At the risk of becoming too comfortable in my seat on the Sam Harris bandwagon, I must admit agreement over this piece in the NYT. The argument is that pediatricians ought to be allowed to do a ‘nick’ (an attempt to make the cut seem innocuous) on girls newly born into families that would practice Female Genital Mutilation. The concern is that if not allowed to perform the procedure in the US then the family will merely send the daughter somewhere it can be done. Regardless the daughter will be cut and here it would only be a nick instead of full removal.
However, the uniqueness portion (the daughter will be sent off anyways) of this argument is not a solid argument. Most of the immigrants where this would matter hail from eastern Africa. This also tends to be one of the most economically depressed demographics of American immigrants. The financial means to do so are not always present. Even if they are present, there are ought to be a significant cost to that practice. While the nick may be less harmful than full removal, it is still a practice that deserves condemnation. The avoidance of a worse act does not make it a worthy act.
And here is where we come to the Sam Harris portion. Even though I am probably in line with most cultural relativists and am probably, accurately, in many cases considered a nihilist, this is not one of those cases. This is a horrific act. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. And that is before I even turn to the testimonies of its victims. There is also a significant body of evidence about measurable and quantifiable harms for engaging in the act. Even if the nick avoids these measures, it is still a horrific act.
The benefit? “Cultural gains”. Screw that: cultures change. I’m comfortable with a wholesale dismissal of this cultural benefit. I had thought the nihilistic relativist was a caricature, the boogey man of Tea Party luncheons and Limbaugh shows. Apparently not. Here’s Harris with his take on it, from this essay:
I don’t think one has fully enjoyed the life of the mind until one has seen a celebrated scholar defend the “contextual” legitimacy of the burqa, or a practice like female genital excision, a mere thirty seconds after announcing that his moral relativism does nothing to diminish his commitment to making the world a better place. Given my experience as a critic of religion, I must say that it has been disconcerting to see the caricature of the over-educated, atheistic moral nihilist regularly appearing in my inbox and on the blogs. I sincerely hope that people like Rick Warren have not been paying attention.
Maybe there are these people really out there. The great enemy of the Left are those that sit idly by in their homes thinking they and all others are islands. Islands with their own jagged reefs of beliefs, but islands nonetheless so they do not need lighthouses. Apathy. If you want to defend the nick, then by all means do so, but don’t cave just because you’ve interpreted apathy as acceptance of the act.