Incisive decison about circumcision
June 27, 2012 4:31 PM   Subscribe

Can we please not have any more circumcision posts inspired by current affairs? They never go well and I can't imagine anyone will bother reading the thread after it closes.
posted by Joe in Australia to MetaFilter-Related at 4:31 PM (217 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Surprisingly, that one is going decently once people got all the HURF DURF SKY MONSTER BABY MUTILATION out of their system. I'm happy to never have another circumcision thread again, personally, but that one is only a middling example of one gone badly.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:33 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


It went a lot better than I expected it to, although I am getting better at avoiding ragemaking stuff so maybe I missed a lot of douchebaggery that has since been smote dead.
posted by elizardbits at 4:35 PM on June 27, 2012


It does seem weird to post this after all the poison has been drained and the thread has become a pleasant and productive discussion. I hope any drama here doesn't spill over into the main thread.
posted by gilrain at 4:39 PM on June 27, 2012


No, I am sure we will get it sorted out this time.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:41 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't know why I even started posting in that thread, but it's sucked me in. Sorry.
posted by Jehan at 4:42 PM on June 27, 2012


No.

Just because a topic raises the possibility of contention doesn't mean that we should never be able to discuss it, ever.
posted by double block and bleed at 4:43 PM on June 27, 2012 [40 favorites]


This is one case I'm glad I'm not a mod. I know I had little to no chance of being able to read and participate in the thread, so I didn't. But if it's going okay so far and this MeTa post isn't about any particular problem, maybe wait until there is a problem?
posted by skynxnex at 4:44 PM on June 27, 2012


Honestly, I'd be fine if you cut them short.
posted by found missing at 4:51 PM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


skynxnex: But if it's going okay so far and this MeTa post isn't about any particular problem, maybe wait until there is a problem?

It was pretty ugly for a bit there. Then, the principle firebrands seemed to leave and everything returned to normal.
posted by gilrain at 4:53 PM on June 27, 2012


Did you read all the way to the end? It's been an interesting conversation once people calmed down. In fact, you might consider weighing in on the religious aspects being discussed. Bet you're more knowledgeable than me.

I sympathize. The beginning of the thread was nasty. But it got better.
posted by zarq at 4:54 PM on June 27, 2012


A former co-worker once told me he and his wife were discussing whether to circumcise their expected baby boy. I said, "I know some people are virulently anti-circumcision, but I don't think it's all that cut and dried."
posted by orange swan at 4:55 PM on June 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


Well, I'm not gonna make any threads about circumcision, myself, but I don't mind if other people do.
posted by Greg Nog at 4:55 PM on June 27, 2012


I gotta admit, I took a deep breath when I saw that FPP and clicked inside, and at the point where I commented it was in full-on Bible Maelstrom mode. Glad to hear things have simmered down, and hopefully that'll be a sign of things to come where contentious subjects are concerned.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:58 PM on June 27, 2012


Also I have to say I do appreciate the people who are able to just sort of skip the occasional weird jerkish comment and have the conversation they want to have. Makes the place a whole lot better.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:59 PM on June 27, 2012 [18 favorites]


It's still not about the specifics of this case, but is instead a generalized forum on circumcision, despite cortex requesting otherwise.

I am not convinced we need to rehash an identical argument every single time circumcision enters the news. I think this is a subject that reasonable adults can disagree on, but that's not typically how it plays out on MeFi, and I don't know that the function of this site is so that pro-circumcision people people can convince people of their position, or vice versa.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:00 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


And, honestly, all sorts of "your crazy sky god is asking you to mutilate your child" comments are still showing up. It alienated me out of the thread tout sweet, and I don't expect I am the only one, the I actually wanted to talk and find out more about the specifics of this case.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:03 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


There actually are a lot of more-or-less unpleasant comments. But my point is that these threads are bad in themselves and should be blocked on principle, not just when they get vitriolic. They're not informative, because the same arguments appear each time; and they're not of lasting value, because the links just go to breaking news. Look, here's a template:

News! A baby was hurt.

Poster 1: I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU ARE GUYS ARE CHOPPING UP INNOCENT CHILDREN

Poster 2: WHAT IS IT YOU SAY YOU WANT TO FINISH WHAT HITLER STARTED

Poster 3: GUYS CHECK OUT THE SENSUOUS SLIPPERINESS OF MY SCEPTRE

Poster 4: MINE IS PERFECTLY ADEQUATE IF YOU KNOW WHAT I'M SAYING

Poster 5: I AM A WOMAN AND I EITHER APPROVE OR DISAPPROVE

Poster 6: HEY CUT IT OUT GET IT

Lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:03 PM on June 27, 2012 [17 favorites]


There are very few topics which we ban on principle. There are often requests to "make a better post about this topic" and this post was ... a decent post that people decided to behave poorly in. We're happy to be a little stricter about what posts about circumcision are okay but there aren't any blanket topic bans here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:08 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


If you find the thread unpleasant, maybe staying out of makes more sense than trying to make it disallowed for people who find it interesting.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:08 PM on June 27, 2012 [32 favorites]


People will discuss and learn. That thread is not an echo chamber.
posted by zarq at 5:09 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I can't imagine anyone will bother reading the thread after it closes.

Sometimes, when bored, I read through old threads, looking for ones that have large numbers of comments (for the time period). I don't watch soap operas, but I understand people who do.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:10 PM on June 27, 2012 [22 favorites]


I'm not sure if circumcision is a topic that MetaFilter will ever do well, but I do know that the linked FPP is a discussion I am much happier to not have appearing in my "recent activity" page. The hurf durf sky wizard shit is the worst, but I'm sure that there is plenty to go around.
posted by Forktine at 5:11 PM on June 27, 2012


I'm glad to read it turned out better as it progressed, but to the general issue: I hung in there for a few dozen comments then stopped reading. I don't know how it is I've missed one of these before, but I know I said, "Oh ... of course" aloud by the time I'd made it to the 20th, and pretty much knew upon closing the tab that it's not a topic I hope will reappear here.

Now I'm paused and wondering if what I have to say next will come off as detached voyeurism — a sign that I'm not adequately engaged as a community member or whatever — but what the heck:

I don't care if the topic does come up again, because now I know to avoid it. Barring someone doing some sort of crazy circumcision rickroll with a stunt FPP, it's on my internal "does not do well" list. I've got a few friends like that, too. You let them sort of work through their spell, then take them bowling or buy them an ice cream and get them talking about whether that Brave girl is a lesbian or not.

On preview, there's what Greg Nog said, too.
posted by mph at 5:13 PM on June 27, 2012


I am not convinced we need to rehash an identical argument every single time circumcision enters the news.

The thread is not exactly my cup of tea and the arguments were definitely rote, I agree, but you must admit Bunny that there are numerous other threads and topics that feature the same kind of reprisals every time they are posted, by and large (copyright threads leap to mind, sexual harrassment threads in some respects, also).

In this respect, I think the threads are not about what anyone "needs". If the community is capable of managing the discussion civilly (which I think they largely are in that thread by now), then I don't really see a cogent case for banning them.
posted by smoke at 5:13 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, looks like my comment on that post was deleted. Freedom from religion is such a contentious concept...
posted by Estraven at 5:18 PM on June 27, 2012


Can we please not have any more circumcision posts inspired by current affairs?

So you want to cut off discussion, is that it?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:20 PM on June 27, 2012


I am not convinced we need to rehash an identical argument every single time circumcision enters the news.

Well, and that's the tricky thing because in principle there's situation-specific stuff that could totally make for interesting new discussion—the specific context of and reasoning behind and possible sociopolitical effects of what's just happened in Germany could make for interesting conversation, and there's some of that in the thread.

The problem is more that, yeah, the same old stuff doesn't need to be talked into the ground. And we don't believe the solution to that is to ban the topic, but it would certainly be great if folks would make the effort at an individual and collective level to decline to get into that Here We Go Again loop and to stick the actual Here's Something New To Discuss territory.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:24 PM on June 27, 2012


I just waded in for two seconds and saw this. That shit is fucked up.
posted by gman at 5:24 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's going just like any other thread about tipping.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:27 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am sad that the phrase "being female, I have no cock in this fight" did not occur to me until just now.
posted by elizardbits at 5:29 PM on June 27, 2012 [36 favorites]


I am not convinced we need to rehash an identical argument every single time circumcision enters the news.

"We" changes, though. It seems sort of weird to hear "oh man we should not talk about this on MeFi it's just going to be the same shitty shit as last time" when one wasn't around "last time". The fact is that a new and apparently "best of web" thing happened in the world, and raised an issue that people want to discuss, and are, of their own volition, discussing. That's it's been discussed before is therefore neither here nor there, right?
posted by kengraham at 5:33 PM on June 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


In this respect, I think the threads are not about what anyone "needs". If the community is capable of managing the discussion civilly (which I think they largely are in that thread by now), then I don't really see a cogent case for banning them.

I am not sure that's an example of civility. It's an example of a very few members deciding to have a civil discussion while dozens of other members pop in with uncivil potshots.

We do actually regularly delete discussion about, say, sexism or Israel or a religious person did something idiotic. The bar has to be pretty high for these sorts of things to get through. I think it can be higher for circumcision threads. Because, believe it or not, Jews -- even atheist Jews whose identification with Judaism is cultural, like me -- are also capable of being alienated when their cultural traditions, made by their parents, who are presumably reasonable and, like parents in general, are entitled to the assumption that they make their decisions with the best interests of their child in mind, are characterized as harmful, supersitious, mutilators, barbaric, and irrational -- and on a subject about which there is no consensus, morally, culturally, or medically.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:35 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would argue that's an issue with comments rather than thread, per se.
posted by smoke at 5:41 PM on June 27, 2012


I think it can be higher for circumcision threads. Because, believe it or not, Jews

Whoa, there, Bunny... if the mods do decide to raise the bar for circumcision threads, I really hope (and expect) that it will be for the sake of the community and goals of the site, not because a specific religious group might take offense.
posted by gilrain at 5:41 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do you really think that calling for respectful discussion on this subject only concerns Jews?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:44 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bunny Ultramod: Do you really think that calling for respectful discussion on this subject only concerns Jews?

Not at all, and I don't even disagree with raising the bar for circumcision threads. You seemed to be arguing that we should limit circumcision threads specifically because they offend Jewish people. Maybe I read you badly?
posted by gilrain at 5:46 PM on June 27, 2012


Do you really think that calling for respectful discussion on this subject only concerns Jews?

Much of what you linked to just now was pretty civil, I would have thought. Is, for example, the sentiment "just because it's traditional doesn't make it OK" offensive or not civil?
posted by kengraham at 5:51 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


So you want to cut off discussion, is that it? -- Maybe the mods can nip them in the bud.
posted by crunchland at 5:51 PM on June 27, 2012


Is, for example, the sentiment "just because it's traditional doesn't make it OK" offensive or not civil?

Instead of paraphrasing, perhaps try the original quote, which includes this phrase:

It doesn't mean it's not barbaric,

That's a pretty damning statement, and hardly a civil one. Trust me, accusing a minority population of barbarism does not have a history that is linked to civility.

I had not thought you would have to be a Jew or a Muslim to think that maybe we shouldn't throw around phrases like "barbaric" in describing our cultural practices -- about which, again, their is no unviersal consensus.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:55 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is, for example, the sentiment "just because it's traditional doesn't make it OK" offensive or not civil?

Clearly, the idea that the people holding the traditional belief might be doing something not OK by civilized standards is almost universally offensive to the traditionalists in question. You'd be amazed at some of the stuff that was said about abolishing slavery back in the day...
posted by Estraven at 5:57 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I may have misheard you. Are you calling Jews uncivilized because they engage in a culturally sanctioned practice that is legal and has a body of scientific literature behind it to suggest it is beneficial? Are you comparing a defining cultural practice of two religions, which, you'll note, most male Jews support, despite it being done to them, to the practice of human chattel?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:02 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


I guess I'm glad there's a meta because I wanted to respond to cortex's suggestion to maybe focus on the new context (which I agree is politically interesting but I don't feel personally qualified to comment on intelligently) rather than rehash an old conversation. My objection to that suggestion is that the old conversation (namely, is circumcision harmful or not) is absolutely central to both the German court ruling (which says it is) and many of the religious objections to the ruling (which say it's not). Even though it may seem pointless to revisit a seemingly deadlocked controversy, that controversy is (perhaps) the chief reason the new and interesting context even exists, and deserves to have at least *some* place in the conversation.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 6:04 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


maybe we shouldn't throw around phrases like "barbaric" in describing our cultural practices

So...how does one describe the stoning of GLBT people in the middle east? Or gang raping a girl because one of her family members committed a "crime" against religion? What about outright genocide? (Or is the word "genocide" itself too barbaric to palate?)

The tempting simplicity of cultural relativism can only take you so far.
posted by Estraven at 6:05 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


So...how does one describe the stoning of GLBT people in the middle east? Or gang raping a girl because one of her family members committed a "crime" against religion? What about outright genocide? (Or is the word "genocide" itself too barbaric to palate?)

You cannot simply point to stuff that we mutually agree is evil and say that it is exactly like circumcision. These are exceptionally bad parallels, and, if you are going to make them, actually make them, instead of saying "Hey, there is something else in the world that is terrible so why should we be civil about this?"
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:06 PM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


How can we hope to come to moral and cultural consensus if expressing the opinion that cultural traditions (even ones that involve cutting bits of people's bodies off without asking) are harmful is considered too disrespectful? Serious question. My opinion about "superstitious", "mutilators", "barbaric", and "irrational" would be: that kind of sucks, because I don't suppose they're nice to hear, but they're still proper words with meanings, not just random insults (well, "barbaric" is probably in between), and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect people to be able to argue with them rather than stop them from appearing here - whether after they're said, by deletion, or before, by pressure.

