The Real Problem With Virtue Signaling

An angry status on Facebook. A long, punchy thread on Twitter. Changing your avatar picture with a ready-made frame. Arguing with strangers on the other side of the Earth, from the comfort of your coach, on topics you never really took the time to properly reasearch.

All these are forms of virtue signaling. The rise of social media space created a new way to make your voice heard. What used to be a chat at the corner of the street is now amplified and broadcasted literally across the world. What you say is instantly available to anyone.

This created a very interesting problem. There is a shallow layer, and a deep layer to it. Let’s take them one at a time.

The Unvirtuous Virtue

The shallow layer is about hypocrisy. It’s so easy now to express support for (or against) something just by telling that publicly, it became a no brainer. It became the first option when you’re faced with a conflictual situation. Instead of actually doing something about it, you first talk about it. You express your point of view, you tell it “how it is”.

But telling is way, way easier than doing. Most of the time, people signaling they’re against something are not really doing anything about it. Except talking about it. Protesting it, verbally. Like this will gonna change something. Don’t get me wrong, protesting is still legit, as a form of expression, but don’t take it for more than it is. Don’t assume that just because you don’t agree with something, you’re automatically in a position to change it. Even more, just because you don’t agree with something, that doesn’t mean you can actually make it better.

Equalling protesting with involvement is the first layer of this virtue signaling problem. People who are virtue signaling on social media literally expect the world to change just because they said they want the world to change.

And although it’s bad enough, it’s just the shallow part. There’s an even worse situation, a bit subtler, though, but way deeper.

Signal Versus Action

You see, when you just signal, and you stop at the signal level, implying that signaling was enough, you free up the doing surface. Because you’re not going further, because you’re not talking action, that space remains unoccupied. And guess what? Other, more pragmatic people, not afraid to take action, will naturally fill that space.

While you are arguing with strangers from the other side of the Earth, from the comfort of your coach, lying to yourself that this is all you need to do to change things around, other people are out there, doing stuff. And, most of the time, that stuff is very sneaky. And you know why? This one is even stranger. Are you still with me? Ok.

See, as long as you signal something, you give hints about what you will do in a certain situation. You’re self-profiling. You’re literally telling other people: “I’m an open book, and you can see my reaction to things, so you can decide what to do that will affect me in the way you want – and all this without me doing anything to counteract those actions, I will just sit here, talking”. You can see how this plays out?

From advertising companies to governments, and up to any other individual that is willing to go out there, do stuff, take risks and change things, these are your new masters. You’re self-enslaving, and the irony is that you’re self-enslaving while thinking about yourself as a “good person”. You posted that angry status, you wrote that long thread on Twitter, you changed your avatar picture. You did your part.

And still, the world seems to somehow move against what you want, right? How weird is this? It seems like the more you’re expressing disagreement, the more disagreement opportunities arise and you’re signaling even more.

All this while the real people are out there, moving the world by their actions, while you’re providing the signals.

Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

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