March 5, 2017


Janet Howard
Department of Archaeology and Anthropology
University of Bristol
Dear Mrs. Howard,
I read a quick review of your recent paper on a possible cause of the persistence of female circumcision in some cultures.  (Words fail me if I try to come up with a suitably horrible term for it; even male circumcision creeps me out.)  Your efforts to find a reason are noble as can be.  But let me guide you to a couple of sources.  Here is a link to my own poor effort on my blog:
And then there is a book chapter by Robin Fox, who wrote Kinship and Marriage; the chapter is Robin Fox, Handbook on Evolution and Society, Paradigm Publishers, Boulder, London, 2015 (I imagine you feel comfortable with the title of the textbook) chapter 19, page 350 “Marry in or Die Out.” (Has a way with words, does he not?) 

The bottom line is that fertility is based on kinship and (please forgive emphasis, but it is the most important thing that can ever be said or written) nothing else

Go to my blog link and squint your way past my murky prose to the Denmark data.  They say that once distance between birthplaces of a couple and once size of town are taken into account there is no effect of education or income on family size.  (Please don’t make me embarrass myself by screaming again.)  I know it’s hard to hold onto.  Over the past month alone two middle aged men with whom I’d been friendly for years suddenly, and independently, got very hostile.  Neither will communicate with me.  I think the trigger was that I can explain the global populist rise.  Nobody else has a clue … more on that if you like. 

The point at hand is that you find communities where there is circumcising along side non-circumcising have reduced fertility.  Well of course.  They are mixed communities paying in the coin of infertility for their accommodation with strangers; and the cost will continue upward until we are all dead.  A social safety net is just a kind of money, and that has been demonstrated to have no effect. 

All of which does not help you at all.  And I truly want to help.  So grit those teeth and gnaw your way down to the Calhoun study.  Mice raised with no external constraint on population size were followed for years until on a day the whole population went absolutely infertile. 

If you dig out the original article I think you will agree that Calhoun makes a very strong case for the proposition that mice mate for status.  I suspect my dear fruit flies mate for love, but I have not made the effort to get data to prove it, and for our purposes it matters not.  What does matter is that people, like mice, mate for status.

And that will kill us all, but that’s not our issue here.  What you want to do is to make non-circumcising into a status symbol.  And suddenly it’s quick and easy.  Write a little story involving high status and low status characters.  Make it clear that the circumcisers are low status.  Also (I mean we might as well save their lives while we’re at it) make marrying cousins high status.  Now shoot a little movie. 

Now culture by culture sort out who is cliché high status and who low.  Get representative pictures.  Electronically put the appropriate heads on the appropriate characters.  This is an established technique but of course Hollywood never uses it; their message is “Our stars are not ordinary mortals,” and swapping heads around does not say that. 

I wouldn’t think you’d want to have your characters playing catch with their heads.

Have the versions of the movie shown.

I make my suggestion not because I am entirely convinced it’s a good idea, but because of my eagerness to help. 

Thank you already so very much for bringing a note of sanity into a profoundly troubling field.  Do let me know if there is any way I can help.  Be kind enough to drop me a note with your reaction if you are moved so to do.

Meanwhile again, many many thanks for what you have done.


Linton Herbert 

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