From yesterday: looking at how animals tend to signal in nature, it’s possible to see why signaling is valuable and why bluffing (dishonest signaling) can be effective.
While animal’s signaling is mostly restricted to the physical realm, humans have the ability to speak of ideas and thus signaling enters the realm of ideas as well. Physical signals of one’s strength are around (yes, we notice you: buff guy at the gym grunting while lifting heavy objects). But we’ll focus more on signaling of ideas and values.
One important aspect to signaling is the ‘cost’ of making a signal. Signals that have costs associated with it are the surest way to avoid bluffing or dishonest signals. Here, a clear example is buying an expensive car or expensive house. Such a signal has a high cost inherent to it, and thus it is impossible to fake in a meaningful way.
Would you interpret this as an honest signal or a dishonest signal?
Perhaps unfortunately, signals of personal values are possible without any cost. In most social situations, simply speaking words is sufficient for one to signal any value. Yet because there is no cost associated with that it is very easy to bluff with a dishonest signal!
An example: professing a deep care for the environment and sustainability is a very common way to boost your social status in most circles. Yet such statements are generally bland platitudes that no one would disagree with. Because they come at no cost, they are also ineffective as actual measures of a person’s true values.
This is brought home by a tale of two former co-workers: one spoke about the environment but also took other actions that demonstrates a true principle by spending her time (cost). The other I remember quite clearly speaking about how important sustainability was to her, and then throwing a Starbucks cup in a trash can instead of the recycling container on the other side of the room.
The example of hypocritical virtue signaling isn’t necessarily a sign of a bad person. We’ve probably all been guilty of this from time to time. Further, it gets difficult because that person may even truly believe that they do care about the environment. But at the same time, you can probably guess which one any of us would respect more, and you’d probably agree if this was the only data point you had to go on.
So I’ll leave it with this: take a look at your own life and try to figure out one belief that some of your actions may be contradicting.
N.B. This post did extend beyond my 300 word target. Indeed – a hypocritical post relative to my stated value of keeping it succinct. I’ll try to do better next time!