Chabon's Unkindest Cut
By Bryan Caplan
I strongly oppose circumcision. In fact, I can’t think of a good reason why we shouldn’t punish it as child abuse.
Whether or not you agree with my conclusion, I think it’s hard to deny the following claim: Unless you have a good reason for circumcision, it is child abuse. Cutting off a baby’s healthy body parts might be justified in some situations, but justification is a must.
Most parents who circumcise their kids think they do have a justification. Maybe they’re right, though I severely doubt it. It was only when I was reading Michael Chabon’s latest, Manhood for Amateurs, that I saw the face of evil: A father who admitted that he had no good reason to circumcise his sons, but did it anyway.
Chabon rejects the religious reasons:
That is not an argument that holds a lot of water with me. I have confused ideas of deity, heavily influenced by mind-altering years of reading science fiction, that do not often trouble me, but one thing I know for certain, and have known since the age of five or six, is that I really can’t stand the God of Abraham.
He’s not convinced by the “He ought to match is big brother” argument:
None of their other parts have to match. They could have different eye color, different hair, different noses, differently shaped heads.
He’s not convinced by the rest either:
We had been through all of the standard arguments – hygiene, cancer prevention, psychological fitness, the Zero Mostel tradition – the first time around, with our oldest son, and found that they are all debatable at best, while there is plenty of convincing evidence that sexual pleasure is considerably diminished by the absence of a foreskin.
Chabon bypasses that big downside with a wry sci-fi reference:
But I never know how to think about that one. It is like in A Princess of Mars, in which we are informed that on the red planet Barsoom they have nine colors in their spectrum and not seven; I have tried and failed many times to imagine those extra Barsoomian colors.
He does not reject the analogy to female circumcision:
“It’s not one bit less barbaric than what they do over there,” my wife said. “Not one.”
Chabon doesn’t circumcise to hold his family together or even to please his wife. Instead, he finds a odd mohel willing to use a topical anesthetic, and lies to his wife to keep her on board:
“It’s not going to hurt,” I told her, though of course… I had no idea whether it was going to hurt him or not.
And then… there’s a bris! If I were going to throw one book in my lifetime, it would have been Manhood for Amateurs right after I finished this monstrous essay.
As a social scientist, I tend to think that once people admit that a policy is absurd and cruel, they’ll abandon it. The challenge is extracting the admission. Chabon’s tale forces me to admit that even after people admit their errors, some of them will refuse to change their ways – and many onlookers will react with mildly approving smiles.