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John Harvey Kellogg's Legacy

The "OMG Michael Phelps smoked marijuana" story is still a hot topic, with the general tone thankfully being that this is hardly worth wasting the effort of any brain cells. I concur, but that won't stop the usual idiots from moralizing. The extends a little further to at least the appearance of moralizing, as evidenced by Kellogg dropping its endorsement deal with Mr. Phelps. I regard this as nothing more than a business decision. It's weak and cowardly, but nothing in my support for capitalism suggests that individuals can't be stupid.

Still, this provides a reminder that the company's co-founder, John Harvey Kellogg, endorsed and promoted a radical, not-uncommon opinion for the late 19th century. From Kellogg's book, Plain Facts for Old and Young, here is Kellogg's "cure" for masturbation in children:

In younger children, with whom moral considerations will have no particular weight, other devices may be used. Bandaging the parts has been practiced with success. Tying the hands is also successful in some cases; but this will not always succeed, for they will often contrive to continue the habit in other ways, as by working the limbs, or lying upon the abdomen. Covering the organs with a cage has been practiced with entire success. A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision, especially when there is any degree of phimosis. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anæsthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed. If any attempt is made to watch the child, he should be so carefully surrounded by vigilance that he cannot possibly transgress without detection. If he is only partially watched, he soon learns to elude observation, and thus the effect is only to make him cunning in his vice.

This is one of the contributing arguments that encouraged the establishment of routine, medically unnecessary male circumcision in America. Anyone who denies this origin is misinformed when seeking a gender-based exception to the objective claim that medically unnecessary genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is unethical, whether the mutilated is female or male.

To demonstrate further, this is from Kellogg's writing:

In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement, and preventing the recurrence of the practice in those whose will power has become so weakened that the patient is unable to exercise entire self-control.

Victorian-era Americans embraced circumcision because they replaced priests with doctors. They did not replace superstition with science. American medical knowledge of the foreskin accepted a religious foundation for any research, just as American medical knowledge today is ignorant of the foreskin because the circumcised penis is viewed as normal rather than common.

While I think boycotting Kellogg in 2009 because John Harvey Kellogg was despicable in 1888 is melodramatic, the history is worth repeating independent of the company. Boycotting Kellogg in 2009 because of it's business decision regarding Mr. Phelps is a different matter. I support that.

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