guest post by Tony @ Choose Intact. Any formatting errors will be corrected by the end of the day but I wanted to get it up ASAP and I have no way to edit.
1. Issues with Intactivism
You asked if I think there is a better way to get the message across than what is represented in the list of tactics you offered. If you question is the simplistic, “Is there a better way”, the answer is almost certainly “yes”. It may be that we won’t know what it is until we accidentally try it, so trying multiple paths makes sense. But given that non-therapeutic child circumcision continues, we haven’t found the best way, if there is one. But I don’t think that’s what you’re asking, because the reality in the question is whether or not specific tactics are good. Judging the behaviors in your list is a relevant and useful starting point.
Harassing people on Facebook – BAD (To be clear, harassment is not merely the act of commenting on a public post or disagreeing with a post/comment.)Hanging ridiculous Halloween displays – NEUTRAL – It depends on the display, of which I have seen none, but I’m inclined to a presumption of BAD.Proselytizing via halloween candy – BAD – It’s possibly NEUTRAL to GOOD for candy given to older teens, but I’d be surprised if it did more than generate immature giggles.Celebrating the deaths of AIDS researchers – BADProtesting with a bloody crotch – NEUTRAL – It depends on audience and behavior added to the process. It’s GOOD where it gets people talking, usually BAD in practice when it involves such behavior as not listening or worse.Flooding the comments section of any article or facebook post mentioning circumcision – NEUTRAL – (See above on harassment. Discourse is always useful and necessary. I think circumcision stops by changing minds, often one at a time. That should make this tactic GOOD. The risk is in overwhelming discourse, and often with inflammatory rhetoric, which is what you’re getting at and what happens. I know this from comment sections I’ve participated in, as well as Twitter. I’ve had to tell people to stop “helping” in the past because they want to overwhelm people. Most people won’t change their mind with an information dump or mass attack. They certainly won’t change their minds being called names. Those behaviors are BAD, which leads to my NEUTRAL.Creating sock puppets – BADSoliciting people to lie about losing a child to circumcision – BAD (I haven’t heard of anyone doing this.)Coming up with just beyond poorly designed studies with no intention of an honest assessment of the ‘studied’ issue (Bollinger) – BAD – However, I wouldn’t characterize Mr. Bollinger that way. I’ve met him. He struck me as sincere and honest. That doesn’t mean I’ll defend his paper on the death count. I won’t. Sincere, honest people can be wrong. That paper is an estimate based on assumptions. I read only the first half of the paper before I stopped. I know the death rate is not zero. If it is ever 112 in any given year, it’s a pure coincidence with the number in that paper. I don’t cite it. I wrote as much in a post in 2012. I’ve also said that to other activists in person. (My guess is single-to-low-double-digits in any given year, from complications of circumcision and without circumcision listed as the cause of death.)Telling people who disagree with you to kill themselves or that you will rape them or hoped they are raped or assaulted. – BAD
For good measure, here are some more examples, with my responses. On calling circumcision “rape”: <a href=”http://www.chooseintact.com/2011/08/17/truth-and-loaded-words/” rel=”nofollow”>Truth and Loaded Words</a>. A few references of mine against anti-Semitism: <a href=”http://www.rollingdoughnut.com/2011/06/opposition_to_circumcision_and_1.html” rel=”nofollow”>Opposition to Circumcision and Anti-Semitism</a>, <a href=”http://www.rollingdoughnut.com/2011/06/opposition_to_circumcision_and.html” rel=”nofollow”>Opposition to Circumcision and Anti-Semitism: Follow-Up</a>, <a href=”http://www.chooseintact.com/2011/06/25/flawed-circumcision-defense-lz-granderson/” rel=”nofollow”>Flawed Circumcision Defense: LZ Granderson</a>, and a recent public thread on Twitter: <a href=”http://www.chooseintact.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ChooseIntact_Twitter_feed.pdf” rel=”nofollow”>PDF</a>.
Finally, this video, titled “Baby Cock Cutters for Hire”, is a frustrating example of the nonsense that happens. (Disclosure: I’ve met the featured activists in that video.) This behavior is unacceptable. At the point I started the link, that doctor might be receptive to the arguments. We’ll never know because the two activists, including Brother K, shout her down. They’re focused on “proving” their superiority. They didn’t care what she had to say. I think it’s always indefensible when anyone circumcises a healthy child. But I’m interested in what I (or we) can convince someone to stop doing than what they’ve done.
