I am a concerned resident of this earth, hoping we can make it a better place for everyone.
Virtue signalling, the act of showcasing one’s righteousness to society, has sprung to prominence in the last decade, especially with the rise in support for Black Lives Matter, feminism and socialism. The “holier than thou” acting that was a common spectacle in many churches has exploded into society, in a disastrous way. The principle behind this behaviour is to gain “social points” and pat oneself on the back, for the hard, gruelling, selfless work of reposting a slogan or black square. While the young generation believes that they are making the world a better place with these actions, they are actually stifling debate and preventing meaningful progress.
One of the subcultures that has grown due to virtue signalling is cancel culture and censorship. As we have seen over the last four or five years, “cancelling” and censoring has become all too commonplace. Twitter mobs have come after not only public figures but regular people for the slightest mistake or even worse for something they said decades ago. Many persons on the left have pushed back on critics of cancel culture stating that their actions are about demanding accountability for persons’ actions. If this was all “cancelling” was about, I would have no problem with it. However, lets be honest, “cancelling” is rarely just accountability. “Cancelling” appears to be indignant and is almost never proportional to the perceived grievance, such as in June 2020 when an UCLA professor who was suspended for refusing to give special privileges to black students just because they were black.
The main issue, resulting from this subculture, is that persons are deplatformed, silenced and pejorative terms such as racist, “terf”, transphobe and misogynist are attached to persons who are not espousing any bigoted beliefs. This behaviour has led to the destruction modern discourse and the creation of echo chambers on both the left and right.
Today, if a person questions a narrative or has a difference of opinion, they are deemed bigoted and as good people of society, you are not allowed to listen, read or research the information they distribute. It does not matter if they are an authority on the subject or relaying their personal experience, if it does not fit the “correct” narrative, it is labelled hateful and harmful. This in itself is a form of virtue signalling, persons showcase their virtue by demonizing opinions and data that come from the “wrong” source, without even engaging with the material first. This behaviour leads to the formation of echo chambers and prevents persons from thinking independently and critically. How could anyone think critically if they are told what to think and say?
Kofi Annan said “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” I have always believed in the power of knowledge and I live by the principle that no one should control what you think because that is how they will control you. This is by no means some revolutionary idea, but one that has been known for thousands of years. In ancient kingdoms, only the upper echelon was allowed to read and write and during the Nazi era, books were burnt. In modern times, eastern communists’ regimes such as North Korea and China strictly control the flow of information through media and in the west, we have cancel culture and echo chambers. In the same regard, cancel culture and echo chambers are control mechanisms for information and have already shown significant control on society and the media.
Remember for majority of 2020 as well as the first few months of 2021, it was considered racist and dangerous to discuss the lab leak theory. It was considered racist and conspiratorial for virologists and biologists to discuss the science behind the theory and many scientists were censored on YouTube and social media. For instance, Dr. Li-Meng Yan, a Chinese virologist, who was present in China at the time of the outbreak, was ignored by western mainstream media and her claims that the virus was man-made were quickly dismissed, with only networks like Fox News seeking to interview her. Furthermore, the Indian media did a much better job on reporting on her story than western media. Unsurprisingly, many people would have never even heard of Dr. Li-Meng Yan and that is the truly scary part of censorship, most of the population may not be aware of what is being silenced.
In addition to scientists, politicians were attacked in mainstream media and regular people were harassed online just for discussing the theory’s merits. Why was this so? Maybe because Trump supported the theory? Hence, to show one’s virtue one had to rebuke scientific investigation because one person that discussed the theory is deemed racist by society. Note, this is all happening while touting “trust the science”. How does this make any sense, at all? Virtue signalling impeded the scientific investigation of the world’s worst pandemic so that person could pat themselves on the back and be anti-Trump.
Preventing Meaningful Progress
The second but most salient issue with virtue signalling is that it prevents meaningful progress. Virtue signalling is solely interested in creating a façade of a caring, virtuous individual who is working towards progress. However, since the focus is on the perception of virtue, virtue signalling does not facilitate individuals engaging with all of the research on the topic and crafting feasible solutions.
Virtue signalling is often seen in the shouting or reposting of short slogans without any context, concrete plans to implement the proposed “solution” or even an analysis of how the “solution” would actually work. Furthermore,the virtue signally, very notably, tends to ignore most of the community that they claim to represent. For instance, a movement and slogan that become very popular in the last year that embodies these concepts is “Defund the Police”.
“Defund the Police” was a slogan that was constantly shared on social media and was an indicator for many that the individual sharing it was an ally of the black community. However, this movement to defund the police had no concrete plan to maintain law and order, did not demonstrate how it would actually help black individuals and persons that expressed disagreement were labelled bigoted or privileged.
Interestingly, a Gallup poll from July 2020 shows that only 19% of Black Americans want less police presence in their community, with 20% indicated they wanted the police presence bolstered.
All of the individuals that proclaimed on social media that in order to support the black community you must support “Defund the Police”, essentially only represented 19% of the community. Yet, with the presence of echo chambers, people perceive that 19% as 100%.
Moreover, the cities which defunded their police forces have since seen a significant increase in crime such as Los Angeles which cut 150 million from their police budget in July 2020, afterwards experiencing an increase of 26.5% over 2020 in homicides and aggravated assaults. While the pandemic is a cause for some of the rise in crime rate, there has been a trend where cities that defunded their police saw the highest surges in violent crime. This is a logical result as there is a relationship between law and order and crime rates.
In the cities with the surging violent crimes such as New York, Seattle and Los Angeles, majority of the victims are Black Americans. Hence, the “Defund the Police” played a hand in harming the very lives it sought to protect. Now, in an attempt to tackle the crime surge, Democrats across American in cities like New York City, Oakland, Baltimore, Minneapolis and Los Angeles are planning to “refund the police” tens of millions. Furthermore, Biden has allocated $350 million of Covid relief funds for state and local officials to hire more police. Thus, the police were defunded to help the black community and then to protect the same community the police are being refunded. So, now what?
I am very in favour of police reform but we must have proper discourse of the issue and involve all related parties in order to create a feasible solution. However, virtue signalling hindered debate on the issue and prevented a proper resolution. Virtue signalling interferes with progress and the presence of echo chambers convinces individuals of their beliefs, leading to actions such as defunding the police without a plan to safeguard neighbourhoods from violent crime. Hence, social issues can actually be made worse by virtue signalling.
If we as a society want to make effective and long-lasting improvements on social issue, we must facilitate thoughtful debate, properly define problems and hash out ideas before proper solutions can be created. It is must better to achieve virtue than signal it.
© 2021 Daveed Gittens