Outrage, virtue signaling and the Sermon on the Mount

I remember with special clarity the moment I accepted Christianity.  I was in my 30s and I was reading the Bible all the way through for the first time.  And I came to this passage:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (NIV version Matthew 6:1-4).

For various reasons, this is what I needed to read at that time.  Over the next few days, I read and re-read the Sermon on the Mount, and it just seemed true to me in ways unlike anything else I had ever read.  And imagine my surprise when I finally read the Book of Mormon that the Savior also rehearsed the Sermon on the Mount to the people in the Americas.

I now, almost two decades later, have a printed out copy of the Sermon on the Mount on my desk that I read all the time.  I find it comforting and encouraging.

But I also am constantly reminded how often our modern-day culture seems to directly contradict the advice in the Sermon on the Mount.  The tone of forgiveness, gentle discussion, sincerity and lack of guile seems to be the exact opposite of the behavior of so many people today.  This especially applies to our outrage culture, which I find linked at the hip to the evil of virtue signaling.

What is virtue signaling?

This Wikipedia article summarizes it quite well I think:

Virtue signalling is the conspicuous expression of moral values by an individual done primarily with the intent of enhancing that person’s standing within a social group. The term was first used in signalling theory, to describe any behavior that could be used to signal virtue – especially piety among the political or religious faithful. Since 2015, the term has become more commonly used as a pejorative characterization by commentators to criticize what they regard as the platitudinous, empty, or superficial support of certain political views on social media; and also used within groups to criticize their own members for valuing outward appearance over substantive action.

When I first read Matthew 6:1 in the early 1990s, I immediately thought of the virtue signaling of my day.  It was of course not called “virtue signaling,” but in retrospect that is what it was.  I had lived in Nicaragua for a few years in the late 1980s, and it drove me crazy when people with left-wing politics traveled there and would make sweeping generalizations about the country and the leaders based on a very little information.  Their primary aim was to show their friends back home how virtuous they were because they supposedly cared about the “little people” in Nicaragua.  In reality, they would take two-day government-controlled tours and never talk to a poor Nicaraguan, but they would return to Cambridge or Berkeley as an expert.  And of course the policies they favored had nothing to do with actually addressing the concerns of the poor in Nicaragua.  Their policies were about pretending to care without actually caring.

As I say, given the things that concerned me in the early 1990s, Jesus’ constant warnings about being righteous for outward show really hit home.

I have been watching the political scene since the mid-1970s, but I must say the outrage culture and virtue signaling of today are the worst I have ever lived through.   I thought it could not get much worse when some of my best friends started changing their Facebook profiles to rainbow colors to show all of their other right-thinking friends that they supposedly supported gay rights.  But I was wrong: now some of my friends are changing their profiles to themselves in outfits portraying female genitals.  This is intended, I am sure, to protest something, but, really, is there any doubt that this is all about virtue signaling (completely devoid of any virtue)?

And then there is the outrage.  Nothing, it seems, can be discussed on social media without constant outrage if you don’t accept a certain very narrow, constrained point of view. My left-wing friends refuse to condemn anarchists beating up random people because the people getting beat up, they say, have incorrect politics.  Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth have replaced reasoned discourse.  The newly elected president, these people say, is a danger because he is friendly with Russia.  Just a year ago, these same people were rightly criticizing Republicans for trying to drum up hatred of Russia.  And when you ask what is it that they actually fear, ie, what the harm could come from a President Trump who is friendly with Russia, they literally have no answer beyond wild conspiracy theories.

There is a perfectly understandable reason for this.  Studies show that outrage becomes addicting because it helps people maintain their moral framework and helps people signal to others how virtuous they are.  The outrage has very little to do with the supposed victims of harmful behavior.  The outrage is for show and is completely selfish.  It is focused on how good you (as the person expressing outrage) are, not focused on actually helping other people.

As Jesus warns in 3 Nephi 11:29:  “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.”

Outrage is about contention, which is literally “of the devil.”

The Sermon on the Mount, instead, makes it clear that we should forgive people and treat them with charity rather than anger.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (NIV version Matthew 5:43-46).

How do we know if we are virtue signaling or just pursuing a just political cause?  I would say that motivation is important.  Are you adopting a position just to fit in with your peer group?  Are you angry and outraged?  Can you still discuss issues with people with whom you disagree?  How many friendships have been lost because of politics?

