Virtue signaling is good actually

This is the key supposition in the OP, for my two cents. As Bhikkhu Bodhi’s book was referenced earlier, I return there again: The Buddha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Harmony. Also, I wonder how many folx who are interested in the OP can please make the effort to read Levy’s article.

With all due respect, I disagree.

My experience is that the greatest amount of heart-ache among some lay Buddhist leaders in North America is an insistence – apparent or otherwise – that, by and large, (Theravada) monasticism has divested itself of practical concern for global & regional morality. That it is, for all intents & purposes, consumed with this logic of purity above. I think this also leads to an over-reaction toward eclecticism, which I have mentioned in other threads.

I have confidence and faith in the monastic sangha. I love the dhamma. I am diligently learning pāli. I am disheartened that so few folx over here have taken up the gracious offers through SuttaCentral to learn pāli with me. I wonder just how disconnected things are for people. I wonder, sometimes, if a handful of us are just acting like Sisyphus and whether “resistance is futile”. So far, I’ve hung in there (I can’t speak for others).

On Stephen’s point … the Hebrew Bible is replete with this sentiment. Especially where communal morality is the focus. It is not quite the introspective religion that Buddhism is. But it provides the basis for a sizable population of the world’s religious values (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity). If there is a way to solve the handful of global crises that threaten the good of all beings, it will take everyone IMO.

:pray:t3: :elephant:

When you breathe, is it with intention, or without intention? In your sleep?

Intention can often lead to actions, but they may not. Similarly, actions can arise out of intention, but they can also arise “spontaneously” without conscious or premeditated thought.

Stories of people who perform valiant acts in crucial situations, such as rescuing someone in danger, often come with recollections such as “I didn’t think, I just did what seemed right at the time.”

That’s what I meant by the “opposite” of virtue signalling.

The idea of ‘virtue signaling’, as I have always encountered the term, is an action done with an audience in mind. An action done not because it is ‘virtuous’ , but to create a response in the viewers of the action. This is the ‘signaling’ aspect.
The implication is that without a marveling audience, the action would not have been done.

1 Like

Yes, and when I have encountered the term it is always made as an accusation by someone. No one ever says “lets all signal our virtue,” or “now I’m going to signal my virtue.”

Basically they are accusing someone of doing something good. Which is odd. Most often the supposed “virtue signaling” has to do with someone making a statement of ally-ship. Which really tells you everything you need to know.

It never means “don’t tell people about the good things you are doing.”

There is a Chrome extension that will replace all ocurances of the term “woke” with “treating people with respect” E.g.

You could easily make one for “virtue signaling” where it substituted “supporting something good that I don’t agree with but if I say that directly it will reveal me as the a** I really am.” As in:

Land acknowledgements are just supporting something good that I don’t agree with but if I say that directly it will reveal me as the a** I really am.

Because if someone wanted to express that land acknowledgements were a form of hollow support that lets the organization ignore real issues of indigenous people, well then they could just say that.


Yes, a good example of ‘virtue signaling.’

See how it works.

1 Like

Woke is an interesting one. I think originally it had in mind self righteousness. In my experience it’s a character flaw many on the left have, although not restricted there.

There are indeed people on the right that treat other people with respect. But it’s far more insidious on the left. :wink:

1 Like

Is what you just did different to the snarling of the right? Doesn’t look like to me.

Uoh! You sock puppet you :face_with_hand_over_mouth:

It seems there are great many different ideas about what “virtue signaling” refers to. The majority seem to understand it as a pejorative, but even that isn’t universally acknowledged. To summarize the descriptions I’ve seen in this thread:

  • Virtue signaling is basically a charge of hypocrisy for doing something good in public
  • Virtue signaling is just plain doing something good and then letting others know that you’ve done that thing
  • Virtue signaling is a performative act that is primarily about signaling tribal allegiance or bolstering one’s reputation within said tribe
  • Virtue signaling is used as a criticism against performative acts of righteous anger/indignation that don’t in and of themselves have any redeeming qualities whatsoever
  • Virtue signaling is basically positive community action for “global or regional morality”

Hard to debate the qualities when the referent of the words “virtue signaling” isn’t agreed upon without a whole bunch of miscommunication. :pray:

I think what your list misses is the fact that “virtue signaling” is a label people give something that they don’t agree with but they want to make it seems like the other person is doing something wrong.

We already have words for showing off or acting hypocritical. One must ask why a new term is needed. It is purely about the politics of the thing being criticized.

1 Like

A lot of the disagreements in life; religious, political, philosophical and general come from miscommunication IMO. Not all though, of course.

The fact that it is a label and a pejorative one I think is captured in my list, no? When I said that it “refers to” something that is alluding to the fact that it is a label. A pejorative definitely implies it is a criticism; something people don’t agree with. The fact that it is a pejorative is not universally acknowledged, but I did say for the majority it is, right?

But not all agree that hypocrisy is the charge nor that politics are being criticized. In particular, the definition I would give (performative acts of righteous anger/indignation) does not charge hypocrisy nor necessarily anything to do with politics.


It’s about politics, sure. When used correctly it’s about “look how wonderful I am” because of supporting or doing x. You do actually see virtue signalling on the right too.

I think “virtue signalling” likely arose in response to criticisms of Trump’s “dog whistle politics” and possibly also as a reaction to the “call out” culture that emerged in what has been labelled the social justice warrior or “woke” culture crowd that grabbed onto inter-sectional politics.

At least in Canada we associate it with the rather large white supremacist movement in NA and the … I shall not name it … media site associated with Steve Bannon out of which came all these writhing, ugly and in the end actively destructive and very dangerous things.

1 Like

You’re agreeing here. Hypocrisy isn’t the charge. If it were, people would just call them “hypocrites.”

Conservatives always think (or at least always say) that what they’re doing isn’t “politics”

Last Friday, former Republican Senator and newly installed president of the University of Florida, Ben Sasse, said in a Wall St Journal Op Ed:

We’re a university, not a daycare. We don’t coddle emotions, we wrestle with ideas… Minds are changed by reason, not force.

On Saturday, he enforced his gentle commitment to reason and dialogue by calling in the state police to arrest his students.

On Sunday he went on a talk show to defend his actions. He went on at length about how anti-war protestors were really Pro-Hamas agitators who deserved to be jailed. When asked about Donald Trump, he said it wasn’t his place “to talk about politics.” As if having people you disagree with arrested isn’t “politics?”

This is what conservatives always do. They try to marginalize progress and hide / deny that what they’re doing is (reactionary) politics.

Another example from here in Thailand is that the National Office of Buddhism strictly forbids monks from taking part in “politics.” By this they mean pro-democracy demonstrations. They’ve of course never arrested a monk for joining a royalist ceremony.

What gets labeled “politics” is itself a political question with political implications

Interestingly you see this less bandied about these days.

I agree that it is performative. It’s a kind of back slash at an empty term that probably should no longer be used.

You mostly see this in the form of “it’s just common sense”. Although, let’s not paint all of us on the right with the same brush. It is of course political to take an opposing view to liberalism regarding society, economics and so forth.

1 Like