The New York Times Uses Its Sunday Front Page To Extol Progressive Virtue-Signaling Lawn Signs, Which Tells Us Everything We Need To Know About The New York Times

obxoxious sign

New York Times critic Amanda Hess was given a rare slot on her paper’s front page to opine on sign above, which was apparently the beginning of the the viral “Announce to your neighbors that you’re a smug, simple-minded idiot” epidemic. I did not know that! Ethics Alarms has had several posts about similar signs, notably this one, but I did not realize that I had missed Patient Zero. I was, in fact, preparing to write another post on this topic, because one sign resembling the progenitor of obnoxious yard signs just turned up at a house across the street from me. Its only variation from the classic is “Water is Life” at the bottom: maybe Aquaman lives in that house. I have vowed, if I ever have an encounter with the resident there, to present a series of questions that I guarantee will only evoke “Huminahuminahumina...” in response.

Hess’s analysis by turns informs readers that the sign has “curious power” (to make me detest the homeowner?); that the mottoes are “progressive maxims” (so progressives really are that facile and shallow!), that “Donald Trump is out of office…But nevertheless, this sign has persisted” (Oh! It’s all Trump’s fault!), that the sign is “directed at the adults in the room, reminding them of their own mission” (Really? Open borders? Man-boy love? Anti-white discrimination? Marxism? Why is a sign aimed at adults so naive and childish? ), that it is “the epitome of virtue signaling: an actual sign enumerating the owner’s virtues. There is something refreshing, actually, about the straightforwardness of that.” (There is something refreshing about smug idiots placing signs on their laws that say, “I am a smug idiot”?).

I learned other things from the article:

  • The text was the creation of Kristin Garvey, a librarian in Wisconsin, who wrote it out on a piece of cardboard in a post 2016 election freak-out. A friend turned her masterpiece into a professional, if nauseating, yard sign for mass production, and “its message became a mantra among liberals who felt lost in Trump’s America.” This means that they paid no attention to what Trump did: black lives prospered more under Trump than Obama (or Biden); all previous Presidents have taken an oath to enforce immigration laws, which means that those illegally immigrating are illegal immigrants; and Trump opposed neither gay rights nor same sex marriages.
  • Mashable called the sign “more bold and memorable than anything the Democratic party has come up with in the last four years.” This is the equivalent of a rationalization that “Democrats could have been worse.”
  • Profits from the sign’s sales go to support abortions! Ah. That explains why “Life is Life” didn’t make the cut, along with “The unborn’s rights are human rights.”

What Hess doesn’t do, either because she lacks the guts or because she is a fool, is to point out that the sign is really, really dumb as well as annoying. (This is why my quiz for the homeowner across the street will be so difficult.) To only cover the last item, “Kindness is Everything”: this is ethics ignorance of the first water. Kindness is important and an ethical value, but it has far lower priority than integrity, fairness, responsibility and accountability, among others. A society in which kindness over-rules all other considerations would not work; indeed, it wouldn’t even be kind.

20 thoughts on “The New York Times Uses Its Sunday Front Page To Extol Progressive Virtue-Signaling Lawn Signs, Which Tells Us Everything We Need To Know About The New York Times

  1. I’ve always seen it as the new religion’s articles of faith. For heaven’s sake, it begins with “we believe.”

    It’s just much less well-defined than most faiths’ doctrines, because it has to be ambiguous enough to cover all the contradictions that the true believers hold simultaneously.

    And thank you, Jack, for pointing out that any virtue cannot trump all others. This facile idea that so many people have that “all you need is love” drives me crazy when people preach it to me, as though it’s a solution to anything, even if it could be successfully followed.

    We are beginning to see what happens to a society that values love and acceptance (i.e. a child mustn’t ever feel as though they’re insufficient or wrong) over all other virtues.

    • Yes. To use Christian parlance, people have created an idol out of one or two virtues to the exclusion of all others. And, virtues properly understood are not necessarily in conflict anyway. It’s not “unkind” to arrest someone for a terrible crime. And it’s not obviously “unkind” to support the death penalty, in principle, for heinous crimes. I think some virtues are more applicable in some situations than others.