I know we've recently decided analogies are useless, but if anybody can think of similarly unacceptable yet contentful words about other issues, I'd actually appreciate that, because I have some sympathy for people who feel attacked, but can't get my head around why this it should be an actual wrong to attack something that's as clearly defined and whose reasons, effects and potential effects are as knowable as those of this particular practice.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 6:09 PM on June 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


My opinion about "superstitious", "mutilators", "barbaric", and "irrational" would be: that kind of sucks, because I don't suppose they're nice to hear, but they're still proper words with meanings, not just random insults (well, "barbaric" is probably in between), and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect people to be able to argue with them rather than stop them from appearing here - whether after they're said, by deletion, or before, by pressure.

Just because you agree with them does not make them the right words for the job. They are words of moral censure. In agreeing to discuss, and not simply bully each other, we typically agree to morally neutral language -- that way one side must not defend itself against the immorality implied in the language every time they talk. This is far from it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:12 PM on June 27, 2012


You cannot simply point to stuff that we mutually agree is evil

You may feel that it is evil, but the people who do those things do not, or else they would not do them. Like circumcision, these are also historical traditions that are deemed just according to their own religion's code of ethics and divine decree. I'm sure they would be very offended to hear you describe it as "evil" and "terrible."

Why do you not extend the same respect to their cultural practices that you demand for your own...? (And is this not, in your very own words, an example of "bullying"?)
posted by Estraven at 6:16 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


phrases like "barbaric" in describing our cultural practices about which, again, their is no unviersal consensus.

It's perfectly possible to have strong ethical objections to a practice (even finding it "barbaric") without having any feeling one way or the other about its source culture and without any negative feelings about the practitioners. People are certainly entitled to respect, but cultural traditions certainly aren't. They're subject to the same criticism as any other type of idea or behaviour. If someone is criticising a practice without directing offensive speech at any particular individual, then it's sort of uncharitable to accuse that person of incivility.

This is sort of like "loving the sinner and hating the sin", to quote a cultural tradition that is eminently worthy of criticism but whose adherents are entitled to the same amount of respect* as everyone else.

*But not special extra respect that requires us to avoid criticizing their beliefs just because they happen to be "traditional".
posted by kengraham at 6:16 PM on June 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


You may feel that it is evil, but the people who do those things do not, or else they would not do them.

But you haven't made a case that circumcision is evil.

*But not special extra respect that requires us to avoid criticizing their beliefs just because they happen to be "traditional".

Nobody say anything about not criticizing the practice. Criticize all you like. But "barbaric" is not a criticism -- it has no content, except to identify something you disagree with as being uncivilized and cruel. That's like saying calling somebody an idiot is a criticism -- it isn't, it's just a condemnation.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:21 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I actually do agree with that, Bunny. I'm on the opposite side of the debate from you, but I wouldn't use those words. They're words used to shame someone, not words used to convince. If you argue your side of a debate using those words, then you disrespect your own position by implying it's not strong enough to stand on its own without the crutch shock words.
posted by gilrain at 6:21 PM on June 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


Thank you.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:21 PM on June 27, 2012


But you haven't made a case that circumcision is evil.

You are missing the point.
posted by Estraven at 6:25 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


it has no content, except to identify something you disagree with as being uncivilized and cruel.

But to claim that a practice is uncivilized or cruel is a substantive criticism.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 6:26 PM on June 27, 2012


It isn't. Let me demonstrate:

Your comment was barbaric.

You see. No substance there. Just saying something is bad is not criticism, it is moralizing. It becomes substantive when you actually support your case. And if you can support your case, you need not use weighted words of moral censure. The support will do the work for you.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:29 PM on June 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


I've been here a long time and I have yet to see a circumcision thread that didn't bring the weird out of the woodwork.

Carry on.
posted by jonmc at 6:30 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


> bring the weird out of the woodwork.

Best euphemism for cutting.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:33 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll point out, also, that I agree that it's not wise to use such words.

I'm just saying that a certain thickness of skin is desirable in a discussion, as long as nobody is individually being attacked, so that every discussion doesn't just devolve immediately into meta-meta-MeTa about who can say what.

Being offended is in fact an emotional response, to which anyone is entitled. Being outraged about some practice is also a valid emotional response. Since people experiencing outrage or offense are likely to condemn or speak hyperbolically, sometimes, it seems sort of prudent to hold off on the red cards until someone says something really egregious.

Also, condemnation of a practice is valid in the same way that criticism is. Condemnation of a person is not.
posted by kengraham at 6:33 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


The barrier to entry in that thread was too steep by the time I found it. It was up to 250 comments, and the first 30 comments or so just made me angry. I realized that I shouldn't come to MF and let posts like that stress me out, so instead I went trolling for Portugal fans.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:33 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a tough, tough topic for me; I can't really make up my mind on whether or not circumcision should be outlawed. For years I was neutral on the idea of circumcision (first husband uncut; second husband cut; no sons) and was fine with allowing parents to make that decision. But lately it's become equal in my mind with female mutilation and that tips the scales for me. Still, I'm not completely comfortable with the idea of the state (especially not Germany) telling Jewish people that they must end their millenniums-old practice.

In other words, I am open to reading and processing what other people think about this topic.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:37 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I went trolling for Portugal fans.

I am already preemptively trolling for Germany fans.
posted by elizardbits at 6:40 PM on June 27, 2012


I'm just saying that a certain thickness of skin is desirable in a discussion,

Well, let me address this very quickly: Keep in mind that Jews and Muslims are historically an oppressed minority, and, in parts of the world, still are. And keep in mind that from their perspective, this is the country responsible for the Jews near-genocide outlawing a defining cultural practice that neither Jews nor Muslims in any large number have asked to be outlawed, and a practice that, in Germany, affects only them.

You may disagree with circumcision. And that's valid. You may have an excellent critique of it. But, in this context, it is not unreasonable to ask that the critique be made with a degree of sensitivity to the context, and not simply complain that Jews aren't thick-skinned enough. We try to be, but but it's not too much to ask for a little sensitivity in exchange.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:40 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


I just waded in for two seconds and saw this. That shit is fucked up.

Some 50 people seem to agree with you in supporting a comment a bit further down - I have to ask why? What is "fucked up" about being disconcerted when a country with a history that includes some of the most atrocious anti-semitic activity ever recorded does something that could be read as nationally anti-semitic? Can you really not see why a concern over respect would arise here?
posted by mdn at 6:43 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


What about the following?

"It is cruel to curtail various human freedoms (freedom of thought, freedom from pain that is preventable and unnecessary, etc.) in the absence of some pressing need. It is particularly cruel to curtail these freedoms by preemptively stunting their full development (in the case of religious indoctrination of children and freedom of thought/belief) or when the person whose freedom is affected is unable to defend that freedom (in the case of body modification performed on children). The propagation of a particular set of cultural traditions does not constitute a pressing need; indeed, a large number of people are apparently doing just fine without those traditions, and we're all doing okay in the absence of numerous extinct traditions. Therefore, the involvement of children in religious rituals, especially those that have a permanent effect on bodily integrity, is cruel."

Am I allowed to say that without being accused of incivility, or do I only get to use premises that represent some "consensus"?
posted by kengraham at 6:43 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm not comfortable with Germany legislating Jewish and Muslim religious rituals. On the other hand, there are valid points to be made about the wisdom and justice of performing elective surgeries on infants.

I think there are contexts in which this discussion can happen fruitfully. I don't think an Internet forum, even one like this with a high percentage of good-faith debaters and strong moderation policies, is likely to be that place, just because this format lends itself more easily to talking than to listening.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:45 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Am I allowed to say that without being accused of incivility, or do I only get to use premises that represent some "consensus"?

Out of curiosity, is that actually your case, or did you write that in order to be sarcastic to me?

If it's actually your case, take it to the thread. I suggest it will go a lot better than accusations of barbarism.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:48 PM on June 27, 2012


country responsible

Sorry, you lost me: countries are not responsible for things, not matter how terrible. People and governments are. Current Germans (except for a very few), and the current German government, are not responsible for any genocide. A priori, a random German is no more or less likely to be a genocidal maniac than anyone else, and that there is residual Germanic Panic is unfortunate. We can appreciate deep historical wrongs without dragging in people who are completely and utterly uninvolved.

Frankly, I'm glad and amazed that the thread in question wasn't more heavily Godwinned than it was.
posted by kengraham at 6:49 PM on June 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


Out of curiosity, is that actually your case, or did you write that in order to be sarcastic to me?

No sarcasm intended. It's a version of my case which is too extreme for me to actually believe. Some nuance was removed in order to make the question about what is and isn't civil clearer and avoid confusing our meta-discussion with too much actual discussion.
posted by kengraham at 6:52 PM on June 27, 2012


Well, I'm glad you can see things so diplomatically. But antisemitism was a fact of life in Europe for a thousand, and perhaps you can understand that, just 60 years after German antisemitism nearly destroyed the entirety of Europe's Jewish population, Jews may be a little less prepared to give the current population the benefit of the doubt. Especially as German, prior to World War II, was much as it is now, with a liberal population and a Jewish population that felt welcomed, protected, and part of the mainstream.

History is long. For the Jews, tolerance has historically been short.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:53 PM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's a version of my case which is too extreme for me to actually believe.

Well, try writing an actual argument, rather than one that is intended to be preposterously civil, but maintain the civility. I am not sure the point that you are trying to make, except, perhaps, that you think trying a reasoned, unmoralizing discussion is preposterous.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:55 PM on June 27, 2012


I thought you were Irish.
posted by desjardins at 6:56 PM on June 27, 2012


I am. Irish and Jewish.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:57 PM on June 27, 2012


Some 50 people seem to agree with you in supporting a comment a bit further down - I have to ask why? What is "fucked up" about being disconcerted when a country with a history that includes some of the most atrocious anti-semitic activity ever recorded does something that could be read as nationally anti-semitic? Can you really not see why a concern over respect would arise here?

Just to answer this, from my perspective:

Because I feel it shows a deep ignorance about the modern German state and its efforts to deal with the cultural legacies of WWII; it seems reflexively xenophobic and largely context-free; it subscribes to the kind of blinkered cliche that is almost a caricature of what the rest of the world thinks Americans think about other countries; it trivialises the shame and legitimate efforts of the vast majority of Germans, to step away from anything associated with Nazis and Nazism whilst at the same time ludicrously overstating the contiguity of modern, diverse Germany and Germans with events that happened nearly seventy years ago, and finally; it directly implies that anyone German with a mind to legislate on anything that remotely touches on Jewish cultural practice or Jewish people is essentially doing it because of sympathy with Nazi-like feelings, if not Nazism.
posted by smoke at 6:57 PM on June 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah, kengraham... your demonstration of too much civility seemed just right to me, as well. And may I say that the argument is far more convincing when phrased so calmly and clearly.
posted by gilrain at 6:57 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


So let's not get started on the oppression of the Hiberian people. We'll be here all night.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:58 PM on June 27, 2012


capable of being alienated when their cultural traditions, made by their parents, who are presumably reasonable and, like parents in general, are entitled to the assumption that they make their decisions with the best interests of their child in mind, are characterized as harmful, supersitious, mutilators, barbaric, and irrational -- and on a subject about which there is no consensus, morally, culturally, or medically.

I'm not sure if most people make moral decisions based on consensus as that would be tyranny of the majority. But that's not my real point.

Yes, we shouldn't be mean and call people names because they did something we disagree with, but by the same token just because they're your ancestors doesn't make them perfectly rational or always right.

I think it's a logical error to think that just because something has been done for a long time that it's a good thing to do.

In my personal view I honestly don't understand why Jewish men see this as such a cultural touchstone. If it was made completely and utterly illegal everywhere tomorrow under the penalty of death for everyone involved in a circumcision I think that the Jewish faith and culture would survive and move on. I don't see what's so inherently appealing about circumcision that it needs to be defended.

(So I hope I didn't demonize anyone there).
posted by GuyZero at 6:58 PM on June 27, 2012


Also I have to say I do appreciate the people who are able to just sort of skip the occasional weird jerkish comment and have the conversation they want to have. Makes the place a whole lot better.

I'm convinced this is the secret to metafilter happiness. Otherwise, you're going to have a pretty bad time.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:58 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


If it was made completely and utterly illegal everywhere tomorrow under the penalty of death for everyone involved in a circumcision I think that the Jewish faith and culture would survive and move on.

Yeah, en masse to another planet. You really do underestimate how much Jews don't like being told what they can and cannot do, and how central circumcision is to the Jewish identity.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:59 PM on June 27, 2012


I'll go along with Jews not liking being told what to do but honestly I think that if circumcision is in the top 5 Most Important Things in Judaism, well, then I don't know. I think Jewish culture has more important tenets, but I guess it's your religion.

("important" isn't really quite the right word - I think it has tenets with higher inherent moral value)
posted by GuyZero at 7:05 PM on June 27, 2012


Uhm, I wasn't trying to be sarcastically over-civil. I was actually trying to find the right level of civility for expressing views that I suspect some people find offensive simply by virtue of their content. The specific views chosen were a caricature/simplification/theoretical model with a lot of terms assumed to vanish, but that post was intended more as a criticism of the notion that the level of civility of a comment has anything to do with how the comment relates to "consensus" views.
posted by kengraham at 7:07 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Look, here's a template:

I said something like this a long time ago, but.

