I’m trying to not be cynical about the ALS dump ice water on your head thing going on lately, but I’m failing.
I think perhaps I’m failing because having diabetes at times makes me more suspicious about how people help other people. It makes me question whether the help people are offering is indicative of self-sacrifice and borne of a genuine desire to improve the lives of people less fortunate, or whether it’s really self serving and self indulgent.
“What the difference? As long as it raises money and awareness, it’s positive,” some might say.
And I say that that is a really cynical view of things.
To throw a dollar at a problem thinking that, because of that dollar you’ve done your part and can go on your way guilt-free, doesn’t really help solve the problem. More typically, it makes the people contributing those dollars feel better about themselves. Then, in the long run, the continued, invested, long-term support that is required over decades to successfully fund research into combating a deadly medical condition is weakened and the disease continues to harm or kill people.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge takes this already existing conundrum of generating support and attention and amps it up to a place never seen before.
The ALS Ice Bucket challenge works like this: a person is challenged by another person to either donate to ALS or pour a bucket of ice water over their head. And, while that sounds downright silly, between July 29 and August 26 the Challenge raised $88.5 million.
According to the ALS Association, as many as 30,000 people in the United States have ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Meanwhile, 29.1 million people in the U.S. have diabetes and in 2012 approximately $35 million was raised for research.
But, while that is clearly out of whack, it’s not the numbers and the dollars that have me cynical. It’s the rationale behind the fundraising.
The Ice Bucket Challenge has become a cash cow phenomenon because of social media. It became popular because people want other people to see them pouring ice water on themselves, preferably on youtube. It became popular because of the inherent narcissism of people who want to be seen by other people as acting charitable. Where were those people before? More crucially, once those people have had their fill of being charitable and feeling self important about their contribution to helping their fellow man, where will they be afterward?
In other words: Are the people who are pouring ice water over their heads to raise money for ALS a cadre of generous people who can be counted on to contribute and work to help alleviate the suffering of people in the future? Can they be counted to help people suffering from other diseases?
My guess is they won’t do anything to help anyone if they’re not being noticed and lauded and rewarded with a sense of increased smugness for their public efforts in undertaking a stunt to help find a cure for …. whatever.
“But,” some might say, “it raises awareness of the disease.”
Sure. But, as my friend Doug Stanhope, says, that’s no real help either.
“Raising awareness is me standing next to a drainage ditch where a guy just hit a goat with his moped on the highway,” Stanhope says in a bit from his latest comedy special. “And now they’re in the ditch, laying in the muck with compound fractures. And the dude’s got a bone sticking through his leg and the fucking goat has a bone sticking through his fur. They’re both laying there, in agony, and I’m raising awareness by standing above them shouting down an empty highway, ‘Look! Look! Ewwww! Look!’ And they’re going, ‘No, help!’ No, no, no. “Look!’ It’s way easier to just go, ‘Look!’