Virtue signalling and hypocrisy

Most of the time, the accusation of “virtue signalling” includes an implicit connotation of “hypocrisy”. But then, why introduce a new and obscure term for something we have known about for millennia?

The answer is that hypocrisy is a specific accusation that can be backed up, or refuted, by evidence. For example, if a church leader who claims to be a Christian advocates locking up innocent children, the case is pretty clear-cut.

By contrast, “virtue signalling” is an insinuation rather than a factual claim. It doesn’t need to be backed up, and usually isn’t. If the person accused of virtue signalling on the basis of a symbolic action shows that they are in fact making costly efforts in support of their cause, these actions are just added to the charge sheet.

The charge of virtue signalling doesn’t rely on the actual inconsistencies of individuals. Rather it relies on in-group shared negative perceptions of out-groups (inner city latte sipping lefties and so on).

To restate the central point, accusations of virtue signalling aren’t meant to promote virtue: rather to argue against it. Those who use the accusation want to score points in favor of behavior they aren’t willing to defend openly.

By contrast, it’s worth remembering the observation of La Rouchefoucald that “hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue”.

13 thoughts on “Virtue signalling and hypocrisy

  1. An interesting case of signalling is offered by the US Democratic primary contest. The candidates are all offering detailed and expensive plans on health care and climate change. They all know that the chances of these plans being adopted as is are zero. At best (that is with a thin Democratic majority in the Senate), legislation will be horse-traded with centrist Democrats like Klobuchar, in a rerun of the painful gestation of ACA. Are these proposals hypocritical? No, they signal priorities that will make a difference to the outcome. If this be “virtue signalling”, let’s have more of it.

  2. John, thank you greatly for introducing me to LaRouchefoucald. Such great quotes. But I see this one as well:

    “The name and pretence of virtue is as serviceable to self-interest as are real vices.”

  3. And aren’t the righties doing “virtue signalling” when they think they are calling out progressives?

    Just another silencing trick like “pol correct”.

  4. La Rochefoucauld was an interesting man. His problem was that he was a leader in the Fronde, a rebellion of the nobles during Louis XIV’s minority. Louis decided against a purge, but the suspicion of the frondeurs never went away. Condé and Turenne were exceptions, as Louis’ aggressive foreign policy could not do without France’s two best generals. So la Rochefoucauld spent the rest of his life in the enforced idleness of a courtier, only writing his thin (if very perceptive) book of epigrams.

  5. Sincerity is the most important thing in politics. Once a politician has learnt to fake sincerity he has got it made.

  6. Ikon maybe you’ve read Thick Face, Black Heart? “Once a politician has learnt” to be shameless and play hard, without respect towards common virtue. You can list them easily.

    It’s name? Houheixue.

    “Thick Black Theory (Chinese: 厚黑學; pinyin:Hòu hēi xué) is a philosophical treatise written by Li Zongwu zh:李宗吾 (1879–1943), a disgruntled politician and scholar born at the end of Qing dynasty.

    “Houheixue is translated as “Thick Black Theory”, “Thick and Dark Theory”, or “Study of the Thick and Dark”. Hou 厚 is thick in English. It comes from “thick face” in Chinese, which means being shameless. Hei 黑 is dark in English. It is picked from Chinese of “dark mind”, which means setting one’s mind to be ready to play hard, without respect towards common virtue.”

    I’d be interested to know other similar concepts describing politicians culture.

  7. – Shame –

    Jackie Lambie is supposed to know about ptsd! She has ensured that the ptsd diagnosis will now be “C-PTSD – complex ptsd.

    Jackie, “the victim has little control and is unable to escape.” from “concentration camps or prisoner of war camps”, ala Christmas Is, Manus & Nauru.

    Can’t wait ’til Jackie Lambie tells us what she traded for this…Hypocrisy and vice;

    “Today Australia became just a little crueller, just a little more sadistic.”

    “Those who helped the medevac repeal bill to pass should hang their heads in shame

    “The rates of physical and mental suffering in this retained cohort used as effectively a human shield are unbelievable. To know it is all so preventable is just heartbreaking.

    “Today Australia became just a little crueller, just a little more sadistic.” Dr Nick Martin

    Nick Martin is a GP and was formerly a senior medical officer on Nauru.

    From our own Australian federal government;
    “What causes complex PTSD?

    “Complex PTSD can be caused by any type of severe and long-term trauma, and usually involves situations where the victim has little control and is unable to escape.

    “The types of traumatic situations which can cause this disorder include:
    – long-term childhood physical or sexual abuse
    – long-term domestic violence
    – concentration camps or prisoner of war camps”…

  8. Jackie Lambie was a hero of the left just last week when we she voted down the government’s union legislation.

    How fickle are politics.

  9. I was listening to an interview with Jackie on RN on my way to work on Monday IIRC. Much of the interview was focused on the collapse of the ON-LNP failed deal on the unions, but much was also about her negotiations with the PM and Dutton on Medivac. She was pressed numerous times on what her terms were to seal the deal and she repeatedly answered with (to paraphrase) ‘I can’t discuss that’.
    However, on, like, the 3rd attempt to get anything from her, she let slip (again I paraphrase) ‘well, they’ve been there a long time’.
    Now, read into that what you will, but to me, it sounded like the deal she made was specifically focused on the people involved.
    It’s a dangerous political risk for her to take whatever the deal is/was.

  10. I sometimes use the term virtue-signalling but I don’t necessarily mean hypocrisy. I generally use the term when I hear something that is clearly absurd and perhaps a little sick inducing but which plays well with the home crowd and sounds warm and fuzzy. I don’t infer dishonesty either, as we all have a great capacity for self-deception.

    Recently I have used the term when I have heard right-wingers use the recently popularised term “Judeo-Christian” . Given that Christianity has been hostile and at times murderously so towards Jews until our current secular era, I feel a little sick rise in my throat when I hear the term. I understand some Jews also find it objectionable.

    Similarly, I deployed the term a few months back when our illustrious host made the warm and fuzzy, home crowd
    pleasing claim that, unbekownst to most scholars and in defiance of meaningful categorisation, the Islamic world belongs to Western civilisation.

    I like the term and think both sides of politics are guilty of it from time to time. So am I, most probably.

  11. Virtue signalling seems to be more like moral grandstanding than hypocrisy. But whereas the moral grandstander simply seeks to promote his/her own brand, the virtue signaller wants to manipulate other people to do something other than simply praising him/her.

    But I learnt from Amartya Sen that we can’t understand a person simply by observing his/her behaviour without understanding his/her reasons for that behaviour. So we can’t accuse a person of virtue signalling (or moral grandstanding) without knowing the reasons for that person’s behaviour.

    That said, I often feel uncomfortable hearing American politicians say “God bless America” etc.; it smacks of virtue signalling!


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