Moral Grandstanding
September 10, 2020 4:39 PM   Subscribe

How common is moral grandstanding? There is ample empirical evidence to show that people really are often motivated to use moral talk to impress others. Social scientists have found that we tend to judge ourselves as superior to others in a host of areas: intelligence, friendliness and ambition, for example....
But when it comes to morality, our willingness to rate ourselves as being superior is even more pronounced. Recent research shows that many of us regard ourselves as morally superior: we think we care more about justice, or empathise more deeply with victims of wrongdoing, or have greater moral insight than the average person. In terms of morality, we tend to give ourselves pretty good reviews.

Not only do we think this about ourselves, but recent psychological research suggests that we want others to think this about us, too. It’s not enough to think highly of ourselves; we want others to be impressed with our moral credentials as well. And so we grandstand.
posted by y2karl (59 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm above such behavior. All my friends agree.
posted by nofundy at 5:19 PM on September 10 [40 favorites]


Me? I'm kind of a bum.
posted by grumpybear69 at 5:25 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


“ An argument against grandstanding shouldn’t be used as a cudgel to attack people who say things we dislike.”

Aw, maaaan!
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:30 PM on September 10 [11 favorites]


MetaFilter: we tend to judge ourselves as superior to others in a host of areas.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:33 PM on September 10 [31 favorites]


I hold myself to a higher standard than this shallow navel gazing.
posted by eagles123 at 5:50 PM on September 10 [9 favorites]


I can't even think of a reason why someone would behave like that.
posted by rhizome at 5:58 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Counterpoint:

"Don't be so humble, you aren't that great" - Golda Meir
posted by lalochezia at 6:12 PM on September 10 [21 favorites]


I asked my dad, who represents USPS workers, about the political stuff going on with USPS right now. His view is they were closer to passing legislation to roll back the 2006 law requiring prepaying the pensions, before, than they are now that it's become an issue politicians can grandstand about.
posted by subdee at 6:22 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


Just to give an example that might require self reflection, which is always easier to demand from one's enemies.
posted by subdee at 6:23 PM on September 10


HEADPEACE FULL OF STRAW

"A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes." (NM on LW)

posted by clavdivs at 6:27 PM on September 10


"than the average person"

Look, I don't know if I'm better than the median person but given that the "average" person has a score dragged down by outliers like genocidal mass murderers, etc, I think I and most humanity are better than the average person. Average is not a meaningful number if a curve is not standardly distributed.
posted by Cozybee at 6:38 PM on September 10 [20 favorites]


Is there a difference betwen moral grandstanding and the dreaded virtue signalling?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 6:59 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


In the words of Constantin Brunner:
If we want to use the word ‘moral’ in the usual sense, we must say that man is morally the lowest of all animals; for he is the torturer and murderer of every possible animal, of myriad other species. To some extent he does this out of the interest of sheer necessity, but largely out of the unrestrained interest of his own pleasure. He is also the one who tortures and murders within his own species, out of the conviction that he is better than his brothers and sisters.--The Tyranny of Hate: The Roots of Antisemitism
posted by No Robots at 7:00 PM on September 10 [7 favorites]


Is there a difference betwen moral grandstanding and the dreaded virtue signalling?
Read the article.
posted by y2karl at 7:04 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


Moral entranpaneurship?
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 7:06 PM on September 10


I did rtfa. They don't explain the difference between moral grandstanding and virtue signalling, they just link to an article about how the term "virtue signalling" has problems, but as far as I can tell it's the almost exactly same thing. Complaining about "moral grandstanding" seems to be a way of complaining about virtual signalling without being dismissed as the kind of person who uses terms like "virtue signalling".
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:11 PM on September 10 [22 favorites]


Some readers might be reminded of the recently coined and politically-charged term ‘virtue signalling,’ but we think that term has problems.
Oh good, you've anticipated my objection to your piece, and you've invoked the "nuh uh" argument to circumvent my objection.
posted by erikred at 7:20 PM on September 10 [17 favorites]


