Flawed Circumcision Defense: Wesley J. Smith (Yet Again)

Wesley Smith is back again in National Review to demonstrate he does not understand genital mutilation. Last week he urged President Trump to sign HR 6100, The STOP FGM Act of 2020, which seeks to resolve the concerns of the federal court that dismissed prosecution in Michigan under the Anti-FGM Act of 1996. Within the bill:

“(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), whoever, in any circumstance described in subsection (d), knowingly—

“(1) performs, attempts to perform, or conspires to perform female genital mutilation on another person who has not attained the age of 18 years;

“(2) being the parent, guardian, or caretaker of a person who has not attained the age of 18 years facilitates or consents to the female genital mutilation of such person; or

“(3) transports a person who has not attained the age of 18 years for the purpose of the performance of female genital mutilation on such person,

shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.”

A principled individual would read that in its most direct application: non-therapeutic genital cutting on an individual who can’t consent is prohibited, full stop, without exceptions. Alas, like far too many people, Smith believes this applies to only some children, and cites this language from the bill as a foundational defense of discrimination:

It shall not be a defense to a prosecution under this section that female genital mutilation is required as a matter of religion, custom, tradition, ritual, or standard practice.

It shall not be a defense to a prosecution under this section that female genital mutilation is required as a matter of religion, custom, tradition, ritual, or standard practice to impose on a child who neither needs nor consents to surgical intervention. This is so blindingly obvious as a principle that it requires severe mental gymnastics to escape the implication to male (and intersex) children. Smith engages in those gymnastics.

I am a strong defender of religious freedom and the free exercise thereof. But the right is not absolute. The Smith case (which I oppose and hope the SCOTUS will overturn) stripped protection for religious freedom when laws are of general application — as is this bill. In other words, the bill does not single out a particular faith or group in the prohibition.

If the law protects all children, as it should, not a single word of that paragraph needs to change, excluding the parenthetical, which I’ll get to in a moment. Basically, Wesley Smith acknowledges that, under current law and precedent, restricting a religious freedom is permissible when the law is generally applicable and furthers a legitimate state interest. There is nothing more generally applicable than “you can’t mutilate the genitals of a healthy child”. And if that isn’t a compelling state interest, the state literally shouldn’t exist because it will have ceased to defend the rights of its citizens least capable of defending themselves.

Smith’s parenthetical demonstrates that he acknowledges a law prohibiting non-therapeutic genital cutting on boys without exemption for religion is the correct interpretation under current law, or he wouldn’t worry about the case in this context to protect religious “rights” at the expense of human rights he doesn’t value. In America, it’s impossible to argue that circumcision is a strictly religious practice, or that any prohibition would only stop religious parents from circumcising. Every male child can be mutilated at the request of his parents, so a law protecting his right is generally applicable. Thus, everything Smith tacks on after this is special pleading for lawless human rights violations.

That designation certainly applies to a law that prohibits the mutilation of minor girls, which, I should note, is not required by the Koran or any holy book of which I am aware and is done for the express purpose of suppressing the victim’s normal sexual functions. FGM is a direct attack on the equal intrinsic dignity of females and hence, an assault on the human exceptionalism philosophy of our societies.

He just praised the text of the bill that dismisses any claim of a religious requirement, so the fact that he’s not aware of any requirement is irrelevant. Of course, if Smith bothered to look, he’d find interpretations that conclude a requirement exists. I have no doubt Smith would – correctly – dismiss these claims as undermining this prohibition. So, his concern here is, again, special pleading to pretend that a religious requirement matters when he praised the text making it clear it doesn’t.

His belief that parents who cut their daughters always do so with the express purpose of suppressing the victim’s normal sexual functions is also unsupported with even a minimal amount of searching. That is usually the outcome, and it’s always a violation of their body and rights, but Smith assumes his opinion is fact because it’s the narrative, not because he has evidence or has studied the topic beyond a cursory review.

It’s also odd to believe that we need to defend against a direct attack on the equal intrinsic dignity of females by protecting them from what he expressly demands we continue permitting on their brothers. Where is the equality? Where is the dignity? Where is the principle he claims to defend, other than “what we do is good, what they do is bad”? If it’s wrong to cut, it’s wrong to cut.

