Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Quote of the Day (12)

I invented virtue signalling,” says James Bartholomew of The Spectator.

It may even be true. The online version of Collins Dictionary incorporated the expression earlier this year, defining virtue signalling as “activities intended to indicate a person’s virtuousness”.

In June, Facebook introduced Celebrate Pride” function that allowed users all over the world to show support for gay marriage by imposing a transparent LGBT rainbow over their profile picture. Two weeks ago, another group of ideological lock-steppers adopted the colours of the French flag in sympathy with the victims of the Parisian massacres.

That’s virtue signalling: “Look at me! I’m a good person!”

Others have coined the term “keyboard warriors” to describe the same phenomenon. Bartholomew says this:
“Sometimes [virtue signalling] is quite subtle. By saying that they hate the Daily Mail or Ukip, they are really telling you that they are admirably non-racist, left-wing or open-minded. One of the crucial aspects of virtue signalling is that it does not require actually doing anything virtuous. It does not involve delivering lunches to elderly neighbours or staying together with a spouse for the sake of the children. It takes no effort or sacrifice at all.”
It’s a little ironic that the people who virtue-signal most ardently seem to have the least skin in the game. It doesn’t take much personal investment to advocate online for higher immigration quotas and open borders when you don’t pay taxes, to condemn terrorist acts anonymously from a distance of 3,000 miles, or to tweet that #BlackLivesMatter when you live in your parents’ suburban basement and don’t regularly encounter any blacks.

That doesn’t mean that the causes of virtue signallers are always wrong, of course. It does mean there is no personal cost to the expression of an opinion already embraced by the majority. The virtue signaller has nothing to lose and plenty of Facebook “likes” to be gained.

Virtue signalling is hardly a new phenomenon. It’s probably as old as man. For the Christian, virtue signalling is obviously a non-starter. For one, the Lord made it very clear that the best signal is no signal at all:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
And the Lord Jesus spoke even more scathingly of those in positions of responsibility who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger”. Barking out orders while failing to walk the walk may be easy, but it is not the least bit virtuous.

But with all their flawed motives, at least these hypocritical Jews still gave to the needy. This is not the case with many of today’s virtue signallers. James Bartholomew says the mouthing of endless platitudes and prescriptions does not a virtuous society make. Actual substance is required:
“Researching my previous book, The Welfare State We’re In, I came to realise that the Victorians and Edwardians gave vastly more money to charity than people do now. It was normal even for the working and artisan classes to give as much as 10 per cent of their income. That compares with donations of less than 1 per cent for the general population now. Among many other things, they gave money to help charitable hospitals through the King’s Fund in Saturday workplace collections. They also took it as normal to look after their aged parents and other relatives.

I compared them with people I met who thought they were virtuous merely because they voted Labour once every five years and expressed hatred of right-wingers. That is not virtue. That is lazy, self-righteous and silly.”
It appears the more things change, the more they stay the same.


  1. Not sure I get the point behind this blog. If it is that virtue signaling is bad form, then, well we all know (or should know) that.

    However there is also a pretty flawed analysis forcing one to have to state the obvious. The reasons why most people give less today are well known and obvious, namely, high taxes and government provided social safety nets.


    In spite of that the USA and other nations are doing pretty well in the charity department.

  2. Absolutely. Except it's not really "charity" if it's extracted forcibly through taxation, is it? And the fact billions of forcibly extracted tax dollars are sent to the governments of third world countries (often in the form of loans that will never be repaid) may lead us to believe we've done our bit already.

    Thus, we largely ignore the needs under our own noses, which is what Bartholomew is pointing out.

    1. I should have been clearer. By citing government statistics I meant to imply that people feel they have much less money left over so that direct personal charity declines. Also, I would suggest that few people would feel that government sponsored charity is due to their money having been coerced. More likely they agree that it is convenient to give that way and don't mind and may even look on that favorably since it does reflect well on the entire nation. I remember United Way campaigns at work with direct deductions from your paycheck, which is similar, with some credit for charitableness also going to the corporation.

      Just saw IC's comment (below). With regard to that, I have always looked at the experience with Japan where it took 50 to 60 years to somewhat equalize standard of living with the West. That slow process is probably what we are stuck with for most underdeveloped nations and the speed and final result will definitely be influenced by geography, natural resources and culture. There has been significant progress with regard to world-wide decrease in poverty. However, I am probably not telling you anything new. Also, biblically I recall Christ saying that we should focus locally and not let us get upset by what is very remote (quite the contrary of what we have with today's news cycle). There must be a sound reason for that though.

  3. Apparently a few basic facts are not so obvious. One is that any kind of "social safety net" is not available to the vast majority of the world's people. Another is that in developed countries, our high taxes are an expression of our excessive wealth, coupled with our desire to have government protect us from womb to tomb -- not a testimony to our poverty.

    How much we deserve to be excused for not being charitable on grounds of our personal economic hardship, then, is also not really so obvious.

    1. Q, I'd be interested in that reference you make to "Christ saying that we should focus locally, and not [be] upset by what is very remote." I do not know of that one.

