In this case, Mark Shea is wrong. I have heard about virtue signaling, and it took me a little while to figure out what it meant. I had seen the problem, and had called it out, but didn’t know the term Virtual Signaling applied.
Virtue signaling is not remaining mum on issues that fly in the face of this or that group or party, as Mark suggests. I’m sure there is a term for that, but that’s just peer pressure, or turning a blind eye, or whatever.
The best that I can tell is that virtue signalling means a tendency unique to modern European and American progressives. It’s a tendency more or less to indulge in demographic flagellation, or some call it demographic masochism. It’s that proud declaration that yes, Virginia, my demographic sucks.
So, for instance, it’s the man who sings the eternal praises of women’s superiority to men in all things. Women rock, women should rule, women are better than men, women should get what they want, anything bad is men’s fault. If women outpace men in all things then all is right with the world. Thus speaks the virtue signalling man.
Or the white person. Whites are all racists. You can always tell a racist by the color of his skin. Whites are the only racists. All whites have always been racists. White’s don’t deserve to be forgiven for being racists. Everything whites ever did was because of racism because they’re racists. Suffering whites get what they have coming because they’re racist. Thus speaks the virtue signally white person.
Or Americans. Well, Nazi Germany had it’s issues make no mistake, but thank God it wasn’t America. Founded on racism and genocide and slavery. A bunch of white racist murdering imperialists. Stupid, boorish, ignorant, lazy, inferior to all and yet singularly the cause of all global suffering. There is no country in the world today more corrupt or driven by evil and ignorance. Thus speaks the virtue signally American.
Or heterosexuals. Don’t get me started on how LGBTQ individuals are better than heterosexuals. They’re better parents, friends, colleagues, workers, scientists, athletes, lovers, soldiers, delivery truck drivers – why you name it! Everything in the world is better with non-heterosexuals, and those rare occasions where that isn’t true are solely due to the evil homophobic hate and bigotry of heterosexuals. Thus speaks the virtue signalling heterosexuals.
This has a couple fringe benefits. First, it provides a sense of righteousness for rightly being willing to call out the sins of your own group; your own tribe so to speak. That’s not a bad thing in itself. Not bad, that is, if done within reason. Much of virtue signaling, of course, veers well off the track of reason. Some could almost be called hate speech, but that it is aimed at one’s own demographic group.
It also has a double, unspoken, benefit of elevating the virtue signaler above the rest of his or her demographic. After all, I don’t think when white liberals say all whites are racist they mean themselves. Oh, they will claim some unseen, subtle, generic racism that comes with being white. But they don’t mean they’re the racists who hate minorities, who laugh when minorities suffer, who wish they could lynch them some black people or whatnot. That would be the others in the demographic who, it turns out, aren’t quite as righteous as the virtue signaler.
So there you go, a double dose of virtue. One, look how awesome I am because I admit to the sins of my demographic. Two, when I say that, I mean the sins of everyone else in my demographic who aren’t as righteous as I am (thank you, Lord, that you didn’t make me like them!).
Naturally, this is a way of establishing bona fides with the various groups the virtue signaler seeks to appeal to. And it’s not necessarily wrong to reflect on one’s own sins, even on a corporate level. But as often as not, it’s the virtue signaler that poisons the rhetoric more than anyone.
For instance, race. Not that there aren’t black Americans who hate whites. I’m sure there are. I’m sure there are black Americans who hate all white people solely because they are white. Racism being a universal thing. But they are drowned out by the white virtue signalers who will say things about white people that sound like they are regurgitating old Nuremberg speeches with the word ‘Jew’ replaced by ‘white.’ And that becomes a problem.
This is somewhat unique. I’m sure there are periods in history where a particular people group stood up and said, “No, we suck, we deserve what we get, everyone else is better than us!’, with no particular balancing perspectives. But I’m at pains.
I’m not suggesting that this is some pure and honest deviation from a noble tendency. But it does suggest what happens when the Faith’s own teachings (repentance is good, confessing sins is good) is removed from the Faith context and perverted by other designs. It is therefore odd how many Catholics seem hip to the virtue signalling groove. Perhaps that’s why they miss what it clearly is.