I ran across “virtue signalling” while looking up James Bartholomew. His name was in another article and I was curious who he was. One of the articles linked in his set was:
I invented ‘virtue signalling’. Now it’s taking over the world
It’s a true privilege to have coined a phrase – even if people credit it to Libby Purves instead
Left a bit unclear is wether the phrase of virtue signalling is taking over the world, or the act itself. One of those delicious little ambiguities in English that is exploited by comedians, politicians, and spouses (but I repeat myself) all over the world. But back at virtue signalling.
My spell checker is only happy with ‘signaling’, yet the article has ‘signalling’. I presume this is Yet Another Britishism. I’ve been plagued by them my whole life. Mum would speak or write one way, Dad another, I’d swap back and forth. It is likely part of why I can’t spell worth a damn. Not because I can’t remember it is “behavior” and “behaviour” but because I learned very very early on that it doesn’t matter worth a tinkers damn how you spell a word as long as it got the idea across; AND that it is perfectly fine to have variations. This was, no doubt, enhanced by a tendency to read Very Olde Bookes and an annual puzzling over Auld Lang Syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne*? CHORUS: For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne, we'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne. And surely ye'll be your pint-stoup! and surely I'll be mine! And we'll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne. CHORUS We twa hae run about the braes, and pou'd the gowans fine; But we've wander'd mony a weary fit, Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne*? CHORUS: For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne, we'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne. And surely ye'll be your pint-stoup! and surely I'll be mine! And we'll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne. CHORUS We twa hae run about the braes, and pou'd the gowans fine; But we've wander'd mony a weary fit, sin' auld lang syne. CHORUS We twa hae paidl'd in the burn, frae morning sun till dine; But seas between us braid hae roar'd sin' auld lang syne. CHORUS And there's a hand, my trusty fiere! and gie's a hand o' thine! And we'll tak' a right gude-willie waught, for auld lang syne. CHORUS sin' auld lang syne. CHORUS We twa hae paidl'd in the burn, frae morning sun till dine; But seas between us braid hae roar'd sin' auld lang syne. CHORUS And there's a hand, my trusty fiere! and gie's a hand o' thine! And we'll tak' a right gude-willie waught, for auld lang syne. CHORUS
Anyone who has grown up singing that a few times a year can ne be tell’n me thar be but one way t’spell a werd!
Oh, and I had a fondness of Pirates…
You do know there is an official Talk Like A Pirate Day, right?
Why is this day different from all others?
Why do we need an International Talk Like a Pirate Day?
Make no mistake. We do. But it’s a little hard to articulate why, especially when you’ve made the mistake of referring to your wife as a scurvy bilge rat and tried to order her back into the galley.
When Sept. 19 rolls around and suddenly tens of thousands of people are saying “arrr” and “Weigh anchor or I’ll give you a taste of the cap’n’s daughter,” it staggers us. They are talking like pirates — not because two yahoos from the Northwestern United States told them to, but simply because it’s fun.
So mark yer calendars, maity…
And don’t worry if yer ne a speaker o’ English (the original is full of links):
Mp3 sound files demonstrating how to talk like a pirate in a variety of languages (courtesy of our fans at http://www.internationalservices.com – we can’t vouch fer the accuracy o’ the lingo, as we don’t speak any o’ these languages…)
An’ how about some German pirate lingo?
How to Talk Like A French Pirate (courtesy of Gus la Flibuste). (MS Word document)
A switch on the theme: The Two Chinese Characters and the Pinyin Pirate use pirate-talk to demonstrate how to pronounce the Chinese retroflex.
No time to memorize the lingo? Try our new, improved English-to-Pirate Translator!
Now on Mum’s side we had 3 generations (that we know of) of Joseph Sumner who were sailors in HM Merchant Marine, so between The Queen’s English (in movies and in Mums attempts at it), and the traditional regional accent (near Liverpool) and then “what came back from the sea” from the 1700s, well, spelling things Only One Way was the least of my worries. Oh, and Dad had a Standard American Accent from Iowa, but with odds and ends left over from Irish and Amish parents. (One odd bit, I once admonished him for using ‘drouth’ for a drout. Or is it drought… only later to find out ‘drouth’ is a perfectly fine alternative word for it.
So growing up in that stew, I learned to not be quite so quick on the “Only One Way” Spelling Nazi behaviour.
But I said we’d get back to “Virtue Signalling”, didn’t I… I’ll be using the 2-l spelling, just because it is in the document by the guy who invented the term.
The Spectator article is well worth reading; a bit of a teaser:
To my astonishment and delight, the phrase ‘virtue signalling’ has become part of the English language. I coined the phrase in an article here in The Spectator (18 April) in which I described the way in which many people say or write things to indicate that they are virtuous. Sometimes it is quite subtle. By saying that they hate the Daily Mail or Ukip, they are really telling you that they are admirably non-racist, left-wing or open-minded. One of the crucial aspects of virtue signalling is that it does not require actually doing anything virtuous. It does not involve delivering lunches to elderly neighbours or staying together with a spouse for the sake of the children. It takes no effort or sacrifice at all.
