Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Virtue Signaling

Among the privileged, celebrities, in particular, suffer from guilt. Most of them do not believe that they earned what they have and thus, Victor Davis Hanson explains, they cannot really enjoy it. (Via Maggie’s Farm) They are crippled by the fear that someone, some day is going to come along and take it all away.

When you do not feel that you earned what you have, when the extent of your wealth far outstrips the effort you put into accumulating it, you’re your wealth is grossly disproportionate to your contribution to society, you are going to feel like a fraud. You will feel guilty and you will, Hanson explains, diminish the guilt by doing some serious penance.

Who would not give up a little to save a lot?

If you feel guilty you will need protection. Hanson explains that hyperwealthy celebrities, from Beyonce to Colin Kaepernick to the Clintons to George Soros feel compelled to signal their consummate virtue by glomming on to trendy leftist causes. They try to obviate the implication that there is something suspicious in all the filthy lucre they have accumulated, that they did not earn it, but gamed the system. Thus, they have a special affinity for any ideology that suggests that the system is corrupt.

Almost by definition celebrities earn more than they contribute. But they also earn more than they deserve. Great actors and musicians—from Meryl Streep to YoYo Ma-- are not celebrities. Mediocre talents who fill the tabloid press are.

In the past people who amassed great fortunes tended to be humble about their wealth. They did not buy up entire neighborhoods in order to feel more secure. They did not flaunt their wealth by sailing on mammoth yachts or by spending absurd sums of money on whatever. They wanted to relate to other people, not to lord it over them. And they wanted to give back to society by setting an example of behavior that would produce more social harmony.

They understood that the conspicuous display of extravagant, and especially unearned wealth produces resentment. Most of them knew better than to be classed among the Robber Barons.

In the past, humility was a virtue, something to which others could aspire. It was, if I may say so, the antidote to narcissism. Today, the culture of celebrity values oversharing and vulgarity. Celebrities are a throwback to paganism; they function like gods who lead a variety of pagan cults. And like the gods of Olympus they set an example of bad behavior and encourage others to indulge the same vices. But since they were gods no one was going to judge them ill for their bad behavior. Thus did do they make of vice a virtue.

Almost by definition, celebrities can feel no shame. If they did they would not be making a living by making a spectacle of themselves.

They prefer to live their lives within a guilt/penance narrative. They transgress society’s rules, feel guilty about it and do penance to cleanse their souls. Once they have done so they can go out and sin again. Being virtuous means paying a price for transgression, and thus going out to misbehave again.

Hanson explained:

The wealthy, the influential, the intelligentsia, and the cultural elite all broadcast their virtues — usually at a cut-rate rhetorical price — to offset their own sense of sin (as defined by feelings of guilt), or in fear that their own lives are antithetical to the ideologies they espouse, or sometimes simply as a wise career move. Sin these days is mostly defined as race/class/gender thought crimes.

They are, Hanson suggests, wearing a mask of virtue because they could not otherwise enjoy their wealth. One might say that since this wealth was not really earned they do not feel that it is really theirs. If the wealth is not really theirs they have no right to enjoy it:

Wearing a mask of virtue is done not to save one’s soul for eternity but to still feel good about enjoying privilege. The sneakers, jeans, and T-shirts or mafia-black outfits of Silicon Valley billionaires can compensate for their robber-baron sins of outsourcing, offshoring, and tax avoidance or simply their preference for apartheid existence with the fellow rich; for George Soros (currency manipulator and European financial outlaw), it is funding leftists who hate capitalists and rank financial speculators like him. All that beats lashings and haircloth.

Hanson describes a number of virtue-signaling celebrities, but the greatest of them all—primus inter pares—must be Bill and Hillary Clinton. Among American presidents Bill Clinton stands out for having cashed in on the American presidency. No other president, before or since, has done the same:

A person from Mars who reviewed the long record of the Clintons – from the young women who fell into the lair of Bill’s predation, to the unapologetic greed from the 34-trillion-to-1 odds in Hillary’s cattle-futures con, to “Chancellor Bill” of Laureate University as the highest annually paid university head in education history, to the privileged lifestyle of huge estates and private jets, (some of it fueled by ensuring the Clinton Foundation would dispense only about 15 percent of its annual expenditures to charities) — would size up the couple as grasping Gilded Age plutocrats whose reactionary lifestyles reflected a lifelong counter-revolutionary self-obsession.

What will it take to put an end, not only to this virtue signaling, but to a culture that forgives just about anything as long as  you do not have a corrupt or sinful thought? Hanson suggests that’s time for a Reformation, and perhaps even a subsequent Counter Reformation:

The Reformation — and Counter Reformation — mostly ended the selling of penances. Only something similar will end our pathetic version, perhaps when the public tunes out at the tired boilerplate of “racist,” “sexist,” and “nativist”; or when we quit sending money to the “safe space,” “trigger warning,” “micro-aggression” Ivy League; or we flip the channel when NFL gladiators playact as robed philosophers; or we laugh off celebrity activists as the new John D. Rockefellers tossing out a few of their shiny new dimes.


Sam L. said...

Signalling one's virtue, or what is thought to be virtue, is NOT virtuous. It signals pretensiousness, and that one is parroting the party line.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Celebrity is based on being famous for being famous. Feeding fame means creating and drawing attention to a false image. It means putting yourself out there as much as possible to be noticed.