  2. I submitted a comment in the linked post about that sign. There’s one down the street from me.

    The first thing that comes to mind for me when I see those and similar signs is “low class”. Maybe it’s because I wouldn’t expect an educated person to display something so ignorant in their yard and those that do I look down upon – right or wrong that’s my feeling. This is something that’s becoming more common even in upscale neighborhoods. It’s almost like we should start calling these signs the new graffiti. These signs are ugly and divisive in my opinion.

  3. Kindness is just about the bottom of the barrel when it comes to virtues. Completely wretched people are often very kind.


  4. “Water is Life” is appropriated from Frank Herbert’s novel Dune. Which is currently showing at theatres and HBO Max? So it isn’t even likely it’s not just a current fad….

  5. “It is what it is” comes to mind. How about “Tautologies are Tautologies?”

    There’s one of these signs in our neighborhood. Has to be someone from the local Methodist or Unitarian church. Liberalism has wiped out all conventional/traditional religions and replaced the with this pablum. They’re all just lefty cant these days. I wonder at times if churches like the Methodists and Unitarians cater to gays and lesbians so incessantly because they’re a huge part of their congregations and heterosexuals have checked out.

  6. We have a fair number of these signs in my neighborhood — but this is the People’s Republic of Chapel Hill, after, all, so that’s to be expected.

    I think that all the extra verbiage is only to fill out the sign and make people feel better about the only line they really care about, which is the first one.

    I found out a couple days ago that there is a Republican running for the school board here, which is out of the ordinary. I found out about it from Google featuring a story from our local paper about this person, detailing all the deplorables who’ve contributed to her campaign and decrying her suggestion that we use ‘bullet’ voting to vote for her.

    This is the height of irony, it seems to me. What bullet voting is, is that there are 3 positions open on the school board, so you get to vote for up to three candidates. Bullet voting is when you only vote for one to try and strengthen the vote for that person. The irony is that, historically, it has been used by minorities to try and achieve better results at the ballot box. That was good (or now it’s seen as good). This, of course, is wasting your vote.

    I was thinking of skipping this election, since this town is a single party town. But now I will turn out next Tuesday, even if my vote is unlikely to matter.

    • A better system is Cumulative Voting. In that, when there are three positions you typically get three votes, which you can distribute or concentrate on as many or as few candidates as you like (I actually prefer a variant in which there are six votes among three positions as that is easier to split among fewer positions, and so on with other factorisable numbers of votes for larger numbers of positions).

  7. The attraction to and appeal of these signs derives from the warm fuzzy idealism they invoke. It is an actual visceral response that releases endorphins and in that altered state an individual, regardless of how fleeting, knows positively they are on the right side of things. It is all about feeling not thinking and therein lies its appeal to democrats.

    • Endorphins? With them there rampin’, afflicted Lefties are supplied with all manner of excuses.

      “It is all about feeling not thinking ”

      …Those Who Torment Us For Our Own Good Will Torment Us Without End, For They Do So With The Approval Of Their Own Conscience.” C.S. Lewis

    • I have a liberal friend, and he once said that he votes Democrat because he is not completely heartless to the suffering of others. Back then, I was liberal as well, but it always stuck out to me that he had tied his view of himself as a human being to a particular policy proposal. Progressives believe they have the moral high ground because they oversimplify the world. “Someone is hungry. Give them free food. Republicans don’t want to give them free food. Republicans don’t care about feeding people.” That’s basically the logic of most progressive positions. Just modify it for different policy positions.

  8. Alright, time for me to take a shot at this.

    Here’s the first problem: with the exception of “kindness is everything,” these statements are vacuous. Each one is trivially true when read as written. For most intents and purposes, nobody in their right mind is going to disagree with the statements’ literal interpretations, even though some of them are normative (subjective value judgments) rather than descriptive (objective observations).

    The second problem is that many humans are blurred-brains who haven’t developed the ability to use or recognize critical reasoning, so they skip directly from a vacuous statement to, “and therefore I’m right that we should do this thing, and if you don’t agree then you’re stupid and evil, QED.” Whether or not I agree with their conclusion is irrelevant, because they’ve demonstrated their reasoning process is not to be trusted.

