Signaling One’s Virtue
Showing you care without doing the work
“Virtue signaling,” according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is “an attempt to show other people that you are a good person – for example, by expressing opinions that will be acceptable to them, especially on social media.”
Most people love showing other people that they are good.
For example, many of us have worn a T-shirt showing we donated money to some cause – mostly because we want others to think we’re charitable. Or maybe the company you work for says they will change some company policy following a public controversy – maybe they publicly fire an employee, for example, to improve their public image.
And while the term “virtue signaling” may be a relatively new term in our vocabulary, the practice is as old as time itself – and it’s super easy to do. Virtue signaling is far less demanding, and far less constructive, than developing virtue itself.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle is widely regarded as one of the first virtue theorists. He argued that becoming a virtuous person is a worthy, but difficult process, requiring the development of maturity, discipline and constant repetition.
“Men become builders by building houses, and harpists by playing the harp. Similarly, we become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage,” Aristotle wrote. Similarly, in the Bible, James 2:17 says, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
This all means that if what you say you believe does not result in action, you probably don’t really believe it.
While that is true, it doesn’t keep modern day virtue signalers from patting themselves on the back for their moral insight and courage. Aristotle observed the same over 2,000 years ago. He wrote that many think that “by taking refuge in argument” they can become ethical. But Aristotle knew this doesn’t work – real virtue requires effort, is far more demanding, and far harder to fake than the virtue signalers might understand or be willing to admit.
One recent example of this is when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent planes filled with illegal immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard. The backlash was nearly immediate across social media and the establishment media, calling DeSantis’ action as racist, inhumane, shameful and reckless. DeSantis said, though, this proves directly that all the virtue signaling from the left, on illegal immigration in particular, is a fraud.
And it is. Those who are up in arms over transporting illegal immigrants to their communities are the same folks who were saying how proud they were to be living in sanctuary jurisdictions and proclaiming anyone wanting a secure border as being racist.
Now, however, folks like Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, are declaring public health emergencies in response to the migrants arriving in their communities.
You know, in the past, being humble was part of being virtuous – the journey is the reward. Nowadays, the signaling of your virtue appears to take precedent over the virtue itself. But it’s the cart before the horse.
Virtue signaling may show everyone that you care, even though you are not really helping the cause, and at the end of the day, you don’t have to do any of the work.
For example, NFL players are allowed to choose one of six messages to put on their helmets: “End Racism,” “Stop Hate,” “It Takes All of Us,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Inspire Change” and “Say Their Stories.” Every player on the Los Angeles Rams wore a “Choose Love” decal on their helmet for the season opener against the Buffalo Bills. Each NFL team will stencil “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism” in end zones for the third straight season as part of the league’s Inspire Change social justice initiative.
But what real impact does any of that have on the NFL’s audience, except showing how much the NFL cares? This is the third season of painting words on the football field. Is there any evidence that such is making a difference?
Of course not. But it’s great virtue signaling.
At the end of the day, most virtue signaling represents nothing as much as one’s need to feel better than most others, without having to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work of developing real virtue in the first place.
Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in 318 Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.