The information age has muddied the lines between action and discourse, and I think it’s useful to take a minute to step in, here, and try to explain what that difference is and why it still matters.
Discourse and action are neutral value. These are just terms, definitions for some description of human agency. We can talk, and in the talking, effect change. We can act, and in the acting, effect talk. No one is saying the two aren’t intertwined, and no one is saying that one is less important than the other. However, they are different things.
Why do I mention that? Well, a lot of people seem fairly confused about how discourse does not immediately become action. I’m going to get a little nasty, now, because I want everyone reading this to be totally clear on where I’m coming from; similarly, keep in mind that I don’t say things to hurt people—I say them to establish clarity and position. Posting on social media does nothing. Especially condescending, insult-based memes or pictures, which are roundly ignored by everyone except for the cheap laugh that they might elicit the first time they’re seen.
That still isn’t action. It does nothing. If you think you have persuaded people, prompt them to act. You see this all the time on FaceBook, where people will solicit money for a cause, or some other description of support. Generally, what you get is people ponying up only if they agreed initially with whatever stance on whatever cause is being presented originally.
Very rarely is it because some snarky meme shamed them into it.
Very rarely is it because you changed your portrait picture to a different colour or added a filter to it.
No, people move money because they are already convinced that action is necessary, and have enough surplus resources to expend some of them on the prompted motion. Moving money is action—and in our age of finite resource, it is an extremely significant action.
In saying that, though, it’s necessary to acknowledge that there’s a whole other scale for measuring the effectiveness of that action, just like there is with discourse.
Moving money can vary in effectiveness, but it mostly depends on how much of your money actually reaches the target. Discourse can vary in effectiveness, but normally it is judged by how much action it effects.
It’s very important to keep them divided in the information age, as the world still runs on resource management.
That’s very important. The world doesn’t run on good will. It doesn’t run on good intentions. It doesn’t run because the majority agrees that it should. It doesn’t run because “it’s obvious that it should run that way,” it runs because the right resources make it to the right places. It doesn’t run on transfer of information, in other words, (a relative definition) even now.
Discourse, or discussion, or instruction, or coaching, is for one thing, and one thing only as applied to politics or social movement. It is for making sure that everyone knows where their resources should go, and why. The reason you explain to people why they should contribute their resources to that cause at that moment is something we call “persuasion.” It isn’t to build a majority. Resource movement isn’t a vote. That’s why it’s so powerful; you don’t need to be trailing the cattle of our C-average population to make change; you can just add or subtract your resources. That is your statement. That is your vote, except it actually matters.
So let’s talk about a term you may have heard from alt-right and new right and whatever other fractious divides are developing as the Right reorganises itself and morphs into something that actually works in the twenty-first century after getting its collective butt kicked since the 1960s.
“Virtue signalling” is a term, I think, that first gained popularity from Vox Day or Paul Joseph Watson, and it’s a rough approximation of what I’ve just written. It’s basically everything you’ll ever see on FaceBook which, purposefully and without discussion, supports a particular cause without actually being practical useful.
For example, any hashtag that starts with #PrayersFor. Or changing the art on your profile picture. Or pleading for other people to go help something. Or pleading for the government to go and help something, when you absolutely know that to do that, it has to steal a bunch of other people’s money.
There are a few ways to think about this discursive phenomenon which certainly did not start with social media, no matter what anybody says—people have been running and crying to authority figures or appealing to uninterested crowds since they began to disagree with things.
The first is that it’s aggressively useless, but allows the individual to deal with whatever tragedy has occurred without having to risk finite resources. That is, you feel bad that people in Nice, France were run over by a madman in a truck, but you don’t even know how to start helping. So you try to air goodwill, in the hopes that some higher or lower power will hear you and lend aid, or just so that anyone who is reading FaceBook in Nice, France, maybe gets your message and feels a bit better about having been run over, or losing relatives.
The problem with this (and it feeds right into the second way to think about it) is that that’s all these self-help statements are. They’re you, making yourself feel better, in public, at other people’s expense. After all, everyone’s attention is also a finite resource. You’re imposing on other people to work really hard to believe that you actually care and come up with something comforting to say, and so on and so forth.
I bet you can see where I’m going with this second line of thought, can’t you?
Let’s say it anyway, and I will try to keep it brief.
When you virtue signal without doing anything, you try to share victimhood. You try to envelope yourself in that wonderful feeling of having been predated upon, and thereby gain some moral authority. You sit there, and having said, #PrayersForNice, now feel free to lecture people on how demographics, religion, politics, and every other human cause on Earth had literally nothing to do with this guy who ran over a bunch of people with a truck.
He was just crazy. Became crazy in a vacuum where the rest of the world didn’t and will never exist. This is true, you see, because you’re also a victim of this crime and therefore can go and authoritatively explain things to people and they have to believe you. After all, you got run over by a truck! It’s quite a stable moral position.
If you can forgive him for having whatever causes he had (which have nothing to do with real life, remember), then obviously, everyone should; including people who will in the not-too-distant future, get run over by trucks, shot by assault rifles, executed with machetes on YouTube or drone-struck by the American military.
This imaginary sense of one-ness with the world that virtue-signalling allows you to enter in yourself is identifiable on some level with pathological altruism. It isn’t pathological altruism, though, because one of the basic requirements of pathological altruism is that you spend more than you can afford in order to satisfy your dopamine receptors with the feeling of having helped other people in some substantive way, even if you don’t.
It’s the last part of the definition that applies. Discourse is not action. You have not helped unless you have managed to either persuade others to act, or have acted yourself.
Human beings virtue-signal sometimes because they have nothing else to do, and it lets them express their ideological beliefs. Sometimes, though, and I’ve found, often-times, they do it because it gains them some ability to affect their surroundings.
I think of KONY 2012 (for those of you who were paying attention at the time) as a primary source for my experiences in this matter. A massive campaign of social media noise which accomplished absolutely nothing except fomenting intensively useless, indoctrinal ideological discussion.
If you’ve been reading me for a bit, you know my feelings on ideology. It must always, at all times, be attacked. Regardless of which ideology or why the person holds to it. The strong must survive and the weak must fall away, and if anyone’s keeping track? Rational, empirical, persuasive discourse is currently the strongest by about two millennia here in the West.
So how do we #MakeCanadaFunAgain? We apply these filters to our politicians, of course!
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau said, of course, that he’d suck up all the refugees which President Trump is now refusing to accept… except, no, he isn’t. He needs to change actual laws and quotas and things to do that, because the Canadian refugee program is intensively supervised and heavily controlled. Trudeau hasn’t tried to change the laws yet, but the House has just reopened so we can see what will come of it.
For now, though, with no guarantee or potentially, even ability to change his refugee intake, all Trudeau is doing is making the entire Canadian nation look as though it is disagreeing with the internal, domestic policies of its most economically beneficial and powerful neighbour.
That’s his ideology talking. If he could, he’d probably try to sever trade ties with the United States over the #MuslimBan, despite that its inception appears to be spurring the Middle-Eastern states to get their houses in order.
As of the time of this writing, the kings of Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia have both pledged to support the creation of free, safe zones within which to cheaply house refugees, and the government of Syria has called for its people to return as the Russian-brokered peace falls over the countryside.
Sure makes Trudeau’s whining on Twitter seem a little empty, doesn’t it? Not if you’re into ideology without empiricism, though. If you just believe in globalism, the Middle-Easterners going home is probably some kind of tragedy, even though less than .5% of them can find wives or jobs in either Europe or anywhere else.