Morality: Gender and Violence

I want to add a thought to last night’s post on whether or not male genital mutilation is morally equivalent to female genital mutilation. (It is.)

Is domestic violence perpetrated by a woman against a man morally equivalent to domestic violence perpetrated by a man against a woman?

The latter occurs far more frequently. Men are generally stronger than women. These do not matter in judging the immorality of the violence because the attack violates the individual. The outcome informs the decision on punishment, but it does not change the original fact that a crime occurred.

What’s the difference with male genital mutilation, if not gender and tradition? Neither are effective counter-arguments against facts and individual – human, not just female – rights. Each person owns his or her body from birth. We must permit proxy consent to maximize liberty. Liberty isn’t much good if the child dies. But the possibility of future medical problems is not the existence of a medical problem warranting the exercise of proxy consent to surgical intervention.

Any claim that current and future religious/cultural problems may result from normal human genitalia fails the test for permitting the exercise of proxy consent to surgical intervention. Fails it miserably.

Judge by actions rather than words.

Compare and contrast two articles (all emphasis added). First, coaches removed Buck Burnette from the University of Texas football team:

Shortly after Barack Obama was elected president Tuesday night, Burnette wrote on his Facebook status: “All the hunters gather up, we have a (racial epithet) in the White House.”

Screen captures showed this apology from Burnette before his Facebook page was taken down: “Clearly, I have made a mistake and apologized for it and will pay for it. I received it as a text message from an acquaintance and immaturely put it up on facebook (sic) in the light of the election. Im (sic) not racist and apologize for offending you. I grew up on a ranch in a small town where that was a real thing and I need to grow up. I sincerely am sorry for being ignorant in thinking that it would be ok (sic) to write that publicly and apologize to you in particular… . I have to be more mature than to put the reputation of my team at stake and to spread that kind of hate which I dont (sic) even believe in. Once again, I sincerely apologize.”

Second, Californians explain why they voted to eliminate rights from others:

“I think it’s mainly because of the way we were brought up in the church; we don’t agree with it,” said Jasmine Jones, 25, who is black. “I’m not really the type that I wanted to stop people’s rights. But I still have my beliefs, and if I can vote my beliefs that’s what I’m going to do.


“I don’t discriminate against people,” [Pablo Correa] said, with a wave at the rows of lipstick and makeup. “I have a lot of customers who are homosexuals, transsexuals and bisexuals. I’m not against these people.

He added: “But I’m a traditionalist. I come from a traditional family. People can do whatever they want in their own life, but I have to protect my family.”

Buck Burnette is the least despicable of the three people in these two stories because his bigotry was impotent and harmed only himself. But maybe I’m wrong. Jones and Correa aren’t bigots. They said so.

Chant it with me: 1/20/2013! 1/20/2013! (1/20/2017?!?)

This story is from earlier this week, and the Bush Administration refuted the underlying claim. However, that it could be true illustrates a fundamental flaw in politics.

The struggling auto industry was thrust into the middle of a political standoff between the White House and Democrats on Monday as President-elect Barack Obama urged President Bush in a meeting at the White House to support immediate emergency aid.

Mr. Bush indicated at the meeting that he might support some aid and a broader economic stimulus package if Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats dropped their opposition to a free-trade agreement with Colombia, a measure for which Mr. Bush has long fought, people familiar with the discussion said.

If this is true and it ends this way, Americans will lose free trade with Detroit to gain free trade with Colombia (among others).

I hate politicians.


An amusing paragraph in the article:

Mr. Bush has drawn his line at the automakers’ doors, having already been forced to shelve the free-market principles of his Republican Party to bail out the financial industry over the past two months. But Republicans say he would acquiesce in aid to automakers in return for Congress’s ratification of the Colombia pact and pending trade agreements with Panama and South Korea.

President Bush was not forced to shelve the free-market principles not possessed by the Republican Party.

