It's a Presidential election year, and you've seen this car, or another one like it, or maybe it was a pickup truck, probably hundreds of times on the road in the past few months: the rear vertical surfaces and windows covered with self-adhesive messages of support for multiple causes and candidates, often from election cycles past. These share space with other stickers forcefully proclaiming unfavorable evaluations of the intelligence and decency of those people--fellow citizens who do not share the driver's political preferences. The most strident of these may go so far as to wish death and worse fates on those people--and they score double bonus irony points if they're right next to a "Coexist" sticker.
The owner of that car, or truck, is engaged in "virtue signaling," the practice of loudly proclaiming just how kind, decent, and enlightened you are. Though virtue signalling is as old as human nature, the phrase is a recent coinage. Its inventor, British writer James Bartholomew, observed:
It’s noticeable how often virtue signaling consists of saying you hate things. It is camouflage. The emphasis on hate distracts from the fact you are really saying how good you are. If you were frank and said, ‘I care about the environment more than most people do’ or ‘I care about the poor more than others’, your vanity and self-aggrandisement would be obvious . . . . Anger and outrage disguise your boastfulness.
Now, it's a free country and it's your back bumper and if you want to use it to promote your cause or your candidate, you're free to do so--but here's something to think about before you all but cover your turn signals with virtue signals. When I see the rear fascia of your car completely stickered-over in this fashion, I have two reactions:
You've signaled your political leanings so clearly that I can probably deduce your position on any of the day's great issues to within a couple of decimal places before I've even met you.
I'm less inclined to want to meet you, even if I agree with you, because you've also signaled that you're one of those dreary "the personal is political" sorts who can't talk about anything but politics.
Please, don't be that guy (or gal). The personal is not always political, political differences need not be personal ones, and we could all use a break from the election-year debate. Let's turn down the volume on the virtue signals and have more non-political spaces in society where we can all interact over something besides our party affiliations.
We can start right here. Hit the comments below and talk about your favorite nonpartisan automotive topic.
--Cookie the Dog's Owner (who keeps the back of his GTI sticker-free, just so everyone knows that he's not one of those people.)