Stoicism, Virtue Signaling, and Vice Signaling

In this article, I specifically redefine virtue signaling to make a point.  I give virtue signaling a positive meaning since in my experience people accused of virtue signaling are likely intending to do the right thing.

Often we hear people complain about others who virtue signal.  But what is virtue signaling?  Virtue signaling is usually a form of argumentation and rhetoric that defends the dignity or rights of classes of people considered underprivileged, whether they are people of color, women, homosexuals, trans, or non-binary.  When individuals signal their virtue they’re educating people about an unjust power imbalance between those who are privileged and those who are underprivileged. After all, virtue isn’t just something that should be important to one person, it should be important to everyone.

I contrast virtue signaling with what I consider to be vice signaling. Vice signaling is a rhetorical strategy that attacks virtue signalers merely on the basis that virtue signalers are virtue signalers.  In fact, vice signalers define virtue signaling as an attempt of a person who virtue signals to score social points, pat themselves on the back, or advance their status in their in-group. In fact, painting someone as a virtue signaler is an ad hominem attack that does not address the issue of justice the virtue signaler is concerned about.

Why call it vice signaling?  It’s vice signaling because by only attacking virtue signalers as individuals, but not a virtue signaler’s arguments, vice signalers defy the virtues of wisdom and intellectual honesty.  Since the strategies of the vice signaler are against virtue, then they are participating in vice. The vice signaling strategy doesn’t add to the dialogue, it subtracts from the dialogue.  Vice signalers might have a point that some virtue signalers out there are just pretending to care but whether a virtue signaler pretends to care is besides the point.  The vice signaler still needs to address the virtue signaler’s arguments rather than attack the virtue signaler him/herself.

Vice signaling is not merely a problem because the vice signaler is being vicious but also because of immediate negative consequences.  Vice signaling derails discussion, it poisons the dialogue, it even harms the underprivileged because it stifles dialogue meant to address unjust power imbalances in society.

Musonious Rufus, Epictetus, Cato the Younger, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca were virtue signalers during their time.  Musonius Rufus believed that everyone regardless of gender were endowed with reason during a time when women were regarded as nothing more than property. Cato put his virtue on full display when he vowed never to live under Julius Caesar as dictator. We don’t indubitably know all the ancient Stoics’ true intentions.  Maybe Epictetus really did virtue signal because he wanted to increase his social approval and increase turnout at his school.  But we’ll never know and it is counterproductive to speculate.  We should be thinking about what we know about Epictetus, his arguments, and his sound conclusions.

One pernicious quality of a vice signaler is their anger and disgust.  Vice signalers attempt to conceal their anger and disgust but it’s easy to spot their hatred spilling over in the form of snide remarks, ad hominems, vitriol, and trolling.   One way to respond to vice signalers is to help them see wisdom by discussing the issues with them objectively and without bias all the while without counter-attacking their character.  If the attempt is fruitless, then there is no choice but to ignore them.

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5 Reasons Stoicism is Better than Jordan B Peterson

Jordan Peterson is the psychology professor from the University of Toronto who has become something of a celebrity intellectual. Men’s Rights Activists and Alt Righters everywhere are absolutely happy to flock to this guy. He’s popular because he opposed a Canadian law that will supposedly destroy your career as a professor for not using gendered pronouns that go beyond two. Oddly, even though he’s opposed this law, his career is perfectly safe and he benefits greatly for his opposition to this law. Here are 5 Reasons Stoicism Is Greater than Him.

1. Jordan Peterson famously compared human beings to lobsters. As bizarre as this might sound it’s particularly pernicious. Jordan Peterson is saying that human beings have hierarchies like the lobster and that these hierarchies are not artificially created by global capitalism but just the natural order of things. Jordan Peterson is essentially saying that the terrible ways our system is is because we’re just designed that way and it’s not just that we’re designed that way but it’s good. So you should be happy being at the bottom. Stoicism just observes humans the way they are. There have been hierarchies throughout all time but they’re never exactly the same hierarchies. There used to be master-slave hierarchies, feudal hierarchies, and now we have capitalist hierarchies. Nothing is static. The Stoics knew the universe was change. The Stoics also believed everyone ultimately deserved equal status in the world of things. No one was a Sage, so everyone was in the same boat. No one was really any better than anyone else.

2. Jordan Peterson uses the theory of evolution in a way to justify his Jungian archetypal theory. Unfortunately he engages in evolutionary psychology, which most forms of it are pseudoscientific since we have no idea what were in the heads of our distant ancestors. It’s speculation at best, pseudoscience at worst. And Jordan Peterson should know better than to consider Carl Jung an important psychologist. Stoicism is always updating closely with the current science. Stoicism used techniques back in its ancient days that were a lot like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. In fact, CBT owes quite a bit of its development to Stoicism, which is pretty much Stoic psychological techniques being tested in the lab.

3. Jordan Peterson may have won that interview with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News but he can’t win an argument against a Stoic. Why is that? A true Stoic is adept at logic and rhetoric and knows when someone is using rhetoric as opposed to logic. Jordan Peterson is an excellent rhetorician but if challenged by an actual professional philosopher or psychologist like Massimo Pigliucci or Donald Robertson, he’d have to eat his hat. The problem is Jordan Peterson is used to being interviewed by people who don’t have expertise. But how would he do with an expert in his same field or in his crossover field: philosophy?

4. Jordan Peterson Lobster Lobster Jordan Peterson. Stoicism doesn’t use lobsters to justify its philosophy. Any questions?

5. Finally, Jordan Peterson doesn’t calm down his rabid followers. Zeno of Citium is known for reprimanding his followers whenever they became too uncontrollable. Jordan Peterson seems to make a killing out off having a fervent crowd of young pissed off white males. Stoicism has no place for any amount of fervent followers, even if a few.

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