The other day, I had a sudden insight into how political correctness works even on those, like me, who otherwise fancy themselves as being most resistant to it. A girl in her teens, perhaps as old as college age, though no more than that, came to my door with a loud, confident knock: shave and a haircut — two bits. Who does that anymore? Surely not a stranger? I would not normally have been at home at that hour of the day, but I was down with a bad cold and hadn’t bothered to change out of my normal sleeping attire, was unbathed and unshaven.
Keeping as much as I could behind the door in order to minimize the shock to her of my scruffy appearance, I peered out and listened to her spiel. She was there, she said with a youthful confidence as ringing as her knock, in aid of a protest against cuts to the EPA. I couldn’t quite figure out whether she was collecting signatures or money, but, in order to cut out the palaver I interrupted her to say, with a bit more peremptoriness than I would have shown if I had been dressed properly, that I was entirely in favor of cuts to the EPA.
That’s when the curious thing happened. She bore the presumptive blow with such a good grace as she smiled and thanked me for my time before turning away, that I was suddenly ashamed of myself. I wanted to call her back and apologize and beg her not to hate me for my boorishness. Here’s some money. Do you have a petition I can sign? I had internalized, without realizing it, the progressive standard of decency that now permeates the culture — at least to the extent of feeling a twinge of guilt myself for behaving with what I knew would be considered indecency in her eyes.
My opinion about the EPA had not changed, but somehow and quite unexpectedly I had to fight against the feeling that it mattered to me that this innocent and charming child should think ill of me. If I had been more presentable, perhaps I would have lingered on the doorstep long enough to have explained to her my objections to the EPA and my support for cutting its budget. Then even if, as was surely likely, she had remained unpersuaded, her invincible ignorance would have been my excuse for not caring what she thought of me. Limited as it was, however, and by her as much as by me, our face-to-face encounter afforded me no such satisfaction.
This, then, must be the point of all the virtue-signaling that sometimes seems to be the whole political program of the left. Rational argument and its implied respect for those of opposing views would be the death of it, which is why rational argument has gone right out of fashion. You have only to listen to a typical political "debate" to see how debate itself has degenerated into nothing more than competing claims to moral authority.
Why argue, anyway, if you can establish with all the self-advertising power of social media your own superior virtue as virtue is understood today — that is, in terms of compassion, tolerance, non-judgmentalism, concern for peace or the envirnoment? Thus you not only shame those with less moral self-confidence into saying: "Me too!" but you also invite them to share in your contempt for the retrograde and the reprobate, condemned as such before they ever open their mouths. Which is why they are increasingly not allowed to open their mouths.
"Protest" presupposes something to protest against, or rather some people of inferior if not "deplorable" moral status whose inferiority is guaranteed by their differences with the morally superior protestors. No need to explore what those differences are, or from what thought processes they might arise. It is enough that they are different, because difference from decency — unlike difference of race or religion or national origin or sex or sexual orientation — is indecency.