What if stating a moral position clearly helps persuade others? As a middle-aged white dude perhaps it's my duty to use my status to normalise (for example) honouring the rights of indigenous people in my settler-colonial country by actually saying I think this is a good thing in public? What, other than motivation, distinguishes that from grandstanding? Does it matter if I'm not always good at behaving consistently with my expressed sentiments if I can create a climate where everyone is a bit more likely to? This essay could have done more to explore what motivations exist for emphatic moral claims.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:44 PM on September 10 [15 favorites]


Hot take: There's nothing at all wrong with trying to impress others honestly. If moral grandstanding is what hits the spot for us, so be it! As long as we aren't lying or faking, trying to convince others that we are good is not just unproblematic, it's also possibly the source of all good in the world. Humans are social beings who learn to act in pro-social ways by imitating the most socially rewarded behaviors.

On the other hand, people who deride other people for wanting positive attention, accolades, or even simple belonging are at best hypocrites and at worst attempting to tear society apart by robbing social approval/disapproval of its power to regulate human behavior (and human morality).
posted by MiraK at 8:16 PM on September 10 [9 favorites]


Is there a difference betwen moral grandstanding and the dreaded virtue signalling?

Is virtue signalling a gateway drug to White Knighting?
posted by ActingTheGoat at 8:51 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


Metafilter wouldn’t exist without moral grandstanding.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:20 PM on September 10 [24 favorites]


I think the behavior cited in the article is slightly different from virtue signalling, but they really make up part of a single whole (which is to say, they're both people publicly staking out a moral position)

Anyways, to me it seems like it's all just an offshoot of Facebook/Twitter really recalibrating life as a semi-public online person. When the article discusses ramping up, well, how else can you contribute to a conversation online when you agree except by saying "I agree, but also have more to say"? In person you can just nod or agree and the conversation moves forward, but online conversations on Facebook/Twitter don't really move forward so much as people just engage with the next thing on the timeline.

So I don't deride people for this behavior so much as I roll my eyes at how it's a natural response to the incentive structures we've got set up. And, to briefly virtue signal - part of the reason I put Facebook and Twitter down was because they genuinely made me feel like I had to virtue signal constantly, and that really stressed me out. I felt like anyone I knew would have taken as a given that I supported several progressive causes, and it just seemed like a waste of time to be pressured to constantly remind those people that I support those causes. (The breaking point was when I had a friend actually ask why I had made a post about one pressing topic but not another pressing topic. Publicly expressing your morals isn't just a response to pressure, it's socially enforced!)
posted by LSK at 9:21 PM on September 10 [11 favorites]


trying to convince others that we are good is not just unproblematic, it's also possibly the source of all good in the world

I cannot express how deeply I disagree with this sentiment. I cannot think of a single instance of someone who has done truly good things and goes around telling everyone how good they are. I can, however, think of a whole host of people who loudly tell everyone how great they are while being annoying assholes. Trying to convince people you are worthy of admiration is the behavior of a narcissist.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:29 PM on September 10 [22 favorites]


proclative morality merely places ethics in motion.
posted by clavdivs at 9:43 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


"It ain't bragging if it's true."
(Muhammad Ali)



... but what is truth?
posted by philip-random at 10:10 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


A bit related: Break out of your class bubble, get training and win!
I need to eat my own humble pie. I was part of the early anti-oppression training movement of the ’60s and ’70s, when we focused mostly on racism and sexism. Most of us came out of a protest background, so we had our share of outrage. We saw the workshop as one more opportunity to confront oppression fiercely, this time in the role of trainers rather than protesters. I remember moments of satisfaction after I’d “let them have it,” with little awareness of what the inner experience was of the workshop participants themselves...

Working class people who haven’t been to college rarely confront each other by calling each other out. They banter, they joke, they express anger in that egalitarian style that implies they’re ready for an argument. Generally, they don’t correct, because they don’t like bosses and don’t want to be one.

