Parallels of Opposition to the Metric System and Male Intactness in America
This post was touched off by a YouTube video created by YouTuber, Adam Ragusea. Adam is a cook, and he talks about his look into the curious phenomenon of Americans resisting the adoption of the metric system. This is relevant to cooking, because in the US, most recipes are geared toward the imperial system of cups, teaspoons and ounces.
Adam Ragusea, cooking YouTuber
It must be noted that, at least officially, America is supposed to be a metric country. Our leaders had been trying to coax the country onto the metric system as early as the 1800's. In 1975, Congress passed the Metric Conversion Act, which declared metric as the preferred system of the United States, and the U.S. Metric Board was created to implement the conversion, however Americans have tenaciously clung to the Imperial system of weights and measures to this very day.
Your blogger can attest to this, as growing up, he learned to use inches, cups and pounds in school, all the way through college. Math was a b**ch. Perhaps if my institutions had used the metric system, I might have experienced mathematics differently?
As I watched this video, I couldn't help but see parallels between our tenacious bias against the metric system, and our stubborn opposition to anatomically correct genitals.
For this post, I'm going to highlight different excerpts from the video (scroll to the bottom of this post to see it), and comment on the similarities between our attachment to male infant circumcision and our insistence on the the imperial system in this country. I just think the comparison is too obvious to ignore.
The video opens:
"Americans refuse to use the metric system because they’re an arrogant, insular people with an instinctive distrust of all international customs and institutions. They’re also an ignorant, lazy people who refuse to change their ways, even when their ways are demonstrably inferior."
Replace the words "use the metric system" with "leave baby boys intact" and the above statements remain true. Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to convincing American parents to let their baby boys keep their foreskins is the fact that they see it as some kind of foreign, external infringement. Perhaps the resistance to allowing baby boys to stay intact is precisely the fact that globally, 70% of males are not circumcised; this instinctive distrust of all international customs and institutions deems intactness as beyond consideration. They are ignorant and lazy and would rather stick with what they know and refuse to change, even when it can be demonstrated that male infant circumcision has no benefits, or worse, has needless risks.
The video continues:
"It's more complicated than that. Differences between people are the result of their circumstances, at least as much the result of anybody's intrinsic qualities, and I recon that, had any other people been in the unique circumstances of the industrial era United States, they probably would have resisted metrification too. From a historical perspective, this does have more to do with industry than it has to do with cooking or anything else."
I feel the same may be true of male infant circumcision. Some intactivists tend to come down hard on parents who have allowed doctors to circumcise their children, but the fact of the matter is that, put in the same circumstances as circumcising parents, most people would probably choose to have this done to their children.
American parents are likely to be told by doctors who circumcise
babies routinely that circumcision is the best course of action
for their children. They're likely to be told that circumcision prevents
HPV, HIV and penile cancer. So why not?
Your blogger confesses to you that prior to looking into male infant circumcision, he was planning to eventually get himself circumcised and have his children circumcised because it seemed to be "the thing to do as an American" at the time. Being told that having a foreskin will give a man STDs, cancer and AIDS, and that the women in his life would surely reject him, who WOULDN'T want to do this to their kids?
In recent years, I have stepped back from criticizing parents who have allowed this to happen to their children, because I think it's unproductive, and really, the fact is parents do what they see as "best" at the time. A common adage you will hear among intactivists is "parents who know better, do better." American parents simply don't know any better, and it's not their fault that the unique circumstances that they are in lead them to allow their children to have part of their penises chopped off. Let's continue with our video.
Ragusea went to the University of Georgia to consult with Dr. Stephen Mihm, a historian specializing in the subject of standards. When asking him what system Dr. Mihm uses in his kitchen, he replies:
"I would say I'm 'bilingual' in terms of my measurements. I use cups, but I also have a gram scale, and I toggle back and forth pretty readily depending on whether I'm using an American cookbook or a European cookbook."
says all Americans are 'monolingual?' People who don't realize that
America now has way more people from way more different places in it. But, I digress"
This is an interesting point, because the fact is that, up until now, doctors have gotten by being "monolingual" in the sense
that, they only ever learned about and to deal with anatomically deficient male genitals. The only thing they really ever learned about foreskins in school was how to cut them off, and to treat their presence as a medical condition that had to be treated with surgical correction. However, as more people come to America from other non-circumcising countries, as more conversation about circumcision, foreskin and intactness happens, as more Americans begin to open their eyes and refuse circumcision for their children themselves, doctors, more and more have to learn to deal with anatomically correct male genitalia. They have to realize that America now has way more people from way more different places in it. But, I digress.
