Current Events, Academic Philosophy

Are You a Grandstander?

Philosophers Brandon Warmke and Justin Tosi have recently published some important new research on the social phenomenon known as grandstanding. You grandstand when you contribute to public discourse in order to convince others that you are morally respectable. So grandstanding attempts to convince others to make judgments about you that are positive. Perhaps you want others to think that you’re worthy of respect or admiration because you love social justice or that you’re remarkably capable of empathy. You grandstand when you turn your contribution to public discourse into a vanity project. I’d say grandstanding looks pretty bad, don’t you?

It’s easy to underestimate the amount of grandstanding that we encounter on the internet, especially on Facebook. I’d estimate that a very large fraction of political posts are attempts to grandstand. They’re not attempts to convince or offer an argument. In fact, thanks to Brandon and Justin’s work, I’ve found that I do a lot of grandstanding on Facebook and I’ve tried to make an effort to stop. (Is my last sentence an example of grandstanding?).

Understanding grandstanding is important if we are to figure out both who is worth listening to. The idea of grandstanding also helps determine whether we deserve to be listened to on political or other topics. I encourage you to read their paper in Philosophy and Public Affairs (one of the finest journals in all of value theory). You can access an ungated copy here. There’s a nice Huffpo discussion of the article here. And there’s a great interview with Brandon and Justin by Very Bad Wizards here.

Published on:
Author: Kevin Vallier
  • Ben Kennedy

    As tempting as it is to want to model in-group moral speech as some kind of internal group status competition (as this paper largely does), I think it is a poor framework for understanding the phenomenon. Nobody consciously says “I will improve my in-group status by sharing such-and-such article”. At best you would have to look at sub-conscious psychological mechanisms,and there is a much better candidate there – desire to feel in-group cohesion. Groups with a shared identity (moral or otherwise) are fun to be in, make people feel safe, etc. Rather than viewing the speech as self-promotion, it should be viewed as a form of tribal participation

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  • ThaomasH

    What if you post to try to be admired by those who disagree with you, using the most respectful language about those you despise and ascribing the best motives to those you are sure are evil incarnate? 🙂 I certainly do post to try to persuade.

    • Adam Bowers

      Then you are automatically given pre-emptive Sainthood.

  • stevenjohnson2

    Alternative hypothesis: Moral denunciations of individuals is about manipulating others in support of political goals, not just an exercise in personal validation, for the same reasons as moral denunciations of groups.

    Observations: “Grandstanding” is typical of conservatives. Blaming individuals for poverty is a classic example. But someone like Nancy Grace is very much about affirming group virtue as against the moral enemy du jour. Minds rotted out by Orwell don’t recognize Hate Minutes when they’re lengthened into hours and not about Trotsky.