Virtue Signaling – Cheap Self Affirmation

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Virtue Signaling – Cheap Self Affirmation


Cognitive Dissonance


We all do it. And we have all seen it done by others. The only question is too what degree we do it. I am, of course, speaking of the latest ‘meme’ to be virally repeated, the accusation that someone else (naturally not me) is virtue signaling.

A popular definition, though most certainly not the last word, is the following pulled from the Interwebby thingy.

“…the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one's good character or the moral correctness of one's position on a particular issue.”

Here’s another…

“Virtue signaling is the conspicuous expression of moral values by an individual done primarily to enhance their standing within a social group.”

There are other significant and nuanced variations used to define virtue signaling (including the spelling of ‘signalling’) but in my mind the take away of them all is the intellectual, emotional and psychological dishonesty of the virtue signaler. And of those who accept the virtue signaler attestations at face value. Or worse, those who enable, applaud and support the virtue signaler.

For a multitude of reasons, most of us simply don’t recognize many of our own actions as forms of virtue signaling, often because our signaling is expressed in forms other than just verbal. Ever put a bumper sticker or emblem on your vehicle proclaiming your support for ‘The Troops’ or some other political or charitable cause? Wear a designer product because the label is prominently displayed? One upped someone else by signaling your own escalated display?

I think you get the idea. In fact I’m fairly certain if given some thought, several dozen examples would leap to your mind. They have into mine.

But most of our virtue signaling is expressed in the negative, as in “I hate those Nazi’s”, a group everyone loves to hate, thus proving how virtuous we all are. I mean if you love, or even just like, the Nazis, clearly you must be some vile human vermin. Obviously this is sarcasm, just in case it’s not readily evident. Does that make me vile human vermin?

Naturally this behavior isn’t limited to humans, vile or not. Companies and corporations, public and private institutions, charities, governments, even the boy and girl scouts project virtuous signals large and small. I remember helping a little old lady pick up some groceries she dropped in the parking lot and then told my entire class I saved the lady from certain death by an errant vehicle because I’m a boy scout.

I may have exaggerated just a little bit.

The wonderful thing about virtue signaling is it requires all talk and little to no walk, effortless posturing intended to maintain or improve social positioning within a group or even among groups. For ‘We the Obese’, it just doesn’t get any better than that. 50 years ago, it was the inspiration gained from picking up a few stray oranges for that lady that led to lying through my teeth to my classmates in order to pump myself up in their eyes.

And in mine!



The irony is true virtue never needs to be signaled, for it is self evident and obvious to all but the deaf, dumb and blind.


Ultimately this is what virtue signaling is all about; our at times desperate need to be externally affirmed, particularly when our self esteem and confidence has been (recently) disturbed. If along the way we can improve our standing in whatever affinity group or social/political group we belong to, that’s great.

And we might even believe that is the ‘real’ reason we are acting so dishonestly, assuming we have given any thought at all to our behavior. But it’s all about how we feel about ourselves, and how we fear others feel/think about us, that drives much of our signaling.

This isn’t as outlandish as one might think. We live in a consumer culture; one that constantly strives to inflate our feelings of anxiety and insecurity solely so they can sell us their product, which they helpfully claim will magically restore precisely what they just destroyed. The slicker advertisements play off general cultural fears and inadequacies to push their product. Just watch a few ‘manly’ pickup truck commercials if you don’t believe me.

The sole purpose of all advertisement campaigns is to create a ‘consumer’ demand where one doesn’t naturally exist or wouldn’t exist in a quantity sufficient for the product to be produced profitably. Using a wide range of emotional approaches, including leveraging social memes already deeply implanted within the culture, the skilled advertising practitioner uses every psychological trick in the book to lure you in before the trap is sprung.

For the average person who is deeply immersed within the world of ‘media consumption’, which pretty much describes the overwhelming majority of the western population (and increasingly the entire world as everyone is transitioned into a consuming ‘culture’) their cultural persona has been formed and forged by emotionally exploitative manipulators and propagandists.

Let that thought settle in for a bit.

If we are what we eat, then we think what we consume. And based upon my lifelong observations of society and the people who live within our society, what we ‘think’ is an amalgamation of force fed junk memes designed to confuse, conflate, conceal and control. And most of all, to fear……everything and everyone just about all the time.

Rather frightening when you ‘think’ about it. 

The very fact most people would think the previous statement is at best an exaggeration, and at worst simply not true, attests to the incredible normalization of these practices and our adaptation to this self degrading social dysfunction.

And it’s not just the consumer product advertisers who are guilty of crass public manipulation. If anything, they learned their basic techniques from politicians who shamelessly play upon the public’s gullibility and naivety when it comes to fully comprehending the depths to which a sociopath will fall to maintain control, or keep control out of the hands of others.

