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Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality

Four members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Islam living in Detroit, Michigan have recently been indicted on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM). This is the first time the US government has prosecuted an “FGM” case since a federal law was passed in 1996. The world is watching to see how the case turns out. A lot is at stake here. Multiculturalism, religious freedom, the limits of tolerance; the scope of children’s—and minority group—rights; the credibility of scientific research; even the very concept of “harm.” To see how these pieces fit together, I need to describe the alleged crime. *      *      * The term “FGM” is likely to bring to mind the most severe forms of female genital cutting, such as clitoridectomy or infibulation (partial sewing up of the vaginal opening). But the World Health Organization (WHO) actually recognizes four main categories of FGM, covering dozens of different procedures. One of the more “minor” forms is called a “ritual nick.” This practice, which I have argued elsewhere should not be performed on children, involves pricking the …

Scott Adams, Donald Trump and the Ethics of Persuasion

I recently read Scott Adams’s last book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, for a book club I’m in with some friends. We tend to eschew self-help books (especially those with hyperbolic, click-baity titles), but many of the principles Adams espouses seemed both sound and contrarian: focus on systems instead of goals, manage your energy instead of your time, add skills instead of becoming an expert. It was, in fact, a very good book, and a persuasive one – and yet all of us were left with the unshakable feeling that we’d been duped. Indeed, the fact that the book was so intoxicating to read made us all more skeptical of Adams’s advice rather than less. As one friend put it at the time, “I feel like I’ve been hypnotized.” Adams, who created the popular Dilbert comic strip, has been making the podcast rounds of late as an explainer and sometime defender of Donald Trump. His argument is somewhat orthogonal to the traditional pro-Trump case: as a trained hypnotist and longtime …