Low Nutritional Value Politics

Last week I saw both of these Tom Toles editorial cartoons, but never together.




The second cartoon, from Friday, is much more effective because it’s correct. The first cartoon, from Tuesday, is full of sentimentality but devoid of truth. (To be fair, we moved closer to truth, although not as much as everyone believes.) The success of California’s Proposition 8 demonstrated that “All men are created equal” isn’t fully realized yet. Maybe it will never be. And there are many issues where our society falls short of the ideal. Denying those because we want some warm, fuzzy feelings for a day is unproductive.

Theft is theft.

A post at denialism blog claims that male and female genital mutilation are not morally equivalent. After some buildup, the gist of the entry:

Independent of how you may feel about male circumcision, it does not normally, or even more than very rarely, lead to long-term medical consequences. FGM nearly always does. FGM is not usually as “simple” as a pinprick. And who performs it is irrelevant. If women are co-opted into torturing each other by the dominant male culture, that is most emphatically not a mitigating factor, but a sign of how deeply disturbed gender relations in the culture are.

There are many long-term medical consequences that are discounted or ignored. Scarring is a long-term (permanent) consequence. An asymmetrical incision is a long-term consequence. But those are not what the author implies, so I’ll consider it on his strict terms that those should be ignored. Would the removal of too much skin constitute a long-term medical consequence, since it leads to painful erections? Or are we just considering a negative result such as loss of the glans and other extreme outcomes?

Regardless of the answer, the ethical question looms larger. Who decides which medical consequences matter? Risk aversion and personal preferences are subjective to the individual. If the decision-maker is someone other than the individual whose body is altered, the intervention must be medically necessary. Otherwise, the surgery is immoral. Gender is irrelevant.

Notice, too, how the margins are ignored. Some male genital modification results in devastating consequences. Some female genital modification is physically insignificant. Those cannot be tossed aside as irrelevant. They inform the discussion. Why is it that the latter is legally prohibited under all non-medical circumstances, yet the former is considered an acceptable risk in the same non-medical circumstances? We do not get to dismiss inconvenient details.

The last part about who performs the mutilation flows into the author’s next paragraph, which I’ll break into segments:

Male circ is not a method of controlling males and their sexuality.

This is incorrect. Genital mutilation – of males and females – began in America as a method to prevent masturbation, among many grand claims by its advocates. Today we have the constant defense of the practice for males¹ based on a reduced risk of female-to-male transmission of HIV. What is the justification for modifying the genitals of infant males if it is not an attempt to control their sexuality? The undeniable assumption is that they will not be competent enough to practice safe sex. Remember that the studies from Africa involved only voluntary, adult circumcision. Transferring such findings to infants requires assumptions.

Also consider two very common defenses given for mutilating infant boys in America. Proponents claim that circumcised men take longer to orgasm than intact men. First, consider what that suggests about the long-term consequences on male sensation from the foreskin and the loss of the foreskin. Although I am not making the claim here that this is true, advocates of circumcision always deny this logical conclusion. But it is very clearly meant as the preferred expression of male sexuality. And it is most often imposed on infants. Second, the assumption is that he wouldn’t last long enough, however long that might be, without the removal of his foreskin. Another decides for him. I refuse to redefine the concept of control.

The other common claim is that women prefer the circumcised penis. A male’s future partner’s assumed preference matters exclusively, even though he may prefer to be intact and might choose to reject any woman who would reject him for having the body he was born with. Think of the corrollary. If men prefer large breasts and we forced breast implants on females, would we view that as an attempt to control female sexuality? What is this, if not control?


In nearly every culture that has ever existed (and one might argue that this is even more true of cultures that circumcise), males are dominant. FGM is always—always—a method of controlling women and their sexuality.

