Virtue Signaling vs. Outrage Signaling

From Newsweek:

Ben Shapiro Says There’s ‘No Excuse’ for Mitt Romney Supporting Jackson

In the accompanying article, Shapiro is shown lambasting the Utah senator for joining the standing ovation for newly confirmed supreme court justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, labelling it “virtue signaling.”

First off, pretty much no one who has thrived in the “conservative media” over the past six years has any right casting aspersions on anyone else’s motives for anything whatsoever. Outrage signaling is no better or more honorable than virtue signaling; and outrage signaling purely for personal material gain constitutes an extreme assault on the very notions of virtue and reason. Worse than that, such outrage signaling, the phony fomenting and massaging of public anger, fear, and paranoia for the sake of monetary profit and commercially beneficial reputation, perfectly exemplifies no fewer than two of the four specific abuses of language defined by Thomas Hobbes, corresponding to his specific natural uses of language, as follows (from Leviathan I.iv, “Of Speech”). 

Specific use number three: “to make known to others our wills and purposes so that we may have the mutual help of one another.”

Corresponding abuse: “Thirdly, when by words they falsely declare their will.”

Specific use number four: “to please and delight ourselves, and others, by playing with our words, for pleasure or ornament, innocently.”

Corresponding abuse: “Fourthly, when they use [words] to grieve one another: for seeing nature has armed living creatures, some with teeth, some with horns, and some with hands, to grieve an enemy, it is simply an abuse of speech to grieve him with the tongue, unless it be someone whom we are obliged to govern; and then it is not to grieve, but to correct and amend.”

Ben Shapiro is one of the most transparent of the “conservative media’s” many strategically manipulative, calculating, and materially-driven profiteers. (One should expect no better from a young man who built his reputation on the dubious honor of having been a teenage debate champion.) He expresses anger at Mitt Romney this week because he believes this position will win him a larger and more ardent audience, and therefore earn him more money. He rode the fence on Donald Trump for five years (including populating his media organization with more vocal Trumpsters to shield himself from criticism for being insufficiently committed to the MAGA horse poop), while always quietly coming down on the pro-Trump side of the Republican establishment when push came to shove, because he calculated that this was the surest way to hold and build his audience while preserving some simulacrum of integrity for the inevitable post-Trump period of Republican establishmentarianism. He has thus forfeited whatever moral or intellectual authority he might have had to issue judgments or condemnations of anyone else’s actions or motives in the political sphere. 

The same goes for the rest of the money-grubbing populist panderers who pretend to be conservatives for cash. There is “no excuse” for their willingness to sell their minds and words to the lowest instincts of the widest audience.

One may question the reasonableness of Mitt Romney’s hope that showing civility toward the new, historically progressive supreme court justice might engage some sort of goodwill or open-mindedness in her judicial approach, but as pie-in-the-sky as his hope may be, it is surely no more harmful than the intentional and intransigent spewing of distrust and disdain for absolutely everyone who disagrees with your tribe about anything. All the more so when you yourself have actively helped to relativize all disagreement by forsaking good faith arguments of principle in favor of cynically striking any given day’s most profitable stance. Sophists may rightfully criticize the strategies of others as materially disadvantageous, since material advantage is their essential sphere of interest and knowledge. By definition, however, a sophist is one who has ceded any claim to authority regarding the moral or political high ground, having chosen to operate in precisely those fields primarily and fundamentally on the premises of pragmatic material success and self-promotion. In short, neither Ben Shapiro nor any of his famous “conservative media” brethren have a leg to stand on regarding such matters anymore, after spending the past six years exposing themselves as political drug dealers and pimps.

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