Ragusea then asks:
So why does Dr. Mihm think America still hasn't gone metric?
Dr. Mihm responds:
"It's a question that Thomas Jefferson was probably the first to ask, back in the 1790s, because it was during the French Revolution that the metric system was invented. Jefferson was a big fan of the French, and actually seriously contemplated for a while the idea of nudging the nation onto the metric system, but it was very hard to do because one, it was a revolutionary thing and it was politically fraught, there were a lot of people who didn’t like the French, so they kicked the can, basically, in the 1790s, and they decided instead to go with the existing set of measurements that they had inherited from Great Britain."
I'll be honest and say that I need to do my homework, because I don't know that there was ever any push to make America "intact." As far as I know, quite the opposite, historically, American doctors such as Edgar Schoen have worked hard to make circumcision the norm. What is on par with our adaptation of the Imperial system is the fact that circumcision as medical practice was inherited from Britain, as the popularization of circumcision was due in part to the Victorian Era, when masturbation was seen as socially unacceptable, and doctors, physicians and quacks were pushing ways to stop men and boys from masturbating.
I will say this, however, that, at least currently, it seems Americans continue to be resistant to anything foreign, and that a lot of resistance to leaving children intact stems from this idea that we ought to resist foreign practices. Many Americans still dislike the French (Freedom Fries anyone?), and we resist things like nationalized healthcare because "Look at the Brits! They've got public healthcare and yet look at their crooked teeth!" (And yet we cling to the British Imperial system... hrm...)
French fries, booooo!!!
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why male infant circumcision continues in the US is simply conformity and cultural inertia; doctors would rather go with existing standards and knowledge of male sexual health that they’ve inherited from their immediate predecessors, who in turn inherited it from a distant Victorian Britain.
"Dr. Mihm says the *French* were pretty resistant to Metric too, at first. For decades, it looked to US authorities as though metrification was a global failure. By the time the American government revisited metrification again in the 1860s and 70’s, when they began to legalize the use of the metric system, something very momentous had happened; the United States had industrialized. Railroads, precision manufacturing, machine tools all require very precise mechanics that rely on units of measurement, mainly the inch. The entire industrial base had been “tooled up” in this old, antiquated system of measurement. So when metric advocates started pushing for metrification, the industrialists of the countries opposed it, and they had various rationalizations for it."
The machinery of the 2nd industrial revolution had already been built to work on one system, and, according to Dr. Mihm, industrialists didn't want to have to re-build them. The key opposition in congress and technical journals came from engineers.
And this, I believe, is something to note. The US government had already begun to legalize the use of the metric system, except cultural inertia is a powerful force, and the momentum had been in favor of the imperial system for a long time, making it difficult to actually change. I see this as a foreshadowing of any government action in order to halt the practice of male infant circumcision; even if the government did intervene, the practice of routine male infant circumcision has been entrenched in American culture for about a century now, so much that it may be a while before we see any signs of a return to anatomically correct male organs.
American tape measures tend to have both inches and centimeters, but inches and feet are much more prominent.
The fact of the matter is that, actually, no respected medical organization in the world recommends male infant circumcision based on current medical literature. Not even the American Academy of Pediatrics.
early as the 1970’s, the American Academy of Pediatrics was beginning
to move away from the practice of male infant circumcision. The American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Fetus and Newborn had issued a statement saying that there were "no valid medical indications" for
performing circumcisions on newborns. As expected, the statement was
met with objection from certain physicians, namely those who performed
and advocated for the practice.
In 2012, the AAP "Taskforce on Circumcision" tried to argue that “the medical benefits of male infant circumcision outweigh the risks,” but this claim could not be substantiated within the policy statement itself. In the same statement it was written that “The true incidence of complications after newborn circumcision is unknown.”
The reality is that American medicine has been “tooled up” to circumcise male infants to the tune of 1.3 million babies a year. Male infant circumcision has been normalized in American medical schools and textbooks. Doctors are made to learn to circumcise and treat only circumcised males, while they are conditioned to treat the presence of anatomically correct organs as a medical condition that must be “treated” with circumcision in and of itself. Hospitals have invested in circumcision equipment, from circumstraints, to sound-proof walls, to clamps and circumcision kits.
When and if advocates of anatomically correct male genitals and genital autonomy finally succeed in
getting measures to decouple male infant circumcision from American
medicine, they will no-doubt face opposition and backlash from pediatricians and OB/GYNs, who have vested interest in the
system continuing as it is; they will have various rationalizations for
it. They will be the key opposition.
