A Few Arguments Against Tattoos

In this Pajamas Media piece Dalrymple guiltily confesses a little schadenfreude over some recent bacterial infections caused by tattooing, while noting that they don’t seem to be slowing the practice down:

If only the American economy had grown at the rate as what the New England Journal calls the “tattoo industry”! The world would be in much better economic shape, for according to the Journal the proportion of American adults who have at least one tattoo has risen from 14 percent in 2008 (already much increased from days gone by) to 21 percent today. Fifty percent growth in 4 years! Not even China could match it.
Nor is this a merely American trend: a friend of mine, a professor of pharmacology, recently visited a university town in Sweden to give a lecture and was surprised to find that practically all the young people there were tattooed. The small town in France near where I live now has at least two tattoo parlours; I was recently in Gloucester, England, where I counted eleven; and a New Zealand doctor-friend of mine, who specializes in treating adolescents, tells me that half of young New Zealanders now have tattoos. The wife of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has a tattoo on her ankle.

27 thoughts on “A Few Arguments Against Tattoos

  1. john

    Dumbing down appears to have no limits, and once you think our civilisation has plumbed new lows it never ceases to surprise to the downside.

    Tattooing is an excellent example of hedonism and living for the moment rather than thinking ahead. I often wonder how many of these buffoons will still be happy to proclaim their love for a particular rock band or a particular boy/girlfriend in twenty years time. I suppose most of them will be spared too much embarrassment because their body art will probably have become a dirty stain by then, having become indecipherable due to flabby skin and fading ink.

    There was a time, not too long ago, when having a tattoos damaged ones employment prospects, yet we are now nearly at the stage where not having a tattoo is similarly frowned upon.

  2. Jackson K. Eskew

    The tattoo phenomenon of the last 20 or so years really is amazing. Cattle at least must be forcibly branded. Today’s herds of “individuals”? They brand themselves. Incredible! This led me a while back to create the following bumper sticker:

    Got tattoos? Say MOOOO…. You’re branded.

    I didn’t have the nerve to put it on my car though. I like unbroken windows. Plus, I’m in Los Angeles. I don’t like getting shot at. These are the kinds of things to be considered when dealing with neobarbarism.

    This bovine tattoo madness is an excellent example of Dalrymple’s recurring theme that today’s desperate striving for authenticity produces, instead, rank inauthenticity. For example, in one essay I recall him talking about how true eccentrics never try to be eccentric. They simply are eccentric. But those who try to be eccentric are doomed to wretched conformity.

    Yes, I remember which essay: Exposing Shallowness. It’s his best essay on tattoos. I think it’s in your collection of his best essays.

    This tattoo rage is also a prime example of today’s normalizing of deviancy. As he mentions in that essay, tattoos were formerly the badges of savages, criminals, and sailors. They’re now mainstream, thus indicating today’s mass poverty of soul. The race to the bottom continues apace.

  3. Louise

    George Orwell had a knuckle tattoo. He got it when he was in the military police in Burma. And it didn’t affect his career prospects either, although he did have some difficulty getting into the International Brigade.

    Just an FYI.

  4. Andrew S

    As Dalrymple has written, there are some things in life which are interesting and even charming when they are partaken of by a small number of people, and tatooing and piercings may be in that category. But when more than small percentage of the population engage in them they become offensive to many people.

  5. Jaxon

    I was about fourteen when I attempted to give myself a tattoo… I was with a guy in the boys loos at school (so sordid) we had needles and Indian ink (supposedly, could never be too sure with this guy… he killed himself some years back as it happens).

    Anyway, being the wimp that I actually was (and probably still am) I managed to achieve a… well, a full stop, shall we say? It’s long since gone.

    I’ve recently become a little acquainted with a young woman, (early twenties I suppose) she seems rather nice, quite regal even.. but not in a self important way (if that makes any sense) anyway; I was rather disappointed to see she had a tattoo on her forearm.

    I’ve thought about this issue a bit and upon examining my prejudice (at least where women are concerned) to me it seems a bit like when a dog lifts its leg to urinate on a lamp post, marking it’s territory – women with tattoos are a bit like that lamp post – at least that’s my initial impression; and of course men with tattoos are a bit like the dog.

    though having said that, I’m also a little acquainted (people don’t get to know me really, for some reason) with a young man with quite a few tattoos and he does seem a very agreeable chap – I probably won’t let him in on my little prejudice [full stop]

    1. Sam

      You use a lamp post being urinated on by a dog as a metaphor for a girl with a tattoo, and for some reason people don’t want to get to know you?

      1. Jaxon

        I nearly missed this… Yes, we’ll spotted, well spotted. It is perhaps bordering on miracle that I haven’t, yet, had my teeth smashed in.

        The metaphor is of course entirely unfair on dogs

      2. Jaxon

        Oh, and I should perhaps add that I think you’re exhibiting… quite rationally given the seemingly endemic lack of reason, something of your own prejudice.
        People for that very lack of reason and especially good morals, who lay waste their powers in pursuit of pleasures, trifles, debt etc whether they want to know me or no, probably have as bout as much hope in doing so as dogs and cats and perhaps some of the higher primates.
        Though TD may not appreciate my quoting him in this altered context I’m going to anyway.