If we’re establishing that societal attempts to control an individual’s sexuality through surgical alteration is immoral, and we are, then we’re done. We can wrap potential benefits around the procedure for males, but it is not the least invasive option for any of its claimed benefits. The conclusion is the same. The surgical alteration of a healthy, non-consenting individual’s genitals is immoral. Gender is irrelevant to the fundamental moral claim. The extent of the damage is irrelevant to the fundamental moral claim. We may decide that legal punishment should differ based on actual results (including the uncommon extremes for each, which means minimal punishment for lesser forms of FGM), but the act itself is immoral. Every victim – female or male – is a victim.

For a similar analysis applied to religious male genital mutilation, see this entry from my archives.

Libertarians diagnose with open eyes.

David Z at …no third solution has a smart post today, titled If You Subsidize It…, about moral hazard in the context of Hurricane Katrina. He concludes:

…we can’t content ourselves to argue, “A free market would’ve built better levees!” when the reality is that a free market might never have built any levees in the first place.

This is exactly right. Maybe participants in a free market would build there. No one else is competent to judge another’s preference. Perhaps he really does like the ocean view in California that much more than the risk of wildfires (or earthquakes). And he’s willing to bear the costs. That’s his own rational, if not objective, decision-making.

This is part of my core knowledge that a limited government is the maximum – not some theoretical, unworkable minimum – to which we should strive. One complaint I see lodged against libertarians is that we don’t have ideas on how to run things instead, that we only offer complaints about what’s wrong. Of course. It’s entirely true, and the explanation against that attack is so obvious in the argument that to defend it is to elevate the oblivious to an unearned legitimacy.

I’ll make an attempt anyway. We can judge from facts that something does or, with government, doesn’t work. We make that judgment. We also realized that the answer isn’t necessarily to complete a task better. Perhaps the answer is, as David suggests, to not do the task. Individuals operating in their own self-interest are far likelier to discover that than the collective need to Do Something that mingles diligently with a world devoid of accountability for mistakes. No thing can ever be wrong, it is merely not yet achieved. People who invest their own time and money are much less prone to such silly observations about their own infallibility.

So, when I complain about single-payer health care, for example, I’m not saying I know what the solution is. I don’t. I know that I understand basic economics. I know I don’t know anything about operating a health insurance plan. Economics tells me one option, the Free Pony Plan, isn’t feasible. But I trust that there are smart people who understand economics and operating health insurance plans. They see the possibility of profit deriving from their knowledge and effort, so they seek to achieve the goal. There will be bumps regardless of the activity because we haven’t found perfect humans, but what we want will eventually happen. Injecting government only changes and removes natural incentives by replacing them with those inspired by nothing stronger than a hope for happy feelings. And run by non-perfect humans.

No we can’t repeal the laws of economics.

I hope I don’t need to reference this example too many times over the next 4-8 years:

In an almost-too-good-to-be-true foreshadowing of the Obama presidency, the donutistas said that they were concerned about running out of the free election-themed donuts. Apparently, when you give something away for free, it’s hard to know how much of it to make. They’d resorted to (semi-illegally) demanding to see “I Voted” stickers for the special donuts in order to stretch out the supply. They also said customers weren’t as polite as usual. Go figure—when people feel entitled to something, they act as if they value it less. Who could have foreseen such a thing? Oh, wait.

Who wants to talk about free health care?

I endorse skepticism.

I’m a huge fan of Penn Jillette. He’s consistently libertarian, as evidenced by his Showtime! series, Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. Also, his Vegas show with Teller is entertaining. So I read with interest this recent interview he did with reason about the presidential election.

reason: You were critical of the old newsletters that were revealed during the primaries, but on balance was Ron Paul good for libertarians?

Jillette: The basic underlying premise of that question I disagree with. I believe in individual rights so much that I don’t like any sort of “what’s good for the cause”-type question. A little while ago I was at skeptics, atheists conference and a question like that came up. How do we best win people over? As soon as we ask that question, we’re pigs. We have to leave open possibility that other side is right. Even as we call them assholes!

