1 min read

virtue signals

"Have you read Foundation?" he asked as we wandered through his swanky East-side office.

"No." the white, high-ceilinged rooms burst with light as we meandered past minimalist cube-shaped couches, a high-end bean bag (which was surprisingly stiff and uncomfortable), house plants, neon signs... everything a good startup office 'should' have.

"I didn't like it, actually," he said. "All the characters had the same voice, it's like he wrote himself in every line and somehow no one reading noticed, and there were no women in the book. I mean Asimov wrote this around the same time as Dune, which has a bunch of really important female characters."

I looked outside over rows and rows of square shaped, glass filled modern farmhouse homes, each like the last.

"But I'm literally the only person I know who didn't like it, so maybe don't take my word for it if you're interested."

"No, you're probably right. James Clear, you know, author of Atomic Habits, says people only read the first chapter of any book, and so to get people to recommend your book, you must put something in the very beginning that makes the reader feel impressive. For Atomic Habits, it was the '1% better every day' idea. I bet people can recommend a book without even reading too, as long as it stands for something that makes them sound good. People don't actually read the books they buy, they just want everyone to think they're educated."

His eyes lit up. 'And Foundation makes everyone look smart! No wonder everyone insists it's so good.'

"Yeah! And what if everything is like this? What if most things our friends like... what if they don't actually like those things? What if they've simply been told by their friends that those things are good, therefore they don't question it? And what if we do the same thing, only recommending what makes us looks good, not what we actually enjoy? What if our entire lives are just one big virtue signal?"

He went silent.

"Do you want to go to Paperboy? They have a great matcha latte."