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I’m finally digging into Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. He’s a Harvard sociologist, but it’s written for the general public. And it’s scary, chronicling the erosion of American social ties, leaving us atomized and alone.

One thing he emphasizes is our shift from active participation in life, to being passive watchers. This trend has accelerated from the 1960s onward. For example, when it comes to charity we’re much more likely to outsource our good works to non-profit professionals these days, rather than help someone ourselves. We also see this in sports, where participation in has dropped precipitously, replaced by passively watching games on television.

Putnam wrote before the Internet gained wide currency, but the online world only reinforces his point. The percentage of people volunteering for political campaigns has dropped heavily since the 1960s, replaced instead by professional, paid workers. Participation in organized political groups is also way down.

Where activists once tried to “Think Globally/Act Locally,” the norm these days is “Think Globally/Virtue Signal Electronically.”

Rather than pursue concrete change, so much activist energy is now consumed with pwning one’s political opponents. Social media provides endless opportunities to signal one’s uprightness, with Like buttons, special filters for profile pictures, and the chance to join Twitter rage spirals against the ideologically unclean.

It all has the feel of activity, and participants get little dopamine hits, but in the end it’s as pointless and passive as watching sports. Virtue signaling convinces no one. It builds nothing, except one’s ego.