L. Neil Smith's
Number 324, June 19, 2005

The Government Hates and Despises Us

Too Much Pain, No Gain
by Lady Liberty

Special to TLE

I've been fascinated by tattoos for much of my life. By the time I was 14 or 15, I wanted one for myself. Once I was old enough to legally do so, however, I didn't. Why not? Because when I really thought about it, I wasn't entirely sure what I'd want displayed on my body forever.

Even at 18, I knew that some things weren't eternal. If I had gotten a tattoo as a teen, there's little doubt the art work would have had something to do with Elton John (I was a huge fan at the time, but remember that I was also very young and that young people sometimes lack in common sense). If I had walked into a tattoo parlor at 21, I probably would have gotten my future ex-husband's name etched on some tender body part. In fact, it took me until I was 30 to find just the right symbol. Once I had the design, though, the tattoo followed in very short order.

That's when I learned something more about tattoos. Yes, they're permanent (forget removal—the technology is imperfect and expensive, so plan for forever if you're so inclined to consider such things). They also hurt. And since I'm kind of a wimp where pain is concerned, I'll tell you something else: they hurt a lot. But once the pain is done and overwith, you have something that will—with a little care— last as long as you do.

There are a lot of people who talk about politics in similar terms. They say that there are certain things that they want, but they're not willing to endure the pain of getting those things. Sure, it would be nice not to have a pervasive welfare system, but it would hurt too much to cut it off. Yes, we need to save some money and closing some military bases might help with that, but don't close the one near me! That would hurt too much. Certainly there are some useless government functions out there that should be done away with so the money can be better spent elsewhere. But those useless programs are somebody else's favorites; leave mine alone, if you please, and spare me the pain!

Of course, there are those people out there who despise tattoos. They think they're low class, or a part and parcel of criminal behavior. At best, they think they're much regretted leftovers of some impetuous youth. (A nurse who cared for me after some surgery several years ago took note of my own ink and shook her head as she gently said, "Oh, my, someone was a wild teenager!" I didn't have the heart to tell her that the tattoos were relatively new and that I was apparently a wild adult.)

The people who hate tattoos aren't a lot different from those people who hate the very idea of putting some curbs on unconstitutional government largesse. Forget any pain that might be caused when programs are phased out or stopped all together. The very notion of considering changes (unless, of course, those changes involve expansion) to welfare programs causes them deep hurt. In fact, if you so much as suggest such a thing, the howling begins.

When people ask me about getting a tattoo, I try to answer as honestly as I possibly can. I often suggest to them that they choose something small for their first experience, and that they have it done on a part of the body that's less sensitive than other places they might choose. I also tell them they might want to consider having it done somewhere that they'll find easy to hide from the tattoos-are-just-disgusting crowd if they want or need to do so. By selecting a less sensitive patch of skin, the tattoo will hurt less than it might otherwise. And by keeping it small, the pain will be kept to a shorter duration. If you decide you like the idea and can tolerate the pain, then you can get more tattoos or expand the little one you've got.

There's a certain segment of the population with much the opposite view of those who don't want government to cut back at all. That portion of the people not only want change, but they want it right now! If welfare is a bad thing—and, at least in the long run, it is—they want it stopped this instant! If taxes are too high—and they are—then taxation must cease today. If Social Security is a bad program offering a false sense of security—it is and it does—then we must cut it off tomorrow!

A young woman I once worked with showed me her tattoo. She'd gone in to a reputable artist with a good sized drawing that she wanted applied to her side. She'd never had a tattoo before. She didn't consider (because she didn't know) that any tattooing on areas close to the bone is about as painful as it gets, and that the rib cage involves quite a bit of bone. She didn't think about just how long she might have to endure that kind of pain to get a design that size done. Once the artist began his work, however, she considered it! A scream and a choice word or two later, she was done. Her tattoo today consists of an ugly and misshapen bluish blob (who knows what it was supposed to become?) and an unfinished squiggle that goes nowhere. If she'd started with something smaller and in a more opportune place on her body, she might have a perfectly nice tattoo that served to prepare her for something larger later on. And even if she didn't get anything larger, she'd still have a portion of what she wanted.

