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2015: The Year We All Became C*nts
Robert Barry , December 9th, 2015 10:05

Bobby Barry looks back at 2015, the year of Uber-ubiquity, "shy Tories" and virtue signalling, and asks if we've finally crossed the rubicon and are no longer worth rescuing from our appalling human selves

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Image courtesy Olga Agelloz/Shutterstock

A few months back, in the midst of a baroque act of corporate restructuring which saw Google suddenly become a wholly owned subsidiary of an entirely new company called Alphabet, the Silicon Valley-based tech conglomerate quietly dropped their catchy corporate slogan, "don't be evil". In its place, the new code of conduct inserted a far more slippery injunction to "Do the right thing."

Should we be alarmed that one of the most powerful – if not the most powerful – multinational media corporations in the world, the very gateway to the whole damn internet for the vast majority of humans, just pretty much came and straight out declared that, from now on, they were indeed going to be evil like Skeletor on a bad day? Maybe. But for now, I'd like to see this simple elision more as a symptom, of a year in which the earth's population apparently breathed a collective fuck it and hurled its moral compass into the sea like a plastic sack full of mewling kittens.

This, after all, was the year in which everyone you know decided that getting to the pub that little bit quicker was much more important than such trifles as employee rights, corporate regulations, or passenger security. Uber wasn't invented this year, but it did become ubiquitous this year. 2015 is also the year in which the dark side of the transport company became inescapable. As more and more cases mounted of gross sexism by Uber's executives, of fare hikes during public crises, of political manipulation and shady business practices – not to mention all the times the company has simply shrugged its shoulders and deferred responsibility when Uber drivers have raped and kidnapped passengers or run over pedestrians – no-one, now, can honestly claim they can't see a downside to the Uber deal.

Frankly, believing in the innocence of the company must always have involved a degree of disingenuousness. I mean come on, the clue is in the name. That's Uber as in übermensch, as in über alles. Rugged Randian heroes all, the ambition of Uber's bosses is clearly nothing short of full-spectrum dominance. And it is with ubiquity that Uber really becomes troubling. For what happens when there is no alternative to Uber, and when the Uber model – that wildfire-like VC-bait "uber for x" – has infiltrated the rest of the economy? For Paul Mason it means the end of capitalism. Far more likely, by all current indications, is Evgeny Morozov's prediction that the so-called "sharing economy" will really mean the end of social democracy

The always-fragile compromises of social democracy have been beset this year not only by Silicon Valley disruptors. In May, the British people went to the polls with the firm conviction that they cared more for the value of their property than the quality of their public services. Since then, the government's attack on the NHS, on education, on welfare, and on local councils has been ruthless and brazen. But if newspaper headlines and friends of friends' Facebook feeds are anything to go by, people seem to be far more concerned about what Jeremy Corbyn wears when he pops out for milk or how deep was his bow at a war memorial.

At the same time, the two most popular newspapers in Britain have given up all pretence and become openly racist without any noticeable drop in circulation. While in France, though the Presidential election is still not due for another two years, every opinion poll conducted this year has placed the National Front either in first place or a very, very close second. Yes, the actual National Front. The fascist ones. Soon-to-be-rulers of France. According to all the polls.

On this side of the channel, the last twelve months have taught us to be a little wary of pre-election polling. May's general election saw the return of the Shy Tory with a vengeance. Of course it would be pretty embarrassing to admit that you actually support the Conservative Party. They are all horrible, oily bastards. I mean if someone asked you, you wouldn't say, would you? Yes, I hate the poor actually. Health care for all? Nah mate. Fuck it. It would be like wearing a twibbon on your social media profile to declare how much you like kicking puppies, or joining the Jeffrey Dahmer Fan Club and wearing the club badge prominently to a job interview or on a first date. People don't really do that, do they? Not that way round.

Part of the problem, perhaps, is that it has become so much easier to signal one's virtue than to act upon it. A million people marched through London in protest against the Iraq war in 2003. A mere 5,000 turned up to protest the proposed bombing of Syria the other day, but twice as many indicated their intention to go on Facebook – and nearly five times that said they were ‘interested'.

For sure, the two events are not really directly comparable, but even the much smaller protest in September 2002 – which, like the recent demo, came just a few days after the prime minister made his case for war before parliament – drew some 400,000 people to the streets of London. No UK march has managed such numbers since the launch of Facebook.

As a result, populist politics has been left open to the manipulations of the very worst. If you've ever joined in a chorus of disgust at pictures of poor, starving doggies on Facebook, the chances are you've been aiding and abetting a Britain First publicity drive. Your virtuous signal is always in danger of biting its own tail.

This is the tragedy of it all, really, the world hasn't gone full cunt out of any misguided conviction; evil simply proved that little bit more convenient. What's that you say? The very possibility of workers' self-organisation and collective negotiation is being eroded, possibly forever? Yah, whatevs. Twenty minutes til last orders. Call me an Uber. Understanding the causes behind those very real pressures on public services requires some degree of political thought and economic analysis? But who can really be arsed with that? Blame the foreigners. They dress funny.

