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Is Virtue Signaling Vicious? | The Libertarian Institute

Posted by M. C. on December 27, 2021

The proper end of debate is not the glorification of whoever “wins” the argument but the ascertainment of the truth or, at the very least, the elimination from contention of a false or misguided belief. Censorship makes this impossible to do,

by Laurie Calhoun

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Virtue signaling—the practice of highlighting what one takes to be one’s own moral superiority, often by loudly denouncing the character and comportment, including the speech, of other people—has become a dominant mode of rhetoric throughout social media and network television. Virtue theory, in contrast, is a teleological approach to normative morality concerned with how actions affect one’s soul or character. Historians of philosophy usually trace virtue theory to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, the first extant articulation of ideas such as that habits build character, and virtues represent “the golden mean” along a continuum of two vicious extremes. Courage, for example, lies between the two extremes of cowardice and recklessness, according to Aristotle.

It seems unlikely that many of the people who engage in virtue signaling have any genuine interest in the state of anybody’s soul. Certainly shrieking in outrage is unlikely to change anyone’s comportment, much less their beliefs, yet many people persist in the practice anyway, in part because it is both contagious and addictive. The structure of Twitter, in particular, makes it easy to react in a knee-jerk way to short proclamations with which one disagrees. It is in fact very difficult, if not impossible, to carry out reason-based debates in the allotted 280 letter spaces of a Tweet. It furthermore requires a degree of discipline to refrain from shrieking back at shrieking trolls on Twitter, even while knowing that many of them may well be bots—or unreasonable facsimiles…

Having visited in 2021 several different U.S. cities, including Boston, Denver, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Austin, where prominently displayed lawn signs profess the “enlightened” beliefs of the people residing there, I have been puzzling over the strange new phenomenon of essentially advertising one’s own “virtue.” I presume that what is being asserted is moral rather than epistemological superiority, because most of the proclamations on these signs do not contain much in the way of propositional content. “Love is love” is tautological, but “Black lives matter” and “Science is real” also do not represent any sort of cognitive breakthrough. For that reason, whenever I spot one of these signs, I find myself wondering how many people there are who really do believe the literal antitheses of the statements displayed. It would seem that anyone who believes that “Human lives matter” is committed to believing that “Black lives matter,” so there seems to be a hidden insinuation in these pronouncements that people who do not overtly profess such beliefs do not in fact agree and therefore constitute some sort of affront to good people everywhere, by despicably denying the humanity of black people and the deliverances of the scientific enterprise, among other things.

Yet it has become abundantly clear that the disagreements at issue are not really about the simple statements, per se. Instead, the banal expressions appear to be code for far more substantial and controversial positions, such as that “George Floyd was a hero,” and “Climate change is the most pressing problem facing us today.” In this way, nailing a sign in one’s front yard is a performative way of broadcasting that one belongs to the right club, and may explain the preponderance of such signs in some neighborhoods, where a veritable “war of the signs” is underway. (On one street in Somerville, Massachusetts, I saw “Black Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” placards displayed before adjacent homes.) Anecdotally, I can report that “Black Lives Matter” signs are far more common than “Blue Lives Matter” signs, so it seems that the inhabitants of some left-leaning neighborhoods may feel that by failing to post one of the rainbow signs professing the beliefs of the inhabitants of the house, they may be taken implicitly to ally themselves with the ideological enemy, deplorable Trump supporters and the like.

Alas, in the age of social media, many people appear to labor under the delusion that it suffices to have a “right-minded” opinion in order to be morally superior. This tendency was dialed up significantly during the Trump years, when the stark reality of what can only be termed tribalism became impossible to deny. “You’re either with us, or you’re against us,” serves politicians well during the build up to every war, but now it has infected civil society, to the point where many people reflexively revile anyone who disagrees with them on either Trump or the COVID-19 shots, facilely concluding that they must be not just idiots but also morally depraved.

Millions of Trump haters appear to believe not only that Trump is worthy of their abject abhorrence, but also that they are superior to Trump supporters, who have somehow failed to recognize the former president’s abhorrent character. Shockingly, they lament, millions of poor benighted souls verily celebrate the man as their savior! These polarized attitudes toward Trump are based on beliefs about what he does and why—about which there is considerable disagreement. Mindless worship of a political leader may be wrongheaded, but is it vicious?

