lips as just skin; they too have specific functions.

    Is it equally not your (or anyone else’s) business whether girls growing up in Britain have clitorises or not?

    I find the assertion that children have no rights to also be depressing and astonishing. Can we kill children? Are we free to rape them? Can I chain one to a treadmill? If not, why not if they have no rights?

  • Andrew R

    A third thought ariss, to the post by Frederick Davies.

    I do not propose to give parents power to do whatever they want, but as long as the kid’s life and sanity is not endangered, it is not my (or anyone else’s) business how much skin a boy’s penis is to have.

    I assume, here, you mean, “anybody else other than his parents” – but you certainly haven’t supplied justification for this.

    Suppose a child’s parents don’t want circumcision, but the next door neighbour does: if the child has no right to his foreskin, whose rights are violated if the neighbour arranges for the circumcision to be performed? – ie, why ought it solely be the parents of the child who are allowed to disfigure him? – and what ought to be done if the parents disagree among themselves?

  • It should be illegal for any adult, parent or not, to indoctrinate any child in any religion, period. If they choose to follow one of the multitudinous superstitions which we’ve infected our intellects with once they’re an adult that’s their business, but to poison a child’s mind against reason from a very young age is, in my view, abuse and is something that stunts not only the intellectual growth of the child but that of the rest of humanity also. Just as much as genital mutilation (male or female) is.

    That is all.

  • nick g.

    Quite right, Mandrill!
    But first, let’s kill all climate change deniers!
    After all, the scientists who make up these consensus reports must be reasonable people, therefore the consensus MUST be right, therefore to say otherwise is against reason, therefore anyone against it is not reasonable, and is therefore a lunatic, or deliberately choosing evil!
    This worked well in Germany, where the Nazies made sure that their rational beliefs in Aryan supremacy became the law of the land, and the schoolyard.
    And militant atheism was such an unalloyed blessing to Russia, as well! After all, if you can’t trust the government, who can you trust?

  • Flash Gordon

    Reading these comments is the best evidence of why libertarianism is and will forever remain relegated to single digit percentages of the population.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I would advise those who have less than perfect confidence in JP’s account to read Squalor Two’s complete refutation of JP and Ian B’s arguments at 3:34, which he does with suitable vigour, but minus my not inconsiderable tetchiness

    “complete refutation”? You are having a laugh.

    What I find so odd is how Gabriel and the supporters of infant genitalia operations done for religious reasons skirt around the issue of consent. If they wanted to argue that this was done for health reasons and could prove the benefits, I might listen. But they don’t. Over and over again, Gabriel has argued that outlawing the practice would somehow be an attack on his faith, or is somehow an assault on the sanctity of the family, or some terrible advance of state power, etc.

    Since when has enforcement of the law against the initiation of violence against kids, as in the case of male and female circumcision, or other practices (like the binding of feet in Chinese culture), been something that is objectionable to those who are concerned about liberty?

    Reading these comments is the best evidence of why libertarianism is and will forever remain relegated to single digit percentages of the population.

    Try and make an argument instead, old chap.

  • When are we banning children’s haircuts?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    When are we banning children’s haircuts?

    We are not, because a haircut is not an irreversible thing, while cutting bits off a body that cannot grow back plainly is. QED.

  • Frederick Davies

    Andrew R,

    Which raises two questions (to my mind, unanswerable ones) – how many days after birth does one become “endowed with the same rights and obligations as adults,”

    When they become adults; 18 years of age seem to be quite a common figure for this. In some places there is even progression in the process (16/18/21). Each country can decide that for themselves.

    and what are the precise rights of children prior to their becoming an adult?

    “…as long as the kid’s life and sanity is not endangered…”

    Questions answered…

    Simply claiming, as you do, that people who are consistent must be wrong seems to me to be a rather curious line of attack…

    No, only those who are consistent beyond the limits of common sense; or do you believe that if you take your average 5 year old and explain to him that taking that other kid’s toys is a violation of property rights he is going to take any notice when you go away?

    I assume, here, you mean, “anybody else other than his parents” – but you certainly haven’t supplied justification for this.

    “…Kids must inherently be the wards of someone, and if I have to choose between their parents and the State: I choose their parents. The State is just too dangerous to be given such power…”

    Ian B,

    Can we kill children? Are we free to rape them? Can I chain one to a treadmill? If not, why not if they have no rights?

    “…I do not propose to give parents power to do whatever they want, but as long as the kid’s life and sanity is not endangered, it is not…”

    Can you people READ my post in ITS ENTIRETY before answering, please? Nobody likes to repeat themselves.

    Flash Gordon,

    Reading these comments is the best evidence of why libertarianism is and will forever remain relegated to single digit percentages of the population.

    Sad, but true. Until some people understand that the last thing we need is another utopianist ideology to replace Socialism, Communism, Nazism, Environmentalism, etc, we aren’t going anywhere.

  • nick g.

    I call my brand of libertarianism, ‘Pansecessionism’. A landowner should be a monarch on that land. When an individual starts earning his/her own money, they can be citizens, which would simply mean that you could vote on laws for public roads. Ideally, everyone would have insurance, so if you heard cries for help, and invaded a person’s estate, and it was simply a parrot trying out voice skills, then you would pay compensation. If you rescued someone, you could turn them over to public authorities, if warranted. There is no easy libertarian solution, but we should not give up.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    A certain amount of toleration of other’s private practices is indispensable for any free society that wants to stay that way.

    But that begs the question of whether “private practices” between parents and babies gives carte blanche for the former to irreversibly affect the physical bodies of the latter for reasons of ancient religious doctrine.

    Let’s accept, for the sake of argument, that enforcing laws against such “practices” could cause more harm than good, such as damage the family lives of many generally happy children, and so on. Tthat is something I would have to bear in mind. Getting the State involved is nearly always worse than not.

    But as Ian B has said, the English Common law has for centuries outlawed assault. If it can be proved that genital operations carried out for reasons other than to protect the health of a baby are impermissable, then the law must be applied.

    Take a different example. In China, for centuries, it was the practice to bind the feet of young girls to prevent them from growing. Small feet were prized as a sign of beauty (why I have no idea). The practice was eventually banned. Now, I wonder if people had similar debates to this one on how foot-binding was a precious aspect of culture, that outlawing it would cause violence, drive foot-binders out of the country, etc. Such an argument would be rightly laughed out of court. So what is the difference with female/male circumcision?

  • “So what you’re saying there then is that no British government can pass any law which is not approved by all the world’s faiths, cults and belief systems then?”

    No, I’m suggesting that no government can pass a law outlawing the practice of a religion that has been practised in that country for hundreds of years *without* aiming to persecute that religion. There’s something very wrong with any notion of human rights that mandates the persecution of religious minorities.

  • A person’s religion should be irrelevant before the law. It is not their professed faith that should be taken account of but their actions, whether prompted by that faith or not. If someone does something unethical, wrong and/or morally repugnant in the eyes of the law or the individuals involved then they should be prosecuted for it, end of story. Religion is too often used as an excuse or a get out clause for so many disgusting acts that it is no longer funny. Religion is irrelevant on a social scale and should therefore be disregarded at a societal level. It may be very significant to an individual but it has no place in the day to day running of a country.

    That being said, no government should restrict the right of individuals to believe whatever nonsense they want, but then conversely it should also not restrict the right of others to ridicule such individuals for believing it. As soon as violence is involved this changes and it becomes a matter of assault, murder or other easily definable crimes. Religion remains irrelevant however and the fabrication of the nonsensical ‘Hate Crimes’ overcomplicates something that is really rather simple.

    On the matter of needless mutilation of children on the basis of faith, then that should be a crime no matter who does it or for what reason. Just as needless mutilation of children on the basis of being a sick bastard is.

  • J

    That sad fact is this argument is a waste of time if it does not take into account societal norms. It might be nice to have an entirely abstract definition of rights that indicated if circumcision, Sunday school and tribal scarring were allowable or not, but it won’t happen. This is because we can’t dodge relativism on this issue. Circumcision is just a point on a continuum from spanking at one end to intentionally crippling at the other.

    It’s clearly daft to ban any physical coercion of children. It’s clearly daft to allow severe mutilation, on any grounds at all. Where we draw the line is not really a question of rights and definitions, it’s simply a case of what society will tolerate combined with some approximate bounding by general rights and laws.

    If I send my child to his room is that false imprisonment? If I confiscate a toy he bought with his own paper round money is that theft? Is spanking common assault? Is making him go to Church brainwashing? Should it be illegal for me to shave my 13 year old girl’s head as a punishment? Should it be illegal for me not cut my daughter’s hair so it grows to her waist? Should all children have the right to refuse being send to boarding school? If my 14yr old son refuses to eat food that’s not covered in ketchup, and I refuse to have ketchup in the house, whose fault is it when he becomes malnourished?

    No simple definition of rights will answer these questions. I err on the side of the state allowing more rather than less, and that ‘odd’ behaviour (such as shaving a teenage girls head as a punishment) should be condemned by civil society rather than punished by the state.

    I do, however, find it odd that I can find a doctor who will circumcise my baby son, but I can’t find any vet who will pierce my cat’s ears.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    There’s something very wrong with any notion of human rights that mandates the persecution of religious minorities.

    I don’t buy this logic. If a religious, or for that matter, secular group of people have a tradition of irreversibly altering the body of a baby for no other reason than it is commanded by some text or whatever, that is wrong. Saying that enforcing the law against assault must involve the “persecution” of a religion is nuts. If a religion requires such assaults, then so much the worse for that religion. (By the way, this thread has certainly not made me any more favourably disposed to religion, quite the reverse).

    The non-initiation of force principle is a bedrock principle of human civilisation. Another bedrock is the need to care and protect the young from harm. Unless the advocates of genitalia-alteration can prove to me that there is clear medical support for these practices, the defence of said deserves to be treated with suspicion.

    Anyway, I fail to see how I can put this point any more clearly, so I will leave it here.

  • One of the interesting things about life is the difference between “morally repugnant” and “against the law” (which mandrill seems to combine, at least somewhat at July 28, 2008 09:33 AM).

    Of course, a major difference (perhaps the major difference) is that “morally repugnant” is (or should be) a matter of opinion for each individual, where it does not include serious harm to others. “Against the law”, on the other hand, contains (or should contain) both harm to others and agreement of the vast majority that the harm is sufficiently serious to constrain by law the minority who do not agree.

    One of the problems with the current UK government is that they use the law to enforce their own decisions on moral repugnance, way beyond what at least I find acceptable constraint on others. This is even though I might view the things criminalised as “morally repugnant”, a danger to oneself, or things better avoided.

    In the case of male circumcision, we seem to be in a grey area. There is, perhaps, physical harm; whether it is serious, I doubt. It certainly strikes me as a lesser evil than the so-called female circumcision and also (at least ‘late’) abortion (which Gabriel raised in a comment in that earlier Samizdata posting).

    What puzzles me here is that several regular commenters who would normally take a strong libertarian line on freedom of action seem instead to be strongly supporting a centralist statist line on this grey issue. For reasons that I do not understand, in male circumcision the motive of parents seem to be in question: particularly the motive of religious observance; it seems to me that this not as simple as the ‘non-converse': no medical justification. Why should the issue be made worse by religious practice; is not the physical act alone (without medical justification) sufficient to support banning it? If not, should the practice be banned?

    We then come to the issue of whether parents or the state should take primary responsibility for the upbringing of children.

    In my view, every step taken by the state to increase its control over the upbringing of children is a mistake. It also strikes me that, at least with communism and the excessive socialism of the current UK government, the desired control of the state is, itself, pursued in a way that I find difficult to differentiate from many aspects of the more fundamentalist religions.

    The state has gone beyond the quite possibly reasonable funding of education for all children, particularly for those whose parents cannot afford it, funded through the proportionate (and at least somewhat graduated) taxation implicit in the ‘welfare state’. We now have state control of well beyond a minimum curriculum to pretty much its entirety – surely a constraint on the rate of societal evolution. Many people (including, so it now seems, some of those here gathered) want to go further, in the banning of schools with religious affiliation (in totality or in receipt of funding from the taxpayer); this is where the vast majority of such schools have mixed intake and very limited and optional teaching and other practices of their sponsoring religion. What is worse, there is often (even usually) substitution of political creed (for example, teaching of false or uncertain science on Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming).

    The world is, by no means, a perfect place. There are many opinions on many things; thus statist one-size-fits-all is bad. It is as bad in the upbringing of children (including many grey areas) as in anything else. In fact statist interference in the education of children can surely lead ultimately to nothing other than indoctrination with the policy of statism. Wonderful, isn’t it?

    Even though I personally find “morally repugnant” some of the actions that continue to be permitted (‘late’ abortion) or ‘better not done’ (male circumcision), in my view, pretty much any further law to reduce parental freedom in favour of the state is almost certainly heading in exactly the wrong direction.

    Best regards

  • People seem determined to say “we can ban actions we like without paying attention to who carries out the action we are banning”. Presumably a law banning turbans would simply be wrong in as much as it restricts freedom, rather than wrong because it is unfair on Sikhs? This is where individualism becomes inadequate. communities can be oppressed just as much as individuals.

    Ban a part of the Jewish religion and you are persecuting Jews. Now that makes sense if you are willing to explicitly claim that Jews are cruel people who mutilate their children but do not pretend that you had no idea when you were banning circumcision that it was the Jews who were in the firing line.

    An attack on “religion” or “surgical alteration of infants” in the abstract can only ever be a gloss on a reality which would entail prosecuting Jews for practising Judaism. It is not asking for special protection for religion to suggest that people shouldn’t advocate laws that would effectively prohibit the practise of a religion. I’m not suggesting that parents can do what they like regarding their children, but raising them Jewish should be one of the things they are allowed to do even if others in society don’t like it. Not because of universal rights or principles, but because I would simply prefer to live in a society where Jews are tolerated.

  • J,
    Why do you want your cat to have pierced ears? One of the oddest things I’ve heard for a while. But then IMHO this thread is going absolutely nowhere.

    I shall now hurl in my $0.02 for the hell of it. I really don’t know on matters of principle. This seems a strong case of unstoppable force meets immovable object.

    So, let’s try another tack and leave the principles aside by which I mean religious freedom (and bringing-up children within your religious tradition is a bloody important religious freedom) vs. I dunno, some form of the non-aggression principle.

    I think that is unresolvable. So does being circumcised make much difference? Well, I’ve just looked at Wikipedia and it would appear a very safe operation, (very) arguably has health-benefits and as far as sexual pleasure etc is concerned… Some studies say better, some say worse.

    I had a look at a couple of anti-circ sites but they seemed positively hysterical so I ignored them.

    I therefore think we should just let the Jews and Muslims and whoever get on with it because compared to FGM or foot-binding this is a tempest in a teapot. FGM should be illegal – it really isn’t the same as it’s male “counterpart” and foot-binding was er… stamped out by the Chicoms (stopped clocks and all that). I just don’t see a need for a law or that there is any utility in using existing laws to crackdown on male circumcision.

  • The question in my mind boils down to a much simpler one:

    Are children property?

