Editor’s Note: I opened the newspaper to see a group of guys so indignant about circumcision that would be willing to drive around the Northeast, and, more seriously, ruin perfectly good pairs of white pants. Hard to figure why they’d consider this worth the trouble, but there’s no way to explain human nature.


Collecting Tips

 

There’s plenty to worry about in 2018 — rising sea levels, rampant wildfires and nuclear proliferation, as well as the recent resurgence of American fascism and racism, and trillion-dollar deficit spending. Yet, instead, we fret endlessly about the trivial — from kneeling football players and who should be allowed to use which bathroom to the Omarosa tapes and who should be forced to bake wedding cakes for whom.

Stamford recently experienced its own frivolity attack when the group Bloodstained Men passed through town on one leg of its three-week tour to publicize opposition to circumcision. Dressed in white outfits and cowboy hats, with red splotches strategically adorning their crotches, the protesters presented a striking visual. As part of a larger group that calls itself “Intactivists,” they oppose clipping babies without their consent.

The infants’ rights aspect of this debate is, at best, silly. Parents routinely make medical decisions for their children, as well as subject them to religious rituals from baptism to bris. The latter may be painful for babies, but none of us remembers it, so how traumatic is it? It’s like a Jewish variation of a Zen-like question: “If a foreskin falls in the synagogue, and no one recalls it, does it cause any pain?” (Philosophical debates involving a mohel may be too arcane for the op-ed page.)

Contrary to arguments often proffered by the Intactivists, this practice has nothing in common with the misnamed “female circumcisions” performed on African/Muslim girls. That cruel form of genital mutilation is mandated by religious fanatics and other misogynists to prevent women from enjoying sex. Based on my own, admittedly unscientific research, male circumcision slightly increases a woman’s enjoyment of sex, by making male genitalia marginally less unattractive.

The Intactivists concede that eliminating a 5,000-year-old tradition may be a hard sell. Circumcision was practiced in ancient Egypt, and the patriarch Abraham was reputedly trimmed at 99 years old. In addition to its mandate from Yahweh, it played a role in one of the Hebrews’ earliest military triumphs. In Genesis 34:24, they manipulated the men of Shechem into being circumcised. Then, while the men were still “sore,” the Hebrews attacked, killing all the males, plundering the city, and enslaving its women and children.  

Jews and Muslims consider circumcision a required rite, as do many Bible-believing Christians. In the New Testament, St. Paul expends large amounts of papyrus discussing whether circumcision is a prerequisite for salvation. Although Paul came down on the side of foreskin retention, 71% of American males have undergone the procedure.

A YouGov poll reports that 86% of circumcised American adults are happy they were snipped, and only 10% wish that they hadn’t been. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the benefits of the procedure outweigh the downside; however, the AAP does not recommend the practice for all infants, preferring to leave that choice to the parents — precisely the option the Bloodstained Men want to end.

Intactivists cite as disadvantages reduced sensitivity during sex, the risk of post-operative infection and its painfulness (as well as the fact they consider it unnecessary). However, the upside is significant: decreased rates of urinary tract infections, reduced risk of sexually transmitted diseases, and protection against penile cancer, along with reduced risk of cervical cancer in female partners.

Regardless, the whole circumcision “controversy” seems like much ado about nothing, and groups like the Bloodstained Men may be just having fun with it. However, I also thought that about the Flat Earthers, until I discovered how seriously those conspiracy nuts take themselves and the anti-scientific nonsense they spout. Meanwhile, “9/11 Truthers” still insist the Bush family destroyed the Twin Towers, and there are celebrity medical “experts” who believe doctors give vaccinations despite knowing they cause autism. And don’t even get me started on the Scientologists.

Here in the Trump Era swamp, whatever the Right doesn’t like is “fake news,” put out by enemies of the people (i.e., a free press). Modern science (e.g., climate change, the Big Bang and evolution) is considered a plot foisted on decent Americans by atheists in lab coats. At the same time, rabid Trump cultists continue to rant about the Deep State, a fictitious entity invented by our fabulist-in-chief and taken as gospel by his sheep.

As America circles the drain, many of us may be going out of our way to distract ourselves, looking for frivolous things to get upset about. For example, I’m annoyed about being fined roughly $100 for driving without fastening my seat belt. I realize not wearing it is dumb, but it’s none of the state’s business, and they shouldn’t look to profit from my carelessness. Still, I don’t quite feel strongly enough about it to protest this injustice by driving around New England in a faux-blood-spattered seat belt.  

Although I enjoy distractions as much as the next guy, I can’t get too worked up about circumcision as a cause. In truth, I’m actually in favor of it, for no other reason than, having spent time in men’s locker rooms, I consider the result to be aesthetically somewhat less unsightly than the alternative.

Besides, we could all use a good laugh these days, and this procedure is at the heart of one of my all-time favorite Saturday Night Live one-liners. To paraphrase SNL alum and former senator from Minnesota, Al Franken, “The mohel at the bris doesn’t charge for his services … he just takes tips.”


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