Posted by: emjb | January 22, 2007

Neal Pollack: Tool

Neal has just released his book Alternadad, which probably is mildly funny in its hipster, if doomed to be dated, way. He previewed one bit on a week or so ago called “The Unkindest Cut” about the decision to circumcise his son.

And revealed himself an utter tool.

Now I know this chapter was picked because of the furor and links it would generate, which is why I didn’t give you a direct link. If you want to see it, feel free to search, it won’t be hard to find on Salon’s site. No need to feed the monster by linking them directly, I say.

The gist of Pollack’s piece was that he, as an unobservant Jew, was not committed to circumcision, and his wife was horrified at the pain they’d be inflicting on their son. But Pollack’s equally-unobservant family were horrified that they WOULDN’T mutiliate their kid for some meaningless ritual that they no longer believed in. So they had it done. And the end is kind of a shrug “yeah, it looked like it hurt, but the kid won’t remember it, so…whatever.”

Let’s try this out, Neal. How about if we schedule you to undergo some other sort of “minor” scrotal mutilation (perhaps a few random slices and stitches in sensitive areas) but tell you the pain isn’t important because no matter how much it hurts, we’re going to wipe your memory afterward. You’ll never even know it was done. So…hop up on the table, then?

Yeah, I didn’t think so. Circumcised baby boys aren’t able to carry that painful memory into adulthood, but that says nothing about how much pain they go through at the time. Pain for absolutely no cause, against an innocent who cannot even tell you how much it hurts or ask why you are letting this be done to them. Somehow I think if they could, we might hesitate a bit more with the scapel.

I forgive the generations before us, by the way; their doctors told them, and probably believed, it was a health issue and had to be done. But it’s not, it doesn’t, and most insurance plans won’t even cover it anymore because there’s no measurable benefit, and lots of chances for something to go horribly wrong.

You remember: first, do no harm. It would be nice if more parents took that oath, too.



  1. Hmmm … I have mixed feelings on the issue. My son was circumcised in part because my husband is Jewish, but also because we feel there are benefits, including the decreased transmission of STDs. (Yes, we will exhort him to wrap it up, and I hope he does so, but …) I left this decision up to my husband, since as someone who was himself circumcised, he at least had more experience than I. I certainly took it very seriously. (I’ve also seen a lot of older men who ended up having it done because they developed strictures; not common, but pretty unpleasant when it happens.)

    Yes, we say “do no harm,” but in practice that’s followed by “… without considering whether the benefits outweigh the risks.”

    (Insurance companies do cover infant circumcision; they just sometimes won’t cover it later without a medical justification. Which is itself thought-provoking.)

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