      I remember instead that Christ came to those who were "far off" (Acts 2:36). Now, that's obviously a spiritual distance, but still, it's interesting. I also note that when His work with Israel was complete, He promised, "I have other sheep that are not of this fold." (Jn. 10:16) As a Gentile, I'm pretty glad that He did not stay local in His concerns. And then, at the end, He commissioned His disciples to go to "all nations" (Mt.28:19), or as Mark has it, to "go into all the world and preach the gospel." (Mk. 16:15) Hardly a local concern, that.

      But if you have a different verse in mind, I'd be happy to consider it. Do you know the reference offhand?

    2. IC, I may have interpolated/extrapolated a bit from parts of Matthew 6, and Matthew 24, 1 Peter 5:7, Philippians 4:7

    3. Hmmm...I'm looking at those passages, but I'm not seeing what you're seeing...nothing about limiting the focus of moral concern to the local, so far as I can detect.

    4. Moral Christian concerns are of course universal and I did not imply otherwise. However I was talking more about concerns in general and our attention and response to them. Moral concerns are a subset of those and will have to remain in the abstract like all concerns if beyond our influence. Let me give today's example. President Obama says about the recent Paris attack that it is a setback suggesting not to worry about it and there is little we can do. In other words, he is suggesting to focus locally since that is within our purview. Now, I am not comparing him to Christ :P but the idea is the same, do what you can locally. Some of those passages likewise are of significant events outside our influence even if geographically local. The implied practical solution is to focus on the local you and cast your unresolvable concerns on Christ. I have the slight suspicion though IC that you knew what I meant and perhaps enjoy the philosophical activity of splitting hairs :-S. Tom, can you confirm?

    5. Actually, no...I wasn't splitting hairs, Q. The implication you are drawing wasn't one I was recognizing in the verses quoted, so I sincerely needed to ask.

      Now, to "cast all our cares upon Christ" would seem to mean "all" to me, with no restriction against local matters in favour of more distant ones. For taking it your way, would it not mean "casting all your [distant, unresolvable] cares upon Him but, by equal inference, managing your [local, seemingly-resolvable] issues without such recourse to Him? And I think you can hardly blame me for not taking that reading out of a passage that specifies "all your cares."

    6. I guess we have a difference in our understanding of what it means to cast (cares). To me it does not mean what you are suggesting, namely, that by casting them on Christ you get rid of them without any actions of your own. Instead I believe we are called at all times to take care of our affairs even if and when getting divine assistance. So, certainly, if you can influence and resolve your "local" cares then by all means do it. This does not imply that you only placed your "distant* cares upon Christ. (I hope it's not that old "works" argument coming in here.)

    7. Ah, you're adding to my words, Q. I said no such thing. I didn't even address the question of what "casting cares" means -- I only spoke about its potential scope, not its potential meaning. But since you bring it up, perhaps I should now.

      Of course I am perfectly glad to affirm that "casting cares" wouldn't mean you don't do anything. It would mean that in your continued activities, such as the Lord may call you to do, you no longer needed to feel anxious, but could rather move forward in the confidence of not being alone in your desire to do the right thing or in your intention to get it done.

      "Cares" you will surely note, is the word there, not "actions." We're not called to "cast off action," but to "cast our cares upon Him." I think that's pretty clear.

      However, whatever you wish to take "casting cares" to entail, this axiom manifestly does not specify anything about whether these are local or distant: so if I may say so, it seems rather a "red herring," and certainly would not seem to help you defend the position that we ought to favour the local and be unconcerned about the distant. "All" does, after all, mean "all."

      So let us return to the basic question: on what basis do you affirm that we ought to cease to concern ourselves with the "remote," as you put it, and yet still (according to your exegesis of that passage) keep our cares about the local? For it would now seem that you are saying that "casting cares" applies to "remote" issues, but apparently, as you affirmed at the start, not to local ones.

      I confess that I'm still not seeing the warrant for such a reading.

    8. IC, I did mention before that I was not implying that you should only cast your "distant" cares on Christ. At this time I need to point out that distant can additionally be synonymous with remotely, insurmountable, or degree of difficulty and not strictly geographically remote.

      Also, see some definitions for "cares" below. They certainly include action and hence casting cares also means casting actions as well. Some action is definitely only possible for God and you are responsible for the ones you can handle (at least in my book). Also, God addressing some of your cares certainly will involve action on his part no matter the magnitude. I call that collaboration just as any parent will collaborate with their child.

      Dictionary definitions of "care, cares"
      1. the work of providing treatment for or attending to someone or something

      2. judiciousness in avoiding harm or danger

      3. an anxious feeling

      4. a cause for feeling concern

      5. attention and management implying responsibility for safety

      6. activity involved in maintaining something in good working order

      1. feel concern or interest

      2. provide care for

      3. prefer or wish to do something

      4. be in charge of, act on, or dispose of

      5. be concerned with

    9. That still seems a strained reading to me. I'm not convinced there's an easy step from "distant" to "difficult." Nor do I see any particular "actions" specified in the verses you quoted.

      Part of the problem is which, if any, of the English definitions of "care" to prefer in the context. It's clearly not all of them: essentially, "care" is not one word, but a group of cognate words. To "prefer" is not "to be concerned," nor is "an anxious feeling" equivalent to "a *cause* for an anxious feeling." So if you want to fall back on the dictionary, Q, you're going to have to pick one of the 11 definitions, one that suits the context best, and go with it.

      But perhaps that's all we can say about that.