I anticipate that the “intactivists,” that is, zealots who want to outlaw male infant circumcision, will say that their cause is the same as prohibiting FGM. It is not. First, circumcision is a specific religious requirement of Judaism that brings the infant into the faith, and is also strongly promoted for religious reasons in Islam. Second, it does not destroy sexual function, nor is that the purpose of the procedure. Third, it is not undertaken as a means of oppression. Finally, medical associations believe that the decision to circumcise — regardless of religious issues — should be up to the parents as there is a modest hygienic benefit attained by the procedure.

Of course non-therapeutic genital cutting is one cause, regardless of sex. Non-therapeutic cutting of the prepuce of a non-consenting male violates his bodily autonomy the way such a surgery on a girl’s prepuce would. They both have the same property right in their own body. The only ethical position is that we won’t cut children. This shouldn’t require a law, but it does because people violate their children in this manner. And again, the state has an interest in protecting the rights of every citizen, not just those with the correct cultural favor.

And Smith already demonstrated why his concern that circumcision is a specific religious requirement is irrelevant to whether or not we should protect male minors. Laws of general applicability are generally applicable, not narrowly applicable in blatantly discriminatory ways.

Contra Smith’s opinion, circumcision destroys sexual function. Refusing to acknowledge that the normal anatomical structure of the penis, foreskin included, follows the same biological concepts as every other part of the body, including female genitalia (with foreskin), does not render the removal of the foreskin a non-destructive act inflicting no permanent harm. All surgery is battery. It is harm. The STOP FGM Act of 2020 does not make distinction for degrees of harm or intent to cause harm. The act itself is harmful to the child, and would be prohibited. Some forms of FGM are considerably more severe than a normal male circumcision. Some forms are considerably less severe. All forms will be illegal if Trump signs the bill. There is no “as long as it’s not too harmful” threshold to save male circumcision from ethical rejection.

If Smith actually cared about the complexities in this issue, he’d know that FGM is often undertaken to “improve” the girl, not to oppress her, and at the request of her female relatives over the objection of her male relatives. It still oppresses her, despite any “good” intentions, but we’re talking about the outcome, not the intent, which is what the law explicitly criminalizes.

Smith is correct that parents (generally) do not intend to oppress their sons when they circumcise. It still oppresses them. It is a form of permanent sexual control. “Your genitals will be what I approve of” is control. “You will have this potential benefit through surgical intervention, even if you’d rather just wear a condom” is control.

Having gotten this far in Smith’s shallow analysis leaves no doubt that he hasn’t assessed what “medical associations” say, such as in the APP’s policy statement. It’s an appeal to authority, except the most-often-cited authority’s policy is deeply flawed, misleading, and unethical. The very statement¹ he thinks supports a conclusion that the benefits outweigh the risks ignores the costs (i.e. harms) entirely to reach a conclusion satisfactory to people who will ponder circumcision as superficially as Smith. From the section on ethics, for example, “[r]easonable people may disagree, … how the potential medical benefits and potential medical harms of circumcision should be weighed against each other.” Reasonable people includes the human being who will live with the consequences of others choosing the most radical intervention for him as a prophylactic against mostly minor future risks that can be generally resolved with non-invasive treatments, which is the approach we take with their sisters.

So, yes. Male genital cutting is the same as female genital cutting in causing permanent harm, its ultimate violation, and the irrelevance of its religious nature on the prohibition of its imposition on children.

¹ The AAP doesn’t have a policy statement on male circumcision, because the technical report from 2012 explicitly states “[a]ll technical reports from the American Academy of Pediatrics automatically expire 5 years after publication unless reaffirmed, revised, or retired at or before that time.” It’s now eight years since this statement, and it has not been reaffirmed, revised, or retired.

The stink of uneaten side orders

Continuing on the implication from the government possibly reversing itself on cholesterol recommendations, Charles Lane ponders what the reversal means for public health and policy in, Science, with a side order of humility. Since this is not a diet blog, this is what matters here:

There’s a lesson here for all of us, especially those who urge that this or that public policy be dictated by “the science.”

We’re doomed to rely on science; imperfect as it is, it beats the alternatives. The trick is for scientists to produce their work with appropriate humility, and for citizens to consume it with appropriate skepticism. …

Precisely because it is, or aspires to be, value-free, science is better at describing social problems than solving them. Policymaking is all about value judgments and trade-offs. Science can prove that man-made climate change, for example, is real; the “right” way to address it is a matter of morality and politics.

