Today I would like to bring up a pretty straightforward principle borrowed from Biology, which can be used in explaining very human behavior phenomena, it is something known as the handicap principle.
If you look at the peacock tail…it could not have evolved via natural selection, because it does not confer any survival advantage to the peacock.
It must have evolved via a parallel process of evolution: the sexual selection, or the idea that the tale confers reproductive advantage to the peacock.
For that tail to be valuable as a signal to choose the optimal male, the tail must be costly in a biological sense. In other words, it must be wasteful, it must decrease the chances of survival of the peacock.
Basically what the peacock is saying is “look, despite the fact that this tail increases the chances of falling prey to the predator, reduces my availability to take flight…despite the fact this tale makes me more conspicuous, the fact i am standing here with such a elaborated tail suggests that i am the guy you should make out with”
And so, for a signal to be honest it must be costly.
Now I want to link this phenomenon to the virtue signalling that we see with the hashtag activism etc.
People wish to manage their reputations, they want the world to know that they are good people, ambitious people, hard working people wish to demonstrate that they care. And therefore, the way of doing that is…by tweeting a hashtag, by changing their profile picture.
That gives some small measure of support to the cause, but it is profoundly non costly. It takes absolutely zero cost for you to do such an act.
A costly act would be to speak out repeatedly and consistently and forcefully against the forces that create this reality. Of course that action, as costly, it might make you lose friend on facebook, it might have an effect in your career, you might not be invited to the right parties, and of course on some cases there might be physical threats on your well-being. That is costly.
To simply do a hashtag tweet it is a rather weak attempt to engage in virtue signalling: “Look, I am committed to this cause. Now the other 363 days, after the record of 48h passed, I will not make any contribution to the cause. As a matter of fact, I will distance myself from those folks that are actually engaging in the battle”
Yes, it is very nice to engage in profoundly costless behavior like hashtag activism such, but if you truly care about these issues you might do much more than that.
Hashtag Activism by Manuel Fraga is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.