Middle class people, however, are trained to respect bossing and bossiness, so the result is a version of anti-oppression work that reinforces class roles. That version doesn’t question the effectiveness of “calling out”; it comes from being socialized to play the economic role of the middle class: managing, correcting, sorting people into acceptable and unacceptable.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:14 PM on September 10 [57 favorites]


Given that there are many different moral structures that people adhere to (albeit somewhat clustered on many topics), it seems to me to be entirely possible that most individuals act more in keeping with their own personal moral structure than both the average and the median human, and thus would evaluates themselves as being of above-average morality. (Was that mentioned in tfa? Should I rtfa?)
posted by eviemath at 10:27 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


So thinking about grandstanding is a cause for self-reflection, not a call to arms. An argument against grandstanding shouldn’t be used as a cudgel to attack people who say things we dislike. Rather, it’s an encouragement to reassess why and how we speak to one another about moral and political issues. Are we doing good with our moral talk? Or are we trying to convince others that we are good?

I have mixed feelings about this sentiment. On the one hand I'm as exhausted as everyone else by the never ending firestorm that public discourse has become. On the other hand, I'm a transgender woman and my experience has been that any time I attempt to assert myself I find that this is precisely the language of "reasonableness" that is used to prevent me from advocating for my own rights. I don't think it is fair to expect me to engage in calm debate with anti-trans activists, or to provide a balanced assessment of my political adversaries. Moral language is a necessity when faced with moral issues that pertain to one's own rights and safety. And while in principle I agree that moral grandstanding is distinct from moral assertion, in practice one is often portrayed as the other. On my reading the article comes off as an academic discussion in the abstract; it's a very good discussion but per Audre Lorde, for many of us politics is a game of survival, and "survival is not an academic skill"
posted by the tulips are too red in the first place at 10:34 PM on September 10 [18 favorites]


...but what is truth?

"'What is truth', quoth Jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer."
posted by jamjam at 11:03 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


That is such an excellent comment, TheophileEscargot.

The "egalitarian style" is so much more effective than the confrontational style when done well – even assuming the confrontational style can be done well.
posted by jamjam at 11:15 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


I cannot think of a single instance of someone who has done truly good things and goes around telling everyone how good they are

Come on, you've definitely seen people, say, donate to a charity and then post on social media announcing their donation, and exhorting their friends to donate to this worthy cause, because oh is it ever so worthy, it is such a great and wonderful moral cause!!! And as a result of this type of moral grandstanding and unsubtle bragging, they cause ... a whole lot of other people to also donate to this charity.

Don't let your personal distaste for bragging cloud your assessment of whether the braggart did any good.
posted by MiraK at 11:42 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


how else can you contribute to a conversation online when you agree except by saying "I agree, but also have more to say"?

<AOL!>
posted by Cardinal Fang at 12:07 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Can't remember where it was that I saw this, but someone called Twitter "Hunger Games for the moral high ground", and I thought it was really well put.
posted by jklaiho at 1:37 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


I really have some difficulties with these distinctions between moral assertion/moral grandstanding/virtue signalling. Seems to me like you can't establish/maintain ethical standards without occasionally talking about them, and I just don't see how you can do that without someone who's not yet adhering to them infering that you think they're doing something wrong, and that you think you know better.

There are, I guess, attempts that might be made to somewhat cushion the effect. You can preface your point by stressing how we all make mistake, it's just human to err, and how you yourself used to err in this regard and how you yourself might be still erring occasionally, because it's an ongoing battle, etc. So you're not inherently superior or something, you're lucky someone already pointed out the error of your ways, and you just want to pass on the favour. May work as intended, may make you sound even more self-involved (compare bragging vs humble-bragging).

Another way is to phrase your point not as an assertion but as a question, just inviting others to refect on potential errors of their ways, merely point them the way to arrive at the desired conclusion themselves. This too may backfire badly the moment your audience suspects your "question" is merely rhetorical; they will feel just as lectured and maybe even more annoyed because you apparently think you can trick them. ("Just asking questions" is very easy to identify as just another form of lecturing; correct me, if I'm wrong - and I might be, I haven't read much Plato - but at least in popular reception, Socrates isn't generally shown as learning_from the answers_ in those Socratic dialogues. The flow of knowledge is fairly unidirectional; the hierarchy of teacher and student might be less apparent in the process, but ultimately always persists).

