Six days out: Antipathy towards AA – a response

by erics1100paces

Excellent Article about Philip Seymour Hoffman, by Debbie Bayer

The following are thoughts prompted by a commenter on the above article.


People tend to have very strong opinions about AA.

Here’s what I used to say:

AA was both fundamentally flawed and downright unethical.  This cult, which pandered to the most cowardly instincts of people at their most vulnerable, taught people that they couldn’t control their own lives or consumption behaviors, thereby undermining the autonomy and agency of these people, and creating/worsening the very problem it attempted to solve!

Here’s an internet comment:

The 12 step program is a solution for the conservative mindset and worldview. It works well enough that it ‘seems’ to work, and the unworkable gets tossed out.

But in the end, it really is a self-deprecation, and worse a religious reclamation. and not a help program of any kind. You either quit in frustration or you become someone more manageable to conservatives in your life.

To the extent this article justifies such programs, and to the extent this article religiously ignores the immense gap of human and causality potential that exists between the ‘addictive minds’ and the ‘resistant to addiction’ minds.

It requires a mean-spirited and petty heart to believe it.

My response:

I think you misunderstand the 12-step program. It works for whom it works for as long as it works for that person. Few in AA claim that only the program can get a person sober. None claim that any other individual is alcoholic, or must do anything. “Popularity” within the community is somewhat proportional to reciting the party line, but then it is a group, after all, comprised mostly*** of voluntary and interested members, who meet for a prescribed purpose, to quit drinking. And they gather to achieve that goal by attempting to execute an existing behavioral algorithm. Community acceptance, on the other hand, is conditional on nothing. All are welcome. Even though it says the desire to stop drinking is the only requirement for membership, I’ve never seen anyone kicked out of a meeting, even drunk people, for not having said desire.  ***(Court cards…  I don’t know if I approve of court cards, frankly.  It seems like people should come in of their own accord.)

It’s interesting that you should call it a “self-deprecation,” and a “religious reclamation.”

Regarding the first of these, in some sense, yes, I suppose a 12 step program does involve “deprecation” of the self, if you mean the communication of self-deprecating realities. If you mean, however, a self of diminished value or worth, well, that’s only true if you reject the notion that a higher manifestation of self can be accomplished through some alternative to self-will. In other words, you can only establish that claim by begging the question.

Regarding the second, AA is demonstrably not a “religious reclamation.” It suggests a metaphysical component. Some people accept this, others do not. Sober or not, on board with the program or not, the people who comprise an AA meeting are as diverse a bunch of iconoclasts as you will find anywhere. We keep getting together and disagreeing about tons of stuff, and each of us tells his story and makes his own meaning as he sees fit, and buys what helps, and rolls his eyes at what doesn’t. And sometimes it seems crazy and sometimes it seems wise. But we keep meeting because we don’t want to be worthless drunks anymore and this helps us not to be. Could I stay sober some other way? Sure. I have before. But I like AA, and it makes things easier, and reassures my family.

I see this problem of mine as non-rational; what could be less rational than decades of alcoholic drinking? I could quit drinking, but I could never consistently drink well – happily, without big problems. This conundrum defied all of my reason and will and determination and abstract analysis. It defied explanation. My persistent failure to execute that which I willed regarding alcohol utterly baffled me.

And so I’m willing to go with a non-rational solution.

That’s what my mean-spirited and petty heart believes, anyways.