Since April, I have watched with pleasure and then incredulity how the phrase has leapt from appearing in a single article into the everyday language of political discourse. One of the first journalists to pick up on the phrase was Liz Jones in the Mail on Sunday on 3 May. Not long after, Libby Purves used it in the Times (11 May). Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times (20 July) wrote about Labour party leaders for whom ‘Europeanism is just a virtue-signalling gesture like wearing a charity ribbon’. Two days later, Helen Lewis used it in the New Statesman, saying ‘a lot of what happens on Facebook, as with Twitter, is “virtue signalling” — showing off how right on you are’.
I found the understanding of the use of the phrase as useful as the phrase itself. I’d only first encountered it recently, so either I move in the wrong circles (folks who don’t do virtue signalling and / or don’t associate much with those who do), or don’t talk about it, or just spend more time with grog… oh, not 9/19 yet, sorry…)
But for me, it was a bit of a nice handle for all those pompous preening overweening officious folks posturing on about how Good and Green they are. In fact, it looked to me like a huge amount of the whole Green Movement could be explained by this apparent need for external gratification of weak willed folks and their consequent virtue signalling and virtue stroking. (“Virtue stroking” being the positive reinforcement received when one is virtue signalling. The expected “hit” of having the target acknowledge your virtue. And yes, I just made that up. At least, I hope I did… sometimes I find others have beaten me to my thoughts and stolen them without my having had them yet. Most annoying. But assuming no one has done that…)
In short, I think there is great utility is looking for virtue signalling and virtue stroking as markers of social movements and manipulation. Now some sociopathic types will deliberately use those things to manipulate weaker minds and wills, while many of more marshmallow stuff will seek it out as an easy path to gratification. “You tell me what to do and when I do it you ‘give me strokes'” is their contract, so look for the signals and strokes and you have your social map.
Me? Well, for me it makes it a whole lot easier to recognize why I come across as as Surly Curmudgeon to some other folks. I deliberately cast into the trash bin of thought processing any virtue signalling present as “irrelevant static”, since virtues are either “classical” (things like honor or truth and you’ve already sorted them out) or they are “somebody else’s made up stuff” and not relevant so ought to be cast out to ‘keep a tidy mind’ and avoid having your mind palace [Sherlock… I’m sure you know] built on sand of another’s shaping… Then add that I don’t need approval from others in order to have self worth and a lot of the stroking just makes my skin crawl as I’ve already rejected their premise that they have signalled virtue. Watching two politicians at a cocktail party is near nauseating as they ‘oil their way across the floor’ [My Fair Lady, I think] signalling and stroking and lying the whole time. For a true truth seeker it just sets off so many alarm bells and the mental trash bin needs dumping way too often… and the conflict between the ‘people reader’ reporting what they are really thinking and the words coming from their mouths just lights up the Liar Alarm Bells something awful… where did I leave that grog?
But I digress… I do think that this conflict between the inner order and the outer world dominated by these ‘little lies’ is part of what makes the Aspe world stressful. When you can read the truth on their faces and in their posture, then their words are the opposite, or worse, when they are good enough to mask expression and posture but only their actions are opposite, and often only shown later; well it’s the stuff sceptics are made of. (Or is that skeptics… or both… but now I’m digressing in my digression…) Then there is Hillary. Sometimes the Liar Alert blaring. Often the “empty of content” (’empty suit’ in common use, I think) as she hides all under a robotic performance, sometimes the Cheerful Liar who’s actions are fraudulently different. (Am I now digressing in my digression of digression? I think it time to pop stack a few…)
In short, knowing what to call it will make it easier to handle when seen in crowds and faster to ‘get past it’ when trying to figure out what folks are up to. It also gives a nice handle for figuring out why someone is looking at me oddly and expectantly. “Did they just virture signal something? Are they waiting for the virtue strokes?” becomes a quick cross check on social expectations in such environments. Perhaps it even explains some of the vehemence of Greens and Global Warming Supplicants as they are just frustrated from Virtue Signalling and getting no Virtue Strokes in return. And here we skeptics (or is it sceptics) come along and want to tear down their whole Virtue Stroke Harvesting System. The Horrors! No wonder they want us arrested, we’re stealing their Virtue Strokes!
Has some interesting examples and definitions.
To take a conspicuous but essentially useless action ostensibly to support a good cause but actually to show off how much more moral you are than everybody else.
Fred: I see George has changed his profile picture to show his support for refugees.
Barbara: Has he donated money or time? Is he giving English lessons? Is he making a room available?
Fred: No, no, he’s just virtue signalling.
Saying you love or hate something to show off what a virtuous person you are, instead of actually trying to fix the problem.
Jane: “Wow! I hate Fox News! They’re so evil and they hate women!”
John: “Why don’t you actually do something instead of just virtue signalling about it?”
