About Anonymous Alcoholism: Notes on the Cultocracy

Column by Kevin M. Patten.

Exclusive to STR

Lest I be accused of throwing every problematic drinker under the bus, let’s get the boringly obvious out of the way: There’s no doubt that the institution of Alcoholics Anonymous has helped a few people overcome their addiction. But I find it refreshing that after decades of monopolistic influence on the courts and rehabs, AA is finally facing the opprobrium that it very rightly deserves. Jack Trimpey, founder of Rational Recovery, and one of the original malcontents, described AA as (however unoriginally) a “Cultocracy.” It is, that annoying word, systemic, and so Charles Manson and Jim Jones would have their competition cut out for them. AA could further be defined as an “Open Source Cult”: you can either be the vulnerable drone, the convenient torchbearer, or the high priest who bashes you over the head with “how many days” he has, looking knightly for the young ladies and saintly for the hapless dregs.

But this is mainly for those who are here voluntarily.

If you will, consider an erroneous comparison. Between what? The near-universally mandated “12 Step” attendance with your mother forcing you to eat broccoli. Is the broccoli itself coercive? In this vein, neither is the gun that you know will be unholstered for refusing to file your taxes, or the car that takes you to the jail, or the building in which you’ll be housed. Just the people who actually do the coercing.

Technically, your mother is acting coercively, and while vegetables are good for you – and she’s your mother! – being threatened with jail unless you attend a religious meeting, this for merely walking down the street intoxicated, is ultimately harmful to the individual. If we do get into the libertarian semantics – who owns the sidewalks: private companies or sovereign municipalities? – I think it’s fair to ask about the federally-worshipped institution that enjoys a tax-exempt status while also receiving thousands of drunks who are quick to throw a dollar around. If they have to pay nothing for helping boozers, why should I have to pay the State for being a boozer?

Suppose that Lockheed Martin is completely absolved of collusion with the State, despite negotiating billion dollar contracts to sell off their armaments. Perhaps the best analogy: Would I be a voluntarist if that same State ordered someone to come and wash my car? Could I look them in their eyes and insist that I’m respecting their volition, even after I said “you missed a spot”? I venture, negative. Therefore, if the cheerleaders of the Cultocracy want to defend the notion of a “100% voluntary organization,” they’d agree with me, and demand that AA make some sort of statement about their concealed reluctance to sign those damn court cards. This can’t be done – maybe seeing as they “have no opinion on outside matters” (10th Tradition) and that “every group is autonomous” or whatever other cowardly datum is at hand. Alas, the very strong mixture of Church and State will still likely be served up regularly.

Cult! It’s usually a stupid verbal missile that gets thrown overhead without validity. In this case, AA actually does have its genesis in a Christian cult – named the Oxford Group, which during the mid-'30s was its parent organization. Ken Ragge, another early critic, wrote an excellent expose in 1998, first titled More Revealed and later republished as The Real AA. My mangled copy still draws a strange history.

The story starts in 1919, with a man named Frank Buchman, who was holding a series of meetings in China called “house parties.” Buchman was “attempting to bring about a revival of what he perceived to be the first century Christianity, hence his group’s first name: First Century Christian Fellowship,” writes Ragge. He then “capitalized on perceived but nonexistent ties to the internationally prestigious Oxford University after the name ‘Oxford Group’ was reportedly coined by a South African baggage handler and adopted by the group in 1921.” The only relation to the famous college, according to the Wikipedia page, was that several of its students were members and held some parties here. (The organization brought in many thousands, and parties were held everywhere.)

The Oxford Group had the modest goal of taking over the world, this through “God-Control,” which, Ragge quotes straight from Buchman, “make[s] God-Controlled nationalities. This is the aim of the Oxford Group. The true patriot gives his life to bring his nation under” . . . we got it. (Browse Wiki for all this repeated.) Those who were “too insane” to join on their own were given special techniques to assist them, these deemed “the five C’s” – Confidence, Confession, Conviction, Conversion, and Continuance.

