I want to address a point often made by AA members in response to AA critics. It’s a two part point, and it goes something like this, “Why do you want to tear down AA when you have nothing positive to replace it with?” And then, in response to anything we have to offer, they say, “You call that something? You got nothing’.”
Well, no, we don’t have nothing. What we do have, though, is nothing at all like AA.
I think that when the conversation devolves to this level, both parties end up blinking at each other, baffled. There’s no where to go from here. We’ve found ourselves on the shores of two different dimensions of reality – there’s just no common ground.
A few days ago, I tossed in a couple of posts that I didn’t comment on much – one about Don Cobb, who believes that the only way out of addiction is through the “real truth” which is God, and the other about Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor who feels that one can only be truly human through belief in God. They both interested me because of their authoritarian worldview: There is only one way to be complete, and that is through the mediation of an outside authority (God, HP™, God as Group, “something greater than oneself”).
Yesterday, I was listening to an interview on the radio with a conservative who was denying the validity of evolution, and he argued that it was a not a theory but a hypothesis, and that evolution cannot explain altruism. Again, this is another instance where we find ourselves mute and blinking at each other from distant shores. Our sense of the plain obvious is just incompatible.
As MA often says, there’s just no point in arguing belief systems. They are the foundation of our realities, and no brilliantly composed, logically unimpeachable argument is going to convince anyone of anything, especially when the support of the very ground we’re standing on is all the proof we need that it is solid. In other words, “We don’t know who discovered water, but we can be sure it wasn’t a fish.”
Both sides of this conversation look at each other wondering how the hell we can navigate through life without any foundation under us. AAs, religious people and authoritarian types look at people without objective rules and truths as having nothing at all to stand on, no organizing principles, no moral code, no universal sense of right and wrong. Thus, to them, the questions “If you don’t believe in God, what’s to stop you from [heinous crime], or to stop the world from complete anarchy?” and “How can you be truly sober without a Higher Power ™?” are entirely rhetorical.
Our response to these questions is “Wait. What?” And we wonder how they navigate through life as actualized people when their experience is mediated and their sense of doing the right thing isn’t about the right thing, but about their adherence to dogma, which tells them what the right thing is. So [heinous crime] is wrong because it’s against the law, rules, Word, steps, traditions? And our rhetorical question is, “So, if [something] didn’t tell you that [heinous crime] is wrong, you’d do it?”
Well, there’s no common ground between these two different ways of approaching the world. Every once in a while, we can connect on certain points. For instance, we, here on this blog, actually seem to have more in common with AAs, like our commenter, Jim, who would like to see AA operate according to its own founding principles, and its members work the program as it was intended, than we do with the more loosey-goosey AAs. The common ground here is that, while we occupy different shores, we do not begrudge each other our own belief systems, and have no interest in “converting” anyone. I might be wrong (Jim can correct me if I am), but I don’t believe that Jim believes that there is only one way to get “truly sober.” He has his way. It works for him, so he spreads the word for those whom it might also work. We don’t have a way, but we have a perspective, and we’re doing the same thing.
But in our case, since AA and 12-step programs have long been considered the gold standard, and conventional wisdom is that it is “the right way” and even the only way, and since the approach to AA that Jim adheres to is not “the norm,” – rather the norm is something pervasive, insidious and alarmingly dysfunctional – we “bash” it. Or, more accurately, we shine the spotlight on it.
I know that the people who say that this is just gratuitous bashing really believe that we bashers cannot offer anything comparable. I believe the point they are trying to make is that “it’s easy to destroy something, children, but how about you grow up and offer something positive to replace it with. So far, you got nothin’.”
Well, yeah. For someone on the other shore, what we have looks like nothing; just like what they have looks like nothing to us. We wouldn’t have the faintest idea of how to offer like for like. We’d just as soon instruct people to boil their underpants and stand on their nose, as tell them they should admit they’re powerless over a substance and ask their Higher Power™ to remove their character defects. Completely Different Universes.
Here’s what’s really interesting: Whatever side we’re on, we all believe pretty much the same things about what’s right and what’s wrong – and we have no fucking idea on earth how the other side adheres to these beliefs with any integrity. We all believe it’s wrong to abuse other people, wrong to cheat, steal, and murder. And we all believe that the other side has taken a position that allows them to play fast and loose with these moral imperatives.
I can see how it would seem to AAs in good standing that we have nothing to offer as a replacement for AA. That’s like a Christian wondering what I’d replace the 10 Commandments with — the question just doesn’t make any sense. Of course they think we have nothing to offer as a replacement for AA. We don’t! That’s the whole point. If we had a replacement for AA, then AA would make sense to us and we’d probably just be at a meeting, not fixing what ain’t broke.
How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way, Is an immense world of delight clos’d by your senses five? – William Blake