Finally, you can try to play it off as a joke, to be simply laughed off if your target isn't yet ready to do the required soul-searching. That can work, because it gives the other person a chance to save face in the moment, while still potentially planting the seed of change, if better times should allow for more self-awareness at some point. But it will only work if the joke is sufficiently funny, so that even the target can't help but actually laugh, because otherwise the cover just won't work for either person; the true purpose is too naked. Most of us just aren't that funny. "Just joking" defenses for jokes that are too obviously about correcting behaviour however are the quickest way to really piss of the person at the butt of them and also highlight the hierarchy in a group (because the joker will only get away with it, if they're already in a position of power). Which is not necessary an argument against them per se; I feel quite strongly that "pissing someone off" can be a valid strategy at times, but it's in that sense not an advantage over the straightforward "this isn't done here, cut it out"-approach.

Now, if someone thinks all these approache are bad (because they just caused reactance, etc.), I feel they should follow their logic to its natural conclusion, themselves just not do the thing, and refrain from commenting, when I do it.
posted by sohalt at 3:11 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


I'm just saying . . .

I used this one recently. I was looking at DVDs in a thrift store, and noticed a large number of bootlegs — home copies with inkjet copies of original art, sometimes disc labels also, but frequently just Sharpie notes. I got the attention of one of the people working at the store and pointed them out. I said I didn't think there was a reason someone couldn't make their own copies for their own use, but they (the store) shouldn't be selling them (I'm just saying . . .). The clerk walked away without a response, but a few minutes later a manager came by and said they'd received a large box of these as a donation — but he'd said at the time they could not be sold, and they should not have been put out. And proceeded to hunt through the shelves and removed the bootlegs.
posted by rochrobbb at 4:48 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


There's a lot that could be fleshed out here. It can be interesting to observe how people behave if their moral statement gets pushback from their cohort. Do they back off or double down? It's not always easy to evaluate that either - if people you trust question your moral position, it might be good to sit down and think it over. Sticking to your guns could be about a passion for justice, or pride. Maybe both.

The "ramping up" behavior is maybe about being impressive? but also about winning and one-upping.
posted by bunderful at 6:01 AM on September 11


Don't let your personal distaste for bragging cloud your assessment of whether the braggart did any good.

On the other hand: "But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth."--JoC
posted by No Robots at 6:21 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


if people you trust question your moral position, it might be good to sit down and think it over. Sticking to your guns could be about a passion for justice, or pride. Maybe both.

Or defensiveness over being essentially called a bad person. You can't expect to question people's moral position and expect them to treat it like a detached intellectual conversation about a neutral topic, like, "Hmm, how interesting, let us examine this intriguing possibility that I am, as you suggest, totally immoral."

On the other hand: "But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth."--JoC

Eh, it sounds like JoC would not be very good at fundraising or indeed rallying anyone for any moral cause if he took his own advice. Good thing he didn't!

I swear these types of topics always end up turning into parodies of themselves for all the standing around stroking our own beards pretending humans doing utterly human things like wanting social approval or feeling defensive is ~evil~, actually.
posted by MiraK at 6:34 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


So thinking about grandstanding is a cause for self-reflection, not a call to arms.

Many commentors seem to have missed this bit.

I have found it revealing to ask myself, before I post something on Twitter or reddit or here or other blogs, "Why am I about to say this?"
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 6:38 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


part of the reason I put Facebook and Twitter down was because they genuinely made me feel like I had to virtue signal constantly, and that really stressed me out.

This is a primary reason I permanently disengaged from nearly all social media: it turned me into an old-fashioned, broadcast TV show, where anyone could tune into any episode of me on any given week, but the expectation was that I had to be fully understandable at all times.

So no matter how long you've known (or not known) me, I had to "prove" my bona fides on every issue, reassert my basic values and ethics in far too many conversations with strangers who assumed all kinds of baseless things, because people exist in real-world contexts that social media eliminates. The elimination of that context (your physical-world behavior over time and the reputation that creates in the minds of those who know you in person) forces all kinds of virtue signaling and moral grandstanding, so that people online are consistently reminded of who you are in an environment that presents each of us as basically context-free.

