Virtue Signalling

A friend recently shared with me this argument for why virtue signalling is a good thing [1]. I personally believe it to be a bad thing, but I think whether it is good or bad depends on your optimism on mankind's ability. We can generalize this question to whether the ends justify the means, as promoting people to virtue signal is immoral (lying), but can enable net good (as outlined in the link). The issue with this view is that it is very theoretical: corruption in executing bad things for net gain can result in net loss, furthermore, the value system in which you are determining one thing to be worth more than the other may not be very good.

The essence of the argument in [1] is that virtue signalling is what allows "good" to triumph over evil. If one considers how "evil" is ever able to be defeated (they don't have "good/bad" rules to follow, hence giving them more power than "good guys" who have rules to follow), it is because virtue signalling and social standings allow for doing "bad" things to have consequences for "bad people". We are quite the social animal, so social isolation is a very powerful effect. Furthermore, if one wants to do things at scale, one needs manpower to do them (at least for now). Hence there must be a need for one to look "good" in the eyes of others, so that they will work for you. Furthermore, this society allowed logic to form 2, thus allowing people to use logic to appeal to ideas of "good". Therefore, if one worked for a "bad guy", others could convince you to not work for them, because they are "bad". In this way, they are able to sway the masses against "bad guys" by converting neutral people to be "good". However, this is quite theoretical because it assumes a good definition for what "good" and "bad" is.

It is very possible that virtue signalling results in a "good" net outcome, but what is "good"? By concentrating the power to decide what is "good" in the culture of the people (i.e. what they view to be virtuous), we leave open the possibility of being completely wrong thus making no progress and bad reasoning. Eventually all cultures change, so by so heavily developing this idea of "goodness" in society, we leave open the risk that in the next culture (that could be more correct) they realize that all of that was for naught. Hence all that immoral behavior was invalidated.¹

Virtue signalling is theoretical in the sense that by conferring power, one leaves open the possibilities for abuse of the power. Little explanation is really needed. This theoretical nature to virtue signallings' virtue means that if one is very optimistic and believes the theoretical is possible or at least should be striven towards, then they will believe that virtue signalling is good as the issues above can go away.

However, clearly virtue signalling is immoral because you have to lie that you are virtuous, when in fact you aren't. Furthermore, by virtue signalling, a neutral person degrades the impact of looking virtuous. If people didn't engage in virtue signalling, then only the virtuous would look virtuous. Therefore, it would be easy to discriminate the virtuous out of the neutral pool. Thus society can more easily progress by allowing the virtuous to have more power as they will naturally be elevated to positions of power by other "virtuous" people. Hence one virtuous person in power can easily spread and grow virtue. Consider a possible reason why corruption occurs: naturally, jobs need people to fill them; everyone wants the job; people say they won't be corrupted (to try and get the job), when they actually are; corruption. Thus virtue signalling is quite antithetical to the idea of looking virtuous. But in the view of the optimist, this won't matter as we and our conscience/morality will be gone when we die, only leaving behind our ethical remains, which are good with virtue signalling.

Personally, while I am quite the optimist towards striving towards perfection, I think that at the scale mankind is at right now (>7 billion people), the theoretical will be too hard to even approach. Furthermore, I see the issue of defining "good" as practically impossible for epistemological and linguistic reasons [3]. Also, I think society is quite mucked up right now, so I don't think virtue signalling could achieve the net "good" as theorized since virtue signalling is quite dependent on society. This final generalization of optimism vs. pessimism can be categorized in progressivism vs. conservatism (as progress needs optimism/belief in mankind's ability and conservatism doesn't), which is evidence of [4].

¹For a long time I thought that culture involved transmitting it down generations, but upon a search I found it not to be the case. Just wanted to let y'all know that the definition of culture doesn't require perpetuating it. I wanted to use it as an argument against virtue signalling as "culture" (my concept of it) would ingrain the idea of virtue into future generations, stemming free thought and promoting conservatism.


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