The virtue signal of all virtue signals: liberals compare themselves to heroes of all past generations

Last week, legal scholar and philosopher Robert George had a thought-provoking series of Tweets on how people today would have responded to historical events had they lived through them.  

George says

I sometimes ask students what their position on slavery would have been had they been white and living in the South before abolition. Guess what? They all would have been abolitionists! They all would have bravely spoken out against slavery, and worked tirelessly against it. Of course, this is nonsense. Only the tiniest fraction of them, or of any of us, would have spoken up against slavery or lifted a finger to free the slaves. Most of them—and us—would have gone along. Many would have supported the slave system and happily benefited from it.

It’s easy to look back at history and assume we would have been righteous. There’s a meme I’ve seen on online that says “If you’ve ever wondered what you’d do during slavery, the Holocaust, or civil rights movement, you’re doing it right now.” 

Here’s a key difference for the social justice warriors of today. The popular culture supports you. There’s no pressure, or risk, or persecution to protest or be a social media activist. The media supports you, Hollywood supports you, athletes support you, academia supports you, and big corporations support you.  

People want to compare this to the Civil Rights movement. Many of the protests and sit-ins were unpopular in public opinion from that era. The movement came at a cost. Where’s the cost in sharing a meme?

To quote again from George, he gives a good ethical test for how we would have truly responded in previous eras: 

I respond by saying that I will credit their claims if they can show evidence of the following: that in leading their lives today they have stood up for the rights of unpopular victims of injustice whose very humanity is denied, and where they have done so knowing: 

(1) that it would make them unpopular with their peers, (2) that they would be loathed and ridiculed by powerful, influential individuals and institutions in our society; (3) that they would be abandoned by many of their friends, (4) that they would be called nasty names, and (5) that they would risk being denied valuable professional opportunities as a result of their moral witness. In short, my challenge is to show where they have at risk to themselves and their futures stood up for a cause that is unpopular in elite sectors of our culture today.

This is an important distinction. When we act like we would have been leading the charge in previous eras, when we want to say that we would have been virtuous in previous eras, we need to consider the context of that time and the cost of our beliefs. Because there’s little real cost in the current climate. For instance, when people want to talk about this as being similar to how they would have responded to the Holocaust consider that during the Holocaust and the Third Reich, almost 80,000 Germans were executed for being part of the resistance. People paid the ultimate price to stand up against Hitler. Where’s the cost in a hashtag?  

People want to compare this to how they would have responded in the Civil War. 360,000 soldiers died for the Union. That was roughly one percent of the entire U.S. population at the time. Men paid the ultimate price to preserve our nation and end slavery. Where’s the cost in telling people a bunch of books they should read or in watching a documentary?  

People want to compare this to the Civil Rights movement. Many of the protests and sit-ins were unpopular in public opinion from that era. The movement came at a cost. Where’s the cost in sharing a meme?  

In the civil rights movement, they protested against actual systemic racism. Today social justice warriors fight against inequality which they say is the result of current systematic racism, and there are people who want to compare the two eras as being moral equivalents. 

When people want to compare their efforts today to past social movements, it’s showing an ignorance of history and it’s also showing delusions of grandeur. Progressives like to believe that everyone is immoral except for them and that they would have been righteous at all times.  

We judge people form the past because they don’t adhere to our current standards. And when I say current, I mean that literally. Current as in today because the standards of progressivism are an ever-moving target. There weren’t serious efforts to defund, or dismantle, or destroy the police a year ago. There weren’t major popular efforts to tear down monuments five years ago. There was not a major war on our history ten years ago. But progressives continue to shift their values and they fight a culture war where there is no grace or redemption given to past people who did not perfectly adhere to these standards of today while progressives allow themselves to continue changing what matters and what’s right.

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