Ragge continues: “The Oxford Group was most concerned with bringing rich, famous and powerful figures under God-Control so their influence could be used to sway the public.” One such person was the son of rubber baron Harvey Firestone, the former with a hostile drinking habit. An Oxford member who had discovered the man took him to a conference in Denver, where they joined up with God, who supposedly told Firestone to knock his shit off. January, 1933: The senior, very impressed, invited Buchman and a team of 60 to come to Akron, Ohio, to “conduct a ten-day campaign,” gathering in the house T. Henry Williams. Among them was the local surgeon, Dr. Bob Smith, now credited as one of the two founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The other founder resided in New York City. The name and subject of so many hagiographies is Bill Wilson (for balance, hear the man tell his own story), a Wall St. stockbroker as well as a vicious drinker. Hospitalized numerous times for his habit, he soon met Dr. William Silkworth, who “impressed on him the hopelessness of alcoholism.” Silkworth’s theory was that he had “an allergy combined with a mental obsession.” As told by the Big Book – AA’s text from heaven – Wilson was visited by a friend who had also met up with God. What the Book doesn’t say (at least not my “fourth edition”) is that the man’s name was Ebby Thacher, a member of the Oxford Group, which by now had a side chapter for those with drinking problems.

Wilson, along with his wife Lois, began attending these meetings, becoming a regular by 1935. Taking up the fifth “C” – “Continuance” – the inaugural alcoholic saint realized that, “If he did not work he would surely drink again, and if he drank, he would surely die.” For six months, he was a total failure at this game, not saving a single drunk. Despite being dazzled by the Oxford Group, Wilson was having squabbles with its methodology. Dr. Silkworth advised him to try a different approach, to “deflate these people first. Pour it right into them about the obsession that condemns them to drink…” That is, fear. This was quite the obverse from the Oxford Group’s tactic of arousing guilt.

In May of ‘35, Wilson made a business trip to Akron, Ohio. Feeling and fearing himself close to drink, he had a revelation that would become a cornerstone of AA: “You need another alcoholic just as much as he needs you.” Phone calls were frantically placed. After talking to a few local groupers, he came into contact with “Dr. Bob.” Fireworks without the cocktails. The pair quickly teamed together and began obtaining new members for the burgeoning theocratic sect.

Elsewhere, schisms widened. For one thing, Buchman was an open supporter of Hitler’s regime, and the public was getting tired of these political sympathies. (I’ve never seen any evidence that Wilson shared these politics.) Ragge notes, “Another major issue was that the alcoholics preferred to remain anonymous, which was contrary to the Oxford Group methods of public witness.” As furtherance, “Bill W.’s” new means of recruitment was aggravating the NY chapter of the Oxford Group. By 1937, in the Big Apple, the two had separated. A year later, Wilson was hard at work synthesizing material for the Big Book, released in 1939 (which I’ll be selecting from). As an aside, demonstrating the program’s utter silliness, Wilson decided to pick the number “12” (for the steps) simply because Jesus Christ had twelve apostles, thus why it’s hardly surprising that the steps seem repetitious.

Returning to our delineation, the most significant indications of AA’s “cult status,” in my humble assessment, is the dogmatically relied upon “disease model,” which refuses to accept other theories; nor does the Cultocracy allow disagreement of their “non-opinionated policy”; and then the members who avoid the pesky noun leftover by the Big Book’s main authors: “Creator” – a clear definition of what kind of god they had in mind. So long for, “Your Higher Power can be a doorknob.” The next person who tells you that should be put, not in rehab, but an asylum.

All three of these are intertwined, but let’s try to untangle them separately, in careful turn.

Of course, it will be said that the whole program is one big “suggestion” – textbook AA terminology – and it’s not ironic that I can’t suggest that AA operates cultishly. Suspend the language for just a second. Keep in mind that the doctrine is predicated on the “disease model” – you are powerless because alcoholism is a verifiable disease, and even questioning it is your “stink’n think’n.” A perfect failsafe! (As well as sounding like something that a statist would tell their subject.) Absolute abstinence is everything, and your last sip is the equivalent of your birthday – literally. Therein belies any “suggestion.” Grimly, this disease is “progressive,” and you will die from it if not for our grace. Right! Exactly what we tell kids in a cancer ward: “You’re powerless. Give up on this idea of self will and inner strength and permit that only through faith in the doctors do you have a chance.”

Apart from the sardonicism, the “science” of Disease Theorem has been much studied and debated. The best thing that the State and the Rehab Industry has going for it is knowing that the layman can’t be an expert in neuroscience and biology. Me neither. But we can defer to more qualified minds. The one that has faced some recent ire belongs to Dr. Lance Dodes, an addiction expert who has written three books on the topic. His latest, The Sober Truth, was released in 2014.

