Virtue Signalling and Binarity

by Friedrich Hansen (April 2018)

Self-Portrait, Chuck Close, 2002-03


n fairness to the Millennials and their obvious problem with maturation or growing up: it certainly is not their fault that the sexual revolution of 1968 has turned the world upside down, namely by opening up the Protestant bottleneck of pent up emotions and thus ushering in the present era of emotional incontinence. Today, all feelings are thrown on the marketplace of public opinon. As a result, the Millennials, as the true heirs of the Baby boomers, seem to have lost the inner tensions of moral dualismproductive tensions to be sure which, for a millennium, had been the motor of innovation in the monotheist West. Athens only provided the tools of science but Jerusalem gave us inner dualism and the enquiring mind. The decline of western universities and also industrial innovation leaves us in little doubt that the death of religion is being followed by the death of science.[1] Instead, barren binary logic has taken over not only Western technology and ideas but also the sexual discourse.


It was in the Renaissance that the shift from inner, moral Adam II to the outer, cognitive Adam I came into being. This eventually culminated for the first time in the fin de siècle and again in the 1968 revolt resulting in huge epistemological losses. This is behind the present split in public opinion and the rule of contrarianism and irreconcilable antagonisms over curiousity and civil conversation in the West. To be absoultely clear: Adam here denotes the gender neutral person of the Hebrew Bible,[2] presciently exposed by Joseph B. Soloveitchick long before the discourse about gender fluidity emerged.[3] Today, the deplorable state of public discourse can be explained with the loss of religion and neutral transcendence which, in 2,000 years of Western growth, did most of the clearance of intellectual controversies and political conflicts: the work of public reconciliation through divine grace.[4]


By contrast, the new West—with neighbourhoods such as San Francisco and Silicon Valley—is enigmatic for the age of barren bodies and minds. Both the gay hub of externalized binary sex codes and the Temple of petrified binary mechanics are united by a veritable elective affinity. But don’t expect new scientific concepts to pour out of Silicon Valley other than vicious technologies of mind control and oppression of spiritual diversity. The Western mind was marked by inner moral dualism until the Great War. In the run up to this, the cultural turn of Protestantism externalized the moral dualism setting off the religious wars of the Belle Epoque in Europe. Inner religious dualism, as Soloveitchik explained it, came with the personal responsibility of dealing with conflicts intelligently by sublimating, rather than “acting out” crude instincts and emotions.

Apple headquarters, Silicon Valley, 2017.


In the Belle Epoche, the aesthetic “coming out” of anarchists, feminists, and gays ended the era of monotheist humility. Forgotten was the truth that only monotheist self-transcendence can build civilizations; while paraded transgressions of gay pride begets decline. Yet, beginning after the French Revolution and fuelled by romanticism, the monotheist inner or moral dualism has been externalized as aesthetic dualismus. This is what is experienced as a process of descending from the auditive to the visible paradigm with the inversion of centripetal toward centrifugal orientation. The prize for this was the diminishing capability of conflict resolution due to the fact that the shame culture of visibility always gravitates to mirror thinking and projections onto the “other” instead of resolving complex problems with a common language. This observation may contradict W.H. Abrams’ thesis, published in the early 1950s, about the shift in the middle of the 19th century from the Greek “mirror” to the Christian “lamp” thanks to romanticism. In my view, this was merely a breakthrough of pent up emotions. We both agree nevertheless on the fact that in the 19th century the rage of emancipation and anti-authoritarianism begot the identity types of the rainbow coalition which would go on after WWII to deconstruct the Christian person and the family. The climax of this externalization of the person, handing the command from Adam II to Adam I had been anticipated as the romantic conversion of morals into aesthetics, best formulated by Friedrich Nietzsche. This cultural revolution culminated again in the triumph of gay power in Weimar Germany, which triggered the antagonism and power struggle between Hitler and Röhm in 1934.

