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Culture War Roundup for the week of May 27, 2024

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Naz Reid, Romance, and Regret

Naz Reid is a bench player for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. He averaged 13 points a game last year, in a breakout campaign (for him) that saw him win Sixth Man of the Year, the league award for the best player who did not start. He’s a cog on the Timberwolves, not a star, and such players often become celebrated among the most dedicated fans. I can remember Yankees fans endlessly reposting the infamous “Log Cabin Copypasta” about Luke Voit, or cops from The Wire wanting to have sex with the Baltimore Orioles backup catcher. The backup, the role player, never has the expectations attached to the star free agent signing or the first round pick you build around, the guys you need to produce to justify the value invested. An Undrafted Free Agent like Naz Reid is a free bonus in terms of roster construction for the Timberwolves, and fans can appreciate him in an uncomplicated way without risk of disappointment, where KAT will never quite live up to expectations even when he’s a star. Naz Reid has become a mascot for fans of the Timberwolves, with fans online and in person greeting each other and commenting on events by simply nodding and saying “Naz Reid."

Two weeks ago, the WSJ recorded the height of Naz Reid hysteria reporting on a tattoo studio that offered to tattoo Naz Reid on any takers for $20. As of press time, 156 Minnesotans had taken him up on the offer. That was before a huge 7 game series win over reigning champions Denver and their MVP winning center. I’d imagine there have been many more, but I can’t find a count anywhere.

In light of this post from last Sunday and these excellent replies, I thought more about Naz Reid and the idea of tattoos, and life and love and the friends we make along the way.

Let’s make our learned friend Harold’s argument a little more concrete: Will the hundreds of Minnesota Timberwolves fans who get this tattoo regret it?

“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

The Naz Reid story on the Timberwolves is likely to end in disappointment. The Wolves are down 3-1, having barely avoided a sweep on Tuesday, but I’d still put odds on the series ending in a Gentleman’s Sweep with the Mavericks coming into Game 5 as heavy favorites. Wolves fans are probably going to be commemorating a season that ends with a memorable failure to finish. Regardless of the outcome of this season, much more likely than not, Naz Reid will not lift a trophy to end the season. He’s also unlikely to be a contributor on the Timberwolves in a few years, in today’s whirligig world of NBA roster construction. If he’s good enough to start, he’s likely to get traded in deference to KAT and Goebert. If he’s not good enough to start, he might not be in the NBA at all not long from now. Die hard Minnesota fans might find themselves with a tattoo naming a player on the Bucks or the Sixers.

This is all so obvious, why have hundreds of midwesterners decided to drop $20 for a permanent memorial to a moment so fleeting?

My first boxing coach was a former tattoo artist. He never managed to convince me to get one as a teenager, his own art was mostly pretty terrible to be honest, but he told stories about it while we jumped rope. He was a big fan of skipping rope. One of the things he told me was that when people came in to get a tattoo for their boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/fuckbuddy/lover, he would try to make sure they wouldn’t regret it, because no tattoo artist wants his victim to hate that tattoo, and they prefer to get repeat business. Coach would sit the guy down and say “Will you be happy with this tattoo if she dumps you? If you won’t be happy with it if she dumps you, you shouldn’t get the tattoo.” “But why would I ever be happy with the tattoo if she dumped me?” “I have tattoos I got with old girlfriends, and I love the designs, and they remind me of that time in my life, even if I don’t talk to her anymore I remember as she was then, and how she changed me. That remains a part of my life and the tattoo honors that.”* ((Avoiding tattoo regret about any particular tattoo is probably easier when you have truly terrible tattoos, like a purple cat in a bowler hat smoking a cigar, all over your body, as Coach did))

This is why you get a Naz Reid tattoo, or any tattoo, and why you don’t. The glass is already broken. The Wolves already lost, in heartbreaking fashion. Naz Reid has already torn his ACL and washed out of the league, or been traded to a rival team. The girl has already dumped you and moved on to someone else, or she’s stayed with you and you’ve both changed and she’s not the same girl anymore. You are already old and saggy. The trend is already out of fashion and lame and decades out of date. You enjoy it because of the moment it represents, not because what it represents is eternal and unchanging. Tattoos at their best aren’t permanent commitments, commitments that we must as flawed humans fail and break, they are permanent reminders of who you were, of the time in your life when you got it.

