It all started with a question: What the hell is Andrew Tate doing?
Hello @GretaThunberg I have 33 cars. My Bugatti has a w16 8.0L quad turbo. My TWO Ferrari 812 competizione have 6.5L v12s. This is just the start. Please provide your email address so I can send a complete list of my car collection and their respective enormous emissions. —Andrew Tate 225.4K likes
In the last few years there’s been a lot of discourse about virtue signaling, which we can gloss as trying to speak or act in ways calculated to make (certain) others see us as good people.
More recently, there’s been a bit of discussion of vice signaling, too. Obviously, Tate is speaking and acting in ways calculated to make (certain) others see him as a bad person.
But that’s odd—why would you do that?
These conversations are usually centered on the signaling of moral virtues and vices. But my friend Savannah and I think there’s a lot more going on, too.
Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò has a cool paper where he analyzes vice signaling as a strategy to signal allegiance to the values of an in-group by pissing off an opposing out-group. And that’s certainly going on here.
Tate is willfully broadcasting what he knows Thunberg will take to be morally vicious: a callousness towards his immense environmental impact. And he’s also virtue signaling, with a wink, to his (mostly young) followers: I am a free-thinking pleasure-seeker who cares not what the critics say. Let them talk!
But we don’t think these are best described as moral virtues.
Free-thinking, understood charitably as thinking for yourself, looks more like an epistemic virtue. (Even if Tate’s version has led him to discount climate change.) Tate isn’t saying he’s a morally good person; he’s saying he’s a good knower, too smart to be taken in by Big Climate.
Being a pleasure-seeker, understood charitably as being open to and appreciative of intrinsically worthwhile experiences, looks more like an aesthetic virtue. (Even if it Tate’s version has led him to post such a distasteful tweet.) He’s just so open to experience that of course he appreciates the subtle differences between his twin Ferraris.
And not caring what the critics say, understood charitably as being authentically and courageously ourselves even in the face of external criticism, looks more like a social virtue. (Even if this very tweet shows his professed indifference to be false.) He definitely isn’t just posting to get attention online.
yes, please do enlighten me. email me at email@example.com —Greta Thunberg 3.8M likes
To the extent that any purported virtues are being broadcast, they don’t look especially moral in character.
But Tate is also status signaling his supreme sense of self-importance. After all, Tate is an asshole. On Aaron James’s account, that means that he:
(1) allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically; (2) does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement; and (3) is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people.
Assholes don’t operate outside the bounds of morality; they merely distort them to accommodate their own outsized egos. The asshole treats himself as morally special: He’s better than us, and therefore, entitled to more.
But this is less a difference in putative moral virtue and more a difference in putative moral status. Tate is broadcasting his moral status as a dominant ‘alpha’ who is entitled to own 33 cars and harass climate activists on Twitter. Perhaps he even thinks he’s highlighting his alleged social and aesthetic statuses of being cool and edgy. (Again, this is an internet misogynist who regularly films himself smoking cigars in leather chairs.)
So there’s a lot more going on here than it might first appear. We don’t just signal our moral virtues, or even our moral vices; there are all kinds of different virtues, vices, and statuses that we care about.
We broadcast all kinds of things about ourselves!
Okay, okay, I don’t wanna spill the beans on everything we’re gonna talk about, but that’s a sneak peak of the talk we’ll be giving next February in New Orleans.
Would love to see you if you’re around!