What is 'virtue signaling'? What are some examples? Is it good or bad?
I first came upon this term "virtue signalling", used as an accusation leveled at me by some social conservative on Quora, deep down in a comments thread. Being new to the term, I pulled out my trusty Google and discovered it even had a Wikipedia page.
"Virtue signalling is the conspicuous expression of moral values. The term was first used in signalling theory, to describe any behavior that could be used to signal virtue-especially piety among the religious."
LOL, that's actually quite hilarious. I pointed out to the fellow, "Mate, it's just the two of us down here. If you really think somebody's gonna come trawling down through our conversation to read this, you're kidding yourself! What crowds of people are you expecting this comment is signalling to?"
Even more funny, that he was accusing me of virtue signalling because I was educating him on transgender issues. It's part of what I do, because, da da dah, I'm a trans woman. Transition-to-female from within a conservative evangelical religious community is rather the opposite of virtue signalling! o.O
So what is "virtue signalling", really? These first two cases for it's use are simply disingenuous tools of right-wing propaganda and trolls. The third case is a fair and honest criticism:
- Social censorship – shutting down of conversations and those efforts to make certain social issues more visible.
- Social punishment of those who stand up to be heard on what they believe, by snidely pretending that those beliefs are hypocritical.
- Slacktivism – The situation where someone cares more about being seen to be doing something, rather than the actual cause being served.
1. Social censorship
One accusation of virtue signalling was in relation to the Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised awareness for the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as "Lou Gehrig's disease" or "motor neurone disease", and raised donations of over 130 million dollars.
This was an effective fund-raising gimmick, so not sure that shutting it down is such a wonderful thing to do. In fact, not sure that shutting down controversial conversations is really that good generally. Some issues need more awareness, and social conservative shutting down of those issues looks rather suspiciously like an attempt at censorship!
2. Social punishment
People who stand up for what they believe in, often have a greater sense of authenticity. The ad hominem argument of virtue signalling is a lightly veiled accusation of hypocrisy, and an attempt to hit them where it hurts.
I hope that most of them simply won't give a shit what their detractors say, but I'm guessing there are many more people who don't stand up because they're afraid of the eggs and tomatoes.
Perhaps the best way to handle it is to call them out on the accusation, "Are you calling me a hypocrite?" That is what virtue signalling means!
Confessions of a virtue signalling, leftard social justice warrior – Sydney Morning Herald, by Nick Miller
These insults are quite clever, in a schoolyard-y way. ... In a world of ice bucket challenges, Kony 2012 and the endless retweeting of causes and complaints, it's easier than ever to display your politics but no easier to actually do something about them. Which means there's a bigger gap between slogan and action, where hypocrisy lives.
But the phrase is not being used judiciously, to spotlight hypocrisy. It's being used in a barrage, to ridicule all with the temerity to draw attention to an injustice they themselves don't suffer (or rather, particular injustices, the sort that occupy liberals).
Others have argued that using 'virtue signalling' as a criticism is just demonising empathy.
This last one is a fair criticism.