I’m sure you’ve all seen the left’s infamous trend of crying racism as a defense mechanism, but now a new, similarly spiteful tactic involving the right is emerging on the horizon – virtue signaling.
Virtue signaling, by definition, is “the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness on a particular issue.” While this sounds harmless, it has been manipulated by the right in similar fashion to the left’s manipulation of racism, arguably as a direct response to it. Likewise, both accusations have a number of things in common, including their most blatant shortcomings.
The most apparent of these inadequacies is the way in which they hijack political discussions between groups.
While most Americans may not align completely with either the mainstream left or right, people have often tried to reach out to individuals on either side who are willing to have an open exchange of ideas in hopes explaining and understanding the grievances we have with one another. This new trend undoes all of that by degrading that system. If you don’t agree with an idea you’ve heard, the old expectation was to refute it with an idea of your own. But now, depending on your political affiliation, you can simply accuse the other person of virtue signaling or being a racist. This trend destroys the integrity of political discussion and makes us all lazier by essentially encouraging that you disregard your opponent, rather than listen to their objections and understand each other. By doing so, however, we create impasses as a coping mechanism for the inability to overcome arguments.
This tendency is not only lazy, but dangerous, contributing in no small manner to the recent escalation of political violence in the US. As Frederic Bastiat said: “Where goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.” Likewise, where it becomes impossible for ideas to freely and openly be discussed, violence will ensue. We’ve seen this first-hand since the election of Donald Trump and, unsurprisingly, a sharp increase in this type of behavior. Protests weren’t always peaceful, but this level of violence towards two polarized groups didn’t occur. With political protests occurring almost daily and violence becoming a certainty, our political climate looks more like a scene from Braveheart than any civil demonstration. This behavior will only escalate as tactics that dehumanize and dismiss any opposition through empty assertions become more prevalent. Which leads us to their most glaring similarity.
While there are a number of negative things that could be said about both accusations, the complete lack of evidence now required to make either claim tops the list. There are plenty of cases of actual racism and virtue signaling going on today, however, the egregious manner in which both sides have twisted their meaning to encompass anyone they don’t agree with has rendered these claims moot. They’ve been hurled back and forth at each other ad nauseam, to the point where no one but the person on the side saying it cares. We’ve been desensitized to this behavior so much that actual instances of racism are likely to fall on deaf ears, while acts of virtue signaling now carry almost no weight at all. Where groups once rallied behind one another to root out racism or help in times of tragedy, we now see that solidarity reduced to apathy; dismissing racism within their own ranks and substituting a filter on their profile picture in place of action, only to change it back a day later as their attention is turned elsewhere.
In order to mend this polarization, we need to empathize with one another. Let’s not hide behind ideas we’re afraid of by preemptively attacking the person saying them. Let’s realize that in our country’s current predicament, both sides have valid concerns for the future. Most importantly, let’s look at why we’re making these allegations before we say them, regardless of the claim. If the only thing you know about the person you’re labeling as racist or virtue signaling is that you don’t agree politically or they are showing emotion towards a subject you don’t like or don’t understand, chances are your claim is insincere.
Thomas J. Eckert
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