Several months ago I wrote an article entitled “Are Tattoos in the Workplace Really ‘Unprofessional’”. In that article I quoted a woman whose remark about tattoos was posted on a website. She said, “Tattoos shout non-conformist.”
My comment about her statement was, “I wish I had been able to ask her what it is she believes we are not conforming with, and what it is she would demand we conform with to be ‘decent people’ in her eyes.”
The question I asked (i.e. “…what it is she would demand we conform with…”) begs an answer. Another way to ask the same question is, what is it with which tattooed people like me are not conforming (in her opinion)?
I have been kicking that question around in the back of my mind for some time. “What is it (she would say) with which I am not conforming?”
In order to help understand what she is really saying, let’s look at some synonyms for “conform”. (I am limiting the synonyms to those that appear to fit her message.) We must also keep in mind that her actually wording was “non-conformist”, so we should also explore the meaning of “non”.
From Dictionary.com: non: a prefix meaning “not…”
Relevant synonyms for “conform” are, “comply”, “obey”, and “follow”.
If we put the prefix meaning and the synonyms together we get “not comply”, “not obey”, and “not follow”. So, the woman who said tattoos shout “non-conformist” is communicating that people with tattoos are those who do not comply, do not obey, and do not follow. (That’s a pretty heavy indictment for merely having some ink!)
I was again drawn back to what seems to be the core question; what is it – precisely – with which tattooed people are not complying, not obeying, and not following?
I admit it took me longer to find the answer than it should have because I never seem to learn one particular lesson. When evaluating a person’s statement or position, I always begin by presuming it is based on a rational thought process. No matter how many times I have discover it is often otherwise, I still always start there. And that was the mistake I made here.
If someone is going to say that I am not conforming, or not being obedient, I would presume the inference is that I am not conforming or being obedient to something that quite properly demands or requires conforming or obedience. (I have dropped “follow” from the discussion because anyone who knows me knows the words “follow” and “Dave” do not go together.)
Examples of things that I believe generally require or demand that a person “conform” or “be obedient” might be the following:
1. Treat everyone with basic common dignity.
2. While exercising my liberty, do not infringe on the freedom of others to do the same.
3. Do no harm, but take no shit.
Pretty clear-cut. Not much with which to disagree there. But does getting tattooed violate any of those things to which as decent human beings we are (IMO) required to conform/obey? Of course not. So…I’m back to the initial question; to what could this woman have be referring?
I wracked my brain attempting to find some tangible, rational, principle to which I should be obedient, but by the mere fact of having visible tattoos I am not.
Try as I might I simply couldn’t find the thing(s) to which I am obligated to conform or be obedient, yet because of my tattoos I am told I somehow fall short.
Now, some folks might wonder why I’d bother taking my time with this. My answer is two-fold. First, the surest way to end up an arrogant ass is to dismiss criticism out of hand without giving it due consideration. We all know people who are “never wrong”. Such people dismiss anything they view as criticism of themselves. I don’t want to be that guy! Second, if the criticism someone levels at me is inaccurate or wrongheaded I’d like to be able to point out (if the opportunity presents itself) why his or her criticism is off base.
For some time I wanted to get my hands tattooed. Since hand tattoos are nearly impossible to cover they seem to freak some people out. The logic seems to be that tattoos are anywhere from “cool” to just ‘OK’ (or not) AS LONG AS they can be covered up when…uh…well…when someone thinks they should be.
In the time leading up to my decision about hand tattoos I not only considered the issues privately, I also engaged a number of people in conversation about the subject. I spoke to those on both sides of the issue.
As I pondered these conversations the first outline began appearing concerning the answer to the question of to what I (and others) are apparently failing to conform or be obedient. As the outlines began taking shape I thought “No way! It can’t be!” As I continued my discussions and reflections, that shape began to change from a mere outline to a fully developed picture.
Because people have a greater degree of angst concerning hand tattoos than they do concerning a tattoo that may be on the shoulder or bicep, their dialogue was more revealing about the core of their mindset.
On my radio show, TV show, and in my numerous articles, I have often observed that when people express displeasure with something that harms no one – often times accompanied by a demand that it stop (as they seek to effect that goal via legislation or social pressure) their reasoning almost always boils down to nothing more the childish cry of “I DON’T LIKE IT!”
They seem completely unaware that in a land of (supposed) liberty, we should never act to interfere in the actions of others, no less use legislation or social pressure to stop something that harms no one, simply because we don’t “like” it. That is the antithesis of liberty, which most American (falsely) claim to revere. This childish “I don’t like it!” mindset is highly relevant concerning the answer to the question.
First, we have to acknowledge that people placing art on their skin harms no one. Once we acknowledge that we can logically move on to discussing the answer to the question.
In my numerous discussions with people on this question, the most common answer I got was, “People with visible tattoos are not complying with society’s standards.” As absurd as that response is, the rest were even nuttier so I won’t waste your time with those.
So, why is that response “absurd”? Let me begin by asking a question: Who speaks for “society”? Who makes the official pronouncement that THIS (whatever “this” is) is society’s position? The answer is, of course, no one.
