The Case Of Sam Bowman: Genuine Stupidity or Machiavellian Ingenuity?


Sam bowman has written a think-piece on the concept of virtue signalling to explain his imperative that everyone immediately stop using the phrase, or risk being casually dismissed from the policy debates that are so essential to civil society.  To accuse someone of virtue signalling, he tells us, is a cheap way to belittle your opponents, and does not appreciate that many people hold false beliefs in a totally sincere way, and that the charge of hypocrisy is a mischaracterization of genuine stupidity.  Plus, he bemoans, to dismiss your opponents is to assume your own beliefs are obviously true and that the world is straightforward while to allege that someone else is disingenuous is to imply that you are genuine and virtuous enough to tell the difference, and are thus guilty of virtue signalling yourself.  Checkmate cynics!

Before we delve deeper into Bowman’s political screed, we want to give our own definition of virtue signalling, and then we can see if if it matches up with Bowman’s idea.  Virtue signalling means, precisely, to express a willingness to sacrifice on behalf of another, and even more accurately, to sacrifice another’s life or property in order to gain social status for yourself.  This is an ancient sociological practice.  Now, we need a slight tweak to this definition, because in the modern day, there has to be one further step taken, and this is to pass the sacrifice off as your own.  What the virtue signaler is looking to do is to appear selfless and courageous for putting other’s at risk.  Now, this is insane, you’ll think, how could they persuade another to sacrifice themselves just so their priestly executioner can further his or her career up the ladder of moral authority?  But this is not at all improbable, and can be readily explained by the evolutionary dynamics of psychopathic manipulation of socially adaptive moral behaviour.  Yes, the cooperative human species has been selected for a readiness to sacrifice for the good of the tribe.  Jesus is a perfect example, having sacrificed himself for the salvation of others.  That is emphatically not an example of virtue signalling, as it is the kind of costly signal that cannot be effectively mimicked by social superpredators.  We call that kind of signal holy.  Ever since that famous crucifixion psychopaths the world over have been trying to mimic holiness, in an attempt to surpass the prestige of Jesus.  You can tell these actors apart by the falseness of their apparent self-sacrifice.  In the nether recesses of the Dark Enlightenment we call that particular mimicry holiness signalling, and it is regarded as the most pernicious form of sacrilege.  We also need to include the idea of a propitiatory sacrifice. Namely, to sacrifice in order to atone for guilt.  This is very important for the psychopathic predator-priest, who needs to inculcate guilt into his victim in order to convince them to embrace the necessity of their own immolation, and to avoid any guilt-inducing self-preservation.  It’s truly a marvel of nature, a grand spectacle of the shadowy genius of evolution. It is the siren-song of religious counterfeits.

Ok, we’re getting close to the core of the phenomena,  but there is another concept that Bowman brings into the discussion, which he mistakenly regards as an precedent synonym for virtue signalling.  This is “showing off”.   Now, there are many usages of showing off that are benign and insignificant, as when a child wishes to draw attention to some new talent.  That’s merely an example of innocent vanity. We are interested in a darker idiosyncrasy. For our purposes the defining attribute of showing off is to counterfeit a signal to represent an affect that is not truly felt, in order to produce a facsimile of sincerity.  A psychopath is an ingenious practitioner of exactly this sort of superficial countenance, as is evidenced in the paper linked above.  The psychopath knows how to show off remorse without any genuine experience of that affect.  He does it so well that his unsuspecting prey is convinced of his honesty, and considers him a trustworthy compatriot.  To regard the mimicry of an affect as genuine is to be guilty of stupidity, and the penalty for this stupidity is to fall victim to the exploitation of parasitic predation.

Woah, this is no bedtime story, but let’s move ahead to analyse Bowman’s post and see if these conceptual tools can help us understand his aversion to the concept of virtue signalling.  We will show that Bowman misconstrues the idea of virute signalling to empty it of its defining aspect, and displaces it with an inane and superficial caricature.  This might not be entirely his fault, as he follows the oversimplified and thus erroneous definition popularized by James Bartholomew, which states only that virtual signalling means”writing or saying things ‘to indicate that [the signalers] are virtuous'”.  Such a definition could indeed by replaced with the phrase showing off without a great loss of semantic content.  It totally omits the essential ethos of sacrificial substitution.   This mistake has grave repercussions for the coherency of Bowman’s argument.  Ironically, Bowman misses the mark so widely he almost hits directly upon the truth.  He writes:

“For something to actually be virtue signalling, rather than just showing off, it would need some sort of sacrifice…”

Indeed.  We can say that what distinguishes virtue signalling from plain showing off is that it does entail a sacrifice, of a very specific variety. Let’s look at the examples he offers of what he takes to be false accusations of virtue signalling:

“To many people it’s obvious that letting Syrian refugees in to Britain is a bad idea, because if even a few of them are terrorists we’re endangering our own people’s lives. The people who ignore this are most likely trying to show off how much they care and what good people they are – hence virtue signalling.”

