Passing bull 189 – Virtue signalling



It was saddening to see The Economist use the phrase ‘virtue signalling’.  It’s like ‘identity politics’.  It is favoured as a substitute for thought by too many people who write for The Weekend Australian.  The Wikipedia definition is:

Virtue signalling is a pejorative term that refers to the conspicuous expression of moral values.  Academically, the phrase relates to signalling theory to describe a subset of social behaviors that could be used to signal virtue—especially piety among the religious.  In recent years, the term has become more commonly used as a pejorative by commentators to criticize what they regard as empty or superficial support of certain political views and also used within groups to criticize their own members for valuing appearance over action.

Presumably, that is what clergymen do when they reverse their collar, or doctors do when they wear a stethoscope, or barristers do when they don a wig.  But it is not apparently what a Murdoch commentator does when he or she mocks climate change, bewails socialism, or sledges the ABC – all ad nauseam. It all depends on whom you put down and whether you get a Masonic handshake from your correspondent in return.  Donald Trump does it by hugging the flag while acting the part of a baboon.

You can see the likeness to the term ‘identity politics.’  They are both tribal; they are deployed by people who hunt in packs; they are at best intellectually fuzzy and morally slippery; and they are quintessential cases of the vice of labelling.


‘Human trafficking is evil in our midst,’ Mr. Aronberg said. ‘It is fuelled on the demand side.’

New York Times, 25 February, 2018.

This was a case about a well-known figure charged with soliciting.  Prostitution is hardly novel, and the context hardly bears a word that has been mutilated in both economics and political philosophy.

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