In the past Mr. Lane very much cared about “the science” of circumcision in the way he rebukes above. Commenting on reactions to the Cologne court decision in 2012, before German legislators (i.e. policymakers) passed a law to override the court, Lane wrote (several links omitted):

I suppose I would agree with the court, and Andrew [Sullivan], if there was definitive proof that male circumcision, even performed under medically appropriate conditions (as the vast, vast majority are), constitutes “barbaric” “mutilation” of the genitals. Thorough as always, Andrew musters a video of some uncircumcised Canadian guy talking about masturbation and a blog post by an Oxford philosophy prof to prove that a) foreskin serves a vital sexual function and b) studies showing circumcision prevents HIV transmission are flawed.

The truth is that male circumcision does no permanent harm and might be slightly beneficial. There are risks to the procedure, but they are generally exceedingly minor. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Urological Association take the position that neonatal circumcision is a choice that may be safely left to the informed discretion of parents. Among other insults, the Cologne court impugns parents’ concern for the health of their own children.

On the sexual function point, the World Health Organization has declared that it “has not been systematically reviewed, and remains unclear due to substantial biases in many studies.” To those like Andrew’s Canadian dude who insist that missing foreskin would diminish sensation, I offer the circumcised Woody Allen’s famous assessment of his orgasms: “My worst one was right on the money.”

Anyway, injury to this bit of erogenous tissue would not be mutilation of the “genitals,” strictly speaking, since it plays no direct role in male reproduction.

Witness how Lane discarded the position that male circumcision constitutes mutilation. The claim comes from “some uncircumcised (sic) Canadian guy talking about masturbation and a blog post by an Oxford philosophy prof,” so we can dismiss it. That’s ad hominem, not refutation. Experience is anecdotal, but can be informative. And philosophers should obviously be involved. Non-therapeutic circumcision by proxy consent implicates ethics and rights, particularly – but not limited to – the rights of the child as expressed by the German court.

Rather than discussing the ways studies may be flawed to rebut them, Lane moved on to his opinion, omitting the fact that removing the foreskin itself constitutes harm. He quotes two professional organizations to support his position (while ignoring the flaws in the AAP’s position, for example). Enjoy what he wrote yesterday:

Doctors and researchers, authors of “medical miracles,” are more like a priesthood, or a cadre of sorcerers, than we generally admit. Their legitimacy is based on something real, and time-tested — the scientific method — but it also comes from the mystique of their diplomas and white coats.

He supported a policy statement based on science applied as value judgement and trade-off, with input on the value judgement and trade-off from everyone except the person upon whom it’s applied.

He moves on to the World Health Organization’s statement that sexual function “has not been systematically reviewed, and remains unclear due to substantial biases in many studies.” So we’re just supposed to accept that “male circumcision does no permanent harm”? Why? I don’t remember learning that the scientific method says we may assume whatever is necessary for our argument in the absence of reliable data, bolstered because someone told a joke once.

Lane showed his full (2012) commitment to SCIENCE! rather than science in the last quoted paragraph. If the foreskin is erogenous, why did he argue that removing it permanently does “no permanent harm”? More to the point, if someone sliced up my leg with a razor, leaving scars, would he say I’m not mutilated because I can still walk? His argument was nonsense, including the implication that the foreskin is not part of the genitals.

I wonder if Mr. Lane would reconsider his misguided 2012 analysis today with a side order of humility previously absent. He should.


There are more problems with Lane’s 2012 essay than what I criticize here. He was wrong from start-to-finish in that essay.

Unsettling the settled

This has no direct connection to circumcision or genital integrity. But it has pertinent implications right now.

The nation’s top nutrition advisory panel has decided to drop its caution about eating cholesterol-laden food, a move that could undo almost 40 years of government warnings about its consumption.

The group’s finding that cholesterol in the diet need no longer be considered a “nutrient of concern” stands in contrast to the committee’s findings five years ago, the last time it convened. During those proceedings, as in previous years, the panel deemed the issue of “excess dietary cholesterol” a public health concern.

The new view on cholesterol in the diet does not reverse warnings about high levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood, which have been linked to heart disease. Moreover, some experts warned that people with particular health problems, such as diabetes, should continue to avoid cholesterol-rich diets.

After decades of one recommendation, the U.S. government discovers that settled science isn’t quite as settled as it led citizens to believe. This lesson arrives in the lull between the comment period and issuance of the CDC’s circumcision recommendation. The ethics of genital integrity dictate against its proposal. Of course. But looking forward, how much of the “settled” science of circumcision rests on speculation and guesswork? What might change over the next few years and decades? What will the CDC (or AAP or WHO or…) say if, in 2035, something unsettles¹ the science so many (almost exclusively American) authorities eagerly endorse today? Will the boys born today accept an “Ooops” for what is being forced on (i.e. taken from) them today if something unsettles the science tomorrow?