Among the most interesting of Dodes’ findings is this: in its earliest days, AA was viewed as nothing short of quackery, with the American Medical Association calling it “a curious combination of organizing propaganda and religious exhortation.” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases was even more scathing: a “regressive mass psychological method” and a “rambling sort of camp-meeting confession of experiences.” Ouch.

AA then hit a series of lucky strikes, starting with two articles in popular journals. The first was written in ’39 by Morris Markey, published in Liberty, a magazine run by Fulton Oursler, who was an Oxford Group member that would later serve as a trustee of the Alcoholic Foundation, AA’s governing body. The article tells us that the alcoholic is “genuinely sick” with a “specific illness of body and mind.” But, as a miracle, working with AA, they would experience a “psychic change. Their ‘compulsion neurosis’ was being altered-transferred from liquor to something else.” That was, a “psychological necessity to rescue their fellow victims from the plight that made themselves so miserable.” Sounds liberating!

The second piece came in The Saturday Evening Post, which at the time was probably the most widely read magazine in the country. Written in 1941 by one Jack Alexander, the long piece tells how a skeptic came to be swayed into believing the good that AA was doing. Disingenuously, Alexander informs that “the rate of success is exceptionally high.” No citation needed except for AA’s self-reportage – and self-promotion. One chapter claimed that 87% were saved; and that 50% “recover immediately.” Reification was on its way. (We’ll come right back to the topic of success.)

From there, AA teamed up with Marty Mann, a wealthy Chicago woman and one of the first females to join the club; and then with E.M. Jellinek, called the originator of Disease Theorem. The former soon formed the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, still in operation today, then testified many times for the medical community. In 1946, the latter, Jellinek, produced a legendary paper that would become bedrock for AA. His research? A questionnaire mailed out to 1600 of its own members, this through their magazine, the Grapevine. Of the 158 returned, 60 were “thrown out either for being incomplete, from women, or for having multiple responses,” writes Ragge. “Progressive” – “denial” – “intense physical craving”: the usual claptrap at its nucleus. Jellinek is said to have distanced himself from this work, urging AA not to interfere with new medical discoveries. (Also, it’s rumored that the idea of addiction as a disease was foreign to early AA congregations, as addiction was supposed to be a “spiritual sickness,” not a medical ailment.)

But by now the wind was already in AA’s favor. Dodes reports the following. In 1951, AA was honored with the Lasker Award, “given by the American Public Health Association for outstanding achievement in the fields of medical research or public health administration.” In the '60s, AA “won a landmark decision” when “two decisions from federal appeals court upheld the disease concept of alcoholism.” Lyndon Baines Johnson – monster of a man, JFK’s likely killer (just to throw that in there), and a heavy consumer of Cutty Sark scotch – proclaimed to the nation that “the alcoholic suffers from a disease which will yield eventually to scientific research and adequate treatment.” In 1970, Congress passed the “Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention Treatment and Rehabilitation Act,” which also established the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Yes, Marty Mann and Mr. Wilson spoke before our dear leaders. In ’73, President Nixon was presented with the millionth copy of the Big Book. The clincher: Dodes cites a 2009 paper that examined state-sanctioned physician health groups, finding that 95% of all programs were – are – based on the “12 Steps.” Journalist Gabrielle Glaser, writing for The Atlantic, citing another work, says that there are 13,000 rehab facilities in the U.S., and that 70-80% subscribe to the One True Path laid out by a narcissistic louse. Enrollment in these centers can cost thousands of dollars.

Regarding addiction, there are, of course, several theories. However, as many have pointed out, the irony is striking: if we’re dealing with a disease – a la cancer or diabetes or high blood pressure – why do we treat it with . . . faith? Glaser recognizes the contradiction. She writes about certain medications used to curtail problematic drinking, with only three brands approved by the FDA. Although these pills are not outright forbidden by AA, personal stories indicate that usage is largely chagrined by their membership.

