On Ross Douthat Joining the New York Times

The Atlantic’s Ross Douthat is the new conservative columnist for The New York Times. I haven’t read enough of his work to suggest that this is unwarranted. And he is, in fact, a talented writer. It’s just that I’ve been unimpressed with his thinking whenever I’ve encountered it. He shows very little interest in liberty or constructing a government that respects the interests of those with whom he disagrees.

In this entry from early last year, I criticized Mr. Douthat’s thinking on two topics, prostitution and infant circumcision. His position in both cases was objectively weak, at best. I’ll leave you to follow the link for my challenge to his views on prostitution. Here, I’d like to repost what I wrote in response to his tongue-in-cheek-yet-mind-numbingly-stupid view on infant circumcision.


Of course, since it’s apparently okay to ask questions unrelated to the topic, let me ask a question: Why is it automatically self-harm worthy of prohibition for an individual to sell sex, even when it’s voluntarily sold, yet it’s reasonable to permit parents to surgically alter the genitals of their healthy sons – who may or may not approve of such permanent, physical alteration – as Mr. Douthat suggested last year in defense of infant circumcision?

The answer to how one person can hold two incongruent opinions rather obviously rests in a willingness to use personal, subjective tastes and preferences to inform the legal code of a diverse, secular, civil society. It’s the same central planner impulse that resides in every individual who seeks to dictate which freedoms are abhorrent.

Since I’m off on the tangent, in that entry, Mr. Douthat states:

Proponents, like myself, point out that even saying the word smegma is really disgusting. Again, I think we pretty much win the debate right there, without even getting into the whole HIV question.

I get the tongue-in-cheek nature of the comment, whether he meant it or not. I think he did because I think he views circumcision as inconsequential. (Remember subjective tastes and preferences?) But any understanding of human biology demonstrates the stupidity of such an argument. Female genitals produce smegma, as well. We do not cut female minors for that reason. Or, more to the point, we do not permit parents to cut their daughters just because they, the parents, are disgusted by the mere mention of the word. We manage to find the correct reasoning to prohibit that. But for males, parents can use only the mere mention of smegma as an excuse to cut. Or they can reject even that reason and order it because it’s fun to check “yes” on the consent form. The law is based on our conditioned beliefs rather than facts.


This wasn’t in my original response, but it warrants a comment in light of the weight Mr. Douthat’s opinions will now receive because he is a columnist for The New York Times. From his entry on circumcision (emphasis in original):

… I believe I have the weight of the American experience on my side when I say that any such dampening [of sexual pleasure] would have to be extremely negligible.

He proves that he can’t possibly know this from experience with his next sentence:

All of which is to say that I’m gratified that my parents took it upon themselves to have a procedure performed on my infant self …

Without any sexual experience with his foreskin, he knows it’s “extremely negligible”. How? “I have experience with one side of the debate, so I am an expert on both sides of the debate” is not a sign of a great thinker. It is a sign of a mind interested in selecting the necessary facts to reach a desired, self-centered conclusion. I’m unimpressed.