Thursday, 21 August 2014

Guest Blogger: Chris Gordon - Hold Your Water!

My friend, Chris Gordon, wrote this entry. He is one of the most logical, intelligent and thoughtful men I know. Here is what he has to say about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge detractors.

Thousands of people, big names and no names, celebrities, political leaders, corporate suits, Silicon Valley tycoons, and of course regular people, all dumping ice water on their heads, AND giving money, to fight ALS. Charlie Sheen actually dumped a bucket of money on his head, and then announced he was giving it (US$10,000) to the ALS Foundation.

But so popular has the #IceBucketChallenge become that mocking it seems to be becoming its own meme. Not just the contrarians, or the cynics, but other celebrities, journalists, Twitter stars and regular people, lining up to join in the backlash against it. Think about that. There are people who don’t want you to participate in supporting a fight against one of the most terrible, dreadful, execrable diseases that ever struck humanity.

“WTF?? Why not???” You say! WTF indeed!

Do something more constructive some say, thinking that these folks are doing it to avoid making a donation. (The original challenge was: dump a bucket of ice water on your head, or if not, you must make a donation). But that’s not what’s happening. These people, and the people they are bringing along to their events, are donating millions, MILLIONS to a foundation that has never seen the like in its lifetime as well as dumping ice water on their heads.

Spend the money elsewhere, don’t just follow the herd, some say. Spend it on charities that produce better results. Why? Is the fight against ALS not deserving? Are all charities to be judged solely on the lives saved per dollar? If that’s the case why don’t we hear equal railing against the Big Pink charities, the runs, rides, races and bake offs to support the fight against breast cancer. After all, women run much more risk of premature death from heart disease than any cancer, let alone breast cancer. So shouldn't we be hearing a movement against Big Pink or asking them to start shuffling their funds to other charities? How about Movember? Most men struck with prostate cancer will die with the disease, not from it. In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest men “of a certain age” should *not* get tested at all.  Should we shut it down? Campaign against it?

So up against all these big, well-funded charities we have the ALS groups, fighting to gain any scraps that fall from the donation table to fund their support to aid the sufferers, and their families and friends, and to fund research to find the cause and cure. As a percentage of the population, and a percentage of those that die early, the sub population with ALS (PALS) just isn’t big enough to make those donations worthwhile. And so even funding publicity campaigns to kickstart a donation cycle is incredibly difficult.

And that’s one of the great things about this campaign, it’s not just the money, which is huge, but the publicity. Sure, many people will never give to this cause again, it probably is just a flash in the pan, but all charities suffer from that. And what a flash! With all those names added to their donation list, the ALS foundations, who will work hard requesting and earning further donations from that small percentage of folks who respond to follow up requests, will find that small percentage represents a lot more people and a lot more funding.

Economists like to think of us as rational, but this model has been dismantled by the Behavioural Economists. We are not rational. We muddle our way through modern life, looking for facts to support our pre-existing beliefs. Why has this campaign gone viral? Nobody really knows. Heck, we don’t know why a cat video goes viral, but something somewhere resonates. This campaign is fun, it’s based on a challenge, and it hit the right combination somehow. And so folks are giving.

Enough about the numbers, what about the process and end of the disease itself? The horror and indignity of being trapped in your own body, not for days, not for months, but for years. If it happens to someone you know, to a friend or family member, wouldn't you want to spend anything, *anything* in return for a cure? For many of us, this is personal. We have friends and family stricken by ALS. I lost my stepfather to it, and I will lose my good friend Richard to it. You’re effing right I’m participating, logic be damned!

Oh yeah, the stupidest argument: … you've seen the postings on Facebook and Twitter, the drought stricken African child superimposed against a photograph of a line of people getting soaked in the challenge, with an attributed comment that the child finds it incredulous that we would waste our precious water on such a ridiculous event.  Such piffle. The amount of water we waste washing our cars, our pets, even our houses makes this event’s amount literally a drop in the bucket. And it’s not as if we could seal up the buckets and fed ex the water to the latest drought area. No, we have good organizations for that. Which is why, when I participate in my own event next weekend, I will also be donating an equal amount to Oxfam, my favourite charity for overseas aid.

So to all the naysayers, my parting words to you: Go soak your head!