Sherman’s march to the sea pales in comparison to the death and destruction left in the wake of many a politician’s passing.

While all of us old farts pushing past fifty or sixty years of age have witnessed the blooming of the age of disinformation and social manipulation, we are somewhat shielded by fundamental values of personal integrity ingrained within us from an early age.

Notice I said ‘somewhat’, because no one is fully immune from the insidious creep of consumerism and the intellectual and emotional rot that comes with it. The more we are exposed to something, the more we normalize and adapt to it.

Which might just help explain what is presently going on with our kids these days, defined as those presently in college all the way up to those in their 30’s. They appear to be particularly susceptible to the Pied Piper’s magic flute when played to flatter their egos and inflame their need for self affirmation.

We never taught our children to think critically because we have lost much of our ability to do so. We never taught our children to recognize manipulation and distortion because we have succumbed to it ourselves. We never taught our children to be true to themselves and find affirmation within because we have strayed from our teachings to appease our own consumer craving.

We never taught our children how to be mature adults because we wanted to raise friends who would affirm us rather than young adults who would grow strong and leave us to take their place in the world. We failed to say no because all we wanted to hear was yes. We failed them, and they are now in the process of failing us.

As they say, what goes around comes around.



Cognitive Dissonance

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blindman's picture

there is nothing cheap about any true affirmation,
never forget that. never.
CROSBY, STILLS & NASH /// 9. Long Time Gone - (Crosby, Stills & Nash) - (1969)

Madcow's picture

Behold the future of the USA - When Liberals have succeeded in completely stifling freedom of speech, thought and dissent:


Paul Morphy's picture

Maybe I'm showing my age here, but when I was being raised and educated we were taught that morality was objective. Namely the moral standard was objective and not subjective.

Morality concerns behaviour. Obviously our thoughts are the pretext for our behaviour. In most cases our behaviour is the outcome of our thoughts. So if our thoughts are solely based on what is subjective, there is a really good chance that our behaviour will be subjective and self centred. 

The problem with subjective morality is that no one standard can apply. This leads to a dangerous path because at some point my subjective moral standard will differ to my neighbours subjective moral standard, and thus our behaviour will be predicated on different moral standards. What is truth then becomes a matter of "well, it's true for me" So in a society where subjective morality is acceptable "what's true for me" cannot be true for anyone else with a different subjective moral standard.

Virtue signalling is almost always based on subjective morality. 


joe6px's picture

I think that is the whole point.  The Left is morally subjective due to an ideology that is dualistic.  It is both accepting of all types that agree with their ideology and hostile (or even violent) toward those who do not share said ideology.  It is an attempt to control others through inferred rules.  It is no wonder that the Left has taken to Islam, which is also dualistic, since Islam is both peaceful and extremely violent (though the violent side abrogates the earlier peacefulness according to the Sura and Hadith).

In either case the Left and Islam wish to destroy Western Civilization and will attempt to do it by a thousand cuts or by any means available.

Swamidon's picture

Virtue signaling?  All you're signaling is that you're a Snowflake or a Melinnial.  That's not a good thing for you and it's of no interest to anybody else.  Validating nitwitism isn't worth $3 and why are you allowed to sell it on ZH?

nomadsky's picture

What to think of a man who starts his bio like  "Swami is a Spiritual Teacher now but began this life as an Iowa farm boy, Arizona Cowboy, Army Volunteer, Green Beret, Vietnam Vet with 2 Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, Oilfield Engineer, Floatplane Pilot, Alaska Fishing Guide and Airline Pilot. "

That he's a humble wise man???

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

I'm 60+ years old. That makes me an old fart and not much else. And I've been here on ZH for more than 7 years, with all but two months of that stretch as an (uncompensated) contributing editor. Best non-paying job in the universe if you ask me.

I suspect you didn't read much, if anything, of what I wrote. Instead you glanced at the title and immediately arrived in the comment section with a fully informed and carefully considered opinion on what I wrote. All feedback is always appreciated, especially yours.

As well, I do appreciate you informing me that what I write about is "of no interest to anyone else". I suppose you have some kind of national survey to back up your statement of fact.

Please post the link so the rest of the ZH crew can be just as informed as you.

Oh, look what I found. You have a website and you charge people for being enlightened by you. Wow. Now your nasty comment makes complete sense.

Swamidon's picture

Your stuff is too shallow for me as you presume yourself farther on the Path then you are.  My charge is not for Enlightenment but for help along the way with no interest in halfway guys that couldn't make it halfway.  Begging for $3 at your age is unseemly but maybe it will help your Ego problem.

dexter_morgan's picture

Interesting site indeed.

Good catch, I was still struggling with figuring out what a Melinnial is.

ZeroPointNow's picture

I thought this was a great writeup & describes human nature well. 

