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Objectivism and circumcision?

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I draw my understanding of the subject from having family members who dealt with the issue of penile sensitivity in uncircumcised children, and from hearing about their doctors' views on the subject. It's not uncommon that uncircumcised males can be quite sensitive compared to circumcised males, and that sensitivity can result in ineffective washing and frequent accumulation of smegma.

Do you mean that since it's nothing like sandpaper to you or people you've known, it's therefore nothing like sandpaper to all uncircumcised males?

Both sides are correct. There's no comprehensive medical evidence that states sensitivity or smegma buildup is higher in uncircumcised men. I mean, we're talking about hundreds of millions of men here. There have been studies, but they're rough estimates of the general population at best, and they land in the middle anyway. I'm sure some people are going to have overly-sensitive penises and smegma problems and other people aren't. Men have been living with and without foreskins for thousands of years, so any debate about it now would be a purely social issue with little medical relevance. It's not like it's a public safety issue, therefore no government body nor anyone else should be able to tell you whether or not to circumcise your son.

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Because it is unnecessary surgery, and you want to replace choice with force even though there is no need to circumcise someone, especially before they are able to choose.

Who are you to force this viewpoint on anyone? Someone who will have to live with your (or their parents') choice for the rest of their life, when there is no need to rob them of the choice regarding their own body.

There is a logical technique called "argument from absurdity". You preserve the logic of your opponent's argument, and apply it in different contexts, which is a great way to reveal any double standards in your opponent. This is completely valid, so long as you preseve the original logic. You know when you are dealing with an irrational person if they respond with "But this is different" or "analogies are not arguments". That person's motive is not to find the truth, but to provoke anger and irritation in others. I suggest that you don't engage with such people, your time is more valuable.

Edited by Sergio
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Therefore clipping children's fingernails, toenails and hair should be illegal, unless the child gives his or her permission, or unless his or her parents can positively demonstrate that those body parts, if allowed to remain in an elongated state, would put the child's life at risk?

J

Why did you only choose dead secretions? All of these things regenerate. The foreskin and nerve endings in it do not come back.

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Circumcision hasn't been demonstrated to have any lifelong ill effects that are any more serious to the vast majority of people than the effects of clipping fingernails, toenails or hair.

And you haven't demonstrated that circumcision is unnecessary, or that you have the right to tell parents that their concerns about hygiene and disease are unfounded. I have family members who chose to circumcise their younger children because their older children had health issues due to having not been circumcised. Should they have needed your and/or the government's permission to circumcise their children? Should they have had to appear before a government board with photos, smegma samples, documents and testimony from their older children's doctors before being allowed to follow through on the decisions that they made about their children's health?

J

What health issues? Was it Phimosis? Whatever it was, could they not have waited until the child was old enough to understand, and gotten his consent first?

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I draw my understanding of the subject from having family members who dealt with the issue of penile sensitivity in uncircumcised children, and from hearing about their doctors' views on the subject. It's not uncommon that uncircumcised males can be quite sensitive compared to circumcised males, and that sensitivity can result in ineffective washing and frequent accumulation of smegma.

Do you mean that since it's nothing like sandpaper to you or people you've known, it's therefore nothing like sandpaper to all uncircumcised males?

J

I am certain that in any remotely common scenario you can design, you should ask the permission of your child before operating on his penis.

Both sides are correct. There's no comprehensive medical evidence that states sensitivity or smegma buildup is higher in uncircumcised men. I mean, we're talking about hundreds of millions of men here. There have been studies, but they're rough estimates of the general population at best, and they land in the middle anyway. I'm sure some people are going to have overly-sensitive penises and smegma problems and other people aren't. Men have been living with and without foreskins for thousands of years, so any debate about it now would be a purely social issue with little medical relevance. It's not like it's a public safety issue, therefore no government body nor anyone else should be able to tell you whether or not to circumcise your son.

Well, i think his son should have a say. It's his penis, his body. If his father wants to circimcise his son, he should wait till the boy is old enough to make a choice for himself.

