Thursday, October 20, 2011

Infant circumcision: a grotesque practice that needs to stop

This is my article that ran in the October 20th issue of The Advocate.

While female circumcision is rightly considered by Americans to be an inhumane practice, male circumcision, a practice performed on more than 1 million American infants each year, is usually shrugged off by the public as benign.

I’d like to suggest that it is actually far from benign, but in fact, is a rather awful thing someone would feel obligated to do to their child.

First, let’s identify what circumcision actually is. Circumcision is the removal, sometimes surgically, sometimes not, of the foreskin of (usually an infant’s) penis.  It’s mutilation. If you were forced to explain this to someone who had never heard of circumcision and revealed that you were part of a society that practiced that, I imagine they would run away from you as fast as possible.

The most common arguments put forward in favor of infant male circumcision include “It looks better that way” (aesthetic), “It’s more hygienic” (hygiene), “It’s better that a boy looks like his father/everyone else” (conformity), “It lowers your risk of STDs” (disease), and “It’s my religious freedom to circumcise my son” (religious).

None of these arguments hold up, and while the default position should be “leave children’s body parts alone unless medically necessary,” it evidently isn’t, so I’m going to hopefully show why these reasons simply aren’t persuasive.

Let’s look at the aesthetic and hygiene arguments. These are two that pretty much all men should find insulting. Think about this: what if you lived in a society that instead of circumcising newborn boys, gave all of the newborn girls breast implants? Most people who are attracted to women would probably find that more aesthetically appealing once the girl becomes mature, so it makes just as much sense, right? Most people should find that disturbing and feel insulted that someone would use that as an excuse to do something like that to an infant.

As far as the hygiene argument is concerned, if there is indeed a reason to think that foreskin makes it less sanitary, then ideally we should be reminding boys to be thorough when washing themselves. It’s offensive to me as a male for people to think that men are somehow incapable of sufficiently washing themselves so much that the proper course of action is to cut off a piece of their body.

If we applied this line of thinking consistently, we would almost certainly feel perfectly okay cutting off the tips of infants’ fingers because sometimes it’s hard to clean under their nails. Clearly, this is not ideal.
Next, there is the conformity argument, which has a component of parental sentimentality to it, which I find understandable, however misplaced it may presently be. Still, there is a much simpler solution to this problem than an uncalled-for surgical procedure.

What parents really should do if the subject comes up is communicate to their children that you cared enough about them to not unnecessarily remove a part of their body; they are fine just the way they are, and that there’s no reason to feel different or ashamed whatsoever. It needn’t be so drastic of a conversation that it needs to be pre-empted by surgery.

The disease argument is slightly more complicated in that there is some evidence that if you’re circumcised you have a reduced risk of contracting HIV. However, this is only true if you live in a country that is extremely high risk for AIDS, and you have no plans on using a condom.

Condoms are significantly more effective at preventing STDs than circumcision, and even if circumcision was better at preventing STDs, that doesn’t mean kids should be circumcised when they are infants and have no possible way of contributing to the decision.

Any potential benefits gained from the operation only mean something once a person is sexually active, which means there is plenty of time to wait so that whoever is potentially having part of their body removed can be asked if they want to do it first.

Even after all of those, the least defensible argument still, is the religious argument. As far as the United States goes, your freedom to practice your religion ends at your causing harm to other individuals.  This should include medically unnecessary (not to mention potentially dangerous) operations to highly sensitive organs, or medically unnecessary operations, period.  We don’t allow people to bring harm to their children due to practicing their religion in any other case, so why does circumcision get a free pass?

It’s 2011. When are we going to realize these kinds of effectively barbaric practices shouldn’t be defended anymore? We stopped letting people sacrifice each other, now it’s time to stop letting them maim each other as well.

Follow me on Twitter here! I tweet frequently.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Refutation of Kant's "On God and Morality"

I wrote this for one of my philosophy classes and thought I would post it on here since I haven't done anything with the blog for a few weeks. Hope you enjoy.

Immanuel Kant, having written a full refutation of the Ontological Argument for the Existence of God, thought providing logical proofs for God’s existence were (becoming) an exercise in futility; most arguments can’t prove the existence of any god, and those that at least get you reasonably close, don’t prove the specific god you want. Given that, Kant tried to find an alternative reason for believing in God, while not really demonstrating that the deity exists.
His reason is, rather, a pragmatic one. Essentially, what his argument comes down to is this: 1) As rational beings, we have no reason to act morally unless our good deeds get rewarded and evil deeds get punished. 2) Since we don’t see that happening in this life, it is necessary to assume the existence of a god that will make up for the lack of justice we currently face.

The argument is simple enough, but under further analysis, I don’t think it stands up. First of all, excluding the idea that we don’t have a good reason to think a God exists, if injustice is all around us, and God can’t (or won’t) seem to do anything about it while we’re here on Earth, what gives anyone the idea, that he would want to make up for the lack of justice, or even be capable of doing it after we die? So far the evidence seems to be against the concept of a god that has some sort of concern for the state of justice in the world. If I can quote Bertrand Russell, "Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue, ‘The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.’ You would say, ‘Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment’”.

The other objection I will raise is that the argument advanced by Kant precludes the idea that the reasons to act morally could come from within life itself.  It shouldn’t seem unreasonable to anyone (I would think) that purpose for morality can come from the simple fact that there are multiple conscious beings that have to share a living space, at the very least. We can learn to care about each other and desire to get along based on our own shared circumstances, without having to believe something that isn’t supported.

Follow me on Twitter here! I tweet frequently.