  • Frederick,

    > Can you people READ my post in ITS ENTIRETY before answering, please? Nobody likes to repeat themselves.

    As repeatedly demonstrated, no, they can’t.

    > Reading these comments is the best evidence of why libertarianism is and will forever remain relegated to single digit percentages of the population.

    I know. It’s a shame, isn’t it? Some of us normal people would like minimalist government and low taxes and the repeal of hundreds of laws, but we’re never going to get it because the lunatic fringe of the libertarian movement isn’t even a bloody fringe.

    Johnathan,

    > as Ian B has said, the English Common law has for centuries outlawed assault.

    English Common Law has for centuries allowed circumcision. Why does the one centuries-long precedent matter to you but the other not?

    > Saying that enforcing the law against assault must involve the “persecution” of a religion is nuts.

    No, you’re trying to muddy the water here again. Let’s be clear for everyone: no-one is discussing enforcing the law. Circumcision is not illegal. You want to change the law.

    > What I find so odd is how Gabriel and the supporters of infant genitalia operations done for religious reasons skirt around the issue of consent.

    Yet again, I must point out that no-one’s skirted around the issue of consent. We’ve addressed it fully by giving an answer that you appear not to understand. I don’t expect you to all of a sudden become convinced that we’re right, but it’d be polite of you to stop repeating this outright lie that we simply have no answer at all to your question and are unable to address the issue. Try and make an argument instead, old chap.

    Funnily enough, I can hear my daughter giving off upstairs right now. I’ve locked her in a cage against her will, you see. It’s a special cage called a “cot”. My wife and I think it’s time for her nap; she disagrees. Perhaps you should call the police, as this is a clear-cut case of kidnapping — and a conviction should be easy, as I’ve foolishly just confessed.

    Ian,

    > Can we kill children? Are we free to rape them? Can I chain one to a treadmill? If not, why not if they have no rights?

    Children’s rights are the only reason you can think of not to do these things? Jesus wept. I hearby forbid you to come anywhere near mine.

    What about responsibility? Personally, I don’t believe animals have rights. I also believe that people who torture animals to death should be locked up for a long time. There’s nothing inconsistent about these beliefs. It’s a matter of being responsible for those who are in our power and of defining what that responsibility entails.

  • 892364

    This issue is very important and brings up many of the classic disagreements between libertarians and conservatives.

    Surely, rights ought to be considered a packaged deal – you either have them or you do not. The matter of children has always been a thorn in the side of libertarianism and this is an example of why: if children have full libertarian rights then the parents are not doing anything immoral according to libertarianism if they do not care for their children; if they, in fact, forcibly remove their children from their property (home).

    Libertarianism, it has been said on Samizdata before, is a value-neutral political philosophy. This is one reason why it is very difficult to sell in political campaigns. It is a means-based philosophy; it dictates what one cannot do: you cannot violate another person’s life, liberty, or property. This is a boundary – it is a bold, negative formulation of rights, not positive, such as rights to healthcare or a minumum standard of living.

    And, if one believes in libertarianism, then it certainly would be utopia if there were some force – God, a monarchy, a democratically elected government, or whatever – that perfectly punished those who violated those rights.

    So, again, according to libertarianism, there is nothing wrong with a parent removing the child from his/her property by force – the child, even if he/she is 3 months of age – never gained consent from the parent.

    It must be recognized at this point that, on a fundamental level, libertarianism is not a philosophy for life. One can live according to not violating anyone else’s life, liberty, or property, but is that sufficient for mankind to be fruitful and multiply (subtle allusion intended)?

    Now, likewise, is it not a violation of the child’s rights to liberty for a parent to pick him/her up? To force him to hold hands in the busy streets of a city? To force him to not cry on a quiet plane by placing a pacifier in his mouth? To force him to eat with a fork and knife in a nice restaurant?

    So, we see that coercion, using force, is essential to raising a child. Or is it?

    Fine. If one truly believes in the libertarian creed, then it IS indeed a violation of liberty for the parent to even pick the baby off the street when he/she falls down. That should be assault, because intention does not matter. Only the action matters.

    Now, before we even consider what kind of effect this newest application of libertarianism will have on the image of libertarian policy ideas, let us first consider how this would: a) incriminate every single parent who ever lived and b) when enforced in a perfect libertarian society would spell the termination of human kind.

    To illustrate my second point, please picture for yourself a perfect libertarian society where even the children cannot be dealt with by force. There never has been one and never will be one. I wonder why.

    So, circumcision is using force. And, let us for the moment set aside the Conservative argument why traditions ought to be abided by in the face of serious doubt just because they exist (those who practiced them survived to pass them on).

    But we have seen that using force must be allowed for humanity to survive. So, does this mean it should be legal for parents to murder their children?

    Intentions must matter because if they don’t, then even forcing the child to not run into a busy highway would be illegal in a libertarian society.

    So, actions towards children that are justifiably considered abhorrent, such as murder, would be made illegal via laws agreed to among the members of the society. Contract theory, etc

    Libertarianism cannot allow one to raise kids.

  • 892364

    One of the strengths of libertarianism is that it works for agnostics, religious people, and atheists. It simply says: leave me alone. For everyone.

    The problem is that the laws in a libertarian society that govern adult-adult relations can justly reign supreme over religious doctrine. But, the same cannot be said for adult-child relations.

    This is special. It is different. Since it is already proven that any libertarian society will not survive if the parents cannot use force, then it stands to reason that a libertarianesque society that does adapt to this reality has already ceded the point – that parents can use force in raising their kids.

    And so now a pandora’s box has been opened and we see that natural law does not apply here.

  • By the way, Gabriel, thanks for the best ever typo of my name.

  • Libertarians, unless they are going to take a totalitarian position on the family similar to some conceptions of Rawlsian liberalism, will have to acknowledge that parents have a tremendous amount of choice about how to bring up their children and that a minimal state would never have the apparatus to inquire deeply into the relationships of adults and children. It might be able to do a head count to show that none of them have been killed and perhaps show that none are malnourished or physically abused but beyond that, its reach will be limited. Parents WILL bring up their children in rather idiosyncratic ways, making mistakes and strange judgements but they will muddle their way through with a mix ritual and rationality as they tend to. That, surely both sides will accept.

    Now, on this specific point, perhaps the fact of male circumcision (I am circumcised myself and find it to be no disability) demonstrates that it is not as severe an assault on the person as some here think it is. Circumcised individuals don’t consider themselves victimised and they do not suffer from a cultural hegemony either. Since it isn’t associated with suffering and submission in the way that female genital mutilation is, perhaps it counts as just a slightly eccentric practice. It is not as if we cannot condemn an awful lot of cultural practices that are substantially about developing a coercive power relation if we let male circumcision be acceptable.

    It is just a little snip, you know! It makes it look bigger!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    J writes:

    That sad fact is this argument is a waste of time if it does not take into account societal norms.

    The problem is that we end up with a sort of circular argument: values are “socially created”, hence they must be respected, since “society” says so (a classic error of logic). But then these “norms” change, and they change because people, be they libertarians or whatnot, have debates with regard to certain principles, such as the duty of care to minors, consent, etc, etc. So saying that X or Y is a “social norm” is not all that helpful beyond a statement of how things are at any one point in history.

    Squander Two writes:

    English Common Law has for centuries allowed circumcision. Why does the one centuries-long precedent matter to you but the other not?

    Oh dearie me. The law was inconsistently applied, as it still is, unfortunately (that applies to all laws, short of perfection). The objective, therefore, is to make sure it is enforced consistently as possible.

    No, you’re trying to muddy the water here again. Let’s be clear for everyone: no-one is discussing enforcing the law. Circumcision is not illegal. You want to change the law.

    I want the law to be enforced so that such operations, unless done for reasons of health, are outlawed. (Whether my fellow Brits will agree with me is another matter). In other words, I want the law against assault to be enforced, rather than have the current situation where a practice is tolerated not because of medical need, but because certain religious folk want it to be continued. No muddying of waters, just consistent application of a principle.

    As to whether this is the most important issue of the day, of course not. I personally am far more interested in other issues. But it has to be said that I have been struck by how many people who reckon themselves to be liberal in general terms get a blind spot on the issue of what parents can and cannot do vis a vis their kids. My theoretical example of whether parents could be allowed to put a tattoo on their kids as a sign of faith is an example of the sort of thing I mean. Suppose that tattooing kids’ foreheads were sanctioned in the Bible, say. Would you defend it? Would you say that someone like me who takes a dim view of this is trying to destroy the family? Of course you wouldn’t. (At least I hope not!).

    We’ve addressed it fully by giving an answer that you appear not to understand. I don’t expect you to all of a sudden become convinced that we’re right, but it’d be polite of you to stop repeating this outright lie that we simply have no answer at all to your question and are unable to address the issue.

    You have done no such thing. You simply deny that there is an issue at all, or one that is so minor that we are getting silly about something of no real importance.

    However, I will happily concede to you and your fellow “body-cutters” that I don’t think you are malevolent or in a state of denial, since I am sure you are excellent parents, etc. But forgive me if I find it a bit odd that so-called liberals cannot see that irreversible operations on a person’s private parts when done in infancy, and for reasons of religion, is a bit dubious, to say the least.

    892364 writes, in what strikes me as a very jumbled post, the following:

    So, again, according to libertarianism, there is nothing wrong with a parent removing the child from his/her property by force – the child, even if he/she is 3 months of age – never gained consent from the parent.

    Uh?

    It must be recognized at this point that, on a fundamental level, libertarianism is not a philosophy for life. One can live according to not violating anyone else’s life, liberty, or property, but is that sufficient for mankind to be fruitful and multiply (subtle allusion intended)?

    Not really. A person who wants to live their own life might regard having children and raising a family as an important part of their happiness, of their development as a person. Having a family is the most important “goal” any person usually strives for, and a huge part of how we attain the good life.

    But we have seen that using force must be allowed for humanity to survive. So, does this mean it should be legal for parents to murder their children?

    WTF?

    Libertarianism cannot allow one to raise kids.

    Cobblers, since I know of rather a lot of libertarian-minded mums and dads. What libertarians think, as this board ought to convey, is that children should be protected and guided, but not with the threat, or use, of violence. For example, a lot of us “libbos” are opposed to parents hitting their children to enforce discipline, and so on. Actually, that is arguably an even bigger issue than the circumcision one, since for centuries a lot of people thought it positively desirable that little boys, for instance, should be regularly thrashed.

  • toolkien

    If children have rights, then that means others must have obligations. And, the system of rights and obligations generally is a two way street for libertarians, otherwise there is a call for sacrifice which generally not seen as proper. How do you establish rights and obligations in only one direction? Over what arbitrary area does your obligation extend once a right has been seen to exist? When does the practice of clitoridectomy warrant invasion to extend ones obligation? Dumping of females into wells so that the family name carries on?

    And once the acceptance of one way obligation is made, where does it end? Sacrifice for others through the force of a third party is seen as the foundation of bad government in most cases, but there are exceptions? Based on what?

    If we are the protector of all children and how they are programmed, shouldn’t we make it easier on ourselves and license the practice of procreation? If the raising of children is reviewable, we might was well make it easy and efficient.

    But, if we want to live in a society that is free and we want to have well adjusted new members, it is unlikely we will do so if age old superstitions are allowed free reign. If we don’t want to have scarred children growing up to raise scarred children, what can we do, yet maintain a free society?

    In a free society that abhors coercion unless life and property is at stake, one might only left with rejecting people who have practices you disagree with. We need to reject all means of equalizing outcomes and forcing associations with those whom we disagree. People should be free to associate and trade and interact with whomever they choose, and for whatever reason. If those who practice cult like rituals are ostracized and are rejected culturally, then at the very least they will cross back over whatever arbitrary lines separate one from another. Forcing acceptance of cultures that you don’t agree with, and then forcing other cultures to change by force to adapt simply leaves too much power in the hands of bureaucrats.

  • 892364

    JP:

    Maybe I never stated what I was doing in my post, but it was a hypothetical – I walked through a series of logical arguments to explore the issues.

    I was not trying to be ridiculous. And you responding just by saying WTF or Uh? doesn’t exactly refute my argument.

    Basically, you want something illegal because it conflicts with libertarianism. Fair enough. But if you are going to be pure about this, 100% true to libertarianism then it should be illegal to use force at all with children, which is the logical implication of your reasoning.

    So, that would mean that parents would not be able to use force at all with their children, and it is not feasible to raise children without doing so, and I am not even referring to physical punishment, but just basic parenting like time-outs and taking away of toys upon bad behavior. Or consider forcing children to hold hands to cross the street. Or forcing kids to not swim too far out in the ocean. Or forcing kids to take medicine.

    I realize I was probably not clear about what I was trying to communicate in my post and I hope I did not come across as rude.

  • Steve

    Most discrimination, of course, is good. Without it we would have been extinct long ago. In my view, any organization that mutilates people without their informed consent should be discriminated against strongly.

  • Gabriel

    There are an number of specific points in this thread that could do with adressing (i.e. the reason that assault is illegal, but not circumcision is because – duh! – circumcision is not assault), but it seems to me that this whole debate has got completely confused. Now, a large part of this is because of repeated and widespread misprision on the part of Ian B and JP.* Some of this is no doubt pure dimness and some of it simply deliberate, but I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt and ascribe the rest to the problems inherent in internet debate. Therefore, I’m just going to arrange what seem to me all the issues under separate headings.

    Multiculturalism Of all the charges this is probably the most bizarre. All I have ever argued is that the law should stay the same as it is. One of the reasons for this is that an inevitable consequence of the changes proposed would be that the majority of a hitherto settled and integrated minority would emigrate within a year. I have not suggested an exisiting law be changed to accomodate a minority nor that any exemptions should be given. This isn’t muliticulturalism gone mad, it isn’t multiculturalism gone anything.

    Consent JP has repeatedly and disgracefully accused his opponents of evading this issue. To spell it out.
    (i) An ideology of children’s rights based upon the principle of consent is completely incoherent once its logical conclusions are worked out and would make any form of child rearing utterly impossible. Two groups of people can see this instantly, to whit, anyone who has ever had kids and anyone who has a brain.
    (ii) The ideology not taken to its logical conclusion is one of the most pernicious features of contemporary society. Its application everywhere leads to spolit, ignorant, unpleasant children. (Again if you want to bring your children up this way, that’s your prerogative).

    Circumcision itself There is no evidence that males who underwent circumcision as an infant are less happy, successful, competent lovers or anything else. Likewise, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest either American (40% circumcised) or Jewish (99%) males are any worse of than anyone else. Moving in the circles I do, I must have met thousands of circumcised males and not one has expressed any desire to be anything else. Nor would they, given the chance, have it done as an adult instead. Conversely, I have met people for whom the reverse is true.
    Once the ridiculous consent argument is dispensed with all we have is this. Ian B thinks circumcision is disgusting, therefore he wants it banned. To justify his prejudice-based desire for prohibition he comes up with a lot of cant and then some, frankly disgraceful, allegations of abuse (which JP is now backtracking from). The difference between me and JP is that I don’t want to foist my god on him, but he wants to foist his reason on me.
    Amusingly, Ian B then accuses other people of being obsessed with willies. It’s not a “deliberately harmful act” it’s a fucking forkeskin, yeesh.

