Let’s debate, but using only my arguments.

Via Radley Balko comes a bizarre, uninformed attack on libertarians from Amanda Marcotte, at Pandagon. At the entry is a bingo card designed to poke fun at libertarians, except each space is little more than a boiler-plate attack based on uninformed assumptions about libertarians. Mr. Balko calls it trite, which is the perfect description.

I can’t say I’m surprised, though. I had my first introduction to Pandagon and Ms. Marcotte a couple of weeks ago when she blogged her reaction after Egypt banned FGM. We obviously agree on the merits of banning FGM, although I was (and remain) less optimistic about this law’s effectiveness. What irked me then is the same lack of intellectual thoroughness evident in the libertarian bingo card. Her post:

Counting down to the “WHAT ABOUT TEH MEN?!” trolls who want to equate male circumcision with female genital mutilation. Look, you can oppose the former without blowing it all out of proportion. Dan Savage did a bang-up job in The Kid, for one instance of arguing against the practice of circumcision without drawing parallels to a much more horrific practice. And that’s just the first that comes to mind.

That’s a very typical response I encounter. Unfortunately, it’s a weak argument that seems to indicate a willingness to shout down debate rather than engage in a debate open to ideas.

I’ve never said anything contrary to the fact that FGM is almost always worse than male genital mutilation. It’s important that almost always doesn’t get lost in the focus on worse. It does. The World Health Organization recognizes four types of FGM. Not all are more severe than MGM. And not all are practiced specifically to reduce or eliminate the female’s capacity for sexual pleasure. (The outcome doesn’t depend on good intentions, but that could be said about male circumcision, too.) The overwhelming majority of cases are worse, of course, and many are done specifically to affect the female’s capacity for sexual pleasure. But we must not ignore the exceptions. Our ignorance permits us, as a society, to turn a blind eye. That is wrong.

Intellectually, the argument is obvious. Forced genital cutting for non-medical reasons on a non-consenting invdividual is wrong. The violence involved is still violence, and the mutilation is still mutilation, no matter how much the cut individual eventually likes the result or how much society approves. Gender is irrelevant.

Disagreeing is understandable and the precursor to enlightening debate. But squashing dissent before it arrives is little more than forced intellectual conformity. Such non-thinking stifles progress.

To her credit Ms. Marcotte makes several statements in the comments – where the comparison did erupt, to much bandying of the term troll – that she doesn’t support male circumcision, labeling it “a mildly barbaric practice that is cruelty to children”. She is open to more than just what our society believes about cutting the genitals of children. That’s what makes the original statement in her entry so frustrating, and what makes several of her other remarks in the comments section disconnected. For example:

Ah, I figured the false equivalence trolls would come out. Shameless. They probably think cutting off the foreskin is worse that slicing girls apart and letting many die, but they at least know better than to say that. Instead, they just equate the two and imply that anything less than calling circumcision the worst crime ever is supporting the practice.

No, I don’t think cutting off the foreskin is worse than slicing girls apart and letting many die. But that’s not really a fair comparison, is it? As I mentioned, not all forms of FGM are worse than MGM. But where they are, I’m not making a quantitative comparison. We don’t judge whether an action is wrong on the amount of wrong. It is or it isn’t. Qualitatively, genital cutting is genital cutting. That’s the argument, and why there is no “false” equivalence.

In the same comment where she labeled male circumcision “mildly barbaric”, she offered this:

It also troubles me to describe circumcised penises as mutilated when so many owners of them like them that way. Again, they don’t know any different and I think that they should stop to consider that they might be prejudiced, but still, it’s hardly mutilation to the same degree as FGM. …

… I think the proper analogy is to other minor cosmetic surgeries, like Botox injections. My opposition to it is that it’s better to leave well enough alone when the results of interference are dubious at best.

Ms. Marcotte’s absurd comparison to Botox aside, I don’t need to convince happily circumcised men that they’re damaged. If they like it, great. But mutilation is still mutilation. Not everyone is happy with it, and most who aren’t wouldn’t dream of having it done. That and it’s almost universal lack of medical necessity are enough for us to know that both are wrong. Again, both are wrong because they are the same action, medically unnecessary genital cutting forced on a non-consenting individual.

One thought on “Let’s debate, but using only my arguments.”

  1. …not all forms of FGM are worse than MGM…
    So why are all forms of FGM illegal in the US if some of them aren’t any worse than MGM?
    And why do fools like Amanda Marcotte always assume people are so stupid they won’t notice her (and the government’s) blatant hypocrisy in supporting discriminatory laws that only protect females?

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