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03 September 2012


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Catarina Dutilh Novaes

Hi Eric, thanks for the response! Let me say first of all that I do not in any way see myself engaged in a 'campaign' against male genital alteration. I just think it is a philosophically interesting question to be discussed.

Secondly, I deliberately stayed away from discussions of the religious dimension of these practices, and had in mind predominantly the case of non-religious 'routine' circumcision as practiced in the US. I agree with you that in the current European context things get really complicated. In comments in my previous post, I said at some point that the circumcision ban in Germany of a few months ago was premature, precisely because the issue has too many political and cultural ramifications.

As for when I got interested in the issue: as I said to Rebecca in comments in my previous post, it is precisely when I got interested in FEMALE genital alteration that I started thinking that male genital alteration might be problematic too. So all this is quite recent, I'd say of the last 2 years maybe? (Not that it matters much.) And fwiw (not that anyone is inviting me to do so), I would never write on this issue in a Dutch newspaper precisely because the context here makes the issue even more delicate.

Eric Schliesser

Okay, fair enough, Catarina. Apologies if I misrepresented you in any fashion. Then we agree on the second-order issues (here), and then I really should come to terms with my first-order ambivalence.

Mark Lance

I agree with everything you say here. I guess I'm an analytic egalitarian. (In activist circles, the methodology usually goes under the heading of "being aware of your privilege.") It is also strongly reminiscent of Ranciere, but I digress.

So in addition to the comments I made on the other thread, I think your disagreement with Catarina is more significant than you are both making it out to be. I take it that one implication of AE is that there really is no such thing as *just* an interesting philosophical question to be discussed. Discussions take place in political contexts. This is an open blog on the internet. Sure, it isn't the NYT, but people read it. So any speech act performed here has at least possible effects well beyond the contribution to an abstract philosophical argument. And that takes place in a context in which there is systematic oppression of various religious/cultural groups, current attempts to legislate restrictions on those groups, etc. It may well be that Catarina wants to direct this just to the non-religious, but that just doesn't imply that her post won't be given uptake as relevant to legislative efforts.

I too am unsure what that says about the first-order issue - religions don't get a free pass to oppress themselves just because others are oppressing them, of course - but the second-order commitment does seem to me to entail that you can't abstract away from all this to have a merely philosophical conversation. (Unless, perhaps, you do it with a tiny group, in private, sworn to secrecy.)

Eric Schliesser

Yes, analytic egalitarianism (AE) is an instance of "being aware of your privilege." It is also meant to transform the way one models experts within policy models.

Well, in the interest of long-term NewAPPS harmony (and our much valued personal friendship!), Catarina and I have an interest not to escalate our disagreements! Kidding aside, in the way I think about AE the demands for (let's say) responsible speech by (moral) experts there can be instances of "*just* an interesting philosophical question" say, in seminar rooms and technical journal publications. But there are two other contexts: first, there is policy/policy advocacy (etc). Second, a set of contexts that Merel Lefevere I call a "scientific aggregation level" (think of textbooks, science journalism, blogging, the activities of science advisors, standard-setting conferences, etc). These two contexts are indeed not only oriented toward truth and this generates wider duties and responsibilities (of the sort outlined above) than merely (moral expert) truth-speaking.

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

Mark, I agree with you here, and I guess what is motivating me is in the end the idea that "religions don't get a free pass to oppress themselves just because others are oppressing them, of course". In this case, the religions in question would be oppressing the non-consenting infants or children who are submitted to the procedure. I came to care a lot about the bodily and emotional integrity of children over the years -- in particular since I became a mother, of course. Just to give another (non-religious) example: in Brazil and other countries it is customary to pierce the earlobes of little girls just after birth. I find this appalling and would never do it on my own children (fortunately, they were born in the Netherlands, so we escaped this social pressure).

Similarly, as a woman I find difficult not to worry about the oppression of women inside some manifestations of Islamic cultures (and unfortunately, one sees a lot of that going on here in the Netherlands). I must confess that when I took the Harvard implicit bias test I chose Muslins as the target minority precisely because of this, and sure enough, the results of the test were 'moderate bias against the target group'. I wasn't surprised, and I know exactly where it is coming from.

Again, it's not like my biographical details matter much, but I came to develop this view of Islam only when I moved to the Netherlands; in Brazil, I was not sufficiently exposed to this group so as to develop biases in either direction (I had biases against other groups, naturally...).

So perhaps in my posts I was trying to do the impossible, namely to stay away from the religious implications of male genital alteration, in virtue of my implicit belief that ultimately, religions should not get a free pass to oppress. But I agree with both you and Eric that this is a vastly more complicated issue that would require careful scrutiny, and that this is a public arena after all.

Eric Schliesser

Catarina, it seems to me that in the Netherlands girls' earlobes are pierced much below the smoking-and-alcohol-ban-ages with mothers often encouraging this (perhaps attempting to preempt considerable peer pressure among the girls).

Gene Callahan

"Naturally all people are equal"

Let us begin philosophizing with an blatant falsehood, and see where that gets us.

Eric Schliesser

Who is talking about the beginning of philosophizing? Analytic egalitarianism is about philosophy's face to the public.

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