As I think my Twitter exchange above shows, I want my superior ethical position to win, not to claim a pointless pyrrhic victory over individuals. It’s the principle that matters. It’s about individuals and their rights. People who engage in the behavior in that video, including naming it “Baby Cock Cutters for Hire”, harm the cause for which they advocate.
This is as good a place as I’ll find in this essay to <a href=”http://www.rollingdoughnut.com/2006/10/the_first_of_many_needed_victo.html” rel=”nofollow”>quote myself</a>:
<blockquote>I’m familiar with the term intactivist. It’s cute and descriptive, but because it’s cute, I do not like it. As the article shows, it does little more than give reporters an excuse to fill in the story with details at which typical readers will roll their eyes. That’s not helpful.</blockquote>
I’ll add that I don’t like it because it lumps activists together. In any cause there will be people who behave badly or who glom onto the cause for their own purposes. I don’t think we see much of the latter, but the former occurs, as the examples above show. Outside of any organization I run, I can’t be responsible for the behavior of others. I can attempt to influence people agitating with me or for the same goal, as I think my links show I’ve done. (I’ve also spoken up when witnessing this behavior in person a few times in the last decade, but I can’t prove that here.) Still, I’ll be lumped in with those who share a label. That’s the other reason I still reject the label. I can’t stop you from applying the label to me, and I see that as a logical inference if you take it to mean “activist against circumcision/for child bodily autonomy“. But it would be unfair to judge me or any other individual, by default, for the behaviors of another because we share a label. This is especially true with evidence that I oppose such behavior and have challenged it in various ways.
I want to anticipate a valid rebuttal. I am not making a No True Scotsman argument. I am not saying that only good behavior represents intactivists. Those behaving the worst can be intactivists. They reflect poorly on all of us. It angers me. Some people engage in bad behaviors or lose sight of the principle (e.g. the last item in your list hardly reflects a respect for bodily autonomy). I am saying the principle of bodily autonomy matters. Having people respect that for all people is the goal. How we encourage that, through good or bad, is distinct from the principle itself.
I hope that suffices to show my bona fides on support for “good” tactics and opposition to “bad” tactics. I’ll move on to the follow-up, what better ways there are. I wish I had a clear answer to offer Tactic A, Tactic B, and Tactic C. I don’t. I have suggestions for things that might be useful. Blogging, which I do. Using social media, without the bad examples above and the like. Protests at the U.S. Capitol, which I’ve participated in because the moments where I can talk to people and offer a better viewpoint can change minds. Talking with friends and family. And so on. Really, it’s anything people do to convince others of a position.
At its core, I (we) engage in marketing. Our principles and rights are the product. Those who disagree are the audience. What works in reaching them is likely to be “good”. What they ignore or hardens their opposition is likely to be “bad”.
That’s a bit simplistic but a good guideline. I’m going to judge on outcome, but not only on outcome. I care about process, too. I’m not going to shy away because saying “circumcision is wrong” is going to hurt someone’s feelings or risks a man thinking I’m telling him he has to share my view about my genitals for his genitals. I’m likely not going to tell parents they are evil, but I’m not going to suggest they didn’t harm their children, for example. Good people do bad, indefensible things. “When you know better, you do better”, which I have issues with but serves as a passable frame for this.
There are very few villains here on either side of the debate. I want people to protect their sons. Those ostensibly on my side want the same thing. I assume they’re mostly ignorant of how awful their tactics are. They express their justifiable anger in unjustifiable ways. I think it’s reasonable to assume that, since we’re also expected to assume that parents who circumcise do so with only good intentions. I assume that and their ignorance about the harm they impose on their sons. Humans are complicated. Our interactions are messy. We must strive to be better.
The path to ending non-therapeutic child circumcision requires a cultural shift. It requires educating on normal human anatomy. It requires correcting our societal misunderstanding of equality. It requires expanding our analysis of circumcision from the incomplete benefit-versus-risk to benefit-versus-risks-AND-costs. Although I’m more inclined to bluntness as I gain experience and become bored with encountering the same tired excuses, kindness and decency are still the basis for changing minds and actions. People who support parental choice for non-therapeutic circumcision (or support non-therapeutic circumcision itself) are mistaken. Activists are correct to challenge that position. But we must attack the position, not the person. We must do so honestly. These are requirements.
There’s an additional reason beyond this being the right way to engage. People need an exit strategy. We want them to change their minds. We can’t ignore that we’re asking them to give something up. Good diplomacy, which is really just another form of activism, requires allowing people to save face. We’re asking them to change from something worse. When they change, they know they changed from something worse. If someone knows you’d be willing to rub their nose in their past, based on an inference from your present behavior, they’re less likely to change their minds.
That’s my general approach to activism.