    So here’s the deal, you don’t like infant circumcision don’t do it. You are the ones with the problem that you need to work through before you start bossing everyone else around. No half-way normal person wants your War on Circumcision screwing up this country. So just Fuck Off.

    Lastly, because I’m immature I guess, a few observations.

    Can you people READ my post in ITS ENTIRETY before answering, please? Nobody likes to repeat themselves.

    With JP, you better get fucking used to it.

    If they choose to follow one of the multitudinous superstitions which we’ve infected our intellects with once they’re an adult that’s their business, but to poison a child’s mind against reason from a very young age is, in my view, abuse and is something that stunts not only the intellectual growth of the child but that of the rest of humanity also.

    One day, when we’re truly enlightened, I guess we’ll all be like you.

    *Another part is JP’s apparent inabilty to understand that some people disagree with his premises.

  • Dale Amon

    People have a right to be left alone, and that means raising their families in their way. People with beliefs that fail to bring up healthy, successful children die out, like Europeans for example. Libertarian does not and never has meant to me that I or anyone else have a right to send the police into my neighbors house because they are not raising their families in a way *I* want them to do.

    If the family next door has circumcision of both sexes, with puberty rights of tattoos on their scrotums and breasts and Polynesian tatoos all over their body… it ain’t my business. It ain’t your business. It bloody *WELL* ain’t the States business.

    We should be talking about how to decrease the power of the State over families, not how to make it enforce our particular ideas of normal.

    MYOB/IW/

  • Andrew R

    Frederick Davies:

    When they become adults; 18 years of age seem to be quite a common figure for this. In some places there is even progression in the process (16/18/21). Each country can decide that for themselves.

    “When does the child become a man? at what period does the human being pass out of the condition of having no rights, into the condition of having rights? None will have the folly to quote the arbitrary dictum of the statute-book as an answer.”

    To respond to my question – when does one justly acquire a right to resist somebody who wants to circumcise you? – by quoting an arbitrary figure (6570 or so days from birth) is not convincing. It is the duty of those who wish to create a secondary class of person, who possesses some rights but not others, to explain what causes one to transfer from one group to another. This is not a trivial matter that can be dispensed of by saying, “this is how it has been heretofore.”

    and what are the precise rights of children prior to their becoming an adult?

    “…as long as the kid’s life and sanity is not endangered…”

    Questions answered…

    I italicised ‘precise,’ since I was greatly dissatisfied by your previous response. To repeat it fails to illuminate the matter.

    As to my third point about children, you simply ignored my criticism. Okay, notwithstanding the ambiguities above, let’s suppose you’re right: “kids must inherently be the ward of someone.” Why ought it to be their parents, as opposed to a neighbour, or the community en masse? – why ought only the parent have the right to tattoo a child?

    It is precisely because I read the entirety of your post that I asked for a clear, justified explanation to these three questions.

    Dale Amon:

    People have a right to be left alone, and that means raising their families in their way.

    This seems rather to assume that which it is required to prove. Why is a family, and in particular a parent-child relationship, an inviolable unit which must not be the subject of the interference of others?

    We should be talking about how to decrease the power of the State over families, not how to make it enforce our particular ideas of normal.

    Is not a parent-child relationship simply one’s particular idea of normality? Hence, isn’t it the case that your opposition to interference in the family unit falls foul of precisely the value-neutral standpoint you seem to want the state to take?

  • Pa Annoyed

    “It is the duty of those who wish to create a secondary class of person, who possesses some rights but not others, to explain what causes one to transfer from one group to another.”

    Informed consent – in particular, in this case, the ability to be informed. That means the ability to understand in advance what is to be done, and how it is likely to feel, to understand and be able to weigh up the pros and cons, and the willingness to accept the risks and consequences. To be unable afterwards to truthfully complain “I didn’t know!” or “I didn’t understand!”

    It’s not strictly related to age, but it’s a hard test to apply and harder to adjudicate, so age is used as an approximation.

    And incidentally, children still hold all those rights, but a guardian administers them on their behalf, including the right to consent to harm being done to oneself. (Although I’d say, only up to the point where one could credibly be believed willing to do that sort of thing to oneself if you did understand.)
    If your money (a pension, say) is given to a fund manager to invest for you, because you genuinely don’t know how, does it cease to be your money?

  • Frederick Davies

    Andrew R,

    …quoting an arbitrary figure (6570 or so days from birth) is not convincing. It is the duty of those who wish to create a secondary class of person, who possesses some rights but not others, to explain what causes one to transfer from one group to another. This is not a trivial matter that can be dispensed of by saying, “this is how it has been heretofore.”

    Facts, my dear boy, facts…
    It is a fact that children do not possess the same capacity for reasoning and understanding as adults; it is a fact that children’s minds lack the experience necessary to foresee with any degree of accuracy what would be the consequences of their actions or inactions; it is a fact that in a process lasting centuries, experimentation has arrived at approximate values for the times after which children can be considered adults.

    Okay, notwithstanding the ambiguities above, let’s suppose you’re right: “kids must inherently be the ward of someone.” Why ought it to be their parents, as opposed to a neighbour, or the community en masse? – why ought only the parent have the right to tattoo a child?

    It is a fact that the bonding between mother and child is intrinsic, not acquired; it is a fact that the rates at which strangers or non-biological parents abuse their children is larger than that of biological ones.

    Maybe you are one of the last deluded tabula rasa believers, so I will clarify it to you: you lost, years ago. No matter how much your egalitarianism can argue against it, there is such a thing as human nature, and it favours the parent-child bond over other types of organization. Deal with it!

    Those are facts, not arguments, they are not subject to reason, but to experience. Therein probably lies our difference of opinions: you are a rationalist, and I am an empiricist. You believe that you can reach the Truth by argument, while I believe that Reality shall not be denied by reason or argument.

    As for the middle question: what more you want? A full and detailed description of a system of jurisprudence? If the Founding Fathers of the USA could get away with general precriptions (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”), why can’t I? Something like “Children shall be the wards of their parents insofar that their lives and sound minds are preserved,” is enough.

  • Johnathan,

    >You have done no such thing. You simply deny that there is an issue [with consent] at all, or one that is so minor that we are getting silly about something of no real importance.

    Look, this is getting silly. I and others have repeatedly addressed consent. Since your rather childish Net-debating tactic is to simply deny that people have written what they have written, even though it’s there for all to see, let’s just make this absolutely fucking clear, shall we?

    THIS IS A POINT ABOUT CONSENT.

    I wrote this yesterday:

    > I have a 21-month-old daughter, and have to do things to her everyday that would constitute assault and/or kidnapping if I tried them on an adult, such as changing her nappy and putting her to bed.

    That’s the issue of consent, right there. If you apply the same standards to kids as to adults, you are a fucking idiot. It is that simple. The correct response to a child not wanting their nappy changed is not to let them sit in a pool of piss and shit; it is to change the damn thing anyway. The correct response to a child not wanting to get in the car and go home is not to leave them at Ikea and go home without them. The correct response to a child wanting to pull your long-suffering and commendably patient dog’s lips and eyelids to see how stretchy they are is not to let them. The correct response to a child struggling to escape from your grip when you’re climbing the stairs is not to let them go. The correct response to a child who wants to play with an insulin needle is not to let them. The correct response to a child with severe tonsillitis who doesn’t want any medicine is to get your spouse to hold them down while you syringe the antibiotics into their mouth and hold their nose to make them swallow. Four times a day. If you wait for your child’s consent before doing things to them against their will, you are a Very Bad Parent and a total imbecile.

    I’m not denying that there’s an issue with consent, and neither am I saying that it’s a minor issue: quite the opposite: there is an issue, and it’s a huge bloody great major issue: the issue is that waiting for consent from children makes raising them impossible. In fact, it makes their very survival impossible.

    THAT WAS A POINT ABOUT CONSENT. Address it or not as you see fit, but don’t bloody tell me I never made it, thanks.

    I’ll make a point about religion, too, for the militant atheists here so outraged by the idea that a child can have a religion that they want to ban that too. Probably the main point that Dawkins spectacularly fails to grasp (other than that he is not Professor for the Public Understanding of Religion) is that a religion is not merely a set of beliefs. It is also a group of people.

    > Suppose that tattooing kids’ foreheads were sanctioned in the Bible, say. Would you defend it? Would you say that someone like me who takes a dim view of this is trying to destroy the family? Of course you wouldn’t.

    What you’re talking about here (but either choose not to mention or genuinely fail to grasp) is a world in which, very conservatively, more than a billion people have forehead tattoos that identify the culture from which they come. Most of them are proud of those marks. In the UK, we’d be looking at, again conservatively, maybe half the population. The tattoos might have been started by Christianity — more likely, it’d be a case of Christianity appropriating something that was already popular. But we can be pretty sure that very large numbers of people would want to do this to their kids, that the sight would be normal and unremarkable, that most people would not wish they’d never been tatooed, that there would have been a time in our history when it was more common than not (and maybe we’d still be in that time now), and that our culture of laws and morals would have grown up around the facial tattooing, not independent of it. And then you come along and want to ban it. Would I defend the right of people to live the way they always have and want to still without interference from someone who is not only unwilling to share their belief but feels that he must impose his on them? Damn right I would. When you became Prime Minister [shudder] and got your way and half the population of the UK got up and left for other countries where they’d be free from radical state-enforced social engineering, would I accuse you of having caused that exodus? Damn right I would.

    Andrew R,

    You appear to share Johnathan’s belief that the human race must abandon any traditions that cannot be explained by logic from first principles, up to and including the idea that parents should raise their children:

    > “kids must inherently be the ward of someone.” Why ought it to be their parents, as opposed to a neighbour, or the community en masse?

    God, yeah, why is that? That’s a tough one. Why shouldn’t it be state-licensed nurses, or perhaps we could have a rota system done by strict alphabetical order?

    I feel like I’ve dropped into a parallel universe where Samizdata is the Web’s one-stop shop for all things Maoist. I mean, really, what the hell, people?

  • Blimey: another comment held for moderation. I worry about that spambot, I really do.

  • toolkien,

    > if we want to live in a society that is free and we want to have well adjusted new members

    Brilliant. Thank you.

  • Midwesterner

    Circumcision, tonsillectomy, adenectomy, appendectomy, without a medical reason, these are all irreversible mutilations of a child for the gratification of an adult. But with a medical reason they can be life saving. Although I have a hard time imagining that for a circumcision.

    Arguments used to defend a mistaken medical procedure can not be used to defend procedure knowingly taken for non medical reasons. Circumcision must be defended on one grounds (religious right) or the other (medical decision). People conflating these two arguments are either deliberately or unintentionally muddying the discussion.

    Arguments based on some variation of ‘it really doesn’t do any harm.’ One could say the same thing about the CCTV system and banning cigarettes. Anybody arguing for circumcision on these grounds has no room to criticize smoking bans.

    Arguments based on ‘they grow up just fine, studies prove it.’ That is even worse than the end justifying the means. The absence of provable damage as a blanket permission? I have a hard time imagining many here accepting ‘lack of provable damage’ as an absolution for any action taken against another. Statistically the odds of me harming somebody by firing a gun across my neighbor’s crop fields is probably far less than the risks from circumcision. There is a more convincing lack of damage from my gun shots than from circumcision. There won’t be a piece of his land missing when I stop shooting. ‘No harm, no foul’ is moral bullshit.

    Some people seem to be dancing around the idea that a special exception is required for this Jewish religious practice, but other religion’s practices are to be evaluated on non-religious merits. Do I really have to rebut this one?

    For one (very rare) time, I don’t understand Dale’s arguments. Would they be able to prevent the killing of girl babies in some societies? Perhaps any act short of death is to be permitted? I have a hard time believing you (Dale) support the post-birth ‘abortion’ of children up until the age of majority. But I have actually heard that argument made in some circles so I can’t positively reject that meaning as inconceivable. But I hope I can here. Certainly having read (and mostly agreed with) what you have written for the past few years, I find that interpretation highly unlikely. But why would it require a bureaucracy in a libertarian society? Do we also need a ‘prevention of hitting children with bricks’ bureaucracy? I imagine a single verdict handed down in a case brought by a disgruntled young adult would work just fine. Unless you really are arguing that there are no limits on what parents may do to children.

    The only legitimate purpose of government is to block the strong from using force to take the life liberty or property of the weak. Whatever the foundation, courts will always be necessary.

    On ‘tradition’. Tradition is absolutely not a foundation for moral anything. Children in Britain were ‘traditionally’ hanged for things as minor as stealing clothing or food. Women were traditionally denied control of their own lives. Some humans were owned by others, some were born to be owned. But hey, it was a long established tradition.

    Children’s existence is not an unavoidable accident for adults capable of informed consent. If you believe it is, then you need to get one of those training manuals that explains what happens when you put tab (A) into slot (B). If tab (A)’s presence in slot (B) was by consent of both parties, that is informed consent for taking a chance at making a baby. . . a human baby.

    Do you own the baby? Of course not. You have entered into a contract with that baby to deliver them to adulthood as best you can. Not according to edicts of the state. Not according ‘community standards’. Not according to a religion that child cannot be capable of giving their informed consent to. People who don’t like the idea of that child raising contract need to have a few bits of their own removed before they go assembling tabs into slots.

    When you agreed to deliver this baby to adulthood the baby has a reasonable expectation of care. My parents made some irreversible decisions regarding me, one being circumcision. The medical industry they payed to perform the procedure convinced them it was necessary. I have no problem with my parent’s good faith attempt to act in my best interest, I do have a problem with the medical industry’s probable motivations and abuse of trust. I have a problem with my privates being modified like selling dealer options on a new car.

    It appears most people have glossed right past Ian B’s very clear distinction between doing something and not doing something. I believe in a rather ‘let them make smaller mistakes now so they don’t make really bad ones later’ approach to child rearing. An example is I trusted some neighborhood kids when they offered to paint my pedal car for me. Of course I never saw it again (Chicago) but my parents instead of blowing a gasket used the experience to help me understand other humans and trust. As a child, I fell out of countless trees, electrocuted myself several times (half the voltage in the US than UK), fell off of playground equipment (on pavement), dumped my bicycle (without a helmet) many times (sometimes spectacularly), my brother nearly amputated his own finger with a pcket knife, I operated power mowers from the age of eight or ten, burned my hand pretty good playing with fire, I even lost control of a bicycle and went down an embankment into a barb wire fence. Children injured through non-intervention by parents is not an automatic case of ‘abuse’. Parents have to tread a fine line of introducing risk to children neither too quickly nor too slowly. Protecting a child completely is no favor and is almost certainly a long term survival liability.

    But what we are referring to here is not a case of letting something happen, it is a case of doing something. And this act is taken entirely for the benefit of the parents. It is not the child that thinks they need circumcised. If that were the case it could as well happen at Bar Mitzvah. Curiously, 90% of South Korean high school boys are circumcised at an average age of 12 years.

