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I don't see why. You admit that foreskins provide more pleasure, and I assume you agree that's better than the alternative, so why would you support people allowing others to forever deprive someone else of that experience?
But it's not just the label you find objectionable. You find it objectionable to forbid parents from doing this to their children, unless I misunderstand you.
How would they know what they're missing? And if we have good reason to suppose that people who possess a foreskin very much enjoy it, why would you support the ability for people to deprive others of it for no good reason? Is inflicting blindness acceptable if the blind don't understand what they're missing? The fact that sight is thousands of times more valuable than a foreskin is not a principled reason to support the ability for people to deprive someone else of the latter.
The removal of your foreskin without your consent, and thus the permanent inability for you to ever experience the pleasure it provides.
You're right that in the grand scheme of things it's not a terrible crushing tragedy that should haunt someone and require therapy, etc. But, look, let me be brutally honest and introspective: I think the reason that strident opponents of circumcision like myself seem so disproportionately and militantly invested in it, often veering well into histrionics, is because of the astronomical ratio of harm to benefit. It's just so utterly inexcusable it blows my fucking mind that this is even a thing. There are few problems, practices, and quandaries in life that don't involve tough tradeoffs, the balancing of which reasonable people can disagree about. But the question of whether to cut off foreskins - like the question of whether to bind feet or sharpen teeth, and other such cultural practices - is one of the easiest questions we've ever had to answer. And still the majority of our society gets the answer wrong.
We are simply in the presence of a bizarre and pointlessly (mildly) harmful cultural practice that persists only because those subjected to it are used to it and would feel bad if they admitted how stupid and pointlessly (mildly) harmful it is.
I'm certainly glad to hear that you wouldn't continue this practice with your own children. But the fact that you believe it's acceptable for other parents to do this to their children is a problem, I think. Of course, you're only one person with one vote, but routine natal circumcision continues to be permitted by law because of millions of people who, like you, don't think it should be unlawful.
Something being "better" does not automatically make it "enough better to be worth the tradeoffs", and there are absolutely significant tradeoffs here. Our established norms of religious/cultural toleration are extremely valuable, and banning circumcision would destroy them.
If they still find sex enormously satisfying, as the overwhelming majority do, why should they care to any great extent? It's not as though subjective sexual pleasure can be meaningfully, granularly quantified, to the extent that one sees that their "pleasure gauge" is low. In any case, I've never had a female orgasm, and I can nevertheless infer similarities and differences to the male orgasms I have experienced. Nothing I've seen or heard from uncut men indicates to me that I'm missing anything terribly significant.
The good reason is genuine religious belief in the specific case, and protecting deference to parents' judgement in how to raise their children in the general case. Both of these are vastly more important to me than sex merely being extremely, absurdly, stupendously pleasurable, when it could have been extremely, absurdly, stupendously, ridiculously pleasurable. You are aware of the hedonic treadmill, right? How confident are you that the extra superlative there has any actual effect on someone's subjective sexual satisfaction, much less their overall lifetime happiness?
I object to redefining max-negative labels to cover people we've heretofore coexisted with, based on a tenuous and highly questionable chain of logical inferences. I really don't want this to be done to me, and I am willing to extend a great deal of tolerance to others, even if I find their practices abhorrent, if it means increasing the strength of the norm against this sort of aggressive redefinition.
I object to the label games because they're the primary mechanism by which aggressive redefinition is carried out, and I believe it is preferable to destroy the shared definitions entirely than to allow them to be used this way. That is to say, I would rather there be no accepted definition of child-abuse, and indeed no protections against child abuse at all, than to have that definition transformed into a partisan weapon in the culture war.
Anything can have an astronomical ratio of harm to benefit, if one arbitrarily exaggerates the harms and ignores all the benefits. Sure, we need to say that some practices are unacceptable. Circumcision doesn't meet that threshold, as evidenced by every example you've drawn of such obviously objectionable practices being obviously and severely harmful, while circumcision simply is not.
I get that you find the idea of circumcision repugnant, but you cannot demonstrate serious, concrete harms, because there pretty clearly aren't any. If you can secure the power to ban it anyway, you have created the power to arbitrarily ban any social or religious practice, and that is not a power that a highly values-diverse society can long survive. It will be used as a weapon, and the escalations it leads to will not be survivable.
How do we pick whose values get enforced at gunpoint? What happens when people who lose that competition decide they'd rather fight than submit to oppression?
I appreciate your arguments - I've never heard circumcision defended in this way before, and I'm genuinely enjoying contemplating this challenge and curious if I might even change my mind. For brevity, I hope you'll graciously permit me to omit quotes and respond to what I think is the core dispute that runs through most of what you're saying.
I understand and usually share the instinct to want to limit the ability of the state to interfere in parents' decisions regarding their children and how to raise them, even when it is (I believe) to the detriment of the kid. For example, I think it's important for parents to be able to opt their children out of sex ed classes, even though I think sex ed is beneficial. I also think parents should be allowed to terrify their children with the idea of Hell, even though I think that's harmful.
There's a few reasons I support giving parents a lot of freedom to raise their kids in ways that I think are wrong or harmful. First, each of us might be wrong about what is harmful or beneficial. Second, parents are in a better position to know what's best for their kids and care most about their kids. But perhaps most importantly, it would be truly terrifying to live in a world where the state is essentially credibly threatening lethal force to prevent you from doing what you might think is an extremely important thing for your children. In some cases so important that you might even be tempted to defend your family and way of life with lethal force yourself. Not only is that unstable on a societal level, it's just awful. Like, I sometimes imagine if social workers decided to take my kid away from me and transition him because he started identifying as trans. I honestly suspect I'd die fighting before allowing that to happen.
