Mandatory “Altruism” – The Ice Bucket Challenge

Many readers are probably aware of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” that is making the rounds across the world.  A person dumps a bucket of ice on themselves, challenges someone else to do the same, and (hopefully) donates to a foundation researching ALS as a means of helping “educate” others on ALS and as a means of eradicating the crippling and lethal syndrome.

Sounds absurd, right?  Maybe it’s just me, but this sounds like a social experiment in which many feign altruism in exchange for publicity.  In a way, the altruism (just assume quotation marks around the word for the rest of this post) is societally mandated.  By calling out another to perform the challenge, the message is made clear: participate or be stigmatized by having been publicly called out on a task that may or may not be important to you.  Let me repeat that: the dynamics of the “challenge” require that another be tasked with doing the same.  It is viral.  In addition, the one initiating the challenge is – in most cases – posting to social media (or other media for those who are celebrities) as a means of “Look at this great thing I’m doing” and then is effectively forcing another to do the same thing regardless of how this other person feels about charity or whether they even have the means to afford it.

This goes back to a point I made in the linked post above.  Altruism is often a societally mandated circle-jerk in which the actions are made for either self-publicizing reasons or for the avoidance of social stigma.  As a pragmatic individual, I hope that this viral challenge raises much needed funds for ALS research.  As a psychopath, sick of the perceived superiority of the neurotypical, it infuriates me.  True altruism does not require reward.  True altruism does not require that its tendrils be attached to another.

I don’t believe in altruism at all, but the blatant and contrary nature is revealed especially with this viral deed.  How many of the individuals doing this would continue to do so if they were not able to challenge another or publicize themselves as well?  How many are dumping buckets of water on their head without donating to the cause – effectively the same as doing nothing at all?

If one wishes to do social good while promoting themselves, so be it.  At least be transparent about it, however.  All I see when I read status updates by those engrossed by the challenge are the unspoken and unwritten words: ‘Look at me!’  By requiring another to do the same lest they fail to rise to the occasion, this “altruistic” behavior is cemented as a reinforced social behavior of which the consequence of non-performance is stigma.  Let’s see … an action, that performed, requires another to do the same regardless of their own feelings … does not sound very altruistic to me.

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