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The right was wrong about virtue-signaling

The right was wrong about virtue-signaling
Photo by Joshua Smith / Unsplash

A video of a family with four “transkids” went viral across social media this week. Many conservatives were justifiably appalled and pointed out that the chances of randomly having four children with severe body dysmorphic disorder in the same family are incredibly low. Commenters on the video suggested that the mother must be mentally ill and acting out Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

But this demonstrates a serious failure of the right to understand human nature. The mother of those four children was not demonstrating mental illness but her desire to achieve social status by adopting the behaviors endorsed by the dominant moral system of the day. She was using her children as a signal of conversion to the new state religion, and this war of belief cannot be won without understanding the spiritual nature of the conflict.Subscribe

One of the dumbest ideas ever to be embraced by the opponents of wokeness was the demonization of “virtue-signaling.” The latest incarnation of the progressive social revolution began on college campuses where “social justice warriors” would dye their hair, shout down conservative speakers, and engage in other performative histrionics to signal their devotion to leftist causes.

While many professors and administrators participated in this revolutionary activity, some liberal intellectuals correctly identified this more radical wave of progressive belief as dangerous to the status quo that kept them in power. These progressive castoffs entered an awkward alliance with the conservatives whom they had been mocking most of their lives, and so the intellectual dark web was formed.

A religious imperative

The basic strategy of this alliance was to treat wokeness as a new faith and deploy the same tools that had proven so adept at dismantling Christianity as America’s public religion in previous generations. Endless YouTube videos, comedy sketches, and internet posts were created to mock the new progressive vanguard for their dedication to this more radical leftist morality.

Intellectuals held debates, wrote books, and recorded endless hours of podcasts that dissected and debunked the ideological basis of wokeness. The woke were derided as intolerant, moralistic, and closed-minded clowns. But instead of shrinking from mockery and intellectual deconstruction, the progressive revolutionaries simply redoubled their efforts, winning more converts and capturing more institutions. The IDW and its conservative allies lost, and wokeness became the primary religion of the American ruling elite.

Humans are religious and social beings; this is so deeply woven into our nature that all efforts to expel it have failed spectacularly. Liberal modernity has trained us to see ourselves as free-thinking individuals who make rational and objective decisions, but in truth we are all very conscious of status. People want simultaneously to fit into the group and to stand out as high-status individuals within that group, so we tend to observe what other high-status people do and mimic their behavior.

Our decisions are more often guided by religious assumptions elevated by our peers than by our own independent rationality. Working out, dressing well, attending church, obtaining a master’s degree, attending a Black Lives Matter protest, or “transitioning” your kids are all attempts to signal status depending on the values that dominate a society at any given time. People will always virtue-signal; it is a key aspect of human nature that will never go away. The question is never “will we virtue-signal?” but “whose virtues will be elevated?”

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