Politics just makes things weird.

I was born Jewish but I was a skeptic and atheist for the first half of my life; then when I later concluded that God does exist I was never attracted to using my gift-motivated Bar Mitzvah to become an observant Jew, or convert to Islam (as if!), and instead bounced off, without taking it up, the religion C.S. Lewis made attractive to me, Christianity. That left me where I am today, a freethinker, unaffiliated with any religion, unimpressed with the literal truth of any scripture, and still a skeptic opposed to faith, as the basis for believing in God or any other unseen entity, as much as I was when I was an atheist. Tradition? On any random Saturday I just might drive through Carl’s Jr, to grab a bacon-cheeseburger, which I’ll chow down on while texting the word “God” using no hyphen.

So please believe me when I tell you that until a couple of weeks ago I’d thought about the issue of antisemitism only as a subset of thinking about racism, collectivism, bigotry, and their impact on civil liberties including free speech and armed self-defense, and my interest in the question of circumcision was close to zero. I was married once, she wasn’t Jewish, and we had one offspring — a daughter. I never had to give the subject of circumcision any real thought. — JNS

An email two weeks ago pointed me to the website and Facebook Page of Foreskin Man, an anti-circumcision comic book by Matthew Hess, author of San Francisco’s ballot initiative to prohibit juvenile male circumcision. The comic book displayed something I never expected to see coming out as pop culture accepted with no problems by twenty-first-century California liberals: as antisemitic a stereotyping of a Jewish character as any Caricatures from Der Stuermer propaganda cartoons in Nazi Germany.

So I started paying attention.

Monster Mohel, from Foreskin Man #2
Monster Mohel, from Foreskin Man #2

Soon after the Facebook Page for Foreskin Man became a controversy, another Facebook Page appeared, Petition to Ban Foreskin Man.

I commented on this Facebook page:

As much as I deplore Foreskin Man and think it’s vile antiSemitic propaganda reminiscent of Nazi Germany or the Dearborn Independent, I believe in the principle of freedom of the press. We must tolerate this and produce art of our own to defeat its influence. I wrote a cartoon titled Punxsutawney Mohel with artist Baloo to ridicule the idea that infant circumcision is “involuntary.”

You’ll find that cartoon, published here previously, further down in this article.

Antisemitism doesn’t worry me all that much. In my book Stopping Power: Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns is a speech I once gave at a Santa Monica synagogue urging Jews to buy guns; The Village Voice described my speech as a “tough Jew manifesto.”

But ever since I saw the Foreskin Man comic book on line I have been writing and debating advocates of making infant male circumcision socially unacceptable or legally prohibiting it outright. The primary interest for me isn’t the comic book’s antisemitism — which scares away as many liberals as it attracts — or even the personal smears I’ve run into on Facebook, one post from a man named Joshua Shaffer:

It’s funny how you claim that anti-semitics are just hate fueled maniacs, yet you validate their hatred on so many levels.
You validate their accusations of Deceit
You validate their accusations that you control the Media.
You validate their accusations of your thirst for blood.

Shaffer’s charge that as a Jew I control the media just amuses me, considering how often as a libertarian I’ve been put on “Never use this guy!” lists by mainstream media outlets.

The crucial issue for me is that I started seeing people who think of themselves as rationalists and libertarians, like I do, making arguments frighteningly close to the social conservatives’ “right to life” rhetoric, both of which have as their consequence weakening the sovereignty of private individuals over their parental choices, and replacing them, at worst, with SWAT teams carrying battering rams, and at best with another group of annoying fanatics sticking their tracts under my windshield wiper.

The anti-circumcisionists, who now style themselves as “intactivists,” repeatedly make ten general arguments, which I’ve been debating. I’ll resist my comedic impulse to present it as a David Letterman Top Ten list.

1. Male circumcision is unnecessary, harmful, painful, and has no proven medical, health, or sexual benefits;

2. Male circumcision was popularized due to religious superstition and decency campaigns that claimed it inhibited masturbation;

3. The uncircumcised penis is beautiful, thus male circumcision is genital mutilation;

4. Circumcision is a form of sexual assault;

5. Male circumcision is only perpetuated for the sake of conformity, to prevent uncircumcised boys from being singled out;

6. Parents circumcise their male children without their consent, thus circumcision initiates violence and violates libertarian principles, specifically the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP);

7. Male circumcision is as bad as the practice of cutting off a girl’s clitoris, which is commonly referred to as female circumcision;

8. If a parental choice is physically altering and irreversible on a helpless child, a parent shouldn’t do it. The child can always make that choice as an adult, but can’t choose to unmake it;

9. A doctor’s Hippocratic Oath is “First, do no harm.” If circumcision is even marginally harmful, a doctor shouldn’t perform it unless medically necessary.

