The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Virtue Signalling

With the election of Barack Obama on 2008 and again in 2012, and the potential election of an even more left-wing candidate (e.g., Bernie Sanders), the mindset of leftist thinkers in contemporary America deserves a closer look.

I often use the phrase "moral preening" to describe the leftist world view. As long as a person takes the position that exhibits a self-defined moral high ground and proposes policies to defend that high ground, the outcome of the policies, no matter how flawed, can be defended because the policy maker's intentions were good (even if the results are damaging or even worse, hurt, rather than help those who are their targets).

Richard Fernandez offers another take:
In the world of anything goes “virtue signalling” can be substituted for the needless art of competence. That term, invented by British writer Libby Purves, describes an exhibition of moral superiority which wins the day. Moral superiority is now all it takes to fix things. Engineering — especially social engineering — has been radically simplified. Will it, and it is. In place of “true or false”, “correct or incorrect” the contemporary thinker can merely substitute the term “good or bad” or better yet “progressive or reactionary” to characterize any approach to a problem and make a judgment on that basis.

The two interesting things about relativistic world based on “virtue signalling” is that 1) there are an infinite number of solutions to any problem; 2) all these solutions are equally valid. This absurdity holds because answers in a progressive world are always compared to intentions. It becomes equivalent to solving a dependent system of equations, like the intersection of a line and a line equal to itself. High school algebra shows this yields an infinite solution set. To the question: what is the right policy in the Middle East comes the certain answer: anything Obama does.
But don't 'best of intentions' matter? Isn't that a reasonable defense when the best of intentions go bad? Sadly, the answer—one that people on the left don't want to hear—is that results matter, reality matters, and consequences matter. Intentions are a starting point, but they are not the point.
Fernandez continues:
One would be tempted to let people live in their nonjudgmental paradise except for the serious consequences to policies crafted on that basis. One is the embrace of kitchen sink approaches which refuse to recognize that certain things matter. In this way radical Islamism is permanently excluded from criticism. Everything is smeared out into a model with no significant factors. Bernie Sanders in a recent speech a Liberty University[*] solved the problem of poverty in America by simply invoking morality.
Do you think it’s moral that 20 percent of the children in this country, the wealthiest country in the history of the world are living in poverty? Do you think it is acceptable that 40 percent of African-American children are living in poverty? In my view, there is no justice, and morality suffers, when in our wealthy country, millions of children go to bed hungry. That is not morality. … I think when we talk about morality, what we are talking about is all of God’s children, the poor, the wretched, they have a right to go to a doctor when they are sick!
Sanders offers no reason for believing his specific proposals won’t actually bankrupt everybody, including those he wants to help. But he does not need to. All he must establish is his sincerity and good intentions. That lead us to the second consequence of ideological policy. Because it is founded on a tautology it has the tendency to expand any problem in order to solve it.

Problems are fixed by spreading them around. Chicago having banned guns to no effect, now insists guns must be banned everywhere to stop violence in the Windy City. The European Union thinks it can solve the Syrian refugee problem by forcing every country to take a quota. Greece can be fixed by lending them every greater sums of money. President Obama apparently believes he can solve his foreign policy problems by internationalizing them. Bring Iran into Iraq, bring Russia, China, Britain, Iran, Turkey into Syria and all will be well. It is as if the mere act of making things bigger creates the solution.

Yet it does not. Often it expands the problem rather than fixes it.
But on the left, expanding the problem is not an altogether bad thing. After all, expanding the problem allows "virtue signalling" to continue and become even more melodramatic. Our intentions were good but somehow, we didn't spend enough money, or increase taxes on "the rich" as much as we should have, or (more specifically) hiked the minimum wage to say, $25.00/hour, when 'low wage' workers at a mandated $15.00 minimum wage began to be replaced by machines.

In the fantasy world of "virtue signalling," Bernie Sanders and his followers, see no limits to how much we can spend, how much we can tax, or for that matter, how much damage they can do to the very people (e.g., those in poverty) they purport to help but instead force into greater and greater levels of dependency. When reality begins the fray the edges of their fantasy, they double down. After all, their intentions were good—and that's all that matters.

*Sanders is to be commended for speaking in a potentially hostile environment. James Taranto comments:
Socialist Bernie Sanders yesterday did something liberal in the old-fashioned sense of the term: He gave a speech to a group of people disinclined to agree with him. He probably didn’t persuade many of them, but it’s to his credit that he tried.

Even more remarkable, the venue was of a type where this sort of thing seldom goes on anymore—a university campus. Not that Sanders wouldn’t be welcome on just about any campus in America, but he spoke yesterday at one of the few where he could expect a hostile audience: Liberty University, an evangelical Christian institution affiliated with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.

As Jesse Singal of New York magazine notes, Liberty students did not attempt to ban Sanders from campus or shout him down:

Without jumping into the broader debate about political correctness, it’s worth pointing out that, if we’re going to buy the theory that the mere presence of a certain type of speaker on campus creates an unsafe space that expands across that campus, bringing the risk of psychological harm to students, Liberty must have been an incredibly unsafe place today. Many, if not most, of its students, after all, deeply and viscerally believe that abortion is murder. And here was a speaker who didn’t agree with them on that—he was, from their point of view, in favor of mass murder. And yet they let him talk respectfully, they asked him questions, and it seemed like everyone was able to have a civil conversation (albeit a mandatory civil conversation).
As of yet, there are no reports of widespread psychological trauma out of Lynchburg.
That’s a good point as far as it goes, but Singal may be too young to appreciate just how ironic it is that Liberty University is now American academia’s shining exemplar of liberal discourse.
This is, in fact, a sad commentary on the state of American academia. Someone like, say, Ted Cruz, would likely be shouted down at a liberal-left university for exhibiting "microagressions" and fostering "intolerance," or "gender bias" or disrupting the "safe place" atmosphere for a bunch of coddled 18 year olds.