OK, the headline hooked me so I read the article, only to learn this:
One reason moral rebels inspire defensive reactions in so many of us, Brouwer and Bolderdijk say, is that their example highlights the gap between our own values and behavior. Maybe we’re worried about climate change, too, but we went ahead and bought that cheap air ticket to Europe; maybe we’re convinced of the importance of civic participation but we haven’t bothered to attend a city-council meeting. “Moral rebels tend to remind you of your inconsistencies, which can be very painful, because it can lead to the conclusion that you’re not a good and moral person after all,” Brouwer, a Ph.D. candidate at Pompeu Fabra University, in Barcelona, told me.
So while it’s common to perceive moral rebels as scolding or lecturing, that judgy voice we hear may be internal—our own minds pointing out our own shortcomings. And because those who care most about the issue at hand tend to be the most self-critical, they may also be the loudest scoffers. But these same strong emotions, Brouwer and Bolderdijk suggest, can act as “motivational fuel” for change. “That people react negatively doesn’t mean you’re not having an influence. It means you’ve struck a nerve,” Bolderdijk, an associate professor at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, told me. Rather than trying to avoid provocation, he said, moral rebels should seek to provoke more productively.
Your grandparents probably referred to this as “catching more flies with honey than with vinegar.” It should be a common concept to anyone who’s reached the age of, say, 30 and has been paying any attention at all to the group dynamics at work or family gatherings.
Except your grandparents don’t probably believe they need to try to use honey more than vinegar any longer because there’s a very good chance your grandparents have turned into Trump-loving MAGA nuts. And so have many of your neighbors, especially if you live in certain Trumpian zip codes.
And that brings me to the problem I have with The Atlantic article: not once does it mention the word “snowflake” or the term “virtue signaling.” In fact, the article by Michelle Nijhius not once talks about the fact that notions about civic duty — compromises for the greater good, thinking your fellow citizens share share some common goals with you, etc. — are dying across America because at least 33% of the population believes strongly that trying to make the world a better place makes you a “snowflake.” And any time you speak about notions of civic duty at public forums — say, a city council meeting, a school board meeting, etc. — you are simply “virtue signaling.”
(Wikipedia defines “virtue signaling” as a “pejorative term for the expression of a moral viewpoint with the intent of communicating good character.”)
So, by all means, let’s note, probably quite accurately, that your talking about wanting to lessen your carbon footprint makes some other people uncomfortable because they know, deep down, they are not doing as much as they should.
But let’s also not overlook the obvious reason an increasing number of us would feel uncomfortable bringing these issues up in public: we are fast reaching a point in America where any mention of a greater public good is going to be met with right-wing derision and hostility from a group of people who are heavily armed and impervious to reason.