It’s election season so a lot of gullible people have developed very strong opinions about which of the two indistinguishable presidential candidates must win in order to stave off the downfall of civilization. These opinions are manifesting online as ridiculous comments that would be considered hyperbole if the commenters didn’t actually appear to believe what they’re posting. I’ve seen comments by a gay woman claiming that anybody who doesn’t vote for Clinton is literally trying to murder her. On the other side of the aisle I’ve seen comments by a well-to-do white man claiming that anybody who doesn’t vote for Trump will be responsible for the downfall of the United States because evil terrorists from the Middle East will flood through its unprotect borders.
How can such ridiculous comments be taken seriously by anybody? Because logic isn’t a play. We’ve devolved debate into an exercise of virtual signaling:
Children are largely deprived of the noble joy of discovering truths as revealed by successful action. Instead they are left with the ignoble gratification of pleasing a taskmaster by reciting an answer that is marked “correct.” And this goes far beyond academics. For the modern child, learning “good behavior” is not about discovering through trial and error what kinds of behaviors are conducive to thriving socially. Instead, it’s about winning praise and avoiding censure from authority figures.
Thanks to this conditioning, we have all become approval-junkies, always on the lookout for our next fix of external validation: for the next little rush of dopamine we get whenever we are patted on the head by others for being a “good boy” or a “good girl,” for exhibiting the right behavior, for giving the right answer, for expressing the right opinion.
This is why the mania for virtue signalling is so ubiquitous, and why orthodoxies are so impervious. Expressing political opinions is not about hammering out useful truths through the crucible of debate, but about signaling one’s own virtue by “tattling” on others for being unvirtuous: for being crypto-commies or crypto-fascists; for being closet racists or race-traitor “cucks;” for being enemies of the poor or apologists for criminals.
We live in a society that teaches children at an early age that truth doesn’t come from experimentation and discovery but from authority figures. Instead of seeking answers through reason we seek them through approval of authority figures. That requires expressing the “right” ideas and expressing them loudly in the hopes that people in authority will hear them and give an approving nod.
This is another side effect of the public indoctrination system. Instead of providing children the tools they need to learn; namely grammar, logic, and rhetoric; public schools focus on making children memorize “facts” and having them prove that they’ve memorized those “facts” by regurgitating them on tests. This focus on memorizing “facts” provided by authority figures often has lifelong ramifications. One such ramification is cognitive dissonance. Take supporters of the drug war, for example. They claim to support drug prohibitions because drugs can kill people. They ignore the fact that the solution they support, prohibition, also kills people. Heroine might kill you over time if you keep using it but an officer shooting you during a no-knock raid performed to find heroine may also kill you. The solution ends up doing the same thing as the problem but most supporters of the war on drugs will ignore you when you point that out. People in authority told them that the solution to drugs killing people is stronger laws and more rigorous law enforcement efforts so that’s what they believe.
Online debates often feel like you’re screaming at a wall because most of the other people debating you aren’t relying on logic. The only way you could get through to them is if you were able to become an authority figure in their eyes. Then they would happily regurgitate whatever you told them was factual.