Why equal freedom does not bring us closer

And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
— Jesus on the Last Days, Matthew 24:12.

Paul K. writes:

The story of the kidnapped and murdered girl in Colorado, Jessica Ridgeway, is heart-rending and anyone would feel profound sorrow for the parents. But look at the violent, anti-social image with which the girl’s father, Jeremiah Bryant, has adorned his body—a set of brass knuckles tattooed on the back of his hand. I’m sorry, I cannot identify with someone who chooses to present himself this way in society.


I sympathize with the grieving parents and sympathy is an emotion that pulls you toward someone, but I am simultaneously repelled by the ugly, violent tattoo of brass knuckles on the hand of Jeremiah Bryant. Here he is, in the public spotlight in his hour of deepest pain, and by virtue of that tattoo he is giving us the middle finger. Does he understand this? Does he understand the message he is sending? It is: “Your hearts go out to me as I suffer the worst pain any parent can imagine, but wait—I am not like you! Look at my tattoo! I have chosen to reject the norms of your society by adorning myself with hostile, violent imagery, so don’t waste your tears on me.”

LA replies:

I don’t care about people with tattoos. I write them off. As far as I’m concerned, they have opted out of our civilization, and have turned against our common humanity. Like you, I can’t identify with someone like that. This man has chosen to turn his own human body into a hostile message directed against other human beings. There are consequences to that. The loss of the normal feeling of common humanity and sympathy that I would otherwise have had with him is one of the consequences.

LA adds (October 25):

Consider the entry, “Liberal America—the Sodom that pretends it’s Kansas,” with Jim Kalb’s remark, “In America, everything’s normal,” and my gloss on it: “No matter how radical, extreme, and perverted things become in our society, they are and must be seen as ordinary, traditional, and non-threatening.” So: people disfigure their bodies with repellant and unnatural tattoos, permanently altering their own flesh so as to transgress any sense of normality, and at the same time they expect to be treated as regular guys and gals, normal members of society, and others defend their right to be so treated.

- end of initial entry -

Jeanette V. writes:

Since my husband has two tattoos I can write him off. But then his aren’t seen by anyone but me. The tattoo on the hand of the father not only forces everyone to see it is an extremely anti-social tattoo that speaks to me of gangs or skinhead groups.

James P. writes:

I was at a family-oriented event this weekend. I noticed a large number of men who appeared to be “proles”—they wore hunting or biker garb—who also had neck tattoos, and, most fascinating of all, pierced ears with large round plugs in them (like this). Maybe this is common today among bikers and ex-cons, but personally I have trouble identifying with someone who looks like a primitive tribesman …

Daniel R. writes:

I think your attitudes towards people with tattoos is far too harsh, especially in the case of lower-class people with tattoos. [LA replies: what does lower class have to do with it?] It would be one thing to condemn someone like yourself—a member of the “Philosopher-class” as it were—for choosing to tattoo himself. But lots of people don’t consciously and thoughtfully define standards for themselves. They look to the world around them to tell them what is right. And the world around them tells them that getting tattoos is a good way to express one’s individuality. Many people with tattoos are, to some extent, victims of a society which they trust to tell them what is right.

As an aside, I have a hard time condemning certain kinds of tattooing practices. For example, I see nothing particularly wrong with, say, Marines who get Marine tattoos. I’ve never gotten a tattoo and wouldn’t normally, but I think if I joined the Marines I probably would get a Marine tattoo. But then Marines tend to get the tattoos on their upper arms, and don’t show them off unless they feel the honor of the corps has been somehow maligned. I remember one of my old bosses, and extremely refined and respectable man, indignantly rolling up his sleeve and showing me his tattoo when I described him as having been “In the Army” (I had meant to say “military,” but misspoke).

LA replies:

It’s really irrelevant to bring up traditional military type tattoos. Do you think tattoos would have become a subject at this site if that’s all that was going on? The same answer goes to Jeanette. She keeps bringing up and defending her husband with his traditional, normally invisible upper arm tattoo, as though that was what I was talking about.

Tadeusz H. writes:

In my long life I met and had to deal with many people including tattooed and violent ones and some only tattooed but not more violent than the average not-tattooed.

You would be surprised how many of them would deeply sympathize with you had you, God forbid, lost your child in such horrible circumstances. That man’s stupid tattoo doesn’t make his grief less authentic and less human than yours. Do you doubt for a moment he would cut off his tattooed arm to have his child back?