Virtue signaling is, of course, not just an issue in politics.  Virtue signaling can also happen at Church, and this is another area of discussion that may be worth exploring in another post.  This post is long enough as it is.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

32 thoughts on “Outrage, virtue signaling and the Sermon on the Mount

  1. Excellent commentary. Virtue signaling is a pox on our society. It prevents real discussion and hampers the emergence of real solutions.

  2. Good insights, Geoff. Elder Maxwell said “Selfishness is self-destruction in slow motion.” Exactly where many societies are headed. Virtue signaling, in whatever format it presents itself, is really an act of stirring–slowly stirring a pot of boiling emotions until it explodes, leaving devastation in its wake. Like Bookslinger says, a form of manipulation:”Behold, at that day shall he (Satan) rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good” (2 Ne. 28:20).

    How much better it is to be stirred up to repentance!

  3. I’m curious as to whether Geoff sees this as any sort of problem among his right-leaning friends? Or is this just a vice found among lefties? I count three or four examples given of leftish people engaging in this, but none of rightish people doing similar things. I’m not outraged about this, just interested in whether it is seen as equal opportunity among most “types” of people or limited to his friends of a particular political persuasion. If the latter, there might be a blind spot somewhere.

  4. One of the best questions to keep in the back of your head when reading the Book of Mormon is “why was Mormon inspired to include this? Of all the events of all the thousand-year history of his people, why this?”

    When confronted by the Rameumptom, one cannot help but see virtue signalling. And doesn’t every account of any given antichrist in the book of Alma basically present a demagogue who relies on ginning up outrage for its own sake (and his own social advancement)?

  5. Steve, I can only speak from personal experience, and as a former lefty the whole outrage/virtual signaling cycle appears to me to be an exclusively left-wing phenomenon. If you want me to criticize right-wingers, there are plenty of other things I could discuss, and in fact I have in other posts. Your experience, of course, may be different than mine.

  6. As a moderate, I respect your assessment of many on the left, but think you are, in fact, conveniently ignoring the equal abundance of this behavior on the right. What are the American flag lapel pins, hand-wringing over the birth certificates of public bathroom users, howling over the civil rights of bakers and photographers, and aggressive declarations of “Merry Christmas!” and “All lives matter!” if not manifestations of right wing outrage and virtue signaling as you define them.

    In my moderate opinion, a huge part of our ongoing public discourse problem in this country is the willingness of many to dismiss proponents of any cause they don’t personally resonate with as disingenuous hypocrites.

  7. Lala, I don’t think you completely understand what virtue signaling is.

    –American flag lapel pins — yes, virtue signaling.
    –transgender bathroom concerns — no, definitely not virtue signaling, in fact probably the opposite.
    –concern over the religious rights of bakers and photographers — no, definitely not virtue signaling, in fact definitely the opposite
    –aggressive declarations of Merry Christmas — maybe. Depends on the circumstances.
    –aggressive declarations of “All lives matter” — the opposite of virtue signaling.

    Go look up the definition of virtue signaling farther up in the post. I am pretty sure you don’t understand what it is.

    And by the way, based on your comment there is no way you are a “moderate,” unless you define being a moderate as being halfway between left-wing Democrat and a Maoist.

  8. No, I think I get it very well, Geoff. I guess I did make a mistake by lumping my examples of “outrage” and “virtue signaling” all into one list without itemizing which was which. Sorry for being confusing.

    I do not profess to have insight into all of your politics based on a blog post, and I would respectfully disagree with your confident assessment of my my politics based on one blog comment. I focused on right-based examples because your post seemed to do a very thorough job of covering the left.

    I dislike the idea of “virtue signaling” because I think it is just kind of an arrogant way to dismiss those you disagree with. I know and love people who are personally distressed on both sides of the transgender bathroom issue, for example, and I try to follow what I perceive as the counsel of Jesus and extend love and sympathy to both sides, regardless of my personal feelings on the issue.

    Of course compassion is one thing and politics is another, and when the rubber hits the road and policies are made, nobody gets exactly what they want. That’s what compromise is, right? To me, though, kindness and granting legitimacy to people’s concerns is more Christlike than assuming they were insincere and, it would follow, unworthy of compassion.

    Anyway, we definitely are in agreement that outrage is an obstacle to productive discourse and Christlike charity and forgiveness. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we agreed about many more things. Thank you for thinking about and articulating an important idea.