It's exhausting and I'm lucky that I can choose to leave the train of social media. But I think the fact that so much of our interaction is conducted via those means (certainly w/r/t public discourse, and with lockdown continuing, most of our personal interactions) means that this pattern of behavior, moral grandstanding, will only intensify as people continue to communicate in essentially context-free ways. So this particular behavior is less about us human beings, per se, and more about the media we use to communicate and how it's shaping our interactions (the medium is always the message).
posted by LooseFilter at 7:53 AM on September 11 [10 favorites]


So thinking about grandstanding is a cause for self-reflection, not a call to arms.

See

"Another way is to phrase your point not as an assertion but as a question, just inviting others to refect on potential errors of their ways, merely point them the way to arrive at the desired conclusion themselves."

I tend to reflect on this problem quite a bit - I often wonder if I'm being too judgmental or not judgmental enough, and so far it seems I'm just as likely to err on one side as on the other.

My experience is that talking about morals requires me to _invest_ social capital (=people will resent the scolding, but indulge me, if they like/respect me otherwise) without earning me any, which is why I'm fairly economical about it in my day-to-day operations. The wisest course to me often seems to pretend it's not an issue of ethics at all, but surely just mere oversight/lack of necessary information provided in time/a personal quirk of mine, but just humour me here, would you?, if I really need to call out something - my instinct is to generally provide the widest possible margin of plausible deniability to the culprit. I have a decent imagination when it comes to people and their motives; I can always come up with at least three reasons why anyone might do anything, and I've made a habit of just suggesting the less damning ones. But that's probably more about my own convenience/a desire to minimize pushback than true humility or even just good strategy.

Of course it's also easy to see how fighting for a cause can be used to distract from a number of personal related or unrelated sins and how the thrill of the fight can become a bit of an end in itself. The pushback you'll get after all can be easily framed as mere defensiveness of the justly-called-out, a sign that you've been hitting a sore spot, that you therefore must be on to something. Making the right sort of enemies can feel like a badge of honour. Getting validation out of pushback can be overused as a neat trick to explain away every other issue someone might legitimately have with you - clearly, they just hate you because they can't handle your truth.

I generally subscribe to the observation that there's no one as pious as the new convert and I'm often enough frustrated by what I perceive as counter-productive zeal by new converts to my own causes - they don't really understand the full depth of the issue at hand, so they overcompensate by overdoing the trappings. But of course I've been the new convert myself, and will hopefully continue to be, if I commit to life-long learning. And the zeal of the new convert is often something people just grow out of. (Either that, or they burn out. Or flip-flop back to the other end of the spectrum; I don't have much time for horseshoe theory in the context of structural analysis, but there are occasionally individuals who really just like to be extremist and don't care much in which direction. )

Still, it's always good to have new converts anyway, not just for strength- in-numbers- and passing-on-the-torch reasons, but also because their zeal is sometimes a good reminder of what's at stake and how much there's still to do. Because I certainly tend to get complacent if you let me get away with it. So if some overeager newbie takes me to task for failing the latest purity test, I might well suspect they're just high on the thrill of lording it over others, and I won't feel a great desire to become besties and I probably won't be terribly surprised if they do flake out soon enough. But that ultimately doesn't matter, because I should also like to think I will take the opportunity to consider if they might have a point anyway, if I haven't gotten a bit too complacent after all. And they might well be right about that, even if they're just in it for the glory, because the validity of an observation is not necessarily damaged by ulterior motives for expressing it.
posted by sohalt at 8:05 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


I'm thinking a lot about how this plays out on Metafilter.
posted by mecran01 at 8:17 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


It was long ago and far away that I stopped bothering to have moral discussions with pretty much everybody ... certainly outside of what I'd call intimates.

Because it doesn't work. One's morality is the ultimate fuzzy/ambiguous zone when it comes to effective communication. That is, we've all got a moral code (consciously or not) and, if we're doing it right, it dictates how we navigate the confusions and complexities of life-the-universe-everything. But good f***ing luck trying to impose your morality on somebody else, to expect that they're operating from those same directives. Because even they are, I doubt either of you could have the words to be sure.