But all is not lost; let’s continue with the video:
Britain was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, who also had machinery they didn't want to have to rebuild. They also had an instinctive distrust of the French; the metric system was opposed in Great Britain too at the time. Some fell back on the absurd pseudo-science that they had invented, about how the inch is “divinely prescribed” in nature, “which is why you can see it in the designs of the great pyramids of Egypt.” (Which of course is not actually true.) They resisted it well into the 20th century.
The push to circumcise boys and men originated in Victorian Britain, who had also adopted male infant circumcision as a general practice. In America, where the practice continues today, advocates have used absurd pseudo-science about how male infant circumcision has been divinely commanded by God, how men from circumcising peoples don’t masturbate or contract sexually transmitted diseases. (Which of course is not actually true.)
By the 1950s/1960s, Britain was de-industrializing. What had once been a key part of its economy, had started to fall away, and it did so earlier than the US, and it did so much more fully. In contrast the US in the mid 20th century, was the undisputed industrial heavy-weight champion of the world, the American captains of industry did not want to reconfigure their assembly lines, and congress generally did whatever the captains of industry told them to do.
And here too we can see a glaringly obvious similarity; male infant circumcision had begun to fall away from British, Australian and New Zealand medicine, and it did so much more fully, to the extent that male infant circumcision is virtually non-existent in public hospitals in these countries. In contrast, in the last century, the US boasted “being at the forefront of medicine,” and American captains of medicine are loath to reconfigure American medicine, and our government generally does what the captains of medicine tell us to do.
Late American male infant circumcision enthusiast and evangelist, Edgar Schoen Made the chair of the American Academy of Pediatric's Taskforce on Circumcision in 1989,
this man alone may be solely responsible for male infant circumcision's survival in the United States.
The video continues:
The Brits also had much closer ties to the metric world, perhaps by virtue of being much closer to the metric world. Americans were more geographically isolated, and also, exports had historically been less important for the US; the domestic market was the primary driver of growth, unlike Japan or Germany, where the export market was where it was all at.
The Brits also have much closer ties to Europe, which is basically intact, quite possibly by virtue of being geographically much closer to them. This is just my opinion, but I feel American doctors may think of American medicine being “the most advanced,” and so they may feel their views on male genitalia to be “more correct” than that of their European counterparts. Geographical isolation from the rest of the industrialized world, where male infant circumcision has been abandoned as a general practice, may have led to this delusion that medical knowledge on male genitals is the most correct, when in fact, American medicine has been left behind in this regard.
Indeed, the big reason the US resisted metric in the mid-20th century, may simply have been that we could. The US has had the luxury of being the world’s largest economy, and as such, can effectively operate according to its own rules.
When 38 pediatricians, urologists, epidemiologists, and professors,
representing 20 medical organizations and 15 universities and hospitals
in 17 countries published an article in the AAP Pediatrics publication, rejecting and thoroughly dismantling the AAP's 2012 policy statement which tried to claim that "the benefits outweigh the risks of male infant circumcision," their response was defensive apprehension and petulant self-justification. Up until now, the US has had the privilege of claiming to be at the “forefront of medicine,” and as such, can effectively waive aside any criticism.
It's rather like language. Are so few Americans so multilingual because we're just a bunch of dummies? No. It's because, as a result of British and then American global hegemony, you can get very, very far in this world, only speaking English, so most of us simply don’t have to learn another language.
Why are Americans so in the dark concerning anatomically correct male genitals? I posit that because of British and then American global hegemony, you can get very far in this world only knowing what you learn in American medical school. Most Americans simply don’t have to learn, or more appropriately, aren’t educated in in anatomically correct male genitals.
It can be argued that Americans become dummies as a result of this, because we never acquire the cultural competence that you can get by learning someone else’s language.
Yes, Americans have become “dummies” as a result of this, because we never acquire the knowledge you can get by learning about how other countries treat male genitals.
This maybe gets at why post-industrial America continues to resist metric; it’s the privilege of hegemony. It makes you lazy. And then when the hegemony begins to slip, it makes you resentful and paranoid. It turns you into people view the metric system as a form of global governance that undercuts American sovereignty, and it’s among such folks where opposition to the metric system is primarily concentrated in the US these days.
Perhaps Americans continue to resist reintactification because of the privilege of hegemony. “American exceptionalism” has made us so lazy that when the hegemony begins to slip, it makes us resentful and paranoid. It turns us into people who view normalizing intact male genitals as a form of global governance that undercuts American sovereignty, and it’s quite possibly among such people where opposition to reintactification is primarily concentrated today.