Truly, if Satan himself were to create an iPhone app that allowed you to sell your soul at a single swipe without having to trudge out to the bloody crossroads at midnight, and it was free to download and didn't pester you with too many updates, how long would it be before hell's own Daily Express started carping on about being "full"?

But more than a year of virtue signalling, 2015 has been a year of "virtue signalling". Over the last twelve months, this two word collocation, which began life with a column in the Spectator attacking the pieties of the left, has – like most right wing tropes these days – quickly migrated from its natural habitat in the gutter, becoming a favoured phrase of The Guardian and a popular hashtag on Twitter.

During the Labour Party's leadership contest in the summer, it was frequently invoked as a tool for dismissing Jeremy Corbyn's supporters as feckless idealists ill-prepared for the realpolitikal necessity to slavishly nod along to Conservative Party policy, no matter how gruesome. But for James Bartholomew, the writer responsible for the phrase, it was a call to stop bashing the poor ickle Daily Mail and look to the Victorians, who all apparently did a lot of good work for charity but didn't like to talk about it. Because of course no-one has ever used a charitable donation as a means of showing off their massive bounty.

Accusations of virtue signalling have become one more way of policing other people's political enthusiasms. Worse than trumpeting your own benevolence; you are signalling your hard-nosed realism, your cynical aloofness, your willingness to lie down and compromise with bastards of every stripe. And as certain former Labour leaders have already discovered – and a few of their present MPs may be just about to – if you lie down with bastards, you may wake up accused of war crimes.

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Dec 9, 2015 3:28pm

So much of what you say here is true. The use of the word 'c*nt', however, seems entirely gratuitous, excessive and insensitive. Do we still have to argue about that, even today?

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Dan John
Dec 9, 2015 4:20pm

I don't understand this column. A spasm of impotent confusion?! I voted Tory because I understand you can't just spend money, forever, that you simply don't have. It may be simple to say 'tax the rich, the corporations' more, but it doesn't quite work like in a globalised economy. It's ironic that people accuse those peddling simple answers to complex issues, such as immigration, as charlatans, but accept a cartoon 'anti-austerity', 'Tories just want to fuck the poor' stance. I'd say the movement away from centrist politics that the left is experiencing is a symptom of the psychological denial they are in about the nature of modern capitalism, and the absolute failure to come up with a competing and detailed economic model. Anyway, how about someone writes something from a more centre/centre-right perspective on this site? I guess I'll just pop back to The Spectator (oooooh evil) for that...

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Anon
Dec 9, 2015 4:46pm

Unfortunately, the only thing wrong with this article is I've met plenty of people more than willing to nail their colours to the Tory mast, without even pretending to have some sort of 'pragmatic' motivation like the poster above, more rabid libertarian ideology or simply (to quote verbatim) "I don't care I'm out for myself"

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Dec 9, 2015 5:00pm

In reply to Dan John:

Cunt

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b
Dec 9, 2015 6:30pm

In reply to :

cunt is a great, great word. what WOULD be YOUR argument against four beautiful letters?

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Apop
Dec 9, 2015 6:32pm

The first comment merely reinforces the premise of the article. There's a long list of shit i worry and/or think about on a daily basis but sorry, a mere 4 letter word doesn't make the cunt. Sorry, cut.

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Alphaloser
Dec 9, 2015 9:14pm

german cunt here. you're a year late.

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chris 717
Dec 9, 2015 9:21pm

In reply to Dan John:

...doesn't understand the column?impotent confusion?No,it succinctly puts out the evidence for what we (you) have become.Tories really do wanna fuck the poor -that's what we like about the Tories that really nail their colours to the mast,they just go ahead and do it.This is in opposition to the prevaricators who among other pastimes choose the Spectator as a more palatable read...

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Dan John
Dec 9, 2015 9:41pm

In reply to chris 717:

The Tories don't "wanna fuck the poor", that's just silly. If you believe in such black and white things I envy you, but you will never beat the Tories with that attitude. Admitting things are complex is not 'prevaricating', but important. It's dangerous to think that complex problems have simple solutions. The left-wing mob is just as easily led as the right-wing one.

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Matthew McKinnon
Dec 9, 2015 10:13pm

In reply to Dan John:

You are the problem being discussed here.
It's probably a spasm of impotent confusion of your own to even comment.
The fact that you truly believe there's no alternative to modern capitalism means you've opted out already. You can't imagine any other possibilities at all? That's why we are where we are today - the belief that it can't possibly be any other way, so let's just ride this train until... what?

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Dan John
Dec 9, 2015 11:56pm

In reply to Matthew McKinnon:

Oh I'm open to different economic models, just waiting for the left to come up with one. Not exactly holding my breath here, it's been a dream for decades, if not centuries. Accepting global capitalism isn't a defeat, there's still lots of movement within that paradigm. If you can't tell the difference between a Blairite Labour government and a Tory one you aren't paying attention.

