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Saturday, August 6 • 5:40pm - 6:00pm
Virtue-signaling: From evolved trait-display to conspicuously effective altruism

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Virtue signaling means showing off the personal traits that are considered morally good, in order to gain social, sexual, and status benefits, but without necessarily delivering any real benefits to others. Ill argue that virtue signaling has deep evolutionary roots and important adaptive functions, but it also undermines the appeal, efficacy, unity, and inclusiveness of the EA movement. Most animals have evolved elaborate traits such as peacock tails or gibbon songs to attract interest from mates, kin, and allies. Some human signaling traits like music, humor, and verbal fluency evolved to display general fitness (good genes, good health, good brains), but others such as kindness, honesty, and frugality evolved to display specific cognitive abilities (such as social and emotional intelligence) and the Big Five personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability). A key problem is that, under costly signaling theory, a signals reliability is guaranteed by the conspicuous costs imposed on the signaler (e.g. money given to charities), not by the benefits delivered to others (e.g. utility generated by those charities). Virtue signaling helps explain why EA attracts a narrow range of cognitive and personality types, why EA concerns about scalability, tractability, globalism, and problem neglectedness seem so weird, cold, and unappealing to many people, why arguments about EA priorities and strategies can turn so passionate, and why EA is prone to runaway IQ-signaling and openness-signaling. Ill conclude with some practical suggestions about how to harness our narcissistic display instincts in the service of maximizing sentient utility. We cant eliminate virtue signaling, but the better we understand it, the better we can harness it to grow our movement, improve its marketing, align our heads and hearts, and do more good.

avatar for Geoffrey Miller

Geoffrey Miller

Geoffrey Miller is an evolutionary psychologist best known for his books The Mating Mind (2001), Mating Intelligence (2008), Spent (2009), and Mate (2015). He has a B.A. from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. He is a tenured associate professor at the University of New Mexico, and has also worked at NYU Stern Business School, UCLA, University College London, etc. He has more than 100 academic publications addressing sexual... Read More →

Saturday August 6, 2016 5:40pm - 6:00pm
4. Senate Chambers 2457 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

Attendees (90)