Among the vast plethora of criticisms that Brexit has amassed over the last 3 years, one of the big critiques is often how Brexit is responsible for dividing the nation. It has often portrayed the ‘moronic’, ‘racist’ and ‘bigoted’ right wing have unified to shut down diversity and stop the immigration of minorities. From the right wing standpoint, it has been about sovereignty and the upkeep of democracy but have deemed the left wing as unpatriotic, cowardly and anti-Semitic. What has happened to develop such an aggressive, partisan-based hatred, in all of world politics, is the rise of virtue signalling.
For those that don’t know, virtue signalling is the practice of publicly condemning or praising a certain action, cause or policy in order to demonstrate how ‘correct’ or superior one’s moral compass is. It is this competition for moral superiority in the social sphere, regardless of facts or consequences, is what really is polarizing the United Kingdom. We have seen this virtue signalling characteristic ingrain itself into the brexit debate, for example, as soon as the referendum resulted in a majority desire to leave.
The majority right wing members of the public who voted brexit have been subjected to a publicly disseminated narrative that they are inherently racist, bigotted and almost dumb if you voted for brexit. According to the majority left wing angle, it is moronic and racist to vote on Brexit on the basis or border control. They also suggest it is dumb to think that the economy could be improved by leaving. These labels we see, particularly from the left, are used to brand those on the right as mentally inferior and racist. This has been predominantly to push a second referendum narrative like we have seen Caroline Lucas and Jeremy Corbyn try to do. In a sense, it teaches people to think ‘why are we listening to dumb bigotted racists’ essentially dehumanising the opposition. Once you have dehumanised an opposing group, it is easy to push your own radical agenda which we have clearly seen.
Caroline Lucas’ blatant sexism with her ‘all female’ brexit cabinet and Jeremy Corbyns’ obvious disregard for upholding democratic principles are now seemingly accepted when it comes to dealing with a radically racist pro-Brexit view. Virtue signalling has been used as a political tool in everywhere from individuals trying to show off how morally superior they are to parties using this structure of rhetoric to crush opposing views.
It works like this. If a party has a partisan agenda to push that is met by opposition, they brand them as radical and use extreme rhetoric that is designed to annihilate their reputation. They can then can seemingly use this as a defence measure or a distraction to mask bad policy and condemnable actions and discourse. What virtue signalling does is make politics and the social fabric a screaming arena and advocates a lazy train of thought. Why would you work on developing rational thoughts and policy when you can win an argument, almost instantly, by procreating a narrative designed to render your political opponents irrelevant or fringe?
One of the big ways virtue signalling has been used in the sociopolitical sphere is with regards to the environment. With debates rife over the Amazon fires and the use of paper straws in fast food restaurants, virtue signalling has been used heavily to close off opposition and shut down discussion. McDonald’s have come out and said that their paper straws are not recyclable. A 2014 study by Science Direct concluded that only in some circumstances are bio-plastics more Eco-friendly than regular plastic (PP) straws. A study by Appropedia concluded that, when all things are taken into account like; materials, cost, transport and how disposable it is, you only save 0.07g of Co2 per straw. When you reduce your reliance on plastics you inevitably increase your reliance on trees and natural agricultural materials like sugar canes and starches. This is inevitably leads to increased destruction of the Amazon rain-forest as a result because it is the primary target for timber, paper and cardboard production.
Pointing this out however will land you labels of ‘climate change denier’ and will inevitably be branded as a moron who’s not worth listening to.
It is important to open up discussion, not eliminate it. This practice of proclaiming to an audience or political opposition how morally superior you are with useless actions and statements, helps nobody. What helps is open ended discussion, a mutual understanding of political policies and motives and a factual basis to analyse. It is time we abandoned the constructs of virtue signalling and unjustified character assassinations in order to clean up our political environment and our news focuses.