Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Do they know what they are signaling?

It is not uncommon for many in the top twenty, ten, one percent of the population, to spend much time and effort signaling that they are not just wealthier but brighter, more morally rectitudinous, wiser, and generally superior to the hoi polloi. Among economist and others, this is known as virtue signaling and there are many forms.

It is not for everyone. Indeed, The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley reveals that the great majority of the wealthy and successful keep a remarkably low profile. They spend their money carefully but are often intensely involved in their community where their contributions can have immediate effect.

Then there are the splashy few who are intensely committed to using the media to highlight a perceived problem or who are very eager for the government to use its coercive powers to deprive one group of citizens in order to solve the perceived problems of another group. This pathological altruism is often catastrophic and harmful, based on its prioritization of emotionalism over actual knowledge,

As a consequence, the virtue signalers end up signaling something entirely different than they intended, often feeding quite negative perceptions of them and their motives.

A recent example is that of the Google doodles. As you might be aware, Google often places drawings on their beautifully clean homepage. The background is here.
Doodles are the fun, surprising, and sometimes spontaneous changes that are made to the Google logo to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous artists, pioneers, and scientists.
A harmless enough idea. It is the choices, execution and unintended conjunctions which can create problems. Google is eliciting an increasing level of concern in many circles. We know that they frequently adjust their algorithms to yield "better" search results. No issue in that other than what constitutes "better." We know that they have experimented with how to change views on hot topics but they declare that they do not use the knowledge gained from those experiments to influence elections. There are no particular reasons that these assurances bring to mind Shakespeare's funeral oration by Anthony of Caesar.
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men--
No reason other than life experience.

Some are concerned that Google has become the latest in a long line of outside revolutionaries (Don't be Evil) to go over to the dark side and become crony capitalists by currying regulatory favor from the established powers-that-be. A concern that is fanned by the 427 visits by Google executives to the White House, the several dozens of White House and Congressional insiders who have taken executive positions with Google and the couple of dozen Google executives who have been given leaves of absence to serve in the Administration. Again,
For Google is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men--
I am sure.

One of the common themes among critics is that we have the worst political class in generations in cahoots with the most hypocritical elite in a long time. A group together that are both alienated from the great majority of Americans and condescending, dismissive and unconcerned with the welfare and well-being of America and Americans. A little bit of an exaggeration I think, but an argument that is relatively easily made, particularly given the virtue signaling proclivities of the self-anointed.

Google had a doodle on May 19th, commemorating the 95th birthday of Yuri Kochiyama, a little known and controversial political activist.

Those who are proponents of strong criticism of the USA and its many failings see Kochiyama as a civil rights icon. Virtually no one else is even aware of her. For those who do become aware, most would describe her as a communist, racist, Anti-American and/or Islamic terrorist. With more or less good grounds for all those accusations. The Washington Post, reporting on the Google Doodle controversy, tried to put the best gloss they could on this exercise in elitist virtue signaling (see, we are so open minded, we even celebrate the birthday of those who hate America), but ended their report with an anemic:
She lived a long and complicated, deeply political life.
Well, yes, there's that. If by "deeply complicated political life" we mean hateful, destructive, etc. Brings to mind George Orwell's comment in Notes on Nationalism in 1945,
One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.
The average American has an atavistic aversion to all concentrations of power and self-ennoblement, of which virtue signaling is so often a symptom. They know what the elite think of them and sense how estranged the self-anointed are from the beliefs of the citizenry. Not just estrangement but revulsion on the part of the elite to anything that smacks of the masses.

On May 19th, Google celebrates a political activist who's long life was spent reviling America. On May 30th, Memorial Day, we officially honor those who gave their lives in service of America. Google celebrates this holiday, and the service of the 22 million living veterans with this doodle.

Click to enlarge. Really enlarge.

No doodle, just a footnoted flag with a yellow ribbon. It is something, but understated. Apparently this is a long established policy, of sorts, on the part of Google. I see a google forum discussion back in 2011 complaining about the lack of recognition of Memorial Day.

So the contrast is between a virtually forgotten, deeply divisive, highly questionable political activist who gets the banner treatment on May 19th and nearly no acknowledgment 11 days later on a national holiday to memorialize the 1.1 million Americans who have given their lives in all our wars for their fellow Americans.

I am sure there is a logic in there somewhere on the part of Google but it sure comes across as intellectual virtue signaling on the one hand and dismissive disdain of the common man's patriotism on the other.

No comments:

Post a Comment