  9. I joined Facebook to keep in touch with a relative who uses it as a medium to celebrate her family. Although I carefully restricted ‘friends’ and news feeds I accumulated more than I could manage. A few months ago I realized that my Facebook behavior had become a burden and quit. Now I sign on only to access the page of the relative who posts about her family. I was being lured into daily outrage and engaging in verbal ‘smackdowns’. I didn’t like the things this did to my emotional stability. I still track events and seek information, but without the instant feedback I am less likely to sloganize my response. Virtue signalling from any point of view is habit forming and leads to mob mentality. Unfortunately it is easy for some to mistake thoughtful expressions of concern for virtue signaling.

  10. Lala, just curious what you consider inappropriate about outrage over the baker and his family losing everything for not baking a cake for someone. I’m dead serious. I’d like to hear a “moderate’s” viewpoint on this.

    “To me, though, kindness and granting legitimacy to people’s concerns is more Christlike than assuming they were insincere and, it would follow, unworthy of compassion.”

    Ah, but compassion does not equal tolerance or acceptance. Virtue signaling requires that compassion means nothing less than total tolerance and acceptance of an opposing position.

    A fundamental component of virtue signaling is popular opinion, which is very dynamic. A good example of virtue signaling on the Right was when conservative republicans were shocked and appalled at that embarrassing Trump NBC audio, but right back on the bandwagon a week or so later.

  11. Lala, (and Steve), the problem I see is that you are mischaracterizing _any_ level of resistance to left-wing outrage as another outrage.

    The only “outrage” I see on the right is Trump’s frequent, almost constant, use of hyperbole and exaggeration. The left is just not used to having their own tactics employed against them.

    How does that saying go about a beast that _dare_ defend itself in the same manner in which it is attacked?

  12. By the way, if anyone wants to understand Trump’s use of hyperbole, exaggeration, and always asking for more than you really want (as a negotiating tactic) just read his book “Art of the Deal”.

    Bill Clinton also used it in the form of “triangulation” and creeping margins.

    Anyone who has lived in Latin America or Arabic countries and shopped at bazaars or street vendors also should recognize the negotiating tactics. My senior companions taught it to me as a green missionary in South America.

  13. Tossman, we are in total agreement that “compassion does not equal tolerance or acceptance.” This is what allows me to listen with compassion when my 95-year-old grandmother expresses her dismay at the number of “coloreds” (African refugees, mostly) moving into our neighborhood. I completely disagree with her perception of the situation. I understand, however, that she is a product of her upbringing and I have no doubt that the fear she feels is real. At the same time I am deeply grateful that her daughter managed to overcome those prejudices and teach me a different way.

    As for the baker and outrage, I have tremendous sympathy for anyone who has his or her job threatened—especially when the circumstances are such that a person feels forced to choose between principles and livelihood. But I think outrage is a stumbling block if it deafens the person feeling it to the concerns of those who see the issue from the other side. As someone who has fallen under its spell more often than I’d like, I know how blinding righteous indignation can be. I wonder, for instance if members of the church would feel sympathy for an evangelical baker (or florist or mechanic or dentist or whatever) who wanted legal protection of the right to refuse service to Mormons because it was his or her honest and heartfelt conviction that we are members of a Satanic cult.

    Anyway, I worry that this has gotten a little far afield and may be distracting from the original post in a way that I do not want to do. I myself am not on any social media and only very rarely participate in blog discussions, so I am feeling like my humble two cents are vastly over-represented in this little comment thread. Thanks for listening. Here’s to civility, charity, and deep breathing in an era of tantrums, scolding, and self-centeredness!

  14. Lala, thank you for your comments here.

    The baker case is relevant because it helps us frame the use of outrage and virtue signaling in ways that can help us understand these issues. Here are some details about the Christian bakers in Oregon.
    –They regularly served lesbian/gay people in their community and had no problem doing so.
    –When one lesbian couple wanted a cake that was specifically for a gay wedding, they politely refused and said they did not believe in gay marriage. They felt that their artistic expression should not be used to help consecrate an event that they disagreed with for religious reasons.
    –There were literally dozens of other bakers the couple could have gone to, but they chose instead to sue the bakers, and they are facing $135,000 in fines from the Oregon government. They have been put out of business and have no way to pay the fines, so they are appealing.

