Someone recently pointed me to this excellent article: The Toxoplasma of Rage, at Slate Star Codex.
The tl;dr is that virtue signalling sets up a perverse incentive structure, which The Media then use to generate bullshit clickbait articles that further erode social trust.
The key part of “virtue signalling” is signalling. That is, nobody’s going to commend you for being, say, anti-rape, because rape is obviously a bad thing, always and everywhere. If you want to capitalize on being “anti-rape,” then, you have to find someone “pro-rape” to rage against… but since no such being actually exists, what you end up doing is staking out the most extreme position on the most marginal case you can find.
E.g. the Kavanaugh hearings. Alexander’s piece was written in 2014, so that circus hadn’t happened yet, but it’s a great example of his basic idea. Absolutely no one was arguing that it’s no big deal for a potential Supreme Court justice to be credibly accused of rape, so the focus immediately shifted from “accused” to “credibly.” That’s when the whole thing went off the rails — by design. There’s no virtue juice to be squeezed from the idea that we should evaluate the evidence on its merits, so virtue-signallers immediately started shouting that we must #BelieveAllWomen, no matter what. And, of course, the crazier Blassey-Ford’s claims became, the more hysterical the #BelieveAllWomen chorus got — again, by design.
The point wasn’t to stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation — that was going to happen regardless, since no Senator wanted to go home and tell her constituents that yes, I really believe this guy was the leader of a Satanic rape gang that Blassey-Ford kept hanging out with even after he ran a train on her (or whatever the final fantasy actually was). Rather, the point was to keep the rage-heads all het up, because it was good for business, and if that meant that some women who actually were raped wouldn’t get the help they need because #BelieveAllWomen became #LieWhenIt’sConvenient, well, so be it.
Such is the “rage toxoplasma” theory of media motivation, anyway, and I think there’s a lot to it. But I think it’s only partly right. From that piece, and from brief reading about him, Alexander seems to be one of those “the facts have a liberal bias”-type Lefties that used to be so common in the pre-Twitter world. You know the type: “If you just looked at the world rationally, comrade, you’d end up sounding like a Howard Dean campaign release just like me.” See e.g. here, from the linked article:
A while back there was a minor scandal over JournoList, a private group where left-leaning journalists met and exchanged ideas. I think the conservative spin was “the secret conspiracy running the liberal media – revealed!” I wish they had been right. If there were a secret conspiracy running the liberal media, they could all decide they wanted to raise awareness of racist police brutality, pick the most clear-cut and sympathetic case, and make it non-stop news headlines for the next two months. Then everyone would agree it was indeed very brutal and racist, and something would get done.
Instead of “a secret conspiracy running the liberal media,” Alexander attributes all this to an entity he calls “Moloch.” The JournoListers, you see, are all nice guys who just want the world to be a better place. It’s just this “Moloch” character, gosh darn it, who keeps the focus off good old fashioned proselytizing and onto clickbait like Ferguson.
Because, you see, it’s The Media’s job to “raise awareness of racist police brutality.” Because “Then everyone would agree it was indeed very brutal and racist, and something would get done.”
Here’s the obvious rebuttal:
In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.
That’s why “gentle giant” Michael Brown, not obvious (according to Alexander) racial brutality victim Eric Garner, got all the headlines. It’s why obvious fantasias like the UVa “rape” case and “Mattress Girl” got pushed, and why some significant percentage of the country still pretends to believe Brett Kavanaugh was the grand high poobah of a high school rape squad. If The Media had played it straight — if they’d just reported the facts — the public might’ve made up their minds for themselves. They — the public — might’ve concluded that the responsibility for an individual’s actions falls on the individual.
In other words: The cop that choked Eric Garner to death might or might not have done it on purpose. Even IF we conclude that he did, and we conclude that he did it because he’s a racist, that only means that this one, named individual — Officer Daniel Pantaleo — is a racist guilty of homicide. It would be obvious, in other words, that any editorializing about a “culture of systemic racism within the NYPD” is just that: Editorializing. Similarly, the just-the-facts approach would make it far too clear that whatever Darren Wilson might’ve felt in his heart of hearts about African-Americans, he was clearly justified in fearing for his life when a guy twice his size who had just robbed a convenience store started grabbing for his gun. Maybe Wilson’s a racist; maybe he’s not; but either assertion is pure speculation, a fact which just-the-facts reportage would’ve made obvious.
And we can’t be having that.
“Rage toxoplasma” is just a means to an end in these types of articles. The end is: The creation of True Believers.
Consider the example that leads off Alexander’s piece, a typical piece of PETA stupidity. The details don’t matter; the point is Alexander’s claim that PETA is responding rationally to a perverse set of incentives. They’re willing to risk pissing off one or two vegans, who swear to start eating meat just to “get back” at PETA, in order to “get a conversation going” about their pet issue. This, he says, is the “rage toxoplasma” — memes (in this case, “you’re an idiot for eating / not eating meat”) propagate themselves by getting people pissed off at both sides of the issue.
But consider the aftereffects. How long do you think that vegan is going to keep eating meat? He’s primarily a virtue-signaller, too, since “telling the world what a superior person you are for being a vegan” is the only reason to be a vegan in the first place. I’d bet kids’ college fund that soyboy didn’t actually eat any meat; he just said he was going to. Once he’s fired off that tweet, there’s no more virtue-juice to be squeezed from the situation. He knows PETA doesn’t care, so why would he risk alienating all his friends — who also surely know that PETA doesn’t care — just to “get back” at PETA by following through with his threat?
The whole thing is a category error. PETA doesn’t lose anything by pulling a stunt like this, if by “lose” you mean “an additional animal gets eaten.” In other words, anti-PETA people, even newly minted ones, aren’t going to start doing anything they weren’t doing already. But if just one person sees the hullaballoo and comes over to PETA’s side….
See what I mean? That was Lenin’s great insight: The masses will never achieve revolutionary consciousness on their own. It takes a vanguard party of committed, professional revolutionaries to do it. It doesn’t take very many, and most of the time, they’ll volunteer. To get a rage spiral going — the “rage toxoplasma” bit — you need people who are already temperamentally inclined to becoming rage-heads. They’re already radicals — all you have to do is radicalize them in your chosen direction.
Now consider Michael Brown, Jackie Coakley, Mattress Girl, Blassey-Ford, and all the rest. Fair, just-the-facts reporting wouldn’t set off any incipient rage-heads, which is why the facts will never be reported in any fashion that would let the level-headed tie them together. The level-headed aren’t the target audience. The Media don’t want to “do something” about police brutality, or rape, or factory farming, or anything else. They love those things, because by “reporting” on them, they get potential rage-heads to freak out and become actual rage-heads.
A vegan who decides to eat meat to “punish” PETA won’t do a goddamn thing. Even if he actually snarfs down a burger (which everyone involved knows he won’t), big deal — that’s five minutes of his life gone, and afterwards he’ll go back to being the same Democrat-voting, Incitatus Ocasio-Cortez-loving, social justice-warrioring soyboy freak he always was. He’s still one of the shock troops. A person who concludes, by contrast, that Michael Brown really was a “gentle giant,” or that Kavanaugh really bossed a rape gang, or what have you, is now Trigglypuffed for life. She’s in, she’s yours, and now you’ve got one more dedicated full-time Social Justice Warrior to unleash on normie society.
The Media aren’t themselves the vanguard party; they’re just its recruiting officers. Understand that, and their coverage, including the “rage toxoplasma” stuff, makes a lot more sense.