There are people who engage in discussions (online, specifically, but face to face too) to essentially have an argument. They want to 'win', they want to lay our their case, their objective is to convince other people of the rightness of their stance, and to change other people's minds.

There are people who engage in discussions to support and backfill their own beliefs, as a means of defending deeply held beliefs that they feel are being challenged.

There are people who engage in discussions to learn what others think, and possibly to learn enough new information about something and what other people think about it that they might change their own mind.

There are people who engage in discussions for the pleasure of it.

Of course, everybody's a combination of these and many more motivations, and the proportions vary from day to day, as they do for different topics.

Sadly, an awful lot of discussion on the internet tends to fall into Bucket A, particularly when it's about one of Those Topics (religion, the environment, politics, etc etc).

But there are people who do participate in discussions in good faith, who are genuinely interested in what other people have to say, who do admit of the possibility of changing their minds about something, or who are young or uninformed or whatever, and I think calling for outright moratoria on discussions on a given topic (in this case, circumcision) does a disservice to them.

Which is hopelessly optimistic and rosy-glassed, I know.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:07 PM on June 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


But antisemitism was a fact of life in Europe for a thousand, and perhaps you can understand that, just 60 years after German antisemitism nearly destroyed the entirety of Europe's Jewish population, Jews may be a little less prepared to give the current population the benefit of the doubt.

Hell, Bunny, I'm with you even though I'm not Jewish. There are a number of people in that thread who think that just because Angela Merkel is not goose-stepping down the street that we cannot possibly have any unpositive feelings about Modern Germany and should not see this as the beginning of a new wave of anti-Semitic behavior.

I don't feel like it is so unreasonable to remember what they did and hold it against them. It was 6 million people and not that long ago.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:10 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


gman: "I just waded in for two seconds and saw this. That shit is fucked up."

I didn't mention this in the thread, but it really bugs me that Germany is doing this, on a visceral, emotional level. I know intellectually, rationally that modern-day Germany is very different from the Third Reich. But man... I'm really having trouble getting past it.

smoke: "Because I feel it shows a deep ignorance about the modern German state and its efforts to deal with the cultural legacies of WWII; it seems reflexively xenophobic and largely context-free; it subscribes to the kind of blinkered cliche that is almost a caricature of what the rest of the world thinks Americans think about other countries; it trivialises the shame and legitimate efforts of the vast majority of Germans, to step away from anything associated with Nazis and Nazism whilst at the same time ludicrously overstating the contiguity of modern, diverse Germany and Germans with events that happened nearly seventy years ago, and finally; it directly implies that anyone German with a mind to legislate on anything that remotely touches on Jewish cultural practice or Jewish people is essentially doing it because of sympathy with Nazi-like feelings, if not Nazism."

70 years isn't that long ago. I'm sorry, but it's not. There are still Jews who remember what was done to us firsthand. And stories are carried down within families. My wife remembers sitting on her Grandmother's lap as a child, being shown pictures of dead family members, as her grandmother cried and told her stories about their lives.

Getting past the pain will take generations. I often decry the Jewish culture of victimization, which I think is destructive. But in all fairness the holocaust really did happen. It's effects are still being felt by Jewish families and it is still shaping Jewish (and Jewish Israeli) culture and politics. And I'll be damned if I'm going to tread on eggshells because I might bring up a verboten subject.

I'm relieved and glad that Germany is trying hard to move beyond their legacy. But I'm sorry, that really is Germany's cross to bear. And ours as well, as Jews. And yes, the parallels here are worth noting and bringing up and discussing. And there is no one better qualified to raise them than Jews. I think we've earned the right to do so fairly, and with complete understanding of historical context -- and all that's happened since the Holocaust. Especially since Germany has done its best to move past their own history. And especially since we Jews are trying to move forward from it, too.
posted by zarq at 7:12 PM on June 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


I don't feel like it is so unreasonable to remember what they did and hold it against them.

Newsflash, buddy, "they" are almost all dead now.

Honestly, if that's the level of thinking/racism people are bringing to this, maybe we should just shut the thread down.
posted by smoke at 7:13 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


zarq: "And there is no one better qualified to raise them than Jews. "

In this context, and with regard to this ruling, I mean. I did not mean to diminish anyone else's experience who might have lost people during the holocaust.
posted by zarq at 7:15 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just because you agree with them does not make them the right words for the job. They are words of moral censure.

And just because you disagree with them doesn't make them the wrong ones. I don't agree with them, by the way.

In agreeing to discuss, and not simply bully each other, we typically agree to morally neutral language -- that way one side must not defend itself against the immorality implied in the language every time they talk.

That would be valid if the question under discussion were "How high is Mount Everest?" or "Are blue eyes the prettiest?" - matters where moral concerns are either irrelevant or inappropriate. But the question "Is circumcision wrong?" is a moral one. And if people may not object to circumcision on moral grounds, then they might as well not bother. Especially if basically grounded and practical descriptive terms like "harmful" are off the table.

Your comment was barbaric.

You see. No substance there. Just saying something is bad is not criticism, it is moralizing.


Words have meaning both in isolation and in context. "Your comment was infested" describes a situation that doesn't seem quite possible, but that doesn't mean "infested" is never a meaningful or appropriate thing to call something. Which actually seems beside the point in this case, because if the person you were responding to had said "Rihanna fans should all have their eyes replaced with sharp rocks", then "That was barbaric" would be perfectly substantial as a response. The reason "Your comment was barbaric" doesn't seem that way - and the difference between that comment and circumcision - is merely that it is not obvious to anyone here how that description could apply to it.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 7:15 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


But in all fairness the holocaust really did happen.

Not disputing that at all, disputing its relevance to the discussion in that particular thread, the implication that if someone from a different country made a judgment it wouldn't be "squicky", and the idea that a) people in Germany are unaware of this context, and b) that those visceral emotions are a valid point in a discussion about whether the judgement should/shouldn't have happened. They are valid feelings, of course, but they are not a valid point.
posted by smoke at 7:16 PM on June 27, 2012


what they did

Who are "they"? Most of the "they" responsible are dead, and all of the "they" responsible are not in the German government, as far as I know. For how many generations are people to be judged on the activities of their ancestors?

(See, this is the type of comment that tends to push me toward "uncivil" territory very easily, because it reminds me that the world contains real people with views that actively fuck things up for everyone else. Maybe the "how did you choose your username?" part of our MeFi profiles should be changed to "what's the best way to push your buttons?". Confusing individual people with their passports/grandfathers is it, for me.)
posted by kengraham at 7:18 PM on June 27, 2012


zarq: I know intellectually, rationally that modern-day Germany is very different from the Third Reich. But man... I'm really having trouble getting past it.

How can this world not expect to be in a constant state of war if people hold grudges against entire countries for near seven decades?
posted by gman at 7:18 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I mean, there are more Muslims in Germany today than Jewish people, but the discussion seems to have - naturally, as more mefites are connected to Judaism in one way or another than Islam - become pretty much an exclusively Jewish-orientated discussion and debate.

So far as it pertains to Germany, it's more relevant on a numbers basis to Muslims - and Nazism is not really relevant there.
posted by smoke at 7:20 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


How can this world not expect to be in a constant state of war if people hold grudges against entire countries for near seven decades?

It's human nature. We don't forgive or forget very easily.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:21 PM on June 27, 2012


So far as it pertains to Germany, it's more relevant on a numbers basis to Muslims - and Nazism is not really relevant there.

Jews in this thread can only speak to their experiences. I would welcome a Muslim perspective.

How can this world not expect to be in a constant state of war if people hold grudges against entire countries for near seven decades?

Sometimes it takes a little while to get over the wholesale destruction of a group of people. I still know people who were in the Holocaust, and grew up with them, so it is not as far removed from the modern era as you might think.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:23 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah. I have relatives who perished in the Nazi Holocaust, and others I grew up with who escaped. But anyway, you really didn't answer my question.
posted by gman at 7:26 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


"The Scandinavians" were able to get past intergenerational feuds and recognize that beheading Lars didn't solve the problems caused by Lars's grandfather's crimes...

/hamburger
posted by kengraham at 7:28 PM on June 27, 2012


Let me also say that we still discuss America in terms of slavery. I have never owned slaves. My ancestors came here long after slavery had ceased to exist as an institution. But it has still scarred this country, and the experience of modern Americans is not divorced from our being a slaveholding country at one point. There is a system of privilege that slavery instituted that we still wrestle with.

That was 149 years ago. I do not think we can discuss modern German as though it was a place where the Holocaust happened, but is a different place now, and so why even bring it up? It's a long, long shadow, and the fact that it happened, even a half-century ago, is still something that has an effect on Germany, even if nobody who participated in it is still alive. It should not be off the table for discussion.

And the most that people have said is that it feels a little ooky that it is Germany that is outlawing a Jewish and Muslim practice. It does feel ooky. I am sure there are Germans who feel ooky about it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:28 PM on June 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


I actually don't blame Jewish people for not trusting Germany with any of this. Seventy years ago is yesterday.

Also if there are more Muslims than Jews in Germany today, that might have something to do with the fact that the Nazis managed to murder such a huge number of German Jews (This table counts Austria with Germany but puts the total at 90 percent) by the time the Holocaust was over. I don't think people realise how close they came to succeeding in their horrific mission.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 7:29 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Let me clarify: I know it isn't Germany as a whole, but just some regional judges. I will be curious to see where it goes from here.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:29 PM on June 27, 2012


Why is this subject so thoroughly dominated by talk about Judaism and the evils of blind adherence to relgious faith? According to the stats I'm seeing, more than half of all boys born in the US are circumcised even today--and those are likely not mostly ritual circumcisions. Also, how on earth are comments like the one about uncircumcised men being more pleasurable in bed in any way supposed to be viewed as coming from a place motivated by compassion for victims of this abusive practice as circumcision has been characterized by so many in the thread? It's obvious to me at least the motives of many of the crusaders on this particular issue are anything but pure or motivated by compassion for those they might like to characterize as scarred-for-life, sexual defectives in service to their rhetorical purposes.

And the focus on circumcision as a Jewish practice, though it might make sense that would come up strictly from a holy fuck this is an especially bad decision for a German judge to make POV, seems unnatural too, given as I just pointed out above, in places like the US the practice remains prevalent even among the none Jewish population. But this topic is even stressing my wife out now, so that's the last I'll say of my piece.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:32 PM on June 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


Germany has a special responsibility not to allow anti-Semitic ideology to inch back into mainstream public consciousness. They just do. It's entirely fair to hold their laws to a high scrutiny just like you question laws in the US that may disproportionally effect African Americans.

Neo-Nazi thought also directs hate towards Muslims and other immigrants. A neo-Nazi group in Germany killed 10 people between 2000-2007. German fans displayed a neo-Nazi flag at a recent European Championship match. Anti-semitism in nearby countries like Poland are huge problems as well, it is good for Germany to act as a leader on stamping this kind of thing out. The history isn't that old, and the ideologies still live on in the minds of members of hate groups.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:33 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is a huge difference between acknowledging history and dealing with its fallout and being suspicious of and hateful toward modern Germans who were not involved in any atrocities. I only wish to be critical of the latter.

(I also wish to be critical of the tendency to talk or think about people in terms of their accidental, unchosen group memberships, but that's for a different thread.)
posted by kengraham at 7:35 PM on June 27, 2012


Because I feel it shows a deep ignorance about the modern German state and its efforts to deal with the cultural legacies of WWII;

Do you understand why they have, in the past, made such deep efforts? Is it some kind of "self-xenophobia" (whatever that would be) that they have made efforts like that?

it seems reflexively xenophobic and largely context-free;

context free? are you kidding?

it subscribes to the kind of blinkered cliche that is almost a caricature of what the rest of the world thinks Americans think about other countries; it trivialises the shame and legitimate efforts of the vast majority of Germans, to step away from anything associated with Nazis and Nazism whilst at the same time ludicrously overstating the contiguity of modern, diverse Germany and Germans with events that happened nearly seventy years ago,

So since it was "nearly 70 years ago" it's basically over? Like racism in the south? Neo-nazis do exist in germany. There is a reason they have those bans!

and finally; it directly implies that anyone German with a mind to legislate on anything that remotely touches on Jewish cultural practice or Jewish people is essentially doing it because of sympathy with Nazi-like feelings, if not Nazism.

Well, I'm not suggesting that, but I am suggesting that they should recognize - if they are still dealing with the "cultural legacies of WWII" as you put it - that they should recognize how a law will affect those who have to follow it. If non-jews and non-muslims basically don't circumcise to start with, this law only affects the minority populations. It is therefore easy to see this as a law against those populations.

You can say this is unfair to germans. At my age, if I were german, my grandparents would have either been nazis or not have fought hard enough against them. I don't think it's so far in the past that modern day germans have no connection to it. A little extra effort to respect minority religions is reasonable.
posted by mdn at 7:38 PM on June 27, 2012


smoke: " Not disputing that at all, disputing its relevance to the discussion in that particular thread, the implication that if someone from a different country made a judgment it wouldn't be "squicky", and the idea that a) people in Germany are unaware of this context,

I have no problem with the implication that Germans doing it makes it "squicky." That's how I feel about it.

Regarding (A), look at what's happened lately in Poland. Historian unearths possible evidence that some Poles were a lot more complicit in the Holocaust than was previously believed and accepted. He has been vilified. Accused of slander! Except that few people are attacking all of his evidence on its merits. They appear to be more upset because their status quo and self-image is being upended. And make no mistake, it's a self image that's very important to Poland. They feel very strongly (and rightly) that they were victimized by the Germans. The idea that any of them might have been complicit in any way is anathema.

