Virtue-signaling in Social Media – cheap grace?

There’s a concept in evolutionary anthropology known as virtue-signaling. It has been picked up as a popular meme and facilely mis-applied to refer to behaviors in social media where individuals pretentiously signal their moral superiority. It entails a conspicuous expression of moral values done primarily with the intent of enhancing standing within a social group. It is especially used pejoratively to characterize platitudinous, empty or superficial support of certain political views. (paraphrased fr wiki)

The reason I say misapplied is that virtue-signaling in biology refers to displays of commitments, which build social cohesions, that are not only ostentatious but COSTLY.

I think here of Boenhoffer’s “cheap grace,” when people signal virtues using likes, retweets, forwards and political banter, all cultivated in electronic echo chambers & virally spread but to very little evangelical avail.

I think, too, of Kris Kristofferson’s lament: “Everybody’s got to have somebody to look down on, someone doing something dirty, decent folks can frown on.”

So, others more properly characterize such behavior — not as costly virtue-signaling, but — as slacktivism or virtue-twerking or something like that.

There’s an irony in that the very facile misapplication of virtue-signaling as a pejorative, in and of itself, represents a lazy form of thinking, which can too cursorily dismiss others’ moral posturing.

After all, it’s not for us to know who signals virtue from deeply held moral convictions and with authentic voices of prophetic protest versus an attempt to maintain and/or repair a fragile persona or to preserve a sick identity structure or false self?

What many of us do know, in an old “if you can spot it, you got it” sort of way is that, in most of us, there’s some degree of both true and false self dynamics in play?

Most people I know will (eventually) have been seriously confronted by various life circumstances, which require very high cost commitments over extended periods of time, and will have stepped up and selflessly delivered. If some of them want to indulge in less costly forms of persuasion, however unpersuasive, I’m striving to more consistently consider it all to be none of my business.

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