Virtue Signalling and False Victimhood: How to Kill Dialogue

Dialogue in America is dying. Don’t believe me? Turn on your TV, phone, laptop, ask Alexa, etc. You’ll find an unhealthy amount of partisan vitriol, as both sides of the spectrum vigorously snap at each other’s necks. Unfortunately, this trenchant jawing is spreading beyond the talking heads crowding the national discussion. Noxious exchanges happen every day among local leaders, administrators, teachers, and even family members. For example. while you spend time with both extended and intimate family members over the holidays, see what happens when you bring up the following subjects: the ongoing impeachment inquiry, 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates, the NFL’s recent workout for Colin Kaepernick, and the disparate crowd receptions to Trump’s appearance at game six of the World Series and Alabama-LSU game this past month. 

What you’re sure to encounter in such conversations stand as potentially two of the greatest obstacles to effective dialogue in today’s politik: virtue-signalling and false-victimhood. Although many are quick to assign these to one side of the political spectrum, both factions suffer from said vices. Just as there are liberals that incite “righteous indignation” by way of virtue-signalling, there are conservatives that claim to be “victims” without any real reason for doing so. With each act being broken down and analyzed in the following paragraphs, hopefully we can note our own pitfalls and re-learn how to engage in meaningful dialogue with one another.

Virtue-signalling, while somewhat of an uncommon phrase, is more prevalent than you may realize. It is defined as expressing one’s opinions with the intent to demonstrate upstanding character or moral correctness on a particular issue. From former Senator Jeff Flake’s incessant empty commentary to Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s insistence that “Christian faith is going to point you in a progressive direction,” [1] members from both parties are consistently trying to out-virtue each other. However, this act is devoid of any real worth, as virtue-signalling is simply telling people that one is virtuous without having to show anything. Even with no real costs incurred by the speaker, there are those that choose to participate in such expressions via anonymous accounts and impetuous posters.

Pete Buttigieg, or “Mayor Pete,” provides a recent example. Although some dislike how the thirty-seven year old veteran, Harvard grad, and current mayor of South Bend, Indiana, touts his progressive ideals, there’s a lot to like about the young candidate. He brings a much-needed youth to the Democrat party, comes across as articulate and passionate with ease, and is uncompromising on his progressive ideals.

The issue, however, is with the aforementioned quote, “Christian faith is going to point you in a progressive direction.” While Buttigieg may be genuine in his expression, this statement comes dangerously close  to “you’re not the same/correct Christian that I am unless we hold the same political beliefs.” Despite the fact that his supporters cheer his challenges of the right’s Christianity on contemporary political issues, they may see not see Buttigieg toeing the fine line between calls to action and assumed moral superiority — and Buttigeig is by no means the only one doing so. The right has its own messy history of blending church and state. But what’s crucial to note is that Christianity is not perfectly synonymous with liberal ideas, nor is it perfectly synonymous with conservative ones [2]. Additionally, when someone initiates such a superiority complex on either side, it is built on the foundational assumption of infallibility, allowing the speaker to discount opposing arguments with ease [3]. Quoting scripture is more than acceptable when sincerely sharing your beliefs, in fact, I think most people would encourage it. But when it is weaponized to take down or discredit your political opponents, it invalidates dialogue and devalues timeless beliefs. 

Then there is the episode of “false victimhood.” Now to be clear, the reason why “false” is included in this phrase is because there are real victims in society. There are people that have had to suffer and carry undue burdens because of their skin color, gender, etc. This article is discussing “false” victims, like Jussie Smollet and Donald Trump Jr.—those that try to be martyrs for the sake of sympathy, attention, external rewards, or revenge [4]. Such individuals try to use victimhood as a status symbol, invariably demeaning and discrediting actual victims [5].

Such occurrences on both sides have spiked dramatically since the inauguration of Donald Trump. Hate crimes on college campuses dominated the headlines post-election. However, closer examination revealed that the vast majority of these hate hoaxes turned out to be just that, hoaxes [6]. The right is just as guilty, with Donald Trump, the antagonistic bully meant to take on the left, playing the victim card quite often [7]. How can one miss the near daily 3 p.m. tweet of “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT” spread across their timeline? What makes the situation even more laughable is the hypocrisy emanating from such individuals, like Donald Trump Jr. In his recent book, Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us, he starts out by decrying the “victimhood complex” that has “taken root in the American left.” This is followed by his description of how his own family has been “victimized,” most notably their pocketbooks. What this new Republican attack dog won’t tell you is that he raked in over four hundred million dollars in 2018, and recently garnered fifty-thousand dollars for a fifteen-minute speech at the University of Florida in October [8]. Tack on his loyal following from Twitter and Turning Point USA, and it sounds like this “victim” is getting along just fine.

As seen above, we can’t wait for those on the national stage to set the example moving forward—the onus is on each of us individually. If you decide to bring up the aforementioned topics over the holidays, rather than engaging in the ill-advised tropes of virtue-signalling and false-victimhood, try exercising traits like charity, patience, and understanding. Instead of demonizing or patronizing your opponent, do your best to respectfully listen and engage. Unfortunately your opponent may not always reciprocate such energy, but that’s no excuse for you to sink to their level. Even if situations begin to truly spiral, remember that at the end of the day you are entitled to the protections of the Constitution, nondiscrimination laws, and the power of your own voice. 

[1]https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/04/buttigieg-wrong-about-christianity-and-progressivism/586810/

[2]https://areomagazine.com/2019/03/05/virtue-signal-or-piety-display-the-search-for-cognitive-identity-and-the-attack-on-social-bargaining/ 

[3]https://medium.com/@straytgirl/what-the-hell-is-this-virtue-signaling-bullshit-4d374ca2a607

[4]https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/a-republic-if-you-can-keep-it-or-why-victimhood-and-fear-wont-preserve-liberty/ 

[5]https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/friendship-20/201604/the-whole-foods-cake-case-why-do-people-fake-victimhood

[6]https://nypost.com/2019/06/30/how-us-colleges-reward-fake-victimhood/

[7]https://www.salon.com/2017/02/12/trumps-supporters-believe-a-false-narrative-of-white-victimhood-and-the-data-proves-it/[8]https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-jr-new-book-about-how-he-feels-like-victim-2019-11

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Taylor Petersen

TAYLOR PETERSEN, Editor-in-chief, is a senior from Southern California. Having spent most of his life in San Diego, he loves being outdoors, preferably in the water. A Political Science major, he enjoys the vast amounts of research and writing that have accompanied him while at BYU. Although he believes himself to be a connoisseur of Mexican food, you can often catch him sneaking through the Del Taco or Taco Bell drive thru. His passion lies in intellectual expansion and the encouragement of meaningful dialogue, which he hopes to continue in law school next fall.

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Taylor Petersen

TAYLOR PETERSEN, Editor-in-chief, is a senior from Southern California. Having spent most of his life in San Diego, he loves being outdoors, preferably in the water. A Political Science major, he enjoys the vast amounts of research and writing that have accompanied him while at BYU. Although he believes himself to be a connoisseur of Mexican food, you can often catch him sneaking through the Del Taco or Taco Bell drive thru. His passion lies in intellectual expansion and the encouragement of meaningful dialogue, which he hopes to continue in law school next fall.

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