        “An attachment to high cultural achievement is thus a necessary but not sufficient condition of civilization—for it is said that concentration-camp commandants wept in the evening over Schubert lieder after a hard day’s mass murder—and no one would call such men civilized. On the contrary, they were more like ancient barbarians who, having overrun and sacked a civilized city, lived in the ruins, because they were still far better than anything they could build themselves. The first requirement of civilization is that men should be willing to repress their basest instincts and appetites: failure to do which makes them, on account of their intelligence, far worse than mere beasts.”

          1. Jaxon

            A few points, believe it or not. Maybe you were only interested in my last comment regarding Caroline Criado-Perez who is apparently a feminist who campaigned to have a women represented on a bank note, she seems to be happy that Jane Austen will be.
            I consider Jane Austen to be profoundly anti feminist for feminism is anti-feminine.

            For example, I don’t wish to be crass… This is an example that Austen wouldn’t care too much for herself but it really does seem to capture a truth that I think is relevant here.
            I once overheard a guy (it would have to be) telling someone of a high school expression that went ‘if she smokes, she pokes’, like I said, it’s crass, but I think it contains a lot of truth, and it’s appropriate in that it captures the nature of the attitude between the sexes that is prevalent. I think the same is almost certainly true of the majority of girls with tattoos, including Caroline. This is my prejudice and I think it is entirely reasonable though I may be mistaken in this specific instance.

            Aspects of feminism may make similar pronoun cements but I think this is mostly disingenuous; primarily feminism adheres to the idea of the evil patriarchy and that when a girl or woman goes astray feminism is there, even if not intentionally, to absolve the ‘victim’ of the sense of guilt and complicity… the responsibility that Jane Austen would very clearly attribute to, or expect of, said victim.

            I’d even go so far as to say, and this how perverse I think ideologies generally are but particularly I’m thinking here of feminism. So effective has it been as a key facilitator of the abrogation of personal responsibility that when Ariel Castro pathetically and perniciously claims to be addicted to sex, to be sick… It is clear to me that he is drawing on the very evil that feminism has done so much to foster that now permeates society.

        1. Jaxon

          As for Sam exhibiting prejudice -which I admit is somewhat banal for we can’t not have prejudice – I was being very funny when I said ‘people don’t really get to know me for some reason’ but of course, yes, there is a serious issue here.
          It is quite logical, I suppose, that my funny comment implied that people don’t want to get to know me, actually I’m a very amiable person, even to the point of cowardice, but really I think I can honestly say that I generally don’t shy from confronting people with morally challenging insights, as it were.

          Most people can’t have much in the way of common ground with me because they just don’t devote anywhere near as much of their time to the things that are of importance to me, like the demise of civilisation for one small example.

          1. Jaxon

            He hee… I suppose a lot of people don’t devote so much of their time to the decline of civilisation because they’re too busy devoting themselves to the decline of civilisation… huh? Something along those lines… We’re all doomed I tell ya, and it’s no laughing matter damn it

          2. Jaxon

            Sorry, I’m making a bit of a pig’s ear of this… I made my comments about Caroline on the slightest knowledge of her ‘campaign’ and the ensuing twitter situation… that of course is the nature of prejudice, it can all to easily lead to regrettable discrimination… I basically stand by what I said, I don’t like the feminist banner, as it were, and tattoos, particularly on women, are, as far as I’m concerned, inviting unfavourable impressions.
            My main point here, and I’d hope it goes without saying, is that what little I know about the trolling that she’s received (and frankly the less I know the better so I should probably apologise for dredging it up here) it is quite simply appalling. I am doubtless guilty in deriving some cheap satisfaction from some pretty raw anti feminist jibes on the internet, YouTube etc, the Amazing Atheist comes to mind… But alas this personalised hate twittering goes way too far.

          3. Jaxon

            Oh, oh… I hasten to add, I’ve actually seldom watch the Amazing Atheist, one of his big issues seems to be pornography… He’s in favour of it… I’m not, I believe it corrupts the moral sentiments. Oh God, I’m a closet feminist!

  6. Jaxon

    Interesting; ‘normalizing of deviancy’ to quote Dalrymple (A Horror Story)

    “No doubt there have always been deeply perverted people, and it was a mischance that two of them such as the Wests should have found each other. But reflecting on their story, it is difficult not to conclude that their path was smoothed by the increasing uncertainty during the last three decades as to the line between acceptable and unacceptable conduct, or even whether such a line exists at all. Increasing sexual permissiveness was taken by the Wests, whose libidos were a great deal stronger than their powers of reason, to entail a complete absence of limits; they told those whom they raped that what they were doing was only “natural” and therefore unobjectionable. And they operated in an atmosphere in which, increasingly, self-discipline was not accepted as a necessary condition of freedom—in which everyone’s merest whim was law. Moreover, the majority of their victims were young people cast adrift without the guidance of adults, of whom they believed themselves to have no need, and of whom they were in any case highly intolerant.