Of course, if you travel east a few thousand miles, there’s a more popular reason to oppose circumcision:

10. Only kikes and sand niggers circumcise their demon spawn.

All but argument number 10 can appeal to reasonable, compassionate people.

The health and sexual benefits of circumcision are scientifically unsettled, despite the hysterical claims of intactivists. As I wrote in Chapter 13, Science versus Omniscience, of my book Unchaining the Human Heart — A Revolutionary Manifesto, scientific omniscience is a conceit of all purveyors of junk science. “The debate is over!” they declare with no shame, whether the subject is circumcision, global warming, or how, without a single lab experiment demonstrating it, life emerged from a dead universe and required no watchmaker.

Yes, circumcision is supported for reasons of religious faith — “superstition” to the secular atheist.

All I can say about the masturbation argument is that judging by the hand mileage I’ve put on my wang, circumcision doesn’t accomplish that goal.

Comparing the beauty of circumcised and uncircumsised penises is not something I’ve ever done, considering I’m not gay. I like my own just fine but frankly, given my girth, I haven’t seen it lately. And while I do pay attention to box-office figures as a means of calculating the popularity of certain esthetics, frankly the popularity of my circumcised dick by a mass audience is not something I’m ever going to have to worry about.

The “sexual assault” argument is generally another way of phrasing the “genital mutilation” argument, with one interesting caveat: traditionally Jewish mohels do put their lips on a baby boy’s penis after a circumcision to staunch the bleeding. Then again, urologists sometimes find it necessary to “milk” a penis. Neither of these is a profession esthetically appealing to me. I’ll leave it to the reader to calculate the creepiness factor.

Performing circumcision to prevent an uncircumcised boy from being singled out his by circumcised peers is already no motivation in much of the world where circumcision is regarded as being only for Muslims; and with intactivism spreading this won’t be a compelling argument in the United States for much longer.

The rest of the arguments on this list are where I, as a libertarian writer for decades, have to get busy.

The first counter-argument I made was on the consent issue. Obviously infants can neither consent nor deny consent, so to me characterizing infant circumcision as being performed involuntarily on a non-consenting victim is just fucking demented. The invocation of a “non-aggression principle” when parents make a decision about their children has an element that must be proved before the NAP can be applied: to claim violation of natural rights the claimed “victim” must have natural rights that are being violated.

Cutting a rock, for example, is not violating the rock’s rights because rocks don’t have rights. Or do they?

But it is usually in defining what biologically active things have rights where intellectual precision, clarity, and principled consistency is mandatory, to a Talmudic degree of detail I did not eagerly commit.

I have debated whether the “unborn” have natural rights, much less those already born and breathing.

I have debated whether animals have natural rights.

These days one must even debate whether plants and — yes, “Mother Earth,” itself has natural rights.

To circumcise the tip of these questions, I have put forth the following test of who and what has natural rights.

To have natural rights, one must be a rational moral actor with the capacity for mens rea to be held accountable for the consequences of one’s chosen actions.

Can an embryo or a fetus be tried for a crime? Can an infant be tried for a crime? Can an animal be tried for a crime? Can Mount St. Helen’s or the San Andreas Fault or Hurricane Rita be tried for a crime?

If the answer is no, whatever you’re asking the question about does not have natural rights.

Please note the word “natural” in all these questions of rights. Natural rights are something distinctly different from political or legal uses of the word “rights,” which may refer to privileges, immunities, protections, or entitlements.

In a society for which law is a product of government, anything can be granted privileges, immunities, protections, or entitlements: fetuses in the third trimester, babies that must be fed and cared for, endangered species, land that may not be farmed or drilled for oil or use roller skates on, cocks that may not fight, air that may not be polluted with the same carbon dioxide babies breathe out, dogs that may be eaten in Korea but not abandoned in Pahrump, Nevada. But none of these have rights given to them by nature because they can not be held morally or legally accountable for their actions.