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Sean K
Dec 10, 2015 12:17am

In reply to :

I'm not sure how the title of this article slipped past Quietus editors. Mr Doran, are you on holiday already?

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caonai
Dec 10, 2015 6:17am

On the whole an interesting article undermined a little by the statement that 2015 is "a year in which the earth's population apparently breathed a collective fuck it and hurled its moral compass into the sea" which was a wee bit hyperbolic (religious fundies for example have probably been claiming this every year since their particular Chosen One rose to more heavenly climes). Also, while I don't have a prob with the title, perhaps it will turn off some who really need to read its content. No need to preach to the converted as such, is there?
As for the term 'vale signalling' (sorry, don't live in an English-speaking country, I'm a little bit out of the loop) is a pernicious piece of cuntishness, not least of course because it's based on a whiff of truth. Yet applying as a blanket statement to suppress any expression of (in this case left wing / green) dissent really is an insidious anti-democratic and illiberal tactic.

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John Doran
Dec 10, 2015 8:31am

In reply to Sean K:

My Christmas holiday starts just before breakfast on Christmas Day and ends just after lunch on Christmas Day.

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Sean k
Dec 10, 2015 8:51am

In reply to John Doran:

hey, i know that, just wondering why its ok for this article to go heavy on the C word? To the casual observer it may appear that its ok to call people cunts, just as long as they're not Tories...

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Dec 10, 2015 9:09am

Given all that's happened in 2015, people are still offended by the word cunt?

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Sean K
Dec 10, 2015 9:16am

In reply to Sean k:

What I really meant (incapacity for clear thought due to nightshift...) was is it right those on the 'correct' side of the political divide get a free pass to go on using that unpleasant word? I can't stand the Tories either but I wouldn't trust Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell to organise my work christmas party, let alone run the cuntry:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/jeremy-corbyn-links-another-communist-leader-to-the-labour-party-by-quoting-albanian-dictator-enver-a6766131.html

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Dec 10, 2015 10:26am

In reply to :

It's probably only women who are offended by the word 'cunt', so that's alright then.

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Dec 10, 2015 1:23pm

In reply to :

fair point

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Preacher Man
Dec 10, 2015 8:55pm

Isn't this a rewrite of Dan Ashcroft's "The Rise of the Idiots"?

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tortuga
Dec 11, 2015 4:40pm

biscuits n cheese

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tortuga
Dec 11, 2015 4:40pm

biscuits n cheese

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tortuga
Dec 11, 2015 4:40pm

biscuits n cheese

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tony cho
Dec 12, 2015 6:45pm

In reply to Dan John:

Fuck off pal, I hope you choke on your goose.

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Dan John
Dec 13, 2015 2:41pm

In reply to tony cho:

Sigh, you crazy lefties will never get it.

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Phil
Dec 14, 2015 2:22am

Entertaining article which raised some interesting point and views I was not previously aware of. Dissappointed in the comments sections though, as it appears to be angrily picking holes around the main point. Utilise your sense of humour and try to relate to provocative writings before diving in to state why your opinion is fixed. We live in a distracting world, and both the article and commentators have given good examples of this, for better and for worst.

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Clarence E
Jan 4, 2016 9:03pm

A very good article, but I have to disagree with the assessment of Uber. As someone who has spent years being routinely denied service from taxi companies because of my race, I think the idea of Uber is great. That company isn't doing anything cab companies could do if they tried to innovate instead of sitting on their assess and medallions, enjoying their monopoly power. And if having scumbags for corporate managers was the threshold for not using a product or service, well, that doesn't leave a lot of options for anything, does it?

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Marquee Smith
Jan 7, 2016 2:13pm

What miserabilism! Even with comrade Corbyn at the labour dispatch box you can't muster a word of hope or cheer. Don't give up, our capitalist world of corporate hegemony will soon be destroyed and the proletariat will shake of their chains and be freed from...actually, it won't because millions of these 'cunts' voted tory for many reasons, both good and bad, and will continue to do so. This is the main problem This article embodies my problems with the left: there's no discussion or debate, just insults. More than 11 million people voted Conservative in the election, how infantile to think they're all 'horrible, oily bastards'. And yes, there is a right wing press whether we like it or not, and many millions of people read these papers whether we like it or not. Crying 'racism' whenever one has a problem with an article they publish is equally infantile. The revolution is not coming and the election of Corbyn as leader of the labour party means at least another 9 years of tory rule. Get real and stop playing our your socialist dreams, offering no coherent opposition for people who actually need one. And on the demonstrations you mentioned, in 2003 people protested against the government starting a potentially illegal war on dubious pretences, whereas 'the bombing of Syria' meant about two British fighter jets crossing a non-existing border and continuing what they're already doing. Obviously demonstrations will be smaller.

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