Phony virtue is about being liked. I suspect is that people don't fully appreciate is how easy it is to say YES to everyone and everything, especially when one has the means to insulate him/herself from the real consequences. Living on a stage, then a motorcade, and then a gated mansion makes life very sanitary. But life isn't tidy and sanitary, is it? There's another false image they're peddling, though we wish it were true. "That _______ guy, his life must be great! He's got all that money and fame. He must have it so easy..."

Golly, I wonder why there are so many problems with drug use in the world of celebrity. Maybe they need an escape from the reality they've created for themselves.

If you look at the positions of today's celebrities, they're really peddling in unconditional license as a substitute for love or any substantive human interaction. So what do we hear? We get "I don't care what anyone does, so long as they're happy." My, my... how noble. There's never a reporter to follow up asking "What creates human happiness?" But the more meaningful questions is: is what they want and what you're advocating for good for them (and society in general) in the long run? If the answer is no, these virtuous political "stances" are indicative of indifference, not virtue.

And there's a symbiotic, even incestuous, relationship with the media in all this. It's perpetuating an image that sells more advertising, programming and merchandise that the media companies own. The image is the product, so we need to build it up. They must realize the full value of this "franchise." Take Caitlin Jenner winning the ESPN Arthur Ashe Courage Award, for example... there's nothing courageous about Caitlin, it's simply a media sensation. When is dressing up as something you're not a courageous act?

The goal with all celebrity media is to share innocuous, vacant information in order to generate media content. This perpetuates the false image. The racket is to make sure no one thinks they're mean. Because if people think they're mean, the avatar crumbles and they'll get less attention, which means less profits for all involved.

So a public figure actually doing the thoughtful, tough love thing is pure risk. Let's remember that Aristotle said courage is the most important of the virtues, because it makes all the others possible. There's nothing courageous about being nice and agreeable with people all the time. No real human being is like that.

Trigger Warning said...

Hate to be a Bible-thumper here, but if the shoe fits:

"[A]ll their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments..."

Preening is older than the human species.

I must say, however, that the Chancellor Bill revelation is stunning. What must ITT students be thinking?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Victor David Hanson: "The Reformation — and Counter Reformation — mostly ended the selling of penances."

Actually, the real consequence of the Protestant Reformation was a surge in individualism, which has had a devastating impact on community worship and the unity of Christendom. The selling of indulgences became more lucrative and large-scale with the advent of the printing press, which enabled selling indulgences as a mass market product. The printing press also launched the vernacular Bible, which encouraged reading and education throughout Europe. But religious experience -- one's relationship to God, interpretation of scripture, understanding of faith, and the path salvation -- was damaged by the Reformation. Still, the Counter Reformation created greater accountability and quality within the Catholic Church as well, and the selling of indulgences ceased. My point is that selling indulgences was a symptom of what needed to be reformed in the institutional church, not the real problem, which became the atomization of Christian sects around a cult of personality and micro-distinctions of belief that individualize faith at the expense of religious experience. The Protestant solution fueled disintegration, and provided the pathway to the decline of religion in the West. Our culture has suffered greatly. Now we just go out and buy stuff. Alas.

The symptoms Hanson decries are actually tied to individualism. A "reformation" of individualism demands virtue, which requires standards of understanding that our nation can share. Instead, we seem to be getting more disintegrated.

AesopFan said...

"In the past people who amassed great fortunes tended to be humble about their wealth. They did not buy up entire neighborhoods in order to feel more secure. They did not flaunt their wealth by sailing on mammoth yachts or by spending absurd sums of money on whatever. They wanted to relate to other people, not to lord it over them. And they wanted to give back to society by setting an example of behavior that would produce more social harmony.

They understood that the conspicuous display of extravagant, and especially unearned wealth produces resentment. Most of them knew better than to be classed among the Robber Barons."

In the recent past, in America, perhaps.
However, the flaunting of wealth and power (or the appearance thereof) has been a staple of the aristocracy and monarchs for most of history.
The behavior of people in the government at all levels, but especially the President, is looking much less like the citizen-leader virtues supported by the Founders' and much more like the monarchical excesses they were rebelling against.

Anonymous said...

"Most of them do not believe that they earned what they have..."

I stopped reading right there. Because 100% of "most of them" are correct.

Ares Olympus said...

Oh, what a load of whining, so so boring! Not an interesting reflection to be had there.

I wonder what I'd do if I accidentally became a millionaire against my will? Perhaps a lucky $25k investment in a penny stock jumped to 5 million in a decade? Finding a useful place to put excess wealth is certainly a predicament. Maybe that startup solar power company I turned down investing in?

I did learn in my 20s that once you start giving donations, even the $50 level, you'll get hit by letters from hundreds of groups asking for money. I ended up focusing more on local group. Habitat for Humanity, Second Harvest and Nature Conservancy were some good ones I found. Are these all liberal causes?

Donating to groups like for cancer society, etc, was always harder for me, like research funding, and scientists get big bucks, doesn't seem like my money will got far against intractible illnesses.

But watch out for those police or firefighter funds you'll get cold called. Whenever you ask "What fraction of donations go to the charity?" And after being put on hold to talk to a supervisor, you're told its 11%, and then you say "Thanks for calling...." It so predictable, you almost feel sorry for the professional fundraisers.

Anyway, if I need to relieve guilt, while giving money never helped much, but donating blood seems more selfless. And no matter how rich you are, you've got about the same amount of blood to give. And not everyone can give at all, so its a privledge that even celebrities should recognize.

I did read somewhere that heart disease in men was related to high blood iron so I can claim lowering my blood iron might be improving my health as well? Maybe its not so selfless, but its still a win-win, right?