So we're left with things like ethics, politics, where there is at least some stuff written down* (on the record, as it were) when it comes to comparing notes. And, at least in my experience, as soon as I'm discussing ethics-politics, I know I'm working from flawed (certainly incomplete) basics (ie: there is no perfect ethical or political system, they're all evolving arguments). I also know that my particular moral core is not on the line -- that if I lose the argument, have proven the error of my position, it's not a fundamental failure of my self, but rather how that self has interpreted things.

* I realize that various religious creeds have their moral positions defined in writing, but my response to that is big "so what?". Because none of those words have any validity unless you first believe, which is a whole other complexity of ambiguities.

So yeah, by all means be moral -- whatever that means to you. Just don't think it's going to stand as a useful public position. You'll just end up coming across as a scold or a self-aggrandizing ass. Or simply wrong in a way that can't be discussed without your very sense of self being dragged humiliatingly into the spotlight.
posted by philip-random at 8:47 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


I feel like this is one thing I've really gone full circle - even a couple of full circles - over the course of my life. Started out as a kid and a teenager who just didn't speak, very quiet, had no idea that what I did or thought could matter to anyone else. Then as an older teen and young adult I found my inner brat/new convert zeal (or perhaps I just found my voice now that I wasn't in terrible home circumstances anymore)... and as a newly woke person I went around happily getting outraged at everyone and everything, expressing my judgement without filters, and generally making an ass of myself. I only lost that obnoxiusness in my mid 20s. Then I went quiet again because I was unsure about how to live out my values in a way that wasn't so antagonistic... And the past 15 years have been about slowly re-learning to have a voice - except now striving to be kinder and much less harsh, of being okay with pissing some people off or rubbing some people the wrong way, of seeing the immense value of telling my story and sharing my thoughts even if that comes across as bragging or annoying to some, because goddammit, why else are we on this earth if not to share ourselves with each other.

Crucially, the point of such sharing is not to persuade anyone else to be good (unless it is that kind of discussion where persuasion is called for - such as when speaking up in defense of others who are less able). Mostly the point is simply to say, "Here I am, this is who I am, this is the good I am trying to do, YAY!" It's a way to claim space on earth.

From this vantage point, I have less sympathy for people who think being silent and humble is morally superior to effusively, unapologetically taking up space and attention in the world... especially when the latter are taking up space and attention specifically in order to do good for others. I can empathize with these people even if I can't sympathize with them: we all have insecurities that are triggered by someone who is holier-than-thou right in our faces.

But I think morality is about rising to the challenge posed to our ego by the holier-than-thou: asking why they are able to get to us and what we can do to stop feeling insecure about our own level of goodness. Maybe that means we need to do more. Maybe that means we need to heal psychological wounds that make us insecure for no reason. Whichever the case, IMO the best way to respond to someone who is holier-than-thou is by (a) looking inward to ask why we feel so triggered by them (hey look just like the article said!) and (b) genuinely appreciating the holiness and the good done by the person who seems obnoxious (whelp there I go opposing the article again)

To instead deride the loudmouth do-gooders, and/or poison ourselves with self doubt and self consciousness every time we open our mouths in public is such a waste of our precious life energies. Who wants to go through life trying to make our goodness invisible, so that we don't annoy anyone with our goodness? What an ass-backwards way to live!
posted by MiraK at 8:52 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


So yeah, by all means be moral -- whatever that means to you. Just don't think it's going to stand as a useful public position.

But what _will_ stand as a useful public position then? I think I get your drift (=> why I personally try to not make it about "morals" if I can avoid it in my daily interactions), but I'm not sure what else one could use? Surely you don't mean an appeal to cold rational self-interest? Is the "we need to let in the refugees for our economy"-approach really so much more successful than the "we can't keep letting this people drown"-plea? I haven't noticed it yet. And my fear is that these attempts at rationalization not only just don't work, they also concede too much ground. (What about the refugees who can't contribute to the economy, because they too old/too sick/too traumatized?).
posted by sohalt at 8:58 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


If we want to use the word ‘moral’ in the usual sense, we must say that man is morally the lowest of all animals; for he is the torturer and murderer of every possible animal, of myriad other species.

Clearly this person has never had a cat.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:07 AM on September 11 [5 favorites]


This thread (like so many things these days) brings to mind the immortal words of Agent K:

A person is smart. People are dumb panicky animals.”

