“Virtue-Signalling”?

I’ve noticed some folks who identify with the so-called “alt-right” use the phrase “virtue-signalling” quite a lot. It’s supposed to be a put down, which they oppose to “plain speaking” or “telling it like it is”. Being a curious sort, I had to look up “virtue-signalling” on the internet to find out what the hell they’re referring to, but apparently they consider “virtue-signalling” some form of political correctness, and thus bad form, although using the phrase “virtue-signalling” itself is hardly a stellar example of “plain-speaking” itself.

There are some attempts to define this “virtue-signalling” meme (here and here). As best I can deduce, it means nothing more than “wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve” (or a flag patch on one’s arm, for that matter). As far as I can tell, “virtue-signalling” means only self-branding — the “Me Brand” — as wanting to be perceived by others (or by oneself) as good, virtuous, righteous, moral and so on. So, in those terms “virtue-signalling” and “political correctness” are treated as synonymous.

In other words, “to be is to be perceived” and virtue-signalling is assumed to be the practice of those who want and need to be perceived as good, virtuous, and righteous — the “me brand”, in other words — and is therefore assumed to be a pose or a pretense or a mask. This “virtue-signalling” may well be that, or it may be nothing but a put down itself to mask one’s own vice, viciousness, malice, and nihilism.

Quite a bit of “anti-political correctness” sentiment is itself merely a mask for one’s own self-interest or a nihilism which also pretends to be virtuous or “plain-speaking” or “telling it like it is”. That also is the same “virtue-signalling” — “I speak the truth and you don’t”. It’s also a pose and a pretense that resorts to deflection to divert attention from itself and from the fact of its own duplicity. “My opinions are facts, while your facts are merely opinions”.

It’s a stunning ironic reversal that the so-called “Silent Majority” (or “Moral Majority” in those terms but now generally called “the people”) has allied itself with those who hold that morality, or ethics, is merely political correctness or “virtue-signalling”. There is, in that, a slippery slope into barbarism when one can no longer even speak of the good, the true, the beautiful — the classical virtues —  without being cynically rebuked as engaging in “virtue-signalling”. In other words, it belongs to the “uprising of Caliban“.

Yes, “virtue-signalling” does belong to the culture of narcissism and does express an inordinate obsession with self-image and the “me brand”. But obsession with self-image is just as prominent on the so-called “alt-right”, and Trump is living proof of that. Although being anti-political correctness can posture as a revolt against authenticity, it’s not more authentic or genuine than that against which it rages. It’s just as much bound up with the phantom self called “self-image” or identity politics and is even more obsessed with identity and self-image than those accused of “virtue-signalling”. Those who identify with the alt-right are just as given to wearing their heart on their sleeve and nurturing their own dogmatic certainties and a reactionary, monological code of “political correctness”.

And yes, it is symptomatic of the disintegration of modern man’s personality structure and consciousness — this loss of integrity — which, as Mumford suggests (and Gebser too) will have to fulfill its momentum and the logic of its unraveling in total disintegration or chaos, havoc, mayhem, or maestrom.

The ears of the wolf called “pro” and “con”. It was for this reason that Nietzsche took his stance “beyond good and evil”, which Rosenstock-Huessy also called “outrunning” the collapse of the Modern Era. Neither defending nor attacking the status quo but transcending it. And it also reminds me of a passage from William Blake, which he puts in the mouth of his “Eternal Prophet” Los,

I must create a system or be enslaved by another mans; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.
For Nietzsche, of course, “two centuries of nihilism” was the bridge that humanity would have to cross on the way to its self-overcoming, much as Gebser’s “global catastrophe” was a necessary concommitant of his anticipated “consciousness mutation”. Blake also saw it and recorded it in his own inimitable way. It seems today that everyone is playing their part in this regardless of what they may think they are doing, including Mrs. Thatcher, Mr. Fukuyama, and very likely now Mr. Trump as well, for they all seem hell-bent on fulfilling Nietzsche’s prophecy of “two centuries of nihilism”, or what is otherwise called “chaotic transition”.
The outcome seems pretty clear. Either this disorganisation of the psychic structure of modern man is preparation for a new reorganisation and integration of the psychic structure (and thus a new “human nature”) or it ends in self-annihilation. Staying the course is just fantasy, and is precisely what is called “zombie logic”.
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6 responses to ““Virtue-Signalling”?”

  1. dadaharm says :

    Hi,

    Virtue-signalling is clearly an aspect of narcissism. But it I think it is also related to certain sociological theories.

