a defense of tattoos

Roughly one third of all people aged 18-25 in the U.S. have a tattoo, and I think that tattoos actually have a lot of value. In the past they were used spiritually or to demonstrate authority, and in today’s society, I think they serve valuable purposes as a kind of indestructible memory (tattoos of mourning or of love or ones that just remind you of that night you made that horrible mistake…) or a form of art. To be fair, there are more trivial uses of them and I wonder if some people really get tattoos with the proper reverence for the value that they serve, just as some drug users might have a very instrumental relationship to the drugs they take (see here). But who cares, not every action has to express some deep value or commitment. Some things are just fun or whimsical.

What I want to emphasize though is certain stodgy or intellectualized disdain for tattoos. The argument usually goes like this “you shouldn’t get a tattoo because chances are you won’t like it when you’re older.”

This argument is simply invalid. Later disapproval is not a reason for current inaction. Who knows what you’ll be like in ten years. Maybe you will be bitter and unemployed or hopelessly conservative or any number of things. In other words, there is no reason to let the judgment of your later self trump the judgment of you now. Also, the disapproval of your later self might be a reason to get a tattoo. The tattoo might remind your later self of what you used to be like and can serve as a reminder of the possibility of change and warning against prejudice. What I mean is that the beliefs of people harden as they age, and they develop a category of knowledge they call “common sense” but usually there is nothing common about it, and it’s usually not that sensible either. So, the remedy is to intersperse various reminders about how different one used to be. For example, I used to be a libertarian, I’m not anymore. This reminds me often about how what I currently believe might be a sham. This galvanizes my thought and my curiosity, and this is all for the better.


2 Responses to “a defense of tattoos”

  1. March 11, 2010 at 1:23 am

    i agree with you.
    i think if you feel strongly enough about something to get a tattoo, it must have had an important meaning to you. even if you do grow old looking back on it and hate it, it is a reminder of what you once deemed important. tattoos just have developed socially to be taboo which is unfortunate.

    if you decide to get a tattoo at some point in your life it becomes part of your story.

  2. 2 aaron
    March 15, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    tattoos are also great for people with anterograde amnesia

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