I have a guest post over on the Davenant Institute’s blog, the first of a multi-part series on the character of justice discourse in the Internet Age.
As we become increasingly absorbed in the virtual and abstract world of social media, our discourse can be compared to a two-way mirror. A two-way mirror works by a very thin layer of metal applied to a pane of glass between two rooms, one room very dark and the other very light. Much of the light of the bright room is reflected back, but much passes through, enabling those on the other side to see into it. However, as there is so little light on the dark side of the two-way mirror, those in the bright room only see their reflections. As the light of concrete reality is dimmed and the lights of a virtual social realm are turned up, as our attention becomes focused upon its spectacle, conversations that once provided a window onto reality now increasingly function as a mirror in which we self-consciously observe and even preen ourselves.
This is related to what some—typically on the right—clumsily identify as ‘virtue-signaling’. However, it is a much more general and less intentional practice: no party has a monopoly on this practice. It is what naturally happens to discourse when our speech acts occur in the increasingly self-referential realm of an abstract yet dense social environment in which every pronouncement is almost unavoidably an illocutionary act of self-branding and self-alignment. The reflexivity of our discourse is radically heightened, as our social discourse becomes a spectacle in which we regard ourselves. Our concern when speaking can increasingly—even if only subconsciously—be less about the proper relationship between our speech and a wider external reality than with the image of ourselves that we will be projecting within the social spectacle by speaking.
In the continual process of brand positioning, every action or apparent lack of action can be imbued with significance, pushing us in the direction of paranoia. If you don’t speak up on some issue, you risk people thinking that you don’t care about it or take it seriously. If you do speak up, you risk giving some people the impression that you are doing so to align yourself with some greater cause or fit in with some crowd. And, since that is increasingly something that we are doing in our pronouncements, these suspicions aren’t ungrounded. The treadmill of opinionating online is largely driven by our need to position ourselves on so many live issues and cases, on most of which we have no right to an opinion.
Read the whole thing here.