If you can’t stand the idea that a tattoo might one day seem out of date, that your body will be different and ruin the lines of the tattoo, that you aren’t so in love with the reason you got it, you shouldn’t get it. If you can’t destroy it, or stand to see it destroyed, you don’t own it, it owns you. I’ve tried to make this a motto of my life when it comes to material possessions. My father has a hobby of estate auctions, and I’ve been going to them to pick up his finds since I was a teenager. The amount of times I’ve seen fine china sets, service for 12, come up for auction never used. No utensil marks on them, none. Many of them were Wedding gifts, the couple’s “China Pattern,” purchased for them by wedding guests at exorbitant prices, but never eaten from. The happy couple received thousands of dollars in china, but it was never the right occasion to use it, never the moment when they were willing to risk marring their perfection, never the guests who would take care of it, the kids were too young and might break it, or the wife is too old to bother hand-washing all those place settings, and then they divorce or downsize or die, and they or their children sell it off for 2-10% of the original cost. They’d have been better off using it every day, throwing it in the dishwasher even if it wasn’t “dishwasher safe” and it ruined the gilding, breaking the crystal glasses at raucous parties late in the night. The dishes are already broken, if you save them you just guarantee they won’t be broken by you. You, or corporations selling you something might lie to yourself and say you’re maintaining it for your kids, but in reality they’ll probably auction all your crap off if its worth the effort and throw it away if it isn’t.

“A man should look as if he had bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care and then forgotten all about them.” — Hardy Amies

I’ve tried to make this part of my life. If I can’t destroy it I don’t own it. If I don’t own it, I don’t want to pretend I do. I don’t own shoes or clothing that I feel the need to baby. Not that I’ll wear my best gray suit and suede loafers to work in the garden, but I avoid wearing clothing that I’ll be precious with, that I’ll turn down any activity while wearing. If someone wants to throw a frisbee around, I might take off my jacket and tuck my tie into the buttons of my shirt, but I can do it. I’ve eliminated leather soles in favor of thin rubber soles, they may be less perfectly formal but I prefer to wear them in wet weather or on dirt without thinking too much. I don’t buy anything so expensive that I can’t stand the idea of wearing it out, that the idea of it being stained or torn upsets me. I buy almost exclusively second hand furniture. Protecting your furniture is inherently lame. I want my furniture to already have enough nicks and scratches that the ones I add are no big deal. Within reason, I never want to tell people to be careful with my things. I listened to the guy from ICON Motors on Rogan years back, and one anecdote he told about a friend stuck with me: he would customize a perfect classic muscle car, and just when he was finished he would find a spot on the back and key it. There, now it’s not perfect, I can drive it. Pick ye rosebuds while ye may, enjoy life, don’t save it for the next guy, go to God with nothing and say “I used everything you gave me.”

I’ve had many girls** tell me they think tattoos were hot on guys ((they didn’t manage to convince me to get one either)). Even taking the point that it will look stupid when I’m old, it would have made sense to get a tattoo at 19 if a significant portion of girls agree with that. Let’s posit, as utilitarians, fake numbers: if a tattoo adds 2 points on the 1-10 scale at 19, but takes away 3 points later when you’re 45, you’re probably better off having gotten them, even if at 45 you regret them. Time weighted, the 2 points when you’re 19 are worth more than the 3 points at 45, if things go well you shouldn’t be dating at 45 at all anyway. At 45 you should be married, and look at the tattoos you got at 19 to impress girls, and think of the girls you knew and the friends you had back then, and smile at the memory. If that idea is foreign to you, you shouldn’t get the tattoo.

