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Never let logic and science interfere with your gut April 22, 2011

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Ethics, Freedom.
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In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer discusses a recent San Francisco initiative to criminalize neonatal circumcision — the proposed ban would make it illegal to remove the foreskin of a boy under the age of 18 on the pain of a $1,000 fine and a year’s imprisonment. Well, perhaps “discusses” is too generous: Pfeffer apparently doesn’t think that the genital mutilation of children is a subject that calls for careful reasoning and sound argument — he offers us puns and sarcasm and appeals to emotion instead.

Pfeffer admits that circumcision cannot be justified merely because it’s tradition (“just use your imagination and think of the long list of atrocities and crimes against humanity that come under the heading of ‘coveted rituals'”), and that there’s no compelling medical rationale for it either; but apparently none of that matters, because:

This is not a debate for logical or scientific arguments. I find it hard to articulate a sound moral justification, but I know that if I will again be blessed with a son, he will be circumcised.

Well, then, case closed. Still, you might be wondering why Pfeffer is so intent on circumcising his sons, and why he is against the San Francisco initiaitve. He does eventually attempt to make an argument:

My real objection to the intactivists [those opposing neonatal circumcision] is not based on reason or religion, it is my gut feeling that they are infernal busybodies. They are the kind of people who under the guise of liberal values, want to invade my home, family and dinner plate and I feel it is our duty to stand up to them. No infant genitalia were harmed in the writing of this column, but I did go through half a pack of Marlboros, sitting and writing at an outdoor table of my local Jerusalem cafe.

All the butts were responsibly deposited in an ashtray and the second-hand smoke wafted harmlessly into the spring sky. Such conduct would have cost me a $500 fine in San Francisco. I’m sorry if that’s the best argument I can come up with, but I want to live in a country where I can choose to kill myself slowly with nicotine ‏(financing the health system with my cigarette taxes in the process‏) and be allowed to responsibly continue whatever family tradition I prefer.

Didn’t Pfeffer previously say that tradition was not a sufficient defense? In any case, I agree that Pfeffer should be free to kill himself in any manner he chooses — so long as he doesn’t harm anyone else.  If Pfeffer would try thinking with his brain instead of his gut, he would realize that neonatal circumcision is not analogous to an adult choosing to smoke; it’s more like a parent jamming cigarettes into his infant child’s mouth and forcing him to inhale (in the name of family tradition). While doing so might provide more taxes to finance the health system, I doubt Pfeffer would want to defend such a practice. But then, why bother to defend your views at all, when you can just follow your gut?

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