    I believe in freedom of association, especially in cases where customers can go to other providers. I also believe in religious liberty, and I believe that the First Amendment protects people from participating in public actions that they feel violate their religious rights. For the record, I have no problem with an evangelical not selling me something because I am Mormon, and in fact I would welcome it because it would mark this person as a religious bigot, and I don’t like to give bigots money. But I also don’t believe the evangelical should be *forced* to sell me something.

    All of the outrage and virtue signaling has been aimed at this poor Christian couple. The only outrage you ever hear in the media is what bigots these Christians are. The virtue signaling is in sympathy for the lesbian couple, not for the Christian couple.

    As I say, a very relevant case.

  15. Geoff,
    Thank you for the thought-provoking post.
    As your definition notes, virtue signaling must be “done primarily with the intent of enhancing that person’s standing within a social group.” How do we know that? Thoughts and motives are difficult to discern. I know many conservatives who know next to nothing about gun rights, religious freedom issues, gay marriage, etc. who play those cards to increase their standing among conservatives. I guess most testimony meetings have an example or two. (Speak a little “Mormonese,” shed a tear or two, and gain standing in the group.) But perhaps we should be reluctant in assessing individuals. We really do not know.

  16. I’ve been trying to understand my member friends and family that are pro-choice. They explain to me that they agree with the church’s stance, but they don’t want to push their religion on others. I see this as a more grievous form of virtue signaling. Members of the church are getting so caught up in this trend that they are too afraid to share gospel truths, because they don’t want to hurt their standing with the social justice warrior groups. I’ve witnessed family members twist church doctrine and scripture to justify their support for elective abortion.

    “We don’t know when the spirit enters the body”
    “We don’t do temple work for aborted fetuses”
    “The church doesn’t punish people that get abortions like they do murderers”

    Even had someone tell me that prophets that spoke out against abortion were like pharisees.

    If your politics have ever led you to criticize the Brethren, please change your stupid politics

    What is going on?

  17. Lala,
    I would not feel much sympathy for a deranged evangelical who hates Mormons so much. However, he would have a right to refuse artistic service if he really felt that way. I would also advise any Mormon to not use his service for their wedding. The mechanic and especially the dentist are in a different situation. Dentists serve many obvious drug users and other low-lifes, but are still expected to help all patients with their specialized services. Is there a Mormon cult-car that I do not know about? If not, the mechanic will need to just fix the car.

  18. “Is there a Mormon cult-car that I do not know about?”

    I nominate full-sized 12-passenger vans. My Ford E350 is the only one in my neighborhood, the only one I ever see parked at school activities. At a high school wrestling team banquet, it was given recognition for its service to the team.

  19. Joey,
    I think the church’s position on abortion would be categorized by some as “pro-choice.” Victims of incest, rape and those women carrying fetuses with life-ended deformities would not have access to legal abortion under the auspices of a strict “pro-life” law. But all of that sustains Geoff’s point.

    I think what the original post points out is that virtue signaling should be avoided because it radicalizes positions and makes the discussion of nuances impossible. We get so lost in the emotionalized debate that we abandon the search for truth. Virtue signaling can be dangerous for the user and the audience, regardless of which side of the debate they are on.

  20. Old Man, well said. I really appreciate it when people actually read a post and try to understand the point the writer is trying to get across. So, thank you.

  21. Geoff, I think that is interesting that you say that the “outrage/virtual signaling cycle appears to [you] to be an exclusively left-wing phenomenon”. That’s kind of extraordinary, actually. Not that I mean that that is not a fair representation of your experience, as you state. I believe you. But as you suggest it certainly hasn’t been my experience. Granted, I don’t really self-identify with any political party or ideology, and I follow politics in what is probably an average level of engagement. But in just my casual awareness, I see this pattern in abundant qualities on both “sides” of the political debate.

    Bookslinger, you wrote, “the problem I see is that you are mischaracterizing _any_ level of resistance to left-wing outrage as another outrage.” I realize that this comment of yours was probably mostly intended for Lala (as indicated by the inclusion of my name in parentheses only). I’m not sure if the comment was really intended for me or not. I don’t really see the connection between what I wrote and what you wrote, unless you’re reading something in to what I wrote or superimposing Lala’s comments as being a continuation of mine. I stated in my original comment that I was not outraged, nor did I think my comment was presented in a tone that would suggest outrage. I stated that I was curious whether Geoff had seen similar things on the right as well as the left, because, as I implied, I had seen it there as well, and hence I thought Geoff might have a blindspot of some sort in that regard. That’s all I wrote, and it’s all I meant.