    It is a curious statement that circumcision can be at the same time ‘harmless’ and ‘symbolic’. Would those who support circumcision also approve a Christian Cross tattoo applied at that age? Many probably would. Certainly a tattoo is more reversible. But how many non-observant Jewish males might have avoided the death camps if they had that bit of foreskin. Did they die for a religion they did not believe? Can any symbolic imprimatur always be assumed harmless?

  • When are we banning children’s haircuts?

    We are not, because a haircut is not an irreversible thing, while cutting bits off a body that cannot grow back plainly is. QED.

    By the time a child circumcised today reaches puberty, I suspect circumcision will be reversible with only minor surgery.

  • nick g.

    And will we be able to undo clitorectomies, Joseph? If we can undo genital mutilation, then the sharianters will want to outlaw it!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    If those who practice cult like rituals are ostracized and are rejected culturally, then at the very least they will cross back over whatever arbitrary lines separate one from another. Forcing acceptance of cultures that you don’t agree with, and then forcing other cultures to change by force to adapt simply leaves too much power in the hands of bureaucrats.

    tookien, the problem here is that the “forcing” is being done, arguably, by parents who want to “brand” their kids, to coin a phrase. That is precisely why people are getting het up about this. That is why Ian B and I have accused the likes of Gabriel – however much he tries to deny it – of playing a sort of “multi-culturalist” card here. The irony of this of course is that Gabriel, who no doubt is convinced he is a “cultural conservative” rather than some wild-eyed libertarian, is the one who is playing the card of saying “let us practise our religion even if you find it odd, weird, disgusting” etc…

    I’ll reply in full to Gabriel, for the last time before I succumb to total boredom.

  • nick g.

    If libertarians establish a new society in, say, the Kimberleys, then a founding law would be to leave kids alone, except for valid health reasons. Whilst estates could be kingdoms in terms of laws, most individuals would need outside insurance, so public insurance could limit individual behaviour in exchange for citizenship, say.
    If libertarians come to power in an established society, say, Britain, then you should refuse entry to people who don’t agree to leave their children alone, and allow young adults to sue their parents for any damage done to them whilst growing up.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Ok, Gabriel, I have read your post in full. Despite the usual swipe at my and Ian’s supposed base motives or lack of intelligence, I’ll take it that you are trying to be civil on this occasion and draw together your arguments coherently. So here are my responses to your main points:

    Of all the charges this is probably the most bizarre. All I have ever argued is that the law should stay the same as it is. One of the reasons for this is that an inevitable consequence of the changes proposed would be that the majority of a hitherto settled and integrated minority would emigrate within a year. I have not suggested an exisiting law be changed to accomodate a minority nor that any exemptions should be given. This isn’t muliticulturalism gone mad, it isn’t multiculturalism gone anything.

    Right at the start, Ian B and I have argued that it is not the case that circumcision of males – or indeed women – has been a feature of English law for many centuries although it has been tolerated at times, less so in others. The practice has waxed and waned, fuelled by medical fashion as well as by religious doctrine. What has been generally accepted, however, is that assault on the person is outlawed. I am arguing that the law reflect that fact, that it is applied consistently. I wanted to pose the question about just how far parents can go in using religious doctrine as a reason for changing the bodies of their kids. The same issue would apply if we wanted to talk about genetically enhancing babies after birth, etc. There are important ethical issues here that I think are likely to become more urgent as human medical knowledge accelerates.

    I personally do not think that if the medical case for such operations were deemed to be nonsense, that Jews, Muslims, others who could no longer lawfully cut bits off their kids’ private parts would emigrate en masse. I also do not think that the enforcement of such a law would provoke serious violence or social disorder. I may be wrong about that, of course. That is not something I can predict with certainty. But I dislike the implicit moral blalckmail in your argument, which says: “Let us continue these practices, even if you think they are wrong, or we’ll leave”.

    I expect it came as quite a jolt, Gabriel, when Ian B used the multi-culti argument against you as a debating tactic, since I expect that you are fairly well used to dishing it out to others by using the same weapon from time to time. The problem is that profoundly conservative cultures can often run afoul of the notion of equality before the law quite as much as the post-Modernist left. (A topic worth discussing on its own, by the way).

    Consent JP has repeatedly and disgracefully accused his opponents of evading this issue. To spell it out.
    (i) An ideology of children’s rights based upon the principle of consent is completely incoherent once its logical conclusions are worked out and would make any form of child rearing utterly impossible. Two groups of people can see this instantly, to whit, anyone who has ever had kids and anyone who has a brain.
    (ii) The ideology not taken to its logical conclusion is one of the most pernicious features of contemporary society. Its application everywhere leads to spolit, ignorant, unpleasant children. (Again if you want to bring your children up this way, that’s your prerogative).

    I deny the charge that I have disgracefully refused to acknowledge that you have answered the point. There is a simple reason for that: you have done so. You have dismissed my point about respecting the right of a kid not have his/her body surgically altered for religious reasons as some sort of attack on your faith, family life, the authority of parents, and even mocked the idea that a tiny baby need bother itself with these matters. In other words, you have treated this issue as silly, as pointless, as something that only utopian nutters need worry about. In fact, we can see this in your argument that that if consent is constently respected, we end up with “spoilt children” to use your terms. No, cannot you not see the difference between scolding a child for bad behaviour – which I think is entirely permissable – and performing and irreversible operation on a kid’s body for no other reason than for religious doctrine?

    There is no evidence that males who underwent circumcision as an infant are less happy, successful, competent lovers or anything else. Likewise, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest either American (40% circumcised) or Jewish (99%) males are any worse of than anyone else. Moving in the circles I do, I must have met thousands of circumcised males and not one has expressed any desire to be anything else. Nor would they, given the chance, have it done as an adult instead. Conversely, I have met people for whom the reverse is true.

    I am not qualified to say yes or no. I suspect the true answer is that there is probably no difference one way or the other. As for female circumcision, though, I read that the evidence is pretty unambigious: it is painful and negatively affects the ability of a woman to enjoy a full sex life. Also, as Ian B pointed out, one reason for male circumcision was for reasons of encouraging sexual chastity, etc; in other words, it was done to prevent or restrict sex, not the other way around.

    Once the ridiculous consent argument is dispensed with all we have is this. Ian B thinks circumcision is disgusting, therefore he wants it banned. To justify his prejudice-based desire for prohibition he comes up with a lot of cant and then some, frankly disgraceful, allegations of abuse (which JP is now backtracking from). The difference between me and JP is that I don’t want to foist my god on him, but he wants to foist his reason on me.

    Gabriel, I am sure that if the male circ. operation is done the proper way, there is no reason why it would be uunpleasant for the child in later life. I have, however, read enough about the female circ. operation to believe that this is a seriously unpleasant operation and there are grounds for outlawing it to avoid pain. But as I said with the theoretical example of tattooing a religious emblem on a kid, the problem here is that the parent is expressing their religious “branding” of a child. That is what bothers me.

    The difference between me and JP is that I don’t want to foist my god on him, but he wants to foist his reason on me

    No. I have no idea to foist my views on anyone. I do not want parents to foist their religious doctrines on their children via a medical operation. Just think about that for the moment, Gabriel. I have absolutely no objection to you introducing your offspring or your relations/friends, etc to Judaism or whatever. Fine. I was exposed to Christianity, went to confirmation lessons, etc. But this happened when I was old enough to say yes or no to this; I did not have some sort of physical badge.

  • mishu

    Also, Gabriel, you’ve brought up circumcision of the nobs a few times, saying it was ubiquitous until recently. That’s not really a fair portrayal. It was common until a few decades ago, but was more of a fad which began in the mid 19th century, stoked up by various campaigners, a fear of syphilis (the AIDS of its day), an obsession with “cleanliness” which obtains to much health quackery.

    I thought Johnathon wasn’t interested in the health claims of this argument. However, given that you would insist on boys walking around with a petri dish of viruses and bacteria in their penises on the claim that it’s “natural”, it’s easily argued that you have no regard for public health. The WHO has stated that this practice is an effective intervention against STD’s as well as penile cancer. I’ll take their advice over some guy posting in comments tossing out claims of quackery. Billions of fathers have had it done. Obviously, it hasn’t curtailed sexual stimulation.

  • Gabriel

    Statistically the odds of me harming somebody by firing a gun across my neighbor’s crop fields is probably far less than the risks from circumcision.

    Statistically, the odds that you just pulled that out of your arse and are completely wrong does not significantly diverge from zero.

    On ‘tradition’. Tradition is absolutely not a foundation for moral anything. Children in Britain were ‘traditionally’ hanged for things as minor as stealing clothing or food. Women were traditionally denied control of their own lives. Some humans were owned by others, some were born to be owned. But hey, it was a long established tradition.

    Tradition is absolutely a foundation for many things. That is a descriptive not a prescriptive statement. Naturally it is not perfect. On a scale of 1-10 for usefulness I’d give it a 7. I’d give your ideology, on the same scale, precisely zip.

    Arguments based on ‘they grow up just fine, studies prove it.’ That is even worse than the end justifying the means. The absence of provable damage as a blanket permission?

    The point is very simple. Arguments to ban, for the first time in English history, an activity performed on these shores peacefully and legally for centuries rest on 2 pillars.
    (1) Consent
    (2) Harm.
    Now (1) is gibberish, so unless you can prove (2) you don’t have bupkiss. Again all this comes down to is, you don’t like it therefore you want it banned.

    Arguments based on some variation of ‘it really doesn’t do any harm.’ One could say the same thing about the CCTV system and banning cigarettes. Anybody arguing for circumcision on these grounds has no room to criticize smoking bans.

    People arguing against a pointless intrusive ban have no room to argue against an, ummm, pointless intrusive ban. Did you think about this at all before you posted?
    Speaking of which

    But how many non-observant Jewish males might have avoided the death camps if they had that bit of foreskin. Did they die for a religion they did not believe? Can any symbolic imprimatur always be assumed harmless?

    What the bloody hell is wrong with you?

    P A annoyed.

    And incidentally, children still hold all those rights, but a guardian administers them on their behalf, including the right to consent to harm being done to oneself.

    Well, I suppose the parent in question might talk to people he knows that were circumcised as infants and, upon finding that 99% are happy with it, make the appropriate decision. I can tell you that if my parents hadn’t circumcised me I’d be bloody pissed off because it would mean I would have to go through the bother and discomfort of doing it myself.

    tolkeen

    But, if we want to live in a society that is free and we want to have well adjusted new members, it is unlikely we will do so if age old superstitions are allowed free reign. If we don’t want to have scarred children growing up to raise scarred children,

    Sorry to be blunt, but where do you get the fucking balls to make assertions like this? If any youth in contemporary Britain are ‘scarred’ it bloody well ain’t the Jewish portion.

    JP

    Right at the start, Ian B and I have argued that it is not the case that circumcision of males – or indeed women – has been a feature of English law for many centuries although it has been tolerated at times, less so in others.

    It has never been a ‘feature’. It has always been legal.

    But I dislike the implicit moral blalckmail in your argument, which says: “Let us continue these practices, even if you think they are wrong, or we’ll leave”.

    It’s not blackmail, it’s informing you of the consequences and I’m in a position to do so because I know more about this than you do. Likewise if someone advocated a 90% peak-rate income tax you;d inform them that this would lead to all wealthy people buggering off or placing their money abroad. That’s not blackmail.
    If you took the trouble to learn about things before you adovcate their prohibition I wouldn’t have to do it.

    In fact, we can see this in your argument that that if consent is constently respected, we end up with “spoilt children” to use your terms.

    Sigh, I don’t think I can make this any clearer. It’s INconsistent application leads to crappy children, its consistent application would lead to no children at all. I refer you to Squander Two’s post at 1:39, specifically the “fucking idiot” section.

    I expect it came as quite a jolt, Gabriel, when Ian B used the multi-culti argument against you as a debating tactic, since I expect that you are fairly well used to dishing it out to others by using the same weapon from time to time.

    It came as a jolt in the same way it would have came as a jolt if you had called me a hardcore Shintoist. As it happens my position on Multiculturalism is the same as my position on all post-modernist ideas, namely that it is a collection of basically sensible propositions distorted into something pernicous by very unsensible people.

    What has been generally accepted, however, is that assault on the person is outlawed. I am arguing that the law reflect that fact, that it is applied consistently.

    What you arguing, then, is not only that it be banned, but that it be banned without passing a statute in parliament simply by changing of definitions. Well alrighty then Louis Quatorze.

    I am not qualified to say yes or no. I suspect the true answer is that there is probably no difference one way or the other.

    Fine, no ban then. Awesome.

    Gabriel, I am sure that if the male circ. operation is done the proper way, there is no reason why it would be uunpleasant for the child in later life. I have, however, read enough about the female circ. operation to believe that this is a seriously unpleasant operation and there are grounds for outlawing it to avoid pain.

    As far as I can tell, this debate has nothing to do with female circumcision.

    But this happened when I was old enough to say yes or no to this; I did not have some sort of physical badge.

    Bully for you, I did.

    While we’re on the subject of Christianity, no knowledgable and believing Christian can believe male infant circumcision is abuse unless they are willing to state that Mary was a child-abuser.

  • Midwesterner

    Prior to these two threads, Gabriel, I thought you were honest. Now I realize you are only honest when you don’t care about the topic. When you care, you can lie, dissemble and strawman with the best (worst?) of them.

    Members of the SS constantly sought Jews who owned houses, businesses, or anything else of possible wealth. To avoid capture, many Jewish men and women tried inventive techniques to look Aryan. Men who were circumcised- a telltale sign of a Jew- had cosmetic surgery.

    He decided to clean up the filthy little boy and bathed him. When he saw Kurzem naked, he saw he had been circumcised and realised that, although the child was fair haired and of “Aryan” appearance, he was a Jew.

    “I will never know why he saved and protected me,” Mr Kurzem says. “But he did. He warned me no one must know or it would be certain death for us both.”

    I wouldn’t have had the slightest inkling that Lou, Paul and Martin were Jewish if they hadn’t told me so. In U.S. Army communal restrooms and showers I kept my eyes at eye-level, so I don’t know to this day whether they were circumcized or not. That, as you may have read somewhere, was the Nazis’ favorite way of ferreting out suspected Jewish men. “Drop your pants!”

    In a tradition dating back to the biblical patriarch Abraham, infant male Jews have been ritually circumcised as a sign of the Jewish people’s covenant with God. Even during the bleakest days of Nazi persecution, Jews tried to observe this practice. Because non-Jews in continental Europe generally were not circumcised, German and collaborationist police commonly checked males apprehended in raids. For boys attempting to hide their Jewish identity, using a public restroom or participating in sports could lead to their discovery. More rarely, they underwent painful procedures to disguise the mark of circumcision or even dressed as girls.

    Because Jewish males are circumcised it was easier for the Nazis to reveal their true identity, there was no way it could be denied. Because of this Jewish boys had a harder time finding people willing to help hide them. Non Jews were less eager to risk taking in these boys and pass them off as their own child, when they could easily be identified as being Jews simply by the fact they were circumcised. Nazi’s frequently forced Jewish males, adults and children, at gunpoint to remove their trousers, as a basic requirement of a search. Non Jews were happier to hide girls as they could pass them off as their own children.

