The latest issue of The Spectator carries an interesting piece by James Bartholomew on ‘virtue signalling’, the bane of social media and political debate; that is, people expressing how ruddy good they are by telling the world how much they hate bad things like Ukip and the Daily Mail. He writes:
‘It’s noticeable how often virtue signalling consists of saying you hate things. It is camouflage. The emphasis on hate distracts from the fact you are really saying how good you are. If you were frank and said, ‘I care about the environment more than most people do’ or ‘I care about the poor more than others’, your vanity and self-aggrandisement would be obvious, as it is with Whole Foods. Anger and outrage disguise your boastfulness.’
Such sanctimony is as old as the bible, although if I may blow the family trumpet my brother wrote a good, short book on the subject a while back.
Curiously, an experiment has shown that employers who were asked to make public declarations of their support for women and minorities then hired fewer women and minorities, which suggests that phariseeism does indeed lead to worse behaviour. As long as you say the right things, you can behave how you like.
The reaction to Katie Hopkins’ column in the Sun last week is a perfect illustration; an absurdly dehumanising article by a caricature Right-winger, it led to a collective howl of ‘wow, just wow’ so loud it probably caused a disturbance in the Force. ‘A column so hateful it might give Hitler pause,’ was how the Independent described it. (I’m not sure about that, to be honest, he was pretty racist, Hitler.)
Personally if I was as hated as Katie Hopkins I’d probably want to kill myself, but she seems to enjoy it; and people seem to enjoy being offended by her. What makes such anger slightly ridiculous is that the vast majority of people are not offering any way of stopping the misery in the Med. There are just two policies that would stop people drowning: open borders, with assistance from EU navies, or automatically returning all illegal migrants to their homeland. (For example, no one drowns trying to reach Singapore, because there is no point – you just get sent back.)
So long as people have the hope of staying in Europe, they will come and some will die trying. If you don’t advocate one of those two policies, then any Twitter tears shed for those dying Africans are just water, as the Russian proverb goes.