The Thinking 

Tattoos and Self, cont.

July 27, 2017

S.K. writes:

Once again, you’ve touched on a powerful topic. Tattoos, which I am not in the slightest a fan of, are ubiquitous. I don’t like them on women especially; none at all. Find a woman (young, mature or even old) that doesn’t have at least three – if you can. I remember when they started becoming popular with all social classes in the 90’s. Prior to that I only noticed former military, bikers, hoodlums, etc., to have tattoos and even with them they were usually kept to a minimum of one and and kept out of sight. Then the yuppies, the college kids, everybody and their mother basically started getting tattoos.

You wrote:

“A young woman who sliced some bread I bought yesterday was wearing a nose ring. She seemed a nice, polite girl, but I wondered, was she afraid to seem ordinary? Why? Does she take some weird pleasure in shocking and repelling?”

She is mindlessly following her peer group, or she feels small in a big world and wants to signal that she is here too, and that she matters and should be paid attention too as well. I recently chatted up a lovely young woman that had a nose ring. I had not noticed it at first but once I did it sort of bothered me. She was so down-to-earth and sweet, and yet this thin strip of metal was jarring me.

“I have noticed that many people with tattoos or various body piercings/mutilations have a soft, almost wimpy quality. They have this shocking, aggressive, in-your-face body art and yet they are the sort of people who wouldn’t harm a flea. What’s going on?”

Excellent observation. This has puzzled me as well. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone ‘hard’ that had piercings or tattoos. I suppose getting them is easier than making oneself ‘hard.’ This happens a lot with large, pudgy men. I recently saw a man with the “wimpy quality” you described at a sporting goods store looking at fishing poles. He was obese, tall, covered with tattoos and had ear gauges. And he was not someone menacing either.

You are right, there is nothing more conformist than tattoos, at least as they exist now. I wonder how many men have succeeded in getting their women to have them removed.

Nick writes:

One quote by Dr. Thomas Bertonneau from your post stuck out to me:

“The entire structure of modern society encourages people not to mature …, but to remain childish and impulsive and without a sense of inner being. People who live without a sense of inner being can only take their cues from others, who are present on the scene. Their idea of being is the childish one of attracting attention and, as teenagers say, being popular. Such people, wanting to differentiate themselves from others, so as to become conspicuous and, as they see it, acquire being, will necessarily turn to externals.”

I want to draw special attention to the idea of a life without a sense of “inner being” – and what it might mean. I’m interested in what that might mean to others. I think the author, obviously more experienced and learned than me, draws out the consequences of such a life and not so much what it’s rooted in.

Not to get overly philosophical, but inner being is probably our determined identity, i.e. family, ethnicity and race, nationality, sexual distinctions, etc. and how these are the basic units and components of our human identities. When people no longer believe any of these things have meaning, they loose a sense or understanding of the very core of their personality.

I personally think individualism is more to blame than anything else. Individualism, as it is understood popularly today, is the idea that a human person is primarily responsible for his own meaning and should satisfy his own interests first. Everything else is second, if it even matters at all. Understanding what I am, who I want to be in the larger society, and how I will achieve these is not understood through any historical connection I presumably have with others and with influential institutions like the Church. No! I’m Tabula Rasa.

But note that a society cannot be made up of “individuals.” Even those that toil under this idea are lost in their own irony. You hear people say “Be yourself,” “Follow your own path,” “Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your own life!” When you train and teach and encourage people to live and believe a certain way, you’ve defeated the very purpose of “individualism” as it is popularly understood. As noted, a group of individuals is one made out of conformity not its opposite.

People that live their lives on the assumption they have some responsibility to “self create” – a self-defeating concept if there ever was one – that they determine meaning for themselves and that life is the summation of their fulfilled, personal interests what you necessarily end up with is a big group of people looking for something, like a consumer walking around an ontological shopping mall (and that shopping mall is the variegated multiculti, pluralistic society we live in).

Laura writes:

Interesting observations.

In answer to your question, Nick, being, as I interpret it, is personality.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote of the distinction between individuality and personality.

The human being is an individual to the extent that he has inherited, biological characteristics — race, family, sexual distinctions, as you mention. As individuals, we are social creatures, parts of a larger whole.

The person, in contrast, is not simply a social creature. He stands apart with a created, divine and immortal essence and interior life.

In his book The Mystical Body of Christ and the Reorganization of Society, the Irish priest Fr. Denis Fahey, C.S. Sp., writes about the difference:

Personality belongs to man because of his having an immaterial soul. Alone among visible beings, man can grasp with his intelligence and love with his will God, the Supreme Good, and the order of the world subject to Him. Thus, while all other visible beings move to their end, because they are impelled thereto by the current of the world in which they are immersed, man alone can rise above that current and enter into direct relation with God. He is not immersed in the movement of the universe and in this respect resembles the angels. Every human being, as a person , is ordained directly to God, and as such, society exists for him.


A man will be fully and actually a person, enjoying that independence of existence and consequent independence of action which belongs to him, as such, in proportion as the life of reason and free-will dominates in him over that of the senses and passions.Without that domination, he will remain a slave to passing events and circumstances, always carried away by every passing sense-impression and bereft of that self-mastery which should be his. In a word he will show that dependence on matter which comes from his individuality. By his individuality he is essentially dependent on a certain environment, a certain climate, a certain descent. To develop one’s individuality means to lead a selfish existence, to become a slave to one’s passions, striving to make oneself the centre of everything, and in the end becoming dependent on a thousand and one ephemeral things which bring a miserable pleasure of a moment. Personality , on the other hand, grows, in proportion as the soul lifts itself above the world of sense and attaches itself more and more, by the intellect and will, to that which constitutes the life of a spiritual being, namely, knowledge and love of the Supremely Perfect Being as He is in Himself. God alone possesses personality in the full sense of the word, for He alone is fully independent, in His Being and in His Action, Only He who is being itself has an existence that is independent, not merely of matter, but also of everything that is not Himself.  Accordingly, our personality is developed in proportion as our life tends towards God and is assimilated to God’s life, that is, in the actual order, in proportion as we live in union with the Blessed Trinity present in us by Grace through membership of Christ and strive to share in the life of intelligence and love of the Three Divine Persons. Personality in the order of action is thus God-centredness in opposition to self-centredness. As all things tend towards God by their nature, personality in action implies a firm grasp of that ordered tendency and an intense love of the order thus grasped. This love will manifest itself by a capacity for self-sacrifice, that is, by the power of suppressing the inclination
to make self the centre of life and of respecting the tendency of all beings to God, the Common Good of the Universe.

Individuals cannot develop their personalities, Fr. Fahey insisted, in societies that do not recognize the rights of God. That lack of recognition causes the individualism that plagues us.

Share:Email this to someoneShare on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest0Share on Google+0