    But I guess this does help illustrate part of the underlying problem. I do find that it is common to read outrage into others’ comments when none is present or intended. It’s one of the challenges of written communication in the world of social media. Maybe we’re seeing outrage in places where none was intended. This would also explain why Geoff doesn’t see any on the side of the political spectrum that he identifies more with, since we are more forgiving of our own comments or those we tend to agree with.

  22. Steve, I guess I would say “almost exclusively.” I can think of some right-wing virtue signaling, such as the flag pin wearing that happens among mostly conservative politicians. That is a good example of virtue signaling on the other side. But I can’t think of many other examples.

  23. Claiming that Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” is a GREAT song is more than likely a virtue signal in the direction of the political right. Because it’s an okay song at best, and only gets trotted out anymore when right-wing politicians want to pump up a rally.

    The way that major sports/entertainment leagues (NFL, NASCAR, WWE, UFC, etc.) absolutely swaddle themselves in digicam and “support the troops” hyperbole is every inch a virtue signal to the political right. I don’t believe for a second that the marketing directors involved give a rip about the troops, but they sure do strut it out there. And right-wingers buy tickets and tchotchkes. By the pound.

    Depending on who’s speaking, calling Obamacare “Obamacare” is a virtue signal to the political right.

    Putting a blue bar across your facebook avatar to support “Cop Lives Matter” is just as much a virtue signal to the right as the rainbow overlay is to the left.

  24. I see _some_ in _some_ portions of the pro-life movement. (I emphasize the double “some” to avoid the suggestion that I’m referring to all pro-life activity. But some of it clearly is.)

    One major problem I see with identifying it in others is that in so doing, you are (in a way) doing what you’re being critical of doing in others. Of course it’s a matter of degree, but I don’t know complete way around that one.

  25. Regarding virtue signalling from the Right, it occurs to me that one of the reasons it may not be as visible is that it’s not typically called that. The people who call virtue signalling “virtue signalling” and typically on the Right, and they use it against the Left. The Left has a different term for this when the Right does it: they call it “dog whistling”. On some level, use of the terms themselves can be signalling for your underlying political persuasion.

  26. It seems to me that there’s an easy 2-axis test that can be used to determine if someone is likely to be virtue signaling.

    Back when Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged, she was clearly in a position to benefit materially from the success of her work, however her work came from her own intrinsic belief system. I would argue that it clearly is not a case of virtue signaling.

    A decade ago, Hillary Clinton stated in a speech opposing heterosexual marriage legislation that she believed that man-woman marriage was a foundational, bedrock principle. Since developing clear Presidential aspirations, she has suddenly found a well of compassion that clearly requires us to celebrate same-sex marriage. In the former case, she was playing to her homosexual constituency so there’s a clear benefit to her from that position. She also is playing to her conservative Democrat base by saying that she “feels their pain” but can’t see how to ethically square with their position. She made clear throughout the Clinton Presidency that marriage was a means to an end for her. Clear virtue signaling. In the latter statement, she is also clearly indicating that she has no principles undergirding her position given the rapid pivot and she is even more emphatically playing to her homosexual constituency. Clear virtue signaling.


    = Action based on internal belief system (Yes) / Obvious benefit for action or statement (No) – almost certainly not virtue signaling
    = Action based on internal belief system (Yes) / Obvious benefit for action or statement (Yes) – probably not virtue signaling
    = Action based on internal belief system (No) / Obvious benefit for action or statement (No) – possible virtue signaling (depending on circumstance might swing over to probable)
    = Action based on internal belief system (No) / Obvious benefit for action or statement (Yes) – almost certainly virtue signaling

    Leftist activists shutting down / rioting over conservative speakers? They clearly aren’t operating from their own, internalized moral paradigm but are instead following the groupthink pushed on them by their peers and professors. There is also a significant amount of social status to be gained by being in “The Resistance”, particularly if arrested. Clear virtue signaling.

    I can’t personally stand country music but tolerate it for my wife’s sake. I was at KSC when NASA did the rollover of Space Shuttle Atlantis to prep it for its new home at the Shuttle Museum. I hated Greenwood’s song up until that point, but when they rolled Atlantis into the park where we were waiting to see it, they played God Bless the USA. I had never before gotten shivers up my spine when hearing that song, but I would now put it into the category of “great”. Not even close to virtue signaling. Call it my engineering pass if you want.

