We’ve all met absurd virtue signalers from time to time. Or at least seen them on TV or online; the recent Democratic party debates, for example, were obscene examples of constant and ridiculous examples of the practice. Based on that TV experience, you might think nothing could top the current Democrats in terms of how “woke” they are or their social justice enlightenment. But you would be wrong; virtue signaling on college campuses is somehow more omnipresent and obscene than it is in the current Democratic Party.
This is part three of the college conservative series. Read part 1 to learn about “Free Speech on College Campuses” and part 2 to learn about “Political Segregation on College Campuses.” You can find more of my writing at GenerationZConservative.
Virtue Signaling is Omnipresent:
Many times while sitting in a classroom and just trying to learn, I will get distracted by a classmate. Is it because of something funny or childish that the other student is doing? No, luckily we’re past middle school in terms of classroom behavior (at least generally, but safe spaces are an issue for another time). Instead, I’m distracted by the constant virtue signaling of other students.
Every time there’s a question posed by the professor to the class, at least one person feels the need to show everyone else how “woke” they are. Or if someone hears another student use a word or phrase they disagree with, shouting ensues (I guess that’s not so different from middle school). For example, saying the word “gay” is now an offence that will lead to severe punishment from the thought police. Anyone who hears a word that was in common use until recently feels the need to start shouting and publically shaming you. And the posters around every college campus in America are ridiculous. Posters attacking Trump. Posters attacking Republicans for a variety of imagined crimes against humanity. Posters attacking Democrats for not being progressive enough. And who pays for and puts up those posters? Democrats who want to show how woke they are, of course.
The virtue signaling is inescapable. Everywhere you go on campus it is present. Luckily, I go to a relatively conservative, and generally reasonable school. So while it’s always present, it’s not quite like it is at Ivy League or West Coast schools. While a few students always feel the need to show just how far to the left they are, most just want to learn. But still, “wokeness” really is inescapable. It is in the classrooms, screamed in halls or on sidewalks, posted online, or taped to a light pole. It’s everywhere.
Virtue Signaling is Obscene:
Although the fact that virtue signaling is seemingly omnipresent bothers me a bit, what bothers me more is the shamelessness and obscenity of it. Sure, I’m conservative. But, I don’t feel the need to constantly express that to my classmates, much less shame those who disagree or are less enthusiastic about conservative values. That’s because I believe in free speech; I think freely debating ideas is important, and that can only happen if people are free to discuss what they think without fear of being shamed or socially segregated. In fact, both of those things are topics I bring up in my “Free Speech on College Campuses” and “Political Segregation on College Campuses” articles. But back to the point, the virtue signaling of the far left is shameless and obscene.
The Democratic debates from this past Wednesday and Thursday are the best recent example of that, just look at how the candidates constantly tried to one up each other. Each one scrambled to describe their victimhood, their understanding of “victims” (a loosely defined term for campus liberals that basically means not straight, white, and male), and what socialist policies they would implement. Campus liberals are much the same. They don’t care how sincere people think they are, they only care about one upping their classmates and being the most “woke” or liberal one in the room. It is fake, tiring, and obscene.
Furthermore, it is absolutely ridiculous as a concept, which makes it all the more obscene. Political opinions should not be so central to one’s identity that showing them becomes a game of one-upmanship that is obviously insincere and meant for effect rather than substance. To me, it is sickening to see people try to convince each other that they believe increasingly ridiculous levels of propaganda about social issues, and then permit no discussion of those issues.
How Liberal One-upmanship Hurts College Communities:
Similarly to how political segregation on college campuses has decimated student life, liberal one-upmanship has destroyed students’ discussion abilities. Now, students can no longer have a real discussion of political issues and what might work or what doesn’t work. Instead of focusing on whether the Great Society reforms were effective in a state and local politics class, we all have to listen to the “woke” girl explain how she understands the trials and tribulations of the African-American community in bland, meaningless, and overused terms. Rather than discuss the politics behind the surge in Iraq, we have to listen to innumerable students name-call Bush and Trump. It is utterly ridiculous and destroys any opportunity for the free sharing and discussion of ideas.
Without that free and open discussion of ideas, all students are worse off. It’s the same problem caused by political segregation or the disappearance of free speech; if there isn’t an open discussion about a topic where all students are free to speak their minds, then no one will truly understand either their opinion on it or what the best solution to the problem is. So does that mean the social justice warriors should be free to share their ideas in class? Yes, of course. Like I discussed in “Good Ideas and Bad Ideas and Free Speech,” we should be open to all ideas, no matter how obviously ridiculous they are. But that goes both ways.
Conservatives should have to listen respectfully to liberal viewpoints. But liberals should also have to respectfully listen to conservative viewpoints in the classroom. In “A Respectful Political Discussion,” I described how both Republicans and Democrats are seemingly unable to respectfully debate political topics. We as a community need to relearn that ability because avoiding debates, or only having rude ones, is a recipe for academic disaster. Students won’t learn how to debate, think, or construct a point. The problem is that the omnipresence of social justice warrior virtue signaling means that debates are almost impossible. Conservatives can be made to sit and listen to the other side respectfully, as can many on the left. But, a fringe element on the left has a habit of interrupting, shouting, and shaming anyone that isn’t as liberal as them, which of course destroys any chance for open discussion. If we want our students to learn, the reasonable ones have to be allowed to speak. Ceding control of the classroom to SJW ideologues isn’t a good thing for anyone.
It is easy to lampoon the “woke” social justice warriors on modern universities. But in doing so we become no better than them. I think that the solution is to force everyone to listen respectfully, and hand out academic punishments for those who can’t. Special politics classes freshman year should be designed around that so that each student receives a grade based on their ability to listen. While SJWs might be ridiculous and spew nonsense to show their progressive credentials, many of them at the very least care about their grades. As do many other students. Tying their grade to their ability to respectfully discuss and listen would help limit the spread of the virtue signaling plague and make discussions not only more polite, but also more authentic. Just imagine how great it would be if people felt free to say what they actually think rather than what they think they need to say to avoid a progressive lynch mob.
Additionally, giving schools the ability to fail out students who can’t handle having respectful discussions would be a great tool for universities, and the American workforce. It would give universities a way to get rid of students that are causing a distinct harm to the student body, and give employers a way to see which students could potentially participate in an office environment without causing problems. Yes, there is a legitimate concern that a policy like that one could lead to censorship of conservative students. It would definitely have to be tied to protections of free speech. And I know it’s not an ideal plan.
But, as one of the many conservative college students that exist, I do think something needs to be done to stop the constant virtue signaling. It destroys classroom discussion and leads to more political segregation on campuses. We need to find an effective way to combat it. If you have any good ideas about how to bring back manners and an appreciation for respectful debate, then shoot me an email! My email is [email protected]
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