… is from Joseph Epstein’s May 2015 essay “The Unassailable Virtue of Victims“:
Many bask in the warm virtue of victims by coming out strongly on their side. These are the virtucrats, or those people whose political opinions are propelled by their strong sense of self-virtue.
Only the naive believe that self-interestedness manifests itself exclusively in the acquisition of material goods and services. (Only the super-naive believe that self-interestedness manifests itself exclusively in the acquisition of money.) Fame, power, the love and affection of others, and the urge to be what Adam Smith described as “lovely” are among the experiences that most persons find appealing and, hence, seek for themselves.
Some of these experiences are inherently good (for example, being lovely). Others are almost always bad (most notably, possessing power). Joseph Epstein above identifies one rather pathetic experience that many people self-interestedly seek, and often seek greedily: a sense of being ethically superior to others based on displays of concern for the downtrodden.
The downtrodden objects of this ‘concern’ need not really be downtrodden. All that’s necessary is that enough people believe that the downtroddeness is real. With this belief on the loose, virtucrats can satisfy their lust for a sense of ethical superiority by championing the cause of the downtrodden.
Yet because a virtucrat’s goal is to enhance his or her own sense of superiority, it matters very little if the championing of the downtrodden will actually succeed in helping the downtrodden. The latter isn’t the virtucrat’s goal. So the virtucrat typically spends no time actually assessing the situation in a rational manner.
Are those who are alleged to be downtrodden really so? Doesn’t matter. If they appear to be so, we’re good to go with the virtue-signaling. Will the screamed-for, chanted-for, or ‘demanded’ means of uplifting the downtrodden really work? Doesn’t matter. If these means can be made to appear to be useful, we’re good to go with the virtue-signaling.
Extra virtue-sensations are won by identifying previously unnoticed exploitations of the downtrodden and passionately speaking out against these. “Oh look! Not all women have as part of their employment contracts paid family leave!” “Omigosh! Graduate students are paid too little!” “It’s intolerable that college students encounter on campus ideas that disturb their sensibilities!” “How disgusting that female workers are at risk of being complimented on their dress or hairstyles by male co-workers!”
Virtuocracy is dangerous.