Social media looks like talking to a person, but really it’s talking to people. Who — collectively — are dumb and mean and tend to follow the loudest and angriest voices.
posted by bjrubble at 9:37 AM on September 11 [7 favorites]


To instead deride the loudmouth do-gooders, and/or poison ourselves with self doubt and self consciousness every time we open our mouths in public is such a waste of our precious life energies. Who wants to go through life trying to make our goodness invisible, so that we don't annoy anyone with our goodness? What an ass-backwards way to live!

There's a video clip of Jane Fonda making the rounds on the net, where she was brave enough to speak out in support of gay rights back in the 1970s:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Oo87HDpgHk

I haven't been able to find a transcript. Nonetheless, for those who apparently have issues with "moral grandstanding" or "virtue signalling", they should watch this video to the end.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:26 AM on September 11


"Another way is to phrase your point not as an assertion but as a question, just inviting others to refect on potential errors of their ways, merely point them the way to arrive at the desired conclusion themselves."

Funnily enough, I tend to do the reverse in places like Twitter. I read too much philosophy in my 20s without the benefit of a teacher or professor, and one of the things I got from it was being able to think up incisive and profound questions. This is largely pointless on Twitter, so rather than getting into an "are you saying..." back and forth with random people with whom I typically don't agree, I'll reword it into "I think X" and leave it at that. It's also more obvious to see whether people are interested in engaging if you're not demanding anything from them.

Social media looks like talking to a person, but really it’s talking to people. Who — collectively — are dumb and mean and tend to follow the loudest and angriest voices.

Earlier in my 20s than the above, during a period of...augmented imagination...with my friends, I arrived at the conclusion that a conversation was like a ball in the middle of a circle of people, and those people take turns describing the ball, taping new items to it, coloring it, calling it a cube...but all in all it's a shared item that is touchable by everybody nearby. This has been a helpful concept for me in interacting with stranger-oriented social spaces online over the years.
posted by rhizome at 10:42 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


The obvious difference between the terms "moral grandstanding" and "virtue signaling" is that "virtue signaling" is used almost exclusively as a cudgel to dismiss people you disagree with, but this article about "moral grandstanding" is a warning to ourselves about the danger of "ramping up" when we talk about our ethical positions.
posted by straight at 11:37 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Also the article they linked to about what's wrong with the term "virtue signaling" pointed out something I hadn't noticed before.

In science, "signaling" usually means a costly sign of fitness that's hard to fake. A peacock with a big splendid tail really is more likely to be strong and healthy. A bank with a huge building on Main Street is probably not some con artist who is going to take your money and disappear tomorrow. But "virtue signalling" is almost always used to mean cheap talk that's not backed up by any real action or sacrifice.
posted by straight at 11:48 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


Yeah I think “virtue signaling” could have been an interesting idea in an economic signaling framework. But it very quickly became a pseudo-smart way to say “bad faith” and, well, a way to signal that you read Quillette articles or whatever.
posted by atoxyl at 3:11 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


You can’t tell me moral grandstanding isn’t a thing, it’s just exceedingly obnoxious (and also bad faith) to point at every single one of your opponents and accuse them of doing it every time they open their mouths.
posted by atoxyl at 3:14 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


straight, I like that distinction around "signaling" vs "virtue signaling", it's helpful. With the Main Street bank example, it's very apparent that the bank is more secure than a guy selling watches in a trench coat, but if it's someone saying "we should fight racism" on Twitter, it's not very apparent whether the person is taking other actions to fight racism or not. I mean the person could be phonebanking 20 hours/week and donating thousands of dollars, or they could be doing nothing, who knows?