Yet, soon enough, in the postwar period, life resumed its course that had been interrupted by the Great War in the Fin de Siècle. As if nothing had been learned from decadence after WWII, the parents of the Millennials drugged themselves brim-full in order to shift quickly from Adam II to Adam I, meaning to manage guilt by enhancing feelings of the ego, or what the baby boomers worshipped as self-realization. Now, their offspring, the Millennials, have to pick up the pieces and live with the disastrous cultural and economic consequences. Still influenced by the hippies, the problem with the Millennials is that they overvalue expressionism and authenticity and undervalue relationships and family. This is the result of thinkers like Hobbes, Kant, Nietzsche, Freud, Ernst Cassirer, Susanne K. Langer,[5] Hans Jonas, Hannah Arendt, Herbert Marcuse and Martin Heidegger all of whom cherished aesthetic Adam I or the cognitive, outer self over the covenantal (moral) inner self of religion. Historically, relationships have been managed by the inner Adam II, who is closer to our conscience and always superior to Adam I in mastering the language of the soul.


It was only with the Renaissance that egotistic individualism and Adam I gradually took the lead, by marginalizing the Christian roots of the West. For the human person emerged from the inner Adam who has been inaugurated at Sinai with the covenant between the Israelites and their unique God. Humans are not designed to live alone and be merely authentic; this is a modern deformity of the mind. We are social animals according to both streams of Western ideas from Athens and Jerusalem alike.


Now, it is typically lonely young men who miss the right balance between relations over authenticity. This is most visible in the mass killings by the enigmatic “Mad Max” types. Park MacDougald speaks of “Fascists and Revolutionaries” in American Affairs: “Was our mental health that dependent on finding or forging a ‘healthy relationship?’ When I read about people like Elliott Rodger and Seung Hui-cho—and later, in a different way, Dylann Roof—they reminded me of Max. How many other Maxes were there across the country? And what was this society that was growing them?”[6]

Protestant Pride: Authenticity


Has the smart phone culture absorbed the narcissist Protestant posturing into an entirely new metaphysical universe—a land of mirror virtuality? The cathartic aspect of digital virtuality seems to be just another turn of the old adage of Kantian metaphysics, based merely on “postulates” for a life “as if”. What is coming forth here seems to be the voice of the inner self, which is often described as “awakening”. It is addressed as such in a recent book by Malcolm Harris, a veteran of the Occupy Wall Street movement. He speaks of a revolutionary moment as “woke”. We have seen several movements of Christian awakenings in the centuries following the Renaissance, moments of Adam II re-emerging from the “metaphysical slumber” of Adam I. This kind of awakening has been referred to as intellectualization or recovering of one’s brain through discourse. It certainly represents an upward move from a narcissist image culture to a more communal culture of the spoken word and dialogue. Most revolutions are of this kind, rebellions of the moral inner self. This actually represents an ascent from the narrow visual paradigm, toward the sublime precincts of Adam II, wedded to tradition as well as to articulation with rebellious language drawn from the auditive paradigm. This “ascent” was experienced by Auschwitz survivor Victor Frankl as “self-transcendence,” from which he would eventually developed later his famous Logotherapy.

Auschwitz survivor Victor Frankl

After five hundred years of Protestant centrifugal “expressionism” and the politics of authenticity at the cost of relationship and the centripetal family, the habit of “posturing” for claiming the moral high ground is coming to an end. After the postwar Sturm und Drang of identity politics in the name of authentic-being-the-new-politics-of-networking show that the future depends pretty much on “relations” and coherence. We can also see that the rainbow coalition, infatuated with Adam I and mere “intersectionality” cannot deliver leadership, which is why Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump. With LGBT..X there is too much authenticity and diversity and too little unity. Leadership, however, is a centripetal challenge and therefore depends on Adam II—with language being absolutely critical.


Nevertheless, what we are seeing under President Trump is a discourse gradually upending the visual turn of the Renaissance. Populism is driving the inversion of the “centrifugal” axis of modernity toward “centripetal” values such as family and nation (with religion to follow in due course). This is where the historical role of the post-narcissist, millennial culture comes in, which is set to push the baby boomers into oblivion. The Millennials are the first generation who are forced by the mirror technology and social media to reflect on their own narcissism.


