It may even be . . . that the passion for collective action is a way in which we now without compunction collectively indulge in that selfishness which as individuals we had learnt a little to restrain. —Friedrich Hayek, “The Road to Serfdom”
Once upon a time, the vast bulk of humanity woke up each morning with one thought on their minds: how do I survive another day? For most of us in the West today, however, that thought hardly crosses our minds. Two centuries of economic expansion and overall political liberalization have resulted in unprecedented ease and material affluence. We can purchase incredible labor-saving and luxury goods at impressively low prices and have them delivered directly to our doorsteps. Not only do most of us have basic survival covered, we’re doing quite well at satisfying the desires of material thriving as well.
We also have more leisure time than most people have ever enjoyed, and we have an array of entertainment so varied and dazzling, one can hardly keep up. (As of this writing, Netflix alone uses 37 percent of all U.S. bandwidth during primetime.) Certain works of dystopian science fiction depict a dark future of blandly quiescent humans focused solely on hedonistic pursuits, and while haven’t quite reached that point (and we may never), we can at least see why it might be on the minds of speculative screenwriters and novelists.
With material surviving and thriving well in hand, many of us turn to another human goal: to live a virtuous life. Though the specifics vary from person to person, we can broadly define virtue-seeking as
The desire to pursue activities and embody character traits deemed positive by the individual or other members of society.
In general, these tend to be aspirations beyond the pursuit of material success: having good character; helping others; seeking truth; being compassionate; living in accordance with a set of principles; pursuing accomplishment; and numerous others. All good things . . . in principle, at least.
Enter social media.
Social media has been, in many ways, a blessing. It enables people to stay in closer touch than ever before. Families can share experiences in real time, even when separated by great distances. Old friends—people who might otherwise never have seen each other again—can reconnect after decades apart. For a social species, social media has a powerful lure and many good uses.
But there is also a dark side. Remote communication can become a substitute for in-person interaction. A deluge of information is helping to shorten attention spans. And the shield of impersonal communication, or even outright anonymity, leads many people say things they would never say to another person’s face.
Social media also has a neurological impact. Notifications, shares, “likes,” images, and new comments trigger a rush of dopamine, causing a positive feeling of “reward.” Certain forms of validation—easily obtained with the right status update—can prompt secretion of the “love hormone” oxytocin. The effect is alluring and can be addicting. With just a few keystrokes, we can get the approval of the tribe, and the neurochemical frisson that comes along with it.
But it has all become too easy. Increasingly, social media is enabling us to signal virtue without actually having to doanything virtuous.
The most repellent manifestation of this phenomenon is political virtue signaling. A massive, quasi-organic culture has developed—fueled by entertainment, media, academia, and online interactions—that has established a set of “correct” political doctrines. Signaling adherence to these doctrines confers an automatic presumption of decency and virtue. Deviation from them is punishable by an outpouring of scorn, or worse.
This ideological culture—which tends to prefer government force as the solution to most human questions—has succeeded brilliantly at marketing itself as the only choice for compassionate people. And it makes it so easy. The virtue-signaler does not have to do anything. She never has to test her assumptions in the real world. She never has to do a moment of service in her community, and every drop of “compassion” she shows can be with other people’s money. She simply takes the “correct” positions, and the dominant culture accords her the presumption of decency.
To set her self even further apart, she may attribute the vilest motives to anyone who disagrees. After all, who but a monster would stand in the way of her noble objectives? And what consideration do monsters deserve? Why none—they’re monsters. The tribe signals its approval, and the effect is intoxicating. Over time, she becomes even more convinced of her superior compassion, and her self-portrait becomes ever-more glossy. The end result is a sort of preening narcissism.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?
Why you are, my dear—you are so compassionate and fair and noble in every way.
Lather, rinse, repeat. Our modern air is redolent with internet righteousness. Virtue-signaling is a way to become one of the BeautifulPeople™, and with each passing day, more people join in. If this phenomenon were limited to online discussions, it would be harmless enough. But opinion drives policy, and policy is imposed by force. Thus, if you don’t want to be subjected to the force of any policy supported by the virtue-signaler, it cannot be because you disagree, it must be because you are bad.
What started as a social media phenomenon is quickly becoming a form of oppression.
Source : WesternFreePress