The Danger of Virtue Signaling & Political Correctness

by | Jun 10, 2020 |

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In many cultures the concept of kneeling before God and bowing before royalty are well established practices to show respect to the entity before you. In America we did away with bowing and scraping before royalty when we put ourselves on the same level as the king or queen via a bloody and difficult Revolutionary war of independence. As for kneeling before God, this practice is somewhat different since we can never be on the same level as God, therefore this is acceptable to this day. When we do these things, or do not do them, we are doing something symbolic, we are saying something, we are signaling something or someone.
We see the concept being tested by those who do not believe in God, or find the concept of God offensive, they refuse to kneel as a symbol of their rejection of God and God’s authority over humanity. 
In our country, we have mutual respect for all people, even those who hold high office; we don’t bow to the president or the CEO, we offer our hands in a shake⏤this places us both on the same level as people regardless of position; this is an equality signal.
In our modern American culture, we have seen the growth of “Virtue Signaling”, which in essence is attempting to show other people you are a good person by expressing opinions that will be acceptable to the other person.


From the Cambridge dictionary we see this definition: 
Virtue signaling is the popular modern habit of indicating that one has virtue merely by expressing disgust or favour for certain political ideas or cultural happenings.
https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/virtue-signalling


We see this virtue signaling all the time especially on social media where people retweet a quote from a social justice warrior or a celebrity that has made a loud statement about their beliefs on any given topic. The #MeToo movement is a great example of virtue signaling, the entire message means “I am against sexual assault and I believe anyone who makes those claims”. Unfortunately, like many things in the world of the politically correct, the whole virtue signal is only valid when you signal you agree with a particular political perspective. In this case, with no hard evidence to show, we must believe Dr. Ford that Judge Kavanaugh is a rapist, but when credible evidence surfaces against Bill Clinton or Joe Biden of sexual assault, #MeToo virtue signalers go quiet. Which logically is also sending a message or signal or symbol, in this case hypocrisy.
Several years ago, there was a controversy when President Obama bowed to a foreign leader. I do not believe he did it to signal he was lower in status to that foreign leader, it seemed more like he was trying to follow a custom. I have met many people from parts of the world where bowing when you meet is proper for their culture. When they bowed to me when we met, I bowed to them out of a sense of equality of gesture. In general terms though, as Americans, we don’t bow or take a knee for other people.
That makes the whole concept of police officers and regular citizens taking a knee during the recent protests and riots hard to understand. I don’t think the officers are taking a knee to show subservience to the protesters. I believe the officers, or their leadership who instructed them to do so, are doing it to signal their solidarity with the protesters grievance, a kind of “we are all in this together” thing meaning that no one wants to see violence or police brutality. 
As for the regular citizens kneeling before protesters and kissing peoples boots etc. that can be more of a virtue signal and is fast becoming a politically correct thing to do, unless of course you are a racist as the PC thinking goes. I do not believe that anyone who refuses to take a knee before a protester and ask for forgiveness for their race of birth is a racist. To do so really sends a signal that a particular race is guilty of something as opposed to individuals who may be guilty of something, in this context it could be racism.
When we confuse these thoughts, we confuse the overall message.

Racism is bad, evil, and repugnant, I think we can all agree on that, but do I have to make some public statement or show a signal of some kind to prove it to those who demand it of me?  

