Virtue signaling: Essays on Darwinian politics & free speech

Geoffrey Miller
7 ratings

‘Virtue signaling’ is the phrase that got popular on social media during the 2016 election as a way of derogating political opponents. But what is virtue signaling, really? How does it work, where does it come from, and is it really a bad thing? How can it help people to virtue signaling better -- when you're doing it, and when your friends, family, colleagues, and mates are doing it? 

This short, thoughtful, easy-to-read book is about how we can better understand people’s instincts to show off our moral virtues, personality traits, ideologies, political attitudes, and lifestyle choices through our public behavior and language, from dating to street protests to social media to academic censorship. It shows how virtue signaling is the key to understanding current debates about free speech and viewpoint diversity on campuses, in corporations, and throughout society. 

Understanding virtue signaling is a social superpower, like understanding body language, or personality traits, or sex differences. Are you curious why politics and religion lead to so many bitter debates around the Thanksgiving dinner table -- even among relatives who get along in every other domain? Or why so many single people put 'No Trump supporters!' or 'No Libtards!' on the dating profiles -- when politics plays such a small role in day-to-day relationships? Or why Gen Z college students want to censor ideas they think are evil -- when they're supposed to be exposing themselves to diverse perspectives? 

Virtue signaling is one of those concepts that's easy to understand, but that most people don't bother to face -- because we're all doing it all the time, and acknowledging our own virtue signaling makes us feel embarrassed and hypocritical.

Let's face the reality of virtue signaling. 

This book offers a scientifically grounded, practical, non-partisan set of insights so you understand your own ideological passions, your relationships, and your society much more easily. If you don't understand your own virtue signaling, then your ideologies and signaling habits, not your conscious mind, are running your life. If you don't understand other people's virtue signaling, then it's hard to take their point of view and to find common ground with them. If you don't understanding virtue signaling in the political realm, it's hard to convince other citizens to support your causes, policies, and candidates.

This book collects seven essays written from 1996 through 2018. They’re all focused around the evolutionary psychology of politics, ethics, and language. It includes a new preface, new introductions that give the backstory to each essay, and a new list of further readings (including about 100 books by other people). 

The book is about 32,000 words, or about 85-130 pages depending on your reader format.  It's available in .pdf, .epub, and .mobi formats -- the big three formats used by ebook readers, including Kindle. (A physical paperback version might be released in a few months; but there's unlikely to be an audiobook version unless demand is high.)

The author, Geoffrey Miller, is a tenured evolutionary psychology professor at University of New Mexico. He's been writing and teaching about the origins and functions of moral virtues for decades. His previous books include The Mating Mind, Spent, Mating Intelligence, and What Women Want. He got his B.A. from Columbia University, and his Ph.D. from Stanford University. He’s also worked at NYU Stern Business School, UCLA, University College London, and the London School of Economics. He has over 110 publications about sexual selection, mate choice, signaling theory, fitness indicators, consumer behavior, marketing, intelligence, creativity, language, art, music, humor, emotions, personality, psychopathology, and behavior genetics. He has also given 200 talks in 16 countries, and his research has been featured in Nature, Science, The New York Times, The Washington Post, New Scientist, and The Economist, on NPR and BBC radio, and in documentaries on CNN, PBS, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, and BBC.

Geoffrey Miller's other books are here:

The Mating Mind:


Mating Intelligence:

What Women Want:

Geoffrey Miller's website and social media accounts are here:

Personal website:








Mating Grounds podcast:

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