Language-wise, the overall motive of the digital revolution bids a farewell to static pride, reflecting the industrial age of production and outcomes, “ready mades” in the arts, settled public roles and professions, all dominated by binary hardware and the GDP. It is being substituted by the dynamic verbiage, reflecting the breaking of digital binary codes with an emphasis on process, the dissolution of fixed roles, perhaps also gender fluidity as well as worldwide mass migrations. Yet, the centripetal anti-globalist counter-movement is well underway and any transition is going to be protracted—just as it was with the parallelism, observed by the art historian Aby Warburg, of medieval Christian and secular Renaissance culture.[7]


In the West today we inhabit an anti-intellectual world of feeling and sentimentality still pouring out of the deeply Protestant gender wars. Judaism, however, got the gender balance right 5,000 years ago and is therefore able to keep that balance in Israel and in the diaspora. By contrast, while the self-destructive Protestant gender wars are approaching their climax, the Millennials are perhaps best placed to take note; for the exhaustion of Protestant expressionism and authenticity has been exposed by the binary antagonisms of the vicious culture of social media, whose anti-intellectualism has become asphyxiating. This will probably bring identity politics to an end far more quickly than many seem to expect. For unlike previous revolutionary movements, the gender wars are marked by a glaring lack of personalities and leadership. At the same time, western conservatives, mostly Catholics, are caught in defensive mode. A retreat into mere localism seems to be all that remains if we follow Notre Dame University professor Patrick Deenen in his new book.[8] All that counts for him seems to be trustworthiness, reliable human relations, and physical, not digital, dialogue protected by safe geographical and moral borders.


All the unifying aspects of populism are denounced by liberals at their own peril.


Already, the yearning for meaningful dialogue is resurfacing giving us this rare moment of a brilliant dialogue between Jordan Petersen and Cathy Newman on BBC 4. Entirely contrary to the media put downs of supposedly vulgar Trumpism, it was his populism that shifted attention away from the language of the tangibles of consumer porn to the intangibles of American values, recovering the sound of the human voice and dynamic verbs which make up Trump’s Twitter “discourse”. All of this reveals his penchant for dialogue with the common man, bypassing the corrupt PC media filters of self-serving and corrupt elite institutions. Together with the other essentials of populism, the values of religion and the traditional family Trump’s language draws on centripetal powers. Whatever the pitfalls of Trump’s art of communication, it has recovered dialogue with a vengeance.


This brings us to the center of an epochal change we are witnessing today: language evolution is gaining traction as a result of mass migration and failing liberal institutions tied to the old visual paradigm. All of this marginalizes static Darwinian ideology by reminding us of the importance of social and economic rather than biological and gender “competition” for human well-being. Yet, if we believe Malcom Harris, false Darwinian ideology is being pushed down the throats of Millennials these days again. In his book on human capital called Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials[9] he has a point: “We are . . . the products of the unprecedented victory of capitalism, coming of age in a forty-year period defined by economic stagnation, wage polarization, the hollowing out of the middle class, the rising instability or ‘precarity’ of labor, and, above all, the expansion of competition and exploitation into hitherto protected areas of life such as childhood, friendship, and dating.” Success in this world, he writes, “requires a different kind of person, one whose abilities, skills, emotions, and even sleep schedule are in sync with their role in the economy.”


This is the economic side of the gender revolution and the Millennals have to put up with it. And in Harris’ account, this pressure on the Millennials as “breathing vessels for the accumulation of human capital” is making them crack or turns them into snowflakes. Smartphones are sucking their resilience off since they prevent them from using their own brain power. The hollowing out of authenticity and posturing also explains why centripetal relations, close to one’s heart, are fast getting currency over everything else in the West. After all, social networks are anything but family-like being in fact utterly centrifugal. To sum it up: if the smart phone has any positive effect for the Millennials, it is a wakeup call from collective slumber at the end of the Protestant “Age of Feeling.”

Relation or communication?


In addition, it is only for the Millennials that wage labor—this mute sister of the depreciated Lutheran “charitable deed”—is becoming really precarious. We are talking about the post-Christian aspect of it all and the appreciation of labor is back. How else could Millennials fight the huge debt already on the books for them—300 percent more than their parents, according to Michael Hobbes from Huffington Post. Since student loans cannot legally be discharged through bankruptcy, the Obama administration bailed out student loans to the tune of $880 billion, generating about ten percent of annual profits from them. Surely, exorbitant consumerism starting in early childhood and encouraged by the corporate world has many of today’s twenty-somethings already pushed with their back to the wall with very little chance of ever financially comfortably starting a family. The language of this sets the Anglosphere against the Germanosphere, Trumpism and Brexit against Germanized Europe. Even the new trade wars are signalling English trade relations proper are back opposing the German-European autochthone credentials and its pride in mercantilist, positive trade balances.


