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Virtue Signaling: Why Political Debates on the Internet Are So Often Pointless

Home/Political Zeitgeist, Sovereign Solutions Philosophy/Virtue Signaling: Why Political Debates on the Internet Are So Often Pointless

Virtue Signaling: Why Political Debates on the Internet Are So Often Pointless

by Dan Sanchez | FEE | July 21, 2016

Virtue Signaling: Why Political Debates on the Internet Are So Often Pointless

Sovereign Solutions Editor’s Note:

Political discourse is really in a sad state of affairs. So is the general philosophy in regards to life and sense of empowerment. The how behind this is important to understand; the solutions suggested are even more-so. 

It comes down to this:

Do you want permission to act and guides to what just to say; or do you want to be empowered to think, to act, to escape from destructive mindsets and narrow, severely limiting paradigms?

The author of the piece leaves us with a crucial point that I want to underscore, specifically for those that engage with the virtue signalers, those that so well seem to illustrate the title of this post:

“Maybe freedom lovers should stop expending so much energy bashing our heads against the brick wall of policy disputation, and instead try the open door of appealing to self-interest: by promoting the freedom philosophy, not just as a political philosophy, but as a life philosophy.”

Taking action and providing example, with a freedom LIFE philosophy, sounds much more appealing than a limited political one, doesn’t it?

Please take action. The internet is all-too full already with virtue signaling and base human discourse that yields no measurable gain besides meaningless inflation of false beliefs and paradigms at the expense of human action and objective realities!


Have you ever noticed how frustrating it is to argue with people about politics on the Internet: like trying to use your head to knock down a brick wall? Well, keep in mind that the feeling is probably mutual.

But also consider the practical utility of that brick wall: the rational interest many people have in being close-minded and wedded to false beliefs. As economist Bryan Caplan has written:

“…irrationality, like ignorance, is sensitive to price, and false beliefs about politics and religion are cheap. If you underestimate the costs of excessive drinking, you can ruin your life. In contrast, if you underestimate the benefits of immigration, or the evidence in favor of the theory of evolution, what happens to you? In all probability, the same thing that would have happened to you if you knew the whole truth.”

Just as holding a comforting false belief is rock-bottom cheap, so is expressing a socially-advantageous false belief.

False beliefs about economics and political philosophy may be devastating in aggregate, but for the individual the cost of choosing to embrace fallacy is negligible. So, as Caplan argues, it is perfectly rational for many to stubbornly cling to false but “emotionally appealing” beliefs. There are no individual, internalized costs that could possibly outweigh whatever emotional benefit the false belief might have.

Caplan wrote the passage quoted above in 2006. Last year, British writer James Bartholomew coined a term and crystallized a concept that is highly complementary to Caplan’s analysis: virtue signaling.

Virtue and Vanity

Most of what passes for political discourse on the Internet does not consist of actual attempts to persuade. Rather, the opiners are like preening birds, chirping for anyone within earshot to signal that, “I am a decent, virtuous person,” usually adding, “unlike the troglodyte rightwingers or degenerate leftists I’m denouncing.”

Such virtue signalling is socially profitable. When others in your social set detect that you faithfully subscribe to that set’s orthodoxy, they become better disposed toward you. This can result in professional, social, even romantic opportunities.

And just as holding a comforting false belief is rock-bottom cheap, so is expressing a socially-advantageous false belief.

But in addition to this rational interest, there is a compulsive, pathological component to virtue signaling as well. That part is baggage from the way we are all raised as kids.

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Do you have any objections, thoughts, concerns, or contributions? I REALLY WANT TO KNOW. Help me to make this a conversation!

Together we can map out better solutions and truly navigate clearer paths towards quality services, low prices, and better lives.

Oh! And as always, if you find this post useful, do me and so many others a huge favor. When it comes to this kind of information: share and share alike! Information is meant to be disseminated wide and far.

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About the Author:

My name is Matthew. I am founder of and manage Sovereign Liberty Solutions. I am a proponent of free, voluntary association and expression. I understand that there is no single exception or excuse to violate this with the initiation of force, fraud, and coercion. I welcome a genuine dialogue & seek information, news, analysis, and, of course, solutions, whether it be on the individual level or a more voluntary association [group] or even "national" one.

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