Virtue-Signaling

Character is the composite of repeated actions, employed values and refined qualities, so it is somewhat absurd to judge people – usually to condemn them – based on one deed or misdeed. Should Moshe’s reputation be tarnished irrevocably because he failed to bring his generation or himself into the land of Israel? Should even the spies that he dispatched or Korach his cousin and nemesis be cast into eternal ignominy because of their sins? Should one wrong action outweigh a lifetime of accomplishment?

Part of the moral malaise of modern man reflects this very question. It is not only the absence of heroes that can inspire anyone to do good but also the penchant of many individuals, and even the delight some take, in destroying great people’s reputations, knocking them off their pedestals, exposing and publicizing even a single flaw, and even uncovering the misdeeds or sometimes just words that allow people to conclude, “You see? They were no good. We are all no good. There is no such thing as greatness, moral attainment, or holiness.” It is as if to say because there are no perfect people, there are no people worthy of emulation.

But is that true? Are there no heroes left anymore? Does the slightest blot on one’s escutcheon destroy whatever good anyone did? Well, it depends, but on what?

If I thought for a moment that any of these modern critics were sincere and trying to make the world a better place, I would hesitate, but I don’t believe that at all. It’s mostly virtue-signaling – the public display of one’s moral superiority on the cheap, without any sacrifice, consequences, or real accomplishment. It is as if one gains moral standing merely by pointing out the failings of others, lifting up themselves by lowering others. It is as pathetic as it is commonplace.

We are living in an age in which virtue-signaling matters much more than actual virtue, and thus one can proclaim that there is no such thing as virtue because there really are no virtuous people. It is very cynical – and wrong.

For example, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson are today routinely derided as slave-owners and racists, whose names and pictures in public places cause offense, especially to the easily offended. References to them are being systematically excised in places in America where virtue-signaling is rampant and tolerance is in short supply. Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves and preserved the Union, sometimes expressed racist views and is similarly excoriated as unenlightened. Add to this list the flaws of FDR, for whom thinking Jews bear ill will because of his studied indifference to the Holocaust, or JFK and his moral indiscretions, and a host of others.

Poor Joe Biden keeps falling into the clutches of the virtue-signalers almost on a weekly basis. I don’t carry his water, but he got a raw deal when he declared it an asset rather than an iniquity to work together with segregationist Senators with whom he disagreed vehemently. Of course, he erred only in implying that they were Republicans; they weren’t – the two Senators he named, Jim Eastland and Herman Talmadge, were Democrats. So he didn’t exactly reach across the aisle but rather to the people sitting right next to him. Perhaps some courageous reporter will ask Biden why he joined the party of segregationists in the 1970’s and what measures he took to weed them out of his party.

And now it’s Martin Luther King’s turn. His Pulitzer-Prize winning biographer, David Garrow, an unabashed admirer of King, could not get an essay published in America (it was  published in a British periodical; there is some protection left for secular saints, sometimes) that detailed repeated salacious, scandalous and criminal behavior on King’s part, all recorded by the FBI on audiotape to be released within a decade So is there no one beyond reproach? What do we really gain from all these takedowns?

Nothing at all. But here is where we got off track and how we can get back on track. The critics are not approaching these individuals from a religious or objectively moral perspective, and do not generally take Christianity seriously, but they have embraced Christian doctrine that has skewed their outlook: that of the “perfect person.” There can be perfect people, and only the perfect person should be admired or worshipped. Everyone else is fallen, disgraced, abominable and nothing special. But the Torah never proposed such an idea and definitively opposed it. There are no perfect people. The greatest among us – Avraham, Moshe, David, etc. – all stumbled, all sinned, and all repented. That is what defines human character at its best – especially the capacity to do wrong, admit it, repent, and regain one’s moral standing.

To be sure, certain crimes are so heinous that they tarnish the person forever (homicide leaps to mind, among a number of other sociopathic acts), but aside from that, the criterion we should utilize in measuring the heroes of the past and even present is this: were their moral weaknesses or flaws part of their life’s purpose or major accomplishment or distinct from it? The lives of Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Kennedy, King – and most of the other targets of today’s virtue-signaling hypocrites – were not defined by their flaws but by the good that they did, and the good they did was completely unrelated to their sins and moral failings. Obviously the same pertains to Moshe – but not to Moshe’s spies whose mission in life (“all noblemen, leaders of Israel”) was undermined and vitiated by their sins, and not to Korach whose rebellion overwhelmed and destroyed any accomplishments  he had.

We should realize that even worse than living in a world where people search for flaws in others as if they are looking for chametz on the night before Pesach – with a microscope, a magnifying glass and then a megaphone – is living in a world where we think there are neither heroes nor people of accomplishment, and we conclude that there is no goodness worthy of emulation in this world because no one is perfect. That is a world of despair and emptiness, a sad world that needs real uplifting.

Rather than indulge the virtue-signaling dwarfs who are nibbling at the ankles of giants, all to further a political agenda, we should recognize human complexity and admire the struggles and achievements of great people not despite their imperfections but precisely because they were imperfect, and still achieved so much. Erasing their names and pictures is insensitive – to truth, reality and to a true understanding the nuances of human nature.

Judaism always advocates dealing with people with “chesed ve-emet,” kindness and truth. Kindness alone and truth alone can very often distort reality and impair our perception of what is good, moral and just. Kindness and truth must work in tandem, as we need both to survive and appreciate the good in each other.

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3 responses to “Virtue-Signaling

  1. QUOTE 1 OF 7:

    “Although slavery had been outlawed in Britain and the importation of slaves was illegal in the United States, an active slave trade continued between Africa and the Arab nations.”