What's frustrating to me is that I find that many people who use the term "virtue signaling" seem to take for granted that anyone who says anything "virtuous" is definitely NOT doing anything outside of tweeting, and the only way to be "virtuous" is to say NOTHING about it... thereby not influencing others or communicating about social justice or change. That is really depressing to me because that means there is no way to win -- either you spread the word to your social networks about good causes and get labeled a hypocrite, or you keep quiet and tweet about cute dogs as the world burns.
posted by rogerroger at 3:24 PM on September 11


(follow-up comment as to not abuse the edit window #virtuous)

And also if the thinking is, "the only truly virtuous activity is done alone, in secret, without the hope of praise" that discourages people working together to organize against the status quo. That kind of work takes communication and coordination, and it takes saying things out loud.
posted by rogerroger at 3:28 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Come on, there's a pretty big shifting of the goalposts happening. Organizing collective action around something good is a far cry from, "perhaps the source of all good in the world is people trying to convince other people they're good". Working to convince other people of your own goodness is not the mark of a good person, it's the mark of an insecure person who can only be counted on as long as the headpats last.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 3:58 PM on September 11


"Working to convince other people of your own goodness" to some degree is absolutely necessary for organizing collective action around something good, because if I can't convince someone that we're on the same side and they can trust me, they are not going to want to coordinate and organize with me. Of course I'd ideally do that by letting my actions speak for themselves as much as possible, while always remaining open to the suggestion that I'm maybe not actually as good yet as I'm aiming for, etc. because ultimately remaining accountable for my mistakes is more important than preserving the notion of myself as good, and in the long run, probably also more conducive to earning trust and cooperation. People who get too carried away with the "working to convince other people of their own goodness"-part can fail pretty badly in that. So maybe "working to convince other people that you're making a good-faith effort to be good"? But that's definitely necessary for cooperation.
posted by sohalt at 5:05 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


there's a pretty big shifting of the goalposts happening. Organizing collective action around something good is a far cry from, "perhaps the source of all good in the world is people trying to convince other people they're good".

I really did say that very literally. As a five year old I watched my dad win an award and get a hug from my headmistress (whom I absolutely idolized, and who happened to be the guest of honor that day) on stage. It was very impressive but I didn't have a clue what he had done to deserve it. Sometime in the next week, I wore my snazziest clothes, tied on my dad's bow tie haphazardly, and said I wanted an award too. I thought it was the clothes that would get me the coveted hug from my headmistress.

My dad sat me down and explained to me exactly what he had done, how it had helped people, etc. He told me step by step how he was trying to be a good person by doing good. Because of this incident, I knew it was rewarding and possible to do good within my community when I grew up, I knew which part of his example I was meant to follow (ditch the bowtie, start volunteering). If he had never told me, I'd may or may not have found the initiative to start volunteering on my own. That emotional impetus that I had as a five year old - of watching my dad win an award and bone-deep feeling like "I want that too!" - that motivation would have been misdirected into an obsession with bowties.

People in general are not so different from five year olds. If people who do good never sat us down and told us all about just how good they are, most of us would have no clue how to do good because actions actually aren't a great way to communicate whys or hows! Actions don't speak in any useful way there!

And if there were no social accolades and rewards for doing good, most people wouldn't do it, this is basic human behavior. Like, what, are we afraid we'll run out of head pats? :)
posted by MiraK at 3:29 PM on September 12


I'm brand new to MeFi, but already I'm thrilled to see this sort of discussion happening here. The biggest reason I'm burnt out on most social media (and use the block button with alarming regularity on the sites where I remain) is because of what others in this thread seem to have described: the constant pressure to not only know what everyone is talking about, but also to have a hot take about it and to make sure you phrase that hot take in a way that will simultaneously assure you that you're morally superior and rake in the dopamine boosts from your notifications, whether that's because people agree with you or because you pissed them off.

I have come to love keeping my mouth shut when it doesn't actually need to be saying anything online. And not just because it's "the moral thing to do" vis à vis talking over people who shouldn't be talked over— that factors in, of course, but above and beyond that I found it so much less stressful to interact in public online spaces when I learned how to flip off the switch that demanded I be constantly proving something about my ethics via my words.

Actions always speak louder than words. Simply do the right thing, and the right people will notice over time. If somebody has to 24/7 directly point out the fact that they're doing the right thing, I'm not sure they're actually doing it, and I'm also not sure they're doing it for the right reasons.
posted by Llywelyn at 11:20 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


« Older Watch out, Brian David Gilbert, someone's coming...   |   SuperDole (RIP?) Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.