To take another example, millions of people have put Dr. Anthony Fauci on a pedestal as their savior from the scourge of COVID-19. Interestingly enough, there seems to be a good deal of overlap between Trump haters and Fauci worshipers, which strongly suggests that the etiology of afflictions such as TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) and COVID Hysteria are traceable to CNN, MSNBC, and the like. Indeed, at this point in history, the most reliable determinant of whether any given person hates Trump and adores Fauci would seem to be not their education, social or economic status, or state of residence, but whether they watch television, and, if so, whether they spend their time at CNN or Fox News channel.

Of course, we often arrive at our beliefs through entirely random and arbitrary processes. We may be absolutely convinced that we are right—Murder is wrong!—but do we deserve any moral credit for having arrived at such a view? I suspect that it is this confusion which leads some people to despise critics. They mistakenly believe that a critic is asserting moral authority, when in fact he or she is making only an epistemological—or, at the most basic level, a logical—objection to what appears to be a manifest falsehood or contradiction. Calling George W. Bush and Tony Blair “war criminals” is to condemn them, but it is also to assert what the speaker takes to be a fact, for if the 2003 war on Iraq was a violation of international law, then its perpetrators were war criminals, and all of those killed in the conflict were victims, whether directly or indirectly, of premeditated, intentional homicide, better known as murder.

Moral rhetoric is intrinsically complicated, because we all have limited perspectives, and it would seem that one person’s incisive critic is another person’s shrieking troll. Being of a naturally critical bent and inclined to sit down and write when questions pop up in my mind, I can attest that some people do consider just about any form of criticism to be an obnoxious, insolent, and self-indulgent form of “virtue signaling.” They may appreciate intelligence in an abstract way, but when it comes after their cherished beliefs, that’s a completely different story.

Witness the plight of Socrates, the case of Julian Assange, or any of the countless other, unnamed, dissidents destroyed by their governments over the course of history. How dare you suggest that there may be weaknesses and contradictions in my views! Who are you to find fault with my opinions and beliefs? These sorts of reactions—typically angry—to attempts to highlight problems with fervently held dogmas have led me to reflect upon the question whether there is any significant distinction to be drawn between, say, screaming that someone is selfish for declining a “vaccine” which is purported not to stop transmission and infection but to moderate symptoms, and pointing out that voluntary obesity has contributed to hospital resource shortages throughout the Coronapocalypse because an estimated 78% of the people who die of COVID-19 are in fact obese.

At the same time that name-calling has become the rule not the exception in responding to anyone who happens to disagree, not only on social media, but also throughout the propagandized mainstream outlets which were formerly homes to journalism, one also occasionally encounters gentle exhortations to “Be Kind.” Only this morning, on a brisk walk on this cold and crisp winter day in Utah, I spotted an SUV with a license plate reading “B Kind.” (I immediately inferred that “Be Kind” had already been nabbed by another, even more enlightened thinker.) Even more so than the yard signs, the exhortation to “Be Kind” may in fact embody a contradiction of sorts, suggesting, as it seems to, that those who see the license plate are going to be mean unless they are told to do the opposite. The form of speech, after all, is an imperative, an order, a command. But is it really “kind” to order people around, or to suggest that, left to their own devices, they would naturally be mean?

The “Be Kind” trend may have been popularized in part by talk show host Ellen Degeneris, around the time when she was explaining her friendship with war criminal George W. Bush. (Oh—was that mean?)

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About Laurie Calhoun

Laurie Calhoun is the author of We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, War and Delusion: A Critical Examination, You Can Leave, and Philosophy Unmasked: A Skeptic’s Critique.

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Doug Casey on What Happens When the Suspension on Evictions Ends

Posted by M. C. on December 10, 2020

All of these things impinge upon your right to ownership of private property, including your own body, which is the primary form of property.

Wearing a mask—whether or not you want to or think it helps—isn’t just about virtue signaling. It also shows whether you’re willing to do as you’re told—whether you’re “politically reliable”, as the communists like to say. It’s like wearing the Party’s armband.