But with circumcision, I think it's different. To be sure, it's way less harmful than tons of other things that I would without hesitation permit parents to do to their kids. But there's a few reasons I think it merits an exception to the general rule that parents can do to their kids what they wish. First, we already generally don't allow parents to perform medically unnecessary permanent alterations to their kids' bodies. Banning circumcision simply aligns with that norm. Second, circumcision can still be done when the child grows up if he still wants it done for whatever reason. Third, I suspect most non-Jewish parents don't actually care that much and just do it because it feels like the default. I think getting out of this rut requires changing the default.
The Jewish angle to this certainly hits a lot closer to your (and my) concerns regarding state intrusions, given how important Jews consider it to be to their culture and identity and how important it is to them for it to be done to infants rather than waiting. I'm willing to allow Jews to be an exception to a circumcision ban, even if just for reasons of pragmatism and prudence.
If you don't mind, I'm curious how you determine when the state should be able to override parental wishes, if at all. To take an extreme example, I assume you'd want to state to take custody of children whose parents lock them in the basement 24/7 and physically and sexually abuse them. But what about something less extreme, like female circumcision? That's a practice that is, like male circumcision for Jews, very important to some cultures. It's fine if you can't draw a line that precisely demarcates what's bannable and what's not - the world often doesn't afford us the luxury of that sort of neatness. But I am trying to figure out how you propose approaching these tough questions - what principles, axioms, tests, etc. you'd use, if any, beyond a vague sort of "if it's harmful enough".
This is the entirety of my worry. Social systems shape and move people under low stress, and so it's easy to arrive at the belief that the systems are infinitely strong and the people are infinitely malleable. But crank up the stress past a certain point, and the people start deforming the social systems right back. I want people to be aware of this dynamic when they propose social engineering, because I'm afraid that ignorance will lead to breaking things we can't fix.
This is the first time I've had someone come to this conclusion in one of these conversations. Every previous time, the response has been "if someone doesn't want to follow the law because it violates their religion, they should change their religion." Seeing purportedly liberal people demonstrate contempt for the idea of freedom of religion is one of the most radicalizing experiences I've had in the last few years. Hearing someone at least recognize the problem with that line of thinking is an immense relief, so you have my thanks.
I think we'd both agree that circumcision has been normalized in a way that it shouldn't be, to where it's now seen as a sort of "default" for no good reason. I completely agree that this is stupid, and would like to see it reversed; people should not be circumcising their kids "by default", and the fact they are is indeed bizarre and unjustifiable. If we can still allow people who are doing it for what they see as good reasons to do it, and just tell everyone else to knock it off, I'd be perfectly happy with that outcome.
I don't think a principled, fully-general solution to this problem is possible. Which actions should be considered necessary and which abhorrent is a values question. The classic liberal view, it seems to me, was that, roughly speaking, all human values are mutually coherent, and so we should be able to come up with a set of rules that can make at least the vast majority happy. In homogenous, tightly-knit societies of the sort that our civilization was founded on, this was close enough to true for the ideas to work. Unfortunately, the founders mistook local variables for universal constants.
The fact is that not all population-level human values are compatible. It is not true that every African and Ukrainian and Indian and Afghani and Chinese has a California moderate progressive inside them, desperate for escape; that isn't even true for every Texan or Arkansan. It is not true that all religions are the same, or that mutual tolerance between them is possible. There is no general solution to the problem of tolerance, only best-fit local solutions.
What actually happens when mutually incompatible value systems clash is that either they avoid each other, or one forcefully modifies the other. Subjugation and force, strongly applied, can in fact modify practices, at the expense of some variable but potentially very significant amount of human suffering. Hence the British suppressed the practice of sati in India, and the American North abolished slavery, the former with the threat of violence and the later through its execution. The problem is that these sorts of modifications have a very, very bad track-record on net, it seems to me, and a worse one over time as western countries have dropped the force necessary to secure good values, and central and eastern countries kept the force but pursued bad ones, with the result that lots and lots of people died for no good reason, and nothing of value was accomplished through their sacrifice. This pattern has repeated for so long that I think the idea of trying to modify values by force is simply a bad one; the sort of people who can do it isn't the sort of people we are, and pretending otherwise leads to a lot of suffering. We should leave other people alone, neither inviting nor invading the world.
This leads me to my own conclusion: peaceful coexistence is very, very valuable, and much more fragile than people seem to appreciate. If you are fortunate enough to have it, its preservation should be your overriding priority, of far greater importance than minimal gains in social optimality. We should be searching for ways to unify our values, bring them into coherence, rather than actively working to accelerate their drift into mutual incoherence. Once that incoherence arrives, compromise becomes impossible, and the only options remaining are separation or conflict. There is no utopian values-system that everyone will willingly conform to. There is no social mechanism capable of bridging all values-gaps. There is no social system that can peacefully adjudicate all problems. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, democratic processes, separation of powers, rule of law, none of these are actually general solutions to the human condition, and none of them can be counted on to keep the peace under sufficiently fraught conditions. The question shouldn't be "what arbitrary value-set should we use these systems to enforce" but rather "are our values sufficiently coherent that these systems can handle them, and if not, how do we minimize conflict now and in the future?" Freedom of speech and the rest of the liberal crown jewels should be recognized as limited tools, not universal solutions, and we should recognize that their failure is inevitable while working to ensure that failure is as graceful as possible.
I don't know if this really answers your question, but it's about the best I can do.
I agree with most of that, broadly speaking. As usual, few people here are as eloquent as you on this subject. You've at least made me much less confident in my position on banning circumcision. Either way, I appreciate you taking the time to respond to me despite few other people probably reading this far back anymore.
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