Those things, living or not, that do not have natural rights must have decisions concerning them made by rational actors who can be held morally and legally accountable for their rights. Depending on what it is that is having decisions made about them, and who is being held to answer for those decisions, we call those Deciders parents, guardians, custodians, rangers, social workers, and — yes — sometimes even owners.

Unless you know extraterrestrials or angels I don’t, these Deciders are all human beings, each with their own life experiences, opinions, assumptions, traditions, customs, values, beliefs, learning, and cognitive maps. Some of them are decent and responsible people; some are criminals or frequently incapacitated. Some will make good decisions regarding that which they are charged with protecting; some won’t.

The question is: what are the standards, and who will judge, when that which they protect are to be removed from their care and given to another Decider?

In our contemporary society of laws and regulations manufactured by legislatures, courts, and bureaucrats, there is no longer much of an assumption that parenthood has a social value worth protecting. In my lifetime removal of parental authority by government employees with police powers can be for a multitude of reasons, from a child drawing a picture of a gun in school, to a parent smoking a cigarette with her child in the front seat of a car not in a government-approved safety seat.

Removing a girl from the custody of an Islamic family whose tradition is to cut off her clitoris will gain almost universal support among non-Muslims in the contemporary United States. At the current moment, removing a girl from the custody of Hispanic parents who pierce their baby girls’ ears will not.

Intactivists argue that foreskin removal in a boy is more like clitoral removal in a girl because it is a parental decision made for a child that is irreversible when the child grows to adulthood. But, be honest now. Aren’t there uncountable decisions made by a parent for their children that are both as profound and irreversible?

Early-learning researcher Jean Piaget wrote of limited windows for a child learning certain things, that once closed can never be reopened. Mathematical skills, reading skills, mastery of multiple languages, musical skills, manual dexterity, athletic skills, artistic skills — as examples — all are decided by the choices parents make for their children, having no certainty what any of these choices will mean to the child’s adult life.

Nutritionists argue that the eating choices parents present children from early childhood will determine the child’s lifetime fat-cell growth and retention, and whether that child will grow up to be obese and subject to diseases ranging from heart disease to diabetes to cancer may depend on whether the child spends time indoors with a Playstation or outside with monkey bars and a bicycle. Of course Playstations don’t usually lead to broken bones.

And what of the bedtime fairy tales that a generation of women say programmed them to look for their princes instead of looking for a man who can change diapers while she’s busy arguing before the Supreme Court?

Exposure to household objects may result in allergies; inoculation against common childhood diseases may have lifetime physiological effects with respect to disease susceptibilities.

All these irreversible lifetime decisions are made by parents for their children. Should a male circumcision be classified with never allowing bacon on the breakfast table, or with making a girl a female eunuch?

As a libertarian, I do not believe these decisions can be made except by rational moral actors willing to be held accountable for their actions. Invading the sovereignty of a parent’s custody of their child is as extreme a decision as deciding on a capital punishment. It can’t be capricious or based on what’s trendy.

I’ve been asked whether I would remove a girl from her family to prevent the operation where her clitoris is cut off. I answered twofold:

1. If I intervened to rescue a child from what I regarded as a criminal parent, I would regard it as taking on a Life Obligation for the welfare of that child.

2. In the case of someone old enough to ask to be rescued from violent harm, I would take the same action I would take if a slave asked me for help escaping from a plantation: I would become a station on an underground railroad.

But I certainly would not place my ass, and my immortal soul, on the line to stop a Jewish or Muslim family from cutting the foreskin off their son. I’ve lived quite happily with a circumcised penis for quite a few years, have no unpleasant memories of being circumcised, and have no resentment against a mohel sucking my baby dick.

Get some fucking perspective.

Author’s Note June 21, 2011: To correct a possible misreading of intent, I have changed the line reading “To have natural rights, one must be a rational moral actor with mens rea to be held accountable for the consequences of one’s chosen actions” to: “To have natural rights, one must be a rational moral actor with the capacity for mens rea to be held accountable for the consequences of one’s chosen actions.”

Additional info:

Perhaps the most balanced of the cases against male circumcision was made by Penn & Teller on their HBO Show, Bullshit:

Part I

Part II

I’ve used a number of soundbytes in my Facebook posts, both as serious arguments and as satirical jibes.

Here are a few:

To “Newer Libertarians” who use the Non Aggression Principle to stop circumcisions of baby boys because their parents’ are “mutilating their genitals” and acting without the infant’s consent. Where’s your contract with the infant that gives you agency to act? What’s the source of your standing? Why should anyone give a damn what your opinion is since you’re nothing but an opinionated busybody?

