Friday, June 1, 2012

The Psychology of Tribes applied to Circumcision

Psychology of Tribe borrowed from=

The psychology of tribes applied to circumcision with my additions in bold italics:

1.When acting in ways which relate primarily to their membership of a group, a person’s behaviour changes to reflect the beliefs and aspirations of the group rather than those of the individual. Therefore if the group cuts the genitals of its members to denote group membership, male or female, the aspirations of the group will take precedence over the aspirations of an individual, who may not want to have his/her genitals cut.  This is what leads to infant male circumcision, and FGM of female children. You find parents and in-particular mothers from circumcision cultures handing over their male newborns to be cut, and the girl children to be cut, even when it goes against their  maternal instincts to protect their baby or child from harm..

2. Tribal Psychology, is an important trait from hunter gatherer times when strong tribal identity was essential to survival, but it’s necessary for any group to find ways to emphasize the characteristic of group membership because it’s that identification with the group which helps promote cooperation and selflessness in the behaviour of its members.  In genital cutting cultures, circumcision is then seen as a ritual which not only denotes tribal membership, but at some level is seen as essential to the survival of a group.  You can see how circumcision cultures & its scientific institutions go and look for data, and even create experiments such as the African HIV trials, to show that circumcision is essential to human survival.  Look at the circumstances of the development of the trials. Epidemiological data from Africa showed that some uncircumcised populations had lower HIV infections than circumcised populations, however, the scientists ignored those populations, and the experiments were conducted where the uncut populations had higher hiv infections. The methodologies of the experiment favoured the cut group, and conflicting data minimized or ignored. This selection process and methodology allowed a greater chance for the a priori  hypothesis to be confirmed that circumcision protects against hiv which will ensure survival of the group. And the unrelenting use of this data by the Pro-Circumcisers who use what happens in high prevalence HIV Africa from the experiments with adult volunteers, as a justification to circumcise male infants in low prevalence hiv nations.  Medical institutions, and scientists from Circumcison cultures avoid or hide the fact that EU & Japan which dont circumcise have much lower HIV/STI's than the USA which has highest adult circumcision rates in the developed world.  Therefore circumcision is seen as an act of cooperation and selflessness to enhance survival of the group.  What is totally ignored here is the fact that most cultures/tribes of the world don't circumcise and have been very successful in surviving.

Negative Elements of Tribal Psychology with my additions in bold italics include:

  1. Grandiose tribal self image: one’s own tribe has certain positive characteristics. Eg Look at Pro-Circumcision Propaganda: Circumcision makes the tribe more hygienic and clean; Circumcision looks better; Circumcision is better for sex; Circumcision is healthier.  Contrast this with the actual evidence that no medical organisation in the world recommends routine circumcision for the above reasons, and people from non-circumcision EU & Japan are healthier, live longer have lower hiv/sti's, and view the intact penis as healthy and normal.
  2. The tribal shadow: other tribes are evil and inhuman.  Pro-Circumcision propaganda abounds with the demonization of the foreskin and the uncircumcised.  Contrast this with most of the world 70 to 75% rejects circumcision, and the healthiest nations with the healthiest people are uncircumcised.
  3. Group polarization Tribal identity gains dominance over that of an individual’s self identity in situations of tribal conflict and competition. Pro-Circumcision uses the propaganda slogan of its the Parents Rights to decide on circumcision, denying the rights of the child to choose for himself.  That intactivists are evil prople who want to deny parents rights.  Contrast this with the strongest arguments against circumcision which are based on human rights and on ethical grounds, that it needs to be the individuals right to choose when they are an adult and make an informed consent decision for themselves.  Pro-circumcision cultures emphasise the group, anti-curcumcision groups emphasise individual rights.
  4. Group think: humans have evolved a tendency to conform to the predominant beliefs and opinions of groups to which they belong. Holding opinions contrary to the consensus engenders stress in the individual, and carries with it the risk of social exclusion. Look at Pro-Circumcision propaganda how it promotes circumcision as the normal healthy thing to do, and labels intactivists, as foreskin fetishists, evil people, and extremists.

The essay drew following conclusions and I add my interpretation in bold italics:

  • Tribal group environments have been important in the evolution of the underpinnings of human psychology, and for that reason people are powerfully influenced by factors which reinforce group identity. Therefore we have a difficult task ahead of us to convince those that believe circumcision is important to group identity.  WE need to select and use our strategies carefully, and slowly emphasise that genital status has nothing to do with group identity in a modern world.  That observance of individual human rights in the modern world, helps us belong to the world of civilised & moral human beings. Obviously one strategy to get there is to use education and informed discussion to educate. The arguments that reinforce the essentiality of circumcision for survival have to be debunked, because they are such a powerful reinforcer, and why the ProCirc’s use fear as a motivator to circ.  Also note how some Jews themselves have abandoned the circumcision for the brit shalom a non-cutting ceremony to admit membership to the jewish community.  So you dont have to cut to be a jew.
  • Identification with a group polarizes divisions between the group and a category of others who form the group’s enemies. WE need to be careful if we are to persuade that we are not the enemies.  We can educate & say that belonging to the group of humanity or any social group is completely independent of genital status Cut or UnCut.
  • Individuals are inclined to conform their thinking to that of the group, even against their personal self interest. This is where individual human rights have to be emphasised, that group think cannot allow the violation of these rights. Note individual psychological defence, “I;m so glad I was circumcised as a baby” never matter they were denied their functional anatomy and they never had a say.
  • Leaders understand how to take advantage of this psychology with jingoistic posturing and celebration of romanticised historical icons. This creates a narrative for the group which engenders heightened levels of polarization and group think. This is where we have to Challenge medical organizations and their leaders, law-makers and politicians, to emphasise individual human rights over that of group cultural rights.

Where this process of Tribal Psychology may have been an advantage to the survival of a tribe or the individuals which made up that tribe, it is clearly not in the interests of the individuals in the modern world. For that reason it is essential that individuals become aware of this psychology and insist that politicians/medicos/law makers refrain from. Circumcision of babies and children male or female is not important for the survival of any group, and is a violation of the individual human rights of that individual.  The modern world needs to give pre-eminence to individual human rights particularly of children, and that they be protected from genital cutting practices.  If adults want to choose to have their own genitals cut, that is an individual choice they can make for themselves.

Tribal Psychology has the potential to directly conflict with individual human rights.  AMEN


  1. Of course, this reasoning can extend to pro-vaccination forces as well; I'm not going there—except to say that I'm against mandatory vaccination as well.

    1. That's a stretch. I remember being vaccinated mainly because my parents failed to tell me what the consent form was, and it was my schoolmates who said "You're going to get The Prick!" Once it was over, I - and I imagine all the other kids - took no notice of who had or had not been given The Prick. If anything, anti-vaxxers in the US are behaving tribally, but the rest of the world treats it as it is, epidemiological medicine, conferring both individual and "herd immunity" against deadly, contagious diseases of children. Where vaccination is relaxed, there are outbreaks of those diseases.

  2. Very interesting piece. Thank you for speaking up about the problem and for raising these important questions. Hope it manages to change some minds.