I received a couple of negative comments on a column I wrote some weeks ago wherein I suggested that Social Security be phased out. Although I wrote that I believed Social Security was a bad program (I called it a Ponzi scheme which, in fact, it is), I also said that it couldn't be stopped on the instant because it would prove too much too quickly for those who are dependent on the program. One critic, however, castigated me for suggesting anything other than that the program be cut off immediately because it's just wrong. My answer is that the program is, indeed, wrong, but that it's also far too large and ingrained in too many lives to simply shut it off in its entirety and all at once. In advocating immediate and drastic change, you're certainly not going to win over any votes or support from those who are dependent, and you're not going to change the minds of too many of those who fear that large numbers will be hurt, either! In short, if the only options are no change or drastic change, guess which one is going to win?

These are people who want to start with a huge tattoo on their rib cage, and so end up with nothing largely because a significant segment of the population takes one look and says, "Ouch!" A gradual approach to such things wouldn't only be kinder to today's elderly and those who are near retirement age, but would also be a program that even those less fond of government cuts would be better able to tolerate. Yes, a gradual approach might still hurt some people somewhat. But it would be tolerable, and thus more would be willing to consider and endure such a thing. Sure, there are a few folks out there with a very high threshhold for pain. But we need more than a few people to get behind changing Social Security or eliminating welfare in order to get those things done!

Unfortunately, those people with a high threshhold for pain fall into two camps themselves. There are those who have almost their entire bodies covered with tattoos and piercings, and who work with rock groups or in tattoo shops or build custom motorcycles or any one of dozens of other careers where their personal predilections don't really matter as much as do their skills. And there are those who jump up and down and scream, "Discrimination!" when a bank doesn't hire the girl with the rings through her lip or who are infuriated when they garner a doubletake on the street.

Along with gradualism, we must also consider the repercussions of "in your face" attitudes. Tattoos are gradually becoming more mainstream as more and more people from all walks of life get them and allow them to show, and even those with extensive work are seen more often and generate fewer comments. Eventually, most people probably won't care much if their bank teller doesn't look like they traditionally expect her to look today. But this acceptance hasn't happened over night, and it won't be changing 180 degrees by tomorrow.

The same is true of politics. Change is needed, but much of it should be done gradually. Doing so proves not only that it can be done, but that any pain can be borne as it's spread out over time and distance. It's those factors that will win over a majority, not the extremist few who yell the loudest. And whether it's a good thing or a bad thing, let's at least be realistic and acknowledge that we need the support of the majority to make many of these changes happen at all. (I'm not talking about bad laws like the PATRIOT Act or REAL ID, here. Those would do no harm if they disappeared tomorrow, and will cause a great deal of harm if they don't. And as a matter of record, I fall squarely on the side of the so-called "extremist few." I agree with virtually all of their goals where the dramatic downsizing of government is concerned. I just disagree that it's possible to reach those goals as quickly as we would all wish.)

There's one more thing you need to know about tattoos, and it may be the single most important factor: For many people, they're addictive. If you like what you've done so far, and you realize you can handle any pain involved, you're going to go back for another, and probably another one after that. In fact, I just got another tattoo myself this weekend. I spent about four hours dealing with the pain, and then spent too much money paying for my suffering. And it was worth every minute and every cent. I won't bore you with all of the details of the artwork, but I will tell you that it says, "Give me Liberty, or give me Death."

I'm frankly hoping to delay the death part for awhile, and that's due at least in some measure to the fact that I'm not done working toward the liberty part yet. Yes, I'd like it to happen tomorrow. But I also know that it won't. That means I need to continue to work and sacrifice as needed toward that ultimate goal. It also means that I'm going to continue to encourage others to do the same. It's surprising the kind of things you'll put up with and the sacrifices you'll make if you can spread them out over a timeframe you know you can survive—and even thrive—during and after.

I respect and honor without limit those who've made far greater sacrifices in an instant, whether it's been for principle or for real and immediate matters of individual or collective freedom. But most people aren't quite so brave or strong. I think that there are more people than some of us might imagine who have some courage of their own, and who will stand up along side us if only we don't leave them entirely behind in our own headlong charge toward restoring freedom in America.

We need the frontrunners desperately to blaze a trail and to serve as an example and an inspiration. But without a broader backing, those de facto leaders cannot succeed on any expansive basis. And without gradualism, that broader backing isn't going to exist. It would be truly tragic if those brave souls ended up alone in their fight because far too many others simply weren't willing to concede more than they think they themselves can bear. Barry Goldwater said, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." He's absolutely right. Unfortunately, extremism is also wrongly viewed by many as always being a bad thing. For those, moderation is neither a virtue nor a vice. It's the only possible path.


Pulling the Rug Out

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