It would seem that the ALS icewater challenge, like the Hunger Games, has gone viral. Perhaps everyone is buying in to the Tribute mentality. I’ve been asked to do one, more than once – and thank you to the friends who were kind enough to include me. My instantaneous reaction was, ‘Yeah, go ahead, why not?’ But, then I gave it a little thought and as a result, I’m not going to, nor do I feel compelled to give whatereveritis to the nearest ALS foundation.
Just so as to be clear, I hate iced water on my head the same as the next man, but it’s quite bearable. I know. I spent five years at public school and cold showers were often used as punishments.
I have two basic reasons why I’m not going to take part, both of which I think are compelling in themselves.
First, ALS research, due to the very nature of the disease, requires both adult and embryonic stem cells as biological raw material. Embryonic cells are the harvest of abortions. Go ahead, Sherlock. Join the dots. But, this is the weaker of the two reasons. Secondly, and more importantly, the speed with which my gut agreed and screamed out ‘go ahead’ in itself gave me pause. Putting the bucket down for a few minutes, I began to consider the effect that social media activism is having on our culture – and my/ourselves as actors and consequently participants in it. I’ve turned into a blogger with a slight political edge to me, consequently it’s clear to me that this medium’s capacity for acting as a vehicle for good is beyond doubt, and yet the principle of instant, do-it-now connectivity has a flipside. Anyone who has ever commented on a social activism website sees how easy it is for a herd mentality to develop, where everybody is nodding in furious agreement and dissent is shouted down, often quite violently. This is, of course, absolutely OK, I suppose, so long as the herd is headed in the right direction and so we meekly trot along mooing and lowing with everybody else.
Peer pressure has a nasty habit of distorting perspective. We’re all racing to belong without first pausing to think through all of the options before clicking “like”. How many, apart from Jonathan Livingston, have elected to fly against the wind because they don’t like being just another seagull in the flock as well as stopping to investigate exactly how the money’s being spent before emptying the ice cube trays? Exactly. I don’t think anyone needs to beat themselves up over it – that’s not the point. It’s OK to feel a little excluded, even strange, and, perhaps more than a little prone towards caution and self-awareness in the future.