Is Mr. Gross right or wrong? No one has refuted his evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt. Few people seem to be addressing his evidence head on. So, 70 years later, can we conclude that denial is a powerful drug?

You ask if people Germany are unaware of the context. Probably. So I ask you now, do they think it matters? I do think that's a relevant question.

and b) that those visceral emotions are a valid point in a discussion about whether the judgement should/shouldn't have happened. They are valid feelings, of course, but they are not a valid point."

We disagree. I think they are. I think some Jews probably think the historical context matters. This is not intended to be a blanket condemnation of all Germans, or an accusation that this ruling stems from antisemitism. But the court system of a country that slaughtered Jews by the millions not all that long ago has just issued a ruling that will seriously, negatively affect Jews ability to practice their religion. Why should we pretend that exists in a vacuum?
posted by zarq at 7:39 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Correction. I said, "You ask if people Germany are unaware of the context." I meant aware of the context. Sorry.
posted by zarq at 7:41 PM on June 27, 2012


saulgoodman: "Why is this subject so thoroughly dominated by talk about Judaism and the evils of blind adherence to relgious faith? "

That may be my fault. I sort of steered the main thread in that direction earlier.
posted by zarq at 7:42 PM on June 27, 2012


I've been here a long time and I have yet to see a circumcision thread that didn't bring the weird out of the woodwork.

I completely don’t get the outrage. I understand people getting worked up about copyright, gun control, religion, etc. but circumcision? How about ear piercing, does that boil your blood too? How do people get such strong opinions, or even give a shit about this subject?
posted by bongo_x at 7:49 PM on June 27, 2012


Reading that thread has been really helpful for me. I sometimes get into brainlock where I can't even tell what arguments there could possibly be against what I think. It's a place I really don't like being; primarily because it's proof to me of insufficient empathy on my part, but also because it can lead to huge, shocking blasts of Very Disorienting Sadness (for example, it had literally never even once occurred to me that George W. Bush could beat John Kerry, and when that actually happened it was like I suddenly found out that I was a robot, or something).

Anyway, the thread: apart from the nastiness (which sucks), the arguments I've seen there have been illuminating, in that I understand a little bit more where people who disagree with me are coming from. And holy fuck NO I don't even agree with them a little tiny bit; but even though I strongly, strongly disagree I think the world is a better place when we remember that on the whole we're all just people, just trying our best, and when we disagree -- even when we REALLY disagree -- we should try to do so with generosity.
posted by davidjmcgee at 7:55 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know, zarq. I feel like there is a kind of religious bigotry behind some of the vehemence on display around this topic. And you aren't nearly the only one who keeps turning the subject back to how circumcision shoild be viewed as nothing more than some backwards Jewish religious tradition.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:00 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


As long as we're comparing this somewhat to American slavery, how often is a MF discussion about race almost instantly dominated by the notion that modern white Americans might try to enslave another race again?
posted by Brocktoon at 8:03 PM on June 27, 2012


bongo_x: it's pretty easy to google up the basic problems that have given rise to the controversy. Showing up and going "man I totally don't understand this" is probably a good sign that some research would help.
posted by kavasa at 8:10 PM on June 27, 2012


As long as we're comparing this somewhat to American slavery, how often is a MF discussion about race almost instantly dominated by the notion that modern white Americans might try to enslave another race again?

What parallel are you making? Nobody has said the Germans are preparing another Holocaust.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:14 PM on June 27, 2012


How do people get such strong opinions, or even give a shit about this subject?

By having direct connections to it? Pretty much the same way they do about those other topics.

My eldest son had a less then stellar recovery from his circumcision that I pray won't give him painful problems during and after puberty (which he might be in the middle of now for all I know; teenagers are intensely self conscious). I chose not to go apeshit in that thread or here about it, but I can certainly understand why someone else might.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:16 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


What parallel are you making? Nobody has said the Germans are preparing another Holocaust.

I didn't make the parallel. I'm asking a question about it.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:17 PM on June 27, 2012


I feel as thought you were attempting to make a point with that question, but I am unclear on what it was.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:19 PM on June 27, 2012


I'll take Bucket C from stavrosthewonderchicken's Let's Make A Deal viewpoint, please and thank you.

I stuck my toe into that thread long enough to state said ambition and then promptly ducked out. It was too much, even at that point in the thread, for someone who WASN'T polarized and just wanted info/discussion/testimony. That's on me, stay out the kitchen if you can't handle the heat and all that jazz.

Anyway, please don't axe threads like this for the sole reason that they're re-treading old ground. Some folks, myself included, enjoy a good discussion and that one was informative and not all that off putting, not to mention that it's the first one I've seen here. Since I don't have plans to let my fingers do the walking through the archives it was fresh and interesting to me. If you find it old and stale.... why not just move on?

I mean, I don't plan on reading that thread about... I dunno, *insert random topic here* all that often later either, but that doesn't mean it's not a good post.

That said, if they become too much of a mod nightmare, that's a good reason I can see to axe them, but that's not how this meta was presented nor have the mods said as much.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:20 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


*correction: "first one I've seen here on circumcision" that is to say.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:21 PM on June 27, 2012


After all the talk about circumcision being something Metafilter Does Not Do Well prior to this thread, I was really surprised by how tame the thread was.
posted by Jpfed at 8:28 PM on June 27, 2012


I feel as thought you were attempting to make a point with that question, but I am unclear on what it was.

Saul expressed the "point" better.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:28 PM on June 27, 2012


Yeah, and I think we totally can disagree, Zarq - I think it's pretty much expected as I'm not Jewish and so far outside Judaism it's not funny - and I think that's completely fine (which is why I didn't say that in the original thread; I think the differences are expected and largely unremarkable); I was only trying to answer the question that was posed, not advocate for my perspective over others so much.

If the conversation took a line more the like the line you are taking both in the thread and here, with a broader context and a reasoned and erudite explication of some contemporary Jewish thought around the issues, I think it would be far more profitable.

Unfortunately, the topic provokes more tepid one-liners than a Rodney Dangerfield marathon.
posted by smoke at 8:45 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was really surprised by how tame the thread was.

Yeah, to the initial callout this (to me) really reads more as BU's issue rather than the thread being so crazily offensive by MeFi standards. I'm sure more offensive things have been said about Republicans whom next to nobody around here would ever defend.
posted by GuyZero at 8:55 PM on June 27, 2012


And I should clarify - it's not that BU concerns aren't legitimate. it's just that as a question of degree this thread isn't as offensive as others have been.
posted by GuyZero at 8:58 PM on June 27, 2012


Not having any more posts on the subject does not sound like the best solution.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:09 PM on June 27, 2012


And at some point I lost the thread and I thought that Bunny Ultramod actually made this post but he did not.

So we can just forget these last few comments of mine.
posted by GuyZero at 9:32 PM on June 27, 2012


As someone who still feels like a n00b, I appreciate that we don't just shut down a thread just because it probably will rehash old ground. I'm not convinced I brought anything to the thread, but I definitely learned a bit about some of the religious reasons for the practice.

Saulgoodman asked "Why is this subject so thoroughly dominated by talk about Judaism and the evils of blind adherence to relgious faith?"

To which I can only respond that if it were merely about the medical practice, the discussion would be a rather dry one regarding the pros and cons of a medical procedure versus the risk of not having the procedure, and it would only incite comments because of peen.

When it becomes a debate about an alleged harm done to infants versus a commandment from an alleged deity, then the machine generates heat and light. This doesn't strike me as unexpected domination, but a focus on things that many, many people care about.
posted by Mad_Carew at 10:30 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Might I suggest that in future circumcision threads that uncut and cut male genitalia are known as winky and winky-woo respectively. Mr winky if you want to be properly civil.
posted by biffa at 11:36 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


And, honestly, all sorts of "your crazy sky god is asking you to mutilate your child" comments are still showing up. It alienated me out of the thread tout sweet, and I don't expect I am the only one, the I actually wanted to talk and find out more about the specifics of this case.

The specifics of the case are that some people are cutting bits off baby boys' genitals because their crazy sky god told them so - or worse, they sort of half believe their crazy sky god might have once said that, but not really, and now it's just a habit so they look like dad. The court saying 'we don't care what your crazy sky god said, or how long you've been doing it - the kid comes first' is kind of the main point.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:18 AM on June 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


You're a delight.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:23 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Awww, thanks.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:49 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's certainly a little depressing to have read through the thread, and, unlike the Daily Mail article, have no one mention that this concerns a court judgement about the case of a 4 year old boy who suffered complications on circumcision, which caused the doctor to be prosecuted, and this appeal to be heard.

It's the ruling of a respectable district court, not a law, and still with the possibility of being overruled by a constitutional court or the European Court of Human Rights. I'd be interested to see whether any German mohels have had their opinion quoted in the press.

That said, there is an element to which German nationalism comes into play here. Because the prosecution was quite possibly motivated or at least incented by anti Muslim feeling.

tl;dr - I'm sorry to see the Daily Mail had more detail and less grar than MeFi.
posted by ambrosen at 2:22 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


For whatever it's worth, as an American female, Metafilter was the place I learned that circumcision wasn't a normal routine assumed thing everywhere else in the world. It also moved me from being mostly-uncaring, maybe a little in favor of circumcising my hypothetical son to realizing it really isn't "normal outside of the US", it really isn't necessary, and that I would probably default to not doing so unless given a valid medical reason to the contrary. (It's also made interesting fodder for discussion with my future husband) So even if Metafilter doesn't "do it well", the fact that we do it at all has been educational for me.
posted by olinerd at 3:02 AM on June 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


i have to say that i learned a lot about both sides of the discussion in that thread, and i feel a lot more moderate in my response to circumcision as a result.

i'm very grateful that i could read it. i wouldn't have gone back and re-read an archived circumcision thread. but reading a current discussion.... really informative. thank you metafilter. you were very good for me today. as you are most days.
posted by taff at 3:28 AM on June 28, 2012


What fucks me off more than the fact that some people feel that Germany's past means they have to tread very lightly when it comes to Jews, both in terms of legitimate criticism of them, and apparently court rulings, is the fact that the Nazi Holocaust is also used to justify their own horrific treatment of other people. I've talked with so many Jews who believe that Israel's actions, as seen by virtually the rest of the world as criminal, are justified because of the past. The Jews have been through a lot throughout history, but in my opinion, that should be a lesson in tolerance and acceptance of others.

I say this as a Jew who has lived in Israel and goes to visit his father there regularly.
posted by gman at 3:33 AM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's important that we repeat the same damned arguments over and over and over.

The goal in these crazily unwinnable threads should be that you wrestle with wriggly conflicting truths until you have had all the arguments put to you in a million ways and come to a conclusion that makes good enough sense to you for now. And you should repeat the process every so often because good enough for now is not good enough for always. You should never come out of one of these threads thinking you are indisputably on the right side, not with so many smart and good people on either side.
posted by pracowity at 4:16 AM on June 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


For anyone who needs the reminder: This is not the place for splitting the original discussion to carry on over here. The thread about the German ruling on circumcision is in the blue. And this is absolutely not the place for expanding the argument to include the whole Israel/Palestine/Middle East problem.

Here is where we talk about issues as they relate to Metafilter.
posted by taz (staff) at 4:24 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


You were so turned off by the circumcision argument on the blue you decided to resurrect it on the grey. Total logic!
posted by absalom at 4:57 AM on June 28, 2012


obiwanwasabi: "The specifics of the case are that some people are cutting bits off baby boys' genitals because their crazy sky god told them so - or worse, they sort of half believe their crazy sky god might have once said that, but not really, and now it's just a habit so they look like dad. The court saying 'we don't care what your crazy sky god said, or how long you've been doing it - the kid comes first' is kind of the main point."

I'd like you to consider something.

I'm precisely the sort of person you would conceivably want to reach, whose mind you might want to change about the practice of circumcision. My wife and I had very intense discussions about it before and after my son was born. I was (we were) concerned that we might be harming him. That it wasn't necessary. We're Jewish. We're moderate/liberal. We're somewhat religiously observant. Despite strong cultural and religious internal biases for circumcision, I was still on the fence about it. And yes, my son had his bris and is none the worse for wear over it.

Consider that I'm the sort of person who might conceivably be swayed by rational and intellectual arguments that circumcision is harmful. Now look at what you wrote above.

The moment I see "crazy sky god" in a comment, you lose me. Not because I necessarily disagree with your assessment of religion and religious practice. I am quite aware that religion has an irrational component to it. But because you are showing you're not really interested in having a discussion. Of trying to change my mind. You're more interested in beating me over the head about my religious faith. You've already made up your mind that I am unredeemable. Which is kind of sad. Because by speaking this way you've already lost an opportunity to change my mind.

That is your right, I suppose. But it's wholly counterproductive. And if you're trying to effect change in people who may in fact be interested in hearing your position, it's the surest way to turn them off. We get rightfully defensive.

Consider your audience. Consider how you're coming across. Modern, moderate Jews aren't particularly invested in blind faith. Or at least, we shouldn't be.

In one of the previous circumcision arguments, I said something to someone else who is Jewish, that I think still applies:
Unexamined faith and ritual are worthless, imo. A religion that has been in existence for thousands of years can just as easily be wrong about perpetuating any tradition, ritual or practice as one that has existed for decades. Jewish tradition exemplifies this: our traditions have adapted to modernity again and again throughout the ages as our understanding of the world around us has changed.