To bring this back around, Naz Reid. If a Timberwolves fan got a Naz Reid tattoo thinking they were gonna win the championship, and that Naz Reid is going to play in Minnesota for years to come, he is going to regret that tattoo. But a wiser Timberwolves fan, one who gets the tattoo not to commemorate the championship they probably won’t win or the career that Naz Reid probably won’t have, but to remember that one shining spring and how excited he and his friends were getting drunk at the game, he will not regret it.

That’s how you justify getting a tattoo. You own your body, if you can’t destroy it, you don’t own it. So do it, if you can justify it in the end.

*Yes, I’m making his words significantly clearer and less profane. I only really remember the gist of the story anyway.

**While I expect many to dismiss this point, I’m going to state baldly that at least some of these were High Quality Girls with Ivy League degrees and good character, who have gone on to have good careers and/or make fine wives, though I expect some will No True Scotsman that assertion.

Beautiful essay. I don’t quite agree, nor do I quite disagree, but it makes me think.

My own perspective on body modification is that the body is worth handling with deep seriousness and forethought. Our culture lacks much of the framework to make modification like tattoos meaningful, but more dramatic changes are inherently more meaningful (for better or worse) — people should approach them with seriousness and we should build proper frameworks around them if they intend to pursue them. Such frameworks are buildable but effortful, and are mostly not individual efforts. They can’t be divorced from societal context. A meaningless tattoo is no more or less a tragedy than the rest of a meaningless life.

Is the context you outline sufficient justification? That’s not really up to me, and it certainly isn’t my style, but it seems like people are having a good time. You make a compelling defense.

Is the context you outline sufficient justification? That’s not really up to me, and it certainly isn’t my style, but it seems like people are having a good time.

That's pretty much the steelman I'm trying to draw here. In my mind I have this mega-high standard for getting tattoos, like you should have an achievement or experience of magnitude >X to "earn" a tattoo that is meaningful. But then, the people getting tattoos seem to be having fun. I'm reading the Naz Reid article, and it seems fun, and that seems like the absolute last bottom tier idiot tattoo, it's not even a good sports fandom! The Wolves suck!

That's what I was getting at in my reply to @VinoVeritas earlier, intellectually there's a lot of connecting Tattoos and Low Fertility or Lack of Social Meaning or Downward Social Mobility. But do those things actually connect? Or is it a case of projection, that when I'm lobbing those critiques I'm talking about my own lack of meaning?

I set all these absurd conditions, like other users have mentioned, on what would justify getting a tattoo. "10 years in the Navy Seals" or "Winning the World Series" or "Proving an Unsolved Mathematical Theorem" or "Being in Lord of The Rings" or whatever. When I say a tattoo should be meaningful, and that it's "wrong" to get one without meaning, am I projecting my own lack of meaning, my own sense of unworthiness to have meaning, my sense of having failed to earn meaning?

I don't mind the idea of tattoos, but I've never thought of a tattoo I actually wanted, and I don't really think they're that attractive. Maybe that's an indicator of my own diffidence towards everything.

I'd like to pay this post a meta-compliment in its wise approach to giving advice in general.

As with a number of topics, Scott's already written the essay, but it's well worth remembering that advice is usually directional, and as such only beneficially applies to people who would improve by moving in the direction the advice suggests. "Be more cautious" is good advice for a reckless person, but bad advice for a compulsive neurotic. Also, per Scott's essay, "be more cautious" is advice that the neurotic person might take more to heart than the reckless person, serving neither well.

This post takes the next step and provides a thought-out rubric for identifying which side of the dichotomy a given reader falls upon, and therefore how to evaluate the choice presented on a case-by-case basis. Other than providing bespoke advice to someone you know well, I can't think of a better approach. Well done!

Tattoos are a bit like dinner services because many people acquire them through imitation rather than purpose. Tattoo-havers often try to justify having a tattoo by claiming it has a personal meaning for them, but that's not the point, the point is that it shows others that you belong to an exclusive group. Why would you need to signal membership of a group to yourself? It doesn't make sense.

