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Ice Bucket Challenges And The Ego Of Charity

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There are four problems I have with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge:

1. That everyone insists on waiting until cameras are rolling to put the ice in. The ice hasn’t had time to marinate. Wouldn’t putting it in earlier ensure it’s colder? Isn’t that the idea? Why are you waiting? Are you concerned we don’t trust you? Should I not trust you? I don’t trust you.

2. Everyone who did the challenge from his or her beach vacation–oh, the struggle of throwing some cold water over your head at a hot beach. Did the margarita you had afterward make you feel better? Way to be a part of the struggle.

3. The overall feeling that we’re all kind of spinning our wheels here, that we’ve crossed over from service of good into increasingly meaningless and self-promotional social interaction.

4. The inevitable mental backpedalling I do after considering this third item while I chastise myself for being a cold, cynical dickhead.

You’re either very IN on the Ice Bucket Challenge, meaning you’ve participated in it, or you’re very OUT, meaning you’re super pissed off that it’s clogging your Facebook feed. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground here. If you’re in on the Ice Bucket Challenge, you probably have no idea as to why anyone could ever hate on it. After all, it’s for CHARITY. But come on, you have to have some idea that this is a little annoying, right?

It’s true that the more you talk about doing something, the less likely you are to actually do it. There is thought, and then there is the firing of synapses that constitutes action. But there is another complicating force, and that is social knowledge of what you are doing. For example, let’s say you want to run a marathon. That’s great. Run the marathon. Now let’s say you tell a few people you’re running a marathon. Fantastic! You have friends, so you let them know what’s going on in your life. But then let’s say you tell a LOT of people. Like, let’s say you post about it on Facebook. You’ll forgive society if everyone starts to question who exactly you’re running this marathon for. Is it for you? Or for us?

Except people tend to alert everyone about their marathon (or, Jesus Christ, their 5K) in order to raise money for a charity. This is where I have to say I’m lost. Part of me celebrates the effort, while a more sinister devil on my shoulder whispers in my ear. Would they still run–would they still raise money–in a vacuum? Take Facebook out of it and I have to wonder if we still see a record number of marathon participants we see today. We all know the answer is no.

Cynical or not, it’s the truth. This is not about raising money for cancer or ALS awareness or Crohn’s disease cures. This is just good, old-fashioned socializing, and that’s the thing that’s bothersome in all this. It all seems a bit disingenuous. Add in the fact that the Ice Bucket Challenge is structured the same way as a pyramid scheme and we all might as well just give up and move to rural Montana. The question isn’t whose benefit this is mostly for, but rather, does it matter? Don’t the ends justify the means? Money raised is money raised, ego-building Facebook posts be damned. Right?

Right. There’s a Huffington Post article making the rounds today by Ben Kosinski calling the Ice Bucket Challenge “Slacktivism.” The article compares the challenge’s efforts to clicking “like” on the Kony video from 2012 and promptly getting back to your privileged, sheltered life. He argued that, sure, donations had gone up (dramatically, in fact, by 1000 percent ) but he imagined, what if we had all taken the money we spent on those bags of ice and donated instead? Of course, this is stupid. It’s a little like saying, “What if it didn’t rain today? Then we’d all be dry.” Well, no shit. But that’s ignoring the truth of hundreds of thousands of years of human interaction. How long do you think Randy the Caveman took before he told everyone in the tribe about the fire he invented? It’s not as if he sat there, thinking, “I’ll share this with others solely as a means to keep them warm.” No, fuck that. Dude went out, said, “This is mine,” gave himself the nickname “Flamin’ Randy” (no homo) and promptly slept with every cavegirl within an hour’s slumped walk. Every celebrated accomplishment (or Internet column) since then has been merely a dramatic extension of the need for recognition or sex. So no, we couldn’t have just quietly donated money without making videos. It just doesn’t work that way.

Everyone is a tangled mess of superego and selfish needs. You want to fart on that elevator, but you don’t. You’d like to have sex in public, but you refrain. You’d love to skip your friend’s joint bridal shower, but everyone would get offended (mostly because they want to skip it, too). So goes the rest of humanity. The very thing that makes us human is the delicate balance between taking what we want and the evolutionary need to fit into society. So, if you’re smart enough, you realize not to judge people on their thoughts, but on their actions. It doesn’t matter what tangle of horrid ideas swam through our minds at any point. We’re all insane. So yeah, there is a gentle narcissism to the act of filming yourself “for ALS awareness,” but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that donations are up. And someday, when we lie dead in our coffins, no one will celebrate our clarity of thought or authentic vision; they will only ask, what good did we do for others?

So here it goes (and please subscribe to my YouTube page):

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Jared Freid (@jtrain56) is a New York City-based comedian who has been featured on MTV’s Failosophy and is the host of The JTrain Podcast presented by TFM.

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