What's so bad about virtue signaling?

I think this is the key point.

There are people who only promote a cause because they want to impress people who favor the cause.

But some conservatives want to claim this is universal behavior when it’s a cause they don’t like. That virtually everyone who is promoting the cause is only doing so for false reasons and none of these people actually believes in the cause.

Virtue signaling exists. But most of the time when a conservative invokes virtue signaling, they are lying.

And when a conservative is accused of making a false accusation of virtue signaling, they like to divert the discussion into the argument about whether the phenomenon exists rather than whether their specific accusation was true.

An argument from ignorance is easily fought, if you want to do so. Much harder if the reason that you have never heard anyone to claim it to be racist is if you refuse to listen.

Here’s a quick lesson, for anyone who actually would like to learn.

I’m sure I could go on, but I hope you get the point that you not having heard it called racist doesn’t in any way mean that it has not been called racist, it just means that you were ignorant of a pretty common and widespread sentiment among conservatives.

Now you know.

Unless the person advocating for discrimination is calling for discrimination against whites, men, etc. Then you won’t call them a bigot.

But usually it’s something far more arguable than either of your examples. You’re really missing the point. Calling someone a bigot isn’t helpful and is frequently counterproductive (hello deplorables!), so I usually assume the purpose is virtue signalling, same as with people who feel the need to say ‘obviously bad thing X is bad’.

Everybody is going to have an opinion on this, and it can be a major point of contention in liberal circles. I have a Master’s Degree in Macro Social Work (meaning a systemic focus, as opposed to clinical.) I work at the community level in nonprofit development, for an organization that places major emphasis on tackling systemic oppression. I think about these things a lot, especially in the context of my profession, and personally, as a feminist.

There’s a fine line to walk between expecting people to stifle righteous anger and moderating one’s tone to win over allies. I can’t think of a single social change movement that was successful that didn’t depend heavily on the buy-in of allies, but I can’t think of any social movement that didn’t also depend on mobilizing outrage. Knowing the role these two sensibilities play in social change, I have grown increasingly concerned that most social movements of today have abandoned all sense of strategy - I think that is in part due to the decentralization of movements created by social media. We are neither fully engaging allies nor successfully mobilizing outrage. What you have instead is a bunch of justifiably angry people trying to shout down the people oppressing them, with the ally-makers just staying out of it because the angry people are super angry.

As noted above, it gets thorny when liberals are talking among one another and conservatives make assumptions without really understanding the language progressives use to speak to one another. Conservatives have been, in my experience, willfully ignorant about the actual meaning of words liberals use. They choose not to understand what is meant by white privilege, critical race theory, Black Lives Matter, defund the police, or any number of other bits of progressive lingo that has been explained to them countless times. That’s on them. I literally have a masters-level education on these subjects and conservatives still think they understand them better than I do.

I once had an extensive social media network (personal and professional) of hard left individuals, but I found the rhetoric was too much for me. As a feminist and a woman I personally despise rhetoric that attacks men as a group. I think men are vital allies with a vested interest in supporting gender equality. Anyway, the final straw was when someone used their trauma history with men to justify some I Hate Men manifesto, I spoke up, and was accused of silencing women, and tone policing or some such. I actually have an extensive history of trauma myself, much of which was at the hands of men, but I feel very strongly that trauma is no excuse for demonizing someone based on gender. When the woman in question turned my concerns into a trauma pissing match, I abandoned that particular online network and floundered for quite some time trying to figure out my political identity.

The thing is, while I hear that kind of rhetoric occasionally at work (an environment which is inundated on a daily basis with examples of the terrible things men can do to women), actual professionals and their approaches to the community at large do not involve that kind of rhetoric. Professional educational activists and advocates invested in doing real community work do not publicly villainize the people they are trying to recruit, whatever their personal feelings may be. One of the wisest and most effective activists I work with has this expression, “We don’t trashcan people.” His whole job is to design and implement programs that engage young men on issues of intimate partner violence and sexual assault and he helps them to develop the leadership skills necessary to set the tone of their communities. These education specialists hear incredibly offensive shit all day long without raising an eyebrow or a voice. Because they can’t. Because the work they are doing is bigger than their anger in that particular moment. The same is true for our Social Action team which is tasked with outreach to enact change in the criminal justice system. They don’t stroll up to a police department and say, “Hey, you sexist assholes, you need to change your policies.” They work for years to build trust and community with police departments, local government, prosecutors and judges, and through the successful implementation of High Risk Response Teams they have reduced the domestic violence homicide rate to zero.

