It’s probably clear by now that some portion of my advocacy here attempts to reach people with whom I agree. We all have much to learn from each other about how to educate and convince people who do not yet accept our position. We must be intelligent in our tactics as activists if we are to be effective at changing minds and protecting children.
I introduced a bit of economics in the past to explain our position. We can learn from other fields where they provide relevant lessons, such as the truth that circumcision has costs in addition to the claimed benefits (i.e. “no free lunch”). I think this post by economist Arnold Kling is applicable, as well.
The following thought occurred to me recently. Suppose we look at writing on issues where people tend to hold strong opinions that fit with their ideology. Such writing can
(a) attempt to open the minds of people on the opposite side as the author
(b) attempt to open minds of people on the same side as the author
(c) attempt to close minds of people on the same side as the author
So, think about it. Wouldn’t you classify most op-eds and blog posts as (c)? Isn’t that sort of pathetic? …
That seems correct to me. I strive for (a) and (b). I try to avoid engaging in (c), although I don’t know that I possess the distance necessary to evaluate my results objectively. Later in his post, Mr. Kling writes:
…Focusing on weaker arguments instead [of the strongest arguments of opponents] is a classic (c) move. …
I challenge weak arguments in favor of non-therapeutic child circumcision because they’re so prevalent. I (mostly?) avoid repetitive attacks because it’s not necessary. I try to blog about them only when the author uses a novel approach to push a wrong idea, or has significant attention that risks spreading nonsense further.
Still, I take the point. It’s too easy to pretend that all arguments arguing in favor of non-therapeutic child circumcision are equally weak. Unconvincing, yes, but that’s not the same. I’m sure I’ve fallen into this trap in some of my posts. I’ve been thinking on this lately, and especially now in response to the German court ruling. There are issues offered by proponents of ritual child circumcision that deserve to be taken seriously. Asking people to let go of something they intensely value is asking them to bear costs, even if it should be clear that avoiding objective harm to the child must be stressed more. I intend to write more on them in the near future.
We should all strive for more (a) and (b), and on the tougher arguments. The first link above does that. Most of us strike the right balance between strident activism and basic decency. We must remember that, even in the rare instances where it may not be true, those who support non-therapeutic child circumcision are not evil. They are mistaken, and we should show that. But it is both unethical and unwise to demonize anyone. And, specifically, it would be wonderful if we all nudged our fellow activists from (c) to (a) and (b) where we encounter it. (Privately, if possible.)
That includes me. If I do something wrong, whether in tactic or argument, I want people to challenge me. Help me. I want to protect children, not my ego. I believe we all do. Let us always demonstrate that approach.
July 6, 2012 Update: I’ve thought a bit more about addressing the tougher questions rather than the weaker arguments of those who support non-therapeutic child circumcision. I’m more comfortable with my approach because I don’t comment on much of what I encounter. There are many simplistic or embarrassing arguments I encounter repeatedly in different places. I ignore them because challenging them here would be to engage in the criticism I agreed with above. The flaws in those arguments are almost self-evident, and they are not necessarily representative of the views expressed by proponents.