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What health issues? Was it Phimosis?

No, it wasn't phimosis. The boys had normal foreskins. It was balanitis, urininary tract infections and similar ailments.

Whatever it was, could they not have waited until the child was old enough to understand, and gotten his consent first?

How old is old enough to understand?

The older brothers in the family were afflicted from about the time that they were 1 or 2 years old old until they were around 10 or 12. I think that one of them may have continued having the issues into his early teens, though less frequently. They were not circumcised at birth, and their parents and doctors had no intention of circumcising them when they were about four, which is the age that it became apparent that their medical issues were due largely to their foreskins and the resulting sensitivity. I think the doctors' reasoning for avoiding circumcision at that age was that circumcision is much more difficult for an active child to deal with than it is for an infant. Infants are basically unaware, comparatively immobile, they heal very quickly, and they don't remember any pain or trauma, where the opposite is true of four-year-olds (or older patients). The doctors' advice was to continue treating the brothers non-surgically, but for the parents to consider circumcision if they had any more boys in the future.

The parents did circumcise their next two boys, and those boys didn't experience any of the sensitivity, irritation or infection issues.

I am certain that in any remotely common scenario you can design, you should ask the permission of your child before operating on his penis.

At what age do you think that a child is old enough to make informed decisions about his own medical issues? I don't know about you, but when I was four years old, I wouldn't have consented to allow a doctor to give me a shot, let alone cut me open or stitch me up. I agree that, when possible and when it makes sense, parents should seek the input and/or consent of their child. But I don't think that they should have to seek government's consent. They shouldn't be forcefully mandated to not take certain actions because someone cites an inconclusive study which suggests that circumcision, in general and on average, isn't particularly beneficial -- they shouldn't have to demonstrate to government busybodies why they think that their case and their family history falls outside of the general or average range.

Well, i think his son should have a say. It's his penis, his body. If his father wants to circimcise his son, he should wait till the boy is old enough to make a choice for himself.

Are you saying that decisions about circumcision should be taken away from parents, and that my family members, and their doctors, should have had to go crawling to some government bureaucrat to get permission to use circumcision to prevent their new infants from having to go through what their older boys went through? Or that nonconsensual circumcision should be made illegal and that no such permission should ever be granted?

J

P.S. Here's a video relevant to the topic. :-)

Edited by Jonathan13
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Jonathan13, i definitely agree with you about government involvement. The only time someone should interveine is if the parents are going to do the surgery against the will of the child. If the child does have some sort of condition that causes discomfort, then he should be willing to have the surgery if his parents convince him. If there is an actual deformation which causes problems, and cannot be resolved through other means, then circumcision does make sense.

Did you know that balanitis is mostly caused by not washing properly? It can also be caused by washing too much. The fact that 2 boys in the family had it tells me that they weren't properly taught how to wash themselves, although i could be completely wrong and it could be something else. Do the parents have a squeamish attitude towards sex?

I have seen no evidence that infants feel less pain. Given how sensitive they are to the subtlest enviromnmental cues, this seems unlikely. There is an idea that the first few months of childhood are not special since they are forgotten by adulthood, but this is now known to be false. The baby's nervous system is still developing, and any trauma at such a formative age cannot be a good thing. The only case i see for infant circumcision is if there is an infection that would spread beyond the foreskin, or if a deformation resulted in significant discomfort for the baby. Reember, the froeskin has half of the sensitive nerve endings in the penis - you don't want to cut them away without having a damn good reason.

Edited by Sergio
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Did you know that balanitis is mostly caused by not washing properly? It can also be caused by washing too much.

Yes. If you'll go back and read my earlier posts, you'll see that my main point has been that improper washing can occur due to the fact that washing, even with something as seemingly mild and frictionless as soap and water, can be painful to uncircumcised boys. Pain can discourage them, and their parents, from washing effectively, which can cause balanitis and other problems. Being diagnosed with balanitis can then lead to over-washing, which can cause balanitis. Finding the right balance, and a lasting balance, isn't necessarily easy, even under the guidance of caring, knowledgeable doctors. The difficulty in achieving the proper amount of washing, and the time and care involved, is what can make some doctors advise parents to choose the much simpler, less harmful and less expensive route of circumcising their children during infancy as a preventative measure.

