For the Love of God, Can We Stop Virtue Signaling?
Remember, if you disagree with how someone else did a good deed, they're a bad person.
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Now to today’s piece 🤝
In 2012, a 13-year-old kid named Jimmy Donaldson posted his first YouTube video under the handle “MrBeast6000.” 11 years and 218M subscribers later, Donaldson’s audience would be the 6th most populous country in the world.
As Jimmy’s following grew, he began focusing his content on wild challenges and tests, generating hundreds of millions of views on videos such as “$456,000 Squid Game in Real Life!” “I Adopted Every Dog in the Shelter!” and “Anything You Can Fit in This Circle I’ll Pay For!”
And thanks to YouTube’s advertising revenue share program, MrBeast was able to earn approximately $110M from these videos last year.
The most fascinating aspect of his business is that Donaldson actually makes money from giving money away. How can the YouTuber afford to give away $450k to a Squid Game winner or $100,000 to someone for pushing a button?
Because his videos are so popular that his advertising revenue outpaces his cash giveaways.
A few weeks ago, MrBeast took his philanthropic pursuits a step further. Instead of simply giving strangers cash, he paid for surgical procedures to help 1,000 Blind People See for the First Time.
There are an estimated 200M people suffering from vision impairment around the world, and half of them could have their vision corrected by a 10-minute surgical procedure. The problem? Most of them lack the funding and/or access to have this surgery done.
So MrBeast paid for 1,000 people’s surgeries (and he threw in several $10,000+ donations for some of the patients too, because why not?), and he uploaded a YouTube video of the whole thing.
And the video blew up.
My first thought was, “Damn. This is pretty cool. A creator leveraged his platform to help a ton of people.” And I figured pretty much everyone else would think the same thing, but it turns out that I was wrong!
A few days later, TechCrunch published an opinion piece titled: MrBeast’s blindness video puts systemic ableism on display.
And man, this piece was full of some wild quotes, but one paragraph really stood out:
In the broadest lens, the biggest problem with wanting to “cure” blindness is that it reinforces a moral superiority of sorts by those without disabilities over those who are disabled. Although not confronted nearly as often as racism and sexism, systemic ableism is pervasive through all parts of society. The fact of the matter is that the majority of abled people view disability as a failure of the human condition; as such, people with disabilities should be mourned and pitied. More pointedly, as MrBeast stated in his video’s thumbnail, disabilities should be eradicated — cured.
”The biggest problem with wanting to “cure” blindness is that it reinforces a moral superiority of sorts by those without disabilities over those who are disabled.”
Like, I don’t know man. I’m not sure how you can watch a 15-minute video of 1,000 folks seeing their grandchildren for the first time and walk away thinking, “Yep. That’s systemic ableism right now. We can’t be having any of that.”
But we live in an era of virtue signaling and rage bait, so I really shouldn’t be surprised. After thinking about this for a few days now, I have some thoughts.
1) Becoming bitter because someone didn’t help others in the exact manner that you would have preferred doesn’t make you a champion of the disenfranchised. It makes you an asshole.
In the New Testament, the Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day. Often seen publicly praying and reading scriptures in the streets, they knew the 613 Jewish commandments by heart, and many literally wore small scriptures in cases attached to their arms.
And then a guy named Jesus Christ rolled into town. And one day, this Jesus guy decided to restore a lame man’s ability to walk. Of course, the Pharisees didn’t give a damn about the miracle they had witnessed. They were angry that Jesus performed such an act on the Sabbath, the day of rest.
Misery loves company, and some folks derive a sense of purpose from finding faults in the actions of others, no matter how benevolent those actions are. The thing is, getting angry that someone helped people in the “wrong way” doesn’t make you a Good Samaritan. It makes you a Pharisee.
And the Pharisees are the bad guys.
2) Losing money isn’t a prerequisite for helping others.
There isn’t a rulebook that states altruistic actions can only be altruistic if they involve personal loss. Whether or not MrBeast makes millions or loses millions on funding 1,000 sight restoration procedures, 1,000 individuals still regain their eyesight.
Good deeds are good deeds if they better people’s lives. There aren’t any “but actually’s” that invalidate benevolent actions that don’t involve a loss of capital. In fact, if MrBeast can turn a profit from publicly helping people, wouldn’t that mean he could improve even more lives? If we are optimizing for improving as many lives as possible, profitable philanthropy is a good thing.
3) Improving real people’s actual lives is more important than abiding by some abstract what-about-ism.
As someone who has worn corrective lenses since he was three years old, I have never once been concerned with others viewing me as a lesser human due to my +4.25 prescription. But the few times I was without my glasses or contacts, I just wanted one thing: to see clearly.
Supplying diabetics with insulin, helping paraplegics regain motor function, and correcting blind people’s eyesight doesn’t imply that any of these people are somehow worth less because of their disabilities.
These actions simply improve the lives of folks who were suffering from different conditions. And that is what this is all about: improving real people’s actual lives. This is certainly more important than abiding by some ableism abstraction first mentioned in a late-90s sociology Ph.D. thesis.
4) If you really want to find something wrong with the world, you always will.
There’s an old proverb that says, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Likewise, you can give folks a beautiful story, but you can’t make them appreciate it. If someone truly desires to be miserable and angry, they will always succeed.
5) And finally, virtue signaling is an attempt to generate social capital by taking a stance against someone’s actions instead of taking action yourself.
My biggest issue with this whole virtue-signaling thing? It’s an attempt to hijack someone else’s social capital without doing the work yourself. It’s like you are walking through the town square with a megaphone, screaming, “LOOK AT HOW TERRIBLE THIS PERSON IS,” and hoping that as their status crumbles, yours will improve in turn.
But virtue-signaling is a negative sum game. Sure, you will occasionally succeed in impairing the public image of your target. But you won’t suddenly become a better, happier, more respected individual. You’ll still be you. But now, you will be living in a world of angrier, more resentful people.
So yeah, while it might be a hot take, I’m glad 1,000 people who were blind a month ago can now see. Let’s not overcomplicate this.
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Katie Gatti Tassin wrote an interesting piece about “Who’s in the Millennial 1%?” (And no we didn’t plan to write about the same stuff on the same week lol).
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