    Rainbow and genitalia on Facebook? Clearly virtue signaling.

    Support for cops on Facebook? Nice try. Sorry, but there’s an enormous difference between supporting men and women who are being targeted for their profession and suddenly finding a need to be LGBTQIA friendly just because everyone else is. And I say this as someone who will never donate to the 100 Club as long as cops are setting up speed traps as the traps are far more dangerous to police and other drivers as speeders are.

    Sports support for troops? Not sure about the NFL, but since NASCAR is almost entirely executed by the conservative side of the country and conservatives are far more heavily represented in the military, this one appears more likely a leftist attempt to score some points or deflect criticism. Unless you believe that supporting friends and family going into harm’s way is virtue signaling.

    Flag pins? A bit personal for me on this one. We lived overseas when 9/11 happened and when the U.S. invaded Iraq in ’03. Many in our congregation in Mannheim wound up supporting the invasion effort as our friends were all MPs or 5th Sig. I wore a couple flag lapel pins including one B-2 Spirit adorned with red, white and blue for my country and my friends. Since I’m no longer leading Young Men, I rarely wear a jacket to church anymore but still have the pins and would wear one in a heartbeat. Probably depends on the person and the circumstance.

    I tend to be one who gains satisfaction annoying the self-righteous when given half a chance. My wife rolls her eyes when my “I just neutered the cat and now he’s a liberal” T-shirt is on the top of the stack. A couple days ago, my black T-shirt with “Infidel” in English and Arabic script was on top when I went to get my hair cut. My hairdresser asked what it was all about and when I explained it, she laughed. If you can dish out ridicule, sarcasm and humor but not take return fire, you’re definitely a virtue signaler.

  27. PantherII, excellent, thoughtful comment. Just to be clear, I am not talking about flag pins in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I think that is probably not virtue signalling but sincere patriotism in a very difficult time (I also lived overseas during the 9/11 attack). But now all politicians have to wear flag pins all the time, and it seems a bit extreme to me. We are not less patriotic if we don’t wear a flag pin all the time. That clearly seems like virtue signaling to me. But, sincerely, thanks for this great comment.

  28. PantherII, It’s perfectly clear to me that you use the words “clear” and “clearly” too frequently.

    But, just to clear the air, I don’t know how clear that is to others. Would it be clear to Scientilogists who have “gone clear” ?

    Now I’m going to clear out of here.

  29. In reality, I rarely use the words “clear” or “clearly” in daily life.

    Laying out the evidence for my hypothesis accounted for 9 of the 12 uses in my comment.

    When I discussed the likelihood that a set of inputs could be used to deduce the existence of virtue signaling, I used probabilistic language.

    When I gave examples of things that I thought were or weren’t virtue signaling, I used a mix of adjectives with three uses of “clear” or “clearly”. In the cases where I did use “clear” or “clearly”, they were examples of what appeared to me to be blatant or obvious virtue signaling, harkening back to the evidence that I had previously provided.

    I will grant that repeated use of the same or similar words is generally considered to be bad form but there are exceptions. One of them is technical writing and another is evidentiary writing. I will generally use “mentioned”, “stated”, “indicated”, “told” or other words when writing an e-mail that documents a phone conversation that I do not expect to be confrontational and I will typically tear apart e-mail or reports from junior engineers that I deem to be repetitive.

    When I am writing something that I deem is necessary to delineate project scope or that could be confrontational, I tend to fall back to the usage of the same word and preferentially a word or words that have already been put on the table by the client or Project Management. Most people tend to use speed and velocity interchangeably but in science, engineering and physics, velocity has a component to it that speed does not. Nuance matters.

    I heard an FBI agent state that Bureau recommendations are that all reports use consistent language to avoid usage of multiple words that “may mean” the same thing. As someone supporting the prosecution, the last thing you want to hear a defense attorney ask is, “Why did you say on page two of your report you ran after my client, but on page four, you sprinted after my client and on page seven, you pursued my client?” Cases can and are lost over ambiguity.

    Because I desired to avoid uncertainty that might arise from subtle variances in the meaning of synonyms, I reverted to the word usage that had previously been established by the original author of the post to identify my data points until I had established the cause-effect relationships I deemed critical. After that, I used the words that made the most sense given the context.

    I am grateful that you found my post amusing and I thank you for this Dilbert moment.

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