Naturally, anybody will look stupid when speaking about such technical subjects without a doctoral degree hanging above their heads. So it’s best to quote the experts. A neuroscientist named Marc Lewis took up the study so as to understand what he suffered from in his youth. His 2015 book, The Biology of Desire, is subtitled Why Addiction is Not a Disease. “The brain disease model,” he writes, “is supported by two pillars that have proven rather difficult to crack. First is the corpus of evidence that the brain really does change with addiction.” The other is the “control issue. Addicts really do seem to have lost control.” But Lewis goes on to explain that behavior is strengthened every time an action is repeated. “The kind of brain changes seen in addiction also show up when people become absorbed in a sport, join a political movement, or become obsessed with their sweetheart or their kids.” He then describes the brain’s function of a “feedback loop”: the more we humans do something, the more likely it is that we’ll do it again; the synapses grow stronger. “Addiction,” he writes, “may be a frightful, devastating, and insidious process of change in our habits and our synaptic patterning. But that doesn’t make it a disease.”

For Dr. Dodes, addiction is inextricably linked to compulsiveness; Dr. Lewis, similarly, believes that it must return to its place as the bedfellow of psychology and personal experience. So far so good. And then the unexplainable: Why is it that American Vietnam vets, hooked on heroin in the oversea swamps, instantly stopped after coming back home – some 90% of them? Same with cigarettes: when the Surgeon General required warning labels on packs of smokes – 1970 and 1985 – smoking decreased dramatically. Again with hospital patients on a daily diet of morphine: they never seek the stuff out upon being discharged. If the disease is permanent, unmalleable, and indeed progressive – why does this happen? With alcohol, many studies show that the bulk of people who drink excessively can and do regress into moderate consumption, as stated by every source I’ve listed here.

That gets us back to Alcoholics Anonymous, the “12 Steps,” and Dr. Dodes, who appeared on Tom Woods’s radio show to discuss. Dodes, better at crunching numbers than I’ll ever be, ascertains that the amount of people who attend AA and stay sober remains within 5-10%. Not that great. As anyone who looks at AA will tell you, it’s extremely difficult to investigate a place that keeps no names, no numbers, and guesses no measure of accomplishment. Retyping the key word: anonymous. As well, the definition of “success” is a conundrum; one can often hear it said as “I’m not drunk today” and/or “prolonged sobriety.” Doesn’t help much either. Finally, Glaser reports that The Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches ranks AA as 38th out of 48 methods. At the top were those that encourage – imagine this – “motivational enhancement,” i.e., empowerment.

At this point I should confirm the reader’s guess: I have been arrested for breaking the drinking laws, afterwards coerced into AA. Moreover, a recent episode (I won’t detail here) in my life saw me not just inside the meetings, but also another drug treatment flock, to whom I was to bring said-signatures to.

Surely it has been seen: scores of AA goers who, when the meeting is over, dart to the table that holds their court cards, snatch them up, bolt for the exit. This scene is pathetic in its mechanicalness, labeled for what it really is: obedience training. The people-in-the-magic-black-robes don’t give a fuck about you, your drinking habits, or how many dumpsters you piss on whilst making your way home. They want to watch the poodle jump, and then come back for a second or third round. This is why I theorize (and it’s a theory without evidence) that the State knows that AA is a failure – similar to “rehabilitative” prisons – and thereafter sends you onto a hamster wheel so they can watch you fall off and on again, all while cashing their checks. Likewise with the Rehab Industry, that, like a friendly casino, wants you to come back and blow another $30,000.

Nevertheless, the circular self-assurance is heard everywhere: “You’re obviously in here for some reason.” The thinking goes, if one faces the wrath of the law, even for something minor, it is still evidence of a disease, and thus justly warrants AA attendance. This is facile reasoning, a presumption that all laws are righteous by their mere existence, or that AA is the only dignified place to be. Interestingly, if that line of thought is pursued, we would immediately notice parallels with Mr. Wilson’s case: when it was discovered that Wilson was experimenting with LSD, the AA board of directors felt themselves “violently opposed” to it. As a result, he removed himself from his position. That’s not much different than getting in trouble with your mother: someone of authority has figured that you have broken a rule, and punishments follow. (It’s unclear what might have been the outcome if Wilson refused, but with you and me, fellow drinker, things are more predictable.)

