Pigeonholing Circumcision?

If you look at my post on  Foreskin Decisions you will see that I did two things:

  1. I told how, 12 years ago, I decided to circumcise my son.
  2. I listed some of the problems men with foreskins can have.

However, if you read that post carefully, or any of the comments or following posts, you will see that I did not tell readers what my present position is on circumcision. Most readers, of course, assumed that since I had circumcised my son and listed the benefits of circumcision that I must  be pro-circumcision. I was intentional not to reveal my present thoughts. My intent on the circumcision post was to start a series of meta-posts — this is one of them.

The fact is, if I had a son today, I would probably hesitate to circumcise him. I am not sure which way I would go on the issue today. Even twelve years ago I was about 40 % against circ and 60% for.  Today those percentages are probably flipped for me.

We often over-read each other or over-hear each other. If someone once supported a position we are invested in, we often can not hear the other voice within them. Thus though my comments offered sympathy for the anti-circ folks, nonetheless people persistently heard me as pro-circ.

This tendency to falsely over-simplify someone’s position is also illustrated in my post called “Alternative Medicine is of the Devil“, where I tell the story how I almost lost two jobs because physicians assumed I was a soft-minded, woo-woo weirdo because I had a degree in Oriental Medicine and supported some of its uses. Similarly, on applying to graduate school in Philosophy, due to my interest in religion and an undergrad degree in psychology, I was mandated to an intensive year of study in symbolic and mathematical logic so as “to prove you have a brain.” I remember those words so well.

We are easily tempted to classify each other as black or white, right or wrong, and certainly as unchanging. The fact is, real life is fuzzy — as are our minds and opinions.

Question to readers:  Any thoughts on Pigeonholing?


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

14 responses to “Pigeonholing Circumcision?

  1. Real life is really fuzzy. The more you know, the less you say.

  2. It seems like the natural thing to do. Pigeonholing, not circumcision, that is. 😉 It takes a lot of self-training and self-discipline to maintain truly “fuzzy” opinions. It seems that we love the discrete known than the fuzzy unknown.

    I had thought you were quite considerate of both viewpoints, so I didn’t think that you had a strong bias with which to pigeonhole you in either camp. That said, I had guessed you were more in the pro-circ than anti-circ camp, but I am not at all surprised to find you leaning in the anti-circ camp more.

  3. @ Dan Gurney
    I’d agree that life is real fuzzy, but I would agree that the more you know the fuzzier it gets. But I would say that the degree to which you talk or write just depends on temperament, not on the fuzziness.

  4. @ The Wise Fool
    I agree, pigeonholing is very natural, but only at a certain stage of knowledge in any domain. I agree that learning to stay “fuzzy” takes training, or perhaps some powerful experiences or temperament or good luck!

    I am very impressed on your sites how you allow for all sorts of variety of opinions and skillful dance with people. I hope to learn just by watching — I hate discipline. 🙂

  5. Thanks Sabio! That means a lot to me coming from you. 🙂

    I was wondering: would clarify “a certain stage of knowledge?” I’m assuming you mean when you don’t know much, but do you see cases where people persist in their pigeonholing despite knowledge? If I am drifting in the right direction here, do you think that such behavior is more the rule or the exception?

  6. @ TWF,
    Right, I agree, it depends on the sort of knowledge.
    I forgot where I read this, but it is said that the higher ones education, the greater your skills at self-deception. Which is what you are hinting at, I think: “knowledge does not always protect from blindness”.

  7. One good reason not to circumcise your son is that while you may have changed your mind, he can never get his foreskin back. That was a good reason not to do it then, and it’s still a good reason. Cutting parts of someone else’s genitals off is not just a “meta-argument”. It has consequences in the real world. There is something masturbational in this focus on what YOU may or may not have thought then, may or many not think now, and what we may think of what you thought then or think now. It was always HIS body, HIS decision.

  8. @ Hugh7,
    Curious which of these you see yourself here to do:
    (a) Persuade me
    (b) Persuade readers
    (c) Vent

  9. Pat

    On a spectrum from black to white, it can be difficult to see the shades of gray when you’re closer to one of the ends. I think it’s a lot easier for those with strong opinions on any given issue to pigeonhole others for their opinions.

    Then again, if you don’t outright state that your opinion is a shade of gray, and present information that might imply otherwise, you’re inviting people to pigeonhole (whether you intended to or not).

  10. Sabio Lantz

    You are right, Pat, the people on the extremes can be blinded by their fervor and merely be interested in sermonizing. They don’t seem to have clear goals because their style is not convincing and actually polarizes the sides. These folks, ironically, largely waste their time on the web. Also, the type of folks drawn to extreme positions have problematic personalities from the get-go, so it leaves listeners wondering if the problem is the person and not the issue. I am sure you understand my nuances here.

    If I don’t state my position, a careful person would ask — the others lecture and often re-enforce stereotype against them by the very people they delude themselves into thinking they are convincing.

    I am sure I have been and continue to be guilty of the same, depending on the subject, the day and my audience.

  11. “The tendency to falsely over-simplify someone’s position”

    I’m curious to know if there is a correct way to over-simplify someone’s position?

    This might be a stretch, but as I read this I was reminded of Bloom’s taxonomy. It was first taught to me as a set of levels – remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, synthesizing and finally evaluating. It was also stressed that evaluation comes last, even though we tend to quickly (and naturally) jump to that stage when dealing with new information.

    Maybe if we were to suspend our evaluation until the last, or not treat evaluation as the ultimate goal, we could manage our pigeonholing better?

  12. What comes to (my) mind is the fact that people want to see a person as an unchanging entity which they are used to. People (colleagues, friends, the society, …) want to see you from a certain time-invariant viewpoint. Changes (especially sudden and/or drastic ones) are unwelcome. This is one of the greatest obstacle in one’s desire for a change. One often wonders why a religious person adhering to religion A is more comfortable in knowing that another person adheres to religion B rather than none at all. I think that a similar phenomenon occurs here: that theists think of atheists as persons who do not fit in a certain box. They are undefined. They are prone to change. And this makes them uncomfortable.

    These are my end-of-the day 1p worth thoughts.

  13. @ Andrew ,
    Yes, that was badly phrased. Probably should say, “Over-simplify into a false characterization.”

    @ Takis,
    Good points, even at the end of an exhausting day!

  14. roni

    I’ve come accross this film: http://vimeo.com/21204358

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