Our religion isn't static, and we should welcome thoughtful inquiries into, and critiques of, its practices.
Your approach isn't thoughtful. It's derisive. That may be your goal, I don't know. But if you're interested in having a discussion, you're not showing it.
posted by zarq at 5:09 AM on June 28, 2012 [27 favorites]


gman, I don't disagree.
posted by zarq at 5:10 AM on June 28, 2012


ambrosen: "It's certainly a little depressing to have read through the thread, and, unlike the Daily Mail article, have no one mention that this concerns a court judgement about the case of a 4 year old boy who suffered complications on circumcision, which caused the doctor to be prosecuted, and this appeal to be heard."

It was mentioned early on.
posted by zarq at 5:14 AM on June 28, 2012


To which I can only respond that if it were merely about the medical practice, the discussion would be a rather dry one regarding the pros and cons of a medical procedure versus the risk of not having the procedure, and it would only incite comments because of peen.

I think a non-Jew has been taking a medical standpoint in favor -- or, rather, his perspective seems to be, "Look, my parents were told that there were medical benefits, and there were some minor ones, and I'm perfectly happy with how I am and I don't appreciate people getting all up in my grill about I should feel scarred or disfigured because I'm okay, really."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:36 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do not like the frequent "let's never have another thread about X" metatalks but I will defend your right to create them.
posted by londonmark at 5:47 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was taken aback at the ferocity of the anti-German sentiment, while I completely understand its origin. But as the mother of half-german children, I had a tiny side question that I really wanted to ask "how long will my kids have to carry this cultural burden?" Until we're as far from WW11 as we currently are from Slavery? Or what happened to indigenous poplulations in various parts of the world when white men decided they wanted them? When Khmer refugees escape and come to the USA, do they carry the burden of Pol Pot? While there was massive social participation with the Nazi regime, is there a % of the population that has to rebel and be shipped off themselves to concentration camps before their grandchildren or great grandchildren are absolved of the cutural burden?

The German education system is extraordinarily self-critical to an extent people from Louisiana can only dream of going by another front page post and it would have been useful to have a discussion about why it is far more likely, rather than less, that a ruling like this happened in Germany.

It would also have been useful to tease out the nuances of Muslim rights in Germany, medico-legal issues around forced treatments or withdrawal of treatments for reasons our current culture says is right.

I kept reading down the thread and found that it seemed more polarised and in some instances bigoted than most others I usually read so I left about 2/3rds of the way down.
posted by Wilder at 6:04 AM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


The specifics of the case are that some people are cutting bits off baby boys' genitals because their crazy sky god told them so - or worse, they sort of half believe their crazy sky god might have once said that, but not really, and now it's just a habit so they look like dad. The court saying 'we don't care what your crazy sky god said, or how long you've been doing it - the kid comes first' is kind of the main point.

Could you be any less effective in your communication if you tried? This inanity gets trotted out every time religion gets mentioned here, and it's an embarrassment to even have on my computer screen.
posted by Forktine at 6:33 AM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


> This is not the place for splitting the original discussion to carry on over here.

The meta-discussion, though, concerns whether it's acceptable to tag male circumcision with explosive outrage-words like "mutilation" and "barbarian." And the outcome of that is pretty inevitably going to hinge on whether it in fact is barbarian mutilation, or whether it is in fact pretty trivial.

I'm not a mod and I won't venture upon whether those words are acceptable in discussion, but they are instances of hysterically judgemental overstatement. The level of opprobrium they convey is just about perfect to describe sewing together human centipedes or cutting off junior's hands and feet and substituting dogs' paws or snakes. Applied to circumcision, they're nothing but sub-/b/ internet rant.

Maybe it's because the boys' ritual has become uncritically assimilated to female circumcision, which it resembles only to the extent that both involve making body mods "down there." The definition of female circumcision goes far beyond male, including many cases of complete clitoridectomy; male circumcision does not extend to castration. To place male circumcision on the scale of the world's bad things, it's a bit worse than scratching a mosquito bite bloody but not nearly as bad as getting your earlobe bitten off by Mike Tyson. Cruel it possibly is, but it's way down there in the "meh" range of cruelty. But to hear it described in the threads we have had here you'd be excused for thinking they're cooking those babies and eating them, not just clipping their foreskins.

I grasp, of course, that we live in an age where the level of hyperventilation on a given topic is in no proportion to that topic's actual seriousness. And, common though that is, I expect I can understand why a given ethnic/religious minority might feel truly attacked upon being told that a thing virtually all of them do is WICKED and EVIL. Since I am not myself of that minority (though I am circumcised) and don't have a recent history of having to wear yellow stars because of my well-known habit of eating lolxtian babies it's my privilege to be able merely to roll my eyes and go "OMG the wackos are riding their hobby horses in regimental force tonight."
posted by jfuller at 6:41 AM on June 28, 2012


"how long will my kids have to carry this cultural burden?"

Being anti-German was pounded into a lot of hearts and minds by family, government, and media; it's going to take a long time for that to fade away. I, for example, don't think I have anything at all against Germany rationally or consciously, but I bet there's some irrational, subconscious stuff going on. The "bloody Gerries" and my parents (and the rest of their generation) exchanged an awful lot of gunfire. You don't easily forgive people who try to kill your parents. Yes, everything is different now and those people and that country are gone, but I'm speculating about the subconscious.

More recently, there are a lot of people alive and quite young today who will have a very hard time forgiving Russia for what the Soviet Union did to them and their parents. I have met a lot of people who quite consciously dislike Russians and probably always will dislike Russians.
posted by pracowity at 6:49 AM on June 28, 2012


There is a lot of anti-Muslim shit going on in Germany right now (as there is in many countries in Europe, and in the US, of course). The discomfort with how this decision affects historically and currently targeted minority religious groups comes from current events as well as the past.

Which isn't something I would judge a randomly selected German person for, any more than I would want to be judged, as a US citizen, for having Antonin Scalia on my country's highest court.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:58 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


pracowity: More recently, there are a lot of people alive and quite young today who will have a very hard time forgiving Russia for what the Soviet Union did to them and their parents.

...or orphans in Palestine who might have a hard time forgiving the State of Israel. And obviously the same can be said for Muslims who aren't so forgiving of the fact that the United States has taken away a good part of their lives by locking them up indefinitely and subjecting them to torture. Or bombing the shit out of their country under the guise of spreading democracy and human rights. This sort of mentality is why this world will never have peace.
posted by gman at 7:00 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


"how long will my kids have to carry this cultural burden?"

It's a complicated thing.

My great-grandparents were German Jews. They - and almost all of the family - were able to emigrate to the US quite literally a week before the Nazis came to the door. Yes, I have family who died in the Holocaust - but only cousins, my immediate family was extremely lucky in that they all got out.

So, my grandmother grew up in the US and had decidedly... mixed... feelings about her country of origin. She will never identify as German, not ever, she's as "American as the next person" if you ask her. She absolutely never identifies with being Jewish. In contrast, her sister remained in the Jewish faith and married an Orthodox Jew. My grandmother and her sister were very, very close their whole lives... but my grandmother didn't go to her funeral because it was a Jewish service and she just couldn't handle it.

My grandmother's daughter married a German man and now lives in Germany. This was a punch in the face to my grandmother if ever there was one. Still, she accepted it and has been back to visit many times, even if it is a damn tricky thing. My cousin is fully German on both sides... only one of them happened to have a slight detour in the US.

It's a really tricky thing to navigate. My cousin's family was on both sides. On the one hand, her great grandparents were about to be rounded up and killed had they not conveniently gotten themselves out of the country... on the other, her grandfather was a German POW. And she just married a Muslim man who is himself of mixed German and Egyptian ancestry. Should they have children, they'll be of German, Egyptian, Muslim, and Jewish descent. That's quite the mixed bag.

We all carry the cultural burdens of our ancestors. We can't close our eyes to it. Better to be aware and acknowledge what's happening (which, yes, I've lived in Germany and yes, they are *hyper* aware of it) than to say "Why hasn't this gone away yet?"
posted by sonika at 7:30 AM on June 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Wilder: "I was taken aback at the ferocity of the anti-German sentiment, while I completely understand its origin. But as the mother of half-german children, I had a tiny side question that I really wanted to ask "how long will my kids have to carry this cultural burden?" Until we're as far from WW11 as we currently are from Slavery? Or what happened to indigenous poplulations in various parts of the world when white men decided they wanted them? When Khmer refugees escape and come to the USA, do they carry the burden of Pol Pot? While there was massive social participation with the Nazi regime, is there a % of the population that has to rebel and be shipped off themselves to concentration camps before their grandchildren or great grandchildren are absolved of the cutural burden?

I don't know. As sonika says, it's complicated.

For whatever it's worth, I don't think modern-day Germans should be held responsible for the acts of their grandparents. But I also don't think we should be ignoring the country's history, either.

You mention white men. I think that African Americans should not be told by Caucasian Americans how they should feel about slavery, or when they should forgive and put the past behind them. As the victims, they should have the right to determine such things for themselves without being dictated to by their former oppressors.

Similarly, I don't think it's Germany's place to tell Jews how they should feel about the atrocities committed against us. I don't believe Germans have a right to set a time frame on how long we Jews are allowed to be in mourning over the people who were killed. (And thankfully, they are not doing so.) However, I also believe that Germany should not have the right to dictate our faith and culture to us, either.

I realize this may be a total contradiction: I don't blame modern Germans, but still believe they should leave us alone because of what their grandparents and great-grandparents did. I'm not just talking about the Holocaust, either. There were 60+ years of dehumanizing institutionalized German antisemitism against its own Jewish population that can be traced back to the rise of Bismarck. That's not so easy to ignore. I can't speak for everyone, but to me, as a Jew, the symbolism of this ruling seems pretty powerful. So is the historical precedent. People will naturally draw parallels.

Perhaps my emotions are blinding me to the fundamentals here. I don't know.

The German education system is extraordinarily self-critical to an extent people from Louisiana can only dream of going by another front page post and it would have been useful to have a discussion about why it is far more likely, rather than less, that a ruling like this happened in Germany.

I urge you to add that perspective to the thread. Sincerely. Because I'm aware of it minimally. Peripherally. But not knowledgeable enough to raise it properly and in context.

It would also have been useful to tease out the nuances of Muslim rights in Germany, medico-legal issues around forced treatments or withdrawal of treatments for reasons our current culture says is right.

I'd love to see their perspective, too.

Look, it's all well and good to say, "I'd have liked to see X perspective" if you are personally unfamiliar with it and can't add it in yourself. But if you *know something* that could help flesh out or expand our knowledge, please speak up. You might be surprised to find that many of us are interested in learning more, and not rehashing the same arguments over and over again.
posted by zarq at 7:40 AM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


"how long will my kids have to carry this cultural burden?"

Being anti-German was pounded into a lot of hearts and minds by family, government, and media; it's going to take a long time for that to fade away.


I think you're misunderstanding the relationship. I am not at all anti-German, but I do think passing laws which can be seen as anti-semitic is something Germany has to be extremely careful about. I love germany (well, some music /art, philosophy, and before I stopped drinking I was a fan of the beer - not the food so much...) and have some german heritage, but I still think it's complicated.

History is a real thing. Society is real - people saying you can't talk about "germany" but only german individuals are full of it. Passing laws has a national impact. If florida outlawed hoodies, that would be meaningful... If america outlawed dreadlocks or braids that would have racial overtones, right? And this is much more fundamental to members of the religion than styles that happen to be associated with a race.

It's not vindictiveness, just a slight but justified wariness about allowing a particular nation to control the boundaries of its minorities. I get that these things can be complicated - cultural relativism doesn't work for everything - but with germany, err on the side of flexibility. (Sorry, germany. But it's not really that much of a burden - many nations tend to that side naturally!)
posted by mdn at 8:00 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


zarq, thanks for explaining your feelings about Germans, but that's not relevant in a story about a legitimate court decision about a medical procedure in Germany. They shouldn't have to be taking account of public opinion in the US.

And mdn, this isn't about a law, this is about a court decision. In all free countries, there is a huge distinction between the 2.
posted by ambrosen at 8:04 AM on June 28, 2012


Why is this subject so thoroughly dominated by talk about Judaism

Becuase the subject of the thread was about Germany where pretty much the only reason for anyone to have a circumcision in Germany is religion.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 8:11 AM on June 28, 2012


ambrosen: "zarq, thanks for explaining your feelings about Germans, but that's not relevant in a story about a legitimate court decision about a medical procedure in Germany. They shouldn't have to be taking account of public opinion in the US."

How Jews are directly affected by this ruling and the potential precedent it might set in other countries, is completely relevant.

Anyway, I was responding to a comment that noted how much "anti-German sentiment" had arisen in response to the news, and asked what modern day Germans will need to do to be absolved of their cultural burden, presumably by their victims and their descendents. I'm one of the latter.
posted by zarq at 8:21 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Becuase the subject of the thread was about Germany where pretty much the only reason for anyone to have a circumcision in Germany is religion.

Yes, but there are way more Muslims requesting the procedure in Germany these days.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:26 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


And the specific legal case in question involves a boy whose Muslim parents requested the procedure, which went badly wrong.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:28 AM on June 28, 2012


Yes, but there are way more Muslims requesting the procedure in Germany these days.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:26 PM on June 28 [+] [!]


Yeah but Jews outnumber Muslims on MeFi by probably a hundred to one (in fact the only muslim poster that I know of has left so it may be more than that) and everyone likes to talk about themselves, so hey presto you have a thread that becomes about the group that is most represented/people are more familiar with on MeFi.