Do the parents have a squeamish attitude towards sex?

No, the parents weren't squeamish about sex. As I've been saying repeatedly, it was an issue of sensitivity, which is not uncommon in uncircumcised boys (which is not to say that all uncircumcised boys are as sensitive). A body part which is generally protected from friction by an overlapping piece of skin, and which exists in a moist, lubricated environment, is more likely to be very sensitive to the slightest amount of friction than a body part which is usually quite dry and exposed to the friction of other surfaces (like diapers or underwear). As I said in an earlier post, imagine having to wash a child's bare eyeballs with your finger everyday, or with a soft washcloth. All the scolding in the world about washing properly, and the dangers of not doing so, wouldn't lead to a parent or child washing his bare eyeballs perfectly effectively every day -- especially if over-washing could be as damaging as under-washing.

I have seen no evidence that infants feel less pain.

I didn't say that they feel less pain. I said that they don't remember the pain or trauma. They don't experience it in the same way that 4-year-olds do.

Anyway, from what you've said in the rest of your post, it appears that we generally have more common ground than differences, so I'll just say that it's been an interesting discussion and leave it at that.

J

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  • 1 year later...

There is a ballot in San Francisco that aims to ban circumcision within the city, for boys under the age of 18. (I could not find the actual text of the ballot; if anyone finds it, please post a link here.)

There is no reason to circumcise most boys, and I think one can make an excellent case that it is immoral to do so. However, I know that doctors sometimes recommend circumcision for certain boys, after they have shown a higher propensity for urinary tract infections. It is possible that this is not supported by the medical evidence, and that these doctors are wrong. I am not qualified to judge, but I'm curious if the law has any exceptions for such situations. I don't like the idea of putting the government's decision above a decision reached by doctors and parents together.

My other concern is whether the wording of the ballot measure allows any broader principle would be draw from it: for instance that the government knows what's best for kids.

Here is a very personal and interesting post by an Objectivist, on the topic of religious circumcision.

Edited by softwareNerd
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Here is a link to the draft text of the law (HT: OGrownups):

"SEC. 5001. Prohibition of Genital Cutting of Male Minors.

"Except as provided in SEC. 5002, it is unlawful to circumcise, excise, cut, or mutilate the whole or any part of the foreskin, testicles, or penis of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years.

"Sec. 5002. Exceptions.

"(a) A surgical operation is not a violation of this section if the operation is necessary to the physical health of the person on whom it is performed because of a clear, compelling, and immediate medical need with no less-destructive alternative treatment available, and is performed by a person licensed in the place of its performance as a medical practitioner.

"(B) In applying subsection (a), no account shall be taken of the effect on the person on whom the operation is to be performed of any belief on the part of that or any other person that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual."

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  • 4 months later...

A child is not a tree on your property to prune as you please. Just because your parents chopped your branch and you like it doesn't give you the right to chop your sons branch for any reason other than a real danger to his health.

I was raised Catholic and my wife Islamic, but both of us are saner now than to try and harm any future children for the sake of aesthetics, or tradition, or cleanliness, and I think doing so nowadays means the parents have thrown all thought in the garbage along with the foreskin.

Very well put and poetic!

Harming another individual is a form of violence and violence should only be used for self defence so circumcising your child is not congruent with objectivist philosophy - neither is hitting your child.

Edited by therights
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Nature has left us, males at least, but likely females as well, with purposeless, useless bits of extra skin in our genital areas. It's a http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmX6RdRNoqk. Besides, it has a long history and obviously hasn't caused any problems; there's no permanent damage. It's certainly not an egregious wrong; it's little different than piercing ears.

Too, if circumcisions are done in groups as a ritualized experience, it can be a

from boyhood to manhood. Who can be against boys becoming men?

