Consider a young man who has, since the shooting in Oregon on Thursday, shared every pro-gun-control theme that came across his desk. Last night, he told me he was thinking of getting a gun and a carry permit. It's safe to tell me this, and to seek advice on how to do it and what models would be wise. In public, though, he clearly feels he must aggressively signal his "virtue" on this and other liberal agenda issues. One gets the sense that he's doing it largely to try to appear attractive to young women of his generation. It's not at all what he really thinks, deep down. It's what he feels is safe to express.
This was brought to my mind this morning when I read this heart-felt article from a young woman who is a little ashamed about how much she loves being a mother. I know a young woman, about the same age as the young man I started with, who has similar feelings. She is a feminist philosopher, but came to me a few times after the birth of her sons to express a sense that being a mother was better than everything else she'd ever known. She wanted to ask someone who would hear the question with understanding: was that wrong for her to feel?
Of course it's not wrong.
It makes sense to be circumspect about your political views in polite company: religion and politics are the perennial topics to avoid at a dinner party. That's not what is going on here, though. They are talking about their views all the time in public. They're just committed to signalling support for views they don't really hold but are afraid to question, or even not to affirm loudly and publicly.
Herodotus tells us that the ancient Persians raised their noble sons with only three kinds of education. They taught them "to ride, shoot straight, and speak the truth." Obviously I think that is shortsighted: many more things should be known, so that you can explore the walls of the world, understand the mathematics that will let you track the leading edge of physics, peer into deep metaphysical wells, contemplate the limits of language and thought.
Yet the first lessons should not get lost. That there is much more to know does not change the fact that the Persians were right about the core of a good and noble life. Ride. Shoot straight. Speak the truth.