    At the age of six while playing on the street, he was hit by accident by a car full of German soldiers. The soldiers wanted to take him to the hospital, but Anna Morawczika opposed it with all her might. She knew he would be murdered instantly if it were found out that he had been circumcised (usually Christians were not circumcised at this time).

    Lantos, with blond hair and blue eyes, didn’t appear to be Jewish, so he was selected to go out on the street every few days to buy food and medicine for the sequestered. He told us it was the most terrifying time of his life, that he was desperately afraid the Nazis would spot him, find him suspicious, and force him to drop his trousers so they could determine if he had been circumcised — the only test they knew for Jewishness. And it did happen, he told us, but the police were too ignorant to know what they saw, and he was sent on his way.

    Unlike a circumcised Jewish male, a check by a German soldier could not reveal a young woman’s Jewish identity. As a man, if they got suspicious, all they had to do was to pull down my pants to prove I was ‘Yitzhak, son of Abraham.’ That was why the girls played a central role in maintaining contact between the parts of the Jewish organism, which was split into so many cells.43

    and

    It was more likely that females would not fall into the hands of the Germans, since women are less suspected of illegal involvement. However, the most obvious reason is that it was more difficult to identify a female as being Jewish. In every instance when a male was suspected of being Jewish, he was told, under threat, to lower his trousers, even on a public street. If he was circumcised, he was shot immediately.

    They had served together in the Polish army and Olenik knew Helicher was Jewish. The Ukrainian went to the Nazis and informed on Helicher. The Nazis examined him and when they found that he had been circumcised they branded a Jewish star on his left hand so that everyone would know that he was Jewish.

    I stopped at this point but not for want of a seemingly unlimited supply of examples. “What the bloody hell is wrong with” me is that unlike Muslims and apparently religious Jews, I believe that religion is a personal choice, not a matter of external assignment. The Nazis could not tell Aryans from Jews. That is why they had to resort to looking for the sign. Oh they pretended they were about ‘racial purity’, but they were in fact about eradicating from the face of the earth everything between themselves and world domination. They understood that Judaism’s adherents would forever be an implacable enemy to what they were planning.

    I believe that Judaism embodies to its core a benevolent effort to improve the fate of all people. Even when wrong, as the many socialist and communist Jews are, I believe they are a part of what is overwhelmingly a good faith intention to do what is right not just by their God, but by all people. But whether the religion of my birth or your’s or any other’s, I do not believe that parents may bring their children into danger for their religion and its causes and purposes. And as demonstrated above, an indelible mark of a religion can easily have fatal consequences. This could be true of any religion containing such a practice. I believe that childhood is a time set apart from adulthood, that parents are responsible for the wellbeing of their children to the best of their abilities. I had a substantial argument with a relative of mine when one of my own childhood friends, a missionary as an adult, placed his own children in danger in the service of Christianity and they actually came under fire from ‘technicals’, had bullets going through their car with his children in it. I believe he was wrong to endanger his children in the service of a religion they were not yet old enough to understand.

    Gabriel, you and almost all of Judaism bases circumcision on Genesis 17:1-14, excerpted here: “The uncircumcised male whose foreskin has not been circumcised, shall have his soul cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” An eight day old baby has “his soul cut off” because “he has broken My covenant”! An eight day old baby! To apply this to a child is unavoidably a collectivist action. To apply this at adulthood (Bar Mitzvah?) is an individual’s decision. Curious, boys who are adopted are allowed to renounce when they turn 13, the normal age for Bar Mitzvah. It is also acceptable in Conservative Judaism (IIUC) for sons of Jewish fathers and non Jewish mothers to choose of their own accord to become Jewish at the age of 13. In other words, it is already quite possible for members of Jewish families and mixed families to enter and exit Judaism.

    Quite simply, placing ‘the mark of the covenant’ on an child is intrinsically a collectivist mark of possession. Accepting ‘the mark of the covenant’ at adulthood is an individual’s choice to accept that religion and everything that it entails.

    I do not expect a reasoned response from you but we have a large gallery and perhaps some of them are sympathetic to the idea that joining a religion should be done by personal choice not by assignment at birth. That is what this conversation is really about.

  • CFM

    Well. That was lively.

    Ian is quite right, you know. However, this argument is much like the one over abortion. In principle, it’s abominable, but trying to stop it, universally, is a lost cause. There are simply too many probable consequences in attempting to outlaw the practice.

    And if we really must go over the top about something, first things first. I propose circumcising the individuals who perform FGM; just above the collar bone should be about right.

  • Johanthan Pearce

    You appear to share Johnathan’s belief that the human race must abandon any traditions that cannot be explained by logic from first principles, up to and including the idea that parents should raise their children:

    I would not go that far, Squander. What I am arguing is that when we get into the business of cutting bits off people’s genitals, it is not always a bad idea to ask whether the subjects of this process might want to decide the matter if they ever got the chance. It is only polite, really.

    I fail to see why this is something that libertarians should not want to discuss, by the way. There seems to be an element of commentary to the effect that this sort of issue is trivial, or off-limits, “let the parents get on with it and mind your own business” line. Well, like quite a few folk here, I am as wary of state involvement as anyone, probably more so, I suspect. But I am talking about laws to protect individuals from specific acts that affect their bodies. It seems reasonable to ask how we deal with the treatment of the most vulnerable of all: children. That is why I put the question about what sort of boundaries must be laid down, whether it is right in the first instance to treat kids as “property” in any fundamental sense whatever.

    Gabriel writes:

    Tradition is absolutely a foundation for many things. That is a descriptive not a prescriptive statement. Naturally it is not perfect. On a scale of 1-10 for usefulness I’d give it a 7. I’d give your ideology, on the same scale, precisely zip.

    To say that tradition is a “foundation” does not, of course, tell us whether that tradition is good or bad. it does not tell us what to do, whether to adjust the tradition, applaud it, damn it, criticise it, or whatever. Yes, to borrow from Edmund Burke and other conservatives, traditions carry a lot of accumulated wisdom. But – big but – they also carry a lot of accumulated nonsense. The trick is figuring out the difference. That is why we have debates like this.

    As far as I can tell, this debate has nothing to do with female circumcision.

    Wrong. If you read my original posting, I asked the question about what are the proper limits on what parents can do to their children. I was not just implying that the issue was just about boys, although obviously a lot of it has been. It is broader than that. Female circumcision is a feature of a culture that you may find wrong. Suppose you agree with me on that. Now then Gabriel, if you were to state that, then you would incur precisely the sort of wrath that you have cast on us for challenging the enforcement of irreversible operations on boys for religious reasons. I do not know what Jews think about female circumcision, but if they oppose it (do they?), there is a legitimate argument for saying this is hypocrisy.

    This argument is not directed specifically at any one religion or gender, so you can calm your fears on that score, Gabriel (I have far too much respect for the Jewish faith to ever do that and I have a zero tolerance attitude towards anti-semitism, as any reading of this blog ought to make clear). It is not about Jews or any individual religion. It is about any parent, secular, religious or somewhere in between, who think that they can use surgery to adjust the bodies of their babies for reasons other than those of clear, unambiguous health. As I have already said, as medical science advances, this is likely to remain quite an important ethical issue. Quite what we do about it, I am not entirely clear.

    Midwesterner, both sets of your comments are very interesting. Thanks

    Squander: several of my own comments got smited. The bot does not discriminate in this debate: it is a freaking computer!!!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    In reference to my criticsim of Gabriel claiming that most, if not all jews/others will quit Britain if circumcision is restricted, he says:

    It’s not blackmail, it’s informing you of the consequences and I’m in a position to do so because I know more about this than you do. Likewise if someone advocated a 90% peak-rate income tax you;d inform them that this would lead to all wealthy people buggering off or placing their money abroad. That’s not blackmail. If you took the trouble to learn about things before you adovcate their prohibition I wouldn’t have to do it.

    I have done some learning about these things, to the point where I am not convinced that there is a clear health benefit or harm – where boys are concerned, anyway. What I have learned is that most of the reason for these operations being done in the 21st Century is now emphatically religious, not medical. I consider it WRONG to brand a kid’s private parts for symbolic reasons. I don’t have to be a medical expert to come to that conclusion, so stop trying to dismiss the views of folk like me. Are you trying to claim, by the way, that non-Jews are not entitled to take a view on practices that involve surgery of infants and if necessary, criticise them?

    Likening the restriction of an operation on a baby for religious reasons to a 90% tax rate is bonkers. One act involves the restriction of an irreversible operation on a defenceless child, the other is an act of theft against the wealth of grown adults. Not the same thing at all.

    I have tried to be civil and of course we all get irritated from time to time when important principles are felt to be at stake, so if any of the advocates of all these operations feel we have misrepresented them, then of course I apologise. But civility is a two-way street. I don’t appreciate having my concern for respect for little children’s bodies to be treated as the concerns of a nutcase.

  • Midwesterner,

    I don’t think Gabriel was suggesting that you were incorrect to state that circumcision was a convenient sign for the Gestapo to look for. I think it more likely that he were objecting — as do I — to your clear implication that, for every Jew who was caught and exterminated thanks to that particular identifying mark, it was their parents’ fault.

    > Do you own the baby? Of course not. You have entered into a contract with that baby to deliver them to adulthood as best you can.

    This is another puzzling thing about libertarians: this bizarre desire to define everything in terms of contract law. If you’re going to try to break social structures down into basic parts for the purpose of analysis, what’s the objection to treating parenthood as one of those basic parts? You don’t need to try to puzzle out what parenthood consists of in order to understand it. It’s parenthood. It makes sense perfectly well by itself, without having to define it either as ownership or as a contract. In fact, if you can’t understand the concept of parenthood without having to decide whether it constitutes ownership or a contract, what the hell is wrong with you?

    Johnathan,

    > I fail to see why this is something that libertarians should not want to discuss, by the way.

    Who’s not discussing it? I’m all for discussing it. If we didn’t discuss it, we wouldn’t find the destructive utopian brave-new-worlders. It’s useful to know who they are, so that we can avoid them.

    > What I have learned is that most of the reason for these operations being done in the 21st Century is now emphatically religious

    So what? I’m an atheist myself, but I don’t understand this miltant atheist attitude that everyone must be stopped from doing things for religious reasons. Why? What, exactly, is the great problem with believing something that isn’t true? I personally think the world is a better place for the influence of Jewish culture, regardless of whether Yahweh exists.

    Plus, as I said above, a religion is not just a set of beliefs. It is also a group of people. Groups of people have and raise children. Those children are part of the group, even though (Shock! Horror!) they’re not consulted about it. Get over it.

    > I have tried to be civil

    This is another problem I have with militant atheists. Look, when you repeatedly tell someone that only stupid backward superstitious morons believe in their religion, you aren’t being civil just because you don’t use the word “fucking”. You’re being rude and obnoxious.

    Now, I’m perfectly happy to be rude and obnoxious to some people because of their beliefs, but I have enough self-awareness not to tell them how polite I’m being wheil I’m about it.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    If we didn’t discuss it, we wouldn’t find the destructive utopian brave-new-worlders. It’s useful to know who they are, so that we can avoid them.

    Charming as always. What is “utopian” about wondering about the right of parents to perform irreversible operations on their kids for reasons of religion or other ideology, rather than health? Who is being the utopian here, exactly?

    So what? I’m an atheist myself, but I don’t understand this miltant atheist attitude that everyone must be stopped from doing things for religious reasons.

    Duh. I am against the law being applied to prevent irreversible operations to change the body of a child for any reason, religious or secular, that is not on the grounds of proven health. Please actually read my article – I make it clear this is not just about religion; it is about parents marking their children’s bodies for some reason unconnected to their kids’ welfare. I do not know how I can make it any clearer.

    Look, when you repeatedly tell someone that only stupid backward superstitious morons believe in their religion, you aren’t being civil just because you don’t use the word “fucking”. You’re being rude and obnoxious.

    Get over yourself. You do not like it when I broach the issue of there being limits on what parents can do to their kids. You don’t like it because I have pointed out that such actions are sometimes motivated by doctrine, not medicine. I am not attacking religion per se, but the way it is used to legitimise practices – such as male and female circumcision.

    If you think that I am insulting religion by doing this, you have a remarkably low flashpoint.

  • Midwesterner

    S Two,

    This is another puzzling thing about libertarians: this bizarre desire to define everything in terms of contract law. If you’re going to try to break social structures down into basic parts for the purpose of analysis, what’s the objection to treating parenthood as one of those basic parts? You don’t need to try to puzzle out what parenthood consists of in order to understand it. It’s parenthood. It makes sense perfectly well by itself, without having to define it either as ownership or as a contract. In fact, if you can’t understand the concept of parenthood without having to decide whether it constitutes ownership or a contract, what the hell is wrong with you?

    So where does this put you on tolerance for FGM?

    The reason I put things in terms of a contract is that relations between different persons with differing desires must not be permitted to resort to force/violence. Children are persons. The only coherent choices I see in an individualist/life, liberty and property respecting metacontext are for children to be either owned by their parents or in a definable relationship with them. I have examined the idea that children are owned by parents and found that it quickly leads to utterly abhorrent things that I reject.

    Recognizing children as persons, not property, means the relationship is a definable one. There must be protections recognized regarding what children can expect. To my thinking this is two fold, to deliver them to adulthood first, free of encumbrances, religious or otherwise – there was a time even in the US when one could inherit debt or servitude from one’s parents – and second, prepared as best the parent(s) know how for the experience of life.

    I have an extremely strong aversion to outside interference in the second category for anything less than the spectacularly egregious or deliberately harmful, but it is in this 2nd category that most nanny state proactive intrusions in the family occur. Certainly the nanny staters are eager to collectively encumber our children with our debt.

    But the first category, the encumbrances, is simple and does not leave room for proactive intrusion, only preventative. Children should be delivered to adulthood with a zero balance on the moral and legal obligation scale.

    Regarding your interpretation that I was asserting it was ‘the parent’s fault’, no. That most definitely was not and is not my intention. Yet clearly it can not be the children’s fault. Those parents were acting in good faith based on their rabbi’s assertions in emphatic terms that if they did not circumcise their sons, those eight day old infants would have “their souls cut of from their people” and perhaps more importantly that those babies had broken God’s covenant.

    Unless it was the intention of the parents to prevent their sons from ever choosing to be “cut off from their people”, then no, the parents were acting in good faith. But it appears clear to me that it is possible to enter the faith at and during adulthood so the rabbi’s assertions to the parents that childhood, in fact infancy, was the only way, are suspect.

    But I am not Jewish and care only for the collectivist and individualist elements of the practice. In all other ways that I am aware of, Judaism is an obligation assumed or rejected by the choice of the individual assuming or rejecting it.

  • A superb set of posts from Midwesterner above.

    I am strongly opposed to the continuing legality of cosmetic male circumcision of the non-consenting. Although, as mentioned above, the practice could already be illegal under assault legislation. Those who argue that it is in some way “Statist” to impose laws with a disregard to religion are making a truly peculiar case.

