The Ice Bucket Challenge Is Immoral
The internet, and Tumblr in particular, has this fantastic culture where anything you do, even a Nice Thing, gets immediately hounded by armchair philosophers, psychologists, and self-appointed experts. So has been the case with the Ice Bucket Challenge, a viral meme where everyone posts Youtubes/Vines/whatever of themselves on the internet to raise awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease. The general vibe on the part of the internet has been that this is a bad thing.
The thing is, they might be right.
It’s a barbaric thing to argue, you know, that donating to support research and raising awareness for a disease is a bad thing to do, and the only reason I’m writing this at all is because this argument has actually spilled over from people’s Tumblrs and Slate essays into real life, as I’ve heard people arguing about it at work and on my Facebook wall lately. It makes way too much sense that the people positing these arguments are painted as being less-than-nice colors, because their arguments occasionally sound Darwinian. That is, in the best case, they seem to be insensitive at best, and if their thoughts are worded poorly it sounds like they’re making a eugenic argument. (Some actually are, and I won’t get into that.)
I’m about to get college term paper-y.
Justice can be defined as the way in which we should shape the basic social institutions that have the widest and deepest impacts of our law. When ‘justice has been served’, it means that the institutions we rely on have been utilized in a way considered to be at their most efficient, for all of society at large. Said institutions would involve the legal system, and the government at large, hospitals, and, hell, even charities. And as members of society, we’re always going to be looking for maximum efficiency. And thus justice. We want to know things are running the best way they can, in the way that we want them to.
This is why hospitals have boards of ethics, people have careers as ethicists. Why so many institutions have, as a standard, ombudsmen. And so on and so on. I actually took a bioethics course in university, and the first example given in that course is “An Ontario taxpayer has a form of cancer that will cost a quadrillion dollars to treat. Should their cancer be covered by OHIP?”
This is a ridiculous scenario, but think about how OHIP decides what to cover and why. I guarantee you they’ve either an ethics committee, specialist, or else consult with one from outside their organization to set their principles for budget allocation.
By the time all is said and done, the ‘ice bucket challenge’ is expected to result in a donation of over $100 million to ALS research. Let’s abstract this a bit and let’s say $100 million was donated by the Canadian federal government to ALS research.
There would be an outcry.
Never mind the outcry from the ‘taxpayer’, this outcry would come from ethicists and from charitable organizations. They would argue that this is not the most efficient way of distributing this money for charitable organizations, for reasons along these lines;
1. This donation is not proportional to the amount of deaths/impairments of quality of life, relative to the donation currently given to other diseases and conditions and their associated deaths/impairments of qualities of life.
2. This is a massive influx of money given to charities that may not be appropriately set up to receive and properly dispense of said money afterward.
3. No research was done to look into the first two points. Yes, charity is good, but you are basing your donation on a Youtube video.
And that third point brings it back to transition from my example of a disproportionate donation from the government to disproportionate donation from the individual and/or to society at large. And it’s basically the crux of my argument as to why yeah, you’ve done a nice thing and what the hell are all these people on to criticize me for it, but those people are completely right in their criticism.
I’m not going to throw numbers at you, if it makes a difference I will sink time into doing it because I actually do care about what I’m going on about here. But let’s say it’s not a given that this mass donation to ALS is not proportional to the donations given for other causes, or is not able to be sustainably received by the organizations receiving these donations. It is more than likely a given you didn’t think about this when you donated, and that’s what makes it an unethical action on your part.
That’s pretty bleak and obnoxious, and assumes the donation to ALS research won’t have any impact to donations to other charities, but unfortunately moral self-licensing is a known phenomenon, and while there’s a hypothetically bottomless well to donation, that’s not likely.
This is, to go back to my bioethics class, a very consequentialist argument, and it’s where it comes across as crass, thoughtless, and malicious to anyone making a very impassioned argument. But it’s valid. If anyone has upset you recently regarding an argument on the matter, please, honestly, just take a few minutes to think it over and understand why they were making that argument. People will generally respond well to the idea that ‘donating to larger charities is a generally bad idea because they have enough funding already’, it’s just that this same argument has now been scaled down to a smaller cause, and in that way it will be newly sensitive for some individuals, and it rubs them the wrong way because it seems fresh. I totally get that. And it ties into the way the internet tends to hound any ‘nice thing’ because it can — because it knows no matter what you do, an argument can be found against it, and it can make you feel a bit shittier about your day. But I have seen and heard and read some people making a genuine ethical argument about it, and maybe they just don’t know how to phrase it properly. They’re just looking for how to make sure that the way society makes charitable donations is efficient… that justice is being served.
"Have we donated too much money to this cause?" is not a bad question, and it’s one for which anyone deserves an answer.
losing people to drugs and alcohol is the worst because they destroy any good memories you have of them before forcing you to deal with the empty space they leave behind. also whoever keeps putting the few quotes i said early in my career about drugs back into my wikipedia page is an asshole. I don’t want that to be part of my narrative, and if it has to be I want people to know that i hate hard drugs. All they’ve ever done is kill my friends and cause me to be unproductive. Editing a website that people take seriously and reference all the time so that it looks like i think amphetamines are cool is incredibly irresponsible, people might read that and think its a cool thing to emulate. I hope you know you are doing the world a disservice. I just watched another person I care deeply about basically turn into gollum and my heart is broken.
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