Let’s get some real teeth into this debate. The City of San Francisco is about to vote on outlawing Islam!

So where Matthew Hess’s comic book supporting a national ban on childhood tonsillectomies? Where’s Tonsil Man? Oh, wait. Tonsillectomy isn’t a Jewish thing. Never mind.

“We must do X to protect children from their criminal parents!” is an evergreen statist trick to attack liberty, libertarianism, and libertarians.

Those who say they’re all for freedom, privacy, and individual conscience, “but …” invariably spend all their time and effort on the “But.”

If male infant circumcision really were the genital mutilation and life-trauma producing sexual assault the proponents of the San Francisco circumcision ban allege, where are the late-night ads from law firms seeking circumcised men as class-action clients, they way they do for Mesothelioma, Reglin, and Avandia?

So now we have an entire campaign of offensive assholes who feel free to tell circumcised men that their penises are mutilated. We definitely have to bring back dueling.

The following are considered not mutilation, but body decoration and sexual enhancers, in the City of San Francisco: earlobe piercing, eyebrow piercing, nasal piercing, nipple piercing, navel piercing, penile piercing, labial piercing, and tattooing every available square centimeter of skin. And then I’m supposed to regard removing a foreskin as some sort of crime against nature? Please.

Anyone ever look at a dildo? They have extra bumps on them to increase stimulation. The circumcised penis is more like a dildo with its raised ring of skin than an uncircumcised penis.

Free speech gives you the absolute right to tell a Hell’s Angel in a biker bar that you think his circumcised penis is mutilated. Please make arrangements for your executor to publish the results.

It’s okay! I forgot to mention. Circumcisions are gluten-free!

I haven’t yet decided whether the anti-circumcisionist movement is mostly theocrats, technocrats, or promulgators of junk science. What I am certain of is this: forcing your opinion on parents by “protecting” their children from their own family traditions is tyrannical, and the opposite of libertarianism.

My direct experience with my penis is direct scientific evidence that trumps some quack’s theories.

He evidently tells his barber to amputate his hair and his manicurist to amputate his fingernails.

Some of my longer Facebook comments:

I consider the left’s taking up the rhetoric of the social conservatives “Right to Life” crusade by placing a circumcision ban on the San Francisco ballot is perhaps the most dangerous indication of social madness I’ve seen in a long time. This has to be — excuse me — snipped in the bud. The effect of this ban is a direct attack on both Jews and Muslims. The Foreskin Man comic book drawn by the author of this proposition, Matthew Hess, is directly anti-Semitic. The charge that a circumcised penis is “mutilated” is personally offensive to any circumcised man, including me. The attempt to invade the decision-making of parents with respect to their children for such a marginal and lifetime-benign practice is reminiscent of Huxley’s Brave New World, and the overblown and hysterical rhetoric about genital mutilation and sexual assault is Nazi and Stalinist in its Big Lie.

I have never had a son and have never circumcised nor authorized the circumcision of anybody. Nor do I have an esthetic defense of circumcision beyond informing anyone who calls my own circumcised penis “mutilated” that their opinion is both offensive and intrusive. Nor have I ever said I would circumcise a son if I had one.

My entire case is a simple libertarian one. Unless you are willing to take on a Life Obligation to rescue a baby from the “sexual assault” and “genital mutilation” authorized by a baby’s parents or legal guardians, you are free to flap your jaw about your scientific conjectures, ethical objections, and esthetic opinions till the cows come home, but neither as a private person unwilling to take on that Life Obligation, nor as a statist, do you have the standing or moral agency to interfere.

The question of whether the circumcision of a male infant is either needless or violent is not yours to make unless you’re willing to take on a Life Obligation for the child.

The defense is in the hands of their parents or other guardian until that age when they are able and willing to take on their own liabilities for their actions, have the mens rea to qualify as moral actors, the willngness not to be dependent on others for their well-bring, and the ability to take charge of the defense of their own rights.

That being said, you are free to take on the Chinese Life Responsibility for any child you regard as being a victim of a crime committed by their parents. But you are not entitled to impose your opinion of what is good for someone else’s child while remaining immune to taking full responsibility for your intervention.

You are free to rescue any child from crimes against them by their parent or legal guardian; but in doing so you assume a Chinese life responsibility for the welfare of the child you rescue.

