Pinning to the Choir

“Preaching to the choir.” I think of this phrase every time I see someone talking about the current use of safety pins as a method of social signalling. “Virtue signalling” is the other phrase that comes to mind but that’s for another day.

I don’t think ‘the safety pin thing’ is inherently vicious. What harm can it possibly do to Person B if Person A decides to put a safety pin in the lapel of their coat or on their bag. Even if it is “only” virtue signalling, what harm does it do? Not much, really, as long as you keep in mind it is only a signal and not something actually done. As I said to a friend at one point, I have two quilting safety pins holding a mourning ribbon for the Pulse nightclub victims on my bag so where does that leave me?

On the other hand, I also don’t think it has any particular value for those who are meant to be signalled to; if nothing else, it’s far too small to be seen by anyone in immediate need of help. And what are you supposed to do in case of distress? Look around desperately for anyone with a tiny piece of bent metal on their clothing? “You have a safety pin! Help!” “No, sorry, man; that’s just a hole in my shirt.” “Crap.”

“Preaching to the choir,” on the other hand, has, I think has a definite value which is often lost in the shuffle. You’re talking to those who are already convinced of the truth or value of what you’re saying so why bother? or so goes the usual reading of the phrase. You’ll see it a lot around discussions of John Oliver, for example. It’s dismissive — “oh, that’s just preaching to the choir” — as if the choir doesn’t require support or reinforcement.

Newsflash: They do.

Speaking as a lifelong member of various choirs, we need a metric fuck-ton of preaching.

I think things like the safety pin idea work best when considered as bonding mechanisms for the group using them, not as an identification scheme for those who might be looking for helpers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having a group sign that basically says “Yeah, hey, we belong to the same club.” Masons do it all the time — so do Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts (yes, and Brownies), etc., etc., etc., ad lib, ad nauseam.

If sticking a safety pin on your bag or your coat makes you feel better, like you’re publicly identifying yourself as one of the good guys, fine. Go ahead. Put two if you like (but not the diamond-studded ones, please). But keep in mind that signing up with the Rebel Alliance, so to speak, means signing up for a lot more than a pin on your sleeve. The pin itself accomplishes nothing.