Virtue Signalling: What Is It? – Freedom Philosophy

trudeau, canadian election

Jim Carrey famously advocated for socialism, which is odd, given that his profession involves him making millions of dollars while he works alongside struggling actors who don’t make a living wage. I have little doubt he would have the capacity to negotiate his salary being redistributed, and yet he only pays lip-service to the concept rather than taking action. This is the reality of virtue signalling when an individual wants you to know their opinion on a particular subject to fancy them as virtuous people, but they don’t follow through with meaningful action. The height of rhetoric over substance.

I recall an American dentist went to Africa to hunt a lion. He hunted successfully and social media blew up in rage over his heinous immorality. Jimmy Kimmel cried on his show over Cecil the Lion’s death. What was of note to me was that in my hometown our Ribfest was taking place. It wasn’t uncommon to see someone posting about the tragedy of Cecil the Lion and the deliciousness of the ribs on the same day. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they speak of animal rights while they’re eating a hamburger.

This is the essence of virtue signaling. It’s the demand that other people do something for a cause while offering nothing in terms of moral reform of themselves. It’s merely stating an opinion and not taking any action.

I remember some environmentalists were incensed with me because I didn’t support the Kyoto Protocol. There was mocking, jeering, and accusations freely flowed that I’m opposed to science. After the hysteria had died down, we drank a beer, had some good-hearted laughter, and went home. I jumped on my bike and the environmentalists got into their SUVs and began to leave before I couldn’t help myself.

“You see the irony, here, don’t you?” I asked.

I was met with a hundred excuses for their owning SUVs, but what interested me more is that they all thought of themselves as virtuous people. This didn’t do anything to change their lifestyle — they merely held an opinion and holding that opinion and articulating it is enough for these people to be considered good in their minds.

I prefer to tell more self-deprecating stories rather than stories where I fancy myself the hero of the plot, but this was one of the first times I encountered the phenomenon and was one of the clearest examples of virtue signaling.

Virtue signaling is acknowledging that someone else is virtuous or thinking of oneself as virtuous, simply by espousing a belief, regardless of whether or not one acts on the belief.

“I support refugees!”

How? How does this person support refugees? Does this hypothetical leftist house refugees? Do they build houses for them? Do they drive them to and from their appointments? Are there generous donations? Or is it a simple statement of support and nothing more? Simply giving an opinion is what the New Left considers support. Simply holding the belief is good enough.

Taking care of the poor is nearly inconsequential to them. It’s whether or not you believe someone else should be taking care of the poor that matters to the left. Via taxation, these people are extremely generous with other people’s money.

There’s remarkable toxicity in leftist thinking stemming from virtue signaling. Their obsession with opinion, optics, rhetoric, has much more sway than whether or not they’re actually helping. Virtue signaling is the ultimate victory of rhetoric over substance. How you look as opposed to what you do is the warcry of the left.

The New York Times, a left-leaning publication, ran an article entitled Bleeding Heart Tightwads. They cited various studies that have shown left-leaning individuals are far less charitable with their own personal finances than right-leaning individuals. For some reason, people who claim to be compassionate with their politics are not remotely compassionate with their own money.

I’m not sure why this is but I wish to offer speculation.

Too many chefs spoil the broth. Multiple parents can paradoxically lead to less oversight for a child. If there are multiple parents in a room they all assume someone else is looking after the child and as a result, no one is watching the child.

Too much opinion for taking care of the poor can paradoxically lead to less taking care of the poor. Too much presentation and no substance can be detrimental to the substance.

When the left believes that the government should be solving all the world’s problems, they themselves have come to offer very little. The right, in believing that the government should not be helping people, will themselves offer to help. The left has their moral desire satiated by merely having an opinion that is seemingly moral and they seldom go beyond this.

This isn’t a blanket judgment of the left. There are many within their ranks that practice what they preach and are extremely giving of their own time and money; and who lead environmentally-friendly lives. I don’t wish to convey that all on the left are unethical people. It’s only that many of them will wine and dine at expensive galas all in the name of taking care of the poor.

In steps Justin Trudeau. Ever ready to brandish himself as a feminist, a defender of the middle class and those seeking to join it, a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, attempting to be the one who improves the lot in life for Canada’s indigenous people, Muslims, and democracy itself. Mind you, he hasn’t actually made the world a better place for any of these but he talks about it. He spouts the correct rhetoric that ingratiates himself to these causes.

Virtue signaling captured the adoration of the nation for a moment. Trudeau said all the right things. He spoke. In the last three and a half years, he’s failed to act. He made promises. He signaled his virtue. He manipulated people into thinking he cares in the same the left will manipulate their friends into thinking they care about issues simply on the grounds that they have an opinion.

Beliefs are not virtue. Faith without works is meaningless. Trudeau’s opinions that ingratiate him to the left serve the purpose of getting their vote because these people are obsessed with opinion. They don’t care if you drive an SUV or ride a bike, only that you are angry over our lack of environmental action. Personal virtue is in the process of being erased. Trudeau will put weapons in the hands of people that hunt down women for having been sexually assaulted, who will execute homosexuals, kill Muslims and have zero tolerance for the transgendered community, but he says he supports them and this is good enough for his supporters.

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Brandon Kirby

Brandon Kirby has a philosophy degree with the University of New Brunswick. He works for a Cayman Island hedge fund service firm, owns a real estate company, and has been in the financial industry since 2004. He is the director of Being Libertarian - Canada. He is a member of the People’s Party of Canada and the Libertarian Party of Canada.