If that is the case, then logic would dictate that I can demand a show of solidarity with things I believe in, from anyone else in the world or it would be acceptable for me to insinuate that without their Virtue Signal about my beliefs, I can assume they are opposed to me, and therefore they are bad people. If you string this out, you could see people passing in the street showing 20 different virtue signals to each other to indicate their “goodness” on any host of topics, it would be madness.    
Every person should be judged on their actions not on whether or not they succumbed to the latest litmus test of the politically correct crowd. It is here that we have to look at virtue signaling in another way. Is it really about showing you’re a good person and gaining acceptance from the crowd, or is it more of a compliance issue, showing people you are a good and compliant sheeple following the crowd and the ideology that is preferred?
If you think this compliance issue isn’t real, think of the military and even some police departments, which are para-military organizations. When a junior officer or enlisted person crosses paths with a senior or higher-ranking person, they have to salute to show their recognition of the higher-ranking persons power and authority as well as respect. Humans and even other species of creatures on our planet do this all the time in structured living conditions, it is a built into the interaction DNA. 
Let’s be clear, I am not finding fault with any individual who chooses kneeling before those who demand it as their way to express themselves, it’s their choice. I understand the protesters call for help and I agree with them, but I kneel before God only. That is my signaling, to which I am entitled. If we don’t respect that in each other isn’t it fair for me to demand others kneel before me to show agreement with points of view I hold, don’t they have to prove to me they are good by giving into me? This is a two-way street.     
Now that we know that these kinds of communications between people, verbal and non-verbal have a lot of meaning, we can look at the context in which they are used to understand motive and the value each has.

As Americans we stand for the national anthem. This is a tradition and a way for all of us to say (non-verbally), that we love our country and we recognize the sacrifices so many have made for freedom and liberty; it is a symbol of patriotism and belonging.

When the national anthem is targeted as a tool for protest, such as some of the NFL players kneeling to show their concern about racism and police brutality the two messages run head long into each other and cause distress for both groups. The argument changes from understanding someone’s struggle to disrespecting the other groups beliefs to make your point. This is a no win situation and does not bring us together. 
We are all Americans, and, in my opinion, we should show respect for the country and its intended purposes, freedom, liberty and justice. Where we fall short of our best selves, we should strive to improve, all of us together. Insisting that people kneel or otherwise beg for forgiveness for something they had nothing to do with to show solidarity with an aggrieved group is just like the NFL argument; it hurts our ability to come together as one. Most people are in agreement that racism should not be tolerated and police brutality is nothing to condone, it should be eradicated wherever it is found, but setting up an artificial test to show your support, for one side or the other leaves half the people out and causes a new pain. 

Here is the quandary:
How do we come together on such a painful topic?
If we find ourselves in a stalemate over who is right and who is wrong based on who gives into the other when it comes to our signaling options, we end up arguing over that instead of the problem. 

Insisting we win or not play is not a way to solve the problem. Why not work together to fix our problems and find a way to stand together without requiring submission, begging forgiveness, bowing, kneeling, groveling, or insulting each other’s sensibilities. While these acts might make some people feel better, in the long run they will serve as the same catalyst for division that the sins we are trying to repair have; subservience always does that.      
Maybe we could all stand for the anthem and cross both our arms across our chests. We still cover our hearts as tradition provides, but the second arm shows solidarity with our fellow Americans who want us to hear them, and, we are all standing together.
When officers, citizens or anyone else meet protesters, same thing, we all cross our arms across our chests signaling for real that “We are all in this together”, without the negative virtue signaling of submission and all on the same level of equality; if we are going to signal something, it should be positive. After all, we do want to solve the problems, don’t we? Or is the problem really a tool for something else? 
Words and gestures do mean things. What is it we are trying to do and say?
Image: AP

Lt. Joseph Pangaro

Joseph Pangaro is a retired Police Lieutenant from the Township of Ocean, Monmouth County, NJ. During his 27 year career, Lieutenant Pangaro served in many capacities. After nine years as a patrol officer, he was transferred to the detective bureau, where he served 12 years. During that time, Lt. Pangaro prepared and executed hundreds of search warrants, testified in numerous high profile criminal court cases, and excelled in the area of criminal investigations, including; homicides, sexual assaults, drug crimes, fraud, burglary, juvenile investigations, economic crimes, vice crimes, quality of life crimes and other crimes of violence. He has acted in undercover capacities and worked with numerous local, county, state, and federal agencies. Joseph Pangaro served as a sergeant in the detective bureau, supervising a group of highly motivated and active officers in the unit and the “Quality of Life” unit.

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