Being Self-Aware About Virtue Signalling

In his fantastic book Vision Of The Anointed, noted economist and political thinker Thomas Sowell commented that all left-wing causes end up in some kind of virtue signalling by which generally immoral leftists nevertheless continually seek to present themselves as having moral high ground on whatever issue they are wrong about and seeking to force on the rest of society.  Yet these same people resent it when those on the right engage in the same kind of virtue signalling by defending moral standards that come from the Bible or that have been long-lasting and successful traditions that have ensured some degree of stability and happiness for humanity over the course of many millennia.  Virtue signalling appears to be inherent in any sort of dispute, and as all law is based on some sort of moral standard, it appears to be inherent in any sort of governing in any institution whatsoever.  All prohibitions have at their base a moral sense, whether it is correct or not, of what is right and wrong, and all regulations have a desire to push people towards a desired end that is viewed as moral.  And thus humanity is forced to deal with virtue signalling as any attempt to exercise authority makes at least implicit claims of morality.

Why then are we not self-aware about this?  There are, no doubt, some people who even in our decadent and corrupt age have no problem with admitting that they are taking stands on positions based on moral standards.  To do so is not to claim that one’s own conduct is entirely blameless and without fault, but it is rather to admit that there are standards that exist outside of our own preferences and our own example that apply to us as well as to everyone else within a family, community, church, company, other organization, or political entity.  To the extent that our own behavior falls short of our standards, as it inevitably will, we seek mercy and grace for ourselves and also for at least some others.  Many people, though, are uncomfortable with claiming that they are seeking to defend a moral standard using such language, because then the question becomes the sort of authority by which this moral standard comes, and those who wish to attack traditional authority do not want to admit that they are making rival claims of authority because then they would be vulnerable to attacks on the self-serving nature and the lack of legitimacy of that moral authority.

Nevertheless, we cannot help but deal with moral language when we are arguing about right and wrong, and when we talk about what conduct should be outlawed and what conduct needs to be regulated and what should be commanded or encouraged, we are on moral ground.  Appeals to fairness, equity, and judgment and attacks on others as being wicked in some fashion (or fascist or some other pejorative language) are inherently moral appeals, regardless of whether the people making them are moral or not or are sufficiently self-aware to realize that they are making moral judgments and that their own morality can therefore be justly called into question as well.  Yet such self-awareness is rare.  We all think of ourselves as good people, or at least good enough people, and yet we continually have to deal with competing moral standards that seek to label us as immoral in some fashion.  Whether we look at the Bible’s high demands and see ourselves falling short, or we are attacked on the other side for being environmentally racist or privileged in some illegitimate fashion, as human beings we are in the odd position of continually justifying ourselves while in a world that continually points to us as evil or fallen in some fashion and that seeks to call us to repentance for our wickedness.  And try as we might, we cannot avoid making claims as to what is and is not moral, no matter how corrupt and decadent we are personally or civilizationally.  And that is a great shame.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Being Self-Aware About Virtue Signalling

  1. Pingback: On Ledesma’s Law And The Paradoxical Insights Of Political Rhetoric | Edge Induced Cohesion

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