A lot of people listened to Ron Paul and a lot rang true to them. A lot of what he said, I agreed with. But my job professionally, my job as human, my job as an American citizen is not to do what I can to further the libertarian cause. If Obama came out and said “when I’m elected I’d make government as small as I can” I’d really get behind him. I’m not trying to get Libertarians elected. I’m even uncomfortable telling people who to vote for.

I heard Jillette say good things about Ron Paul on the Howard Stern Show too long after Paul’s past racist associations became clear, which I felt was unfortunate. But, yeah, it’s about the ideas. It always will be. I’m interested in liberty first, process second. That comes through here, and it’s the takeaway point.

For example, does this arugment make sense under any skepticism?

And here we see a fundamental difference between the progressive worldview and the conservative worldview. Progressives believe in a robust safety net for everyone. It’s very possible, as we’re seeing, that you’ll experience financial hard times for reasons that have nothing to do with you. A lot of the people doing unskilled service work in the Lehman Brothers office may lose their jobs as a result of this unwinding even though they didn’t do anything wrong. And that sort of thing happens all the time — people get laid off because adverse things happen to the companies they work for. Or people are struck by other kinds of misfortune — they get hit by buses, hurricanes destroy their houses, all kinds of stuff. Misfortune strikes ordinary people, and not just billionaires. And in the case of ordinary people, just as in the case of billionaires, you can offer improve social welfare by helping people out when they wind up in trouble.

But conservatives don’t believe in that kind of safety net for regular people — just for the billionaires. Guaranteed health care? Forget it. Guaranteed retirement income? No way. Just let the market work, and when it stops working the executives will be okay and the rest of us will, oh, something or other.

This is a bit out of date (mid-September), but the flaw is timeless. First, an overwhelming number of Democrats voted for the bailout plan. Do they not count as progressives? Does the claimed need to Do Something outweigh the obvious welfare for the billionaires?

But note how this kind of statement is a nasty simplification that could be rebutted if the accuser – in this case, Matt Yglesias – replaced his assumption with a question directed at the target of his attacks. I’m including myself in his definition of conservative, even though I identify as a libertarian. The comparison is close enough because what he’s attacking is the idea that government shouldn’t be providing X service (i.e. safety net). That’s not what he’s saying, of course. Instead, it’s a veiled “you hate poor/unlucky people because you don’t support my solution”. Any worldview condensed to such inanity is a sad commentary on the believer.

I support a reasonable safety net for the truly incompetent. I’m even willing to consider temporary safety nets for such cases as layoffs, hurricanes¹, or whatever. However, those are questions of how to effectively resolve the problems with minimal interference (i.e. taxation, regulations). I don’t think widespread government-provided safety nets are the universal solution. We can agree that not having mass numbers of people living in the streets is worth achieving. It does not flow from there to the implication that those who disagree on how to achieve the goal are selfish degenerates who want babies to die in the streets.

Stretched back to the context of Penn Jillette’s statement above, I can vote for the Libertarian Party candidate, but I’m not saying I think the Libertarian Party is the only, or best, way to achieve liberty. Like he said, if Obama stands up tomorrow and proposes a policy that enhances liberty, I will support it. It’s the principle, not the policy. All of politics is the same idea.

¹ It’s not too much to expect, in return, for the government to stop incentivizing stupid, risky behavior. This applies more to building homes in flood plains, I suppose, but it’s applicability to hurricanes is almost the same. Also, financial risks. Don’t encourage bad luck and then expect me to pay those who embraced it.

I voted (on Saturday).