¹ The ethics of non-therapeutic genital cutting without the individual’s consent “unsettles” it now by making the application of the science in that manner inherently wrong. The availability of more effective, less invasive preventions and treatments for maladies involving the foreskin already unsettles the science, as well.

Circumcision without consent reveals

I have two caveats applicable to my analysis of this story. I am not an attorney. The charge against the individual is an allegation.

Ocala Police said they arrested a man who allegedly attempted to circumcise his 1-year-old nephew while babysitting Saturday.

Police said Larry Leroy Floyd was watching the boy while his father was at the store. They do not know why Floyd attempted to circumcise him.

The boy was taken to the hospital. Ocala police arrested Floyd and charged him with domestic aggravated battery.

For the sake of analysis, I’ll assume that Floyd attempted to circumcise his nephew and did so without permission of either of the boy’s parents. There are many implications from that. I want to analyze this more than I should. I’ll choose prudence instead, based on my first caveat.

Circumcision is surgery. Surgery inflicts some level of harm, regardless of the benefit(s) pursued. Harm is battery. Circumcision, as surgery, is battery. That much is simple and should be non-controversial.

Not all surgery is legally actionable. Informed consent is a defense against surgery. Consent is why we don’t prosecute doctors for performing surgery. Again, this is simple and should be non-controversial.

This (alleged) surgery is legally actionable, obviously. If circumcision didn’t categorically (and objectively) constitute harm, the criminal charge would need to be something else, if anything at all. But circumcision involves harm, as all surgery involves harm. That presents the proper issue in the debate about non-therapeutic child circumcision. Whose consent to this harm should be required?

Too often the assumption in favor of parental choice via proxy consent ignores harm. (e.g. AAP) Society defends parental choice for non-therapeutic circumcision by favoring irrelevant, flawed distractions focused only on an overblown applicability of potential benefits and a minimized view of risks. The inevitable harm from circumcision matters. Harm must inform who should – and should not – be permitted to consent. For non-therapeutic male child circumcision, society needs a rethink.

President’s Endless Plan for Avoiding Rights

PEPFAR held an event today, described as:

Join global health experts in PEPFAR’s sixth VMMC Webinar to consider the pros and cons of offering early infant male circumcision (EIMC) as part of routine Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) care.

The title of the event was, “Scaling Up Routine Early Infant Male Circumcision within Maternal, Newborn and Child Health”. I wonder what the outcome of considering the pros and cons will be.

It’s also worth noting how circumcising infants has been separated as EIMC from “voluntary” male “medical” circumcision (VMMC). Is it progress if they’ve stopped pretending that infant circumcision is voluntary? Not really, I think, since no one involved cared anyway and dropping it means they’re comfortable with making it clear they don’t care.

Who won here?

This video is interesting to me:

The doctor’s evidence-free accusation at the end, “anti-Semitic like you”, is both disgusting and interesting. I side with Brother K’s response and outrage on that charge. The problem is that no one in that video was talking to anyone else. Everyone was talking at each other. I assume all four people walked away thinking they won the interaction. Instead, I want the video where the doctor’s question gets a response rather than an information dump. Show him how his question – and by extension, his view of circumcision – is broken.

His question is excellent: “If there was a vaccine for HIV that reduced the rate by 50%, would you be okay or would you be protesting?” It provides insight into what concerns the doctor professionally. It provides a chance to discuss more about HIV than just this isolated 50% claim. It provides a direct way to distinguish the ethics of vaccination and removing body parts. It provides the doctor an opportunity to experience someone who has thought about this more than just “don’t hurt the babies”.

Non-therapeutic child circumcision is indefensible. The burden of proof should be on those who want to circumcise. They propose intervention. They haven’t proven their case. They can’t prove it because it’s flawed. But society puts the burden of proof on those who challenge tradition, not those who wish to intervene on the healthy body of a non-consenting child. It’s wrong, yes, but we have to work with society tilting at this windmill. Do we want to change society or do we merely want society to know we’re better? My preference is for the former, and especially so when seeing how little the doctor in the video agreed to the latter.


