A core facet of contemporary existence is that it doesn’t matter what you say as long as someone is hearing what you are saying. The execution of thought precedes the content of thought. For any communication — from speech to tweet to brainwave DM — the meaning of your words is reduced and modified through internalization. As long as someone believes the message that you are sending to them, it doesn’t really matter how it is sent or if it is intended at all.
Virtue signaling is the practice of publicly expressing sentiments meant to reflect good character or equivalent. It has become quite popular lately especially in social media, although I’m not sure exactly how popular it was in the past. Maybe there were some 18th-century professional virtue signallers who made a living off of convincing others they were good people. They would go around town to talk about how great of people they were, and then they would accept donations to facilitate their continued virtue. Sounds like contemporary politics, no?
Virtue signaling is an act oriented around others, but it is oriented around others precisely because identity is defined through others. There would not be the need to virtue signal if there were others to observe it. But, without others, we would not be able to prove our own virtue because we can only prove our virtue through the examination of others. In truth, we’re not really sure what to believe anymore. After religion stopped being the moral authority in which to live our lives, we turn to other sources of moral equivalency, like politics.
I think it’s really interesting nowadays that politics is equivocated with virtue. You believe a certain set of values, and you are virtuous, and if you believe another set of values, then you are considered by 50% of the voting bloc to be not virtuous. Confirmation bias accents this divide, so we selectively consume news that amplifies our conception of being on the virtuous side. In turn, we virtue signal to identify ourselves with the side we consider to be virtuous. Yet, I find myself asking whether virtue signaling is an attempt to convince ourselves that we live a virtuous life when we don’t have anyone explicitly telling us we do.
It’s like in Bojack Horseman when Bojack asked Diane if he was a good person, and expected Diane to say yes, but she just said, “I don’t know.”
I think that scene really captures how we all feel in this postmodern world. We want someone to tell us we live a virtuous life, mostly because we’re not too sure if we are living a virtuous life ourselves. We can’t exactly confirm that we are living a virtuous life ourselves, and there’s no one telling us we are. We need external validation because that’s how we can be sure that we exist at all, yet this validation doesn’t come as straightforward as it did in the past. We don’t follow a strict set of moral codes anymore, so it’s not like we can check off a list that says you are a good person. And since Aristotle said something along the lines of the meaning of life is to live virtuously, which somehow got baked into popular consciousness, we become convinced that the virtuous life is the only life worth living. Yet, without knowing what is virtue, we assign ideas like politics to replace it.
In response, I think a lot of the time we scream out in an attempt to get someone to listen to us and tell us that we are the good people we imagine ourselves to be. Oftentimes, those moral communities are centered around politics. The rest is just a process of reinforcement. We express an opinion about politics. We receive support from one side and receive contempt from the other. Since one side is giving us the moral validation we are looking for, we identify with one side over the other. The cycle continues as we receive more validation from one side and contempt from the other.
It doesn’t really matter what we believe in. As long as we receive moral validation, it gives us the comfort that we are living the virtuous life. It does not matter if we are actually living a virtuous life or not as long as someone is telling us we are living a virtuous life. In this contemporary world, belief precedes reality. As long as someone tells us we are living a virtuous life, we can resolve this psychic uncertainty we have about whether we are actually living a virtuous life or now. We adopt beliefs we are not entirely convinced of because we believe these are virtuous beliefs. We do so because we want to continue to receive moral validation. It doesn’t matter if we actually believe what we are saying or not. As long as we receive validation for our beliefs, that’s all that matters.
According to Wikipedia, our favorite source of straight truth, bad faith is “a sustained form of deception which consists of entertaining or pretending to entertain one set of feelings while acting as if influenced by another.” It’s not to be confused with Sartrean bad faith, which I reference frequently despite not entirely understanding it. My interpretation of traditional bad faith is that it’s a detachment of self, specifically between belief and conviction. It is the schism between how much you believe in something versus how much you think you should believe in something. And, when we only receive validation for conviction, it becomes natural to hold convictions on moral grounds to solidify our identity as a virtuous person.
I think our current society is abundant with bad faith, although I don’t particularly think that it is inherently a bad thing. It’s more like a thing that exists. Like poop. Poop isn’t good or bad. It just exists, and it is a byproduct of our existence. Authenticity is not encouraged by internet culture, and our postmodern reality isn’t really moving towards reform either. It’s just a product of the current reality in which we occupy, and we just need to scoop the poop.
I was thinking back to Arendt’s characterization of individuals as political agents, and I’m not quite sure I understand what that means. I read about politics for fun sometimes, but there has always been detached from political articles. Someone put in the time and energy to write about something they care about, and there’s not much I care about, especially not politics. I personally find myself more attuned to my definition of an economic agent, since very rarely does politics precede economics in contemporary society. We vote according to our economic identity, so where does politics come into our consciousness?
I’m pretty sure that 50 percent of Americans don’t even vote. I happened to vote, but not because I’m particularly captivated by any idea or movement. It’s more for social reasons more than anything else, so I can tell people I voted for who they thought I should vote for. Sometimes, I feel the need to be more political because people around me are quite political. It seems virtuous because they receive a lot of validation for expressing their political beliefs. What is the opposite of apathy, passion? Is that something you can cultivate, or is that something you are born with? I personally have no idea about what is the right way to govern. I don’t have leanings towards one side or another, yet sometimes I crave the validation that what I believe is the right thing to believe..
Communication is the process of sharing ideas. As long as the idea comes through, it doesn’t really matter how you say it. What matters more than articulation is accessibility. It doesn’t quite matter if you are descriptive with what you are trying to say; it matters more that you are matching someone’s brain waves. Then, they can tell you that you were right. And that’s all that matters in life.