Perhaps you’re familiar with the term ‘virtue signalling’. If you’re not, it is administered to people who introduce their argument by proudly displaying the virtues of empathy and compassion.
For a quick example, if the topic of discussion is islamic fundamentalism, a social justice type might preface their argument with an anecdote about how their muslim friends feel uncomfortable to go out in public in the wake of a terrorist attack. By telling such a story, they do not present an argument but rather make it clear that they are empathetic to the plight of a minority, that they are guided by feelings of love and pity.
The usefulness of this strategy is quite clear. If someone were watching the debate, it is much easier to sympathize with the nice person, the person who seems morally connected with the suffering of the disadvantaged. Moreover, it makes the person they are debating seem cold and callous, unwilling to grapple with the personal implications that their policies present.
To be blunt about it, the archetypal trait of the ‘bleeding heart’ lefty is amplified in such a fashion as to make the opposition look dispassionately inhumane or even bigoted.
Now the question is, is this strategy inherently antithetical to rational discussion?
Undoubtedly, there are a great many people who are either ignorant or unsympathetic to the struggle experienced by disadvantaged groups across the country. Such people have to be called out, as the consequences of their attitudes are real and they can be severe. People who are ignorant of the societal implications of cutting welfare, for example, have to have their ignorance exposed for all to see, as such a blind spot is relevant to the discussion. Additionally, people who are motivated by bigotry and ethnic elitism in calling for the same policies must certainly be engaged and have a spot light shone on their moral insufficiencies.
The problem is that this necessary strategy has been hijacked by ideologues possessed by the virtues of empathy.
The new social justice types have made it nearly impossible to distinguish between actual bigots and people who simply have conservative views. Look up and watch any millennial debate online, and I can accurately predict that the social justice participant will a) go on about the feelings of some minority, b) condemn the opposition for not being as obsessed with the wellbeing of said minority, and c) claim that such dispassion is not the result of a rationally calculated decision but an innate bigotry.
Indeed, we are all conscious that accusations of bigotry and xenophobia are handed out like candy on halloween in today’s politically correct culture. It seems every week a new celebrity is apologizing for a joke they made. But these accusations stem from the social justice types themselves, as they don’t merely act out empathetic possession but they are genuinely attached to it.
To understand the phenomena of name calling displayed by the social justice types, the phenomena of ‘virtue signalling’ must first be understood. More specifically, why it is so essential that the social justice types bathe in it as frequently as they can.
It is obvious that they are concerned with the feelings of the disadvantaged. As I am about to argue, they are pathologically concerned with this. And my reasoning is not original, rather, it was most famously articulated two millennia ago by Aristotle. Thus, the point I am about to make is just another example of the extreme lack of common sense within the social justice movement.
To begin we must first agree that the primary concern of the social justice camp is the wellbeing of the minority, disadvantaged, marginalized etc… This is most importantly a concern deprived from empathy. If any social justice types wish to dispute this, I would like them to make an argument without once mentioning ‘feelings’ or ‘oppression’. (needless to say, they would find it rather difficult) Secondly, I would like them to provide an alternative virtue that they are more propelled by.
Now, prima facia, it would seem I have run into a moral corner. What have I accomplished by exposing social justice for it’s connection with empathy? All I have shown is that they are good, caring people who are altruistically motivated. After all, empathy is most certainly a virtue, right?
But it’s here where any Philosophy 101 course comes in handy. Particularly, the teaching of Aristotle’s golden rule, also known as the Aristotelian middle way. This observation notices how virtue is not inherently good, but it must exist in a mean. If any virtue exists in excess or exists in depravity, then it becomes a vice.
For example, courage in depravity is cowardice, and certainly not virtuous. But courage in excess is recklessness, and again not virtuous. To act courageously is not to hide from a fight, but it is also not charging an army by yourself. True courage, is a balance between recklessness and cowardice.
The same thing can be said of empathy. A depravation of empathy leaves you heartless sociopath, but an excess of empathy leaves you blundering about naively in a complicated world. As exhibited by the social justice camp, an excess of empathy leaves you unable to condemn immoral behaviour committed by those you empathize with. It leaves you unable to criticize, to strengthen those who you look upon with empathy.
True empathy considers context, it considers the individual. It recognizes that some people perhaps are not deserving pf empathy, and that if it is a arbitrarily handed out to all those who call for it, then it quickly loses its value.
This is what has happened to the social justice camp. It has become pathologically obsessed with empathy. Again, since empathy is a virtue, it is not instantly clear why such a concern is wrong. But an obsession with empathy is inherently divisive, as it divides the world into people deserving and undeserving of it. To compound this error, the social justice types are collectivists, meaning they attribute empathy not according to individual character, but to group identity.
This leaves us with an ideology that feels it is okay attribute guilt to people on the basis of skin colour. It leaves us with an ideology that feels recognizing and standing up for the feelings of the oppressed is a moral action that supersedes all others. And, most importantly, it leaves us with an ideology that makes it impossible for those consumed by it to understand any other point of view.
Empathy is virtuous. But social justice is a vice.