Wrong.  Terribly, horrendously, wrong. See, it’s not that it’s obvious that “we’re” endangering the lives of “our own people”, it’s that we’re risking the lives of other people.  Those who ignore this fact are showing how much they care less about the sacrifice of other’s in order so they can win the prestige of apparently risking themselves, or in Bowman’s psychotic phrase, “our own people”. See, the Machiavellian mind is unusually adept at processing statistical probability, as well as remaining coldly detached from any emotional or moral consequences that may arise from their calculating decision-making.  They figure the likelihood of their own lives being brutally cut short in a terrorist attack is rather small, and are completely at peace with it happening to someone else.  Psychopaths are deficient in affect. They simply do not feel a darn thing when they observe the mass murders and rapes of Brussels, Cologne, and Paris.  In fact, such circumstances only grant them another chance to signal to everyone how absolutely fearless they are about the possibility of their “own people” being sacrificed for the the good of their false moral ardor.  They get to express mock solidarity and fake remorse to win a few more prestige points.  They are indefatigably corrupt and cancerous parasites.  They are actually incapable of experiencing fear, and have to learn to mimic it. But let’s move on. Bowman generously offers another example:

“To many people it’s obvious that welfare cuts are cruel and unnecessary, and indeed hold back the recovery by taking money out of the economy. If you support those cuts you’re putting ideology ahead of real people, and that makes you a heartless scumbag.”

Where to begin?  First, to pay for the welfare state money is taken from other people,  and injected into a suffocating totalitarian tumor in a bid for economic control, transforming the catallactic foundations of a market multiplex into a single centralized parasite-factory.  There is no “the economy”, such an entity exists only in the minds of statist manipulators and price-fixers, whose only ambition is to become a policy-adviser for worthless rent-seeking bureaucrats.  If you support a welfare scheme you are putting the destitute ideology of a death-cult ahead of real people, and what does that make you?  Oh right, a “libertarian”.  There’s probably no need to note the attempted guilt-induction into welfare ideology.  If you aren’t willing to bleed for cretinous sociopaths you are bad and should feel bad.  Well played, Machiavel.  Moving along:

“Voting Labour while not spending your life doing volunteer work doesn’t either [count as virtue signalling], nor does being a libertarian but not signing up to join an anarcho-capitalist seastead.”

Voting Labour is a vote for coercive wealth redistribution, and proves how willing you are to sacrifice the freedom and growth of others who are unfortunate enough to be subjected to your hyper-inflationary human farm, in order to appear as though your depraved thieving is motivated by generosity.  Volunteer work, on the other hand, is a self-imposed sacrifice and an actual example of ideological sincerity.  Costly signalling, not virtue signalling.  So yes, voting Labour while avoiding any actual personal sacrifice is precisely an example of virtue signalling.  As for an-cap seasteading, such a thing is one possible way to avoid phony left-libertarians, and signing up for one is a credible signal that you are sincere about your commitment to self-organizing catallaxy.  Of course, the creation of seasteads will have to contend with international communist organizations like Fairtrade, who will try to kill it before it’s born.  It’s possible that offshore city-states are the only exit remaining out of the slow-death of Western democratic socialism.  So, wrong on all accounts.  And finally:

“Giving money to wasteful charities might count as virtue signalling, but only if you know that the charities are wasteful.”

This is where poorly formulated priors get you.  To donate your own money to a charity that you know to be useless, or even harmful, just to appear generous, is showing off.  To donate to charity, wasteful or efficient, without knowledge of which, is a self-imposed sacrifice, even if genuinely ignorant.  To vote that everyone has to give up money to a wasteful and destructive cargo-cult like welfare is virtue signalling.  Far more nefarious.  Are we getting the picture?  Good.

As for the rest of the rhetorical displays of supposed rational protection against bias for which Bowman resolutely argues, how are we to understand it?  My theory is that Bowman doesn’t want to say anything that might ruin his chances of one day donning the black-suit of policy big-wigs, so instead he sits on the fence, pretending now this, now that, has just as much chance of being the correct decision, because “what’s right anyway?” These self-styled rationalists are excellent at hedging their bets, exactly like how cancer behaves.  You need to have the flexibility to follow the winds of democratic opinion, and since that only moves in one direction, it’s not hard to know whose boots these guys are going to end up licking.  Maybe if you clean the under-sole of the stomping boots of the Cathedral with your tongue it will bring its foot down a little more gently on your skull.  So it is with the life of a power-leech.

So no, we are not going to stop using the phrase virtue signalling, as the only reason to criticize the term is to keep your human livestock in a vulnerable state of credulity.  It’s exactly the sort of concept that works to expose fraudulent centrist hacks like ASI.


Note: many references supplied by



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