On what will hopefully be the first of many Saturday morning caffeine streams, I spoke with Kyle Broussard about circumcision, antisemitism, and Eric Clopper’s presentation on the subject of male genital cutting (and its relationship with Judaism). It’s a fascinating subject.
I think one of the two biggest takeaways was Kyle’s explanation of hazing:
…basically, he was trying to make sure that people were aware that tribalism–and this is actually true with my time in the Marine Corps–that we attribute a value to pain, because if you put in a certain amount of pain, that’s a certain amount of value invested, in which case it’s more than likely going to keep you around: ‘I’ve already put in this much pain, suffering, blood, tears, so on and so forth, I might as well stick with it.’ And that’s that kind of binding mechanism for the tribalistic nature in human beings that really kept… I believe he was trying to indicate the Jewish tribe, going.
It seems that the sunk-cost fallacy isn’t always a bad thing, if it compels loyalty and faith in the group that will keep you alive. If the science behind Clopper’s presentation is true, then being circumcised is one hell of a sunk cost, but if it kept you and your tribe–which happens to have been the most persecuted people in all of history–alive, then Clopper’s rage against his ancestral religion seems, at the very least, enormously ungrateful, even accounting for the cost of circumcision.
This context is not a reason to continue the practice, of course; just a reason to go easy on your parents. For them, survival may have been a more important goal than your own modern conceptions of bodily autonomy, human rights, and individualism in general.
The second big takeaway was my argument against antisemitism:
Is there a special reason to distrust or dislike the Jews? With this circumcision thing from Clopper, it seems like there is something special, there is something unique about them. Is that a reason to dislike them? My introduction to the Jewish Question–although it wasn’t referred to as such–was actually Friederich Nietzsch, and in The Antichrist, he talks about the Jews being in many ways the most interesting people in the world, the most persecuted. But Nietzsche was a very strong anti-antisemite. He had a kind of contempt for antisemites, and I think it was because he admired the voracious Jewish affirmation of life. He has a line in there, something like “when posed with the question ‘to be, or not to be?’ the Jews contemplated it, they thought about it deep and hard, and then they very carefully said ‘to be, at any price’… which sort of brings us back to circumcision and Clopper’s whole thing.
If Clopper’s presentation is true–and I think his science seems to be pretty solid, for the most part–man, that is a very heavy price to be paid. But if that price that you paid bought you survival, through in-group solidarity, through social cohesion, through maintaining that group in the face of the most persecution probably any group has faced, what an extraordinary accomplishment, and what an extraordinary affirmation of life. And I think what Nietzsche was worried about, and I think he’s right in saying, is that if you hate this group, if you oppose this group especially and uniquely, you run the risk of hating that affirmation of life which he thought we should actually adopt. Not in exactly the same way as the Jews, but at least to consciously choose life over death, which he thought was represented in Christianity.