The Tattoo Taboo – Ink As An Argument For Freewill Philosophy
Determinism theory in philosophy states – “all events, including moral choice, are completely determined by previous existing causes”. Genetic determinism, popularly termed “puppet determinism” says that everything about a person, both physiological and behavioral, is determined by each person’s inherited genetic makeup.
Imagine you are given a choice between having chocolate or vanilla vegan ice cream at a carnival one toasty summer’s eve. According to determinism theory, whether you choose the rich, decadent chocolate cone or smooth, velvety vanilla one isn’t really your choice, or even simply, a choice at all.
The decision you make is unavoidable due to a priori forces. What happens is simply math.
You “choosing” chocolate is a mere causation of what came before – perhaps a genetic predisposition towards an affinity for chocolate in combination with the colors your encountered that day before going to the ice cream parlor and the seasonal weather where you live.
That’s determinism theory.
Nature Vs. Nurture
There are certain things in each person’s life that are undeniably predetermined – who we are born to, where we are born, when we are born – things that radiate out and shape us in the nature nurture schematic, the ongoing Battle Royale of biology and environment.
For ego-driven creatures like us, the lack of control can be frustrating – and often denied by the ego that likes to sway us into thinking it is omnipotent and omniscient. I believe there is a balance between the predetermined and the things residing in our control which we can influence with the magnificent power of free-will.
Part of the attraction towards tattoos and other forms of body art stems from a belief system that exercises the empowering free will mindset. Yes, we are given a body, certain other things in life that are out of our control, AND we are also given free will to act on things within our control.
The Question Of Free Will
I interpret the question free will poses as such – are my decisions and actions necessarily the inevitable result of my morality and character? Or do I possess the power to create the reality I desire for myself?
For every choice we make, we have the ability to choose any action available – aspects like character and ethical belief systems then guide the actions we deem “acceptable” and influence our decisions, or lack of actions – the decision to abstain from action.
We have all done things, aided in things, enabled things in our lives that we do not agree with, against our moral beliefs and motives.
Take for example a situation where a friend of ours is failing a class and asks to copy off our exam. While we do not agree with cheating on exams and the thought of getting caught may make our stomach feel slightly queasy, our compassion for said friend leads us to stealthily slipping them notes during the exam.
The action, helping our friend cheat, does not agree with our core moral values – in this case, honesty and integrity regarding school work. This deliberate decision goes against our motives for studying hard – doing well in school – and the ethics behind it – fairness and equality among all students, in order to help a friend in need for their well-being alone.
Thus, aiding our friend was indeed an act of free will stemming from compassion – a deeply human condition.
Ink & Body Mod In Culture
If we examine the communities that incorporate body art as spiritual journeys it becomes evident that people have used tattooing to express beauty, purpose, and culture for millennia. This form of self expression is becoming increasingly prolific in modern cultures.
We’ll begin by taking a look at how some communities across the globe integrate tattooing into their lifestyles.
The Chambri Tribe
Fondly known as the The Crocodile Hunters of Papua New Guinea – the Chambri Tribe is a population with a deeply reverent relationship to alligators in how they incorporate this magnificent reptile into their culture and everyday lives, as well as their bodies.
This Tribe dedicates homage to their ancestors and the crocodile spirit, which is also their sustenance and cultural community center.
Through scarification ritual and ceremony performed by an elder to create scale-like scars, young men in the tribe are initiated and transformed as Crocodile Hunters. These rituals last one month and are deeply spiritual and an incredible, albeit dangerous, test of will.
The belief is one we’ve all heard before – “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. The men emerge from their ceremonies, proud and primed with purpose.
Tattooing in Polynesians Cultures, particularly the rituals exercised in Samoan and Maori tattoos, embody a certain magical element and spiritual guidance.
Each individual’s design (should they choose to receive a tattoo) is deeply sacred and the process is solemnly revered. It is believed that different ink designs are meant to protect, direct, and enhance one’s mana – divine essence.
The designs are decisively and thoughtfully placed on the body, with different areas of the body designated with specific meaning. Polynesian cultures associate the upper body as being in connection with the spirit world and the lower body grounded in earthly realms.
This belief in the alchemy of body art has led it to be controversial subject matter within these communities.
Conversely, Japanese and Chinese Cultures traditionally view tattoos as something that defames and dishonors the body which one has been given.
The act of vandalizing one’s body with tattoos is seen as a purposeful display of outright defiance and rebellion (convenient logic for cultures that are so adept at creating control in every element of their populations).
The way in which these societies interpret tattooing in a negative context is, in and of itself, a supporting argument for free will. This perception enforces the belief that people are CHOOSING to “destroy their bodies” which their parents and ancestors so graciously gifted them.
