This article is about an unfortunate social trend; the need for people to appear highly virtuous as a front for something darker. The article started out as a paragraph of another piece, Ideal Character Traits of the Modern Male, but warranted a page of its own.
The quest to exude high virtue
Virtue on its own, is good. Living by a code based on goodness and ethics is an admirable quality. That said, ethics is a subjective term, but that's a topic for another day.
The issue I have with virtue which makes it a negative trait, is when people feel the need to exude said quality to the max; to hold themselves up as paragons of righteousness.
These days, it seems these people are everywhere and I am immediately suspsicious of their motives. For the most part, so are you.
A timeless practice
History has many famous examples of people placing themselves on pedestals for popular consumption in order to achieve their goals; politicians, religious leaders, and so forth. They do the same thing today.
Here is a new variety though, courtesy of the digital age, that I think you'll find relateable. I want you to think of that specific cadre of YouTubers and TikTokers who make videos of themselves performing grand gestures for unfortunate people.
"Look at me helping poor people! 🍔 🙏 This homeless vet is fed now - See how happy he looks? I did that! And guess what, I'm giving him $200 out of my own pocket to spend on whatever he wants! Like phone credit or an X-box game or anything! I am so proud to be helping and you know, I was born so amazing and generous, and I want to share that with the whole world! [doof-doof soundtrack kicks in] Like and subscribe so I can continue my work being a legend, and don't forget to buy a T-shirt if you really care about poor people! Buy 2 and I'll give you a personal shout-out because my fans are everything to me! I love you! VeeDog08, you're amazing dude! AliceGoGirl, I love you so much! Mwah! Sending kisses just for you! Join my Patreon, guys, for bonus content - Homeless guy eats sushi for the very first time! Watch him slam it down - It's hilarious! [howls like a hungry dog] #saviour #hobocam #benevolent #cut8inches #jesuslovesme #porscheboy #secondcoming"
OK, that was extremely exaggerated. These scum bags are never quite that obvious. But you get my drift. They can't just do a benevolent act in private; they have to make a video.
"No, I give all the revenue to the homeless - That's the only reason I do this!"
"Uh huh. You get a million views a day and give away $1000 a week. Sure it is."
It's revolting behaviour. Pure cringe.
The sad part is that young people gulp this stuff down like energy drinks - normal wide-eyed tweens and teenagers with ideals and hopes and dreams - who can't yet tell virtue from falseness.
They like and subscribe. They buy two T-shirts so he'll utter their names. He loves them and they love him. And he knows it. He knows the type of viewer who likes his videos. Idealistic, vulnerable, begging for a saviour. Often young but not always. Say their name with a boyish smile and he'll win the hearts of grans as well as giggly girls.
He might be a scum bag but he's nailed that algorithm.
Kids want super-heroes
I often hear these crazy quotes, that children are so smart nowadays; they aren't innocent anymore; they know everything. No, no, and no. Kids are stupid, innocent as heck, and they know bugger-all.
Due to generational wholesale neglect, children are more innocent than ever. They have exposure to everything yet understand nothing. Truth is, they know very little about the real world - unless a hero tells them, and then it suddenly becomes fact.
Children's ignorance has skyrocketed over the last twenty years with the targeted help of influencers, social media, fake science, celebrity worship, insane social causes, and the global dumbing-down of education.
Arguably the greatest factor, which has occurred within the same time span, is casual parenting. The pursuit of early wealth and pleasure has placed family second. Kids are being born later in life and raised by strangers because future Mum and Dad wanted to visit Bali every year during their prime.
This is a relatively new phenomenon. Before 2000, people just didn't live like that. They couldn't afford to. Now it's the norm, and the kids of these spoiled, prematurely middle-aged yobs are paying the price. Settling down is a bummer. What did we have kids for?
Parents as paragons of virtue
In previous generations, parents were a child's main contact with the greater world. Until puberty, children hero-worshipped their parents. Parents, whether good or bad, were seen by the child as the providers of all wisdom, the authority on all matters, the paragons of virtue and morality. We absorbed our parents' beliefs, code of ethics, ideologies, and opinions.
As we became young adults, even if we didn't agree with our parents' world view, we learned it. It made us think. It made us analyse. It made us wiser and more prepared to confront the outside world.
In wealthy countries, that rarely happens anymore. Nowadays, parents are absent due to work commitments or have more important things to occupy their time, like the accumulation of assets and pleasure. As a result, kids are often left with relatives, friends, or after-school care providers for hours each day.