The popularisation of tattoos has diluted this signal to point that all it shows now is that you belong to the group of people who have tattoos. I suppose that is exclusive, but it's a bit meta.

It's a bit like wearing a football club strip. If you wear a football club strip on a football pitch it typically means you're on one of the teams. If you wear it off the pitch it means you admire the people who are on football teams. Getting selected to play for a team is exclusive and requires identifying yourself to the other members of the team, admiring the people who get selected isn't and doesn't.

All of these are symptomatic of the lack of meaningful personal identities in modern life. It wouldn't be surprising to find someone with tattoos, a football strip and who also owns a dinner service. It would be surprising if that person was in a football team and had the full complement of domestic staff to serve them dinner. A few days ago I watched a documentary about Japanese host clubs where a number of the hosts in the club wore crosses. Were they Christians? Given that ~1% of Japanese are Christian I suspect that 25% of the young fashion conscious men who make their living from selling champagne bottles to lonely women as a proxy for their personal attention weren't expressing solidarity with Jesus. I suspect they were constructing a fashion costume with shiny and vaguely exotic elements to catch the eyes of their customers. They were presenting an image without any substance.

Some of this is understandable. We all wear shoes, and so athletic trainers have become popular as much because they're comfortable and colourful as because they're associated with elite sportspeople. We all wear clothes, and so we might wear the denim jeans that were made for miners because hey, they're low maintenance and long-lasting. We all have to drive a car, so we get something a bit like a race car or an off road car even if we only drive at the limit between one paved car park and another. And yeah, we all have to eat our dinner off something too. But we don't have to mark our bodies. If you like to decorate your naked body you could use paint or henna. If you like art and design you could ask an artist to paint a fully framed canvas for you. If you like body mods and get a kick out of pain you could get metal teeth, shave your eyebrows off or just repeatedly scratch yourself with an empty tattoo gun. But people don't. They get tattoos because it's an image of authenticity, a commitment. But commitment to what? Everyone likes funny cartoons, everyone has lost someone close to them, everyone likes cool art pictures, everyone thinks the unusual is exotic, and everyone likes to think they're special. But those things aren't special, they're mundane. Being in a prison gang is special. Serving in the armed forces is special. Belonging to a Maori tribe is special. Being a Jew in a concentration camp is special. That's why their tattoos are predefined. You can't get a tattoo of Bart Simpson's butt cheeks on your belly button to show that you're a member of the Maori. You're getting a thick black spiral on your face, like it or lump it. Belonging can imply ownership as well as membership.

It's not about keeping the body in perfect shop condition. If I'd been in the navy for ten years I wouldn't object to having a tattoo to symbolise that status. I would object if I then saw someone else with naval tattoos, asked them when they served and they told me they just think the pictures are cool and that they're symbols for, like, navigating through life with confidence, and stuff. Keeping your possessions in unused condition is lame but it's not half as lame as pretending you possess something you don't. Saying if you can't destroy it you don't really own it is persuasive rhetoric but it shrinks next to the plainer statement that if it's not yours you don't own it.

You know what else women are famously keen on? Men in uniforms. Some like an officers' dress uniform are incidentally rather spiffing, but I'm not sure there's anything particularly flattering about a fireman's waterproofs and safety helmet. The appeal is what it represents: a man who has been endorsed as brave and capable. I don't get to dress up as a fireman and start bagging chicks, if I dress up as a fireman I'll get laughed at if I'm lucky to meet any chicks and more violently humiliated if I'm unlucky to meet any off duty firemen, who coincidentally don't wear their uniform out of hours. Worst case scenario the deception succeeds and I get sent up a 100ft ladder into a burning building where I then have to hope a real fireman comes and saves me.

Tattoos should symbolise being somebody, but more and more they symbolise being anybody with £50 and a free afternoon. If you're a Naz Reid fan you don't need to get a tattoo, you can get a selfie of you courtside enjoying that special moment after they win the match. Let Naz Reid wear the team strip.