If people try to forbid such procedures, who knows what else they'll be demanding in the name of the rights of children?

Trebor, I am assume your are an objectivist and I have no idea how you can argue a case for circumcision. What right has a parent got to cut off a part of a child's penis without its consent? There are risks, even though they are small, but should we take this risk just for the sake of it?

If a child had an infection on their foreskin, then take it off by all means if it saves the child losing his penis, or his life. But don't start hacking away at a child's body for the sake of tradition.

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I would have thought, were anyone to actually view the two YouTube videos I linked to, at the least, that my sarcasm would be evident.

I agree with Dr. Peikoff's response to the question: "Do you think the legal guardians of a male child have the right to circumcise him before he is old enough to refuse?" (April 25th, 2011)

Of course, if one is a Ron Paul supporter, then one would be an advocate of the various states having the right to violate any rights that they should like, what with competing governments being the key to "liberty." (Whatever "liberty" is supposed to mean.)

P.S. It has become near impossible for me to participate in this form now due to the troubles I am experiencing with the upgrade to the forum software recently.

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Well, I think Dr Peikoff went over the top with "Evil".

With parents who are convinced there are health advantages to circumcision, and those who are Jewish and believe they are keeping a covenant with god, the same thing applies: at worst they are acting from ignorance and innocence of reality. Not evasion.

How can they be evil?

Irrational, sure.

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Well, I think Dr Peikoff went over the top with "Evil".

With parents who are convinced there are health advantages to circumcision, and those who are Jewish and believe they are keeping a covenant with god, the same thing applies: at worst they are acting from ignorance and innocence of reality. Not evasion.

How can they be evil?

Irrational, sure.

I think the parents, appealing to what they believe is the "good"(be it for religion, or statistics that show a potential for cleanliness over the actual) are sanctioning, and in some cases even performing this unprincipled act.

Do you think circumcision is a form of force, and that this is then evil?

Edited by brianleepainter
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There are many forms of 'force' between parent and child.

My objection is not so much to circumcision, a reasonably benign procedure (which has caused me personally not the least problem) as it is with over-use of 'evil'.

What does one call female cliterectomy (for instance), with the knowledge that this is a deliberate action by parents to forever curtail a woman's pleasure in sex? More evil?

What about Statist intervention denying individual rights? Most evil?

Over-applied, the concept loses its currency, I believe.

I agree with "unprincipled act"; there are no rational principles for it, obviously.

However, this is not an invitation for the State to interfere.

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There are many forms of 'force' between parent and child.

My objection is not so much to circumcision, a reasonably benign procedure (which has caused me personally not the least problem) as it is with over-use of 'evil'.

What does one call female cliterectomy (for instance), with the knowledge that this is a deliberate action by parents to forever curtail a woman's pleasure in sex? More evil?

What about Statist intervention denying individual rights? Most evil?

Over-applied, the concept loses its currency, I believe.

I agree with "unprincipled act"; there are no rational principles for it, obviously.

However, this is not an invitation for the State to interfere.

I'm curious, can you expand on these forms of 'force', through example perhaps? I'm concerned, because if parents are using force on their children then these adults should be dealt with accordingly.

I do think it is horrible to perform circumcision because "the Jones had done it", or maybe because their religious texts suggests it, or because they prefer potentiality over actuality.

I will comment that, if a woman would like to have her clitoris removed, then the State should not interfere. However, that presupposes the woman's choice. If a man would like to have his foreskin removed, perhaps after having sex a few times, just to give it a test drive, then sure. Also, too, this is to say that the State should not interfere with his choice.

But, to have no choice in the matter, I do think is evil. Perhaps the state should be involved, in protecting individual rights, from this occurring without consent. Maybe doctors can give an "I owe U" slip to the newly born infant, if the doctor so chooses, so if the man ever decides to have his foreskin removed then so be it. There would be a charge of course, for the procedure, but maybe at a discounted price with this document? Just an idea.