    Furthermore this is not a matter of saying that the State should tend for children instead of parents, simply that parents should not be allowed to treat their children in an unrestricted manner. Amongst those restrictions should be removing erogenous portions of their genitals. By no means an unreasonable restriction.

  • Gabriel

    Midwestener

    Prior to these two threads, Gabriel, I thought you were honest. Now I realize you are only honest when you don’t care about the topic. When you care, you can lie, dissemble and strawman with the best (worst?) of them.

    Lie? Dissemble? I thought I just called you nuts. There is the fairly obvious fact that tens of thousands of assimilated, uncircumcised Jews were murdered by the Nazis, but that is not what I was talking about. I was referring to your implication that the fact of persecution places some sort of obligation on Jewish parents not to mark out their children as Jewish. You have a filthy and degraded mind and I don’t mind saying so.

    Gabriel, you and almost all of Judaism bases circumcision on Genesis 17:1-14, excerpted here: “The uncircumcised male whose foreskin has not been circumcised, shall have his soul cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” An eight day old baby has “his soul cut off” because “he has broken My covenant”! An eight day old baby! To apply this to a child is unavoidably a collectivist action.

    First, you will notice that verse 12 explicitly specifies 8 days old. Secondly, I will not be browbeaten by charges of Collectivism. If you mean it is related to the Hegelian/Rousseauian ideas that inspired 20th century Totalitarianism you are simply wrong. If you mean that it does not conform to your version of Individualist philosophy you are correct and I don’t much care.

    Children are persons. The only coherent choices I see in an individualist/life, liberty and property respecting metacontext are for children to be either owned by their parents or in a definable relationship with them.

    And one of the conditions of that relationship is – dum de dum – to arrange for circumcision if they see fit.

    I do not expect a reasoned response from you but we have a large gallery and perhaps some of them are sympathetic to the idea that joining a religion should be done by personal choice not by assignment at birth. That is what this conversation is really about.

    Fine, you want to know what I think about that? I think the civilization you cherish will die out and mine won’t and when Historians try to work out why, they can hardly do better than look at that statement right there.

    JP

    I do not know what Jews think about female circumcision, but if they oppose it (do they?), there is a legitimate argument for saying this is hypocrisy.

    Similarly, Judaism allows parents to smack their kids, but not shoot them in the head. Hypocritical eh? Likewise, I enjoy eating steak, but not horse turds. Inexplicable!

    Likening the restriction of an operation on a baby for religious reasons to a 90% tax rate is bonkers. One act involves the restriction of an irreversible operation on a defenceless child, the other is an act of theft against the wealth of grown adults. Not the same thing at all.

    Head meets brick wall.
    To the socialist concerned you would make two arguments.
    (1) A 90% tax rate is theft.
    (2) A 90% tax rate will lead to all the rich people leaving.
    Now, assuming the socialist had a half a brain, he would recognise these as separate arguments. He would deny your premises with regard to (i), but might be persuaded with regard to (ii). Now, actually, I don’t care whether your persuaded or not, I just wish you’d pay the elementary courtesy of recognising the consequence of your proposals. If you think the end of Britain’s Jewish community is a price worth paying to save our nation’s foreskins, say so.

    I am against the law being applied to prevent irreversible operations to change the body of a child for any reason, religious or secular, that is not on the grounds of proven health. Please actually read my article – I make it clear this is not just about religion; it is about parents marking their children’s bodies for some reason unconnected to their kids’ welfare.

    Have we really got nowhere with this. It is for the kid’s welfare and that is not mutually exclusive with it being done for religious reasons. Again, not everyone has the same premises as you.

    But civility is a two-way street. I don’t appreciate having my concern for respect for little children’s bodies to be treated as the concerns of a nutcase.

    But it is nuts. Perhaps you’d be interested in what I think of foreskins. I think they look totally gross; I think they’re dirty bacteria-traps; I think the idea of having to specially clean them every, or more than once a day, is rebarbative; I think they are what allowed me to win every single pissing contest when there was a craze for them at primary school; I think they’re a handicap in that more women when polled prefer my style of penis to yours and, for what it’s worth, I think my religion prohibits me to have one. Moreover, I’m very glad I was circumcised as an infant because otherwise I would have had to arrange to have it as an adult, which I understand from talking to people is painful and inconvenient.

    Now, evidently you disagree with me and think foreskins are great. Hopefully your wife agrees. But it simply won’t do to go around claiming that I’ve been abused or assaulted or whatever, because I just haven’t. (In contrast apparently when I had a blood sample taken as a littl’un I went nuts and had to be restrained by gas or something). I don’t know whether you get your ideas from some concept of ‘naturalness’ or from a multiply refracted Paulinism or simply from a deep-seated Freudian desire to have everyone’s penis match yours. Whatever, perhaps this website I found will help you get over it.

    What I will now write is a bit more speculative so take it or leave it, I won’t come back to it. Mainstream Britain doesn’t have a damn clue how to raise its kids. It cant keep them off drugs, it can’t make them learn elementary facts, it can’t make them act civilly, it can’t make them dress in an un-ugly fashion, it can’t stop them getting pregant, it can’t stop them getting STIs and apparently it can’t stop them stabbing each other. So mainstream Britons do what anyone else would do in this situation: they lash out at a minority who are doing visibly better in all these areas. “There must be something behind the scenes that means they are just as we screwed up as we are. No … more screwed up. Something terrible. Something barbaric! Something that must be banned!!!”
    Now if you thought I was multiculturalist before this will really get you going, but perhaps a period of introspection might be in order? Maybe you can learn something? But, like I say, I really don’t give rat’s ass how you bring up your kids – just stop trying to make everyone else like you.

  • Sunfish

    “There must be something behind the scenes that means they are just as we screwed up as we are. No … more screwed up. Something terrible. Something barbaric! Something that must be banned!!!”

    Just how the hell does Group A (British Jews) having a 10% Rabbi’s Discount relate to Group B (Everyone not in Group A) being ate up like a soup sandwich?

  • Gabriel

    Having been inspired by this thread to do some research on the “Genital Integrity Movement” I have come to the conclusion that they should best be classed with groups such as PETA. A collection of unhinged individuals making ever shriller accusations whose goal in life seems to make people unhappy with their penis and parents. Like all such movements they pray on vulnerable people, who in this case happen to have been circumcised, and convince them to ascribe all their problems to their pet-hate.
    If anyone needs to be banned it’s them.

  • Gabriel – I think that if your “research” of the movement extended to CircInfo then you will almost certainly have gotten a distorted view. That website is part of a group named “ICIRC”, which gives you some sort of inkling as to their motivation and nature. The pro-circumcision lobby is a far more sinister bunch than their counter-parts.

    Bear in mind that circumcision is a major cash-cow for American doctors, consider that circumcision ended here with the creation of the cut-denying NHS.

    I agree that there are parts of the “Intactivist” base that are shrill and prone to ascientific babble and supposition. But to judge all of them by this fringe is rather like judging libertarians by Ron Paul.

    Some are rude, some are fixated, some have no idea about appropriate conduct. That’s true of any like-minded grouping.

    What their aim is, however, is not to make people unhappy but to inform those who were unaware that the foreskin is a body part which has a function (the minor one of glans protection and the major one of pleasure provision) and attempt to eradicate the cultural practice. As American circumcision rates have declined steeply (not that you’d know that from reading CircInfo!) they seem to be succeeding.

    I also don’t think that equating them to PETA is fair. As http://petakillsanimals.com PETA actually kills those it supposedly wants protected, while intactivists do not get boys circumcised at all. ^_^

    You are quite ignorant about foreskins (bacteria traps? Hardly.) and I doubt immensely that you are aware of the research demonstrating the sensitivity removed during circumcision or any of the rest. This is typical. It would seem that his has led to you approving of your parent’s decision (which was never really theirs to make) but post-active, uninformed consent is no balm. Were you displeased there would be no recompense. There are means of restoration but these are not total, the mucosal tissue which is lost is is lost forever.

    Meanwhile the gentleman unhappy with his intact penis can have the foreskin removed. Is there any other conclusion that can be reached but that the only way to honour the personal and subjective nature of such a decision is to leave it up to the subject, the person who owns the body and must live with how it is treated?

  • Andrew R

    Gabriel:

    MidWesterner

    I do not expect a reasoned response from you but we have a large gallery and perhaps some of them are sympathetic to the idea that joining a religion should be done by personal choice not by assignment at birth. That is what this conversation is really about.

    Fine, you want to know what I think about that? I think the civilization you cherish will die out and mine won’t and when Historians try to work out why, they can hardly do better than look at that statement right there.

    Wow. Seriously, wow.

    Letting people choose their own religion => death of a civilization?

    On another minor point, you can stop wasting your time researching anti-circumcision groups. Nobody, contrary to your claims, is arguing pro or anti-foreskin on the grounds of the merits or weaknesses of the foreskin. If you believe this to be the case, then you have very clearly distorted the opposing comments in your head (as with SquanderTwo’s claims about “militant atheism”) and totally misunderstood the arguments against religiously-justified circumcision.

  • Johnathan,

    > Get over yourself.

    What, you really, genuinely think you’ve been being civil? Fuck’s sake. OK, here we go.

    > Doing so because of some ancient book is bonkers

    > People like you should be seen for what you are: imposing your own religious nonsense on those unable to defend themselves

    > if half of what you write is serious, then you are a dimwit.

    You’ve called Judaism “nonsense”, you’ve referred to the Tanakh dismissively as merely “some ancient book”, you’ve said that to do something simply because it’s advised in the Tanakh is insane, and you’ve called Gabriel himself stupid. But you want respect for being civil. Look, you don’t think that God exists and you therefore don’t think that the Torah contains his word. Fine; neither do I. But I have enough empathy to realise that, if I tell someone who does believe those things that it’s just some book and to take its nonsense seriously is insane and stupid, then I am seriously insulting them.

    But, then, this comes back, yet again, to Gabriel’s original point: you have no idea what’s important to people. Unless they’re you.

    > What is “utopian” about wondering about the right of parents to perform irreversible operations on their kids for reasons of religion or other ideology, rather than health?

    You want to ban something so that the world will conform to your abstract ideas of what is right and good, without any regard for people as they really live and have lived for millenia. You want to bend humanity to fit your ideal, rather than consider bending your ideals a little to fit humanity. You believe that the running of the human race should be based on unbending rational logic, with no exceptions ever made to take into account the nature of humanity itself. And you think that anyone who refuses to change their entire four-thousand-year-old community to fit your ideal should either leave the country or be prosecuted — though you’re so convinced of the universal appeal of your ideal that you still refuse to consider that anyone would really be willing to make such sacrifices — of course they wouldn’t, not really, because they’d be so bowled over by how amazingly wonderful your ideals are, they’d just willingly change to fit them.

    But you’re not a utopian?

    Midwesterner,

    > So where does this put you on tolerance for FGM?

    What, you really can’t understand how someone could take a position on female genital mutilation without first deciding whether parenthood constitutes ownership of children or a contract with children? As I said before, what the hell is wrong with you? I’m against FGM, of course. Why should I need to get so puzzled by this bizarre inexplicable concept of parenthood that I feel I have to redefine it in terms of property law or contract law before I can take that position?

  • But, then, this comes back, yet again, to Gabriel’s original point: you have no idea what’s important to people. Unless they’re you.

    I have known many Jews to share his view. Yet they are still forced to spend their lives marked with a sign that means nothing to them.

    Herein lies the problem: it is a personal and subjective matter being decided upon by someone who is neither the person nor the subject.

  • You know. I coulda swore I left a comment on this thread. More than one actually.

    What I said was: suppose the religious law was a way to encode a health measure that was not scientifically proven at the time the religious law was handed down? Similar to the no pork rule which we understand now as a crude measure which may have prevented trichina.

    See UN study on the advantages of circumcision noted above.

    One ought not discard tradition lightly.

    BTW I think I noted also that slavery went down with the invention of machines that could do labor cheaper than slaves. And women’s suffrage became the rule when various labor saving devices for the home became a reality.

    I think I also noted that cutting off the boy’s bits decreases male sensitivity making them more long lasting. Thus increasing women’s pleasure. Which would tend to strengthen the pair bond making stronger families.

    Now I would love to see the above disputed. I see no reason for deletion. The arguments may be wrong. They are not uncommon.

    As noted above. Libertarians do not do well in the messy areas. Like too many utopians (did I mention socialists?) they live by dogma. I make my living off of rationality. Yet I recognize that rationality represents less than 10% of life as humans actually live it.

  • Johanthan Pearce

    Having been inspired by this thread to do some research on the “Genital Integrity Movement” I have come to the conclusion that they should best be classed with groups such as PETA. A collection of unhinged individuals making ever shriller accusations whose goal in life seems to make people unhappy with their penis and parents. Like all such movements they pray on vulnerable people, who in this case happen to have been circumcised, and convince them to ascribe all their problems to their pet-hate.
    If anyone needs to be banned it’s them.

    Oh dearie me. PETA is a nutcase group that objects to the consumption of animals; the commenters here who take a dim view of operations on babies’ genitals for non-health reasons are objecting to the enforcement of an ideological, or religious-inspired operation. Not the same thing at all. Some of the analogies you use do not really stand up.

    As for Midwesterner’s views, I must say that I don’t think such operations should be made illegal out of the threat of some distant threat against Jews in the future, which seems a bit of a strange argument to employ against the practice, having thought about it.

    Similarly, Judaism allows parents to smack their kids, but not shoot them in the head. Hypocritical eh?

    I asked you whether Jews oppose female circumcision. Your answer implies you do. So in other words, if a Somali wants to carry out this operation, and believes he is entitled to inflict it, you say that is wrong, but if you want to cut something off the body of a son, that is okay. How is this logical?

    Squander writes:

    You’ve called Judaism “nonsense”, you’ve referred to the Tanakh dismissively as merely “some ancient book”, you’ve said that to do something simply because it’s advised in the Tanakh is insane, and you’ve called Gabriel himself stupid. But you want respect for being civil. Look, you don’t think that God exists and you therefore don’t think that the Torah contains his word. Fine; neither do I. But I have enough empathy to realise that, if I tell someone who does believe those things that it’s just some book and to take its nonsense seriously is insane and stupid, then I am seriously insulting them.

    I did not call Judaism “bonkers”, in fact, I said I respected that faith. I said it was “bonkers” to perform an operation on a baby – who has no say in the matter – simply because of an ancient book of religious doctrine. What’s the matter with you guys, cannot you take a bit of robust criticism? Grow some backbone.

    Well, as for Gabriel, several of us have been a bit rough. But I hate to state the obvious, but this whole argument was kicked off when Gabriel tore into Ian B for his views, including using such lovely expressions as “Jacobite bastard”, or somesuch. Lovely.

    You want to ban something so that the world will conform to your abstract ideas of what is right and good, without any regard for people as they really live and have lived for millenia

    Oh dear, it is like going around in a circle, does nothing ever sink in? I said already that just because a tradition stretches back for millenia does not give it some sort of special status above serious criticism and that sometimes we do need to use abstract principles – such as consent – to ask whether X or Y is legitimate. Suppose that some other form of marking of a baby’s body for ideological/religious reasons were accepted for hundreds of years – so what? It is wrong.