The alternative that was implied seemed to be anti-semitism and thats just bullshit on its face.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 8:30 AM on June 28, 2012


I see what you're saying, Reggie Knoble. My point was that the whole discussion of "But the Holocaust was 70 years ago" is moot, considering the level of discrimination against Muslims, and political action exploiting prejudice against Muslims, in Germany (as in much of the rest of Europe and in the US, Germany is hardly alone) right now. Sorry if I didn't make that point clearly.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:43 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah but Jews outnumber Muslims on MeFi by probably a hundred to one (in fact the only muslim poster that I know of has left so it may be more than that) and everyone likes to talk about themselves, so hey presto you have a thread that becomes about the group that is most represented/people are more familiar with on MeFi.
Well if we allowed that principle everywhere on Metafilter, all discussion here would eventually be about middle-class Americans...
posted by Jehan at 8:50 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well if we allowed that principle everywhere on Metafilter, all discussion here would eventually be about middle-class Americans...

I see what you did there, and you are not wrong.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 8:56 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Read an editorial this morning which included this:
Things are not like they were thirty years ago, when the culturally dominant Christian society in Germany was accompanied by just 30,000 Jews largely keeping to themselves and a Muslim community of which it could be assumed that they would soon be returning to their homelands. Today, more than four million people are living in this country whose religion decrees that boys are to be circumcised.

The sense of Christian rituals is being lost, while those of other religions are understood even less, are contested, battled and brought before the courts – who then become the referees.
Sidhedevil: " Yes, but there are way more Muslims requesting the procedure in Germany these days."

There are 4.3 million Muslims in Germany and around 200,000 Jews. If someone wants to speak to the Muslim perspective, that would be great. Until then, I don't think there's anything wrong with Jews speaking about our religious beliefs, practices and how this ruling could affect us, because we're affected too.
posted by zarq at 8:57 AM on June 28, 2012


Reggie Knoble: " (in fact the only muslim poster that I know of has left so it may be more than that) "

There are at least two or three active Muslims on Mefi that I know of. One of whom commented in the main thread, even thought they didn't give their opinion on the subject from a religious perspective.
posted by zarq at 9:02 AM on June 28, 2012


I'm one of dozens of Muslims that are active on the site, from nominally to site regular. I didn't offer my perspective as a Muslim mainly because I find it all very tedious and overheated. I suppose zarq models some pretty good behavior by trying to have a conversation amid the skymonster and "you don't deserve to have foreskin" comments, but I'm not up for it.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:08 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


zarq, I wasn't suggesting Jewish posters' perspective wasn't relevant, but trying to make the point that the "but the Holocaust was decades ago and most of those people are dead" argument is irrelevant.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:12 AM on June 28, 2012


What fucks me off more than the fact that some people feel that Germany's past means they have to tread very lightly when it comes to Jews, both in terms of legitimate criticism of them, and apparently court rulings, is the fact that the Nazi Holocaust is also used to justify their own horrific treatment of other people.

[...]

I say this as a Jew who has lived in Israel and goes to visit his father there regularly.


Which suddenly clarifies my thinking on this. Yes, I'm circumcised. No, not Jewish. No, I wasn't traumatized by it. But still, I can see no rational argument in favor of circumcision. Yet it in all seriousness, the place where the laws should change is Israel, or some Islamic country. Or if the law must change elsewhere, let it driven by those who were raised in one of the affected faiths. Because this is not just a rational argument unaffected by other concerns.

Or as zarg said a while back ...

A religion that has been in existence for thousands of years can just as easily be wrong about perpetuating any tradition, ritual or practice as one that has existed for decades. Jewish tradition exemplifies this: our traditions have adapted to modernity again and again throughout the ages as our understanding of the world around us has changed.

Our religion isn't static, and we should welcome thoughtful inquiries into, and critiques of, its practices.

posted by philip-random at 9:13 AM on June 28, 2012


Sidhedevil: "zarq, I wasn't suggesting Jewish posters' perspective wasn't relevant, but trying to make the point that the "but the Holocaust was decades ago and most of those people are dead" argument is irrelevant."

Oh. Sorry. Don't mind me. Carry on then. ;)
posted by zarq at 9:16 AM on June 28, 2012


But as the mother of half-german children, I had a tiny side question that I really wanted to ask "how long will my kids have to carry this cultural burden?"

I touched on this in the other thread (rather sloppily).

When I was traveling in Germany (getting on twenty years ago now), it was inevitable that this kind of topic came up. One argument I heard (from a young German, non-Jewish) was that Germany should collectively "carry this cultural burden" for six generations, because that's what it says somewhere in the Old Testament apparently (I've never done the research myself) -- that a father's sinful burden shall be carried by his progeny for six generations. Given that generations tended to turn more quickly back in those old days, he (the young German) concluded that the burden was to be carried for 100 years (until 2045).

Which didn't mean that Germans should be sending reparations to Israel or whatever, just that current generations couldn't separate themselves from their fathers/grandfathers/great-grandfathers transgressions for a while yet.
posted by philip-random at 9:22 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, I'm glad you can see things so diplomatically. But antisemitism was a fact of life in Europe for a thousand, and perhaps you can understand that, just 60 years after German antisemitism nearly destroyed the entirety of Europe's Jewish population, Jews may be a little less prepared to give the current population the benefit of the doubt. Especially as German, prior to World War II, was much as it is now, with a liberal population and a Jewish population that felt welcomed, protected, and part of the mainstream.

History is long. For the Jews, tolerance has historically been short.


That's some pretty nasty 'sins of the father' stuff going on there. There's precisely zero evidence that this case is motivated by anti-semitism (if people actually bothered to RTFA, in stemmed from a botched circumcision of a Muslim boy), and it's grossly unfair to impute such motives to either the judge who made the ruling or people who happen to agree with him.

If you're convinced that the religious freedom of the parents ought to trump the bodily integrity rights of a child that cannot consent because the alteration in question is seen as necessary for valid membership in a given religious community and is a sincerely held belief, you're free to make that argument. Some people will agree with you, some will disagree. In either case you don't need to resort to shots (lacking all evidence mind you) against the modern state of Germany or its people to either make your point or to knock down the counterarguments of your opponents.
posted by modernnomad at 11:10 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's some pretty nasty 'sins of the father' stuff going on there.

No more so than discussing white privilege is. History doesn't disappear because it's 70 years later. It still has an effect.

Listen, instead of thinking about this in terms of German as somehow being sinning, let's think of it in terms of privilege. Non-Jews in German have a privileged position over Jews and Muslims. Most of the latter are recent immigrants, whereas most of the former are lifelong residents. Most of the latter are not in positions of political power, whereas being a judge is inherently a position of power. German judges are, for the most part, not directly affected by this ruling -- they are not circumcised, and do not circumcise. Jews and Muslim are and do.

And why is it that Jews and Muslims are not an entrenched power in Germany? Because Germany has an extremely long history of excluding outsiders, including a recent history in which they literally identified outsiders as pollutants and murdered as many of them as they could.

Today's Germans may not share these feelings -- I am sure they don't. But they benefit from them, because it puts them in a position of privilege. And this is worth considering when making a law that directly affects people who do not have your privileges, especially when that law only affects them, and when its being done out of an idea that you are protecting a group of people who have not specifically requested your help, because you have come to a conclusion about something that lacks anything resembling consensus that they do not share.

And, again, why are these Germans in this position of privilege? Because of the past. We cannot say, oh, it happened, it's done with, any more than we can say we Americans do not benefit from decades of racism that preceded us.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:21 AM on June 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


modernnomad, thanks for putting it so much more succinctly than I could. There is a question of whether this particular judicial decision correctly balances religious freedom against duty of care, but that's not one for a regional court to decide, and it's certainly something far too specific to be something that should be considered at the level of a regional court.

If you have that level of political nuance going on at a smallish court, then you have far too much political influence on the judiciary.
posted by ambrosen at 11:27 AM on June 28, 2012


I can't imagine anyone will bother reading the thread after it closes.

I wasn't aware this was a standard by which we judged posts.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:33 AM on June 28, 2012


BU - I'm not sure your analogy to white privilege holds. In fact, I'm quite sure it doesn't. White privilege is something that exists 'at the moment', and you don't need to refer to slavery to prove that it exists currently. There's plenty of evidence that it does.

You are basing your allegations of anti-semitism in a court ruling originating in facts about a muslim boy (again, which I find baffling) by referring to the horrors of the holocaust. The holocaust is evidence of anti-semitism in the past, not current.

If you have a shred of evidence that the German court system is systemically denigrating the rights of german Jews, Muslims, or non 'ethnic' Germans in general, please bring it forward. Otherwise you are just engaging in tired stereotypes and supposition based on history. Again, not evidence that there is racism or anti-semitism somewhere in Germany, because, obv, discrimination is going to found in every country in the world, but that there is some evidence that this is motivated by anything other than an interest in protecting the child.

Again, you can disagree that this protecting the child in any way, but you don't need to refer to the Holocaust to get you there. It's cheap, and unfair to the millions of modern, democratic, freedom and equality loving Germans who might support this ruling out of what they genuinely believe is a progressive concern for the welfare of a child, not out of a latent distrust of Jews.
posted by modernnomad at 11:34 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


but that there is some evidence that this is motivated by anything other than an interest in protecting the child.

Historically, this motivation has been known to cause irreparable damage. What's protection in the eyes of the mainstream culture looks like blatant, ignorant racism when viewed by history.

See, for the most egregious recent examples, 1) Australian Aboriginal children taken from their parents to be raised middle class and white & 2) American Indian enforced schooling away from their families. I believe similar things have been happening in multiple countries to minority after minority.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:44 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Apologies up front for not reading through everything posted here so far.

I found the post to have more potential than a straightforward debate on circumcision. I was more curious about how it was being taken in Germany and what the actual implications are. I am grateful for the locals who popped in to inform us about those bits. I found that aspect of it worthwhile and interesting especially since many of the news sources were clearly just poking the reactionary buzz word buttons.
posted by Feantari at 11:48 AM on June 28, 2012


You are basing your allegations of anti-semitism in a court ruling originating in facts about a muslim boy (again, which I find baffling) by referring to the horrors of the holocaust

I have not alleged antisemitism. I am alleging a cultural blindness and lack of concern for two minority cultures, and I am alleging that one of the privileges of modern Germany is that it does not have to wrestle with questions of pluralism like this very often, and may not do it with great sensitivity, because it has a history of excluding minorities.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:03 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


And if you need evidence of the persistence of privilege, there are still Germans living in houses that were stolen from murdered Jews, and are now the inheritence of thise Germans. There are still major German industries that were underwritten by the Nazis and contributed to their program of extermination. There is no way to make the case that modern Germany, as liberal and distanced from the past as it may seem, does not nonetheless have privileges and benefits that came directly out of its past.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:06 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Lather, rinse, repeat.

Retract, lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by Kabanos at 12:09 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Zarq & others, that you for your perspectives on the issue I raised. As I watch a yarmulke wearing Italian fan screaming in joy as a black Italian man scores for his team in the EuroCup 2012 I realise that things on the continent appear far more nuanced that the messages I read and see about what is happening in the USA, whether politics or culture.

There is nothing I would feel comfortable adding to that thread to be honest, for the first time outside one of the older Boyzone threads we used to have (and which lost us some amazing contributors) I felt really "other" on metafilter. And cnsidering how "other" I really am that's saying something

For what its worth, the ruling will have been made with only one focus, the rights of the child and despite knowing how it would play out considering the history that is what we want from a judicial system in a country with separation of church and state. Jewish & Sharia law on circumcision is a religious affair. A decision was reached here which placed a social premium on secular rather than religious rights in a secular country.
posted by Wilder at 12:17 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's one way to frame it. Except, as I keep pointing out, there is no concensus about these rights. There is no universally agreed on sense of whether circumcision violates the rights of the child.

And so another framing of it is that a lower German court made a decision that privileges its culture -- in which children are not circumsized -- over that of is minority communites, and priveleges its interprestation of rights, which are disputed, over those of two minority communities.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:22 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


The white privilege analogy is the first thing in this whole discussion I've found (a little) offensive. As far as I know, there is no current legal, cultural, and economic infrastructure for the systematic oppression of Jewish or Muslim people in Germany that is at all comparable to the current US legal, cultural, and economic infrastructure for the systematic oppression of people who are not comparatively wealthy and white ("male" soon to make a reappearance on the list after a brief, partial hiatus). Even then, those Americans who actively try not to participate in, and work against, such oppression probably don't deserve generalized fear and blame related to their nationality.

People are welcome to incorporate ancestry, tradition, and group affiliation into their identity to whatever extent they see fit, but they cannot assume that everyone else does the same. Thinking of Hans and Greta as "the Germans" -- possibly even assigning Germanness a bigger slice of their identity pie than they do -- seems insanely counterproductive from a point of view that acknowledges the actual fact revealed by all of history's horrific genocidal bloodshed, which is that the world would be much more peaceful if we all minimized our emotional stake in ancestry, tradition, and group affiliation. Nazi atrocities had as much to do with German nationalism as they did with anti-semitism (In two senses: (1) the targeted group of people included everyone not satisfying a particular set of bullshit racial criteria; (2) Nazism would never have gotten off the ground if the average German had said "Actually, I have my own shit in which to take pride, that is mine alone and not my nation's, and I needn't bother with getting emotional about something that was an accident of my birth."). The correct lesson is that maybe we should avoid nationalism and similar accident-based feelings of identity and belonging, not that particular groups are entitled to extra-strong instances of those feelings. From this point of view, rhetoric about "the Germans" or "the Jews" or "the Muslims" is probably a bad idea.

