Like all good left-leaning liberal types, I am personally boycotting the News of the World for its phone hacking scandal (and by extension all the other Murdoch empire media products), and also at the same time boycotting the council’s collection of rubbish because the council uses Veolia to process the rubbish, who are apparently corporately implicated in dodginess in the occupied West Bank.
What’s that, you say? That since I don’t normally buy the News of the World (or subscribe to any other Murdoch media products), and my rubbish isn’t taken away by the council anyway, that me proudly declaring my boycott of them is a completely empty gesture?
Well, quite. And ultimately, that is why boycotts fail, and why calling for boycotts is usually an empty gesture – because the people who call for them are far more often than they aren’t not actually customers of the Bad Company(tm) in question in the first place, and if they’re customers of another company in the group rarely do they extend that boycott to their own purchasing when to do so will cause themselves more than the slightest inconvenience. I suspect many of the people calling for a NOTW boycott – who are also extending their outrage to the whole of News Corporation and calling for Rupert Murdoch’s intended purchase of the remainder of BSkyB that he doesn’t already own to be blocked – are also Sky subscribers. For their outrage to be genuine rather than empty, they’ll also be cancelling their Sky subscriptions and suffering a bit of personal inconvenience – that’s what a boycott is about, not about telling other people not to do what you don’t already do anyway.
Similarly, those who call for a boycott of companies involved in the disputed territories of Israel/Palestine actually have it quite easy – there’s bugger all that they might want to buy in a shop which is actually produced there, so ultimately the boycott of standard retail goods boils down to looking at the label to see where one’s avocado comes from. And not buying SodaStream any more, for anybody still living in the 1970s. If one really wants to take a stand, if you live in a municipality which uses Veolia for rubbish processing you’ll opt out of the council’s rubbish collection and take personal responsibility for disposing it elsewhere (and probably not to the council tip, because that itself is probably operated by Veolia as well). I will however allow them to continue to have their sewage taken away by t’Corporation (even though a lot of the specialist valves used are manufactured in settlements in the disputed Golan heights) – emptying my own toilet myself on a twice weekly basis is one of the few aspects of my own lifestyle I wouldn’t wish on others.
As an aside to the boycotts issue, I must confess to be now suffering from Twitter Outrage Fatigue Syndrome; I’m sure back in the olden days of Usenet outrage was there (especially in the darkest corners of the talk.* hierarchy), but it seems practically a day doesn’t go by without half of Twitter telling me to be outraged about the latest outrageous thing. Frankly, I think the phone hacking scandal is a bad thing, but I don’t think it’s an outrageous thing. The arms trade, the ongoing banking crisis, and our government’s continued eagerness to spend money on wars which should be spent on the NHS, they’re worthy of outrage. I’m even inclined to be more outraged that two Birmingham MPs are campaigning to relax the ban on smoking in pubs. Dodgy practice by a handful of journalists 5-10 years ago is not remotely on that scale.