Drudging through the meetings, I twice had unexpected encounters with admitted pedophiles (they kind of blurted it out, and I’ll forego recollection of the details). This is when I engaged in some Googling, book-collecting, note-taking. I came across a project by Monica Richardson, a Los Angeles activist and longtime AA member, who had become disillusioned after learning about the amount of crime taking place between and beyond those walls. The name of her film-in-development was The 13th Step, a euphemism for the process in which seasoned members prey and take advantage of newer, younger, usually female attendees. Monica and I had a phone chat, and she promised to invite me when the documentary debuted at the Beverly Hills Film Festival, April of last year.

Her investigation is horrifying. The stories, heartbreaking. The numbers, staggering. And the absence of accountability – consternating. Monica once told me that she’s received calls and letters from “hundreds” who’ve attested to sexual assault and other forms of abuse. Dual revelations are revealed when reviewing her work. 1): The State, all states, are sending violent criminals – as well as convicted sex offenders – into these rooms. (I haven’t seen a number for how many, but Monica’s petition claims that 150,000 people – altogether – are sentenced every year. Check out this video for some chills.) And 2): Every time AA is sued as a part of a subsequent crime, a judge dismisses them as counter-defendant.

Compare this to the judgement just made by a Colorado court, ruling that four victims of the Aurora mass shooting owe Cinemark, owner of the theater where the massacre happened, $700,000. Why: they tried going ahead with a lawsuit, but the judge had already determined that there was no way the cinema could have possibly known that a psychotic gunman was coming to do what he did. Costs are now authorized for reimbursement.

How can this be said of Alcoholics Anonymous, which must know that the State is sequestering predators inside their rooms? If AA is so beneficial and voluntary, why aren’t their groups ejecting these people? Does voluntarism not entail the authority to regulate “their own” and maintain a safe setting? (It’s upsetting that libertarians typically grant a positively-charged definition, coming together, instead of the negatively-charged, going apart.) I haven’t heard of a single occurrence. (Though I’m sure I’ll hear someone tell me about the time they . . . .) The scum who prey on women – and men – who are at their weakest are as despicable as those who let it go on unchallenged. And the logic follows that, since addiction is a “disease,” and drinking could be the same as touching kids or preying on the downtrodden, they can all be equally summarized as symptoms of Disease Theorem. After all, “It’s not my fault . . . . I’m powerless against the disease.” Personal responsibility sold separately. Though again, “everybody is welcome.” As the Big Book says: “We want to stay out of this controversy. We do not want to be the arbiter of anyone’s sex conduct. We all have sex problems. We’d hardly be human if we didn’t. What can we do about them?”(I’ll apologize for lumping child molestation together with what I think is inappropriate womanizing . . . they’re not equal in their immorality. The point is that the courts sentence all sorts of predators, and it’s hard to know who is who.) What else to expect from a program that has as its “4th Step” a requirement to make a “fearless moral inventory” – which translates into divulging everything personal to someone who is not a professional, not beholden to any legal repercussions, and could very well be a deranged psychopath? “But,” warns the holy text, “they had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone all their life story.” The emphasis is Mr. Wilson’s.

Speaking of whom, our favorite drunken saint likely set the standard, as he was the original “13th Stepper.” Taking advantage of his newfound veneration, Wilson became a “compulsive womanizer” who was “imaginably adulterous.” It wouldn’t be difficult to envision a druid, immersed in this interesting literature, getting the hint that following in such big footsteps leads one to the top of even bigger mountains (if you know what I mean). When will AA become opinionated on this controversy? Seems tricky, as another “A” is always important in this debate: amorphousness, which is all the more reason for the courts to change direction. Although it’s vital to read the “Ninth Tradition” in full: “AA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.” Directly responsible. There, grounds for solicitude.

(Monica ends her film by listing several alternative treatment programs: SMART Recovery; HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol; LifeRing Secular Recovery; SOS: Secular Organization for Sobriety; Women for Sobriety; Moderation.org. To the extent that these programs are recognized by the courts, I am unsure.)

An additional grievance came to mind during my stretch with the Cultocracy: mandatory lying. When someone who disbelieves in Alcoholics Anonymous is ordered there regardless, and also told to secure a “sponsor,” it should be realized that a lie must be given to that prospect, convincing others of a commitment that won’t be sincere. As successfully argued in a Shasta County courtroom, Barry Hazle is correct: A.A. is a religious gathering, and for the State to force someone to abide is for the State to violate their First Amendment rights. As a secularist before a libertarian, I am hereby utterly appalled. We can’t all be Zeligs, thank you kindly.

