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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Violence and Virtue Signaling

When a person expresses an opinion or point of view with the express purpose of to garner praise or acknowledgement of one's righteousness from others who believe the same thing, it's called "virtue signaling".

In its more benign form, it's a method of showing people who share an opinion that they're not alone, to bring a wider awareness of a problem, and to bond people together into a kind of tribe. It's usually done via social media these days, but it can also be done via things like bumper stickers, signs and banners (what do you think yard signs for politicians are?), t-shirts, colored ribbons or wearing a specific color (red ribbons for AIDS awareness, wear pink for breast cancer and purple for Alzheimer's, etc.).

Sometimes it's not so benign. It can be used as a method of harassment or ostracization or intimidation. It can also sometimes take a complex, nuanced or difficult problem to solve and simplify it so much that it becomes a meaningless or even dangerous gesture (see the black dot campaign)

So what happens when we start mixing virtual signaling with the real (or imagined) risk of violence?

Back in 2016, a virtue signaling fad started up of wearing a safety pin, for a variety of reasons. Read the Snopes article here.

I don't know the source, but I snagged this off of social media back in 2016.

I'm not going to discuss the political issues here, as it's way beyond the scope or purpose of this blog.

The part of that fad that interested me was the variant of the safety pin movement that insisted that it had to be more than "slacktivism" and involved a commitment to intervene if you spotted someone being harassed in public.

I didn't see everyone pushing for this campaign saying this, and the fad burned out pretty quickly, but it did get me to thinking about how this modern trend to virtue signal could inspire people who aren't really prepared for it into situations involving violence or self-defense.

On principle, I like the idea of more of us committing to making our society one where harrassment of folks for any reason are not tolerated socially, and the consequences are immediate. I also like the idea of each of us taking responsibility for making all of us safer in public, and not waiting for some authority figure to come along and make it happen.

In real life, though, it's messier than that. There are complex problems around ethics, morals, and what's legal and what's not. Again, more than I can cover in a single blog post.

So here's the thing... if you participate in movements like the safety pin fad, some people are going to believe that you are ready, willing, and able to help them if bad stuff goes down.  

If you're not prepared for this, either you're making a false promise and betraying your cause, or, you're going to get yourself or other people hurt really badly (or even killed) and/or in serious trouble with the law.

So, if you really are interested in either defending yourself or others against public harassment... you have to do more than wear a safety pin or a color or talk about how you're willing to "punch a Nazi" or whatever on Twitter.

You have to train yourself in:

  • Conflict resolution

  • De-escalation techniques

  • The law of self defense (what you, as a bystander, can and can't do legally)

  • Unarmed self defense techniques

  • Armed self defense (even if you choose not to use a weapon of any kind - you may face them)

  • Have a good defense attorney's number on hand

If insert yourself into situations like this YOU could become the target of violence and you can get arrested and charged with a crime, and you have to be prepared for that.

If you're committed to intervening, you can't take a single conflict resolution class, or a single self defense course, or read a book on the subject, and call it a day.  These skills must be practiced in order to be effective.

That means ongoing self defense training.

So if you're committed to the idea behind these virtual signaling fads, you have to seek out and read all the books on this topic you can, written by people who are from a variety of backgrounds and points of view.  You have to regularly attend physical training in the subject.  You have to learn as much as you can about the consequences of intervening in situations like this, so you are prepared to take action if it happens around you.

One more thing - you really have to be honest about your ability to help vs. your willingness to help.  If you are not able to do more about this than the equivalent using of a hashtag on Twitter, well... I'd rather you not make promises you can't or won't keep.  This is serious business, something that can have far-reaching and permanent consequences.

I'd love it if more people took responsibility for themselves and those they care about in the arena of self defense. I think it'd greatly improve society as a whole.

But do not participate in fads like this if you aren't able and willing to back it up.

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