I think the internet has successfully given the oppressed the space to voice their anger. That’s something the internet has done. But the ability to communicate with potential allies is something we have lost in this fight.

If I had my druthers, we would not label people bigots, but would label their beliefs, attitudes and behaviors as bigoted. Or racist. Or whatever. I think it would land very differently to hear, “What you’re saying is discriminatory” vs. “You’re a bigot,” but maybe not. I’ve seen conservatives bend over backward to feel affronted and be offended no matter how gently you try to communicate. So who knows. Anyway, I try to make that my approach, personally. Because I’m not a scream-from-the-megaphone person, I’m an ally-maker. I do most of my social justice work sitting behind a computer artfully asking foundations and corporations for money. There are a lot of people like me, just quietly doing our jobs without trying to get people riled up. You don’t hear about us.

As I said before, we need all different approaches to be effective. But screaming into the ether is not mobilizing anything.

In politics, if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

People care about issues and they understand slogans. If your slogan sounds bad, it is bad, and trying to start a discussion with "Well, actually… " is a weak play. It’s starting from the backfoot. You are ceding ground to the group with the better slogans, and your superior knowledge avails you nothing when nobody’s interested in your fifteen-minute speech about how the “Defund” in “Defund The Police” is actually totally different from the “Defund” in “Defund Planned Parenthood” and comparing the two is completely wrong because hey listen I’m still talking to you!

I don’t disagree with that. But social messaging and marketing is not my area of expertise. Currently the progressive movement has the scale tipped way more towards righteous outrage than creating partnerships, and at least on the internet, it’s the angry who are dominating the narrative.

It has nothing to do with virtue signaling. People are traumatized and angry. The problem is channeling that anger productively. And it has been increasingly difficult to get a word in edgwise.

Why not? I’m not sure I follow you logic here.

I’m not missing the point, your claim was

not something arguable, but a simple blanket statement. I pointed out that someone is only called a bigot if they are advocating for discrimination.

Often the greatest insult is an accurate description. People take offense over being called out for their odious views sometimes, but that’s on them.

See, that’s the sort of thing that makes me think that you are missing the point. In that instance, it was a statement that people who are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, or Islamophobic are deplorable. That people then chose to identify with the term deplorable was not them being called any of those things, that was them choosing to label themselves that way.

I don’t think that that is a very useful assumption. It may very well be that people are calling someone out for advocating for discrimination.

What’s obviously bad to one is not obviously bad to another. For instance, I think that advocating for discrimination is bad, others have a different opinion. Likewise, you seem to feel that calling out someone who advocates for discrimination is bad, and I have a different view on that.

The problem is that it gives opponents the ability to nut-pick. Some hot headed 18 year old college student with a blog says something stupid, and that gets used to paint people like yourself. Not because you said it, not because you agree with it, but solely because you are on the same side on an issue.

“Defund the Police” was not a slogan that was made up by Black Lives Matter, or by Democratic action committees, it was a slogan that was shouted out by people frustrated by the way their neighborhoods were being terrorized by the police, and nothing was being done to address it. It resonated with others who had similar traumas and fears, and was used a bit by the people in the street risking their safety and their freedom to protest against this oppression. Some may have actually meant it entirely literally, preferring to take their chances with having no government law enforcement than continue the current situation.

But, right wing news picked it up, and smeared anyone on the left with it, forcing them to either denounce it or explain it, both bad options. But it was not the fault of those who used it to motivate others to come march with them, it was not the fault of those who never used it. It was solely the fault of the media that intentionally created a false narrative that anyone on the left wanted to eliminate the police force entirely.

I don’t think that it’s really hurt the ability to communicate with potential allies so much as it has allowed people to disingenuously drive wedges between a movement and potential allies. In some ways, that’s the same thing, but I do think that it’s important to bear in mind that it’s not the fault of those who are passionate about a cause, it’s the fault of those who oppose that cause, and will lie and obfuscate to create a division between them that doesn’t really exist.

I think that you are right in your latter statement. I have seen many times where a statement is called out as being racially insensitive, and the speaker of that statement huffs out their outrage at being called a racist. It’s performative to some extent, but the intent being that they don’t need to examine their biases or position, but rather lash out at anyone who suggests that they do so.

