Don’t Virtue-Signal, Vice-Signal Instead – Opting Out

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virtue signal, vice signal

I can see why people are getting impatient with the term “virtue-signaling,” which like “weaponized” and “snowflake”, needs to come out of its fad. It seems to have become a catch-all term for a spectrum of annoying leftists (right-wingers are susceptible to it, too).

Nonetheless, it is a real thing. It’s wrong and you shouldn’t engage in it.

When I use the term “virtue-signaling,” I am not talking about being virtuous – that should be obvious. Being virtuous is a useful goal. I’m not trying to upturn all philosophy and self-improvement. What I am urging against is loudly proclaiming your virtues on public platforms, or by changing the structure of your behavior, or your responsibilities, in order to simply show that you are virtuous, rather than just being a good person. Here’s why:

It’s Insincere

As much as you think you, by standing on behalf of the downtrodden on your Twitter posts, are doing some good in the world, the virtue-signal is primarily a means of social climbing. You’re showing everyone in your group that you’re on the same terms with them. You’re making sure everyone knows that you’re in with the tribe’s rituals and traditions.

Calling someone a racist on Twitter has little to no impact on real-life racism. All you’re doing is indicating that you’re on the same page with people you want to be friends with.

Although of course, you should call out racism when you see it, since speaking the truth is a good thing, but that card should be played carefully. A Tweet is cheap. Much better to channel your energies into a private conversation with that person to hopefully establish a connection and do something productive.

What I am including in this category is changing your behavior in order to make yourself look like an angel. For example, only dating people of color to ostensibly rebalance the power structure. Or ban discussion of controversial films on a cinema forum to bolster the moderators’ image. This is a conflict of motivations and is certain to harbor resentment. Your minority partner will see what you’re doing from a mile off. Your forum members will see through your ploy and hate you for it.

It Makes People Like You Less

Since the purpose of virtue-signaling is to climb the social ladder, you might think that it makes people like you more. In fact, the opposite is the case. Virtue-signallers are righteous bores and irritate everyone they come into contact with. You are only rewarded by other virtue-signallers, who are in fact competing with you. Look at the ever growing number of underprivileged classes and their guardians.

Such SJWs will do their usual grandstanding on behalf of some impossibly small minority, and then tut, of course, shouldn’t everyone have realized this already? “Why yes, yes. Clearly, I need to examine my privilege even more. Wow, I’m learning all the time,” the cowards reply, flagellating themselves. But secretly they resent the whole process because it makes them weak.

Most of the others, normal people, may keep their opinions to themselves, or offer mild support, but they hate the virtue-signaller too. They can’t relax around them. They’re “the man.” They’re not as radical as they think they are.

Vice Signal Instead

Feeling you are morally superior to other people is such a headrush, and it’s addictive. Self-righteousness a terrible thing when indulged, but it’s difficult to avoid because when you’re in that intoxicated state, you really do feel like you’re a lone fighter for all that is good and wonderful in a world of tyrants. We’re all susceptible to it.

People in that state cannot listen to reason because they are literally in a state of madness, just like how you are when you’re angry, or in love. We have a hard enough time avoiding getting into those moods, and righteous indignation is just as difficult to push back.

Nonetheless, there is something you can do as a bulwark against virtue signal: vice signal. It’s just as the name suggests. The opposite of virtue signaling, vice signaling is publicly demonstrating that you are a flawed human being. Instead of

The master vice-signaller is Donald Trump. He’s a bit of a brute and he doesn’t care who knows it. He’s not sophisticated, he’s politically incorrect, he’s rude to people he dislikes – and he does it all in front of the world. In this, he becomes antifragile: criticisms bounce off him because he has no pretense of being perfect in the first place.

This is not to say that you should mimic Trump in all of his aspects. I’m only saying that you should take note that being upfront with your flaws as a human actually makes people like you more, not less. When people see someone who’s a little bit rough around the edges, with no pretense, they get the idea that they are like them. They are more likely to empathize and feel they are “in on the joke,” so to speak.

So next time you’re threatened with criticism or feel the urge to tell everyone what a swell dude you are, remember that your excrement is just as putrid as the next person’s. Have some humility, remember your vices, and don’t let them hide. Putting them out in the open takes the edge of seriousness off this humorless world and makes you more friends.

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.