    I’m against FGM, of course.

    Ahhh, I see. So like Gariel, you want to ban Muslim practices you deem bad, but think that it is okay to cut the body parts of a boy. As far as I can tell, the only evidence I see people invoking for this difference is that the operation on boys is usually painless, not so for girls. But if you mock the idea of consent as a sort of abstract issue, then what about those advocates of FGM who claim that this practice has gone on “for millenia”? It seems you guys are trying to have your cake and eat it. That is why I use the charge of hypocrisy.

    Moreover, I’m very glad I was circumcised as an infant because otherwise I would have had to arrange to have it as an adult, which I understand from talking to people is painful and inconvenient

    In this day and age of hot showers, soap and so on, the idea that you have to have a body part removed for health reasons is not proven, in my mind, certainly not to the point of justifying the operation in the way you describe it. In the past, there may have been a health case. It makes plenty of sense that religions that developed in hot countries developed codes of personal hygiene (not eating pork, avoidance of booze, circumcision of boys, and all the rest). But these codes, which had their rationale, can over the centuries lose their relevance. So instead they become symbols of a faith, a sort of way of belonging to a tribe.

  • I’m kind of curious about people who are using the phrase “for non-health reasons”.

    Doing something for a medical benefit and doing it for a spriritual benefit are clearly different. But they are only different if you see one as real and one as imaginary. If you suggest the law makes that distinction then all you’re saying is that the state should be the final arbiter of religious truth, even in cases where there is no evidence of objective harm resulting from that religious belief. That’s not even liberal, let alone libertarian.

  • Johanthan Pearce

    oldandrew, if the law is enforced to ban an operation because the infant baby has no choice about the matter, it is, nevertheless, far easier to defend the operation if it is clearly done to protect the child. On the other hand, it is hard to see how an operation that is done for religious/ideological/whatever reasons has the same welfare justification.

    By the way, Gabriel and Squander might be surprised to know that in practice, I would be reluctant to extend such laws or indeed expect them to be zealously enforced, simply because I am wary of the state getting involved in family life at all (I am a defender of homeschooling, for example). But it is worth thinking through the principles of what sort of boundaries parents observe.

    Anyway, I have just about exhausted myself on this topic, as I suspect have others. Time to move on.

  • > As far as I can tell, the only evidence I see people invoking for this difference is that the operation on boys is usually painless, not so for girls.

    No, that’s not the difference.

    The point is that people vote with their feet. There is a significant movement amongst women and men from cultures which practice FGM to get it stopped. The reason for this is that the women have been traumatised and vandalised and know it.

    Please point to the parallel movement within Judaism.

    The other thing is this, which I mentioned on the other thread and which you have completely ignored (while repeatedly falsely accusing me of failing to respond to your arguments):

    Human society is cultural. We don’t use instinct much anymore, except for stuff like sweating. All the societies around us exist because of the accumulated efforts of thousands of generations of our ancestors in passing stuff on to their kids. If you think the only way to pass stuff on to your kids is by patiently explaining things to them, you are hopelessly naive. M. Simon has pointed out that cirumcision may well be a religiously-encoded health benefit, but it could be a lot more than that. Someone pointed out that it may well have had an effect on the length and strength of Jewish marriages. We just don’t know. What would the UK look like today if circumcision had been banned in, say, 1600, or 600? You have not the faintest idea. Not a clue.

    Had our distant ancestors been scientists, they could have done us a huge favour and founded two Jewish religions, one with and one without circumcision, and we could now compare them. Maybe the one without would by now be the world’s only religion, or maybe it would have died out after fifty years. We have no way of knowing. But, in the absence of that evidence, I’ll go with what should, I think, be the main principle of any decent political ideology, libertarianism included. It ain’t broke. Don’t fix it.

    And the other difference between circumcision and FGM is that one is a part of an alien culture and one isn’t. We’d need a change in the law to legalise FGM, while you propose a change in the law (yes, you do; it’s not already illegal, whatever you may claim) to ban circumcision.

    > I did not call Judaism “bonkers”, in fact, I said I respected that faith. I said it was “bonkers” to perform an operation on a baby – who has no say in the matter – simply because of an ancient book of religious doctrine.

    A total comprehension failure here.

    The operation is a part of Judaism. The fact that it’s performed on a baby is a part of Judaism. The ancient boof of religious doctrine is the foundation of Judaism. So what you said was that it’s bonkers to practice an integral part of Judaism just because of the doctrine of Judaism set out in the founding documents of Judaism. You may think you respect Judaism, but you clearly don’t. Not that you’re obliged to.

    > this whole argument was kicked off when Gabriel tore into Ian B for his views, including using such lovely expressions as “Jacobite bastard”, or somesuch.

    Actually, he called you idiots and told you to grow up; the “Jacobin bastard” stuff came later, after Ian B had been quite comprehensively rude about Jews, while, like you, claiming he was being respectful and polite. But Gabriel hasn’t claimed he’s being nice to you. Neither have I. You want to be obnoxious, by all means, go ahead; I often am. All I was suggesting was that you stop telling the peple to whom you are being obnoxious that you’re polite and respectful and civil. Have some empathy.

    oldandrew,

    > all you’re saying is that the state should be the final arbiter of religious truth

    Yes, but he doesn’t realise that, because he’s the type of atheist who thinks the religious should have to start from the assumption that there is no God and then prove their case.

    I’ve spent far too much time on this over the last couple of days. I’m off to get on with raising my child. Properly, without obsessing about theoretical definitions.

  • And the other difference between circumcision and FGM is that one is a part of an alien culture and one isn’t. We’d need a change in the law to legalise FGM, while you propose a change in the law (yes, you do; it’s not already illegal, whatever you may claim) to ban circumcision.

    There is no law officially exempting it from assault and battery legislation.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    There is a significant movement amongst women and men from cultures which practice FGM to get it stopped. The reason for this is that the women have been traumatised and vandalised and know it.

    What if a Jewish boy thinks he has been “vandalised”? What’s your take on that? You could tell the boy that he is being silly, there was no harm, it was all in his interests, and you would probably be correct about that. But what if he persisted, and said, “Excuse me, but I’d prefer to be the judge of that.” What happens then? This is why I think you are operating double standards here.

    All the societies around us exist because of the accumulated efforts of thousands of generations of our ancestors in passing stuff on to their kids. If you think the only way to pass stuff on to your kids is by patiently explaining things to them, you are hopelessly naive

    I actually agree with that. I don’t expect everything to be patiently explained. That is not quite the same thing as an operation done for reaons of religious affiliation, though.

    Someone pointed out that it may well have had an effect on the length and strength of Jewish marriages. We just don’t know. What would the UK look like today if circumcision had been banned in, say, 1600, or 600? You have not the faintest idea. Not a clue.

    Of course I don’t have a clue about the impact. I haven’t said that I did. I suspect you haven’t any idea, either.

    The operation is a part of Judaism. The fact that it’s performed on a baby is a part of Judaism. The ancient boof of religious doctrine is the foundation of Judaism. So what you said was that it’s bonkers to practice an integral part of Judaism just because of the doctrine of Judaism set out in the founding documents of Judaism. You may think you respect Judaism, but you clearly don’t.

    Alright, I don’t respect the part – only a part – of the relgion that regards this as something that has to be done on a defenceless kid. Religion is not necessarily one big package deal; I am sure there are parts of other religions that are appealing, some not, and so on.

    Actually, he called you idiots and told you to grow up; the “Jacobin bastard” stuff came later, after Ian B had been quite comprehensively rude about Jews, while, like you, claiming he was being respectful and polite. But Gabriel hasn’t claimed he’s being nice to you. Neither have I. You want to be obnoxious, by all means, go ahead; I often am. All I was suggesting was that you stop telling the peple to whom you are being obnoxious that you’re polite and respectful and civil. Have some empathy.

    I re-read Ian B’s comments and they were hardly rude or insulting, from my understanding. What bothers me is the hair-trigger sensitivies of you guys here: as soon as anyone suggest that a relgiously-driven operation might be a bit odd or questionable, all hell broke loose on this blog. It was extraordinary.

  • > as soon as anyone suggest that a relgiously-driven operation might be a bit odd or questionable, all hell broke loose

    No, it was when you proposed introducing legislation that would make the UK Judenrein.

    As I’ve repeatedly stated, I don’t like circumcision and would never do it to a child of mine, and I’m an atheist. You’re going a little further than that.

    > There is no law officially exempting it from assault and battery legislation.

    Yeah, so? The law is based on precedent. Find one prosecution.

    Bye.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    As I’ve repeatedly stated, I don’t like circumcision and would never do it to a child of mine, and I’m an atheist.

    So are you basically agreeing with some of us that this operation is a step too far beyond what parents should be allowed to do? Your use of the word “never” is pretty categorical. I’d be careful, since Gabriel might turn his guns on you!!!!!

  • it is hard to see how an operation that is done for religious/ideological/whatever reasons has the same welfare justification

    The question is not whether it is hard to see the spiritual benefits of Judaism (it wouldn’t be my first choice of religion) but whether the Government is the appropriate arbiter of spiritual truths such as this.

    I, for one, do not want politicians to decide whether or not people benefit from being raised Jewish.

  • I’m kind of curious about people who are using the phrase “for non-health reasons”.

    It’s pretty simple. If there is a medical condition in evidence that requires a circumcision then one should be performed. If there is not one (“Having a foreskin” is not a medical condition) then it should not be.

    As with any other body part. As for “Objective harm” well, again, removing any other body part would constitute harm, would it not? So why this stance of preputial exceptionism? A circumcision causes harm.

  • Oh, for fuck’s sake. I’m only still commenting ’cause it’s short and quick.

    > So are you basically agreeing with some of us that this operation is a step too far beyond what parents should be allowed to do?

    No, absolutely not. Either your reading comprehension skills are atrocious or your inability to tell the difference between “wouldn’t do it myself” and “must ban it” is positively Socialist. Or both.

  • This blog’s readership has an understanding of the word “Socialist” roughly analogous to the shrillest socialist wing’s understanding of the word “Fascist”.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Squander, why should not your own reasons also apply to other parents if you object on principle, as your use of the word “never” implies? To rule something out so totally suggests that your objection to the operation is based not on the shifting sands of medical science, but something more fundamental than that, ie, ethical. In which case, it is a bit odd that you are objecting to my suggestion that such operations, unless they are done for reasons of health, are a step too far.

  • Gabriel

    Andrew R.

    Wow. Seriously, wow. Letting people choose their own religion => death of a civilization?

    I didn’t say that. Perhaps our interpretation of what Midwesterner said is different and perhaps you are correct, but what I meant, in any case, is this. If you are unprepared to foist your values and way of life on your children, your civilization will not endure. The secularised Anabaptist ethics that many here seem to hold are a dead end.

    On another minor point, you can stop wasting your time researching anti-circumcision groups. Nobody, contrary to your claims, is arguing pro or anti-foreskin on the grounds of the merits or weaknesses of the foreskin. If you believe this to be the case, then you have very clearly distorted the opposing comments in your head (as with SquanderTwo’s claims about “militant atheism”) and totally misunderstood the arguments against religiously-justified circumcision.

    Ian B and Frederick Grieves have clearly grounded their case on the supposed harm of infant circumcision and both seem to have absorbed a fair chunk of anti-circumcision propaganda. JP’s argument is somewhat different, but nevertheless any claims of “assault” or “abuse” are only intellgible if we take not having a foreskin to be worse than having one.

    Mr Grieves

    I also don’t think that equating them to PETA is fair. As http://petakillsanimals.com PETA actually kills those it supposedly wants protected, while intactivists do not get boys circumcised at all. ^_^

    The point is that such groups ostensibly want to make people happier, but operate by preying on and intensifying misery.

    I have known many Jews to share his view. Yet they are still forced to spend their lives marked with a sign that means nothing to them.

    I call bullshit.

    There is no law officially exempting it from assault and battery legislation.

    Now this really isn’t on, no matter how many times it has been repeated. In this country if you want to ban something that has hitherto been practised legally and peacefully you bloody well get a statute passed by both Houses of Parliament. End of.

    JP

    Well, as for Gabriel, several of us have been a bit rough. But I hate to state the obvious, but this whole argument was kicked off when Gabriel tore into Ian B for his views, including using such lovely expressions as “Jacobite bastard”, or somesuch. Lovely.

    One day I truly hope to be in a conversation with someone who I can call a Jacobite bastard.

    As for my rudeness, every so often I get mad about something someone has said and call eveyone an idiot, people call me a fascist, jihadist, xenophobe or multiculturalist or whatever, Perry threatens to IP ban me and I shut up. It’s a lot more fun than a bunch of comment boxes with a few praises for the original comment, an overblown Jeremiad from Ian B, a few whimsical and sensible comments from Nick M, a Enlightenment/Counter Enlightenment meta-narrative from countingcats and a Haiku from RAB.

    Anyway, the point is a minor one, but Squander 2 is entirely correct. One of the first points I made was that people like you have no clue what people outside your bubble care about and you seem to have gone out of your way to prove that for the rest of your argument.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    In this country if you want to ban something that has hitherto been practised legally and peacefully you bloody well get a statute passed by both Houses of Parliament. End of.

    Indeed. As several of us have said, the law against assault has been imperfectly and unevenly applied down the years. Statutary legislation is, or should be, passed to correct these anomalies. Whether parliament will want to do so is another matter, since it would obviously offend some Jewish and Muslim voters, possibly others, while I suspect a lot of people are indifferent to it, although probably not indifferent to the female operation. I have no confidence that this practice will be outlawed or restricted, and anyway, there are rather more urgent issues in front of us, such as cutting back the State generally.

    As for my rudeness, every so often I get mad about something someone has said and call eveyone an idiot, people call me a fascist, jihadist, xenophobe or multiculturalist or whatever, Perry threatens to IP ban me and I shut up. It’s a lot more fun than a bunch of comment boxes with a few praises for the original comment, an overblown Jeremiad from Ian B, a few whimsical and sensible comments from Nick M, a Enlightenment/Counter Enlightenment meta-narrative from countingcats and a Haiku from RAB.

    You dish it out, so take it. Let’s remind ourselves of the first comment you made that kicked off the whole thread in what seems like a lifetime ago (11:47 am, July 25):

    Utterly absurd and completely typical Libertarian gibberish. Do you think a parent can’t confiscate their children’s toys because it violates their property rights? What about cutting his nails if he doesn’t want it? Grow up. The whole concept of Children’s Rights is the brainchild of the totalitarian Left and nothing more nor nor less than then first step towards communal breeding of children and the eradication of hereditary transmission of knowledge and custom – that is to say the only absolutely indispensible condition of cultured existence.* That so many Libertarians support it is the best indication that their philosophy is pernicious horses**t. When exactly are you going to learn the elementary fact that different modes of association have different rules associated with them? Idiots.

    You dish it out, but you refuse to take it. That is the mark of a bully and a cad.

    And this blog does not want to be an echo-chamber (I have had plenty of disagreements with other regulars here who nevertheless are perfectly civil, even though the lingo gets a bit salty).

