I've recently read two very interesting pieces about signaling. First, Ryan Murphy:
Second — and it's impossible for any brief excerpt to do it justice — David Chapman:
At the beginning of this page, I asked: “What is ‘Buddhist ethics’ for?” My answer has been that it’s a strategy for advertising yourself as a “good” person—good to work with, hang out with, or have children with. I’ve explained why this strategy worked. I say “worked,” because it no longer does. Various trends I described have progressively lowered Western Buddhism’s signaling value. “Buddhist ethics” isn’t fooling anyone anymore; everyone understands, implicitly, that there’s no such thing. Buddhism isn’t daring and sexy and hip anymore; it’s your batty aunt’s quaint, harmless, old-fashioned hobby. And it has gone from an upper middle class religion to a middle-middle one, and now probably a lower middle one.
Lower middle class people are not losers! There is nothing wrong with lower middle class Buddhism. In fact, the Aro gTér lineage, which I practice, was almost entirely working class in the 1980s, and is still mainly working and lower middle class. I myself am working class by some criteria, and lower middle by some others.
There is nothing wrong with comfortable, simplified, status-quo Buddhism, either! The Consensus impulse to create that was well-motivated and useful. I would like to see different Buddhisms available for all sorts of different people.
By “Buddhism is for losers” I mean that, at this point, saying you are a Buddhist is likely to signal that you are loser in the eyes of many people who, a couple decades ago, would have been impressed. For them, “Buddhist” now means “well-intentioned but ineffectual”; someone who can’t get their stuff together enough to do anything significant or interesting.
What’s dysfunctional is using Buddhism to signal high status if that doesn’t work. That is definitely a loser’s strategy. It was bad enough that Consensus Buddhism was mostly empty posturing. Empty posturing that doesn’t fool anyone is totally pointless.