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Virtue signaling and gaslighting

HINTS AND TRACES - Fr. Roy Cimagala (The Freeman) - February 24, 2021 - 12:00am

We have to be wary of these tricks that news and opinion makers often use these days to push their ideas, agenda, or narrative. While it’s good that they should set out their credentials to establish and strengthen their credibility, we have to see if the tone and timing of such journalistic devices are proper and relevant to the issues at hand.

We cannot help but be discerning of the real motives of these news and opinion makers, because we cannot deny that often instead of objectivity and fairness, what is aimed at is the fulfillment of their biases and other ulterior motives. While generally we should give everyone the benefit of the doubt, these days to omit this consideration would generally be considered as a clear manifestation of naiveté.

Especially in matters of opinion and even in matter of faith and beliefs, we can expect differences and conflicts. These differences and conflicts are not necessarily bad. With the proper attitude and skills, they can enrich our knowledge of things in general and occasion the development and refinement of virtues.

When differences and conflicts occur, we should rather try to engage in respectful dialogue, sorting out things carefully, and looking for common ground rather than getting stuck with what can divide us.

One source defines virtue signaling as “the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue.” This is meant, of course, to undercut others who differ or contradict their views.

Another source puts it as “a pejorative neologism for the conspicuous and disingenuous expression of moral values with the intent to enhance one’s own image.” Still another source describes it as taking “a conspicuous but essentially useless action ostensibly to support a good cause but actually to show off how much more moral one is than everybody else.” We should try our best to stay away from virtue signaling.

Gaslighting, on the other hand, is, as one source describes it, “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, and judgment… Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs.”

In other words, gaslighting is a form of attack that is immoral, with the requirements of charity thrown away and the Machiavellian principle of any means justifying the end as its main guide. It does not attack so much the views of a person as the person himself.

In its real and bare character, gaslighting uses the crude means of insulting, mocking, ridiculing those with different or conflicting views, perhaps a bit camouflaged with some subtle rhetorical devices, which makes things worse since they can appear to be acceptable in public exchanges.

We have to do everything to stay away from these journalistic tricks that can only add poison to our social environment but in a manner that is subtle and not easily detectable.

What we should rather do is always to listen to everyone no matter how different and in conflict their views are from ours. The exchanges should be courteous all the time, and effort should always be made to find the common ground rather than to get stuck in the differences and conflicts.

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