The Bucket Debate


Welcome back Philodemicians and friends! I’m excited to announce that the Society gathered on September 4th to discuss Resolved: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has done more harm than good (see what I did there with the bucket debate? I know, very punny) for the first debate of the semester. Two seniors in the society, keynoted the debate with Ms. Emily Coccia of Pennsylvania (COL ’15) on the affirmation and Ms. Julia Christensen of Oregon (COL ’15) on the negation.

Ms. Coccia began the evening by giving the crowd a warm welcome and an explanation of the Ice Bucket Challenge is for anyone living under a rock during this summer. She called the Challenge a case study in slacktivism, a tool that raised money in the short term without any long term awareness. Slacktivists gifts are “narcissism masquerading as altruism”-a bold claim against participants in the Challenge. Ms. Coccia then poised three questions to givers: where is the greatest need, where will your dollars have the greatest impact, and what is most urgent. ALS, which receives nearly $300,000 more per person in research than heart disease, funneled $50 million away from other more important charities since 50% of donors were new. To put it bluntly, she told everyone to “ask where your help is needed, not what’s trending on Twitter.”

Ms. Christensen took up Ms. Coccia’s piercing questions and responded that regardless of the way you look at it, $100 million is still $100 million. To answer one of Ms. Coccia’s questions, Ms. Christensen said that to ask people to give where there is the absolute greatest need is to enforce a “pinnacle that can never be reached”—the perfectly informed citizen. Furthermore, she noted that many claims of charity cannibalism are too uncertain and the real truth of slacktivism is that even if some people didn’t give, the fact that the average gift was only $34 indicates that many people who did the challenge also gave. Lastly, she closed with an age old quote by Archimedes: “Give me ground to stand on, and I will change the world”, saying that no matter what the affirmation says, “our generation stood.”

The floor then proceeded to open with Ms. Egan, who is apparently “approaching dinosaur years” and said that even if a viral campaign is attractive, it is “not the right way to get this done for ALS.” Ms. Correia rebutted her speech, saying that at least 50% of people never donated and will continue to do so. Mr. Mellon then came in to “dump a bucket of water on the sentimentality”, claiming that helping refugees in Syria would have been better than giving to ALS. However, Mr. Weiner came in (and directly responded to the previous speaker!) saying that nobody can decide what cause is worthiest.

Ms. Hernick changed the topic to the “burnin’ ISIS flag challenge” and to how that is better than wasting water. Many people responded to that throughout the night, notably Mr. Willis who said that ISIS just isn’t as sexy as the Challenge and that the “impact is not just for ALS” but for other charities that will use its technique. Mr. Perez-Reyes still could “see no good in the negation” though, claiming that giving should be an end in and of itself, not for publicity. Yet the tables turned on him when Mr. Quinn spoke next, saying that to give to “enrich your soul” is actually more narcissistic than to give for others.

Vice President Wilson interceded at this point, interjecting that $34 to $40 is nothing compared to the rest of the world’s harms; he went so far to say that the “way we live our lives in fundamentally flawed.” On the other hand, Mr. Young (he has the hair-go find him) said that the only reason narcissism is bad now is that it’s public. “English fuddy duddies” have been doing it for ages. Mr. Kleinman took the debate to another direction, reminding us that the Challenge “pails in comparison” to other fundraising and is setting a disastrous example for other charities.

The non-member speaking time began with Mr. Andrew Shaughnessy (COL ’17) who said that this narcissism is good because it raises awareness of political problems such as the defunding of ALS by Congress. Mr. Jonathan Marrow (COL ’18), responded with two questions: Would the money have gone to ALS anyway (No!), and does slacktivism do harm in and of itself? No! Mr. Harry Halem (COL ’18) disagreed, declaring that slacktivism and the Challenge encouraged a culture that removed the true meaning of good. But there’s more to this short term fundraising said Ms. Katherine Landau (SFS ’17), stating that the Challenge could be transformed into a long-term project. Mr. Eduardo Valencia (COL ’18), approached the resolution from a religious angle, quoting St. Ignatius, saying that “justice [is] against charity” and that charity will always be narcissistic. But Mr. Richie Mullaney (COL ’18) replied that even charities should channel their inner capitalist and use social media for good, and we should not make “great the enemy of good.”

Member speaking time resumed with Mr. Naft who said that the Ice Bucket Challenge was meant to give participants a fraction of the pain of ALS but it was “failing to inform us.” Mr. Mouch countered Mr. Naft by saying that instead the Challenge brings people closer, and is most important in its “human aspect.” But the debate really heated up when President DiMisa took his prerogative to further discuss charity and justice, proclaiming that charity is a mere “bandaid”, whereas what we truly need is long term solutions and justice. $40 is not acceptable for him. But Mr. Musgrave pointed out with acumen that “only the Philodemic would problematize $100 million” and that poverty will always be present but ALS might not be. Sergeant Edgar continued the debate, saying that $100 is but a “small piece of joy” that causes moral licensing.

The last four speeches began with Mr. Fletcher, who said that in Mr. Edgar’s world, even the air he breathes could be better use. At the end of the day, any movement to do good is positive. Ms. Grace found the harm in this movement for Mr. Fletcher, however, saying that slacktivism undermines real activism. Yet Mr. Whelan perspicaciously said that this isn’t an either or question, but it could be a matter of both; unfortunately individuals are “an ice cube in the ocean of immorality” and social media is the best way to fix it. Mr. Eisen closed the floor by saying that Mr. Whelan had made the grave error of contradicting Confucius who said that it is the individual who makes change.

The closing keynotes were even more rousing than usual. Ms. Christensen reminded us that there is no “finite amount” of activism. The big accomplishment of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was raising awareness about ALS; “ALS” was searched many more times than “ice bucket.” Moreover, there’s no economic benefit to giving which means that there must be something intangibly good about giving. She said that we “cannot judge against perfection. We have to judge this against the alternative.” Ms. Coccia followed, saying that no matter what happened, internet attention is ephemeral and creates moral licensing. With $100 million much more good could have been done than giving to ALS. We should not just strive to be capitalists and produce losers, or affirm slacktivism. Fund raising has become pathetic, with a potato salad raising more than $50,000 last weekend and charities racing to the bottom in how little one can do to hold a successful campaign.

This debate was one of our closest ever, because, let’s face it, ALS is a topic close to everyone’s newsfeed. But, with a vote of 38-1-39, the resolution was negated.

It has been a pleasure to begin my tenure as amanuensis for the Society and I am honored to write this first debate blog post.


Rosa Cuppari

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Our lovely keynoters, Ms. Julia Christensen on the left and Ms. Emily Coccia on the right.



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