Razib had a post last week about the issue of circumcision, which (quite accidentally on his part, it appeared) touched off a veritable firestorm of comments. I don't have any interest in bringing the question of whether or not male infants should be circumcised to this blog. However, one thing that did strike me as very interesting was that many of those very much in the "nay" were deeply concerned that parents having their sons circumcised as infants violated the "body rights" of the circumcisee.
The idea seemed to be basically that although there might be some decreased likelihood of infection or contracting certain sexually transmitted diseases, that these same effects could be achieved by other means, and so parents were ethically required to leave their sons a fully intact body until such point as the son was old enough to make the decision for himself. Anything short of this hand-off approach was judged to be controlling, cruel, and yet another case of allowing "a bunch of primitive desert tribes" beliefs to interfere in the world's business, especially in the area of enjoying sexuality.
Those who didn't have a problem with circumcision seemed much more relaxed in their views.
What struck me as interesting is the idea of "body rights" -- and that parents should not meddle in making decision for their offspring, but rather leave as many decisions as possible to be made by the offspring themselves, even if waiting till that point would (in this case) constitute a strong incentive to make a particular decision.
While being as incensed over actual child abuse as the next bear, I find the attempt to extend the term out to cover "religious indoctrination", circumcision, infant ear piercing, education style, or what have you, to be unhelpful in the extreme. (Not to mention trivializing real child abuse.)
I wonder if it stems from some sort of tabula rasa idea of child-rearing. And yet it seems to me rather obvious, as a parent, that your ability to leave a great many decision "up to the child" is rather limited. Children are not equipped to make sensible decisions till rather late in life, and become so gradually. A great many very pivotal decisions are made when one is too young to make them wisely, and the guiding factors in these decisions are generally the values (whatever they are) that one has learned from one's parents and community while growing up -- or developed in reaction to the same.
Not to minimize the importance of the individual, but the process by which one begins to make decisions "on one's own" is a gradual one. The idea that one can somehow hold off a bunch of decisions to be "decided by the child when he's old enough" seems rather unrealistic.
Which is part of why I find it hard to get horrified over the idea of parents making decisions such as this for their children.
Genesis Notes: Melchizedek's Resume
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