Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Around 1990, the term “political correctness” came into common use (which I have written about more than a few times). But you may not have heard the more recent term, “virtue-signaling.”

Like PC before it and various recent putdowns, like snowflake, it tries to preempt prosocial speech and behavior by labeling them and associating them with social negatives.

But let’s look at this term, virtue-signaling. It’s defined as “an action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one's position on a particular issue.”

People who post a rainbow flag over their Facebook profile photo are accused of virtue-signaling. It can be anything from a white person writing an anti-racist post to participating in a demonstration against deporting immigrants or men working against sexual violence. Somehow, it always seems to be applied to people who speak up (in however small a way) for someone not like them, on a cause that is not rooted in their own experience but is instead based on empathy.

But this use of the term is much too narrow, if we’re going to talk about who’s signaling their virtue: It seems to me the biggest signalers of all are people who post patriotic messages and “support our troops” memes.

Of course, if we’re human, we’re probably virtue-signaling: human society is all about people signaling about the self. That’s why there’s a famous sociology book called The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. That’s why there’s a school of thought called symbolic interactionism.

I’m human. I communicate with everything I do, from my words to my actions to my clothes. Would you prefer I signal about evil instead of virtue?

The world I want is one where we aspire to virtue, and inspire each other through our words and actions.

No comments: