Maybe this post stems from the fact that the holiday season has just ended, that time of year when charities are calling you constantly, standing on street corners or in the hallways of shopping plazas, or hosting various events. Maybe it is because I am in the midst of organizing another charity event for Boston Terrier Rescue. Regardless of why, the significance of the charity tattoo has been on my mind. Tattoo-a-thons have become very popular fundraising events over the last decade, and what they bring is a new and different sense of charity.
In mid October of 2012, I attended and volunteered at a charity cut-a-thon and tattoo-a-thon at the Cowboys & Angels Salon, hosted by the lovely Cindy Calhoun. Her team of talented staff cut hair, and the amazing Memphis Hell executed small horse-themed tattoos, and there was a BBQ, horse carriage rides, and items like calendars and t-shirts to purchase. All proceeds went to two horse-related charities: The Long Run Thoroughbred Retirement and Heaven Can Wait Equine Rescue. If memory serves me, they raised around $4000. Pretty fucking amazing if you ask me.
Of course, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a tattoo at this event — not only to show my support for the worthy cause but for the experience itself. I had never gotten a charity tattoo before, and I was curious. I also wanted to feel the talents of Memphis Hell, since I want to get a chest piece from her in the future (I needed to see how heavy her hand was). While watching the line of people steadily come into her small shop in the basement of the salon, picking out the flash they wanted, I got to thinking about the difference between a charity donation of cash or one’s time and a charity tattoo.
Now, I should mention that personally I am a firm believer in the notion that animals deserve moral consideration; I believe they make moral claims that we respond to. This is probably fairly obvious given i work with dog rescue and other animal related charities. In the words of Jeremy Bentham, a man who we can consider to be a pioneer of animal rights and equality, “The question is not, can they reason? nor, can they talk? but, can they suffer?”. Classically the ability to reason has been the criterion for deserving rights, and as Bentham points out correctly if that is the only criterion then humans with certain disabilities fail, as do children and infants. Women for centuries were denied basic rights because of a supposed lack of reason (an unfounded assumption). In other words, reason is an arbitrary criterion for rights. How many of us know a person or several people who seem to have no reasoning abilities at all? What seems to be going on here is actually speciesism — reason is a cover for the idea that we as humans grant ourselves rights because it benefits us as a species. Same goes for the sanctity of life arguments. It’s us protecting and elevating ourselves, and sadly its at the cost of so much.
In his groundbreaking work, Introduction to The Principles of Morals and Legislation Bentham writes: “The day has been, I am sad to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing, as, in England for example, the inferior races of animals are still. The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been witholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognised that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” Well said my good man.
Bentham does accept the idea of slaughtering animals for food or medical reasons (in defence of human life in some way), so long as the animal is not made to suffer unnecessarily and if used for medical purposes, the goal had to be a great benefit to humanity and achievable — not a waste of time and life. In a letter to the editor of the Morning Chronicle (9 March 1825) he wrote, “To my apprehension, every act by which, without prospect of preponderant good, pain is knowingly and willingly produced in any being whatsoever, is an act of cruelty; and, like other bad habits, the more the correspondent habit is indulged in, the stronger it grows, and the more frequently productive of its bad fruit.”
Now, back to the ink. A charity tattoo differs from other kinds of charitable donations like cash or time because it is a permanent mark of one’s affiliation with the event itself and everything the charity stands for. You are a walking banner in some ways for that charity and its cause. When you give cash to a charity, you give them a means to something else — they use that money for a goal, a set of needs, etc. You give up something for them to get something. When you donate time, you are helping the charity acquire the means (cash) to get the things they need for the cause they represent. With a tattoo, while you do pay for it and that money acts as a means to their worthy ends, the tattoo you receive lives on as a permanent symbol. You could say you in the case of charity tattoos, you donate space on your flesh for the cause (and your immunity too) as much as money from your pocket. Charity ink is a deeper kind of donation then simply giving money or time — it is a personal ‘stamp’ of solidarity with a cause. In the case of animal charities like the horse-related ones we raised cash for at Cowboys & Angels, the tattoo not only symbolizes the event and the charities themselves, but it also symbolizes the fight for animal equality and the moral consideration/claims of animals. These horse charities rescue horses because they believe in the moral considerations and the rights of these animals to life, happiness, security, and liberty … the right to not be slaughtered prematurely for food or glue because their race days are over or their owners no longer have use for them. By getting a tattoo at this charity event, I was telling the world my moral position concerning animals, specifically concerning horses, — I was clearly showing where I stood and do stand. And I will continue to demonstrate this position to the world for the length of my life. I don’t believe (personally) in removing tattoos, so that super sweet lucky 13 horseshoe is with me for the long haul. Because I have thought about these things though, I am perfectly fine with that.
But, I have to ask, do the majority of people think about this stuff before they get charitable ink? I mean, do they actually think about what the particular charity stands for besides what is written in the manifesto? Do they consider all the implications of such an act and affiliation? I freakin’ hope so. Maybe that homeless shelter you are assisting in raising funds is actually sponsored by a religion that doesn’t support same-sex marriage or gay rights, or that activist group you support that saves the whales believes it’s okay to kill people in order to save sea life — these are things you might want to be aware of BEFORE the needle touches your flesh. Homelessness and saving sea life are great causes, but if they are supported by other organizations or groups you don’t support, you might want to think twice before getting that tattoo or giving you time and/or money.
One must deeply think before they ink, and that is especially true with a charity tattoo.