This is the followup to Monday's post about virtue signalling in general.
Chiefs of police tend to be more supportive of gun-control measures than the rank-and file officers, who trend in the opposite direction. I have strong opinions on the subject myself, and I think one side of the argument is simply wrong. But in both groups have in some sense paid for their opinion. I cannot imagine disagreeing in anything but a polite, even deferential and listening manner. Even if they get irritable and condescending about the issue with one such as I, I don't much mind. They earned it.
Similarly, I knew a woman who worked in a battered women's shelter who held simply ridiculous ideas about what would be helpful going forward to reduce violence against women, including a lot of age-inappropriate verbal exercises in a school curriculum virtually dedicated to social change rather than, say, reading or geography. She was not only impassioned, she was pretty insulting about what the evil motives must be of the people who disagreed with her. She viewed just about any contradiction as an endorsement of abusing women. Yet my discussion with her was not at all confrontational. (Okay, maybe I was just afraid she would beat me up verbally and I cowered. So sue me.) Her ideas might have been loco, but her anger was not irrational. She had seen too much pain and given too much of herself to expect complete dispassion from her.
In contrast, we all know people who signal virtue who are doing it entirely at the expense of others - The big ones would be people who say hateful things about mothers receiving WIC benefits who are themselves spongers; OWS youth blaming their student debt on an unfair system that allows a 1% to exist; officers of non-profits trying to raise funds by demonising others. But I think cheap virtue signalling is even more common than that. It is common among relatives, among the everyday folks we work with, go to church with, and receive emails from. My cousins and nephews who leaped to the conclusion that Ferguson cops must be racist (the subsequent report declaring them racist actually had data showing the opposite), contrasted with those who leaped to the opposite conclusion just as fast. Dylann Roof couldn't find a co-conspirator in Charleston.
People jump on these bandwagons to show what good folks they are. It costs them nothing, and it tears down others who may be innocent. It's evil.
I describe these situations to illustrate that virtue signalling is not an entirely bad thing. In my first post I asserted that we are always signalling a dozen things, which is one of the efficiencies of human interaction. Donna B noted a difference between positive and negative virtue signalling, which is not quite what I'm thinking but overlaps. Grim pointed out that when we are aware of signalling, the only decent thing to do is be very careful about it, even consciously stepping away from it. I heartily agree, but know from my own life that there can be layer upon layer of self-deception here. There is an entire class of wealth which understates itself in what used to be Puritan humility but is now a type of pride. Even in spiritual matters, there are those who equate worship understatement with Christian humility, and enthusiasm with pride and Phariseeism. They have a point, and emotionally I am myself drawn to that. But I have to admit that Jesus doesn't seem to share my opinion. (Luke 19:40)
Virtue signalling is perhaps never fully justified. Yet even the best of us do it even as we undo it. I will leave the spiritual solutions to your own spiritual directors and advisors. We do this, but we hope not to, and in some places we are by grace free of this sin of the Pharisees*. God grant that we become free of it in all things.
Yet what about our public, political selves? When we express virtually any opinion we are short-cutting to a statement about ourselves - that we care about fairness, or the poor, or the future of America, or women, or the working man, etc. We can't very well stop saying what we believe, or genralising from specific events to larger trends. It is often a good thing to take a public stand.
But what does this stand cost you? The idea that some "others" who you seldom cross paths with will disapprove of you is not really a cost. It is a pretend cost.
I submit that others get outraged more when you attempt to take away their cheap virtue signalling than when you contradict their knowledge that is earned. And that applies to us as well. The modern PC mantra is "check your privilege." I think it's more important to check your cost.
*BTW, while some Pharisees were of course deep hypocrites and dangerous, many of them must have been decent religious people attempting to keep the law by finding loopholes, much as we do in our day. Jesus did not exempt them from his charges. That is why, when reading the scriptures, it is best to think of the Pharisees as "us," not "them."