We also need to remind ourselves that it was historically Adam II who commands the deed, based on his personal judgement and conscience. History taught us through the Nazis that the frequency of static nouns, revealing closemindedness including name-calling and propaganda, is the mark of pride-and shame cultures of “authenticity” like fascism which continues in today’s merely commercialized identity politics of capitalized gender acronyms. Authenticity is about BBC as it is about LGBT—simple as that. By contrast, the frequency of dynamic verbs is the mark of open-mindedness, non-identity, learning from mistakes, with emphasis on “relations,” change and relational thinking as in humanistic, communitarian, and religious cultures. Only through openness to sacrifice and process yet avoiding consumerist reification can a meaningful life be created. The way forward is transcending the visible culture and abandoning its trappings by ascending to the auditive paradigm of language, relations, and viable dialogue. This is called self-transcendence.


Obsolete is the Protestant past, captured in this tragic sequence: Protestant bans left the West without intellectual discourse and charitable deeds; for both being internalized, we lost any evidence for walking in the right way which made us relying on dubious feelings. This could have been learned at the climax of cultural Protestantism in Bismarckian Germany, when gay “coming out” marked the ultimate Protestant pose, the final regurgitation of the charitable deed. Which is why Oscar Wilde was celebrated in San Francisco on his tour through the US as a saint. Bossuet[10] and Tocqueville saw this coming.


The phenomenon of liberal virtue signalling is a side effect of identity politics and shifts the emphasis again on pose over process and skills. This underscores the argument, already visible in huge student debts, that the formation of human capital is increasingly left to the individual himself with very little responsibility taken by the state and the corporate world. Hence, the common perception of educational failure has an important and often neglected aspect to it, as Malcolm Harris points out: “The implication, of course, is that much of the ‘learning’ we do doesn’t actually result in learning anything, which has led Caplan[11] and others to argue that school (especially college) is not primarily about enriching yourself with human capital but about ‘signaling’—securing credentials that show you are intelligent, motivated, and compliant enough to jump through whatever hoops are set in front of you.”


This is just part of the general infantilization of our society (Frank Furedi) which puts pressure towards our reliance on centrifugal posturing rather than committed real action. Curiously, posturing has a pantheist source, namely “its close kinship with Calvinism in their common denial of human agency and will.” William Ellery Channing argued that, for a Calvinist, “man acts only in show. He is a phenomenal existence, under which the One Infinite Power is manifested.“[12] Virtue signalling has also to do with “liberal tumescence,” the inevitable show of pride in a shame culture.


Ever since the onslaught of the sexual revolution of 1968, we have seen a vigorous debate over whether American Protestantism was dead or dying. As an example, I mention Stanley Hauerwas’s “The end of American Protestantism”.[13] Equally, American Catholicism is often said to become like Protestantism. Already Tocqueville believed American Catholicism to be less dogmatic and less ritualized than French Catholicism. Tocqueville also predicted the process of dissolution would occur in two phases: firstly, Calvinism would take the form of “natural religion,” such as Unitarianism, yet this happened among American elites. Working class American Protestants, Tocqueville believed, would be increasingly drawn to Catholicism. Secondly, Unitarianism would take the form of pantheism, which duly happened in the sexual revolt. All this he described in fairly schematic form in Democracy in America,[14] dealing, respectively, with Catholicism and pantheism.


The City Journal published an interesting exchange about the disintegration of adult authority, between Heather MacDonald and Frank Furedi. While Furedi blamed this on the lifestyle of self-victimization as the new universalistic psychology, MacDonald put it down to the culture of protest identity or the race card, both particularistic ideologies.[15] Furedi argued “Our older approach to socializing students rested on morality—the idea that certain beliefs and standards of conduct exist that everyone should strive for. But psychology has wiped away the notion of shared beliefs, which means that people determine whether a given action or belief is moral based on how it makes them feel. If you appeal to normative ideals, you are attacked for trying to impose your values on others.”


