A pandemic of corporate virtue-signalling
Let’s boycott all the money-grubbing companies that pretend to care about us.
You have probably spent the past five months watching a lot of television or online broadcasts or messing around on the internet, which means you will have seen a lot of adverts – most of them woke.
There’s no point singling out any one corporation for trying to make capital out of the coronavirus pandemic, because everyone has been at it since March, preaching first about the imperative to stay at home and then to stay safe – all featuring face masks and Zoom correspondence. Companies have all been very keen to prove how much they care in this crisis.
A notable exception has been the cancer charities, who appear on every television ad break complaining openly that state cash has been diverted from their work towards the Covid-19 crisis – and I salute them for doing so.
If 2020 has been the year of the pandemic, it has also been the year in which insincere corporate virtue-signalling has reached pandemic proportions. We have had McDonald’s obsessing over Black Lives Matter; HSBC reminding us that ‘we are not an island’ (while not exactly being brilliant internationalists); the Dave channel reminding us to stay in (and watch Mock The Week or QI for the billionth time); and most egregiously, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream telling us on Twitter that Britain’s attitude to illegal immigrants is totally awful.
I don’t know what these corporations are playing at. I know that most corporations seek to sell values rather than products these days, but this is getting ridiculous. Most people, from left to right, hate the vacuous posturing of greedy corporations. It’s especially galling that we have to watch them at a time when we are all gradually becoming poorer. The last thing we need during lockdown is insincere sermonising.
Thank God it’s ending at last. Now, let’s boycott all companies that deal in these meaningless and sanctimonious platitudes.
On Tuesday evening, BBC Two broadcast the first of its four-part series, Manctopia: Billion-Pound Property Boom, charting Manchester’s massive building development of recent years. ‘Since 2014 the population in the city centre has doubled to 60,000 and the rents have gone up by almost 40 per cent’, we are told.
The splurge in skyscrapers in the northern city this decade has been underreported, certainly in comparison to the same (albeit more awesome and awful) boom in super-tall buildings in London. This probably owes to the fact that most of those who write the opinion articles about skyscrapers are based in London, and all the journalists who have been complaining about London’s unaffordability, gaudy ghastliness or awful skyscrapers over the years also work in the capital.
The documentary suggests that Manchester is going the same way as London – it’s becoming a city of empty luxury, where the locals are also moving out, no longer able to afford to live in their native city. Like London, over-gentrification is proving to be a double-edged sword.
As someone who grew up in London in the 1980s and lived in Manchester in the mid-1990s, I can see both sides of the argument in both cases. Parts of London, especially the now fashionable East End of London, were grim no-go areas, while its underground was a ghastly, ghostly affair back then. And while the Manchester of my time was on the way up – as epitomised by yuppie comedy Cold Feet – much of it was forlorn. The horrid tower blocks of Hulme were then only just being torn down and much of its gangster ‘Gunchester’ culture around Moss Side and Rusholme remained.
While London has improved in so many ways, in others it has lost its soul. Soho and Portobello Road have lost their Bohemian charm. Kensington and Chelsea are ghost towns at the weekend, what with all the houses being increasingly owned by the transient or not inhabited at all. I hope Manchester doesn’t go the same way, though it probably will.
While I’m not one to romanticise or trivialise being poor, the fate of London and the likely fate of Manchester remind us that money doesn’t bring us happiness. That’s why so many people voted Brexit. They did so knowing that they could be financially poorer. They did so hoping that their neighbourhoods might once more resemble those they grew up in.
That’s why I don’t celebrate the opulence of London today. I still lament the old homeliness and shabbiness of the west London I grew up in.
Ashamed to be British, proud to be Me
One of the most common expressions you hear from ostentatious liberals is ‘I’m ashamed to be British’. It is being deployed in abundance this summer in relation to the migration crisis in the English Channel. It’s a reaction to the perception that the UK government has been callous and that the plebeian populace has displayed its customary and lamentable xenophobia and racism.
Being ashamed of one’s own country is usually the hallmark of the progressive, as George Orwell famously noted in ‘England Your England’. This loathing of one’s own country has always struck me as not only vapid – as meaningless as being ‘proud to be British’ – but also devious.
Declaring hatred of one’s own country is one of the countless means humans employ to draw attention to themselves. In this case, it implies an internationalist outlook, which in turn serves to parade that you are an open-minded person with intellectual cosmopolitan concerns – with a caring attitude for one’s fellow man irrespective of his or her nationality. And more importantly, it says you are not shackled by narrow-minded patriotism – unlike the uncouth, gormless man in the street.
In other words, it signifies that one is above the mindless herd, that you are a fearsome, independent thinker. ‘I’m ashamed to be British’ can be translated as ‘I’m proud to be Me’ – a more accurate motto for the liberal left of today. Its altruistic outlook is a disguise for its cunning, narcissistic politics of conspicuous compassion and caring one-upmanship.
People like to quote Orwell when it comes to this matter, but, as ever, I defer to Nietzsche, who described Rousseau as combining ‘self-contempt and… inflamed vanity’. That’s a pretty just description of today’s overgrown teenagers who protest how much they hate themselves and hate their country.
Patrick West is a spiked columnist. His latest book, Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche For Our Times, is published by Societas.
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