When terrorists struck Paris last November, my Facebook feed filled up with people putting the French flag over their avatars. When gay marriage was declared constitutional by the Supreme Court, my feed was full of rainbows. Every so often, I get a chain letter or see a post telling me to “share” some feel-good story, or help someone get 1000 “likes.” Twitter (which I try to avoid as much as possible) gets flooded from time to time with declarations of solidarity with a hot-topic cause.

James Bartholomew, a reporter at The Spectator in the UK, coined a phrase to describe this sort of behavior. He called it “virtue signalling,” and treated it with the derision it deserves.

Consider the level of effort involved in the few mouse-clicks it took to make the aforementioned avatar changes (Facebook set up special apps that would do it for you). Consider how hard it is to hit “share.” Consider how much effort’s involved in typing out a Twitter tweet. These are not exactly difficult or time-consuming actions.

Now, consider the risk involved. It doesn’t take a lot of guts to proclaim solidarity with the French in the face of a terrorist attack. Certainly, one doesn’t risk the guilt-by-association that came with sharing “Je Suis Charlie” in solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo people after the massacre at their office last January. No, these little displays are generally very safe, very low-effort, and therefore quite banal.

I understand people mean well when they virtue-signal, but the obvious subtext is to show off for others, to demonstrate that they care, that they’re people who think properly, who are on the correct side of an issue, and who are, yes, “virtuous.” In this, they are no different than those who think it’s charitable to support politicians who promise to take some people’s money via taxation and give it to those who are deemed deserving or in need of help. No effort, no personal outlay, no risk, just the blandest form of self-aggrandizing and righteousness.

My advice? If you’ve engaged in such in the past (and most of us have), stop it. If you’re passionate about an issue, do something more than virtue-signal. Find someone who’s on the other side, and argue with him or her. Find someone who needs help, and help him or her. Find an organization that supports that issue, and donate time or money. Get involved in a fashion that’s not about showing off to others. Do things for yourself and to try and make a difference, instead of preening for friends, close and not-so-close, who will probably barely notice and quickly forget.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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