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Not all virtue signals are the same
The following are five distinct varieties of virtue signal, getting progressively more severe in regards to the permanence and severity of the signal. (There are surely more categories worth noting.)
A consciously chosen conspicuous item that almost no one would otherwise wear. There is no belief that the item in itself is good or virtuous. Everyone knows it’s just a ribbon, and knows that it was chosen by someone or some centralized committee. These usually occur just for specific events, and don’t pervade life in general.
A conspicuous signal that gets selected for within the community for indicating membership, but is not believed to be virtuous in and of itself. Unlike RIBBON, the signal here wasn’t chosen by anyone or any central committee; it emerges via complex selection pressures. Also, most within the community don’t consciously realize it signals membership at all. I am not certain this case ever really occurs; I suspect that it usually automatically gets nudged up to the next stage. Examples might include minor fashion variants like a turtleneck (which used to signal being a certain kind of intellectual), bow ties, minor accent differences, etc.
A conspicuous signal that gets selected for within the community for indicating membership, AND post hoc justifications evolve for why it is virtuous in and of itself. Like TURTLENECK, most people within the community don’t consciously realize it signals membership at all. But in this case they also don’t realize that their belief that the signal is virtuous is something that post hoc evolved. They genuinely believe the justifications, because the community came to have the justifications in the manner that communities come to have justifications generally. Examples include masks, accents, fashions,…
Like MASK, but it is a fairly permanent (conspicuous) change. Scarring, tattoos, and perhaps honorifics (Mr., Mrs, Dr.) fit in this category too. Sex change probably falls in this category as well. And, for anorexics, their emaciation.
Like MASK, but it is a feature one is born with, and out groups can’t even choose to become members, because they basically cannot possibly show the signal. See the video below for more on this category.