The point here is not to focus on the conflicting viewpoints, but rather the commonality between them.
Again, this is seen as an exercise in free will, by both the people getting the tattoos – an act of rebellion, an expression of the self that feels true, feelings of identity that resonate so strongly that it dares to defy what is socially acceptable – and the society which is so righteously opposed to it – how dare you DECIDE to go against the grain?
In modern western cultures, healing through tattoos has taken populations by storm, regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, or socioeconomic background.
One major uprising trend we have seen is the use of commemoration tattoos to honor and memorialize deceased loved ones.
Eternalizing a beloved relative, friend, or pet can help some people to cope with the loss and for these people it has become a significant part of the grieving process.
Mastectomy tattoos are another monumental way people are taking an arduous, traumatic experience and transforming it with their own personal flair for beauty.
These incredibly resilient, determined women and men go through an experience that most of us cannot comprehend.
They transform the pain and emotional hardship they have been through into unique statement artwork – whether it’s a colorful array of flowers adorning the scars or little brown poop emojis where the nipples used to be (who’s fucking business is it what another grown ass person consciously puts on their body anyhow?).
It’s incredible what humans can do when dealt the cards of adversity – oh, how we love to fight back. How it is in our very nature to say no, I choose how I want to play this hand.
The semicolon tattoo movement is an uplifting and supportive force re-empowering those struggling with mental health and self-harm.
The semicolon in the written language represents a point where the writer could have ended a sentence, perhaps even wanted to end it, but made the conscious choice to continue it.
We are the creators of our lives.
The semicolon tattoo symbolizes the moments when those of us struggling with suicidal ideation could have ended our stories, but instead decided, and actively continue to decide to carry on writing our narratives because our stories are not yet finished.
The people participating in this movement are not only those who directly struggle with mental health issues, but also friends and family who want to support their loved ones.
My Tattoo Experience
Of course, I may be just a tad biased towards a love for tattoos because I do have several rather large pieces of body art (full disclosure folks).
One piece I have is a traditional American style tattoo with bright, bold colors and clean line work – a bronze-rimmed compass with reflective blue highlights with a swallow perched upon a clock with no hands, accented with vibrant crimson roses and leafy greenery.
This piece was carefully thought upon and planned with my tattoo artist, Marc Chiaravallo.
The artwork was custom designed and purposefully placed on my body. At that point in my life, I had just began making some pivotal changes within myself during my ongoing process of self-growth. It was an extremely chaotic time in my life and I was still dealing with the aftermath of my rapidly decaying with mental health, a devastating break up, and rape.
Even during those seemingly unending, bleak days, I wanted to express my underlying gratitude, wonder, and sheer awe in the journey of life and make a cognitive mental shift by illustrating the positivity I knew still existed within me somewhere, even if I could not see it at the time.
The message I wanted the tattoo to remind me of in times where positivity feels difficult to come by was this – you never know how much time you have on the planet, and you never know where life is going to take you, but you are in control of why and how you live it.
Countless sleepless nights I would ask myself in the dark, “why am I even alive?” – seeking some external reason. I eventually realized the answer to this existential question can only be answered by the individual asking it.
I had my tattoo artist place the piece over an area with a large cluster of self harm scars – it certainly was no picnic sitting through 10 hours of tattooing, over keloid scarring no less (then again, I’ve always been a bit of a masochist).
Physical intensity can help us to process difficult events and emotion through the very rigorous experience of getting a tattoo. The strangely therapeutic ritual combines pain, art and intention – a form of spell-casting, if you will.
For me, creating something expressive and meaningful from scars that were a source of great shame and uncomfortability marked a turning point in my healing journey. Oddly paradoxical – healing emotional wounds while getting stabbed rapid-fire style with a 9-needled tattoo gun – valid nonetheless.
Why The Stigma?
It’s peculiar to think that even as evolved as we are, tattoos are still very much stigmatized in many cultures. Why is that?
The herd mentality people have in correlation with the various cultural mindsets implement and fortify taboos as societal control mechanisms – what we are “allowed” to do.
Many who are against body art and modification are seeing through the lens of cultivated stigma and judgment.
I personally couldn’t care less if someone feels compelled to tattoo their eyeballs or pierce their anus as a form of self expression. After all, who are we to judge someone for healing or expressing themselves in a manner that is different to our own?
The freedom that comes from being able to express ourselves in a way that is empowering and meaningful to the individual is vastly underrated.
We can’t always control what happens to us, but we CAN control how we choose to respond. That, my friends, is the beauty of free will.
Have your own tattoo journey? Share your story in the comments section below!