Somebody asked me the other day to define “virtue signaling,” which I gladly did and will do now, because it’s so prevalent nowadays that people NEED to know what it is and how it affects us. A virtue signal is a very visible public action you take that shows what a good and caring person you are but that doesn’t actually make any other difference in the world.
Remember a few years ago when people were dumping buckets of ice water on their heads like they were Michael Jackson on a Pepsi commercial shoot because they thought it would cure ALS? I lost a friend and the Golden Isles lost a great journalist last year to ALS. I guess we should have had a few more buckets.
The people at all the awards shows wearing the week’s ribbon of choice? Virtue signaling! Name one thing people wear these ribbons for that has been cured, solved, or saved. I didn’t think so.
Now, let me say up front: I don’t recycle. When I say that, people usually look at me like I just forgot to wear my mask in Publix, but it’s true. When people visit from out of town, they always ask where we keep the recyclables. We tell them we don’t separate the recyclables. After we get the smelling salts and revive them, they begin to wonder what kind of savagery we practice in our home and community. They’ve been trained to have a certain reaction to the practice of recycling, because so much of recycling is and has been a gigantic virtue signal.
In the spring of 2013, I spent my first night in Tallahassee in over twenty years, after having fled the town once I’d knocked out my college hours. A less masculine guy would have PTSD after spending four-and-a-half years being beating about the head and neck with far-left ideology, but because I’m hale and hearty, I made it through. In fact, I’d locked a lot of my experiences away in the crevices of my mind, but upon my triumphant return to campus, it all came flooding back to me.
During the time I’d been away they installed new public trash cans. They were labeled, John Hancock-style, in huge, unmissable type: RECYCLE and LANDFILL. In other words, if you choose not to recycle and instead send your garbage to the vile, evil, and earth-destroying landfill, we’re going to make sure everybody knows.
Yes, FSU garbage shames people now.
A story the Islander submitted for our news this week stirred some conversation on my show. The county commission is going to look at residential waste bid options, because of an anticipated “substantial increase in disposal costs due to the collapse of the recycle market.” In other words, most of that stuff you have been separating is getting dumped in the same place as the contents of your other garbage can. You didn’t NEED to learn which things to separate and take the time to do it after all!
During the discussion I heard from some folks in county government that “no one is buying glass for recycling and much of the recycling is contaminated with food products and is trashed.” It struck me that the food product contamination wasn’t a new thing even if Asia has only recently stopped buying our recycled glass. I then started to wonder why the county is even pursuing a recycling program if nothing’s going to get recycled from it. I have no doubt whatsoever that the answer is that it’s a good habit to maintain and one day the recyclables market will come back, and when that time comes we’ll all be in the habit of doing the right thing. In other words, it’s the bat-signal of virtue signals. Feel good about yourself by showing everyone how much you care, because you put your hands all over your own garbage and have a special trash can. You know the trash can. The one that says, “Good People Who Care Live Here!”
Now, I don’t want to take anything away from people actually doing some good work on the recycling front. My friends at Keep Golden Isles Beautiful have gotten involved with a company called GlassWRX, and GlassWRX actually does recycle glass still, but you have to take it to a drop off location. KGIB also runs a very effective electronics recycling event every spring. The market for recycled electronics materials hasn’t collapsed yet, thank goodness, because we as a people go through electronic devices like Hunter Biden goes through strippers.
But how deep is the virtue signal? I decided to post a poll on Twitter to see if it mattered to people that their recyclables weren’t being recycled. I asked how many people who separate their recyclables would continue to do so even if they knew their trash wasn’t being recycled. As of this writing 27% of the respondents said they would separate their recyclables anyway. Why? There’s only one answer: the virtue signal. Saying they recycle and showing people that they recycle makes them feel good about doing their part to save the planet. Even though nothing they’re doing is actually saving the planet.
I have an idea. Why are we thinking small? If we can say we’re doing something and take a meaningless action that makes us feel like we’re getting something done, why not go big? I mean, saving the planet is nice and all, why can’t we create a virtue signal that shows we’re saving the UNIVERSE?