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UK: Worst. Analogy. Ever.

August 30, 2012

Giles Fraser thinks cutting bits off boys’ penises is like teaching them to talk.

So, I want you to imagine a ridiculous liberal experiment, inspired by the philosophical idea that parents ought not to impose their world-view upon their child. Imagine if some mad parents decided not to teach their child a language.

After all, a language like English is impregnated with a set of values and assumptions. So why not keep the child away from all language and then when they get to adulthood allow them to choose for themselves?

Why is this madness? Because learning a language does not close down options. Rather, learning a language is the very basis upon which choice is made possible. It is a precondition for the possibility of understanding.

I offer this bonkers experiment as a reductio ad absurdum of the sort of thing that is often said about imposing religion on children.

The Jewish Chronicle

Because baby boys always scream with fear, misery and excruciating pain when you teach them to talk.

On the other hand, nobody actually dies from it.

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3 Comments
  1. corio37 permalink

    Thanks, Steven. As others have commented elsewhere, if a new religion was founded which required its adherents to, say, lop off the top joint of their babies’ left little fingers, it would quickly be banned by law and shut down by the police. But such is the power of long tradition and religious sanctions that a piece of Iron Age barbarism like circumcision is still defended by some people who are otherwise quite rational.

  2. Steven in Tokyo permalink

    Well, born in Australia in 1956, I was circumcised immediately, without any question of getting my parents’ consent (not that they would have said no). After the procedure, the doctor said to my parents, “Sorry, I slipped and cut too much off. He might have trouble becoming a father.” I don’t remember it, of course, but I do remember my father looking worriedly at my penis when I was four or five years old. Nothing was ever said, and I only realized that something was wrong much later. I had assumed that erections were painful things that went away almost as soon as they happened. To cut a long story short (ha ha!), I have never been able to reach a climax without doing it myself, in the special way that I worked out to get around the pain of having an erection. Now I’m 55, and, just as the doctor foretold, I have never become a father.

    Botched circumcisions may be rare, but I would never wish this on anyone. I always wonder what sex might have been like tif I had been left intact, but that is something that I will never know in the only life that I will ever have. I curse the doctor who slipped, and the Judeo-Christian tradition that made circumcision such a “matter of fact” thing in Australia in the 1950s. By the way, he’s dead now; he died long before I even realized what he had done.

  3. Richard H permalink

    Giles Fraser (CofE; why’s he writing for the Jewish Chronicle?) needs a course in Linguistics 101 before offering any more inept language-based rhetoric:
    “… parents decided not to teach their child a language.”
    Wouldn’t make any difference. Child language acquisition has nothing to do with “being taught”, nor are parents necessary for the process.
    “… a language like English is impregnated with a set of values and assumptions.”
    Really? Is English impregnated with, say, “protestant” or “constitutional-monarchic” values and assumptions in a way that Chinese isn’t? Any linguist will be happy to explain to him how any language can express any set of values and assumptions, because languages have _duality of patterning_ and _productivity_.

    But the title is wrong. It’s not an analogy at all. If it were, you could substitute “religion” for “language” and the following would still make sense:
    “Rather, having a religion is the very basis upon which choice is made possible. It is a precondition for the possibility of understanding.”

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