Jane: “OMG that would be WAAAAAAY too much work” *goes back to shitposting on twitter*
Somewhat less useful, there’s a wiki:
Virtue signalling is the expression or promotion of viewpoints that are especially valued within a social group, especially when this is done primarily to enhance the social standing of the speaker. For example, expressing a hatred of the conservative newspaper Daily Mail might be an example of virtue signalling among the British left. The term is chiefly used by conservative commentators to criticize the expression of tribalistic socially progressive views on social media, but has also been used to describe analogous behaviour in other groups, such as pro-gun rights grandstanding among the American right, and by signalling theorists to discuss conspicuous piety among the religious faithful.
Reception of the phrase has been mixed: Zoe Williams has described the phrase as the “sequel insult to champagne socialist”, while David Shariatmadari says that while the term serves a purpose, its overuse has rendered it a meaningless political buzzword. Some on the left have embraced the term: Helen Lewis, writing for the New Statesman, blamed virtue signalling for Labour Party’s surprise defeat in the 2015 general election, suggesting that the desire to be seen as holding virtuous opinions leads political activists to focus on issues such as nuclear disarmament that are lofty and remote to common voters, resulting in an echo chamber effect that led Labour strategists to underestimate support for Conservative policies.
James Bartholomew claimed to have invented the term in The Spectator in a 2015 column, but it was utilized at least since 2010 within the framework of signalling theory, and since at least 2013 on LessWrong.
They think James didn’t invent the term, but then again, just putting two words together isn’t the same as creating a word / term either. The particulars of the meaning must also be present. So if at the “framework on signalling theory” they had a discussion of virtue and someone said ‘virtue signalling by posture’ it isn’t quite the same as giving a meme wings… It is just a generic sentence using those two words in their base meaning. And just what the heck is a ‘framework on signalling’ anyway? And who pays for it?
While I’m on the subject, who is David Shariatmadari and who is Zoe Williams and why ought I care? They list these people like I ought to know who they are and give a damn what they think. Kind of like virtue signalling by name dropping…
Well, I’m happy to have a nice handle to hang onto for various social customs that I’d mostly just put in the recycle bin as “clutter”, and a reciprocal handle “virtue stroking” for what is returned to the sender. It will make it more compact to store understanding of various goings on and social events.
To some extent, it also helps in understanding why so few people are interested in truth. There is no ‘Truth Stroking’ and in fact you get rocks tossed at you for speaking the truth; especially when it gets in the way of someone collecting their Virtue Strokes. Speaking “truth to power” gets you unemployed on the street with your things in a box, while reading your boss’s preferences and “sucking up” gets you that nice desk… so long ago most folks learned to just lie-and-signal and some got so good at it they mostly lie to themselves, too. The number of folks who support a position will shift wildly based on what they think others see as virtue. Just look at the polls on BREXIT. That’s why we have private ballots… it allows folks to be more honest with themselves.
I suspect that those who are Progressives and “on the left” have a higher sensitivity to this whole process. They actively build piles of ‘approved’ thoughts and spend endless hours ‘virtue signalling’ about them. Those of us not of their ilk don’t do nearly so good a job of it. Sceptics don’t have a play book of approved answers nor do we have an approval feedback / pain application process for folks to keep them in line. We are just looking for truth and find ideas interesting, even the ones later shown deficient, if they give even partial illumination of the truth.
I’m not pissed at Newton for missing relativity, after all.
Then those same folks “on the left” with a strong sense of the central nature of all this ‘signaling’ to their lives simply know it must be the same with us. So go on witch hunts for the “Oil Money” that must be driving us to ignore their virtue signals, or try to outlaw ‘skeptical speech’ so as to block our quest for virtue strokes via blocking our virtue signalling… when we aren’t even aware of it as being of any importance. It might even explain why I see Social Studies as essentially full of made up crap and nonsense. It is over the top bat-shit crazy loaded up with this kind of thing. Perhaps that is where ‘framework of signalling theory’ comes from. And why we dirve them crazy as we are outside their ‘framework’ and so outside their understanding.
It really does break their orientation to the world when I don’t care if I am right or wrong in a theory I put forth, I only care if it can eventually advance the search for actual Truth. Even wrong theories can advance understanding (in fact, it is most of the history of Real Science). I’m not seeking virtue strokes. I’m not interested in sucking up to the mob. I don’t care if they are signaling like crazy that I can come to their side and collect more virtue strokes. And that causes them frustration that leads to anger and a belief that I must be very stupid to not ‘get it’ and get on board their side.
Or maybe I’m just projecting too much. But that’s my theory…
I get my virtue strokes from understanding the reality around me a little better, not from others. They get their virtue strokes from the approval of others. I am ‘inner value driven’, they are ‘outside feedback driven’. Thus we shall never agree. Then the Evil Bastards of the world hate my kind, as we don’t respond to their “reward systems”, and they accumulate a high percentage of “them” in their control structures, as they are most mailable to that system.
The result is the mess that is the world today.