    SOURCE:
    South Africa: 1880 to the Present (chapter 3, page 44)
    by Bruce and Becky Durost Fish, 2001 CE,
    Chelsea House Publishers, Philadelphia, ISBN 0-7910-5676-7.

    ===================
    QUOTE 2 OF 7:

    “Moreover, the ability of the Arabs to pay
    depended on their success as slave hunters.”

    SOURCE: The River War
    (chapter 1, page 7) by Winston Churchill, year 1899

    ===================
    QUOTE 3 OF 7:

    Foremost of the leaders of the revolt [in Sudan around year 1884] were the Arab slave dealers, furious at the attempted suppression of their trade.

    SOURCE: The River War
    (chapter 2, page 27) by Winston Churchill, year 1899 CE

    ===================
    QUOTE 4 OF 7:

    “Slavery was a flourishing institution in Arabia in the 1920s, and for several decades thereafter. It was not formally abolished in the Kingdom until 1962. The pilgrimage was the main source. Nigerians and Sudanese would sell their children in Mecca to help pay for their journey home, and the slave trade was one traditional source of the shareefs’ wealth.”

    “In Nejd every emir and sheikh had at least one black family living in his household, and their children were assigned as playmates to the children in the household of their age and sex, growing up with them and often becoming their close companions in adult life.”

    “When Prince Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz visited New York [City] in [year] 1944 [CE], the management of the Waldorf Astoria [hotel] were shocked that he brought his slave Merzouk with him.”

    SOURCE:
    The Kingdom: Arabia and the House of Sa’ud
    (chapter 22, page 177) by Robert Lacey,
    published in year 1981 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
    New York, ISBN-10: 0006365094 * ISBN-13: 978-0006365099

    ===================
    QUOTE 5 OF 7:

    “The government [of Saudi Arabia] hurriedly purchased the freedom of 4,000-or-so slaves in the kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] for £1,000 each, more than three-times the going rate-per-head in the Buraymi market, and shrugged-off questions as to why, at every UN debate on the subject up until the autumn of [year] 1962, Sa’udi delegates had strenuously denied the existence of any slavery in their country.”

    SOURCE:
    The Kingdom: Arabia and the House of Sa’ud
    (chapter 37, page 345) by Robert Lacey,
    published in 1981 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
    New York, ISBN-10: 0006365094 * ISBN-13: 978-0006365099

    ===================
    QUOTE 6 OF 7:
    “The missionaries were particularly appalled by the slave trade in Africa.

    Although slavery had been outlawed in Britain and the importation of slaves was illegal in the United States, an active slave trade continued between Africa and the Arab nations. The missionaries wanted to create other commercial ventures so that Africans could make a living without being dependent on this odious system.”

    SOURCE:
    South Africa: 1880 to the Present
    (chapter 3, page 44) by Bruce and Becky Durost Fish,
    year 2001 CE, Chelsea House Publishers, Philadelphia,
    http://www.ChelseaHouse.com * ISBN 0-7910-5676-7

    ===================
    QUOTE 7 OF 7:

    Brigitte Gabriel said:

    “Mohammed himself owned dozens of slaves.
    His followers continue to do so today.”

    SOURCE: They Must Be Stopped:
    Why We Must Defeat Radical Islam and
    How We Can Do It
    (chapter 9, page 183)
    by Brigitte Gabriel, year 2008, year 2010,
    St. Martin’s Press, 288 pages,
    ISBN 0312571283 * ISBN 9780312571283

  2. Rabbi Steven Pruzansky said:

    …many individuals, and even the delight of some take, in destroying great people’s reputations, knocking them off their pedestals, exposing and publicizing their flaw, and even uncovering the deeds or sometimes just words that allow people to conclude, “You see? They were no good. We are all no good. There is no such thing as greatness, moral attainment, or holiness.”

    ===================================
    my personal response:

    ===================================
    Harvard Law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz said:

    “I refuse to bend over backward to single out Israel
    – or other things Jewish – for super-scrutiny.

    I refuse to gloat, as so many in academia and
    the media seem to, over Israel’s shortcomings.”

    SOURCE: Chutzpah by Alan M. Dershowitz
    (chapter 7, page 211), year 1991 by Little Brown & Co
    ISBN: 9780316181372 * ISBN: 0316181374

    ===================================
    Harvard Law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz said:

    “Jewish failure is welcomed, even gloated over,
    by those who resent our success.”

    SOURCE: Chutzpah by Alan M. Dershowitz
    (chapter 4, page 100), year 1991 by Little Brown & Co
    ISBN: 9780316181372 * ISBN: 0316181374

    ===================================
    Mr. Charlie Kirk (a Conservative activist) said:

    “They [the political Leftists] hate the idea
    that certain countries can be better than others,
    and Israel is one of the greatest success stories
    in history of the world.

    The [political] Left does not want
    those success stories to exist.”

    SOURCE: Conservative activist
    Charlie Kirk speaks of ‘eye-opening’ stint in Israel:

    by Josh Hasten, 2019 March 20, JNS dot org

  3. MR. PATRICK CONDELL SAID:

    “If you ever called Israel an apartheid state,
    the word MORON was invented for you.”

    SOURCE: I Vote Against You
    by Pat Condell, 2016 May 6
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjYLWadz5Yc
    time = 3 minutes 10 seconds

    MICROBIOGRAPHY:
    Pat Condell is an atheist, who was born in Ireland around 1950 CE, and raised in England as a Roman Catholic, and educated in Church of England schools. He has no Jewish ancestors and no religious beliefs that might cause him to favor Jews.