What is Virtue Signaling?
Analyzing Virtue Signaling and its Cousins, Political Correctness and Groupthink
According to Effectiviology, a website that helps people learn about psychology and philosophy that have practical applications, virtue signaling “is the act of speaking or behaving in a way that’s meant to demonstrate one’s good moral values. For example, if a person widely proclaims on social media that they strongly support a certain cause, just because they want to show others how caring they are, that person is virtue signaling.”
Effectiviology suggest that the term ‘virtue signaling’ can have a negative connotation, as it’s primarily used as a pejorative to refer to disingenuous behavior, that doesn’t reflect people’s true thoughts and beliefs, and that often doesn’t lead to a meaningful positive outcome. In other words, it is a shield to hide one’s true motivation. Anyone who has watched FOX News on cable television knows guests like, William Bennett, who is an American conservative pundit, politician, and political theorist, who served as Secretary of Education from 1985 to 1988 under President Ronald Reagan, uses the term as a sneer against liberals and progressives who claim the moral high ground on issues but don’t necessarily believe in it or whether it leads to a meaningful outcome. Those who claim the moral ground are doing so to show their wokeness or awareness of social justice and racial equality issues in society.
Effectiviology sums it up this way:
You can tell if someone is virtue signaling in the narrower, more negative sense of the term, if they fit the following characteristics:
- The main goal of their statements or actions is to signal their good moral values, especially to others.
- They’re being disingenuous in their actions, and not acting in accordance with their actual values.
- Their actions will have little to no meaningful impact on the state of things.
- They’re using their statements or behavior as justification to feel morally superior to others.
The more of these characteristics fit the entity in question, and the better they do, the more likely it is that they’re engaging in virtue signaling.
Virtue signaling can be used as a statement of political correctness or act of groupthink. As a form of virtue signaling, political correctness adopts a new vocabulary and characterizes the old way of saying things as morally corrupt. By using the new “correct words” you signal being woke or aware to their importance in society as I have explained in my blogs. For example, using the term sexual preference is politically charged and implies that sexuality is the result of a conscious choice, explains Rachele Kanigel, editor of the Diversity Style Guide. Instead, she recommends using the term “sexual orientation.” She also recommends using the phrase “gender transition” or “sex reassignment” in lieu of the antiquated and potentially offensive term “sex change.”
With respect to groupthink, the members of the group and their positions are deemed virtuous while the outsiders may be villainized. Everyone in the group adheres to its positions. Those who do not may be expelled from the group rather than to debate the differences. For example, May Habib, Cofounder and CEO of Writer, an artificial intelligence driven writing assistant for teams, suggests that the term blacklist not be used. “The idea of color coding to mean ‘good’ or ‘bad’ evokes racial ideologies,” according to Habib. Instead, she advises using more neutral terms like “permit list.” Other terms to avoid for similar reasons include “blackballed, black market, or whitewash” which may also be considered racially insensitive.
Virtue signaling can, of course, be a legitimate way to express one’s moral values but the person who uses such a term should genuinely believe in the cause. It should not be used for show, illustrate wokeness, or to strengthen one’s credentials for acceptance by a group.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on July 14, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.