It’s a valid expectation, so my answer to the doctor’s question is this:

Yes, I would be okay with it (qualified by verification of both efficacy and safety of the vaccine within some reasonable bounds). Circumcision isn’t a vaccine. Vaccine’s work with the body’s immune system to trigger a response that then protects the individual from infection. Circumcision removes skin. It operates on the theory of “less skin, fewer entryways”. This is relevant, too, since the mechanism for the claimed risk reduction from circumcision is unclear. Perhaps it’s a confounding factor not yet understood and/or researched? There’s also the scientific fact that condoms work better and do not involve the violation of human rights. And, what about the possibility that removing bits of female genitals could reduce risk? Are we ethically bound to allow that, too, or does it reveal the ethical question we don’t wish to consider? We know it’s unethical to investigate, because the answer doesn’t matter. Our societal fear is convenient, not justified, when it comes to HIV and circumcision.

Standards for thee, not for me

Partial Synopsis: Deplorable behavior is deplorable, even and especially when it is from people with whom I purportedly agree on a goal. There, so that it’s not missed or misunderstood below.

In my last post about The Case Against Intactivism, I wrote that I think “paper0airplane’s overall approach is that the good intactivists should call themselves something else because the bad intactivists are ruining the term.” I don’t think I believe that any more. Maybe it’s just a week of sloppy blogging from paper0airplane, but this post, Invite Crazy, and its comments do not suggest a willingness to recognize even the most obvious nuance. It’s a smear job.

From the beginning:

The truth about intactivism is that, in the vein of Pro-Life zealots, it is becoming more and more extreme. It’s hard to believe there as many intactivists as there are (though truthfully, there aren’t that many). Honestly, it’s fine with me if you have an ethical objection to circumcision, but medically, there are benefits. It’s up to each parent to decide if those benefits are worth it. It’s up to each parent to decide if it’s culturally or religiously relevant to their family. It’s not up to intactivists. Unfortunately, they’ve decided that it is or should be.

This question begging is not a refutation of the ethical objection to non-therapeutic circumcision of a child. There are potential benefits, both medical and cultural. So what? There are harms and risks, too. The ethical question involves self-ownership, not merely “can we maybe achieve something according to someone else’s subjective preferences” or “but it’s easier if we do it to children”. Bodily integrity applies to the foreskin, just as it applies to every other part of a child’s body, male or female.

In paper0airplane’s paragraph, you see no mention that circumcision has both harms (i.e. costs) and risks. In the comments, paper0airplane writes that doctors are “not harming babies.” That is legally and factually incorrect. Legally, although I am not an attorney, this is basic torts. All surgery is harm. It’s a form of battery. The defense is consent. So it’s not correct to state that doctors are not harming¹ babies. There was a foreskin, then there isn’t. There were nerve endings, then they’re severed. There wasn’t a scar, then there is. There is also surgical risk. This isn’t debatable, although we can. Those are objective harms. The question of harm implicit in paper0airplane’s statement is that of net harm, which is different and subjective. My non-therapeutic circumcision, for example, is a net harm to me because I value all the subjective factors involved differently than my parents valued them, including aesthetics, and I live with my circumcision, not them.

The defense to these harms is, of course, that doctors have consent from parents. The debate centers on the extent to which proxy consent is valid. Intactivists argue that proxy consent should not be sufficient for non-therapeutic genital cutting on male minors, just as it is already not sufficient for non-therapeutic genital cutting on female minors. A male owns his prepuce from birth as much as a female owns her prepuce from birth, and to the same extent that either owns their toes and fingers and legs and arms and so on. There is no magical distinction for the prepuce of a male minor within bodily integrity. There is a valid ethical argument paper0airplane did not refute in that paragraph.

In the comments, paper0airplane reminds that this is a philosophical question. Yep. But the argument that potential (subjective) benefits dismiss ethical concerns is also a philosophical question. For all the criticism of intactivists, some valid, it’s bizarre to approach this with a “Heads I win, Tails you lose” standard, which is still an unconvincing and indefensible rhetorical tactic. Should I assume all proponents of gendered parental rights² approve of this propaganda technique, or is it wiser to direct my criticism at those who engage in it? For me it’s the latter.

A prominent intactivist, who was recently arrested for harassment, and whose revolting commentary on the death of AIDS workers was decried even by other prominent intactivists, including her mentor, Brother K, has decided to set up a database of circumcised boys. This is extremely unnecessary, invasive and honestly just weird. A man can simply look into his pants if he is curious about the status of his foreskin. He knows who his parents are, and can find out who his doctor was. The database is the workings of a mind who is unable to figure out where the boundaries are.