    This process is how we get things like moral certitudes and “objective scientific truth.” I need to start giving humans lessons on existential epistemology (and charging for it).

    First off, moral certitudes don’t exist, but that’s not the same thing as saying that there is no right or wrong. In place of objective morality, I submit the constructive virtue of ethics, which I approach as follows.

    People want things, but physical reality limits our ability to get everyone everything they want. There are different things we can choose to do in response to those limitations, so that more people can get more of what they want. There are also principles that help us make choices that are more constructive for society. When we abide by those principles, the choices we make are not only sustainable over time, but even get more and more of us more and more of what we want. That’s what makes ethics a constructive virtue. The choice isn’t “right or wrong” so much as it’s figuring out which options and principles are most constructive in the short and long terms, by its effects and by the precedent it sets.

    Secondly, objective scientific facts are a myth, but that’s not the same thing as saying that all statements are equally true. The process (and mindset) of science is about saying, “We did this experiment and this was the result. Here’s the simplest hypothesis that’s consistent with this result, and here are some other hypotheses which we think are also fairly likely.”

    That’s the extent of the “facts.” The hypotheses themselves aren’t “facts”–they’re collections of predictions. For example, “the experiments I ran on this plant are consistent with the hypothesis that it is edible for humans.” That’s a prediction that if you eat the plant, you will not die from it.

    Every prediction comes with risks if people count on it being right and it turns out to be wrong, or vice versa. For example, the existence of allergies means that even our plant edibility prediction cannot be 100% certain for each human. People can choose which hypotheses to subscribe to based on the certain costs they’re willing to pay to abide by them and the uncertain risks (and associated consequences) they are willing to accept if they’re wrong. However, blurry human brains sometimes turn those choices into the belief that the hypotheses chosen are “scientific facts” or “truth.”

    Different people are willing to pay different costs and take different risks, and those costs and risks may even be measurably different for different people, but that doesn’t mean that a hypothesis is “fact” for one person and not for another. Every hypothesis is still just a collection of predictions with some measured probability of being true or false in different experimental situations. Heck, I could prepare for multiple mutually exclusive predictions being both true and false, but that doesn’t mean I believe any of them to be “facts” or “fake.”

    Since Earth doesn’t educate its population very well, opposing groups of people who push for society to make different risk tradeoffs in the face of the same evidence think that their rivals are denying “the science,” “the data,” or “the facts.” In their clumsy attempts to resolve the conflict, they start throwing around evidence filtered through their own confirmation bias, instead of seeking ways to circumvent the risks which are what people actually care about.

    Humans need to stop arguing about “the right thing to do” and “the truth” and start discussing what they want, the risks they are and aren’t willing to accept, and how constructive the different options are. Until they do, their civilization will remain dysfunctional.

  9. I know someone who put this sign in her yard and then proudly posted it on Facebook. She’s also an English professor at a major university in Oklahoma, and Reason magazine mentioned her in this article: When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, she posted about being a fan, and I commented on her page asking her which opinion Ginsburg wrote was her favorite, and she accused me of using a “gotcha question.” Another time, she posted about feminism, and I asked why she didn’t call out the sexism in Muslim majority countries. I was told that would be “colonialism.”

    Anyway, this is the type of thought coming through on college campuses, especially in some English departments. English professors are not what they used to be, and this sign is something a lot of my liberal acquaintances who work in higher education have endorsed, particularly in the humanities.

    Some of the statements are possibly defensible if understood in the right light. For example, black lives of course matter, but the organization is separate from the core idea. Endorsing the organization means endorsing a whole lot of other absurd things.

    Another that could be defensible is, “Women’s rights are human rights,” but that’s code for abortion, so it’s a misleading statement.

    Overall, the sign is nauseating virtue signaling designed to make sure everyone else knows just how “woke” you are.

  10. Jack,
    During the next encounter with your yard sign neighbor, casually inquire how she/he feels about human trafficking. After patiently listening to their vehement denouncement, just say you’re really glad to know that because the sign had you thinking they were openly declaring their support.
    They may never again be so comfortably smug about their sign.


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