On a libertarian view, only individuals who are self-responsible get to decide. In Robert A. Heinlein’s novel, The Star Beast, children who think their parents are bad guardians get to sue for divorce, and be given to alternate guardians. In my novel, The Rainbow Cadenza, I have a 12-year-old girl emancipate herself. But the idea that outsiders who assume no personal responsibility get to impose their own “scientific” opinions on others is not libertarian in theory or practice.

An infant’s inalienable rights are held in trust by their parents until that moment they are capable of claiming emancipation, assuming their own legal liabilities, moral accountability, and self-responsibility.

Infants are the responsibility of their parents. They do not get to decide for themselves. That’s what in loco parentis means. The arrogance that an outsider may impose their own religious views, junk science, and esthetics on other families is the opposite of libertarianism. It is somewhere between theocracy and technocracy in its self-aggrandizing imposition of one’s own worldview on others who disagree.

I regard any interference between a parent and their child to be a Chinese obligation that you don’t start unless you’re willing to take full lifetime responsibility for the “victim” you’re rescuing. I’m not willing to invade another family, religion, or culture to make my moral code superior to theirs; I will defend myself, my family, and my culture from their imperialistic attempts; and if if a victim is capable of reaching out and asking to be rescued, I’d be willing to be a station on an underground railroad.

1) There are no natural rights without moral accountability

2) Children have no moral accountability therefore they have no natural rights.

3) Because children have no natural rights, nature gives them protectors instead to make decisions in their stead.

4) The protectors decide what is good for the children they protect in the stead of the children deciding.

5) If some other person decides a child’s current protector is doing bad to them, or failing to protect, that other person must replace the child as protector.

6) Declining to replace the protector is a disqualification for having any authority to act on behalf of the child

7) When a child reaches an age of reason and independence, the child transitions to adult rights and accountability.

The proposition I’m putting forward in Premise 5 is not a natural right or legal sanction to act. It is a minimum accountability and responsibility if one does act. How one gains custody of the “abused” child differs between a statist and state-free context. In both cases one could attain custody of the child with the knowledge and consent of the parent. In the statist context there would be those with government-issued standing to take custody. In a stateless context, where there is no imperial custodial authority above the parent or other family members, one acts on one’s own risk, with the possible consequence of violent retaliation.

As a consequence of Premises 1-4, the decision to circumcise a child for any reason is within the authority of the protector. No moral, medical, scientific, religious, or utilitarian justification to a third party is required. It is entirely a subjective-value choice made by the protector with respect to the child in the protector’s care and custody.

This isn’t the only case where human beings wish to remove decision-making authority from other human beings and substitute their decisions and value-judgments by force. The case of parental authority is one sub-case of the general problem of natural rights, which includes other aggressive memes such as “You can’t do anything which is bad for you by my standards”; “you can’t believe things which I deem harmful”; “you can’t possess things that I prohibit …” and so forth. It is the general problem of a spectrum between authoritarian hegemony (which can be as localized as a family, tribe, or a condo/home owner’s association, even before you get to government) and totalitarian hegemony.

There are indeed acts which a parent or other adult in authority can do to a child that are unconscionable: rape, punishment that results in ER visits; terrorizing a child; pre-frontal lobotomy; electroshock treatments; poisoning — and yes, even genuine mutilation of the child’s body, in which I would include peotomy, castration, and amputation of limbs, sensory organs, or genitals.

My penis has perfect sensitivity for my purposes. QED. Direct evidence trumps scientific theory any day of the week.

If infant male circumcision actually rose to the level of these real crimes Jon might have made a reasonable legal, medical, scientific, or moral case. What he presents as evidence instead is marginal, statistical, theoretical, and bigoted objections, which are on par with the junk science cases for global warming, third-hand smoke, overpopulation, peak oil, the dangers of gluten to the non-allergic, etc.

In the specific case of circumcision there is the solid, empirical counter-case of millions upon millions of men whose circumcisions have not in any way diminished the pleasurable, reproductive, and urinary uses of their penis, nor led to any evidence of greater susceptibility to diseases including urinary tract infections, venereal diseases, prostate dysfunction or cancer, etc.

See also previous articles:

Who Has Rights?

Are Social Conservatives as Orwellian as the Left?

The Left’s Right to Life

Cartoon by J. Neil Schulman and Baloo

Punxsutawney Mohel
Punxsutawney Mohel

Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available as a DVD on and for sale or rental on Instant Video. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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