"it’s all about how we feel about ourselves, and how we fear others feel/think about us, that drives much of our signaling."

Spot on. 

Swami - you're peddling "spiritual therapy" for $250 - $500. Some might call you a charleton, yet you call CD's observations on human nature "of no interest to anybody else." 

You claim to offer "Spiritual Initiation" 

That's rich. You're so enlightened that you have zero respect for someone else's opinion while proffering your own as the "soul" source of salvation. Maybe you need to go back to the retreat and ask your guru about people with divergent opinions?

Swamidon's picture

The Fee is to keep me from wasting my time on Charlatans and Philistines and I only take Clients to Consciousness as a Springboard for true Spiritual Work.  Spiritual Initiation is easy, it's just words, the tougher part is experience, the 10,000 cuts the True Seeker receives on the Razors Edge and somehow entering to the Magic Theater.  It's activating the Archetypes that take the Seeker to Enlightenment.  But Consciousness is within the grasp of anyone who awakens and has Brains and Courage.

ZeroPointNow's picture

Enlightened people typically don't cast the type of judgement you've displayed towards CD - simply because his opinion is "too shallow for you." You then judge him for asking for $3 if people think his opinion is worth a few bucks, while you charge people for your own. You're just being a dick. 

You've done some things, you have your own truth, you're on your own path - cool. You help people who want to follow you - great, it's their money. But for you to basically call CD's reflections horseshit reveals much about who you really are.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

I find many who claim enlightenment rarely are enlightened. Even those who I would truly consider enlightened deny they are. Humility is the one and only step towards a greater understanding.

I've noticed the MSM has greatly increased their attacks on Tucker Carlson lately. That must mean he's chopping away at some bone and they don't like it.

Swamidon's picture

Then you've been looking in the wrong place.  In India you can't swing a dead cat without hitting an Enlightened person but chances of finding one in the wasteland we call America is near Zero.  Consciousness is the reachable goal once awakening occurs but achieving it is more work than most people will expend, but here again, the only person who can guide you there is a Conscious person and they are rare.  

ZeroPointNow's picture

The wisest people I've met insist they have the most to learn, and are always open to being wrong. 

We all have our agendas, but Tucker speaks truth - and that's a threat (just like "PewDiePie"). In this age of light-speed information, much of the MSM is losing (has lost?) their monopoly on the horizontal and the vertical, and they're running scared. Credibility is at all time lows and they are too self-righteous to course correct.

Maybe they can take one of Swami's all-male spiritual warrior courses to understand the secrets of human nature? 

Swamidon's picture

The Warriors Path is a Male Journey and all who seek for the Great Mysteries must have, or develop:  Heart, Courage and Brains.    

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

I find the more I know, the more I know that I do not know anything worth truly knowing. So I keep trying. It's a lifelong project with no hope of finishing. I'm fine with that.

For most people that declaration would be humiliating because they have been conditioned all their life to believe in expertise and the ability to reach an understanding of facts, information and truth.

Just when I think I'm at the bottom of the Cognitive hole, I find it goes even deeper. It's the one hole we should never stop shoveling dirt out of.

RagaMuffin's picture

So is a sermon bitching about virtue signaling, virtue signaling?     ;-)

Cognitive Dissonance's picture


It suppose it would be virtue signaling if I was pointing my finger at everyone else. However, as is the case with nearly all of my writing, the first place I point my finger is towards me, myself and I.

I am no better, and sometimes (OK, often) much worse, than everyone else. ;-)

Swamidon's picture

Good point.  you're a heck of a good writer but to advance further you need to look in a mirror and do something about your needy Ego.  It hurts to see it.

RagaMuffin's picture

Worse is always more interesting   ;-)

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

I tried running that spin past Mrs. Cog, but she ain't buying. ;-)

VWAndy's picture

 It could also be a search for sanity? Its a pretty crazy world we live in.

Nobody For President's picture

Hi, COG.  I'm 77, and happy with my 1986 pickup and more or less happy with my 2006 Sienna van, but my kids are on my ass to get a new car. Every once in awhile I take a look; kind of like the Subaru Cross Tek for a AWD which I need for my road, but just can't pull the trigger. The old van works pretty good, except for the sliding door that can't seem to get fixed, which is pushing me, but the thought of dealing with fucking car salesman puts me off. 

But it is interesting to me that having a 12 year old car (we won't mention the 31 year old pickup, which is a bit beat up but works real well still) is somehow declasse.

