I just spent a few minutes on the http://www.mentalhelp.net site (the server appears to be pretty well hosed at the moment, so I’ll provide links in an updated post) responding to recent blog posts by Mark Dombeck, PhD & Allan Schwartz, PhD.  Dombeck’s dragging out the dead horse of “AA – Cult or Not?” while Schwartz opts for the kinder, gentler “Sober Conversation” about AA.

Far be it from me to call “bullshit” on guys who have professional credentials following their last names, but if the shoe fits … .

As far as the ‘cult’ debate goes, in my eyes it’s a non-issue.  Alcohol/drug abuse & dependency are health issues & should be treated as such.  Put a shotgun in my mouth & tell me to vote ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on the “Is AA a cult” proposition & I will reluctantly vote ‘yay’.  In real life, I’ve got no dog in that fight & it detracts from the larger, more cogent issues.

That said, for a therapeutic professional to willfully use the term in a blog post & invite commentary is utterly disingenuous.  ‘Cult’ is a loaded word.  Though it’s etymological origins are much less onerous, these days the term is clearly used in the perjorative sense.  You call an organization a ‘cult’ and thems is fightin’ words.

So the good Dr. Dombeck is throwing gas on a fire, then standing back in mock therapeutic dismay at just how high the temprature of the flames has gotten.  He goes on at some length about how his initial views of AA being the greatest thing since sliced bread have been softened somewhat having read the critiques of those ill-served by their association with the ‘fellowship’.  Still, he’s not above provoking yet another good WWW shouting match all in the name of ‘addiction therapy’.

Me … I’m not buying into the whole nonsensical argument.  It puts me in mind of the old Cheech & Chong bit: “It’s not a gang.  It’s a club.”

Who cares?

The issue that medical, scientific, & therapeutic professionals need to be grappling with is whether or not AA is effective, whether on the whole it helps people or hurts them.  And they need to be  addressing that issue with widespread & open research — not invitations to web-based fistfights.

Whether or not an organization is a ‘cult’ or ‘cult-like’ is not only meaningless (figuratively & legally), it detracts from the larger argument.  AA, whether it likes it or not, has positioned itself as the premier ‘solution’ for alcohol abuse & dependency.  It has monopolized the treatment industry & wormed its way into virtually every aspect of civic life.  While ‘AA’ may claim to be self-supporting, the GSO is under no such constraints & is in a very healthy financial position thanks to book sales & such.  AA is long overdue for public inspection & revision.  Its extraordinary claims (e.g. “millions saved”) need to be backed up by some extraordinary evidence.  Plain & simple.

Cults that are shown to not be very good at fulfilling their promises aren’t terribly effective at winning over new converts.  Throwing ‘cult’ & ‘AA’ together in a blog post, though, is pretty good for generating web traffic.

Dr. Schwarz in his post says he wants to engage the discussion in a constructive way, but dismissively uses the ‘anti AA’ rubric as a means for describing any & all criticisms of AA.  I’ve posted before on this subject on other boards, but this ‘anti AA’ label is one that I think should be actively fought against.  There is no organized ‘anti AA’ movement out there (although some might wish there were) & there is no uniform, monolithic critique of AA that every good ‘anti AA-er’ mouths.  I have never seen anyone with picket signs outside an AA meeting & I have rarely (if ever) read anywhere in print or on the web anyone call for the complete & utter destruction of AA.

‘Anti AA’ is a myth.

This is an important point for two reasons:

  1. One of the more pernicious aspects of the AA/12X12 ‘experience’ is the way in which undermines common language (e.g., ‘sobriety’ is transmuted from ‘not drunk’ or ‘of solemn demeanor’ to ‘closer to god’); AA recognizes the power of using language to its advantages
  2. By allowing your view to be defined as mere oppositional argument, you almost certainly yield the rhetorical highground

Case in point: the “Pro Life” lobby is more than happy to have reproductive rights activists & advocates thought of in the collective public consciousness reflexively as “Anti Life”.  What’s more monstrous than someone who’s against life?  It’s in that spirit that the term “anti AA” emerges.  Whether conscious of it or not, Dr. Schwarz marginalizes & minimizes critique of AA.  Trust me, AA & its advocates are more than happy to let you gather under that one umbrella.

I refuse to be classified as “anti AA” because it’s insulting & completely inaccurate.

What I am is “Pro Truth & Accountability”, “Pro Public Health & Welfare”, “Pro Helping Others Without Any Contingencies.”