I have no problem if the owner of a bar or restaurant wants to keep me out if I’m not wearing a mask. It’s his property. He makes the rules. I can go elsewhere, where it suits me better. It’s an affront and an imposition on restaurateurs and storekeepers to be told what they and their guests can and cannot do.

by Doug Casey

International Man: Earlier this year, CDC was able to extend its powers unprecedentedly by issuing a nationwide suspension on evictions.

What’s your take on how a public health agency grew to be in the position of telling property owners what they can do on their properties?

Doug Casey: Health paranoia is an excellent method of control. People put their health above almost everything. I’m only surprised it hasn’t been used as a lever up until now. It’s part of a trend toward mass control that has started in earnest early in the 20th century and has been increasing exponentially over time.

First was the income tax. If you didn’t comply, it was not only seen as a legal crime but also promoted as a moral sin. The prohibition of liquor from 1919 to 1933 got under way as a moral failing and then was turned into a crime. It’s the same with the prohibition of some drugs; Nixon started that hysteria in 1971, and it was put on steroids, so to speak, by Nancy Reagan. Next came the war on terror, especially since 2001. These were all promoted with both legal and moral taboos. Everybody is supposed to line up with them shoulder to shoulder, like in one of those old socialist realism propaganda posters the Soviets and the Nazis specialized in. The public is supposed to self-police under the supervision of the authorities, like they did in Salem in 1692.

Public health is the current impetus for mass hysteria and paranoia. All of these things impinge upon your right to ownership of private property, including your own body, which is the primary form of property. The public health angle is potentially the most dangerous and invasive one from the viewpoint of freedom. Busybodies—the type of people who work for and actively support the State—always need an excuse to control others en masse. This pandemic provides an excellent template for the future.

Wearing a mask—whether or not you want to or think it helps—isn’t just about virtue signaling. It also shows whether you’re willing to do as you’re told—whether you’re “politically reliable”, as the communists like to say. It’s like wearing the Party’s armband.

In fact, wearing a mask and social distancing in stores, bars, restaurants, and gymnasiums shouldn’t be up to the government. It should be strictly up to the property owner. Decisions that the individual makes regarding his own health are his own; it’s between the individual and his doctor.

I have no problem if the owner of a bar or restaurant wants to keep me out if I’m not wearing a mask. It’s his property. He makes the rules. I can go elsewhere, where it suits me better. It’s an affront and an imposition on restaurateurs and storekeepers to be told what they and their guests can and cannot do.

This isn’t, incidentally, about a technical or medical problem. The value of wearing masks, social distancing, and obeying quarantines and lockdowns is questionable at best, as Sweden has shown. The real problem is ethical and that there’s no moral pushback from either the public or the property owners. People are arguing on strictly technical grounds: “Yes, you have a right to tell me what to do, and even close my business. But you shouldn’t because it’s not ‘fair’, or your solutions aren’t optimal”. They accept the busybody’s premises. The argument is over before it even begins. Americans are truly acting like whipped dogs.

Whether the masks, distancing, and the rest of it work or not, isn’t the point. My own belief is they’re at best of marginal value and may well be counterproductive. But that’s beside the point. The point is that it’s immoral and destructive for the State to tell people how to relate to each other.

As for the CDC, it’s just another government bureaucracy concerned with putting itself in the limelight, gaining more power, enhancing its budget, and the number of its employees—and making Fauci, a lifelong but previously insignificant swamp creature, into an international celebrity.

International Man: Currently, over 18 million Americans are currently behind on their mortgage or rent payments.

That temporary suspension on evictions ends December 31st. What do you think will happen next?

Doug Casey: Just as with the financial markets, the government has no alternative but to “do something.” They will—they have to—print more money to keep the rotten house of cards from collapsing on itself.

The Democrats have already said that they want to increase the next stimulus to over $3 trillion. The fact that most of the last round of stimulus was either overtly wasted, went to cronies, or can’t be accounted for, is completely lost on them. They recognize that unless they give a lot of money directly or indirectly to the hoi polloi, there are going to be millions of them on the streets.

Approximately 11 million renters and 4 or 5 million mortgagees are now in forbearance. They’ll be kicked out of their houses and apartments come January 1, barring a huge bailout. Where are those people going to go?

If Obama had made good on his ridiculous promise about shovel-ready projects, there’d be a lot more bridges that they could camp out under. But he didn’t. They have a real problem on their hands. Millions of people have been living above their means and have no savings. At this point, if they let landlords and banks kick all those people out, a number of things will happen. Residential property prices will collapse. Millions of people will be scrambling for somewhere to live. Lots of banks and landlords would go bust.