Consumer culture, such as it is, has a built-in problem: stuff is made pretty well these days. My first car out of high school was a very used 1939 Plymouth sedan, whitch got me to work and back (slowly), had real steel bumpers, which was good, and was falling apart as a 37 year old. My 36 year old pickup is still going fine - looks like hell, but hauls garbage to the dump and rock to the road good as new. Auto tech is old tech (with the exception of the up and coming electric), and cars made now a days are by and large very well made and made to last. Except we are supposed to trade them in after 3 years or so...Same with computers: I still have a XP machine that does everything I need to do on a computer, but the industry in general and Microsoft in particular is busting their ass to make it obsolete. The box still runs really well. Now Planned Obsoesence is an old meme, but the older I get, the easier it is to resist.

Perhaps it is because the Internet is just (about) as available on an old machine as a new one that creates a crack in the consumer cullture. Computers keep getting cheaper, though access is attempting to get more expensive.

Maybe virtual signaling will become driving an old car (or pickup!) and using an old computer - wouldn't that be interesting!

Downsize, bitchez! 

El Vaquero's picture

Yessir.  I'm happy with my 25 year old Jeep.  I can work on it and it goes places that make people say "OMG!  LET ME OUT!"  


Why should I upgrade to something that I can't work on?  Why should I take on that debt when what I have is paid for and does most of the things that I ask?  I love technology, but having super complex vehicles where everything is integrated just seems pointless to me.  I have a stereo that plays mp3s and AC.  The only thing that I wish it had was cup holders.  

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

It is amazing how we managed to live back in the old days without cup holders in our vehicles. I remember many a spilled drink in my crotch while hot rodding around the back roads.

Not quite sure how I survived my youth, but survive I did.

El Vaquero's picture

I still hotrod around the back roads.  I drive slow on pavement, but I still have fun driving like a madman once I hit dirt.  

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

We are also happy with our 17 year old 4x4 truck and a 16 year old AWD SUV. major concern prompted me to purchase a much newer hybrid car. And it wasn't because of any belief in global warming or wanting to save the planet.

We live about 26 miles from the nearest grocery store, hardware store etc. Plus we travel around a bit in the area for other reasons, so we put some miles on our vehicles. The SUV and truck both get less than 15 MPG, so a trip anywhere uses about 4 gallons of gas. It isn't too much of a problem now with gas hovering around $2.50 ish.

BUT.......when the baked in inflation comes roaring out of the lock box, I fully expect to see at least $5, and maybe even $10, per gallon.

This is why we bought a modern midsize hybrid that averages 44 MPG. I didn't like the cost, but I expect the savings to 'trickle' down during the car's lifetime.

And I fully agree that new vehicles are much better than cars built 20 years ago or more. When I was a kid in the 60's a car was considered 'good' if it lasted more than 100,000 miles. Now-a-days, if you can't get 200,000 you are disappointed.

So car makers are doing everything they can to get people to dump their newer vehicles long before the end of their serviceable life. If you don't need to keep up with the neighbors, there are plenty of used vehicles out there that have plenty of miles to go before they sleep.

Nobodys Home's picture

We've got my 22 year old Mercedes c220 with 169,000 miles and the gal's 2008 Toyota Yaris with 80,000. The Merc. gets about 24mpg, The Yaris about 38mpg. That little thing, with studded tires goes through anything.
The only bumper sticker I've had on my car for over 30 years is on my Mercedes. "More Cowbell"

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

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jrock's picture

Is there virtue in begging for cash?

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Begging implies getting something for nothing, and doing nothing to get something. If you think what I am producing is nothing, then move along because you're wasting your time reading, and commenting, under nothing.

If, on the other hand, you do think I am producing something, particularly something of value, and it's worth the cost of two cups of coffee, or one Starbucks whatever, then click the link and sign up.

BTW, considering you have been on ZH for less than two weeks, you might wish to graduate out of your newbie diapers before you get run over around here.

jrock's picture

I've been reading for years but recently decided to create an account. Do you have a newbie-signaling article?

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

I can't tell you have many times I've heard a newbie say that. I suspect it is entirely true. Regardless of how long you have been on the net, you are only as old as your born-on-date. At least here on ZH, your longevity is a major component of your street cred.

Question: After all these years, what finally compelled you to actually 'join' ZH?

jrock's picture

It sounds like you'd be amazed by how little I care about your opinion and "street cred." I am old enough to have been through many real life experiences and the thought of affirmation, even by real people in my life, let alone on the internet, is hilarious to me. But keep trying. I'm the newbie and if you want to annoint a Scarlet Letter, go for it. You'd need an electron microscope to detect my level of concern.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Did you actually read the article?

jrock's picture

Much like you, I'd rather discuss my newbie status.

nickt1y's picture

You sound a bit like an MDB persona ...

jrock's picture

In a strange twist, I need no affirmation.

Nobodys Home's picture

I suppose you've seen homeless guys with a sign..."Will write for food" too.

jrock's picture

Because homeless and begging are exactly the same in the dictionary. Good job.