The word “God” is almost endlessly replete throughout the Big Book, along with such descriptivism as “Spirt of the Universe” and “Father of Light” and “Creative Intelligence.” This theistic language isn’t necessarily foolish. I am an agnostic, not an atheist (it’s a big universe out there). If troubled individuals get strength in the belief of a “higher power,” it seldom perturbs me. When it does, however, is after insisting that I, or anyone else, must also hold a faith, in direct violation of my belief that I needn’t hold any such thing. Mr. Hazle is one of a number of rewarded plaintiffs who feel the same way. In 2006, paroled on a meth charge, this combative atheist was sent back to prison for refusing to attend “12 Step” meetings. He then sued, contending that his First Amendment rights were violated. He’s now a happy millionaire. (Other courts in the nation are waking up to this too.)

Wait! “It’s spiritual, not religious.” More of the elastic locution. A basic definition of religion is: “A specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.” This fits tightly with AA and its adherence to the “12 Steps,” the doctrine that disavows the idea that a “real alcoholic” can ever become a moderate drinker. It is a faith in the conduit to “God” – the group, which is the only thing that can save you. Precisely why the fourth chapter of the Big Book is “We Agnostics.” Bill Wilson had the foresight to know there would be disbelievers: “Actually we were fooling ourselves, for deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God.” Religious? Cultish? Aren’t they often said the same: religious-cult? A clue is provided by the divine writ: “It is seldom wise to approach an individual, who still smarts from our injustice to him, and announce that we have gone religious.” Emphasis mine, but unneeded to determine whether or not this program is secular.

Anyways, I was made to frequent a number of meetings a week, then show those signatures at my substance abuse class. Sure. No worries. Besides, the homeless population is more than willing to give a scribble in exchange for pocket change. I’d then have to tell the facilitators that I had that “sponsor,” and was in regular contact with him. But this can’t happen with honesty: any frank criticism of the Cultocracy would impede such a compact (not to mention wasting everybody’s time). As they say in AA, “fake it until you make it.” Accordingly, this produces an imperious falsity, at least via omission of one’s true thoughts.

Some members probably endorse other programs, but as a monolith that has a headquarters in New York, they don’t advocate for it; they simply hold no position on the matter, exactly as their mantra proscribes. Glaser asked the General Service Office, AA’s administrative HQ, their stance on this. The reply: “Alcoholics Anonymous neither endorses nor opposes other approaches, and we cooperate widely with the medical profession.” As already detailed, the last part is a redundancy, seeing as “12-Step” programs are part and parcel of America’s medical monstrosity. If we want the courts to recognize alternative treatments, it is up to us to protest and sue until these things are granted.

This mobilized pushback against the Cultocracy has upset a few people. (For more muckraking, check out Orange-Papers.org, a longtime compiler of anti-AA articles; Stinkin-Thinkin.com, where I’ve borrowed a couple of these pictures; and LeavingAA.com, Mrs. Richardson’s blog). Truth is, it’s hard to be anodyne when criticizing AA, because it is a faith, and faiths – especially communitarian types that provide friends and lovers and free coffee and occasionally seeks to remedy a serious condition – hits the next person right in the liver. Still, this has to be done. AA is hardly as magnanimous they would like it to be. Every time the institution is challenged, an AA devotee screams: “What about those who are getting a benefit from it!?” A guess: they’re afraid that their skills of proselytization – the 12th Step – lack refinement. Thus, the State needs to be involved. It’s devastating to admit that your faith is incorrect, let alone harmful. But these are the same charlatans who would say, “It doesn’t work for everyone,” and then five minutes later, seeing a drunk on the street, ask him: “Wanna go to a meeting?” It’s not a one-size-fits-all. Except when it is.

Nearly lastly. Although this is a bit heavy-handed, I don’t mean to say that AA is full of cult members who’re there for dumb or egregious reasons. Certainly there’s decent people just trying to get help and to help others. In fact, I want to stress that AA is in no way comparable to bureaucratic cults like Scientology, with its central authorities and black-sites and “specialized knowledge” and the fear that apostates have of going public. If one were to “fall down the rabbit hole” with AA, they likely wouldn’t go a foot below the surface. It’s the function of the program, which mimics or acts cultishly, usually amateurishly but always dogmatically – that is the concern. Indeed, I’m not even saying that it’s sinister to use AA as a dating site.

