One of the phrases which right wing media with distinctly authoritarian overtones has decided to weaponise in its arsenal in fighting the culture war, is "Virtue Signalling". I find this kind of phrasing used as a weapon both baffling and annoying because if anyone actually bothered to think about what the phrase means in political, economic, and philosophical terms, then you immediately run into an immense amount of either hypocrisy or knavery, or perhaps both.
Is the right complaining that people who are virtue signalling not genuine; in which case, are they actually concerned about the issues at hand? Is the right complaining that the virtues being signalled, differ from their value set; in which case, would they actually prefer that vice is signalled? Moreover, why does the right choose to fight perceived virtue signalling with signalling of their own? Is the right merely complaining that virtues exist and that the only possible overlay is that the only allowable lens to view the world is an economic one? If that's true, since virtue doesn't and shouldn't exist, then by right I should literally murder everyone and steal to get what I want.
It should be apparent that I explicitly reject the notion that virtue shouldn't be signalled because as a member of society and part of the commonwealth of people, I think that it is almost self-evident that everything simply works better and more pleasantly if everyone is nice to each other. Ironically, my rational selfishness leads me to believe that everyone is better off if everyone isn't individually selfish all the time.
Virtue is that part of character which is good for being good. People will disagree about what kind of motives and philosophical standpoint produces goodness or even what goodness is but in general, most people are fine with the four cardinal virtues as described in Plato's "Republic" because it's useful to have a common framework.
Plato named four cardinal virtues in the Republic and maps them to both the social classes of the imagined ideal city described therein and within the faculties of people. Plato's conception of what constitutes a good city and what constitutes a good person are practically identical and that's one of the central points of his narrative, where he imagines a discussion of the makeup of the character of both a good city and a good person.
It's almost Kantian in that he doesn't actually have to go anywhere or even necessarily need to produce data to arrive at any empirical evidence for his reasoning.
The four cardinal virtues identified in the Republic are: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance.
What I find particularly telling when it comes to the right's complaint about virtue signalling is that the virtue which is almost always being complained about is Justice. Indeed the term employed by way of abuse by the right is 'Social Justice Warrior' which concedes the point that there is a culture war going on and that the enemies of the right are fighting for justice.
That's often been the case through history. The chartists, trade unions, suffragettes, and now movements like Black Lives Matter, have all been crying out for justice to be served; usually because injuries exacted by the right have resulted in increased harm and poverty of the powerless. It does not surprise me that part of the arsenal employed by the right, is to brand social movements like Black Lives Matter as Marxist; as if that were some kind of magic curse. Again, if anyone actually bothered to read what Marx wrote, then you immediately run into an immense amount of knavery.
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.
- Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (1848)
You might disagree with the prescription which Marx writes to deal with the treatment of the disease which he sees but his dianogsis is pretty difficult to disagree with. At the time, most people in the world didn't even have the right to vote; much less any say about what laws governed them. Trade unions and collective bargaining were outlawed across Europe and in the United States, actual slavery where people were owned as chattel goods wouldn't be abolished for another 17 years.
In my lifetime especially, the lessons which were learned by generations who live through two world wars, the 1918-20 flu pandemic, and the Great Depression, made people realise that there was more power in standing together than apart. For a while, those who had been oppressed appeared to gain ground; so those people who run what amounts to private monopolies and who want to act as if they have responsibility to the nation at large, simply had to destroy what was built. In a modern political context, nothing has changed: oppressor and oppressed - standing in constant opposition to one another.
Marx knew that people tend to on most occasions to act in accordance with their own interests. If you extend that principle out beyond the realm of economics, I think that it holds true across all kinds of areas where you have people with power and people in control of that power. There are definitely socialists within Marxism and there are definitely socialists within the Black Lives movement as there have been in every single social movement but that does not make those socialist movements, it makes them mass movements.
To the people who have power, authority, privilege etc. any kind of pushback at all is treated as though it is oppression (even if that is the instrument which is being exacted upon the people who are pushing back). Since power being wielded cruelly tends to be a feature right across the authoritarian north of the political compass, then resistance against the pushback tends to look mostly identical to that same power being wielded.
The common feature of the Chartists, Trade Unions, Reformers, Suffragettes, Civil Rights movements, and the Black Lives Matter movement are people crying out for the virtue of Justice to be honoured. Calling that Marxist as a term of abuse, makes sense because Marx himself looked around the world in which he found himself and saw workers being exploited, slavery still in action, and the people who were being exploited with no say at all about what was happening to them.
That's why the term 'virtue signalling' as a term of abuse seems so baffling to me. It is really strange to me that stating the truth is used as a form of abuse. Where people are accused of virtue signalling, then it is usually true and the specific virtue which they are both signalling and crying out for, is Justice.
Pushing back against virtue signalling is itself signalling that someone is not only find with injustice being allowed to exist but that they want it to flourish. It is a strange world when virtue itself is seen as something to be quashed.