Virtue Signaling, or … Why Clinton is in Trouble

If you’ve ever played a team sport, you’ve experienced a game that was a mismatch on paper. Now usually that game goes according to form. The better team scores early and often, and the inferior team doesn’t sniff a win. But sometimes the game gets tight. Sometimes the better team makes a few unforced errors, and the inferior team capitalizes. Sometimes there’s a lucky bounce of the ball for the inferior team. And then another. And another.

There’s a moment in every game of this unexpected type — the upset in the making — when the individual players on the better team (call them the status quo team) begin to doubt. They feel the game slipping away, even though they know that they’re the better team. What happens to many players in that moment of doubt is, to use the game theoretic phrase, they decide to defect. It doesn’t mean that they quit. It doesn’t mean that they give up. In fact, without exception, they all believe that their team will still prevail. But they start to think about what a loss, however improbable, would mean for their personal, individual goals. They never even entertained those thoughts at the beginning of the game. It was all about the team, and a team victory would naturally go hand in hand with personal development and personal goals. But now … now that the unthinkable is suddenly thinkable … they start acting directly in favor of their own self-interest, not the team’s communal interest. They start signaling their virtue.

Virtue signaling is a behavior that visibly demonstrates the individual qualities of the player to some external audience, whether or not it improves the chances of the team to win. It’s not overtly detrimental to the team. In fact, for all outward appearances it’s rather supportive of the team. But it makes all the difference in the world if an offensive lineman is more concerned with making HIS block than protecting the quarterback no matter what. It makes all the difference in the world if a shooting guard is more concerned with meeting HIS scoring average than playing team defense. It makes all the difference in the world if a Democratic Party functionary is more concerned with tweeting HIS outrage at the latest nonsense that Trump is spouting than in volunteering for a get-out-the-vote effort in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Want to continue reading this and the other 1,500+ essays you won't find anywhere else?

Already a subscriber? log in here

To learn more about Epsilon Theory and be notified when we release new content sign up here. You’ll receive an email every week and your information will never be shared with anyone else.


  1. This post aged well…

  2. Eight years later…….

  3. I saw some poles today that made me think the Dems might try to run somebody else. Joe is between a rock and hard place.

  4. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    I am all for rerolling the Dem dice as otherwise I’ll probably just stay home on Election Day. Even though I think Biden is the least worst candidate out of the three.

    Ashamed to admit that I even gave RFK Jr a rethink for a second there, until his Mad Libs about putting our federal government on the blockchain.

  5. My opinion - This stuff on college campuses is going to bring a lot of people who don’t follow politics as a choice- off the sidelines, and into the process.

    My wife is in this group. Normally she doesn’t want anything to do with politics, but is flabbergasted that people in this country are siding openly with the terrorists.

    Biden’s silence on the subject is deafening and some members of Congress are marching with them. This spells real bad news for the Democrats come November if people can remember back this far come November.

    Is it only me —or what’s with all the covid masks at these protests?

  6. The masks probably aren’t for covid but for anonymization.

  7. Avatar for KCP KCP says:

    I recall protests over Apartheid at my University. Groups set up camps and began a sit/live in on the campus greens. Tents, trash, dogs, music, booze, drugs - the whole scene - it was a mess.

    Some sympathized with them, others destroyed tents. I had friends on both sides and knew some of the sit/live-iners.

    I asked one of my friends living in a tent - “dude, why don’t you all go to S Africa and help the afflicted in say Jberg?”

    My friend looked at me and said, “Seriously? We wouldn’t really make a difference being THERE…”

    Exactly. It’s not as cool to actually engage directly in fixing something you “believe” in when one is 18-22.

    The mask wearers are so WEAK. Total posers.

    This is what the mask sayers are really saying: Let me go disrupt a bunch of peoples lives, but don’t let them know it’s me - i don’t want to face any consequences or have my law school application put in jeopardy. I have the right to be loud and disruptive with no penalty or discomfort.

    Ask one of these losers to volunteer in one of the Palestinian hospitals or dig tunnels in the desert - would love to hear the beautiful spin the posers would spew.

  8. Start a thread? Just my two cents but this is a classic ET note with only a few comments and I think it deserves a higher scope discussion than liberal snipes or vice versa.

  9. I remember very well when this note was written and it rang true at the time.

    History seems to be repeating itself….I think that’s relevant for this thread.

    Another ET classic about having control of your cartoon is also very relevant for this cycle.

  10. Perhaps it is just my problem. I think these latest comments in general badly lack perspective and/or nuance. I think they deserve push back but I’m not very interested in doing so on a classic note with public comments. But without anyone willing to make that pushback the forum becomes useless, at least for what I used to value it for. From my seat the appearance is that you’ve read all these ET notes all these years but your commentary is almost universally a one sided analysis from a spot securely within the widening gyre and easily found within mainstream red narratives.

Continue the discussion at the Epsilon Theory Forum

9 more replies


Avatar for bhunt Avatar for chudson Avatar for handshaw Avatar for chipperoo Avatar for lpusateri Avatar for rechraum Avatar for Cactus_Ed Avatar for jrs Avatar for KCP

The Latest From Epsilon Theory

This commentary is being provided to you as general information only and should not be taken as investment advice. The opinions expressed in these materials represent the personal views of the author(s). It is not investment research or a research recommendation, as it does not constitute substantive research or analysis. Any action that you take as a result of information contained in this document is ultimately your responsibility. Epsilon Theory will not accept liability for any loss or damage, including without limitation to any loss of profit, which may arise directly or indirectly from use of or reliance on such information. Consult your investment advisor before making any investment decisions. It must be noted, that no one can accurately predict the future of the market with certainty or guarantee future investment performance. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

Statements in this communication are forward-looking statements. The forward-looking statements and other views expressed herein are as of the date of this publication. Actual future results or occurrences may differ significantly from those anticipated in any forward-looking statements, and there is no guarantee that any predictions will come to pass. The views expressed herein are subject to change at any time, due to numerous market and other factors. Epsilon Theory disclaims any obligation to update publicly or revise any forward-looking statements or views expressed herein. This information is neither an offer to sell nor a solicitation of any offer to buy any securities. This commentary has been prepared without regard to the individual financial circumstances and objectives of persons who receive it. Epsilon Theory recommends that investors independently evaluate particular investments and strategies, and encourages investors to seek the advice of a financial advisor. The appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor’s individual circumstances and objectives.