Who Is Virtue Signaling For?

Pledge of Allegiance

When people virtue signal, who are they signaling to? At least when it comes to liberals and leftists, the people they’re signaling to are themselves. They are trying to be the kind of people they think are good.

They absolutely are not signaling to others. In fact, that would be embarrassing. And that’s part of the problem with conservatives who point out supposed virtue signaling; it accuses them of something they absolutely are not doing at the same time it does what they don’t want to be done. If a liberal is signaling to others, they aren’t being the good person they want to be.

How to Be a Good Person

The conservative view goes along with Aristotle’s notion of how to be a good person. The idea is that you should pretend to be good. You should act the way that good people act and eventually, you too will be a good person.

But people have images of themselves. And they will give up a lot to live up to that image. For example, most people become vegetarians despite the taste of meat, not because of it. We see this very clearly with conservatives too.

There is a common liberal complaint that conservatives “vote against their interests.” But that is rarely true. They often vote against their economic interests. But white people voting for policies that oppress brown people? That’s an interest. They are voting for an idea that white people are better than brown people. And need I remind everyone that the Republican Party is overwhelmingly white.

Conservative Signaling

And conservatives signal too. What do you think all that ostentatious patriotism is about? And I think that’s genuine. Just as with liberals signaling that they are tolerant and so on, conservatives are signaling to themselves that they are good people — the kind of people who love the flag and all that.

Conservatives signal other things too. One I notice a lot is signaling that they are skeptics: nobody’s fools. Unlike liberals, who supposedly let emotions get in the way of their view of the world, conservatives see things the way they are. (Not that I agree.)

Allow People to Be Who They Are

I wish conservatives would allow us on the left to have our beliefs without pathologizing them. But I know they won’t because if leftists’ acceptance of others is a sincere belief, what’s wrong with them?

So it is doubtful things will change. But the charge of “virtue signaling” is hollow. It’s just a way of claiming they don’t accept our view of the world. And we know that. So it really means they have no argument.

Image cropped from Pledge of Allegiance by TheeErin. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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