The longer the government kicks the can down the road, the bigger the inevitable bust will be. The stimulus money will have to continue because Biden doesn’t want it all to come unglued on his watch. The State is not only going to have to pay individuals and business owners that their idiotic policies have busted. They’ll be subsidizing banks, landlords, and utility companies—because you can’t live in a house or an apartment without water and electricity.

It’s worse than that because even if you cover the bare essentials, there’s no money leftover for maintenance. There will be millions of buildings across the country suffering from deferred maintenance. The South Bronx, East St. Louis, and Baltimore will be replicated across the country.

And no one’s talking about how to cover the real estate taxes due on these properties. Many local governments are already bankrupt. Their expenses are going way up even while their tax income collapses. The whole country has painted itself into a corner at this point. That’s what happens when you adopt a collectivist economic policy, as the Soviets, the Chinese, and scores of other countries have discovered.

I’m not sure how they’re going to get out of it because the economy itself has just started to collapse. Of course, they’ll print up more money because they see that as a solution when it’s actually a cause. It’s going to worsen the collapse.

International Man: For the tens of millions behind on their mortgage and rent payments, will their back rent and overdue payments ever be repaid?

Doug Casey: The government will not only have to pay the rent for the future, but it’s going to have to cover landlords’ previously unpaid rent—if they don’t want lots of bankrupt landlords and banks.

It will lead to a guaranteed annual income, which they’ve been thinking about for some time. In some cases, the government will take over properties. It’s nothing new. Most major US cities already have significant public housing. None of it’s good, but most isn’t as bad as Cabrini-Greene or Pruitt-Igoe.

Who knows where this daisy chain will lead? With all the unemployed people who can’t pay their rent, perhaps the government will develop something like national service. Then there will be millions more people working for the government, doing god knows what. It will lead to the socialization of society. Remember, this COVID hysteria is just the pin that broke the bubble. The Greater Depression was already in the cards. Americans will beg the government to cure it, which is guaranteed to make it vastly worse and longer-lasting and invite some charismatic authoritarian to be their savior and take charge.

International Man: Assuming the COVID hysteria and lockdowns are behind us in 2021, what lasting effects could we see taking place?

Doug Casey: It’s going to destroy the restaurant, retail, and travel industries all at once.

Stores, restaurants, and small businesses are always failing—maybe 15% of them annually— and new ones are starting up in normal times. It’s the circle of life. The problem is that about half of these businesses are failing all at once. That makes it much harder to recover.

The economy is a lot like a body. If you burn your finger, it hurts, but you’ll recover. But if you suffer burns on over 50% of your body all at once, it might kill you. That’s what we’re looking at right now.

Commercial real estate is another area that is going to be devastated because a lot of people will continue working at home and prefer it over working in an office.

Who knows what’s going to happen to all that commercial real estate and how it’s going to be repurposed. It’s certainly going to consume a huge amount of capital.

Another area that will change is schools. I would have been happy to have a year off from school because classes bored me. I would have read many more things on my own. But today, most kids don’t read books. Public school kids are lucky to absorb a few things by osmosis.

Now they’re mostly playing video games or are on social media—mostly doing nonproductive things on their computers at home. I don’t know the effect of not being able to associate with other kids.

For most kids, it may be damaging. On the bright side, many parents have decided that school is a waste of time and have started homeschooling their kids. That’s generally a positive thing.

Here’s the important thing, we don’t know how long this hysteria is going to last. People are so scared that they’ll be easy to control for fear of the next real or imagined virus that comes down the road. When people are scared and don’t know what to do, they will want somebody to kiss it and make it better.

So, I expect we’re heading towards a genuine strong man for president in the US, whether that’s Kamala Harris or somebody else. If the 2020 election was bad, the 2024 election would be worse.

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately most people have no idea what really happens when a government goes out of control, let alone how to prepare…

The coming economic and political crisis is going to be much worse, much longer, and very different than what we’ve seen in the past.

That’s exactly why New York Times bestselling author Doug Casey and his team just released an urgent new report titled Doug Casey’s Top 7 Predictions for the Raging 2020s.

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