Since I commute a reasonable distance to/from work, I took advantage of early voting on Saturday. I waited in line approximately 75 minutes, which was very close to my limit, given the choices before me. It helped that the sun filled the evening sky and the temperature hadn’t dropped. I had one point of indecision going in, although I had a strong inclination how I planned to vote. Without further buildup:

President: Bob Barr (Libertarian)

Senate: William Redpath (Libertarian)

House: Myself (libertarian)

I realized several years ago that I could never vote for Sen. McCain. I voted for him in the 2000 Republican primary, a vote I stand behind because I think President John McCain circa 2000 would’ve been better than President George W. Bush. I even advocated for a Kerry/McCain ticket in 2004. (I no longer stand behind that opinion.) But I’ve lost all respect for John McCain because I’ve finally seen the politician rather than the marketing campaign. Acknowledging his military career and sacrifice does not require me to assume those equal competent civilian leadership skills. So, he was never under consideration.

I considered Sen. Obama after initially rejecting any possibility of that. I might’ve been able to cast a vote for him if he hadn’t shifted from bad economics to insane economics as he sought to wrap up the nomination. Maybe he’ll cast that idiocy aside. I’m not confident of that.

In recent months I considered voting for Sen. Obama as a vote against the probable Supreme Court nominations from a President McCain. With the choice of Gov. Palin as his running mate, McCain forfeited any benefit of the doubt about his calm, reasoned approach to judicial nominations. As the polls suggested the race was still close, I thought I might have to vote Obama against my preference.

In finally deciding, I disregarded any consideration of polls, although I’m aware of them. Sen. Obama’s recent pandering on all matters of the economy made a vote for him impossible. I fear he actually believes the insanity he’s spewing. Civil liberties matter, but economic liberties matter, too. I can’t endorse a race from one brink to another.

My vote for Barr does not imply that I support him. Okay, so it does imply that. I considered that and decided the benefit offset that problem.

I do not think Barr is a libertarian. After reading this reason interview with Barr, I’m convinced he’s learned the language. I perceived his answers to be forced. He knows what to say and when, but he doesn’t necessarily believe them. Maybe that his personality interfering. Maybe he is a libertarian. It doesn’t matter because he won’t win. I voted to signal “libertarian” and to encourage continued ballot access. (The matching funds, I could do without.)

For Senate I couldn’t endorse former Gov. Jim Gilmore. He’s a rabid social conservative. Also, as evidenced by his nonsensical “abolition” of property taxes on automobiles, he has no sense of responsible or limited government. If I care about reducing taxation, I’m not fooled that you shift taxation from counties to the state.

I couldn’t vote for former Gov. Mark Warner, either. Either he’s pandering in matching Democratic nonsense on economics or he really believes his policy proposals. I find the latter hard to believe since he built a large business. Regardless, I don’t want to find out. And I’m not voting to increase the Democratic majority in the Senate.

When I began researching this year’s election, I realized Virginia had a Libertarian running for the Senate. I expected to be disappointed and perhaps embarrassed. (Think Michael Badnarik.) Then I read through William Redpath’s campaign site. Anyone who repeatedly references the Cato Institute probably has the right idea. Redpath has no chance of winning, of course, so it’s a no-risk vote in that sense. But anyone willing to push for the Flat Tax and not wrap it around social conservatism (i.e. Steve Forbes) receives the benefit of the doubt. I made this choice readily.

For the House (Virginia’s 11th District) the same logic applies for the Democrat (Gerry Connolly) and Republican (Keith Fimian), although the only third party candidate represented the Independent Green party. No thanks to that. Here I almost voted Republican to push for an offset of Democratic gains. But Mr. Fimian’s campaign site offered only the vaguest rhetoric, with no actual governing principles. Since even a useless blowhard like outgoing Rep. Tom Davis could hold the 11th District for more than a decade, I decided against a vote for any future incumbent¹. So I voted for myself as a write-in candidate. Keep your fingers crossed on my chances.

There are no ballot initiatives or bonds to vote on this year, so that’s it. I would’ve voted “no” to any bonds or taxes, “no” to any further theft of rights, and “yes” to any further protection or expansion of rights.

Further election thoughts at A Stitch in Haste, Postive Liberty, no third solution, and Freespace.

¹ If I should win the 11th District, this logic does not apply to future incumbents. Naturally.