What I read there is that intactivists are attempting to self-police a deplorable tactic. But since that isn’t the lesson I’m supposed to take, let me demonstrate that it is. Just as celebrating the death of AIDS researchers is deplorable, setting up a database of circumcised boys is deplorable. It has no justifiable defense. If I had knowledge of this, I’d criticize it directly. But I don’t, which it’s why it’s critical that paper0airplane provide a source for this claim. My guess is that it’s true, but for someone who criticizes intactivists for playing loose with facts to then accuse without providing evidence for the accusation is embarrassing.

Another prominent intactivist spent 30 years parading with the crotch of his pants painted red, holding signs and taking weird photos of the public that walks by. The easiest question is why. The next question is what does he gain by doing this? An unfortunate answer comes in the way of screen shots of him asking for photos of young boys penises. Not just once, but twice, and probably more. I think it’s obvious the conclusion I’ve drawn.

Again, if true, that’s deplorable. I’d criticize it if I saw it. I haven’t seen it. And again that’s the problem with paper0airplane’s claim. It’s an accusation. The burden of proof for such a scandalous charge rests with paper0airplane.

Leaders like this …

Where is the proof that this is a “leader”? If it is, I’d like to know, too. Self-policing is critical within any activism. Providing evidence lets opponents know, but it also lets nominal supporters know, as well.

… are what is encouraging other intactivists to start creating violent memes, some explicitly threatening the lives of anyone who performs a circumcision. …

Behavior like this is/would be deplorable. Again, source?

… In my opinion, it is only a matter of time until a urologist or pediatrician or OB or mohel is shot or injured somehow. Intactivists, why is this ok with you? …

It isn’t. Be careful with assumptions. And provide evidence so we can denounce those who allegedly do this rather than simply denounce everyone with ad hominem.

… Why do you put up with, support and rally around people who are so off the mark and who totally lack appropriate boundaries, which is vital when you consider the subject. Anyone dealing with a child’s genitals SHOULD be able to tell when they’ve gone too far. Sure, I get it, you consider it a human rights issue, a violation, unnecessary cosmetic surgery. Those are all opinions.

Non-therapeutic circumcision is unnecessary surgery. That is not an opinion here. Its objectivity supports the other words in its sentence more than paper0airplane acknowledges. But again, don’t assume that all intactivists “put up with, support and rally around” this behavior or those who engage in it. I’ve distanced myself from at least one person I’ve interacted with after attempting to convince him of his error. I know others who have done the same with different people. It’s too convenient to assume that the extremists represent the movement, or that moderates support the extremists. Guilt-by-association without evidence to prove accusations, providing no opportunity to address offenders directly, amounts to a smear campaign.

Are those opinions worth someone dying?

Of course not. But how can I personally work to prevent that from happening if I don’t know who to challenge?

The next post is Not violent? You’re mistaken. It has a bunch of pictures implying violence because of circumcision, which are damning and deplorable. Of course, they’re also not sourced to anyone. Some of them appear to be from Facebook, which suggests authenticity. Suggests is not proof. Is it so difficult to anticipate an alternate theory that paper0airplane or someone sharing such beliefs could’ve created these? I do not think that’s what happened. I am not accusing paper0airplane of creating these. I am asking for citations. I believe that’s a reasonable, minimum expectation with both posts.

Recently I noticed a weird bit of misogyny from a Twitter user, @ParentsChoices, who attempted to insult the Blood Stained Men by implying they needed tampons. Are all supporters of parental choice for non-therapeutic male child circumcision misogynists with poor debate skills?

Obviously an unoriginal misogynistic insult is trivial compared to the accusations paper0airplane makes. But I can source a claim that vocal pro-circumcision advocate Vernon Quaintance committed sexual offenses against children. As I wrote in my last post on paper0airplane’s tactic, it wouldn’t be fair or accurate to attempt to smear all advocates for parental choice on circumcision with the misdeeds and crimes of a few. Blame rests only with the specific actors without further evidence. Assuming others support the deplorable actions without evidence of support is unfair.

¹ My concern is the factual claim, not the emotional claim. Self-ownership, not “don’t hurt the babies”.

² paper0airplane claims: “According to the law, parents get those pesky parental rights.” If it’s about the parents and their “rights”, then this pesky “right” would allow them to have their daughters’ genitals cut, too, for the same subjective reasons. “But there are no medical benefits to FGC”, one might say. So? We’ve already been told “[i]t’s up to each parent to decide if it’s culturally or religiously relevant to their family.” It’s too convenient to claim that this parental right is somehow specific to the male prepuce but not the female prepuce for cultural or religious reasons.

