What's so bad about virtue signaling?

I am not sure when the phrase was coined but I’ve been hearing it a lot in the last 18 months as a pejorative. It came to the forefront with me in a Facebook discussion about wearing masks during the pandemic and someone I know posted that masks were useless and just virtue signaling. And this is the same guy who flies an American flag on the back of his pickup truck.

Doesn’t everybody signal virtue in some way? Isn’t it a normal societal thing to display tokens that indicate you are part of some group?

Terms like “Virtue signaling”, “social justice warrior” and “woke” are tactics used by rightie trolls in an effort to stigmatize decency.

Some politician posted on Facebook about how masking was just virtue signaling, and he was too brave and honest to do that, and I was like dude, you may be unclear on the concept of virtue signaling.

It’s yet another one of the phrases that the Right uses which doesn’t make the slightest sense on the face of it, but has a complicated subtext that they feel is profoundly correct.

“virtue signalling” – refers to what the Right considers to be the hypocrisy of the left. It is better to be crude, bigoted and violent but honest about it, than a soft loser who pretends to care about the less fortunate.

Yes, it amounts to a charge of hypocrisy (because they “know” that everyone is just as mean-spirited and full of hate as they are, they just don’t want to admit it). The people who use this term also lack imagination, since they can’t imagine other people feeling differently about things than they do.

As others have noted, it’s the connotations of the term. It’s saying that people who publicly support a cause are not doing so because they actually believe in the cause; they’re only doing it to win public approval.

I suppose it’s the opposite of a dog whistle; people do that to signal their true beliefs to fellow believers while concealing it from other people in order to avoid public condemnation.

Not necessarily. “Virtue signaling” to me implies a certain disingenuousness. Like a company that hires a “VP of Diversity and Inclusion” or whatever they call the role, but still continues their practices of only hiring and promoting white males from elite universities. It’s basically “window dressing” to superficially give the appearance of “diversity” and “inclusion” without actually having to do anything about it.

There’s a difference between genuinely supporting something and only doing it to win approval points.

If someone is the kind of person who would pick up trash on the road and put it into bins to clean up the environment, with or without posting it to social media, they’re a true environmentalist.

If someone is only taking a photo of them picking up trash for the sake of posting it to social media “Look what I am doing today, cleaning up messy I-35 highway!” then they’re just doing it for praise.

Similarly, if someone couldn’t care less about black lives, but posts an occasional Black Lives Matter retweet or shares something BLM just because they know most of their friends are pro-BLM and they want to be popular, that’s virtue signaling.

I’ll pick on conservatives here because they tend to get a pass on this one.

It’s like festooning your car with “Support The Troops” bumper-stickers but wanting to ensure there’s no care when they come home, forcing charities to create accessible houses and vehicles when war leaves them with injuries (visible and not) that require accommodation and attention.

It’s like Backing The Blue, and then requiring LEOs to have bake sales in order to get the basic equipment (ditto military in the last Middle East wars) that they need.

It’s like wearing a crucifix on a chain instead of doing absolutely anything Christ-like.

It’s like flying an American flag but being willfully blind to things that are done better in other countries and trying to implement them here.

Reminds me of “Greenwashing”.

I don’t agree with this. Although it may be wielded indiscriminately as a stock criticism by the Right, it seems to me that it does have an obvious and sensible meaning that may sometimes constitute a valid criticism: to act in an ostentatiously and superficially virtuous manner with the primary intent of signalling that you are a virtuous person.

I don’t see the defining characteristic of virtue signalling as hypocrisy. I think it’s the fact that it’s ostentatious, motivated principally by a desire to be seen to be virtuous.

When I first heard the term SJW a few years back, it was generally applied to people who brought up their pet social causes even when the connection to the subject of the thread was tenuous at best. But now it seems to be applied to anyone who voices concerns over how others are treated in regards to sexism, racism, etc., etc.

I’ve often said that “political correctness” (another term that has been tortured into a putative pejorative and fund raising battle cry by one side of the political spectrum) really means giving the least little shit about other human beings.

So … yeah. Agree.

But the highway is clean, regardless of my motives for cleaning it. Everyone gets a little endorphin rush from public approval. It’s just human, and if it encourages good things like cleaning highways, fine.

People who complain about “virtue signalling” are, IME, people who are opposed to the virtue being signaled. Nobody who supports BLM cares if some house puts up a yard sign and does little else. It’s something, if the bare minimum, and that house is not the problem.

I agree. There’s certainly nothing wrong with being seen to be virtuous. I think the criticism is valid only if there’s far more show than substance.

But how can you use the label without being a mind reader?

How do you know any aspect of someone else’s state of mind without being a mind reader? Don’t we constantly try to assess other people’s state of mind, their motivations and sincerity, through observing their behavior? Certainly - often we are wrong, so we should be cautious about leveling such accusations. But there are many insincere shallow people in the world.

Lots of volunteer groups have a pretty good idea of to whom the label could apply, without needing to be mind-readers. Some volunteers show up once, make noncommittal noises about coming back, and are never seen again. Oh well, not your bag, thanks for giving us a shot. Others spend a good portion of the shift taking selfies and post to social media about what an amazing experience it was and how they can’t wait to come back, and still are never seen again. We don’t feel the same way about those people.

“Shut up and do the thing you believe in” is not a particularly new idea. Jesus’ teaching on prayer (Matthew 6:5-8) - The teaching of Jesus - CCEA - GCSE Religious Studies Revision - CCEA - BBC Bitesize

This reminds me of CKDextHavn’s report touching on Judaism and belief, specifically:

Belief is almost irrelevant to Judaism. Abraham is not told to BELIEVE in God, but to walk with God. What is important to Judaism is action, not belief. Doing the right things for the wrong reasons is viewed as sinful (or at best, ambiguous) in Christianity; but in Judaism, doing the right things for the wrong reasons still means you’ve done the right things.

Which parallels my take on so-called Virtue signaling, which seems to be similar to Larry_Borgia’s. If the right things get done, is the reasons why so very important? Sure, I’m going to hold less approval for someone who is being an attention whore about it, and there are people I will flat out question their motives for doing so if it runs counter to their prior behavior (such as my feelings about anything positive Trump said about the military), but overall I’m still glad they are making the effort (even if it’s minimal). All the more so when it’s actions and not just words. And I’ll judge them harshly if it causes harm to others - such as Trump’s little walk to the Church to hold up a Bible and grab attention. That’s ‘Virtue Signaling’ for a man of his known morals, and the counter I use anytime a conservative brings up Virtue Signaling as a sign of hypocrisy in the left.

I think that’s the point. “Virtue signalers” make a lot of noise about doing the right thing, but often nothing of substance actually gets done.