Fake authenticity: the compassion lie

I may lose friends. I may attract abuse. But this is one of those moments when I feel like I can no longer resist the urge to point and shout “the king is in the altogether.”

What am I talking about?

Fake authenticity.

Never heard of it? There’s a lot of it about, and you’d do worse than read this piece by Jonathan MacDonald – The Fallacy of Social Media.

In it he touches upon the fake approach taken to telling stories and building relationships online, particularly in the realm of social media.

Someone once said to me that to use expressions like “telling stories” in the context of PR was to admit that it was all spin, lies and bullshit.

The more I reflect on that the more convinced I am that it’s one of the most ignorant things anyone’s ever said to me and I should have said as much at the time.

Whether you are an individual, a brand marketer, a politician, a social media coordinator, when you are telling people something about who you are, what you do, how you behave, or what you believe in, you are telling them your story.

If you bullshit them you’ll get found out eventually.

Something Jonathan MacDonald picks up on is a piece of advice mooted by someone that says: “Act like you’re a company made of real, actual people, and good things will surely follow.”

It’s a liars charter in tl;dr form. And I find it quite distasteful.

As I’ve already said, there’s a lot of it about. And it’s not just brands that are doing it. I see a lot of people in my stream doing it constantly.

Recently jazz musician Terry Callier died. But for his work with the likes of Massive Attack he would only have been known to a fraction of the people in my stream – those who are serious-minded fans of music, or seek out interesting non-mainstream things to listen to. I don’t fall into either of those categories, just to be clear.

I remain unconvinced that a great many people who own something he worked on had ever heard of him either. In fact, I got a bit nauseated by the wave of “oh that’s terrible. #rip” tweets I saw from people who spend most Saturday evenings are watching X-Factor.

Oh, yes you are a very serious and dedicated follower of interesting musical collaborations, aren’t you?

No, you’re not. You’re a bullshit merchant trying to make yourself look cool, or – worse – desperately hoping to connect with something real, something meaningful to fill that foetid hole you drag round with you everywhere you are.

It was also evident in the wake of Hurricane Sandy making landfall in the US. “It’s awful,” read one tweet I saw, “13 people have been killed. #sandy”

Yes, of course it’s awful. Truly awful. Particularly for those directly involved. But do you know what else is awful…? The fact that the person whose tweet I saw – and the dozens more like them – had expressed no concern or compassion whatsoever for those left dead, displaced and traumatized by Sandy in Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, the Bahamas, and probably other parts of the Caribbean too. Haiti hasn’t recovered from the earthquake it was hit by in 2010, and was in the midst of a cholera outbreak when Sandy passed close by. So fucking what, eh..?

The death toll in the Caribbean is around 70. Probably more. It’s possible no one will ever know.

The only time I saw anyone on twitter referring to that was as a counterpoint to the many, many, “I hope everyone in New York stays safe” type tweets.

Why is it that so many people, here in the UK, were so eager to express such concern?

Dislocated empathy. Not misplaced. Dislocated.

Of course we all hoped that everyone was going to be ok in New York and elsewhere in the US. The same ought to apply to everywhere that was in the path of Hurricane Sandy. No..?

Yet it would appear to be ok, desirable even, to carry on ignoring the plight of poor black countries hit by disaster, when latte-sipping, iPhone-using, GAP-shopping people, wherever they may be, have also been affected by something bad.

I know it’s easier to identify with people who have similar lives, but that’s no excuse, in my opinion, for not giving enough of a damn about the rest of the world to pause your lazy thinking and cast off your me-opia.

It made me rather cross. Still does. You might have noticed.

But more than that, it was telling to see the stories people tell about themselves.

Who do I indentify with..? Who can I identify with..? What kind of person shall I be today…

If you’re a genuinely compassionate person, and care about what happens to others, you can see further than those that wear the same clothes as you, or even the countries where you have personal contacts.

And you aren’t compelled to bleat about it in public in an attempt to define yourself.

Fake authenticity.

Nice work people.


I live in a country populated by idiots and run by buffoons

Last year parts of the UK were blighted by riots and looting.

Last week the more feeble-minded of the country’s car-driving population started panic-buying petrol and diesel. This was sparked by concerns over a possible strike by lorry drivers, and was exacerbated by remarks made by Francis Maude – a government minister – who advised people should stock up on fuel for their cars. This was stupid and dangerous advice, driven by an idealogical desire to thwart the impact of a potential fuel strike.

Our less-than-impressive Prime Minister, David Cameron, echoed these sentiments.

What happened next was an explosion of the same attitudes and outlook we witnessed in last August’s wave of arson and theft – a complete breakdown of perspective and an overwhelming sense of utter selfishness. I’m all right Jack is the attitude du jour.

To begin with there was fear over a shortage of fuel at the pumps over the Easter weekend, brought on by striking tanker drivers. But it soon began to sink in to these fretful idiots, many of whom had queued for hours at petrol stations to fill their cars and their many portable containers, that there would not be a strike-prompted shortage of fuel over Easter. After all, no strike had been called. Added to which, in the event a strike is called, seven days notice would be given prior to the actual strike.

On Thursday 29 March, sales of petrol and diesel were up 172%.

The queuing and panicky behaviour extended into Friday, with long queues, petrol stations running out, tempers fraying and people generally carrying on like confused, frighted children.

Why continue to panic-buy fuel when there is no impending problem?

Perhaps because if you don’t go and buy as much as you can there won’t be any left when you need it, because other people will have bought it all.

In the wake of last August’s riots, David Cameron said: “For me, the root cause of this mindless selfishness is the same thing that I have spoken about for years.”

He was right and his home-spun truism works well here too.

Back then I wrote:
He went on, as politicians often do: “It is a complete lack of responsibility in parts of our society. People allowed to feel that the world owes them something, that their rights outweigh their responsibilities and that their actions do not have consequences.”

You can read the full post here.

All of this has left me more convinced than ever that there is a bitter streak of unpleasantness that runs through people in this country. We do not stand together. We squabble and complain. We are mistrustful of others. We put our own short-term wants and needs ahead of everything.

The UK gets more like a Lord of the Flies LARP with each passing year.