Also with our tradition of federalism, there’s a lot of ideological opposition to the kind of centralized government regulation that it can take to move a society off of the standards to which everyone is accustomed.
This is probably the biggest reason why there is an opposition to a ban, and why even if such a ban were to be instated, it would never actually work.
And yet, without any heavy-handed government action at all, lots of Americans have been quietly adopting the metric system for decades now. Scientists and medical professionals almost exclusively use metric on the job anymore.
When our doctors write a prescription for a pain killer, they don’t go “Absolutely not! I insist that you measure this in grains and drams.”
Pharmaceutical companies and druggists realized, and they were right, that the metric system really did have serious advantages, because of its precision and its scalability in the powers of 10. Which are the very same reasons why a lot of people who work in industry in the US have been adopting metric too, in particular pastry chefs. They love the precision that you can get with smaller units of measurement.
Dr. Mihm reckons the US customary measurements will end not with a bang but with a whimper, as more and more Americans just kinda peel off to metric on their own.
And yet, without any heavy-handed government action at all, lots of Americans have been quietly leaving their children intact for decades now. It can’t be said that medical professionals have abandoned the practice of male infant circumcision. Far from it; there is still resistance. But what *has* happened is that male infant circumcision rates have seriously dropped, from upwards to 90% of infant males being circumcised in the 1980s, to 56% in the 2000’s, if figures from the CDC are to be believed.
It would be nice to reach a reality where medical professionals all agree that cutting off parts of infants’ genitals is a bad idea, and though we aren't exactly there yet, I do think that more American doctors are quietly moving away from circumcision than before. As more intact men move to America, as more American parents decide to leave their children intact, American doctors will have no choice but to become educated on anatomically correct male genitals. It is my opinion that male infant circumcision in the US will end, not with a bang, but with a whimper, as Dr. Mihm says about the Imperial system, as more and more Americans just kinda peel off from circumcision on their own.
While there is a plurality of viewers in the US, the majority of viewers (of cooking channels) are somewhere else, affecting how creators make content; no doubt American creators can feel global influence in how they think and communicate in measurements.
What cooks and content creators do online as we speak, sharing recipes and copying and making the food, is driving the very globalization that a lot of Americans find threatening, Americans on the political right AND left, though perhaps for different reasons.
Globalization is, on balance, a good thing because it allows us to enjoy each other’s food.
These are comments that Ragusea makes regarding cooking, but I believe they can be applied to medicine as well. Before the advent of the internet, the US, as well as other countries, were isolated and limited to their own closed worlds. I think that, as we become globalized and people view more and more content outside of their own countries, people will become more and more aware of each other's practices and attitudes towards sex and male genitals.
As the world becomes more and more connected,
awareness of the issue of genital autonomy and normalization of anatomically correct genitals in the United States will become inevitable.
While in the US, the majority of men are circumcised (something like 80% or so), 70% of men globally have unaltered, anatomically correct male organ. No doubt American physicians must feel global influence in how they think and communicate regarding male organs. They can't just continue to publish information that ignores the foreskin, and pathologizes its presence. There's going to be push-back from physicians and medical organizations in the rest of the world where men are intact.
What's more, it is inevitable that the general American public will become aware of the contrast between American medicine and global practice regarding anatomically correct genitals and male infant circumcision.Through the internet, Americans as well as people in non-circumcising countries are being exposed to content such as medical literature, webpages, blogs and online videos. Awareness and enlightenment are simply inescapable.
In recent years, there has been an increase in online users sharing sexually activity publicly for all to see. Mediums like Chaturbate, PornHub, (now essentially defunct) Tumblr, and others have made it easy for people around the world to display how both anatomically correct and surgically altered male genitals work up-close and personal, and for others to observe them. People are able to see men masturbating and having sex with their partners. The mechanics of the presence and lack of a foreskin are observable to anyone. Europeans are becoming aware of the American practice of circumcision, and Americans are becoming more and more aware that having a foreskin isn't this other-world thing. There comes a point where people simply can’t feign ignorance any longer. No doubt non-Americans will comment on the lack of a foreskin, and Americans, and non-Americans alike, are going to be forced to talk about it.
People in European countries will become more and more aware of medical practices in the US, and Americans will become more and more aware of how intact males aren’t falling dead in the streets. American physicians will have to learn to deal with and accept intact patients and parents who do not want to have their children circumcised.
Mihm reckons the US customary measurements will end not with a bang but
with a whimper, as more and more Americans just kinda peel off to
metric on their own.
I sincerely hope that the same will be true of male infant circumcision.
That's it for my commentary on American attitudes toward the metric system, and how this compares to American attitudes toward intactness.
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