Edit to add: Another aspect of traditional tattoo usage is that many of the people who used them either don't have much personal property beyond the clothes on their back for one reason or another, or are liable to find themselves in that situation unexpectedly. This touches on the "if you can't destroy it" aspect from the other side - if you can't deprive someone of it then it's something they'll have forever. In a funny way it circles around to being a different strategy for keeping their possessions in an unaltered condition.

If I'd been in the navy for ten years I wouldn't object to having a tattoo to symbolise that status.

This has always been my feeling on tattoos. I'm not against having them, but it feels like an act that should be tied towards a connection of personal gravity and importance. Not just 'lol Milhouse meme'

I relate to this post hard.

There's a fundamental personality dichotomy that I'm quite sure I'm on the wrong side of. I deeply envy the kind of person for whom the glass is already broken without having to meditate on it. Meanwhile, I struggle to convince myself every time.

I remember a girl showing me her tattoo of .. I think it was a Jigglypuff smoking a joint covering most of her calf and it was like discovering she was a different species.

I disagree viscerally, but this was very pleasant to read, thank you for making the effort to write and share it

Which part do you disagree with? In what way?

I'm not sure I agree with all of it, I have no tattoos. Though I can't stand the idea of owning sneakers that can't get dirty.

I have a sort-of nuanced view of this. I try to keep my nice things nice, but if they suffer wear in the course of fulfilling their purpose, that is fine, or even ideal.

Eg. I like the fading scar on my right wrist that reminds me of getting swept onto some rocks on a beach in Costa Rica. That was a good time. I dislike the fading scar on my left arm where I carelessly walked into the side of a cabinet when I was tired at work one day. That was stupid. My car looks good (to me) with some nicks and scratches from difficult mountain roads, but I hate the key mark on the side from some asshole in the alley where I park.

My car looks good (to me) with some nicks and scratches from difficult mountain roads, but I hate the key mark on the side from some asshole in the alley where I park.

At some level though, those things are the same, in that over time the odds add up that some asshole keys your car, or backs into you in a parking lot, or loses his loaded shopping cart at Home Depot and crashes it into your car, or you get caught in a sudden hailstorm, or any number of other mishaps, over time those odds approach 1. The only way to fully prevent those things is to never leave the garage for too long.

Now, given, I park at the back of the parking lot every time, both to reduce the odds of mishaps and out of a sense that I have fewer problems and inconveniences compared to most people so I'd rather walk further.

Oh sweet, I weighed asking if you did but didn't want to be the first response and come off snarky.

I really liked you talking about how life isn't about keeping the china nice in the cabinet so your kids can sell it for pennies at the estate sale, and the part about how you don't like saying no to things because of your outfit. Made me think of Cameron's dad in Ferris Bueller's Day Off that kept his Ferrari propped up in a showroom and neglected his own son. That all spoke to me because once upon a time (long story for a different time) I thought my house burned down and I'd lost everything, so now I treat 'stuff' as just stuff

But oh man, I bemoan the devolution of my volk (I'm using the provocative word on purpose because contemporaries, countrymen, etc would only call it to mind) into childless Naz Reid tattoo'd up redditors with a joint. Life used to be about something more than temporary pleasures, before we relegated our living God to Christmas family dinners and Easter egg hunts for the kids.

Secondarily, on your broader point, if people don't care for their nice things, they won't be nice anymore. I have to clean the pool and add the right chemicals at the right time or it'll start growing moss. Saying "fuck it, we'll do it live" is not the cure to keeping the china unused unto death, there is a via media where stuff is meant to be used, but treated with respect

But oh man, I bemoan the devolution of my volk (I'm using the provocative word on purpose because contemporaries, countrymen, etc would only call it to mind) into childless Naz Reid tattoo'd up redditors with a joint.

