A Cold Shower: ALS Ice Bucket Response

Disclaimer: yes, I did actually perform the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. And yes, I did actually donate money to the charity. If you find that these actions are too hypocritical for you to bear, I understand. 

But read on, brave souls who are left. 

Let me start by saying that I had a cousin who died of ALS about seven years ago. It is a wretched, horrendous disease, and although I was spared what his wife and primary caretaker were not (the daily care of a man and his still active mind being imprisoned slowly inside a body that defies him), I still feel the keen ache of his loss. Cousin Francis was an exceptional person – kind, gentle, intelligent. He did excellent research for JPL (that’s rocket science, y’all), was the possessor of a formidable mind, and had a wonderful sense of humor and a knack for conversation. I have crystal clear memories of him at family reunions both engaging people with sharp and apropos questions and also sitting back quietly and letting the mood wash over him. 

I sound like a shoo-in to be either an ALS spokesperson or a maniacal and driven supporter of the ALS Facebook Ice Bucket Challenge Phenomenon of 2014, don’t I? 

Here I stand, though, and I am not a supporter. I will explain my point of view, the responses that I got when I spoke my point of view, and leave you to draw your own conclusions. 

Here’s my thesis (and I can feel the smoldering gaze of my freshman high school English teacher on me right now, while she screeches “You never INTRODUCE your THESIS, it should SPEAK FOR ITSELF!!!”). Yeah, I know, Dr. Alison. And trust me, I am eternally grateful for your spot-on instruction, for otherwise, I certainly would not have made it through / be making it through Scripps/CalArts/MEDEX paper-writing gauntlet with success. 

Charity (n): the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need. 

Take that definition and apply it like a filter to the Ice Bucket Challenge and here’s three logical fallacies that I see: 

1. Voluntary. Yes, everyone voluntarily went out and bought huge bags of ice and added them to water and dumped them over their heads. There were very few recorded cases of somebody being coerced or threatened into doing the Ice Bucket Challenge by traditional means, but social pressure should not be discarded. It’s a form of bullying! You get called out on Facebook, no matter how poor or drought-starved your region is, and you are DUTY BOUND to run around dumping precious resources on your head in the name of research. 

Second to this is the fact that there was a time pressure on this challenge: 24 hours. You have 24 hours to complete this challenge or…what? This doesn’t give you much time to research the perils of ALS, find out what it means to you, research the background of the charity you will be donating to, decide whether its where you want your hard-earned pennies to go…I saw many a video in which people pondered what EXACTLY ALS was. And I saw no videos that mentioned the percentage of donations that are intended for research and not corporate spending (although according to Snopes, a large percentage of it does actually make it into research). 

2. Donation. When this challenge began, before it became a social media frenzy and the celebrities got involved, it was donate $10 OR dump a bucket of ice water on your head. Then it became AND. This leads me to my next point: 

3. Charity does not have to be, nor by its very essence SHOULD it be, WASTEFUL. We don’t have the Throw Food Away for the Homeless Challenge, where you cook yourself a five course dinner and then chuck it to raise awareness for the hungry. We don’t have the Cut Down a Tree on Arbor Day Challenge, where you pounce upon an unsuspecting tree and end its short little life in the name of the environment. So why do we have a Dump a Precious Resource Over Your Head for a Terrible Genetic Disease Challenge? I live part-time in Los Angeles and part-time in Seattle, so I’m going to discuss this particular point at length and through the lens of both places. 

Here are some responses I got from Los Angeles:

  • Oh, lighten up! It’s just a little bucket! I know we are in a drought, but it’s just a bucket! 
    • Yes, that’s true. But it’s not a bucket in REPLACEMENT of something else. It’s not Ice Bucket instead of Shower challenge. It’s not Ice Bucket instead of Watering Lawn challenge. It’s IN ADDITION TO. And not only that, but the average bucket size was about 2 gallons. Give or take. Some people chose admirable alternatives, like Charlie Sheen and his money dump or some of my friends dumping over their gardens, thus accomplishing two for the water usage of one. 
    • Not only that, but think about it in the big picture. This isn’t just little ol’ you in your backyard with your little bucket. There were 94 MILLION DOLLARS in donations to ALS for this challenge. Let’s just say, for the sake of some easy math (because lord knows, I can’t do hard math), that that lump sum can be broken down into $10 individual donations (yes, I recognize this is not entirely true, but reference above about hard math): That’s 9.4 million people who dumped water on their heads. If the average bucket size is 2 gallons (and some of them were remarkably bigger than that, with hilarious side effects like the blooper reels of people dropping trash cans on their heads), that’s 18.8 million gallons of water. 
  • I don’t want to be a bad sport! 
    • I get this, I really do. After all, I did the challenge. So did my fiancé and the boys. But I chose an alternative: a cloudy, foggy, windy romp into the Pacific Ocean, complete with head dunk. Think outside the box. The water is already there, no need to draw up more and complicate things for Southern California. 

Here was my primary response from Seattle:

  • Well, WE aren’t in a drought!
    • That’s true. In Seattle, wet stuff falls from the sky and it’s pretty cool. The trees stay green, instead of turning into dusty little twigs that have to be artificially supported. Things besides cacti flourish naturally. BUT water doesn’t just STAY in one place. If Southern California is running low on water, but they have thousands upon thousands of residents to support, do you think they’re just going to throw up their hands and tell us to start walking twenty miles for water each day (maybe they should)? Nope. It’s coming from somewhere. Water loss is an exponential and cumulative problem. 
    • Not only that, but back to my original point: just because you HAVE it doesn’t mean you have to WASTE it. If you have $20, you don’t immediately reach for your trusty Zippo lighter and put a flame to it. Well, maybe you do, but I don’t. I squirrel it away and take it out sometimes and smell it and think about how awesome it would be if I had a whole bed made of it. 

4. Upside down priorities: This is my last and final point. There’s a charming infographic out there on the amount of money donated to a charity versus the number of people that disease kills each year. Here ya go…don’t say I never give you anything. In this infographic, it shows the dichotomy between money raised and number of people killed. Breast cancer is a pretty good example, as it just SLAUGHTERS the competition in dollars raised, but kills a relatively small portion of people each year.  

So, to wrap it up (“You never INTRODUCE your CONCLUSION!!!!” Thanks, Dr. Alison), I was disappointed in the lack of environmental or resource-based concern, but not the essence of the challenge. I thought it was pretty amazing to watch something go viral like that, and to see people get fired up for a good cause. I’m so happy we raised a lot of money for a terrible disease, but I wanted to write about some of the things I saw from a different perspective. I encourage independent thought on this blog, mostly because being environmentally friendly REQUIRES independent thought these days. Yes, you can walk into any grocery store and pick up the first item that screams “GREEN CLEANER” at you, but five bucks says that if you do your research, you will disappointingly uncover just how un-green that item is. 

I understand that this manifesto will not necessarily be the most popular thing I’ve ever written, nor will it be a popular point of view. I am sure to receive some fist-shaking shouts of “Scrooge!” or “Where’s your sense of giving?!?” And that’s fine. And I wrestled pretty extensively with whether or not to write this entry, and decided to do it because, well, it’s my blog and I can cry if I want to. 

♦ Stay cool, friends. 

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