No. My venom disgorges from the anger of having to violate my own principles, namely deceiving certain persons who want to hear me confess to “what step I’m on,” knowing that my heart isn’t in it, but doing so for the sake of severe consequences. It comes from befriending Mrs. Richardson, moved by her film, and concluding that “anonymity” is extremely dangerous when combined with the inordinate amount of sex offenders court-ordered into those rooms. And then the bad science of Disease Theorem, taken as gospel throughout the land. When technology and medicine become outdated, we do replace them. Kind of like the world that is free of reinforced religiosity. That too will be coming.

Sure enough, the best thing that can be said about this institution is that you don’t have to “work it.” If your only intention is to jerk off the judge, then AA is the perfect place for you. Find a big meeting, sit in the back, put the headphones in, drink coffee – perhaps spiked – and zone-out.

And yet Alcoholics Anonymous, with its Siamese twin, the “12 Steps” (you really can’t separate the two; they were both created in the same 1939 book), needs myriad reforms, and us activists need precisely zero permission to document and bring them to the attention of 

others. However, as I’ve just repeated for a thousandth time, now appended with an actual justification for AA’s continued existence, I don’t wish to close down all the rooms or convince everyone that they’re always detrimental. I simply request that, if we are going to have courts that send people to rehab, and if rehab centers want to be brought into the 21st Century, other programs and better science ought to be accepted. We’re getting there, slowly. In the meantime, people can continue to “volunteer” where they wish, maintain sobriety, and take comfort in knowing that so many in the State and Rehab Industry have milked the sacred dead cow for so long.

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Kevin M. Patten's picture
Columns on STR: 16


D. Saul Weiner's picture

I really must say that I don't understand why the author has seen fit to smear Bill W by including a meme which says that "he takes LSD", like there is something inherently wrong with him for doing so, or by extension, it is wrong for others to do so. LSD and other psychedelics have been, and continue to be confirmed as very beneficial for overcoming addiction, when used in the right setting.

As it happens, Bill W was treated medically with LSD by 2 Candadian doctors, Hoffer and Osmond and received great benefit from his experience. As a matter of fact, Bill W thought it should be added to the AA protocol, but he was overruled by the AA medical board.

Hoffer also treated him with high-dose Niacin, from which he obtained great benefit, as did the other alcoholics he recommended it to. Again, the AA medical board did not support him adding it to their program.

So if the intent was to decry the monopolization of recovery programs with a quasi-religious approach, it makes no sense to denounce Bill W, who actually tried to bring a more holistic approach to AA.

Kevin M. Patten's picture

The meme is no doubt an inarticulate smear. But I wonder what our resident AA proponents think about introducing LSD into the regimen. The point is, far too few people know about that little factoid (as insignificant as it was in my arguments), and we should have a fuller understanding about AA and it's creators. 

Samarami's picture

What the late Bill Wilson did in regard to LSD is his responsibility, not mine. My AA program does not depend upon Bill W or anything he might have said or done. Naysayers will have him convicted of adultery, drinking in secret, drugging -- all kinds of other "evils". Such is the reward of gaining a high level of celebrity in any endeavor. Again, not to affect my AA program -- truth or lies. I'm not his judge, your judge, or anybody else's judge.

John deLaubenfels's picture

The author is carrying a huge chip on his shoulder; why, I cannot guess.  I can't speak for every chapter of AA, but the one my friend attends is nothing like the author's lurid hell.  Nobody crams the 12 steps down anyone else's throats.  My friend describes it as a supportive, extended family.  He's been sober for several years now, after multiple drunken run-ins with the law and ever-longer jail sentences, all pre-AA.
Of course no one should be compelled to attend: it's axiomatic among libertarians that no one should be forced to patronize any particular organization.  But the author is not content with making this point; he feels compelled to tar AA with every brush in his palette.  I find the result extremely uncompelling.

Kevin M. Patten's picture

That's too bad. I couldn't get it right with Clinton, nor with AA. Maybe third time's a charm, and then you can appreciate the polemical style. 

Samarami's picture

Sam Spade ("Samarami") has met with misfortune and will not be present for posting.

