briefly, thoughts on ice water and causes célèbre


All the rage on the interwebs recently has been videos featuring participants in the Ice Bucket Challenge, raising awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. If challenged, a person is to dump ice water on his or her respective head and donate $10, or pay the toll of $100 if he or she doesn’t. So far, over $16 million has been raised as a result of the viral campaign, which shows no signs of slowing down. The videos have ranged from the straightforward to the Rube Goldberg-esque, the ambush to the ingenious.

I used to run a non-profit, I believe (generally) in the charitable work of non-profits and in personally being charitable, in both subsidy and participation, to causes in which one believes. What follows is not, I repeat not, me peeing all over people’s hijinks in the name of goodwill. ALS is a horrifying disease—there’s an outside chance Lou Gehrig might still be manning first base for the Yankees had it not forced him to retire in his prime—and every right-minded person on the planet (and most of the goofy ones, too) can agree that research should be pursued to eradicate it and other diseases from the planet.

I’ve made similar arguments in the past with regard to poverty programs, homeless shelters, rehabilitation programs, food pantries and the like: unless money can be liquefied and directly injected into a person stricken with ALS, and that cash infusion cures the disease, capital campaigns do nothing but encourage perpetuation of the problem.

This is not a popular position, but it is the rational one. What happens when a purpose statement is fulfilled? What happens to organizations devoted to finding a cure for cancer, AIDS or ALS when that cure is found? What happens if homelessness ends? If everyone finds Jesus? We conquer drug or alcohol abuse?

Where does the money go when the last of the puppy mills shuts down? No more sad-eyed half-dead puppies-tied-to-barbed-wire-fences commercials set to Sarah McLaughlin!

The Ice Bucket Challenge is an exercise in exhibitionist masochism, for a good cause, but exhibitionist nonetheless. That’s not to say it’s stupid or foolish; it’s just that filling one’s coffers is not the same as solving one’s problem. We ought to exercise caution in not conflating one with the other whilst dumping frigid waters on our heads.

And no, I will not be participating. This is as exhibitionist as I care to get, thank you.

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