Or are we highlighting that “the law” is subject to human error and does not equate directly to human rights, including the bodily integrity of all citizens under its authority?

If the press release says it’s “voluntary”…

There are few things more predictable in an article titled A Lesson in Health: Scaling Up Voluntary Medical [sic] Male Circumcision than the false use of voluntary. (all emphasis added)

[Seventh-grade teacher at Kopong Primary School in Botswana, Mothusi Joseph] Kgomo and five of his students who were circumcised that day (with their parents’ consent) are a few of the more than 1 million men and youth in sub-Saharan Africa who have chosen to protect themselves and reduce their lifetime risk of contracting HIV by participating in Jhpiego-supported VMMC programs. …

While the unprecedented scale-up of this lifesaving intervention in countries with high HIV-infection rates is impressive, what’s more remarkable are the people who helped make it happen: fathers who brought their sons to clinics, best friends who encouraged their peers, military lieutenants who set an example for their platoons, tribal chiefs and concerned wives, as well as nurses who took on added responsibilities and roles at health centers, and healthcare providers from neighboring countries who traveled long distances to help their fellow Africans during busy VMMC campaigns. …

This article – by Leslie Mancuso, President and CEO of Jhpiego – is adapted directly from a press release (pdf). That press release¹ declares that “More than 1 million men and youth in sub-Saharan Africa have chosen to protect themselves and reduce their risk of contracting HIV by participating in Jhpiego-supported voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) programs.” It’s always the same. When public health officials say “Voluntary Medical [sic] Male Circumcision,” they never mean voluntary. Never. I’d suspect the word will eventually be dropped altogether, just as adult disappeared, except it’s useful for the propaganda needed to circumcise healthy children.

¹ How soon before we get another “news” story about Selemani Nyika, Triza Liyasi’s husband, or Lt. Suwilanji Musamba?

Flawed Circumcision Defense: Daulton Gatto defends Mike Gatto (no relation)

Remember back to the ballot initiative in San Francisco that sought to protect the same genital integrity rights for boys in San Francisco that are already protected for girls throughout America. In response to that, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto drafted a bill in 2011, AB768, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law that October. That’s when I wrote about Mike Gatto:

California Assemblyman Mike Gatto is an authoritarian. He believes that male children do not have human rights equal to the rights of their fellow citizens. Mike Gatto believes that freedom and liberty involve parental ownership of the genitals of their male children. He believes that the individual right involved in child genital cutting is exclusively the right to cut a male child without medical need. He believes that subjective, non-medical “affiliative benefits” are enough to justify surgery on a child, even if the child does not or might not want to be forcibly affiliated. California Assemblyman Mike Gatto prefers mindless, unquestioned deference to parental choices about non-therapeutic male child genital cutting.

California already established that there is no arbitrary, unspecified age before which parents own the genitals of their female children. They may not allow someone to take a scalpel to the genitals of their daughters for non-therapeutic reasons, even if those reasons include a parental preference for forced “affiliative benefits.” The only factor involved in any decision to cut female minors is the presence or lack of medical need. That is the ethical, scientific view, which succinctly demonstrates that genital integrity exists within human rights. Mike Gatto believes that male children have only a mere subset of human rights, a subset that does not include genital integrity. It is a flaw in his character that Mike Gatto believes the full range of human rights only belong to male adults, female adults, and female children.

That is still accurate upon current reflection almost three years later. Look at the bill proposed and signed into law. It states that “[m]ale circumcision has a wide array of health and affiliative benefits.” Even if the first argument is assumed robust and true, discussion of the risks and costs of circumcision is nowhere to be found. Gatto, those who voted for it, and Gov. Brown all willingly enacted propaganda into law. Without a full consideration of what’s involved, including costs and the implications to human rights, they abdicated their responsibility to represent the interests and rights of every California citizen in favor of only those with power. That was, and remains, unethical.

Yesterday, I received a comment (#4 on the post) and pingback on that article from Daulton Gatto, who states that he is unrelated to Mike Gatto. The best writing is brief, so in that respect, Gatto’s comment succeeds. He uses the first twelve words of his comment to offer a brilliant insight into its author. Bravo.

