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Thu Dec 21, 2017, 04:08 PM

My Virtue Signalling Is Flashier Than Your Virtue Signalling, Or Is It?

Once upon a time, before the recent new rise of the strongman and the far right re-branding that has so successfully manoeuvred them to the top of the political dung heap in the West (from Trump, to Brexit, to Le Pen and Geert Wilders), openly fighting discrimination and oppression, particularly if the injustice did not impact you directly, led to a fair assumption that you are a generally an upright guy or gal. Altruism is, after all, defined as a ‘disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.’ I think we can all agree that being altruistic is a good and moral thing to be, right? At least it has been in the past. Now? Not so much. These days to express moral outrage at injustice is as liable to be scorned as virtue signalling as it is to be complimented for fighting the good fight. The expression ‘virtue signalling’ was created a couple of years ago by a chap called James Bartholomew and has been embraced with delight by the right side of the aisle. It is everywhere and it is tedious. Indubitably, what started out as a pithy and clever phrase coined in an attempt to shut down examination of immoral actions has very quickly become a lazy put down, a mental shortcut to dogmatism.

We all know what the right wing did to the term political correctness, a phrase which has finally lost all currency through chronic and habitual over use by the right in their ongoing attempts to shut down any attempt to challenge unfairness and discrimination in society. The right wing desperately needed an updated slogan to underpin their earnest efforts to shut down all dissent to their othering of minority communities, and so very very predictably ‘virtue signalling’ has become the new ‘political correctness’. It is defacto the latest way for generally right-wing people to avoid confronting ideas they don’t like by impugning the motives of generally left-wing people. There is a certainty on the right that precludes any opposition or disagreement and accusing others of virtue signalling dismisses the morality and virtue of the political opponent to a very dangerous point, in that it further encourages people on the right not to interrogate their own beliefs.

However, on the left we see things through a different prism. Even if we can't change something we know to be wrong, big collective moral shifts in society have to start somewhere, and the rights ongoing attempt to dismiss them as empty gestures is a cynical ploy of malfeasance intent to stifle debate on all the shit that still needs fixing. Without a doubt, there will always be those that want to disparage the practice and promotion of morality and those that do virtuous acts. Those with a social conscience get called do gooders or moralisers. The implication being that somehow they are doing good shit to make others feel bad – rather than to help shape the communities in which they live. In that context surely virtue signalling is little different from what we used to call setting a good example? Why would the right wing have a problem with that?

Those that fling about the accusation of virtue signalling the most have failed to grasp the irony of the insinuation. To level the complaint that someone is virtue signalling is in and of itself virtue signalling. What the accuser is saying (whether they realise it or not) is that my virtue is humbler than your virtue. I am more modest than you. My virtues are quieter than yours. To claim virtue signalling is simply to claim that your own virtues are unassuming and real, and other people's virtues are flashy and insincere. Of course that is supposing that those on the right, that like to fling the phrase around like so much mud, have ‘virtues’ to signal – one might wish to call them something else entirely - however I am sure they would argue that they do have virtues, and that by virtue of our virtue signalling as a moral act, we are really just trying to demonise people with a right wing view, that we are using our virtue as a weapon to spread hate and shut down dissent, that it is a leftist tool of doom. Hehe

At the end of the day acts of morality are done by people, and people are silly, they are selfish and they are self –important. That is part of the human condition and it has been forever thus. What the right is saying when they level the accusation of ‘virtue signalling’ is that any moral act you participate in, is by virtue of your human condition not being perfect, negated. Therefore, as a person who seeks to stand for morality and justice you can never win because if you take those things about people that are not terribly moral and say that this thereby disparages their attempts at morality, we will never get anywhere in improving the world -something I am sure the right wing is very comfortable with.

My virtue signalling is flashier than your virtue signalling

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