Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"Virtue signalling"

James Bartholomew is pleased to have invented a useful phrase that labels a quite common behavior in social and political discourse (behavior of which I have been guilty):
To my astonishment and delight, the phrase ‘virtue signalling’ has become part of the English language. I coined the phrase in an article here in The Spectator (18 April) in which I described the way in which many people say or write things to indicate that they are virtuous. .... One of the crucial aspects of virtue signalling is that it does not require actually doing anything virtuous. It does not involve delivering lunches to elderly neighbours or staying together with a spouse for the sake of the children. It takes no effort or sacrifice at all.

Since April, I have watched with pleasure and then incredulity how the phrase has leapt from appearing in a single article into the everyday language of political discourse. .... [more]
From the April 18 column:
.... Comedians make use of virtue signalling of the vituperative kind. With the right audience they can get laughs scorning the usual suspects.... The audience enjoys the caricaturing of all of these, sneering at them and, in the process, joining together as a congregation of the righteously contemptuous. What a delight to display your virtue, feel confirmed in your views, enjoy a sense of community, let off some anger and have a laugh all at the same time! It is so easy, too!

No one actually has to do anything. .... There was a time in the distant past when people thought you could only be virtuous by doing things: by helping the blind man across the road; looking after your elderly parents instead of dumping them in a home; staying in a not-wholly-perfect marriage for the sake of the children. These things involve effort and self-sacrifice. That sounds hard! Much more convenient to achieve virtue by expressing hatred of those who think the health service could be improved by introducing competition. ....

There was a time when Britain had a form of Christianity in which pride was considered a sin. Maybe that is part of why some of us find all this virtue signalling obnoxious. It’s just showing off. .... Twitter lends itself very well to virtue signalling, since it is much easier to express anger and scorn in 140 characters than to make a reasoned argument. .... [more]