    The West case revealed how easily, in the anonymity of the modern urban environment, and in the midst of crowds, people may disappear; and how such disappearances are made all the easier by a collective refusal—in the name of individual liberty—of parents to take responsibility for their children, of neighbors to notice what is happening around them, of anyone to brave the mockery of libertines in the defense of some standard of decency. And the various public agencies—the police, the schools, the social services, the hospitals—proved no substitute for the personal concern that families were once supposed to have provided, but that, in a permissive climate in which tolerance all too often shades into indifference, many provide no longer. The failure of these agencies was not accidental, but inherent in their nature as bureaucracies: the state is not, and never will be, a substitute for an old-fashioned Mum and Dad.”

    People most need guidence, when they’re children and adolescents. But instead we have something of a perverse inversion whereby adolescents are more or less setting the agenda…
    “Oh we all made mistakes when we were younger”
    Yeah, all the more reason to define limits and give moral guidence, censure. etc

  7. Jaxon

    “Her historiography was very modern: she scoured the records to justify the backward projection of her current resentments”

    “Resentment playing so large a part in Mrs. Woolf’s mental economy, much of her intellectual effort went into justifying it. She is thus a very modern figure indeed, even though she died 60 years ago.”

  8. Louise

    Resentment is not an exclusively modern phenomenon. It is as old as humankind itself. It can even be put to good use by unscrupulous politicians. At the risk of incurring the wrath of Godwin, take a look at the post WW I ‘stab in the back myth’.

    The brutal truth about Virginia Woolf and the times in which she lived was that her views were shared by many members of her class (upper middle, intellectual) but mostly, not by her gender.

    Just an F.Y.I.

  9. Jaxon

    “Resentment is not an exclusively modern phenomenon. It is as old as humankind itself.”

    And I dare say you’ve scoured the records for examples to back that up. ‘Twas ever thus ergo why criticise me?’

    I should point out that I’m no stranger to a deep sense of resentment (less so fortunately in more recent years) and I found what TD said about Woolf not a little sobering – I recognised some of my own, probably more often than not, misguided thinking with regards to resentment.

    I say probably more often than not because I’m not entirely convinced it is the worthless emotion or mindset that TD has rather explicitly said that it is.

    Alas I’d say ‘The unexamined grudge is not worth having’ . But that’s no doubt too vague to be meaningful, funny though.

    “The brutal truth about Virginia Woolf and the times in which she lived was that her views were shared by many members of her class (upper middle, intellectual) but mostly, not by her gender.”

    Admittedly I don’t know so much about the ‘stab in the back myth’
    Wikipedia says:

    “The theme of stab-in-the-back was articulated in 1919 most prominently by General Erich Ludendorff, one of the two top German commanders. He blamed the Berlin government and the civilian population for the armistice/surrender of November 1918, saying they had failed to support him, had let him down, and had proved itself unworthy of the traditions of a fighting nation.”

    I’m confused, when you speak of Virginia Woolf’s views; do you mean in so far as they were akin to the ‘ Stab in the back myth’ or in that she subscribed to the myth (but in opposition) so as to disingenuously draw a damning equivalence between, say, the Nazis and the male predominant (largely military) based establishment of Britain?
    Or perhaps to demonise the civilian lower/working class population and hence associations with Galton, eugenics etc?

    Are you suggesting that the lack of female representation of said views implies something superior in the female gender?

    If so, and I suspect were you to enumerate the qualities that distinguish the female gender as superior I’d, rightly or wrongly, almost certainly agree that those qualities (that most people know only so well) are indeed superior.

    But it could be, and I think is, grossly misleading to assume too much of the distinction – it’s probably a lot easier to be the model of virtue when your options are seriously limited by circumstances of necessity, when you don’t have to do the dirty work to secure the freedoms that make the full panopoly of womanly virtues the norm.

  10. jhon doe

    you good sir are a “bafoon” if your to simple minded to understand the reason behind BODY ART then you are to infantile to argue against those that have them and thats sad considering most are “adolescents.” Many people use tattoos as a way of expression. creativity is also another reason to display art and may i remind you that creativity is what built this once great nation but sadly enough we have people such as yourself that condemn others for their skin, which in a way resembles racism, and ironically close minded conservative behavior. How dare any of you low life’s attack anyone with the balls to display their “art.” It is their body and their life. Everyone has a way of displaying their creativity. You may choose to live your life as a “suit” but as for the other 21% (highly inaccurate)we will be ourselves and do as we please to our body besides what does it matter when it all turns to wrinkles no one cares. Oh and lets not forget our armed forces, the vast majority are covered in tattoos and are twice the man/woman you will ever hope to be so before you spout your opinion on a subject take a step back and realize not everyone is as ignorant and pathetic as you are.
    – best of wishes, the “21%”

  11. Jeff

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many logical fallacies in one place. Good job, Skeptical Doctor, that’s quite an achievement considering all the things I’ve read in my time.


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