    And RAB’s Haikus are great.

  • removing any other body part would constitute harm, would it not?

    No.

  • Midwesterner

    M. Simon, I suspect the comments you claim were deleted are the ones you made in this thread.

    Squander, you say “I’m against FGM, of course.” and attack me twice for having any doubts about your opinion on the matter. Apparently there is something utterly beyond the pale about cutting off a significant part of what will become the sensation producing parts of female baby’s genitals. And yet cutting off what will become a significant sensation producing part of male baby’s genitals is not just permissible, it must be legally protected.

    And you want to know what is wrong with me that I am unable to see a profound difference between the two practices? One could easily say that “you have no idea what’s important to people. Unless they’re you.” I see why you are so pathologically afraid of reason and logic.

    BTW, are you basing the Jewish exception on the indisputable fact that Jews have lived in the West longer than Muslims? Or that there are more of them? Why exactly is one religion’s practice in the West excused as ‘traditional’ and the other religion’s practice abhorrent?

    The point is that people vote with their feet.

    So you are telling anybody who didn’t want to be circumcised but was, that they should have left their country before they were born?

    Some other interesting contradictions in this thread.

    Opposition to non-medical circumcism has been portrayed by some as “an abstract idea” while at the same time others say it is “based on unbending rational logic”

    Some people claim that circumcision as a tradition must be considered in light of unforeseen benefits and yet unforeseen (but observed) negative consequences are utterly inappropriate to the discussion.

    Pork apparently must remain banned because it used to cause trichina (I had to look it up) and circumcision might have had a medical reason so it should remain in force. At least that appears to be that person’s goal. That argument is a sword without a handle, be careful or you will inadvertently be arguing for an end to all Jewish law for which their speculative purpose is now solved by other, better means. Religious law needs no justification. That is why it is religious law and that is why it must be by personal consent. I think dietary prescriptions and proscriptions are fine for children provided they don’t cause readily demonstrable health problems in the nature of poisoning, etc. but again people are ignoring the difference between deliberately doing something the child can never undo and something (a kosher diet) that they can change immediately on reaching adulthood.

    Something that seems curious to me from an outside perspective, no where in Exodus 20:2-17 or Deuteronomy 5:6-21 (the Commandments) is there any mention of circumcision to say nothing of the eighth day part. And yet rabbis have decided to reinterpret the Sabbath commandment to make an exception for circumcision. But the Commandments came after the message to Abraham and so either God had a change of priorities in the mean time or somebody didn’t copy the scrolls correctly. If there is anybody who can explain how Judaic theology chooses the resolutions to these conflicts with out engineering an answer to support just this particular conclusion, I really am interested.

    I would not have bothered to engage in this discussion if proponents of infant male genital modification held a consistent position on infant female genital modification. But it is very clear to me that there is an expectation of a special religious exemption that they have no intention of permitting to other religions.

    That violates the separation of religion and government.

    It is in the dishonesty of some debaters here that showing a preference for one religion’s practice over another’s is portrayed as keeping religion out of government yet holding all religions to the same standards is portrayed as government interfering in religion.

    I oppose (quite clearly by now I suspect) all irreversible procedures performed on children for religious reasons. But what has me upset here is the vicious and duplicitous arguments by the pro-circumcision lobby. If you were consistent and not demanding a special legal dispensation for your particular practice while denying one to others, I would grant you consistency and be content to simply disagree. As should be clear from all of my comments, I have no problem with religious circumcision. My problem is with performing it on non-consenting persons, and when one religion uses government to protect a practice that is closely comparable to another religion’s practice which must be banned.

    Also, I had said in other circles that I was not returning to this discussion, but I cannot let yet another deliberate misstatement by Gabriel stand. He said “If you are unprepared to foist your values and way of life on your children, your civilization will not endure.” My exact statement that he is mischaracterizing as a prohibition on religious instruction was “joining a religion should be done by personal choice not by assignment at birth.” I most definitely do hope that people “foist” their moral values on their children. It is an essential part of being a good parent. But in that word “foist”, Gabriel is once again concealing the fact that what we are talking about here is an irreversible surgical amputation. If moral values are ‘taught’ with the cuts of a knife, I will have no part of it. There is already one religion that holds that doctrine very strongly.

  • Gabriel

    You dish it out, so take it. Let’s remind ourselves of the first comment you made that kicked off the whole thread in what seems like a lifetime ago (11:47 am, July 25):

    Funny, I thought that honour went to Ian B’s call for the arrest and imprisonment of millions of peacable and loyal Britons.

    You dish it out, but you refuse to take it. That is the mark of a bully and a cad.

    And a bounder too. Listen, I think your ideology is as absurd as it is pernicious and that you’re a bit of a goon. You think I’m a bronze aga child mutilator. The difference is that I don’t shout about how civil and nice I’m being. Either you have been being systematically dishonest or you are too narrow-minded to realise when you are insulting people. This in itself is a minor point, but the fact that your blinkered mindset has been typical of Liberals over the past two centuries is of some significance.

    Speaking of dishonesty, we now turn to this from Midwesterner.

    My problem is with performing it on non-consenting persons, and when one religion uses government to protect a practice that is closely comparable to another religion’s practice which must be banned.

    Sigh. Not prohibiting an activity is not equatable to “protecting” it except in the most basic sense that the Rule of Law exists to protect our peaceable acitivities. Circumcision of male infants has always been legal under the English Common Law, FGM has always been illegal. No amount of sophistry from you will disguise the fact that all I am arguing for is maintenance of the status quo and not exemption, protection or whatever other buzzword you want to toss out.

    Now, as to why any such distinction should be made, there are two obvious reasons. The first, based on tradition, will obviously cut no ice with you as you have made abundantly clear your desire to remodel the legal system in conformity with your peculiar personal ideology. I will only note that your disrespect for precendent is alien and repugnant to the Anglo-Saxon political tradition upon which the liberties of both out countries are based and move on to the second reason.

    Here are some things a parent could conceivably do to a child:-
    a) cut his hair
    b) trim his fingernails
    c) Give him an MMR injection
    d) force him to wear corrective shoes
    e) cut off part of his foreskin.
    f) tatoo his forehead
    g) cut off his leg
    h) castrate him.
    Now, plainly, some of these things should be illegal and some shouldn’t. You will say that comparing circumcision to hair-cutting is ridiculous. I will reply that comparing it to FGM is ridiculous and I am right. The truth is that those of us who have abandoned our teenage prediliciton for systemization based upon reductive models are faced with the necessity of exercising our judgement. We may ask questions such as ‘Are there frequent and serious health problems associated with this activity?’, ‘Are there many adults who complain that this activity was performed on them as children’, ‘Does this activity curtail the affected infant from doing things we judge important, or restrict its ability to be happy,whether in infancy or adulthood? Is this its intention?’ etc. Now, a sober and informed person doing these things will find that FGM should remain illegal and that circumcision should remain legal and they will not be influenced in this by any number of moronic ravings about consent or contract law or whatever.

    Though it is not relevant to my argument, it should be pointed out that in your ignorance you have repeatedly libelled Islam, which does not and never has mandated FGM.

    Also, I had said in other circles that I was not returning to this discussion, but I cannot let yet another deliberate misstatement by Gabriel stand. He said “If you are unprepared to foist your values and way of life on your children, your civilization will not endure.” My exact statement that he is mischaracterizing as a prohibition on religious instruction was “joining a religion should be done by personal choice not by assignment at birth.” I most definitely do hope that people “foist” their moral values on their children. It is an essential part of being a good parent. But in that word “foist”, Gabriel is once again concealing the fact that what we are talking about here is an irreversible surgical amputation. If moral values are ‘taught’ with the cuts of a knife, I will have no part of it. There is already one religion that holds that doctrine very strongly.

    If you are referring to Christianity you are wrong. Baptism is believed to leave a far more indelible mark than circumcision. It is held by all members of the CofE that are still interested in such matters that Baptism is an irreversible entry into the covenant of grace – for all for whom it is effectual – and I believe this is the doctrine of all the churches that lay claim to the title of Catholic, though they will use different terminology. When I said that Anabaptist ethics were doing the rounds in this comment box I did not do so because I enjoy using long words.
    (Doubtless you will respond by saying that baptism is different because it doesn’t leave a scar. Thus demonstrating that you (i) don’t have a clue what I’m talking about and (ii) you hold fundamentalist position on the primacy of matter that you expect your interlocutors to mimic you on).

    By the way

    If moral values are ‘taught’ with the cuts of a knife, I will have no part of it.

    No one asked you, sir.

    Something that seems curious to me from an outside perspective, no where in Exodus 20:2-17 or Deuteronomy 5:6-21 (the Commandments) is there any mention of circumcision to say nothing of the eighth day part. And yet rabbis have decided to reinterpret the Sabbath commandment to make an exception for circumcision. But the Commandments came after the message to Abraham and so either God had a change of priorities in the mean time or somebody didn’t copy the scrolls correctly. If there is anybody who can explain how Judaic theology chooses the resolutions to these conflicts with out engineering an answer to support just this particular conclusion, I really am interested.

    As I’m sure you’ll recognise, it is inavoidable that on occasions various commandments will come into conflict with one another. When this occurs, Rabbis, assuming that G-d is neither insane nor nor malevolent, seek a way to reconcile the conflicting obligations. When doing so they have as their guide the ordinary tools of source criticism as well as a large body of precedent and explanatory rulings known, somewhat misleadingly, as the Oral Law, which is held to have originated, with the Pentateuch, at Sinai (though opinions on how exactly this is the case differ). The problems thrown up by the Sabbath day are, as it happens a particularly rich source of such tricky questions. If you are genuinely interested, I sugggest you consult Tractate Shabbat of the Talmud. Unfortunately, the Talmud is arranged in a rather inconvenient way for purposes of finding answers to questions such as these and relevant material will be dispersed throughout it so I would recommend you, if you want to save time, to refer to the relevant chapters of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah. I caution you, though, that his legal rulings are not considered absolutely binding by anyone except the Yemenite community. I am not at all learned in Jewish law, so that’s the best I can do.

  • Midwesterner

    By the way

    “If moral values are ‘taught’ with the cuts of a knife, I will have no part of it.”

    No one asked you, sir.

    I trust you see the horrifying irony of your response.

  • Johanthan Pearce

    Midwesterner, absolutely.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Gabriel’s inability to grasp basic logic is impressive, only slightly less impressive than his assumption that anyone who disagrees with him is making “ravings”:

    Now, plainly, some of these things should be illegal and some shouldn’t. You will say that comparing circumcision to hair-cutting is ridiculous. I will reply that comparing it to FGM is ridiculous and I am right. The truth is that those of us who have abandoned our teenage prediliciton for systemization based upon reductive models are faced with the necessity of exercising our judgement. We may ask questions such as ‘Are there frequent and serious health problems associated with this activity?’, ‘Are there many adults who complain that this activity was performed on them as children’, ‘Does this activity curtail the affected infant from doing things we judge important, or restrict its ability to be happy,whether in infancy or adulthood? Is this its intention?’ etc. Now, a sober and informed person doing these things will find that FGM should remain illegal and that circumcision should remain legal and they will not be influenced in this by any number of moronic ravings about consent or contract law or whatever.

    No, because the difference between giving a four-old boy a haircut and cutting off part of his body so that it cannot grow back, is precisely because it cannot grow back. Once gone, that’s it. It is irreversible (although quite possibly in future I suppose modern science might make this possible). You deplore FGM, as I do; but you try explaining that to parents who, for whatever reason, claim that FGM is part of their culture, and that anyone who disputes that is some sort of utopian, “Jacobite”, etc, etc. It seems to me that there can be some fairly simple principles that guide what is acceptable:

    Is the operation vital for the child’s health and happiness?
    Is the operation reversible if it proves to be harmful or irksome in some way?
    Is the prime reason for the operation medical, and if not, what is the justification?

    On this basis, both forms of circumcision, in this day and age of modern science and hygiene, are questionable. (I’ll accept that the female version is far worse than the former). In both cases, there is clearly no consent whatever from the child, and in today’s age, it is clearly motivated out of group tradition.

  • Gabriel

    First of all, Johnathan, you might want to spend some time boning up on two really quite distinct historical movements. I have tried gently teasing you in order to stop you making this error, but, as ever, your obtuseness requires rather more direct action.
    I have perfectly well explained why I called Ian B a Jacobin: because he wishes to remake the world in conformity with his impoverished rationalist philosophy, based upon shaky premises, and in so doing would inevitably create a tyranny in the name of Liberty. More specifically, his “freedom” involves the suppression of traditional religions. The term is apt and I will keep using it when appropriate. At no point have I ever accused anyone of wanting to re-establish the House of Stuart. Twit.

    Is the operation vital for the child’s health and happiness?
    Is the operation reversible if it proves to be harmful or irksome in some way?
    Is the prime reason for the operation medical, and if not, what is the justification?

    We’ve been over your deeply weird intentionalist approach to legal questions. As oldandrew (who has a fantastic blog by the way) has pointed out, in a free society it is not the job of the state to decide what motives are and are not legitimate unless they can prove the procedure was done with the intention of harming the child. I am not under any obligation whatsoever to prove that infant circumcision is justified by motives you might have, as you demand I do.

    In both cases, there is clearly no consent whatever from the child, and in today’s age, it is clearly motivated out of group tradition.

    Well, this is plainly not the whole justification, but even if it was what’s the bloody problem?

    (Again, this is NOT the motive for FGM. The motive for FGM is to stop women ever experiencing sexual pleasure. The male equivalent of FGM would be removal of the whole penis.)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I have perfectly well explained why I called Ian B a Jacobin: because he wishes to remake the world in conformity with his impoverished rationalist philosophy, based upon shaky premises, and in so doing would inevitably create a tyranny in the name of Liberty. More specifically, his “freedom” involves the suppression of traditional religions. The term is apt and I will keep using it when appropriate. At no point have I ever accused anyone of wanting to re-establish the House of Stuart. Twit.

    I am not aware – although Ian B is perfectly capable of answering for himself – whether the removal of the ability of parents to have their kids’ genitals adjusted for non-medical reasons is the same as the “suppression of traditional religions”.

    in a free society it is not the job of the state to decide what motives are and are not legitimate unless they can prove the procedure was done with the intention of harming the child. I am not under any obligation whatsoever to prove that infant circumcision is justified by motives you might have, as you demand I do.

    You jolly well are. It does make a clear difference in judging such operations to say why you had them carried out. Even if male circ. is harmless or painless, if it is strictly unnecessary for health reasons, I think the burden of proof lies on those parents who want to do away with a part of a child’s anatomy and “mark” the kid in some way or other.

    The motive for FGM is to stop women ever experiencing sexual pleasure. The male equivalent of FGM would be removal of the whole penis.)

    As I said, one operation is clearly a lot worse than the other: no argument from me (FGM sounds and is totally horrific). But – those folk who justify FGM might argue that they are practising a “traditional religion” and the banners will be trying to suppress it. You might justifiably condemn such specious reasoning. If you condemn such reasoning as self-interested twaddle, however, then the point could be hurled back at you by someone who thinks there are limits to male circ. also.