Question: Do you think people with tattoos on average have more, or fewer, children than people without them? The majority of the drop in birthrates is attributable to the drop in teen birth rates, and increasingly women are delaying their fertility until their 30s, when it might become problematic to get pregnant. What we're seeing with fertility, in short, is a problem of people delaying gratification, thinking too hard about if this is the right time or the right occasion to have a child, rather than people just having a child impulsively, which is associated with higher fertility rates. I certainly know many people with a bevy of tattoos for a bevy of kids, it's one of the classic "lame" normie tattoos I see around these days.

The exact mindset of "Sure, do it, but only if it's meaningful/correct/the perfect combination of thing and time/absolutely certain not to go wrong" that people are talking about with tattoos in this thread when opposing tattoos, those are exactly the attitudes that suppress fertility on a societal level.

I'm re-reading War and Peace, and one of the things that strike me about the characters is how impulsive they are. Natasha wants to run away with Anatole, throw up her entire life for him, in a way that just blows my mind. But Tolstoy wrote her as a normal young Russian noblewoman, not as a particularly impulsive or flighty character.

Secondarily, on your broader point, if people don't care for their nice things, they won't be nice anymore. I have to clean the pool and add the right chemicals at the right time or it'll start growing moss. Saying "fuck it, we'll do it live" is not the cure to keeping the china unused unto death, there is a via media where stuff is meant to be used, but treated with respect.

I agree, I think there is a distinction to be made here between maintenance and preservation, or between appropriate use and inappropriate use. A good pair of leather boots should be regularly cleaned, waterproofed, polished, oiled, resoled, etc. But when you're wearing a pair of leather boots, you should be willing to get in the mud. To do otherwise is, as our holy father says, a bit frociaggine for my taste. This is true for all the boots I own, even the 'dressier' pair of Allen Edmonds boots I wear when my job is more clipboard class but I still want to appear formal. I would never want to own a pair of boots that were so nice, so expensive, so fine, that I would wince walking through the mud. I want to wear my boots through the mud, as they should be used, then cleaned and polished to preserve them.

In terms of my own body, the big area of decision making is working out, rather than tattoos.

"If you find the notion of falling off the rings and breaking your neck so foreign to you, then we don't want you in our ranks,"-- Greg Glassman

Mark Rippetoe likes to say, "Accumulating injuries are the price we pay for the thrill of not having sat around on our asses.”

No individual workout I do is particularly likely to result in injury, but every workout has some possibility of injury, which could be reduced by doing less. I accept the accumulating risk of degrading my body over time. If one doesn't accept that risk, one can't really do anything worthwhile. To assert ownership of my body, I have to accept the risk of destroying my body. Otherwise all I can do is live in fear of injury.

Now there's some risk of injury I'm not going to take. There's a risk/reward. My workouts are structured around that acceptable risk of injury, for me personally. I barely ever straight-bar deadlift anymore, because dollar-to-donuts within a deadlift training block I will hurt my back. Every time. So I write off that lift, in favor of hex bar deadlift or heavy swings or power cleans. That's an unacceptable risk. I only do some exercises in the morning, and only do others in the evening, because of injury risks. I don't climb in areas that are heavy on pockets.

But eventually, periodically, it's going to catch up with me. That's inevitable. But I have to accept that to live my life.

Exactly. I'm not anti-tattoos as a concept, but I think they should be tasteful, speak to moments of high personal impact and therefore fairly rare. The random memeification of tattoos shows a fundamentally different life view amongst most people who just shotgun random images onto their skin.

About tattoos specifically, or the general philosophy of substantive indifference to material possessions?

Mostly tattoos, I guess I'm kind of anti-permanent-body-alteration as a principle. Not in the sense of working out or anything, but like tattoos, scarification, ear-gauges, lip-plugs, etc. It seems...primitive? Isn't quite the right word, but like a regression. Tattoos and the rest of that seem like a self-imposed sign of one's own downward social motility. Maybe we could call it 'leaning in' to the collapse?

But I feel comfortable saying the Naz Reid tattoo crowd isn't doing that, at least on purpose. They just lacked the familial infrastructure and memory to stop them from making bad decisions