Sunday 4 December 2016

Mary Kenny: the cult of virtue signalling

Do we espouse particular viewpoints just to look on-trend?

Published 01/11/2015 | 02:30

Mary Kenny
Mary Kenny

I saw a woman the other day walking down Grafton Street wearing the pink ribbon that denotes support for breast cancer charities. I wondered if she was a victim of breast cancer; or if someone she knew and loved suffered and perhaps died from it. But I also wondered if the pink ribbon fell into a recently-coined category known as "virtue signalling".

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Virtue signalling, which has now entered the Collins standard dictionary, is about publicly proclaiming a view that makes you seem like a nice person. Was Angela Merkel signalling a feel-good sense of virtue when she proclaimed that the doors of Europe should be open to all migrants - even though it would be logistically impossible to give hospitality to everyone who wishes to enter the EU?

When it is observed that Dublin theatre audiences are ever-more inclined to give every performance a standing ovation, is that just virtue signalling? Do these folks just want it to be known that they are nice, warm people, rather than, say, rigorous critics of the performing arts?

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