This post was inspired by what I found to be yet another gratuitous, thoroughly disingenuous use of the ‘AA/12-Step bashing’ card by a blogger whose material is usually more even-handed then most 12-Step adherents but still egregious in this case. The entire blog post can be found here:
The blogger (Jason Schwartz) takes to task a comment made by Maia Szalavitz to an article on ‘Evidenced-Based Practice’ in the April 2009 issue of “Counselor” magazine (see the article & Maia’s commentary here: www.counselormagazine.com). In a thoroughly unwarranted swipe at Maia’s commentary, the blogger mislabels her commentary a “straw man argument” & “a sarcastic 12 step bashing moment”.
Obviously Jason Schwartz has not done his homework. Maia Szalavitz has been through the trenches — addiction, 12-Step, therapy, pharmacological solutions, & come out the other side sober, strong, intelligent, & dedicated to writing with great empathy & objectivity about issues of addiction & abuse. She is a survivor & she’s living proof that the Bill Wilson’s prophecy of “jails, institutions, & death” await those who leave the program is just plain vicious-minded bulls**t. For a good taste of Maia’s take on addiction & the place for evidence-based approaches please see: www.huffingtonpost.com; for a list of Maia’s bona-fides see: www.washingtonpost.com and here stats.org.
I replied with great vigor to Mr. Schwartz’s post but I’ve yet to see my reply hit his blog page. If it doesn’t, I’ll add it as an addendum to this post.
All that said, I want to once and for all drive a stake through the heart of the dual myths of organized ‘Anti-AA’ & ‘AA/12-Step bashing’. Frankly, I’m tired of the Step Community at large defining the terms of the discourse & weighting it so that they always come out as martyrs. Reasoned critique is not ‘bashing’, nor is personally expressing a well-founded opinion based in evidence & experience indisputable proof on an ‘Anti-AA’ movement.
It’s time to start speaking plainly about these issues in language that anyone can readily understand. Personally speaking, I believe it’s time to put an end to allowing legitimate criticism & calls for evidence being labelled as ‘bashing’ or ‘anti’ anything. The linguistic rules of this discourse are as follows: English as it is defined in dictionaries & in common usage. No more AA-ese, thank you.
It seems more and more these days that I need to define myself to others in terms of what I am not.
For example: I am not an atheist.
I am not opposed to any & all sundry belief in god, neither do I stand opposed to large collections of people gathering to rituallistically celebrate their belief in any & all theistic entities.
I am not opposed to the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, intervening, judging, personal god or theistic entity, neither am I opposed to the very imaginative notions of benign, infinite & timeless ‘universal energies’ — or, more directly, ‘higher powers’.
What I believe is that the preponderance of evidence, discussion & thought on the topic (scientific, historical, socio-cultural, philosophical, & theological) combined with my own personal experience is that there is no god and no afterlife. There is no way for me to empirically disprove either notion, but I’m very confident in my ability to present a very compelling, evidence-based case against the probability of both.
Oddly enough, I came to this position not because I was born into this world a disbeliever. Rather, I sought long & hard to substantiate the ‘faith’ of Roman Catholicism thrust upon me at a very young age & came up wanting. Then, I read & researched longer & harder so as to substantiate a ‘faith’ of any sort in any theistic ideal. I practiced & prayed, steeped myself in the volumes of both Eastern & Western religious discourse. I looked for the evidence — in science, history, culture, and my life. In the end, there was no evidence. And in my heart I knew there was nothing more hollow than ‘blind’ or ‘act as if’ faith.
I do not have theistic faith. I consider myself positively open-minded on all subjects & experiences. But the years described above have taught me to err on the side of skepticism when it comes to the notion of god and the notion of an afterlife.
And so, I don’t try to argue Roman Catholics, Evangelical Christians, or Mormons out of believing in the miracles of Jesus, the awfulness of a coming apocalypse & eternal damnation for all but the truest believers, or the peculiar prophecies & philosophies of Joseph Smith. I don’t try to argue Orthodox Jews out of the infallibility of Talmud or the idea that a war god (among the other gods they worshipped thousands of years ago) promised them the land of the Canaanites. I don’t try to argue fundamentalist Muslims out of the necessity of Sharia Law, the insane fear of a woman openly displaying her sexuality, or the necessity of jihad against the infidels so as to prepare the earth for a unified submission to Allah. I don’t try to argue Hindus or some Buddhists out of their notions of karma & belief in reincarnation.
That doesn’t prevent me from openly saying that all of the above beliefs are awful & absurd &, in my opinion, display an arrogance & closed-mindedness on behalf of those who hold them. There is no ‘humility’ in believing that you are among the chosen, that you (or your group) is privvy to a divine, absolute & eternal truth.
But there’s no arguing faith. Faith is built on mysterious, intangible, & insular ‘revealed’ truths. Faith argues from authoritative texts its believers say is the word of god, runs endless circular arguments to prove its preposterousness, & points to the evidence of ‘miracles’ … for which there is no real, scientifically credible evidence.
