Virtuous virtue signaling

Sep 10 2019
Our dog Frazier was on death row when we got him—slated to be “put to sleep” if the animal shelter couldn’t find a home for him. 

If you don’t recognize that sentence as virtue signaling, you need to get more in touch with the Zeitgeist. Over the past few decades it has become cooler and cooler to casually mention that your dog is a “shelter dog.” 

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s Matt Bershadker, president of the ASPCA: “Rescuing an animal has become a badge of honor,” he told a New York Times reporter. “People proudly go to dog parks and walk around their neighborhoods talking about the animal that they rescued from a shelter.”

And this fact—that you can actually brag about your dog being a formerly homeless mutt and get social credit for it—seems to have been good for dogs. The percentage of dogs at animal shelters that have to be put to sleep for lack of adoption has dropped sharply over the past decade, according to the Times.

And, from the perspective of Frazier’s and Milo’s demographic, this shift in the Zeitgeist has been a very good thing! 

There’s a lot of cynicism about “virtue signaling”—in fact, when that term is used, it’s almost always used pejoratively. But the fact is that virtue signaling per se is a neutral tool. It can be used for good—just ask Frazier—or for bad. 

Want an example of bad? Go check out Twitter. People there spend vast amounts of time signaling to their tribe—the pro-Trump tribe, the anti-Trump tribe, whatever—that they’re upholding the values of the tribe. That’s what sustains tribalism… etc. etc.