MacDonald: “This argument that colleges are filled with relativists has become extremely prevalent, but I have a different view. I think that we have hysterical moralists on campus. These student radicals believe unwaveringly that they know the truth, and their truth is that America is racist. To them, their colleges and their country are unequivocally racist, sexist, homophobic, and fascist. They have not the slightest hesitation about passing unrelenting, unappealable moral judgment on anyone who does not fit in those intersectional categories of transcendent victimhood.” The last term reminds me of Heidegger’s concept of “transcendental phenomenology,” but the common ground Furedi and MacDonald are missing is the “Age of Feeling;” marked as it is by the inevitable Heideggerian infatuation with space and romantic overflow, it leaves them with emotional incontinence, individual logorrhoea and mob hysteria as the main outlets of the “snowflakes.” However, there is yet another side to this: The Protestant confusion about the deed versus mere gesture (virtue signalling) reflects the essential difference between Adam II (focus of MacDonald) and Adam I (focus of Furedi) which seems to be at the heart of the controversy. Typical for this is the confusion between metaphysics and transcendence is Macdonald’s term “transcendental victimhood.” Since the term victimhood belongs to the world of gestures managed by Adam I rather than deeds as managed by Adam II, it continues on the road of Christian incarnation (half god/half man), which is a typical Greek hybrid feature. Yet it is a categorial error and MacDonald should speak not of transcendence but of sexual transgression which is the agency of Adam I. It all comes down to what Joseph B. Soloveitchik called the “decoupling of emotions” from what he took to be the reign of religious Adam II. The inner Self, through most of Western history, has been in control of emotions. Today, Adam I oversees the emotions but he cannot control them properly. Today’s notion of feelings as the arbiter over right and wrong has a very long history going back at least to the Renaissance. On this last point I tend to agree with MacDonald: “I don’t see how one could claim today that colleges are nonjudgmental, excessively tolerant places. They are precisely the opposite. Traditional religion is not the only form of morality; these social-justice progressives have a form of morality just as rigid as the world’s most dogmatic religions.”


Millennials are most likely to finally become fed up with self-victimization. Furedi, for the time being, recommends: “Unfortunately, most people who buy into this philosophy can’t be reasoned out of it. Our job is to dissuade people who might be considering that way of thinking.” Millennials are less prone to addiction, psychic infirmities or drop out than their predecessors the Baby Boomers, they seem less fragile at the price of many carrying through life the comfortable fiction of victim ideology. They actually seem to mistake the inevitable everyday portion of self-suppression as being state-enforced, which means they cannot discern between the inner and outer person. In the same vein, black Princeton Millennials recently announced, self-pityingly: “We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Well let’s skip the concept of student victimology altogether and hand it back to the really disadvantaged and downtrodden. This is the challenge for enhancing resilience with Millennials: teaching them self-transcendence.


[1] Charles Murrey: Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950, HarperCollins, 2003.

[2] David Brooks: The Road to Character, New York: 2015.

[3] Joseph B. Soloveitchik: The Halakhic Mind, 1986.

[4] Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell: American Grace – How Religion Divides and Unites US, New York, 2010.

[5] Susanne K. Langer:„Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling; Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1988.

[6]Park MacDougald in American Affairs Volume II, Number 1 (Spring 2018): 214–24.

[7]Hofmann, Syamken, Warnke: Das Menschenrecht des Auges – Über Aby Warburg, EVA, 1980, S. 30.

[8] “Why Liberalism Failed”, 2018.

[9]Malcolm Harris: Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials; Little, Brown.

[10] Jakob Benignus Bossuet: Geschichte von den Veränderungen der Protestantischen Kirchen, Prag: 1785.

[11] Bryan Caplan‘s 2017 book The Case against Education.

[12] Ibid. p. 610.


[14] Vol. II, Part. I, chapter. 6-7.



Dr. Friedrich Hansen is a physician and writer. He has researched Islamic Enlightenment in Jerusalem and has networked on behalf of the Maimonides Prize. Previous journalistic and academic historical work in Germany, Britain and Australia. He is currently working in Germany and Australia.

Read more by Friedrich Hansen here.

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