The pingback is to his blog post, And Now, Another Episode of “Mike Gatto vs. the Bizarre Foreskin Crusaders”, which is in response to “Flawed Circumcision Defense: California Assemblyman Mike Gatto”. It’s a pretty good troll job, with plenty of ad hominem and not a word of rebuttal to my criticism of Mike Gatto’s flawed argument. It’s impressive. I suspect he’s having a laugh to amuse himself. Whatever. Taking it “seriously” will be interesting. The relevant part (graphic, immature, dudebro language, but you probably guessed that):

Which brings me to this piece of shit blog post, written by some crackpot wacko identified only as “Tony.” Tony is evidently a large pussy and a giant douchebag too frightened to admit full authorship of his own work and too stupid to employ anything resembling sound logic in his juvenile and laughable arguments. I will let his barely comprehensible babbling speak for itself while I cackle in laughter at the very suggestion that “Tony” is capable of recognizing a flawed argument in the first place.

In the meantime, I just want to once again explain on behalf of Mike Gatto and whatever cool dudes are still left in this douchebaggy world we live in just why it is that foreskin sucks and isn’t sweet at all.

Chicks much prefer dudes with circumcised dicks. Circumcised dicks get more pussy and they get to jizz on more chicks’ big tits. That’s a proven scientific fact. Mike Gatto, as a well-established sweet dude and charismatic stud, is clearly working harder to ensure the next generation of Californians get to fuck as many of the hot-ass chicks walking around this state as possible.

Now please tell me, “Tony,” just what the hell is wrong with that?

I’m not convinced by that long-winded version of “nuh-uh”. But it’s still sweet trolling ad hominem.

There is a question for me at the end. So, Daulton, just what the hell is wrong with that? You haven’t linked to anything suggesting this stunted fantasy is a scientific fact. Generalizations based on whatever gave you that limited worldview don’t eliminate the risks or direct harms from circumcision. They don’t discredit the human rights principle already in California law. You haven’t made any argument applicable to anyone other than yourself or someone who shares your particular preferences. That isn’t a valid basis for laws permitting the violation of the rights of others.

You did manage to link to a circumcision fetish website. It’s the same site with a history of endorsing¹ female genital cutting as a fetish. Good job.

If you have a coherent rebuttal, I’m willing to listen. If you only have more ad hominem, I’m always up for another good laugh. If your trolling was a limited, one-time engagement, thanks!

¹ The Internet is forever, no matter how vigorously Circlist’s operator(s) tried to hide the past with the content you see today. I’ll guess that research is a mysterious stranger to you. Convince me I shouldn’t guess that.

Human Rights as Politics rather than Principle

What is it about the basic concept of human rights that confuses so many people, such as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay:

FGM is a form of gender-based discrimination and violence. It is a violation of the right to physical and mental integrity. It violates the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Because it is almost always practised on young children, it is also a violation of the rights of the child. FGM violates the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health. And when it results in the death of the person who is mutilated, it violates the right to life.

I’d state it as the rights of self-ownership and bodily integrity, but still, even this way it’s easy to understand. Cutting an individual’s healthy genitals without the person’s consent violates rights. So why staple on this (emphasis added):

This harmful and degrading practice is not based on any valid premise. FGM has no health benefits. On the contrary, it generates profoundly damaging, irreversible and life-long physical damage. It also increases the risk of neonatal death for babies born to women who have survived it.

The answer is obvious to anyone who spends any time studying the issue of genital cutting. It’s a method that attempts to distinguish female genital cutting from male genital cutting. It shows up over and over. It’s transparent and wrong because it’s politics at the expense of human beings. The principle isn’t gendered. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual violates the individual’s human rights, full-stop. That is the human rights principle involved. The potential health benefits a child’s parents may cite can’t be a valid premise for non-therapeutic surgery without the child’s consent.

That isn’t my primary point here, though. The “FGM has no health benefits” approach is short-sighted and obtuse in the push to end FGM. It contains an implicit argument that FGC – not FGM, because unnecessary genital cutting without consent somehow can’t be mutilation – would be acceptable if some health benefit could be reasonably claimed. It’s a way of saying that human rights are important, but only to the extent that someone can’t find an excuse people are willing to accept as justification for ignoring obvious violations. It demonstrates that the person making the argument does not understand the implications of defending human rights and the courage it requires to be consistent to the principle. This tactic is not a framework for considering humans and their rights. It’s a strategy uninterested in human rights principles. It’s a strategy of manipulating emotions to achieve an ideological goal.

I’m not familiar with the source material, but I think this Friedrich Nietzsche quote I stumbled on today works well in this context (via):

“The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.”

That’s what the “FGM has no health benefits, so it’s not acceptable like male circumcision” argument is when attached to a human rights argument. If you claim to defend human rights, you have to defend human rights, not the politics of favored human rights.