"I only eat organic."
"I wanted a Tesla because it's important to drive an emissions-free vehicle."
"I'm a vegan/vegetarian."
"Are those eggs cruelty-free and cage-free? I only eat cruelty-free, cage-free eggs."
It's fascinating to observe the modern era's various forms of conspicuous consumption. We don't just buy stuff any more, that's not enough. Now, we can broadcast our ethics with what we buy.
Even when just meeting someone for the first time, people may do things like bluntly advertise their veganism or vegetarianism*--uh, or their Tesla ownership--early on in a conversation. Why? Is it really that important to drop conspicuous virtue bombs onto people we just met?
Without a doubt--because it reflects well on us. Thorstein Veblen could add an entirely new chapter to his book.
Virtue signalling doesn't only happen around our food and diets, of course. In politics, one of the reasons we take obvious pleasure in pointing out any cruel-sounding or dumb-sounding policies of our political opponents is because, you guessed it, it's a way to virtue signal.
If you observe objectively how politics are typically brought up in conversations or on social media, the position is usually stated in the context of "Look at how mean those Republicans are with XYZ policy!" He may not realize it, but the person saying this is signalling "I'm not mean. On the contrary, I'm a good person, because I'm pointing out how mean those other people are with this mean policy."
And just to make sure we observe the equal time rule, let's consider an example from the opposite side of the political spectrum: "Look at how dumb those Democrats are with XYZ policy!" which signals "I'm not dumb. On the contrary, I am very smart because I'm pointing out how dumb this policy is."
Whether intended or not, both of these are blatant acts of virtue signalling. I bet you'll never think about political statements the same way again, will you?
They say that a true test of your character is what you do when no one is watching. Think about that for a moment. When you signal your virtue, are you really being virtuous?
Or to put it another way: what does it say about the nature of your virtue if it needs to be seen?
"In our culture, undue emphasis has been placed on appearances. Here, I am referring not only to physical appearances, but to all the ways we attempt to represent ourselves to others. Looking good has become a national way of life.
...Another disadvantage of appearance being highly valued is that it distracts us from seeing what is real. What is actually occurring in current reality occurs independently of our perception of it. Current reality does not disappear just because it may go unrecognized."
--from The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz
To put Robert Fritz's quote in blunter terms: no matter how much virtue signalling you engage in, no matter how many external signs and signals you give off, you're still the same underlying person. Aren't you?
Which takes us to one last question to consider. Is virtue-signalling the same as practicing actual virtue? Your answer will say a lot about what kind of person you are.
* A note for new readers: this post is not criticizing vegans or vegetarians (or even Tesla owners!) in any way. In fact, we celebrate vegetarianism and veganism here at Casual Kitchen, although we do not practice either diet exclusively. Further, most of the recipes at this blog are either vegan/vegetarian or can be easily modified to be made so.
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