I had a conversation with my father, long ago, where I was talking about legally recognized same sex relationships, at the time, civil unions. I was for it, I didn’t realize at the time how strongly he was against it. So, I used some language that opposition to allowing a same sex couple to have any legally recognized status was bigotry. This is when he said that he was against homosexuality, and demanded to know if that meant that he was a bigot. I actually tried to walk back a bit and frame it that only someone who actively worked against homosexuals having rights would be a bigot, to which he replied that he donated to anti-homosexual causes. So, yeah, I didn’t call him a bigot, he declared himself a bigot. Then he asked accusingly, “Why do you care so much about it, huh?” as though not only was I a homosexual, but if I were, then there was something wrong with that.

So, he came away from the conversation offended that I called him a bigot, and I came away ashamed at having a bigot for a father. I learned there that you simply cannot reason with hateful people, they don’t need to justify their hate, they feel that the burden of justification should be on acceptance.

Thanks, that’s really interesting. I guess I do assume that the people directly affected have a right to be angry, but those for whom it is more of an abstract cause, not so much. It does feel like it serves some other purpose, whether virtue signalling, socially approved expression of hatred, or something else.

But it’s good to be reminded there is real life work going on, away from all the shouty people on the internet.

People are really actually angry about things that don’t directly affect them because they have a high degree of empathy for those being harmed. Usually they have loved ones in harm’s way which awakens a protective instinct. But even when they don’t, they can put themselves in another’s shoes and see how they are being harmed.

This is an astonishing comment. Do you really think that someone would need to be Jewish in order to be sincerely viscerally angry when they learn about Auschwitz?

And before you accuse me of hyperbole, step back and think a little harder about the treatment of Black people, gay people, transgender people - both in our own history (inlcuding recent history) and in many parts of the world today.

“White privilege” and “defund the police” do indeed have pretty bad connotations and/or denotations.

The phrase “critical race theory” doesn’t say much on the face of it since almost every liberal these days can agree that we should be critical of the conceptions and implications of race that once were common but it doesn’t say anything more about the details of that.

But you have to be willfully obtuse to hear “Black lives matter” and think it means “Black lives matter [and other lives don’t matter].” Some people can’t be reasoned with: I bet a lot of people who misconstrue the slogan in this way are the same people who saw people at protests that had elements of looting and riots and complained that the protesters weren’t polite only to claim that even taking a knee was an invalid form of protest.

Which isn’t to say I like the slogan. It does actually seem sort of virtue signally to me because the slogan is so obvious.

CRT is the new conservative bogeyman. I’ve heard people bitching about it a lot this week, and there was recent legislation passed (FL?) to ban discussion of CRT in schools. Because they love free speech so much and cancel culture is the worst, but only for things they like.

How can it be genuine when people are so selective in what they care about, and it’s always the fashionable, popular causes that all their friends agree on?

Nobody is ever sincere because… [insert unsupported assertion that nobody is ever sincere].

I find your argument here less than convincing - and I’m sticking to that opinion even my friends disagree with me.

I can’t even remember the last time I saw anyone angry over the truly terrible things happening abroad. Just compare the time and effort US progressives spend condemning Trump voters, with that spent on genocide in other countries. Who do they hate more?

I used to think so too. But the modern day conservative has little use or understanding of empathy. It’s a foreign concept to them.

Eh, to your point, though vaxxed, I still wear a mask because I want to signal that I’m not a Republican. Or a conservative. Or, shudder, both.

People tend to care about issues closer to home. It’s just human psychology. We still have tribes to take care of. It has nothing to do with what’s fashionable. From the time I was six years old, I’ve had real life flesh and blood gay, asexual, bisexual and trans friends and family members and I will fucking throw down for them.

I don’t understand why that’s not obvious and relatable.

After thinking about this some more: I get angry about injustice, obviously, but I mostly try not to call people names because I know I’m in a minority and it will be counterproductive. The allowance I make for people directly affected is that they may not be able to control their anger.

Only at times when there are people who agree with me I sometimes do it, and it feels very satisfying. It feels like an indulgence, letting my feelings out at the (small) expense of the people who are actually suffering. Because nobody but nobody is persuaded that way, it just strengthens opposition.

So I think people do this because they can, it feels good to lash out and they believe their side is powerful enough not to fear the consequences.

Do you understand where I’m coming from?