Exacerbating the situation is that late parents can find themselves too old, disinterested, or physically unfit to be actively involved in their children's lives due to holding off parenthood for so long.
Meanwhile, children are vacuums, constantly keen to absorb all the amazing experiences the world has to offer. If there are no heroes at home to fill their eager minds, they look elsewhere, sometimes in extended family or carers, and most commonly, online.
Why do people fake being virtuous?
Does it follow then, that people who go to the trouble of appearing virtuous are inherently evil? Should we fear them?
No, not remotely. I hark back to the introduction of this article: The act of appearing virtuous is a negative character trait, that's all. Like lying or stealing. Also common with those flaws, there may be instances where our behaviour seems a rational response to a bad situation.
Let's look at the possible motives of those afflicted. At what point does someone suddenly decide that they need to appear highly virtuous? What pushes them over that line?
- Politician: This one's easy. To successfully 'handle' people, your public displays of virtue need to be huge and beyond reproach. Virtue is not required, just the appearance of virtue and a good media team. That's why every time one of them gets busted, they quit and disappear.
- Easy money: Remember the aforementioned YouTubers? It is amusing to read the comment section though, while being simultaneously sad. So much love and hate side by side as viewers tear each other to shreds, all the while inflating his views and advertising revenue.
- Low self-esteem: A person filled with doubt or trapped in a cycle of self-loathing might develop a highly virtuous alternative persona where their real issues don't exist. You can't really hate yourself when you are clearly so very perfect. Is this behaviour self-help or self-destructive?
- Abuse survivor: Take low self-esteem and add fear, helplessness, rage, and the need for revenge for a particularly volatile mix. That said, my personal experience is that those emotions are often suppressed or dealt with separately, and the fake persona exists completely separate to past events. This idealised model of virtue and perfection is possibly an attempt for an abuse survivor to feel clean or reborn, but it doesn't last.
- Cult leader: Vulnerable people often look for someone to save them. Appear virtuous, start a cult. Tried and proven formula.
- Guilt: The person has a character flaw or past mistake that they can't or don't want to correct. They hope that by living a virtuous life herein, in the public eye where they cannot hide, they will find absolution. If turning to virtue is a genuine change, then yes, it's positive, but one could do so without feeling compelled to draw everyone's attention to the fact. If the need for public validation is part of this package, goodness is not that person's driving force.
- Delusional: They actually believe they are that good. While they are indeed appearing virtuous, it might not be malevolent or a deliberate attempt to deceive, as they are detached from reality. This person urgently needs a mental health professional.
- Religious zealot: Could be any combination of the above.
All the above motives or triggers have one factor in common: dishonesty. That is why the decision to appear highly virtuous is a character flaw.
The trouble with true virtue
We've covered the folly of appearing virtuous, but what about the truly virtuous person who simply stands out amongst the crowd; the genuinely altruistic person who did not seek fame or power or fortune?
I cannot think of a single virtuous man throughout history, who in the modern day, is considered by the masses - without religious dogma - to be utterly good and selfless. There is yin and yang in everyone.
Younger generations aside, we all know this to be true. We, as society's adults and elders, instantly distrust the overly virtuous man - the politician, the tech giant, the vegan influencer, the religious leader, the wellness guru - We see through them.
"Dig up some dirt!" his enemies plot.
This makes life impossibly hard for anyone in the public eye who is actually trying to lead a virtuous life. Society always looks for cracks in prominent people, and years later when someone famous falls from grace or has a total meltdown, we cheer.
This societal response is called Tall Poppy Syndrome. We like to see giants fall. They soared too high above us. Suddenly, we forget all of their virtuous deeds and only remember the seedy details of their demise.
"I always knew there was something weird about that guy - He was too perfect."
Our innate distrust of virtuous men is also why we tend to prefer anti-heroes. Villains who are apparently content presenting their flaws are more easily accepted, because if nothing else, they demonstrate a degree of honesty.
And also, because we see ourselves in them.
We are flawed too and we know that about ourselves, so we identify with the villain over the virtuous man. When our flawed anti-hero does something kind or nice, we leap up from our chairs and applaud, all the while seeing ourselves in the villain's reflection.
"See? He's not all bad."
The villain's good deed elevates our opinion of him, and in turn, we feel better about ourselves. Simply put, we prefer men with open failings, over men who try to hide them.
We're strange little critters, aren't we?
Big thanks to Cosplay_Images for the superhero .png files. Format was perfect for overlays.
On the Articles index page, you can find more quick reads about the subject plus many other topics that delve into the human condition.
Have a brilliant day,