Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Signalling virtue

The Left and the Right both have some similar behaviours, including branding their opponents with nicknames and reductionist words and phrases intended to insult and demean the opponent. Most of the time they’re just dumb, eye-rollingly so, even. But sometimes they’re worse, like when they create problems for bloggers.

One of the Right’s favourite insults of the Left is “virtue signalling”, which to them means empty, banal, superficial, and stupid public expressions to publicly prove not just one’s virtuousness, but also one’s fidelity to the accepted positions of the Left. Naturally, it’s not actually true, but it has enough truth in it to endure as a stereotype the Right holds about people on the Left.

People on the Left do, indeed, talk about the things they do that are consistent with their values, because living our values is part of what our tribe does. But we’re not alone: The Right does it ALL the time, too.

The Right’s social media “virtue signalling” in the USA includes things like using a “support the troops” hashtag, using patriotic motifs (like flags, bald eagles, etc) in their profiles, using religious imagery or words (especially about praying for something/someone), or posing with favoured talismans (like guns) or destroying whatever they’re currently boycotting at the moment (like burning their Nike shoes). In other words, they do exactly the same things the Left does—they just can’t see it, and even if they did, they’d see theirs as being sincere and real, while they see the Left’s as being faked, insincere, superficial.

The problem with “virtue signalling” isn’t that it exists, it’s that the Right can’t see they do it, too.

I’ve never cared about the Left or the Right engaging in “virtue signalling”, whether they realise they’re doing it or not. The whole point of sharing stuff on social media is to share what’s going on in our lives, and showing how we’re acting on our values is a bit more important than showing a photo of our lunch. Even for the Right. In my virtuous opinion.

This is a problem for bloggers who talk about life. It’s not possible to talk about some things without in some way “virtue signalling”. For example, when I talk about how we’re trying to live more sustainably, that’s “virtue signalling”, made only slightly less so when I talk about trying things that work and things that don’t work. But the reason I talk about the sustainably thing is to provide context for the products and methods I try, which I then write about.

As much as I don’t care whether anyone engages in “virtue signalling”, neither do I care what someone may think of me when I do it. It’s their issue, not mine. Besides, a blogger needs content!

So, we have the Left and the Right both engaging in “virtue signalling”, that fact doesn’t matter, and neither does the “virtue signalling” itself, and, anyway, bloggers are exempt from such concerns. This isn’t a matter of ideology or semantics or tribalism or even one of debate, in my opinion.

However, if “virtue signalling” really bothers you, that’s your choice. Not my concern. There are some times when someone just has to point out the emperor—or rightwing social media resident—is wearing no clothes.

And I’m stating that plainly, so no signalling is required.

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