    I recently read a book by Randall Collins on non-obvious sociology. One chapter of his book is about the social necessity of crime. It is an amazingly cynical theory:

    In essence, it states that crime is necessary for the stability of society. It is based on the tactic of “divide and rule”. Through the laws, you create a group of outsiders (the criminals). Then the non-criminals can feel good about them-selves for not being criminals. They can feel virtuous. And this makes them support the authorities and improves the stability of society.

    Let me add a quote from the book:

    The main object of a crime-punishment ritual, then, is not the criminal but the society at large. The trial reaffirms belief in the laws, and it creates the emotional bonds that tie the members of society together again. From this point of view, exactly how the criminal reacts to all this is irrelevant. The criminal is an outsider, an object of the ritual, not a member of it. He or she is the necessary material for this solidarity producing machine, not the recipient of its benefits. It is the dramatics of the trial that counts.

    This theory has some similarities to the theory of Girard that social stability requires scapegoats. The laws to prohibit the use of certain drugs in the western world clearly are of this type.

    I hope the alt-right is not aware of these sociological theories (but I fear they might be). Because if they are aware of them, they probably will use these theories to redefine good and evil. They could well succeed.

    • mikemackd says :

      There is a similar term in Australia. It was used by the previous Prime Minister: the term is “moral vanity”. Moral vanity bad. Implicitly, therefore, “immoral vanity” must be good: right?

      “Ooh. Someone attacked sumfink I identify with. Let’s kill people from some group I don’t identify with, but I think are like them. And, if they are like them, they must be Bad Guys.

      There. Killed thousands. That felt goooood! Now, back to the footy.”

      That’s O.K., then?

      It must be, because to protest it would be moral vanity.

      Works well. After all, this is the level at which elections are won and lost.

    • mikemackd says :

      Thank you for posting this, Dadaharm. Although I was unaware of them, I was aware of what they describe, and I would be very surprised if the alt-right were not aware of both, and that by using them and others they have played the American public for suckers.

      After all, what endless pots of gold there are for achieving that! Think of the fortunes made already by wars: show me da money!!

      If there is one slogan Trump’s cabinet of billionaires and generals would hold in common, it’s the Wall Street one that “if you are not at the table, you are on the menu”. And the 99.999 etc. percent are not, by any stretch of the imagination, at that particular table, because representative democracy mainly (only?) represents da money now, with the voters only getting a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

      • notabilia says :

        One recent factlet that gets to the heart of our malaisical situation:
        Wolfgang Streeck noticed a recent Wall street Journal poll that showed that 39% of Americans believe either that a) they are currently members of the 1% or that b) yes, they will, in time, be part of the 1%.
        Living on lottos, casinos, and scoring some drugs – that’s life in the good ol’ US.
        Who gives a fuck what the “alt-right” thinks?

        • Scott Preston says :

          I do, because I know quite a few people who fit the profile and understanding their thinking is part of knowing them.

          I have a good friend who has, however, a dark side of which he seems partially aware (he was obsessed once with the INXS song “the devil inside”). He insists that racism is “natural”.

          Of course, what he understands by “natural” is “instinctual”, and assumes that being “natural” is a very good thing. In those terms, for him, “liberalism” is a very bad thing because it is “unnatural” because it runs against the tide of nature and instinct.

          Of course, “natural” and “instinct” are themselves only ideas and concepts in his head, abtractions that are themselves not natural at all.

          So, I put 2 and 2 together — his fascination with “the devil inside”, and his insistence that racism is “natural” (and therefore “insinctual”) and for that reason “liberalism”, as he understands it, is against the natural and the instinctual (which are evidently “good” and virtuous in that respect) and it fits the profile of “Caliban” as mikemackd recently posted about from Mumford “The Uprising of Caliban”.

          Quite evidently, my friend has confused his “Shadow”, in the Jungian sense (his “Mr. Hyde”) with the “natural”, for Caliban is the Shadow, perhaps even Prospero’s Shadow. So, in those terms, I’m very interested in what the alt-right thinks.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    In a world of under the belt mentality,everything is liable to be released, especially when the over the belt mentality is chased out of the arena and the devil runs loose. The death of the good half of the human signifies the spread of all these viruses as it is well put by the song referred to by Scott especially when the words became weapons sharp as knives in the hand of the bad half of the human and his followers. It is dangerous to dismiss anything because in the dismission lied the death of the good half of the human, that is why mindfulness vigilance and alertness are emphasized by all sages of our present time and the sages of old time. It is unfortunate that people have no longer make god their point of reference but have pursued others gods they have manufactured, basic among them the gadgets and the lower self, the two which Mumford highlighted in the uprising of the Caliban, the Caliban that the Taliban is imitating on the east front.

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