Written by daughter on Smart Phone

Glock27's picture

Deeply sorry to hear this. Have appreciated his support on this forum. Give my warmest hopes!

Jim Davies's picture

Samarami, are you okay?
Under "recent comments" there is a teaser saying "Sam Spade ('Samarami') has met with a misfortune and will not..."  but there it ends; the link does not work.  Nor does it work for a follow-up comment expressing regret. What's going on?
UPDATE: I posted the above, and at once the two comments reappeared. It does seem Sam has suffered some misfortune. Best wishes to you, Sam, for a fast recovery!

Kevin M. Patten's picture

Certainly hope everything is alright with Sam. I have appreciated his input on this forum, and have always looked foward to when he gives his perspective bluntly, without hesitance, and right from his heart. 

Kevin M. Patten's picture

Certainly hope everything is alright with Sam. I have appreciated his input on this forum, and have always looked foward to when he gives his perspective bluntly, without hesitance, and right from his heart. 

Kevin M. Patten's picture

shoot.....happened again it seems. 

Ned Netterville's picture

"At this point I should confirm the reader’s guess: I have been arrested for breaking the drinking laws, afterwards coerced into AA. Moreover, a recent episode (I won’t detail here) in my life saw me not just inside the meetings, but also another drug treatment flock, to whom I was to bring said-signatures to..."

Kevin, Among other epithets, I would describe myself as a voluntaryist (a.k.a., pacifist/anarchist), a disciple (a.k.a., student and follower, however haltingly) of Jesus of Nazareth, an alcoholic and a member of AA. I used to "take" AA meetings into the local county jail, where those who were allowed to attend had to have their judge's approval, and since I always brought some good donuts to go with the jailhouse coffee, a lot of those at the meeting were just there for the donuts, but almost to a man over ten years and maybe 200 of these meetings, I can't recall even one attendee who wasn't at least courteous and a little curious about what besides donuts we (usually 2 of us) AAs had to offer. Of those who had their judges' approval to attend, I suspect most if not all had more than "your honors" permission. They were order to go.

At most if not all of these meetings, I would point out to them, as I point out to you and as you point out in your essay, that they could not be coerced by any judge to attend AA meetings. This always brought a reaction: "My judge told me if I didn't attend AA 3-times a week for two years my probation (or parole) would be suspended and I'd have to finish my two-year sentence." Me: "Well let me tell you, a United States Court of Appeals has held that it is a violation of your civil rights to be forced to attend AA. I can assure you, if you bring that to the judges attention he will back off and won't send you to AA. Of course he may make you do your two years, but he can't make you go to AA. So if you don't want to go to AA, don't go. The worst the judge can do to you is send you back to jail. I don't know for sure because I've only spent less than 140 days in jails, but I'm sure I could do two years standing on my head if I didn't want to be coerced into attending AA.

I think I understand what motivates your animosity to AA, and I can't say I blame you. But I once went to jail because I refused a judge's order to do the IRS's bidding. And I'm not at all happy about AA's general (not 100% by any means) cooperation with the courts by signing papers to prove attendance by those who are court ordered. Some groups refuse to sign them, and that I think would keep the court-sent perverts away. But the crucial point I would make is that in my 79 years of life, about 50 of them as a libertarian, I have never known a more freedom-oriented group than AA. No dues, no fees, no taxes, no rules, no regulations. The Traditions say "the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking," and I like to add no one will ever check your desire if you want to attend meetings without it. You become a member of AA by saying so to yourself. The traditions also say "our leaders are servants the do not govern." No one in AA can tell anyone to do anything and make it stick, and the few who might attempt to do so are usually gone in a few years at most if they don't change. The libertarian tradition of AA tends to drive control freaks away. I assume some of them go away like you, dissing AA, but that's okay, AA has broad shoulders and most of us aren't upset by dissing.

As one who looks forward to the demise of the violent nation-state, I think AA serves as a model of how well a group of people can operate in the absence of coercive authority.

As for Bill Wilson, whatever his shortcomings, some of his writings are the essence of libertarian "doctrine." In at least two he pays his respect to the concept of anarchism. In my book, for that reason, he can't be all bad as some of his detractors would have it.

I was never "sent" by a court to AA, although my wife who has more power than any court sent me. But if it had been the state's doing, I might still be "out there" slamming 'em down--or, much more likely, dead.

Keep the faith, Ned