(This is all related, incidentally, to why I don't think I support legal restriction of circumcision.)
posted by kengraham at 12:30 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are highly placed government figures in Germany who have publicly said things like "Islam has no place in Germany" quite recently. This isn't about "the sins of the fathers"; when the sitting chancellor talks about "the Christian heritage of Germany" it's absolutely about the attitudes of the current German government.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:36 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


There were 350,000 Jews in Germany before the Holocaust. There are 77,000 now, before you start bellyaching about how Germany has no privilege, tell me -- all these Jews owned property. They all had bank accounts. They all had jobs. Did it just disappear?

It was all absorbed into a non-Jewish Germany, and is now the heritage of non-Jewish Germans. That is as muxh an example of privlege as the fact the Americans live on former Native American property.

There is privilege in Germany. It's not like America, no. it's like Germany. And an example of that privelege, as I mentioned, is that there can be a presumption that their cultural attitudes about circumsion are the right ones, and that they are just protecting children. Not that they may be imposing their worldview on a historically oppressed minority.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:40 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not that they may be imposing their worldview on a historically oppressed minority.

As I said, I'm pretty sure I don't agree with that imposition; I don't agree with it any more than I agree with imposing one's religious worldview on children.
posted by kengraham at 12:44 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


when the sitting chancellor talks about "the Christian heritage of Germany" it's absolutely about the attitudes of the current German government

I did not know that. May her future electoral success not exist.
posted by kengraham at 12:47 PM on June 28, 2012


I don't agree with it any more than I agree with imposing one's religious worldview on children.

I was circumcised, I am Jewish, and I am an atheist; in fact, my parents are, as best as I can tell, atheists. For Jews, this is a lot more complicated than simply forcing a child to be a religion.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:50 PM on June 28, 2012


BU there is a medical consensus that the evidence base means that there is no medical need for circumcision. There is also no medical need for boob jobs but they are only against the law if you try to do one on a minor.

There are also according to the European Jewish Congress 200,000 Jews in Germany but let's not let this take from your argument.

If a secular German court is expected to uphold individual religious rights of all the populations within its border then the health impact of open air sky burials will trounce the health arguments against it.
posted by Wilder at 12:51 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


And an example of that privelege, as I mentioned, is that there can be a presumption that their cultural attitudes about circumsion are the right ones, and that they are just protecting children.

There's not really a cultural attitude operating in the proposed law, though. There's a sort of meta-attitude that says "People have the right to choose to which cultural attitudes they will subscribe, and denial of that right, especially in a way that causes preventable, medically unnecessary pain and is irreversible, is denying an individual that choice for insufficiently compelling reasons."

That's very different from the other forms of privilege you mention. The German court doesn't derive its authority from historical genocide, or something. It's likely that the same decision would have been made absent the Holocaust. The court is not taking advantage of a position of power gained through past injustice in order to impose arbitrary values. It's simply taking a position (irrelevantly, a position shared by the values of many cultures) that individual rights trump tradition.
posted by kengraham at 1:00 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am Jewish

In view of your comment, I honestly wonder what, exactly, this means, and to what extent there is agreement about what this means.
posted by kengraham at 1:02 PM on June 28, 2012


I mean "ruling" instead of "proposed law". It's just that I'm very used to saying "proposed law" on MeFi. Maybe I should branch out in terms of where I comment...
posted by kengraham at 1:04 PM on June 28, 2012


BU there is a medical consensus that the evidence base means that there is no medical need for circumcision.

And there is no medical argument against it; moreover, there is significant evidence of medical benefit, however small. The only argument is one based on a concept of the rights of a child. This is the area where there is no consensus -- and, in fact, this is one area where there are an awful lot of people who consider medical and cultural decisions regarding their children to be something they get to make.

And yet German judges have decided that they actually do get to make this decision. They get to put the lid on the discussion of whether this is a decision that parents get to make. Never mind that it doesn't affect them, and only affects Jews and Muslims.

I mean, there are all sorts of things we do to children that permanently affect them. My parents choice of where I went to school had a far larger effect on who I am then their decision regarding my penis. My parents decision to get me braces had a more significant medical impact on me than my circumcision, hurt more, hurt longer, and left me more scarred; there was no medical benefit, and the braces were entirely cosmetic. I would be loathe to have the state decide whether or not my parents can make those decision, gradualness of whether I think they were the best decision for me. I am even more loathe to give the state the opportunity to make a conclusive decision on a cultural practice when the only argument against it is a moral disagreement -- and, as somebody above said, the way we think about the rights of a child is a moral argument, not one that has a clear, scientific basis.

I am especially uncomfortable with any European country stripping away the rights of minority parents to make moral decisions regarding a child when the only compelling reason to do so is a different cultural understanding of what decisions a parent can make for a child. Yes, I am an atheist, and I would prefer that children not be raised with a religion, but choose it for themselves, or not choose. But, then, I would also dislike it if the government told parents they cannot take their kids to church. I would much rather that questions that have no consensus be left up to the people they affect.

That's very different from the other forms of privilege you mention. The German court doesn't derive its authority from historical genocide, or something. It's likely that the same decision would have been made absent the Holocaust.

There is literally no way to know that. I would suggest that the presence of a significant, entrenched, historically respected collection of Jews might well have caused the court to not go into this assuming its cultural understanding is the only one, or the best one.

In view of your comment, I honestly wonder what, exactly, this means, and to what extent there is agreement about what this means.

It means I am an heir to a long cultural and tribal legacy.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:05 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


gradualness? I mean regardless.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:06 PM on June 28, 2012


And that's the heart of it BU - should a genuine, validly held cultural belief allow for exceptions to general principles of interference with the body of another? I think the answer is a lot stickier than you give it credit for and lots of people are going to be unswayed by the 'it's an important tradition' argument. When you resort to that, there's a lot of line drawing that needs to then be done, and that can be awfully hard. Ie what are the limits of the acceptable interference? Which religions can benefit from this right? Scientology? The point is that this is complicated and engages a lot of different values. To reductively claim it is simply a question of the religious freedom of a historically oppressed minority is almost incomprehensibly simplistic.
posted by modernnomad at 1:08 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


To reductively claim it is simply a question of the religious freedom of a historically oppressed minority is almost incomprehensibly simplistic.

I don't know how to respond to that. No it isn't? It actually makes it more complicated?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:10 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I posted some medical reasons it might be considered risky in the real thread. It looks like all the discussion is happening here, now?
posted by gilrain at 1:12 PM on June 28, 2012


I would say the SKY GOD TOLD YOU TO DO SOMETHING STUPID argument is probably a better example of incomprehensible reductive simplification. The "different people have different values, and, when they disagree, unless there is some clear medical concensus, maybe it should be left to the individuals, and not be the sort of thing that a majority who is unaffected by it imposes on the minority that is" argument actually seems quite involved to me.

I posted some medical reasons it might be considered risky in the real thread. It looks like all the discussion is happening here, now?

All medical procedures have some risk. Giving your kid aspirin has risks. Parents weight risks versus benefits all the time.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:15 PM on June 28, 2012


I'm not talking about the risks of the procedure itself, but long term effects. It sounds as though you may not have read my post.
posted by gilrain at 1:17 PM on June 28, 2012


While hoping this isn't the equivalent of pouring gasoline on the fire, I do think there is an argument to be made that is essentially the reverse side of gman's.

It seems to me that Jews often don't receive the same level of sympathy as other minority groups, to the point where people feel free to make comments about Jews that would never dare be made in polite company about other minorities, possibly due to some combination of:

A) Jews not being viewed as underprivileged enough in modern society to be seen in the same sympathetic light as other, more dramatically underprivileged groups

B) Their minority status is based on religion, which many, at least on Mefi, think is a silly concept to begin with and not deserving of consideration

C) No matter how often the "Being anti-Israel doesn't make you anti-Semetic" mantra is repeated, some peoples dislike of Israeli governmental policy does get conflated, whether consciously or not, with their overall opinion of Jewish people

I bring this up because while I can understand, if not necessarily agree with, some of the arguments against circumcision, I'm finding the "The Holocaust was a long time ago, no current German citizens had anything to do with it so it's all water under the bridge, for Jews to even bring this up is offensive and prejudiced" comments sprinkled throughout these threads to be really questionable. I can't help but believe that these same folks would never dare make similarly dismissive remarks about the prejudice and atrocities experienced in the not too distant past by other minorities because such comments would rightfully be considered beyond the pale.

While acknowledging that there should be no reason to assume modern era Germans are anti-Semetic (just as one should probably not default to the assumption that the average modern day white person in America is irredeemably racist) if one honestly cannot see why some Jews would find it problematic that this ruling which specifically targets a Jewish (and Muslim) religious practice is coming from a German court, a court of the very same country who barely a generation ago tried to systematically wipe the Jewish religion off the map, well, I would suggest that lack of empathy would be one reason why these threads always tend to go poorly.
posted by The Gooch at 1:18 PM on June 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


Also, "there is no medical argument against it" is simply wrong. Earlier you argued for restraint in this debate. I ask the same of you. That statement is hyperbole, and I think you know better.
posted by gilrain at 1:18 PM on June 28, 2012


Wilder: "As I watch a yarmulke wearing Italian fan screaming in joy as a black Italian man scores for his team in the EuroCup 2012 I realise that things on the continent appear far more nuanced that the messages I read and see about what is happening in the USA, whether politics or culture."

My country, backwards though it may be in some respects, now apparently allows me more religious tolerance and freedom to practice my religion than yours.

So yes, I think there's nuance here worth examining.

Wilder: "There is nothing I would feel comfortable adding to that thread to be honest, for the first time outside one of the older Boyzone threads we used to have (and which lost us some amazing contributors) I felt really "other" on metafilter. And cnsidering how "other" I really am that's saying something

For what it's worth, I'm very sorry for the role I played in that. But I do stand by what I have said on this topic.

For what its worth, the ruling will have been made with only one focus, the rights of the child and despite knowing how it would play out considering the history that is what we want from a judicial system in a country with separation of church and state. Jewish & Sharia law on circumcision is a religious affair. A decision was reached here which placed a social premium on secular rather than religious rights in a secular country."

Yes, that would appear to be so, since the people performing the brit milah and khitan in Germany are overwhelmingly non-secular.

This ruling means:

1) A basic requirement of the Jewish faith will no longer be allowed by German law.

2) A ritual which many Muslims view as obligatory to their faith is being legally banned. Muslims are currently the largest single religious group in the world that practice widespread circumcision.

The choice we're being given is to change our religion, leave Germany or face punitive consequences.

I am morbidly curious to see if this results in a Germany without religious Jews.

I think it more likely that this will result in underground circumcisions, complete with parents who are afraid and unwilling to take their children to medical doctors if something goes wrong, for fear of retribution. A victory for no one.
posted by zarq at 1:24 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


It means I am an heir to a long cultural and tribal legacy.

Okay. I am now asking this somewhat separately from the context of the discussion: what, for you, does that cultural and tribal legacy entail? Could you decide to stop being Jewish? Could I decide to start? In what ways does being an heir to that cultural and tribal legacy differentiate you from people who are not?

I don't really understand what a cultural and tribal legacy is, and I've obviously been speaking all along from a position of ignorance on that subject.

I'm interested because the answers I've heard from all of the Jewish people I know well enough to have asked are different, and seem different from the answers to the equivalent question with "Jewish" replaced by some other descriptor. For example, although, say, Mormons or anarchists will also differ in their answers, there will be a common thread, which is that the answers will all be descriptions of a set of beliefs of one type or another. Similarly, the answer to the question of what it means to be a citizen of a country will always involve reference to some form of legal documentation. The definitions of Jewish identity that I've heard are more diverse than the definitions I've heard for any other identity, in the sense that I don't even know what being Jewish fundamentally entails.

Since I understand I've probably come across quite stridently in this discussion, and this is just kind of an aside (though I think it does bear on the discussion in the blue thread, at least), I won't respond to your answer, if you don't want, should you want to give one.
posted by kengraham at 1:25 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, "there is no medical argument against it" is simply wrong. Earlier you argued for restraint in this debate. I ask the same of you. That statement is hyperbole, and I think you know better.

I meant there is no consensus of medical opinion that it is something that shouldn't be done. There are medical arguments for and against almost any medical procedure.

But this is not really a continuation of the "is circumcision a good or an evil" argument that I did not wish to have in the other thread. I wanted, instead, to discuss framing, and how these sorts of threads can be terribly alienating to Jews.

But there is something awfully odd about being comfortable generating a discussion about whether Jews and Muslims should be allowed to do something, and framing it in such a way that Jews and Muslims may not want to participate in it.

Okay. I am now asking this somewhat separately from the context of the discussion: what, for you, does that cultural and tribal legacy entail?

Holy crap, that's a long and difficult question, and I do not think it can be summed up in a post. I couldn't really sum up what it means to be Irish-American in a single post either. Both are identities defined by plurality and diaspora, but share a common sense of history, a sense of a shared approach to culture and ethics, and a common set of formative myths, which some understand literally and some as myth.