-I would think it unfortunate for the infant(or child, in the video that Trebor had linked) to be circumcised without the consent of the parent, but to have it done with the parents consent? Which is worse? Not to mention the one who has no say in the matter, the victim.

Edited by brianleepainter
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P.S. It has become near impossible for me to participate in this form now due to the troubles I am experiencing with the upgrade to the forum software recently.

Try switching the theme to the mobile version (bottom of the forum pages, "Change Theme"). The "New Content" link will then be at the top left of the page, and when you want to quote a post, just click on it for the buttons to appear. It looks like the reply box will be an html/IPB hybrid, but it at least may be consistent for you.
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This has to be one of the most irrationally histrionic exchanges I have read. The foreskin does not serve any obvious, demonstrable function. Hypothetical functions might include protection of the penis and especially the urethra, but this function is already served by clothing. It might have some marginal effect on sensation during sex, but that hasn't been conclusively documented anywhere and where there have been attempts to explore that in the literature, the reports are conflicting--in some cases, sex was found to be 'better' without a foreskin. I should think that anyone acquainted with sexual behavior and experience in circumcised males would be convinced that sex is quite pleasurable even absent a foreskin.

As for the question of advantages to circumcision, these are also somewhat marginal, but the premise that parents have no right to permanently alter the bodies of their children has absurd implications, not least of which would be that parents have no right to vaccinate their children against illness. Molecular change is still change and as far as I'm aware acquired immunity is permanent in the relevant sense. Extending the analogy, one could think of circumcision as a preventative therapy from a number of perspectives: penile cancer, susceptibility to sexually transmitted infection, general hygiene, etc. Now, I grant that, though studies exist that support the existence of such advantages, the advantages are fairly marginal. But they do exist.

I am sure some of you will argue that there are ways to address all the mentioned issues without circumcision. The same is true of vaccination. Some of you will argue that it should be up to the child to decide once he is grown. That seems reasonable enough, until one realizes the procedure is more complicated in an older individual. For instance, it will generally be necessary to use anesthesia with an older male, and anesthesia carries its own significant risks. The parents in question can avoid necessitating such risk by circumcising their son while he is still an infant. Unless it can be demonstrated that their son is likely to retroactively object (and the vast majority of circumcised males find no reason to object), this is a legitimate attempt to act in the best interest of their son by proxy--which is what parents have to do in general at this stage, since infants are not able to express their precise desires.

Sheesh.

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This has to be one of the most irrationally histrionic exchanges I have read.

I do not see how arguing against an unprincipled, act of force known as circumcision, is what you call "histrionic" and "irrational". It is a matter of principle.

If you're interested, here is an article about Thomas Szasz' s view on circumcision, entitled "Circumcision and the Birth of the Therapeutic State" : http://www.historyof...task=view&id=70

"Accordingly, circumcision is justified not by the subject’s behavior, but by the significance his parents and society attach to his foreskin. For Jews, the ritual sacrifice of the infant’s foreskin symbolizes his entrance into the community of the Chosen. For educated Americans, its prophylactic removal symbolizes his entrance into the community of the “medically enlightened”. Indeed, Webster’s Dictionary defines circumcision as “the cutting off of the prepuce of males being practiced as a religious rite by Jews and Muslims and as a sanitary measure in modern surgery."

Edited by brianleepainter
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Sorry Brian, I could have been clearer about 'force'.

I mean it as any form of intervention/restriction/guidance from parent to child.

For what is *perceived* as in his best interests: grabbing him before running across a road, forbidding extreme outbursts, etc, etc, - up to and including what we might judge as inessential and irrational surgery.

I think you may agree that the premise of circumcision for religious or cultural 'reasons' is a far lesser degree of force than that of indocrinating your child to automatically follow your own Faith - until he is old enough to choose. The morality of this is what we should rather be questioning, I think.

By comparison, circumcision per se, is nothing to get excited about. I can't see "evil" here.

(Then again - and I am not fully informed - if there is evidence of some reduction of cancer risk...)

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