Let’s take this from the theoretical to the practical. Who speaks for our “society” on abortion? Who speaks for “society” on equal marriage rights? And who speaks for “society” on visible ink? Right; it’s the same answer for each of those subjects – NO ONE!
Now that we know for a certainty that no one can speak for all of our society, why would someone attempt to answer the question by claiming people with visible tattoos are not complying with “society standards”? The answer of course is that they are expressing what they feel is a consensus in society. But is there this supposed “consensus”?
Dictionary.com – Consensus: Majority of opinion.
I believe there IS a majority opinion that hand tattoos are somehow “not good”. I would also suggest that it is a mindless viewpoint. It’s about on par with women are best kept barefoot and pregnant, evil Jews run the entire world, or black Americans should stick to singing, dancing, and sports.
So…if I’m correct that there is a consensus visible ink generally, and hand tattoos more specifically, are “not good”, is this consensus what I (and others) are not complying with? Yes! Precisely.
But you will note the definition of “consensus” speaks of a “majority” view, not an agreement by everyone. When someone says, “You’re not conforming with the majority view” it seems to contain the inference that the majority view holds some sort of authority; that it means something special or exceptional. What kind of “authority” might it create?
I wonder what authority was established by the pre-Civil War consensus in the southern states that it was OK to own other people. I wonder what authority was had by the consensus that whites and blacks shouldn’t be allowed to marry. Or that it’s great for heterosexuals to marry, but not homosexuals. How about when Christians are treated as second-class citizens and their churches set ablaze in Muslim countries?
Though I won’t explore the implications here, also keep in mind that sometimes when people seek refuge behind “consensus”, they don’t mean a consensus of the people, but rather a consensus of those in power, which further alters the equation.
Clearly the existence of a consensus in these matters created “legal authority”. However, I think all rational thinking humans would also say these consensuses created ZERO “moral authority”. In fact, they created nothing but “mob rule” backed by the state sanctioned, or state performed, violence.
My point is that the existence of a consensus often results in mindless violence without a shred of concern or respect for the rights of those being assaulted.
Tell me; what percentage creates the unbridled authority to “control”? Is it 51%? How about 70%? 80%? Let’s use 80% as the figure that magically “controls” society. What of the 20%? What happens to them? What consideration is given to their rights, freedoms, and prerogatives? Did the minority’s rights exist when the consensus was 79%, but miraculously disappeared when the magical number “80%” was hit? What if YOU are a part of the 20%? What of YOUR rights?
One attribute of a country that claims to revere liberty is that the rights – the liberties – the freedoms – of the minority are protected from the vagaries of the majority.
When most people rely on consensus as their “authority” to make certain allegations, or act in a particular way, they usually only have a vague (unproven) notion that such a consensus exists. As an example, while there is polling data on tattoos in general, there is no polling data in existence that addresses visible tattoos (such as on one’s forearm), hand tattoos, neck tattoos, or face tattoos.
Let’s take a quick look at the polling data.
A Fox News poll shows that “voters” [I have no idea why Fox limited the poll to registered voters] responded to the question, “Do you like tattoos”, with 58% saying “no” and 32% saying “yes”. So there’s a generalize consensus.
But is there really a consensus? When that same question is asked of people under 35 years of age, 55% say “yes”. Oops! That consensus isn’t looking too good! When the question is addressed exclusively to women under 35 the “yes” number leaps to 64%. Now where’s that consensus?
Another interesting statistic is that 73% of Americans said they would hire a person with visible ink. Among those who have one or more tattoos, that number rose to 84%.
My point is that even when one justifies one’s position by appealing to “consensus”, there may not actually be one! It may be nothing more than wishful thinking. It may be that the person’s social and/or professional sphere is limited to only those who think like he/she does, thus creating a consensus in that person’s mind that may well not exist in the real world.
So let’s recap:
1. People who express strong disapproval of something that harms no one almost always come from a position with nothing more to recommend it than “I DON’T LIKE IT!”
2. These same people will often claim the thing they don’t like is outside “society’s standards”.
3. When asked to substantiate their claims about “society’s standards” they often rely on the claim of a “consensus”.
4. The consensus they rely upon may or may not exist.
5. In a land of liberty, even when a consensus does exist, the non-harmful prerogatives of the minority are to be respected.
6. Consensus never imbues those holding that point of view with moral authority.
7. Consensus will often create “legal authority”, which generally translates into violence by state agents against a minority group. This is known as “mob rule”.
Now that we have a thorough understanding of the issues, it’s time to answer the question I raised at the beginning of the article.
Question: What is it to which I am not conforming or being obedient by being tattooed?
Answer: I am not conforming – or being obedient to – the mere OPINION of an individual, or perhaps a group of individuals, regarding what they think society should look like.
THAT’S IT! There is nothing rational or tangible. Which is why, when I first looked at the issue, I couldn’t come up with anything. The kind of thing I was looking for – rational and tangible things – aren’t a part of the allegation against me and others like me.
So – in the ultimate analysis – what is this thing of which we are guilty?
We are guilty of the worst crime possible in the minds of such people. We are guilty of not giving a shit about how they want us to live our lives.
Copyright 2014 Dave Champion
“The opinions of ten thousand men are of no value if none of them know anything about the subject”
~ Marcus Aurelius