Virtue signaling is the new self-righteousness. And self-righteousness is for sissies.
Every once in a while a term is coined that just has purchase. Political correctness is such a term. Some people hate it, especially if they’re guilty of it. I recall visiting a family member who happened to be the academic dean of a major university in the mid-90s. I used “political correctness” in passing. His face grew red and his voice strained. I knew I had touched a nerve. It also confirmed for me that political correctness is real.
Rent-seeking is another marvelous moniker of opprobrium. (I’m saving that for another time.) But the best one to come along in a while is virtue signaling.
If this is new to you, I assure you I didn’t make it up. It even has a Wikipedia page. Here’s how it is defined there:
Virtue signaling is the conspicuous expression of moral values by an individual done primarily to enhance their standing within a social group. The term was first used in signaling theory, to describe any behavior that could be used to signal virtue – especially piety among the religious faithful. Since 2015, the term has become more commonly used as a pejorative characterization by commentators to criticize what they regard as the platitudinous, empty, or superficial support of socially progressive views on social media.
We’ve seen these people before. They’re the Keystone Cops of the gospels. I’m speaking of the Pharisees, naturally.
There truly is nothing new under the sun. So why a new name? I think virtue signaling has the virtue of novelty going for it. It cuts through the defenses.
One defense people use to turn away the accusation of self-righteousness is the erroneous belief that only religious people can be guilty of self-righteousness.
This misses entirely what self-righteousness is even in a religious context. You don’t need God at all to be self-righteous, because when it came to self-righteousness the Pharisees didn’t care too much about what God thought, they cared too much about what people thought.
Jesus mounted a ferocious attack on the pretensions of the Pharisees by pointing this very thing out. The Sermon on the Mount repeats over and over that the truly righteous man doesn’t perform his deeds before the eyes of an adoring crowd. He performs them secretly–so secretly they are almost unconscious. (Don’t let the lefthand know what the righthand is doing! Mt 6:3) The righteous man performs his good works for God. And when he is rewarded, he has so little consciousness of his own righteousness he is surprised at all the fuss. Mt 25:37
It is this aspect to virtual signaling that makes it putrid. Like this promise to hire 10,000 refugees. Starbucks isn’t alone, and they’re not the first. Ben and Jerry’s is notorious for this. Hey, it sells. Everyone needs an indulgence when they pay for over-priced coffee or ice cream. These companies throw that in. You can feel good about paying $7.36 for that latte now, you’ve signaled that you’re on the right side of history. (I’m more inclined to buy from Republicans and sinners myself, “Give me a Dunkin coffee, medium, regular”.)
But I can hear Jesus now, “Don’t say, do. Just do it. Let’s be surprised by your goodness for a change, not disappointed when we discover you’re a hypocrite.”
Real men stand and deliver. That’s another thing I like about the whole virtue signal signifier–the hidden joke. Virtue is manly. Vir is Latin for man, and it is the root of the Latin, virtus, which means manly. If I were to say to one of these peacocks of the moral pose: “My don’t you look manly today!”, not only would he be embarrassed at the thought of being manly, he’d probably see I was actually joking.
Keep it real. Real men don’t need to virtue signal, real men just do things.
Then there’s this from the world of social science: