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Is virtue signalling a perversion of morality? (aeon.co)
23 points by SQL2219 3 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 15 comments





Isn't virtue signalling just a modern trendy name for what the ancients called sanctimony?

Accusations of hypocrisy or virtue signaling are a distraction, a way to shout down another without addressing the substance of what they've said. To me, the important thing is to judge whether something is good or not. If it is good, that goodness is independent of the person saying it's good, and it does not cease to be good if the person urging it upon others doesn't really practice it (hypocricy) or is sanctimonious about applying it.

Social media is what perverts morality, by rewarding hypocrisy and sanctimony. The best thing to do with it is to not read it, not participate in it, not contribute to it.


Complaining about virtue signaling is sanctimony. It is inherently hypocritical, besides. Saying, "this is good, so I do it" is fundamentally more meaningful than, "this is good, so you should do it". The latter is sanctimony.

We may contrast actual virtue signaling with, e.g., Gwyneth Paltrow scams, which the ill-equipped may confuse with it.


> Complaining about virtue signaling is sanctimony

So complaining about sanctimony is itself sanctimonious?

> It is inherently hypocritical, besides.

How so? Hypocrisy is when someone tells others to do something they don't do themselves.

> Saying, "this is good, so I do it" is fundamentally more meaningful than, "this is good, so you should do it". The latter is sanctimony.

Not really. Sanctimony is the excessive parading of a supposed virtue. Telling someone to do something is not in itself sanctimony.

Anyway, my original point was that hypocrisy and sanctimony are irrelevant and a distraction in any consideration of morality. For those of us raised Catholic, they're what we'd call venal sins, minor and forgivable. They simply don't matter, but for some reason people online treat them as the equivalent of virginal purity tests, and cherish them with a zeal that would put a village mullah to shame.

The short aphorisms of Marcus Aurelius are invaluable, in my opinion, in considering morality. "Of each thing", he says, "ask what it is in itself". But in our modern world where we've convinced ourselves we're busy as we bustle about with a thousand pointless activities at once, the thoughtful consideration that the old Roman emperor urges seems very far away. And besides, they'd probably accuse him of virtue signalling.


I wasn't raised Catholic, but the way I heard it, committing a venal sin counting on it being negligible because it was venal is, itself, a mortal sin -- which tickled me at the time.

Also, that only the sins since your last confession, or communion, or something, count in any way at all.

No idea which if any of the above is true. Or what, exactly, would be meant by a "virginal purity test".

But...

>> Complaining about virtue signaling is sanctimony

>So complaining about sanctimony is itself sanctimonious?

No. You are tying yourself in knots; which is your privilege. Please don't entangle me in them.


> I wasn't raised Catholic, but the way I heard it, committing a venal sin counting on it being negligible because it was venal is, itself, a mortal sin -- which tickled me at the time.

No, a sin is either venal or mortal. The intent of the sinner doesn't enter into it.

> Also, that only the sins since your last confession, or communion, or something, count in any way at all.

If you confess a sin and ask forgiveness, it's forgiven. Your slate is wiped clean.

> Or what, exactly, would be meant by a "virginal purity test".

Simply that many in social media demand a level of purity in thought and action from commenters and other writers that rivals in its puritanical zeal the worst excesses of the most ignorant village mullah.

> No. You are tying yourself in knots; which is your privilege. Please don't entangle me in them.

But if virtue signalling is sanctimony, a point which you have not refuted, and complaining about virtue signalling is sanctimony, then complaining about sanctimony is indeed sanctimonious. Any entanglement is of your own making.


I think this article boils down to "virtue signalling isn't neccessarily a bad thing, because there are honest signals and dishonest signals[0], and honest signals of virtue are fine, even helpful."

This is a common complaint with the phrase "virtue signalling" -- signalling virtue isn't a bad thing if you're actually virtuous, after all. But it's clear from context that when people say "virtue signalling," they mean it in a negative sense, when the signal is dishonest. Nobody has ever used "virtue signalling" as a compliment (in the field of public discourse), so the distinction isn't all that useful IMO.

I think in the age of Twitter, having a phrase for "dishonestly raising a moral issue for personal gain" is helpful. It seems the hive mind has chosen "virtue signalling" for that purpose, so while another phrase (I like "moral grandstanding") might work better... oh well.

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signalling_theory#Honest_signa...


I've noticed that people who are truly virtuous rarely signal it. Over a long period of time, you just notice that they're always like that.

I read a convincing argument recently that “virtue signalling” would be more clearly renamed “piety signalling”.

When Alice accuses Bob of virtue signalling, it usually carries the subtext that Alice doesn’t actually agree with Bob’s assessment of what virtue is. You rarely find the accusation in a context where someone is doing something universally agreed to be virtuous even if they are being kinda self-aggrandising about it. Usually the accusation comes when someone is loudly exhibiting “virtues” which only seem virtuous to one side of the culture war.


Complaining about virtue signaling is virtue signaling. What is really going on is people who are critical of a belief project their own disbelief and thus find the believers to be insincere. In general the intentions of others are difficult to work with so effective arguments and actions tend to focus on the core material instead. Is vegetarianism a good thing? Is carbon pollution damaging the environment? What people feel about these issues is secondary to core science and possible actions.

complaining about people complaining about virtue signalling is virtue signalling

virtue signalling all the way down

You hit the nail on the head; and articulated this very well.

It's akin to a cheater who suspects everyone else is cheating, including their partner.

Prescient, upvoted!


Complaining about virtue signaling is in fact vice signaling, since it not only operates the way you say it does, but the belief being projected is an odious one: more or less, "Who cares?" nihilism.

I think the article misses entirely the point and the problem of virtue signalling, which is not hypocrisy in my opinion. Because the problem with virtue signalling is more on the "virtue" part than on the "signalling" part.

People tend to align themselves to whatever they perceive to be ethical line of the group; and some people (quite a good pecentage) do so with great fervour and very vocally. I don't think they're hypocrites: they really do believe what they're saying. The problem is that they're just repeating and enforcing the values of their group, whatever those might be, and without allowing any discussion or critical thought about them. Then it's easy to see that those values might absolutely wrong or contradictory: yet the virtue signallers can't see that and don't accept any discussion, because they align fully and automatically with the others and contribute in the alignment of the whole group.

So when the group adopts aberrant ethical rules (choose your favourite example) it's the virtue signallers that are the more vocal in upholding and spreading them with their perfect and pure conviction.


I think the key thing is that the virtue signalling usually comes with zero personal risk or cost. There’s no skin in the game. So it feels like a mockery of genuine virtue. And often at odds with revealed preferences when you examine their behaviour.



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