If you've been on the interwebs for any amount of time, then it is apparent that every debate about everything will at some point become the equivalent of a football match where the two sets of supporters yell at each other from the opposite ends of the stadium. It also becomes apparent that the songs that they sing at each other are not all that nuanced and that if you bother to analyse them, they are often about as credible as if you fired a fifteen inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you.
In our political climate where you have the right hand side of the divide, who have devolved into parody of themselves so that they can ignore the world and the left hand side of the divide, who have devolved into irrelevancy by playing identity politics rather than actually addressing the big structural issues in society, even the names of the two teams have devolved into parody and irrelevancy. Thus we have Right Wing Nut Jobs (RWNJs) versus Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) engaged in a match for power in a contest which is mostly one sided, as the long game of history always tends towards those with the most money, the biggest army, and/or the ability to inflict the biggest amount of damage on the enemy. The current political climate has almost reverted back to the norm before the big two bouts of unpleasantness last century as everyone who fought for better conditions is now gone and the people who are mostly in charge and who have never had to fight for anything want to maintain their status and conditions.
One of the most common songs that you'll hear being yelled into the football match is the song of "Virtue Signalling" as though it were some kind of insult; while at the same time being a practical demonstration of that very same thing.
I have a privately held theory that everyone has their own internal religion because everyone's actions and practices are based on what we believe. If broadly speaking, faith is the internal affirmation that what you believe is true, then religion is the outworking of that. I simply do not think that it is possible to have no belief structure whatsoever and therefore no faith and no religion (I don't know what kind of world that John Lennon imagined but it sounds like one with no epistemological scrutinisation). One of the more usual things about religion though, is the constant striving to be more virtuous. I suppose that's one of the reasons why I find the whole idea of virtue signalling being held out as an insult so ludicrous.
Politics is the art of enacting and promoting policy. Policy can only be formulated through the application of people's desire to enact change; the desire for change happens because we want things. People's wants are always framed through the prisms of need, politics and religion. I'm going to posit that all speech is religious and that all speech is political.
"Virtue Signalling" is therefore the applied demonstration of religion and politics because virtue is the set of building blocks from which towers of position are built. As it is impossible not to have a position (even if that position is not necessarily well defined), then the constructs which are built must invariably be signals of virtue.
The field upon which the politics is played, if it has broadly two sets of fans yelling at each other from the opposite ends of the stadium, very obviously has colours displayed. Supporters of the teams playing on any particular day might not necessarily have bought the official merchandise or formally become members of the club, but the fact that the ends of the stadium are seas of colours that broadly look the same, suggests to me that the virtues being signalled are mostly the same for the supporters as well.
The big disconnect, especially in politics over the past forty years or so has been the hijacking of religious organisations for political advantage. It is almost as if some sets of supporters have bought fluro patches into the stadium which stand out more on television but upon closer inspection, a different set of virtues is being signalled underneath. It is like a bunch of Melbourne Victory fans turning up at a Sydney game. They know some of the words of the songs and yell chants loudly but they aren't on the same team at all. The fact that they are both blue is neither here nor there.
The old virtues of temperance, prudence, kindness, hospitality and what not, are all grey and brown and from kits from seasons' past. They aren't all that flashy and do not show up well on television. Other virtues like individual responsibility and the perennial and ill-defined 'family values', are black in colour and act nicely as camouflage for the club of selfishness which some people have snuck into the stadium and are using to beat people up with. Although nobody likes to admit it, both sets of rival fans of both RWNJs and SJWs have used their respective black clubs to beat people up with, though to be fair, when it comes to wielding of power, that is mostly a one sided competition.
All of this means to say that I genuinely don't understand why the term "virtue signalling" ever came to be. It seems to have been invented by RWNJs as a term of abuse to thrown at SJWs, as though virtue was somehow a bad thing. In an age where the rich and powerful feel and act as though they have no responsibility to this collective endeavour we call the nation, it is as though having the temerity and courage to stand up and say that using a club on people is unacceptable, is of itself a bad thing.
The truth is that the long game of history has seen people stand up against injustice since the beginning of time. The grand football series resets occasionally and you do get new seasons but it appears to be an eternally unfinished business. To that end, virtue signalling should not necessarily be viewed in the perjorative but as a necessary part of the long game of history.