If you want to investigate this further, I would suggest Mordecai M. Kaplan's Judaism as a Civilization, which was one of the first texts that tried to understand Judaism as a larger phenomenon than simply a religious one.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:33 PM on June 28, 2012


I agree that there is no medical consensus either way... that's much more fair statement. Thanks for the clarification. Your previous statement could easily misinform someone not aware of the medical concerns involved with circumcision.
posted by gilrain at 1:39 PM on June 28, 2012


Not my intention. I would encourage people to thoroughly investigate the medical risks and benefits of circumcision, as I would any medical procedure. I actually think if a consensus were reached that it is medically harmful in enough cases, Jews and Muslims would revisit the subject. But I suspect most male Jews are like me, and do not feel harmed by the procedure.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:42 PM on June 28, 2012


Thank you for answering and giving me the benefit of the doubt; it would have been reasonable to suspect that answering me involved the risk of snark/having your time wasted. I will find and read Kaplan's work.
posted by kengraham at 1:42 PM on June 28, 2012


kengraham: " Okay. I am now asking this somewhat separately from the context of the discussion: what, for you, does that cultural and tribal legacy entail? Could you decide to stop being Jewish? Could I decide to start? In what ways does being an heir to that cultural and tribal legacy differentiate you from people who are not? "

I wouldn't mind trying to explore this a little with you if you like. Jewish cultural and religious identity is very complex, but it might be fun to scratch the surface a bit.
posted by zarq at 1:45 PM on June 28, 2012


Thank you for answering and giving me the benefit of the doubt;

I appreciate your interest in the subject. I think the Gooch is right to some extent -- there is sometimes this assumption that Judaism is just another collection of primitive superstitions that don't deserve further investigation or respect. Not only is this not true of Judaism, which is an awesomely complex historical identity, but, as a former religious studies major, something I have found to be true of nearly all religions.

Even as an atheist, it is possible to see the world of religion as being something more than fools foolishly following foolishness. Judaism may have one of the more complicated ethnic and cultural heritages outside the religion -- Jewish atheism is unexpectedly common -- but it is by no means alone in this.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:46 PM on June 28, 2012


>>To reductively claim it is simply a question of the religious freedom of a historically oppressed minority is almost incomprehensibly simplistic.

I don't know how to respond to that. No it isn't? It actually makes it more complicated?


My point was that if you take the time to read the ruling, it is not based on simply a question of whether practicing Jews in Germany have freedom of religious belief, but rather what the interaction of that freedom is with a competing right of the child to be free from unnecessary surgical interference.

It is no more accurate to frame this debate as a question of "is there freedom of religion???" than it is to frame it as "should children be genitally mutilated by their parents???" Both of those positions attempt to frame to the question in a way that only has one answer, when in reality it is far more complicated. Thus, for me, it is nowhere near enough for you to base your position on the fact that you are Jewish and believe you are entitled to universal exercise of your religious prerogatives; likewise, it is also nowhere near enough for me to hear supporters of the ruling say "this is harmful to babies and thus there is no question that this is the right call by the courts." Both positions are intellectually impoverished. If you cannot acknowledge that both sides are motivated by genuinely good intentions but with differing worldviews, and therefore cannot also acknowledge that there needs to be some mechanism to resolve these tensions in a equality-based pluralistic society, then there is little debate to be had here because both sides present their positions as unassailably on the moral high ground with no ground for mutual understanding.
posted by modernnomad at 2:02 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never said I don't think the motivations were good. I think when people try to protect children, it's almost always motivated by good intentions. I sympathize with their position, but I think one of the results of being a country with a really dominant majority and a history of excluding minorities is that you wind up assuming the way you think about the world is normal and right, and aren't challenged on it very much.

If you are not circumcised, and you were raised in a world where almost nobody is circumcised, I can understand thinking that it is a bizarre mutilation ritual. And I can understand wanting to pass law to protect children from that ritual. I think this was done with the very best intentions.

But I think it was also done without a proper regard for the fact that this idea that circumcision is somehow harmful to children -- the basis for the ruling -- is controversial. And that the real-world results of it are that a dominant majority are enacting their worldview on a minority without considering that maybe what's happening is that there may be honest disagreements about what the rights of a child are, and whether circumcision violates those rights or not.

And, for me, this is not about religious freedom. That comes to the front because this ruling would primarily affect religious and ethnic minorities in Germany, but, were it in America, the discussion would mostly be about medical and cultural reasons. And I would be just as uncomfortable with a law being passed here that presumed to settle a question that is, instead, completely unsettled.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:11 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Folks, I do not want to moderate two circumcision threads. If you are not really talking about how these threads go on MetaFilter, I'd sort of appreciate if you'd move this conversation to the currently open thread on MetaFilter.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:12 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fair enough. My apologies, Jess.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:22 PM on June 28, 2012


But I think it was also done without a proper regard for the fact that this idea that circumcision is somehow harmful to children -- the basis for the ruling -- is controversial.

Okay, so why can't people call it harmful without being accused (by you) of arguing not in good faith? Controversial means that people disagree.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:25 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fair enough. My apologies, Jess.


Likewise. Sorry.
posted by modernnomad at 2:27 PM on June 28, 2012


Thanks -- totally understand why the conversation here is appealing but having two tandem threads on basically the same topic isn't really that great and we've got seriously stricter rules for what gets moderated/deleted from MeTa which means we have differing attention paid to flags and all the rest. Appreciate your understanding.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:38 PM on June 28, 2012


Even as an atheist, it is possible to see the world of religion as being something more than fools foolishly following foolishness.

I certainly agree with this. I used the word "religious" a couple of times to refer to something other than religion, but I wasn't sure what to call it; that was needlessly imprecise, since it's not religion, but rather preemptively deciding on someone else's beliefs to which I object. Since the situation is actually, you explained, much more complex than that, my latent questions about how cultural identity works re-emerged.

oneironaut's post aggressively asserting, more or less, that cultural identity is a more important consideration than individual freedom (because xyr experience says so) set off my anti-authoritarian alarm for a while, but also made me question my (weakly-held) belief that group-membership-based identity is fundamentally sort of authoritarian. [On the other hand, since I have trouble going so far as to classify circumcision as violence, the idea of legislating about it also sets of my anti-authoritarianism alarm (which is fairly sensitive).]

(Half of my background is Irish-American, too, and there is a noticeable difference between the nuclear subfamilies of my family who have retained Catholicism and those who've abandoned it, in terms of whether parent-child relationships are mutually respectful and relatively egalitarian. I've noticed what I believe to be a similar correlation, in Jewish families that I know, between the extent to which parents relate to children in authoritarian ways and the apparent extent to which those parents' personal identities involve religion/ethnicity, but maybe I'm totally misreading the latter.)

zarg , re: your offer, I'm certainly interested in anything you have to say about those questions (or anything else on the subject). I don't know if this is considered the right venue, but MeMail is welcome.
posted by kengraham at 2:47 PM on June 28, 2012


I think this isn't about circumcision; I don't know if it's appropriate here, and if it isn't I will stop. But I think it is.

Could you decide to stop being Jewish?

Some people say yes, some people say no. I say yes: if you don't want to claim Judaism, I'm not going to force it on you. On the other hand, even if you don't want to claim it, you can still (generally) use it to get Israeli citizenship, which is one way of defining Judaism.

You can stop practicing the religion. You can stop taking part in the culture. (For Judaism, these two are entwined, in that a seder is sort of both.) But you can't stop having grown up Jewish, or having a Jewish family, and that will always have some impact on your worldview. (I am assuming that someone who wants to stop being Jewish grew up Jewish.) Depending on where you fall on the Judaism is a religion/culture/ethnicity scale, you can or cannot stop.

Could I decide to start?

. . . sort of. You can convert. (I am assuming you are not at all Jewish for this question.) Conversion isn't easy. But if you start practicing the rituals and going to synagogue etc, sure, you can become Jewish.

I do not think you can just become culturally Jewish, because of how much it is entwined with being religiously Jewish. You can't just take on a culture as an adult without the baggage in the same way that you can keep a culture you grew up with but throw out the baggage. (I know I am referring to the religious aspects of Judaism as baggage, which is unfair in a lot of ways.)

In what ways does being an heir to that cultural and tribal legacy differentiate you from people who are not?

In what ways does being Tonkinese, or Peruvian, or Belgian differentiate you from people who aren't? Being Anglican, or Hindu? Or being Cree, or Salish, or Inuit? It affects how you see the world in all sorts of ways, from little (I generally think about it as I eat milk and meat together, even though I do so quite regularly and without any guilt) to big (what does getting forgiveness mean). It's a big question which is very difficult to answer.



Note: I am answering for myself, not Jews as a whole, not atheist Reform mostly secular Jews, not anything. As they say: two Jews, three opinions.
posted by jeather at 3:07 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Even as an atheist, it is possible to see the world of religion as being something more than fools foolishly following foolishness.

Yes, definitely. Maybe it's easier for me, coming from an agnostic family, having voluntarily chosen religion later in life and then voluntarily chosen atheism, but I don't really see much necessary difference of cognitive and critical thinking power between the religious and non-religious. And regardless of how you feel about a particular religion, all that "sky wizard" shit does is display your feelings of superiority and poison the dialogue.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:15 PM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


what about refunds?
posted by clavdivs at 3:19 PM on June 28, 2012


This discussion of culture identity is interesting to me, and, since it is a tangent from the circumcision discussion, I hope Jess doesn't mind if I continue it here.

As I was born to an Irish mother (and, presumably, an English father, although that part of my biography is sketchy and perhaps fabricated) but adopted by a Jewish family, I've spent my whole life finding my place in both worlds. I was adopted by a Reform family and they never did any sort of conversion ceremony, so there Jews who would not consider me Jewish. But I was raised very much culturally Jewish by my parents, both New Yorkers and children of immigrants; Yiddish was not a first language for my father, but definitely a second one, and so I was raised around a lot of Yiddishisms. We attended synagogue, as my mother still does, not because she has any idea about the afterworld or God, or even thinks about it at all, but because she enjoys the community and the rituals, and Reform Jewish services generally have sermons about ethical behavior, and I think she enjoys that. In high school, I went to a Jewish school, exclusively because my parents wanted me in a smaller classroom. I was deeply immersed in the world of religious Judaism -- modern Orthodox, to be specific, although there were Lubovich Jews who also participated. I wound up knowing a lot more about Judaism than I ever would have otherwise, although it has been decades and my knowledge is slipping. I did study religion in college, from a historic perspective, but ultimately switched over to theater.

It's not too hard for me to know where I stand in the Jewish community. There is room made for converts, especially adopted converts. Two of my classmates in school were adoptees, which means three out of 13 students were adopted. One was the child of Holocaust survivors who could not have children. And I never felt out of place as an atheist. Judaism has such a strong focus on righteous action and such a strong cultural identity that the fact that I was a bit of a Communist made me about as Jewish as anything. Saying "There is power in a union," in some circles, is as much a mark of being Jewish as saying the Ani Ma'amin.

As an Irish-American, it was trickier. There are three places where the Irish-American identity was, and is, fomented, and I was separated from two of them -- the church and the home. The third is Irish public institutions, particularly bars (the Irish have an unexpected commonality with gays and lesbians in that so much of their identity developed in bars; but, then, that's also where the American identity was created, as the Revolution was plotted in saloons), and I was too young for that. (Weirdly, I can actually claim a piece of my perhaps fictional English identity, as I actually lived in England as a boy, and when I meet people from England nowadays I feel a bit like puppies do when they see other puppies -- there is a terrible urge to stop and stare. And so I grew up with a lot of specifically English points of reference, and maybe my Anglo-America identity is something I should examine a bit more; but it's historically the default ethnic identity in America, and Anglophilia is the classic mark of the American middle class, and so it's a harder identity to really grab hold of in a lot of ways.)

I taught myself to be Irish-American. By reading books on the subject, and the history of Ireland. I taught myself penny whistle, which I still play pretty well. I watched movies about Ireland. And, when I got old enough, I went to the bars and participated in Irish-American groups. And nobody ever thought twice about it. I guess the default assumption is that if somebody says they are something, you just go with it -- I have a friend who was raised by a father who claimed to be Jewish, but turned out to be Columbian, and nobody ever called him on it.

There was a little while when, through a misstatement on the part of my mother, my Irish-American identity was called into question. It tormented me for years, because I had really worked at being Irish-American, and really liked it. It's a cultural heritage that I have always found enormously appealing, if you disregard things like Fighting Irish tattoos and The Boondocks Saints. Finally I contacted the adoption agency and they confirmed that I was Irish, and I was so relieved I burst into tears, one of the few times I have wept in the past decade.

Ethnic and cultural identity isn't for everybody. My girlfriend is German, but doesn't really think about it, and a lot of people are just American, which goodness knows is a pretty complicated identity. But I know there a lot of us out there who like to be part of a continuum of history. We like to know where we have come from, and the stories of the people who brought us here, and the songs they sung, and all that. I liked it so much that I was terrified at its loss, even though it was an identity I mostly had to forge myself, out of books and old fiddle tunes played on penny whistle.

And I think a lot of people are like me, in that their identity is so meaningful because they had to have a hand in creating us. When the Irish came to America, they stopped being Irish and had to be something new. So they invented Irish-Americanism, and still invent it. And maybe that's why they never thought twice about the Jewish kid who they had not grown up with -- I was inventing it right along with them, and if Irish-American isn't large enough to encompass somebody like me, maybe it isn't large enough to survive in this American world where everybody is a little mixed. Jews had to do it too. Like the Irish, we're in disapora, and had to figure out what it meant to be Jewish in every new place we went.

Some just give up on the old. And that's just fine. But others want continuity with the past, and that takes a lot of work, and must be done collaboratively. And I am sorry to bring this back to circumcision, and won't, except to say that when somebody else makes these decisions about identity for you, and they are not you, and they don't have a link to your past and a stake in your future, it can raise people's hackles a bit.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:41 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


when somebody else makes these decisions about identity for you, and they are not you

You were for putting infant genitalia on the chopping block, correct? Certainly seems a little ironic.
posted by Estraven at 8:11 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Other thread.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:13 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually. I am going to close this up. The other thread is going okay and every thread doesn't need to have a side-thread for other discussions. Thanks for being understanding.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:24 PM on June 28, 2012


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