Liam Neeson against virtue-signalling

FEBRUARY 11 — Irish actor Liam Neeson’s recent confession to having murderous intentions towards black people (upon learning about his friend being raped) had predictably sparked controversy. 

I didn’t read all the articles and tweets, but my guesswork/impression is that his Brickbat:Bouquet ratio is approximately 70:30. It doesn’t matter that this is a voluntary confession to a desire (not even a crime) sparked by tragic news, which occurred 40 years ago, doesn’t stop most people from condemning him like he just beat up and killed Samuel L. Jackson yesterday over coffee.

Piers Morgan even compared Neeson to the Klu Klux Klan lynching black people. Yeah, right. As if the KKK only had an urge to kill blacks because one of their friends was raped, dealt with it after a week, sought forgiveness, and are now freely confessing to their bigotry and asking people to think and live more carefully.

Neeson admitted to a very dark primal urge inside him, triggered by the trauma of a friend being raped. 

Compare his confession with the average celebrity who says nothing controversial, admits to no deep character flaws and basically attends galas and smiles at the camera 24/7. 

These are the same powerful people in Hollywood who “spoke up” against Harvey Weinstein after allegations surfaced (as if they only found out recently); the very same celebrities who fly around in private jets to attend climate change activism events. 

The outrage against Neeson appears to be suggesting that hypocrisy on a massive scale is perfectly fine but someone telling the truth about his struggle with racism isn’t. 

“Look at me and my virtues!”

In the Gospel of Matthew, there is an odd verse warning us that if we’re helping the poor, we mustn’t “let our left hand know what our right hand is doing” (6:3). 

In other words, we need to stop patting ourselves on the back; our “left hand” must not be continually bragged to by our “right hand.” 

Positioned as this verse is in between passages warning against vices, hypocrisy and judging others, I’m guessing that the author was saying one of the chief ways to maintain a pure character is to quit singing about how pure we are.

For it is a very slippery slope from “I am such a good person” to “They are such bad people.” Ditto, social media and the never-ending practice of virtue-signalling and political correctness. 

How many times do we blast somebody’s actions or words on Facebook (usually a stranger, because God forbid we show how “unfriendly” we are by publicly criticising friends) as a way of drawing attention to our own “positive” qualities? 

How often have we absorbed gratification and kudos by “showing solidarity” with causes or people we barely know or understand, slamming the oh-so-evil culprits and receiving lots of thumbs-up in response, only to forget what we were arguing about the next day? 

How smug and superior do we feel when we’re part of a mob-thread condemning a certain writer or politician, looking down on those one or two “delusional” people defending him? 

It feels good, doesn’t it? To know that we’re on the side of the Good Guys, and OMG how shameful it is for those opposing folks to be so obscene as to actually disagree with me! 

In this vein, Neeson’s comments are revealing: ”We all pretend we’re all politically correct in this country... in mine, too. You sometimes just scratch the surface and you discover this racism and bigotry and it’s there.”

Basically, when we’ve spent years and years on Facebook condemning people and feeling oh-so-self-righteous (because, hey, we don’t say “offensive” things), we easily forget that we’re not exactly saints and angels ourselves. 

We’ve spent so much time subtly (or not so subtly) promoting what virtuous and good-hearted characters we are that we’ve grown to reject the very possibility that deep down there could be a lot of bigotry and hatred lurking.

Neeson’s confession cum interview was, if nothing else, an attempt to reveal what evil grief and sorrow can produce in us. He wanted to say, hey guys let’s not talk and tweet and post like we’re all Mother Teresa with a licence to morally police others.

Instead of implying he was a great guy (in the process of, or as justification for, vilifying another person), he directly revealed his own defects. 

Instead of pointing to his own worth, he highlighted the worth of all people precisely by disclosing a time when he was tempted to destroy everything worthy about another person.

Neeson’s confession was, in fact, the very opposite of virtue-signalling.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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