Now, since I don’t argue, I don’t feel terribly compelled to listen.
I am quite happy in my skepticism. Should a divine truth reveal itself to me, I would be hardpressed to deny it. God (capitalized only so as to adhere to the rules of grammar) could reveal him/her/its self to me right now & stay my hand from the keyboard.
I gave it a few moments, but, as usual, the revelation didn’t come.
So what does all this have to do with AA and 12-step? I’m glad you asked that question.
I am not ‘Anti-AA’.
I am not an ‘AA basher’.
I will not accept those labels & contend that they are personally insulting epithets employed by those sympathetic to AA and/or the 12-step model when they know or feel they are on the losing end of a debate. Just like Jason Schwartz did when he couldn’t argue Maia’s points on the issue cited above. Instead of addressing her points, he sidesteps them by pointing out that the article’s author wrote a book on controlled drinking & that another individual (explicitly mentioned no where in the original article) is a staunch opponent of ‘evidenced-based therapies’ & the 12X12 movement in general.
Nice try, but no cigar. If anyone’s constructing a “straw man argument” here it’s Schwartz.
Further, I am not opposed to people openly declaring themselves “alcoholics”, neither am I opposed to those same people gathering to rituallistically celebrate their belief (or disbelief or ambiguity) in any & all theistic entities as an essential part of their daily recovery from “alcoholism”.
I do not blithely insult AA or 12X12 institutions without careful consideration or from a lack of personal experience & research.
Philosopher Daniel Dennett says it best in his roundtable discussion with Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, & Sam Harris (available on YouTube: http://tiny.cc/po1lZ ). In describing how he tried to be accommodating to religious sensibilities while writing his bestseller “Breaking The Spell”, Dennett found that no matter how much he tried to soften the language the response was always either insult or rebuke.
“It’s a mug’s game,” he says of his attempts at being deferential to the sensibilities of the faithful — a no-win situation.
That, far more often than not, is the case when engaging ‘dialogue’ with the AA/12-step faithful. What might initially seem like civil dialogue or debate often devolves into muted anecdote & sidestepping issues of evidence (best case) or full-on logical fallacies piled one on top of the other, sprinkled with a few (sometimes fabricated) Big Book quotes or homilies, and a handful of ‘loving, tolerant, god-conscious’ personal insults.
(Actually, I love a good personal insult as much as I love a good brawl. But that’s me — a hot-headed New York City mick who grew up in the city’s foster care system throwing punches at just about everyone in front of him until well into his 30’s. Insult the f**k out of me all you like: I can dish it out, I can take it, I can stop taking it & throw down, & I can laugh like hell about it all with you afterwards.)
But that’s not what I think this blog is about. This isn’t about indulging the strident lunacy or passive-aggressive “can’t we all just love each other the way god wants us to?” balderdash that drove us out of AA in the first place.
Take yourself through this little thought experiment: When was the last time you saw a crowd of picketers jeering loudly & holding up “Down With AA” placards in front of an AA meeting place? (Hint: Almost certainly never.)
So much for that vaunted worldwide ‘Anti-AA’ conspiracy.
What do you think is the general ratio of pro-AA/12X12 web-sites and bulletin-boards to those same types of forums who allow for the expression of a contrary opinion? (Hint: I would suggest a hugely conservative estimate of at least 10-to-1.) Please show me the explicit quotes in the general texts for SMART, SOS, LifeRing, Women For Sobriety that are even remotely analogous to the “jails, institutions, & death” or “Unless each A.A. member follows to the best of his ability our suggested Twelve Steps to recovery, he almost certainly signs his own death warrant” threats of AA’s Big Book & “12 Steps And 12 Traditions”.
So much for ‘AA-bashing’.
(For my money, Bill Wilson wrote both books on ‘bashing’ & bludgeoning his fellow alcoholics.)
I am Pro-Whatever-It-Takes-To-Get-Someone-Past-Self-Destructive-Behaviors-And-Back-Into-A-Meaningful-And-Productive-Life — without any contingencies. I am Pro-Freedom-of-Speech — especially for opinions that deserve equal time & observance in the public arena.
I am Pro-Speaking-Truth-To-Demagogy.
ADDENDUM 1: As to Mr. Schwartz’s smarmy, “(By the way, 12 Step Facilitation is an evidence-based practice.)” — I would refer him to MA’s excellent post on just that topic (here:donewithaa.wordpress.com). While he’s at it, the next time he goes to a meeting why doesn’t suggest aloud that he’s there not for “the program” but for the “Twelve Step Facilitation”. Let’s see how many people line up to love him until he can love himself.
ADDENDUM 2: As this post seems to generating a bit of traffic today, let me take the opportunity to correct an error in the original. Stating, “I am not an atheist” (paragraph #8) wasn’t accurate nor entirely honest of me. Truth be told, I am probably am much closer to an atheist than an agnostic in my personal [dis]belief. What I’m not is an ‘anti-theist’, although I do have some sympathies for those who would actively oppose religion & organized, ritualized belief in the supernatural. Everything else in the post I stand by without reservation.