The viral ice bucket challenge has, over the last month, drawn the charitable efforts of celebrities and common-folk across the world. From Bill Gates and his somewhat morbid contraption of a water bucket hanging from gallows, through Charlie Sheen’s ten thousand dollars in a bucket routine to half the people in my Facebook and Twitter feeds, thousands of people are electing to pour buckets of ice cold water over their heads. Each participant then elects a number of other people to follow suit. Why? The campaign ostensibly exists to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or Motor Neuron Disease (MND). Very few contenders, however, actually mention why they’re taking this icy forfeit, perhaps betraying a more selfish, narcissistic reason for the endeavour: a few seconds of Facebook fame and self- congratulation. The genesis of the ice bucket challenge is a perplexing mystery and has taken many forms for many causes, including the most recent dirt bucket challenge – a drought friendly alternative to the ice bucket challenge, though it has little more substance other than expressing a consciousness of the scarcity of fresh water.
The trend is similar to the cynical no makeup selfy for breast cancer, which saw swathes of women posting photos of themselves bare- faced on social networks in an apparent display of sympathy for those suffering from the disease. For all of the conceited like -baiting, however, there was similarly little mention of cancer research.
More than a thousand people will die from ALS in the UK in the next year, having suffered paralysis for up to a decade. It’s time to pour cold water on this slacktivism and on the celebrity vanity projects. Instead, we should ask ourselves how we can sincerely help the vast number of terribly sick people in society in a more decisive way. This requires structural change.
We must surely ask why the eighty-five richest people in the world have as much wealth – that is the means to buy food, water, shelter, healthcare, education, and every other good, product and service necessary to facilitate the basic functions of life – as the poorest half of people in the world – three and a half billion people. We must ask why large companies and rich individuals get away with stealing staggering amounts – up to ten billion pounds per year, according to HMRC, or a hundred billion pounds per year, according to UK uncut – from our social system in unpaid taxes. And we must ask why these companies are allowed to aggregate extraordinary sums of wealth – wealth created by you and I – and flaunt it as they please on advertising, bonuses, frivolous legal cases and countless other trivialities. When we ask these questions, we can understand what it is we need to do to install change.
Allowing individuals to decide when and how they provide their excess wealth to charity isn’t good enough. We already have a tax system which is theoretically designed to collect excess wealth to be democratically utilised for the good of society. This wealth is forecasted to total six hundred and forty-eight billion pounds in the UK this year. After accounting for everyone’s basic needs it is a large portion of this money which must be designated for medical research. This wealth dwarfs the paltry money collected by charities every year – about thirty-nine billion pounds per year between 2005 and 2012. By democratically controlling our excess wealth through our government we not only give redundancy to the inefficient cost of marketing and fundraising born by charities – about four billion pounds in the UK in the 2005 – 2012 period – but we can also decide rationally how our wealth is deployed in society. We can spend money where it is needed, rather than allowing the laws of memetics to dictate randomly and anarchically how our wealth is distributed through such infantile video campaigns as the ice bucket challenge.
But this collective excess wealth – the product of every working person’s labour – is not fully accounted for. Some of the celebrity ice bucket innovators earn more wealth in a few months than ALSA has collected thus far. We must not allow such wealth to be hoarded when so many people’s lives are ruined by diseases we can learn to treat given adequate accumulated wealth. Every penny sitting in the virtually bottomless bank accounts of the extraordinarily rich is a penny which could be spent to help save a person’s life, but isn’t. Let us see these celebrities so keen to help their fellow human make a real difference by supporting a wealth tax.
And of the money that is collected much is squandered recklessly and fatally. The effete Iraq invasion has long been considered a dubious expedition, but the popularly abhorred ISIS exists as a result of this trillion dollar calamity, slipping into power within the unstable, foundationless state left behind by western armies. Now our war machine is returning, revisiting its self- declared moral authority upon the state in a futile attempt to curtail the forces there, and yet more wealth will be lost to the repeating cycle of war.
Almost two trillion dollars is lost fighting wars globally each year. That thirteen figure sum could pay the salaries of more than seventy-nine million NHS nurses; It could replace the money raised so far by the ice bucket challenge about twenty five thousand times. This is the cost of the wars which millions of people have protested against in cities across the world; it is the cost of invading Iraq and of our support for Gaza’s occupation. We – people across the globe – must understand and defend our common interest to live in a peaceful society; living in a society which rejects war as the deviation of out of touch leaders.
Our wealth is controlled against our will. It is spent wastefully and destructively. We can’t change the priority of public spending by chucking fresh water over our heads; such complacent folly will only prolong the status quo. We mustn’t allow people to live and die at the whim of a celebrity’s donation. We can only help those with ALS and all forms of other disabilities by taking control of our political systems; by refusing to stand idle while tyrannical politicians divert our wealth to destructive, counter- productive war; by understanding the common need among humans for a sustainable and fair society. By rejecting the ice bucket challenge and instead taking a fervent interest in politics, you could have a part in saving the lives of a whole world of people who are not even yet born.
Jack Pepin | firstname.lastname@example.org | Facebook.com/jpepsred