He is a loving grieving father and his suffering is unique among all other living creatures—exactly because he is human.

He didn’t “opt out of our common humanity”. It is YOU who discarded him.

What pride. What smugness.

Indeed equal freedom does not bring us closer, but uniqueness of human suffering does. Or should.

LA replies:

I don’t know what pride or smugness has to do with it. I am expressing my horror at and my total rejection of the way people are monstrously disfiguring their bodies and forcing the rest of us to look at this monstrous disfigurement and expecting us to accept it as normal. If more people expressed the total rejection that I expressed—if more people said in effect to their relatives and friends, “If you get one of those tattoos, I will disown you,” if they said, “I can’t believe that you covered your arms and neck with this horror. I have no fellow feeling for you any more. I want nothing to do with you,” then the tattoo craze would instantly stop. And the people who had gotten the tattoos would have them removed.

Thus, when I said what I said, I was acting on the basis of the Kantian categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” I was acting on the basis that I believe my own action should be the standard for all people. All people should utterly reject these anti-human tattoos. And the only way they can do that effectively is to reject the people who have the tattoos. In this there is no injustice. By turning their bodies into demonically grotesque and hostile message boards, they have rejected us; it is only just that we should reject them.

And I would say further that such rejection it is not only just, it is merciful. It is merciful because it will rid the world of this spreading curse and thus save us all from it—from having to look at it, from having to accept it when our relatives, friends, and colleagues have it, and from having it oneself.

A reader writes:

The man hardly ever saw his daughter, lived many miles away in Missouri and was in court that day for non-payment of the $267 a month in child support he was ordered to pay her. Whatever the circumstances of his relationship with the mother, he was not a good father. I don’t feel a great deal of sympathy for him. Where was he the day she was walking alone to school? What had he ever done to protect his daughter?

Dean Ericson writes:

Would it make any difference if the tattoos crawling up a man’s arms consisted of Bible verses?

LA replies:

No. What a disgusting thing to do.

Tadeusz H. writes:

“What has pride to do with it?” you ask.

I am talking about spiritual pride, the pride that has everything to do with denying a man his humanity because of his choosing to have the stupid and ugly images tattooed on his skin. Or because of some other objectionable act. [LA replies: I haven’t degraded or rejected the humanity of such people; they have.]

I don’t know why you have to repeat all the things you have written many times before on the subject of Western man disfiguring his body with tattoo. I don’t disagree with you about it, but I am quite surprised that you can’t rein in your indignation vis a vis such deep, genuine sorrow of other human being. I find in very bad taste and shockingly insensitive that you are expressing all that again on this particular occasion with the photo of a weeping, broken-hearted man in the background. In essence you are saying to him: “My sympathy is too precious to be wasted on people like you. because of the message written on your skin. I will turn it on the moment you remove it.”

I am sorry to say it sir, but your empathy is really only skin deep.

LA replies:

But this is a sort of test case, isn’t it? It’s easy to say that we are revolted by and reject people with disfiguring tattoos when it doesn’t cost us anything. But what about when the person with the disfiguring tattoo is a grieving father whose photo we are seeing in a newspaper? That man (backed up by people like you) is implicitly saying to us, “I have disfigured my body in a disgusting, anti-social, nihilistic act. I have expressed my hostility to mankind by permanently putting the images of brass knuckles on the back of my hand. But when something terrible has happened to me and I’m in need of the sympathy of mankind, I expect you to forget my grossly anti-social act and rush to express sympathy for me.”

And what I am saying is that these horrible disfiguring tattoos separate their bearers from the human community precisely at the point where sympathy would otherwise be normal.

Let me ask you a question. Suppose that instead of just a tattoo showing brass knuckles, the man had his entire face, neck, arms, hands covered with nightmarish tattoos—in other words, a total freak. I saw a man like that the other day. Now suppose his child had been murdered. Are you saying that the man’s horrifying appearance would not affect the degree of your human fraternity and human sympathy with him?

Terry Morris writes:

Concerning Mr. Erikson’s question, a nephew of ours who is about twenty years old got a tattoo a few months ago, and his father reacted very negatively to it, threatening to disown him. In relating the story to me in a telephone conversation, the boy’s mother said, “It was a verse from the New Testament,” as if to say that made it ok. But she may have been humoring me just a little, since she knows I hate tattoos. And I’m by no means a part of the “philosopher class,” but just your Average Joe, glorified laborer, trying to improve his mind in his off time.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 22, 2012 10:31 AM | Send

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