Right now everyone is aware of ALS because people are dumping ice on their heads. Not everyone is aware what ALS is (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). It’s what Stephen Hawking has and you can see what it does to the body. He’s lived much longer than most people with ALS can expect to, and it is a worthy cause.
To some degree ‘awareness building’ is a codeword rich people use to enjoy cocktail parties guilt-free. On another level, however, they really do drive dollars and attention towards worthy causes. See below:
If you look to the left of this graph by Vox, you can see that the causes with the best awareness campaigns tend to attract the most donations. What you can also see, however, is that these aren’t necessarily the things that kill us. That is, awareness-driven donation isn’t especially efficient.
With ALS, he [William MacAskill] said that $56,000 would provide one quality-adjusted life year to a sufferer. On the other hand, he said, “the same amount of money could provide 500 quality-adjusted life years if you give money to bed nets for malaria.” (Vox)
In Sri Lanka the discrepancy is especially glaring cause millions of us are affected immediately by drought and the campaigns to collect bottled water for their immediate needs are much weaker than those to dump water on our heads.
The trouble with anything driven by ‘awareness’ is that human awareness of broad social issues is notoriously shit. Take the amount of attention and money and blood devoted to ‘terrorism’. Dogs kill more people that terrorism, but people are so aware of these rare disasters that trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives are sacrificed to the cause of ‘fighting terror’.
This isn’t really an accurate infographic because you need to imagine the cost of terrorism deaths at 1,000 times higher than shown. We’re basically spending a lot of money on not a lot of death. The only people terrorism is efficient for is terrorist, insomuch as their goal is draining and weakening bigger countries like the US. Terrorism is a case of awareness gone completely haywire, human perception and emotion driving policy to a counter-productive and ultimately foolish degree.
None of which is saying you shouldn’t donate to ALS (you should) or that you shouldn’t work on causes personally important to you. Just be aware of the broader context as well, and the limits and biases of our own awareness.