“Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, Tradition 1)

At first glance, the two independent clauses seem harmless enough  — an invocation of good old American team spirit.  There’s no “I” in ‘team’.  One for all & all for one!

But why is it necessary to clarify the first clause with the second?  How does an organization’s common welfare directly translate to personal recovery being dependent on AA Unity?  Wouldn’t that make personal recovery contingent on AA Unity?  Wouldn’t that make personal recovery subordinate to AA Unity?  Wouldn’t that make personal recovery secondary to AA Unity?

How is the common welfare of an organization whose stated primary purpose is “to stay sober & help other alcoholics achieve sobriety” served by making personal recovery secondary to AA Unity?

Now I’m sure there will be responses from 12X12 proponents who will say I’ve got this all wrong — that I’ve (perhaps willfully) misread the Tradition, that I am deviously trying to undermine the spiritual nature, the inviolate & absolute ‘rightness’ of the Tradition.  To them I respectfully suggest, “Take the cotton out of your head & put your brain back in.”

The language is clear: “personal recovery depends on AA unity” (italics mine).  It doesn’t say, “personal recovery & AA Unity are intertwined” nor does it say “AA Unity supports & enriches personal recovery”.  It says what it says & means what it says.

In terms of basic algorithmic logic it can be written out as:

if AA Unity = true

then personal recovery

if AA Unity = false


For those of you who think I’m playing dirty pool with the language, here are a few links on the word ‘depend’ for you to peruse:

So, who really comes first in this anecdotally described “selfish program”?

More to the point, when step proponents are arguing their ‘opinions’ (and, more often than not, offering little in the way of actual evidence [never mind lucid argument]) are they really stating their minds or merely holding the AA/12X12 party line?   More than likely, it’s the latter.  Whether conscious of their intentions or not, step proponents throw the most boorish heaps of poop at the wall in an effort to derail actual substantive discussion or just hammer home the tired “AA Works If You Work It” party line.

For all its florid verbiage, is all the AA apologia merely examples of the “hive mind” of AA Unity?  Again, I say that it is.  More importantly, AA’s Tradition 1 actually compels a proponent to argue from that position.

Riddled with phrases like “it’s been my experience”, “I feel”, “the way I see it”, & “I see things differently”, 12 step arguments are centered in the anecdotal — thin (if not entirely lacking) in substantiating wider, verifiable evidence.  While the arguments — or, more accurately, testimonials — rest in singular experience or opinion the overarching theme is unavoidable: AA/12X12 is beneficent.  Unlike the individuals who might go to meetings & label themselves members, the organization itself is above critique, utterly without socio-cultural agency, an opaque & neutral organization … that somehow has managed to accumulate 22 million dollars in revenues in 2000 (see: gsowatch.aamo.info).

Whether the take has increased or decreased since then is of little interest.  For all the personal opining from step adherents about what AA is or isn’t (or has or hasn’t been in their “experience”), AA is a very real organizational entity.  And that organizational entity’s well-being is by definition placed before personal recovery.

An individual alcoholic’s survival is not nearly as important as the survival of AA.

Not even the U.S. military requires that kind of blind allegiance to chain of command.  It is the duty of military personnel to disregard & report irrational actions or illegal commands in combat situations or otherwise.  Blind submission to chain of command gives you wonderful stuff like the massacre at Mai Lai or the torture scenarios in Abu Ghraib.  While those two examples may be on the extreme side, it does make one wonder why AA calls for such complete personal submission.

Remember, the 12 Steps may be “suggested” but the 12 Traditions come with no such qualifiers.  To wit: “Our admissions of personal powerlessness finally turn out to be firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built.

We know that little good can come to any alcoholic who joins A.A. unless he has first accepted his devastating weakness and all its consequences.” (Step One, Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions; see: www.natureofspirit.com )

Without AA, you are weak, powerless, & incapable of personal recovery.  That’s not me saying that; that’s straight from the literature of the program.

I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again: People helping one another do collectively what felt impossible to do alone is humanity at its finest.  But that ‘help’ needs to come without contingencies — without subservience to a god, a rock, & especially not an organization who’s made something of a cottage industry selling a completely unproven ‘solution’ for alcoholism to entirely too gullible public.

AA/12X12’s antiquated & ultimately (to my eyes, at least) inhumane worldview makes it a very poor choice for personal recovery from anything.  On my planet, people come first & organizations — at best — come second.  Especially those religiously-inclined organizations that go to great rhetorical lengths to hide that component of their overall (however non-denominational) mission.

There are many noble things to give your life over to.  If you believe AA is one of those things, well … you’re probably not even reading this blog.  Putting aside self-destructive habits & re-building your life so that it is meaningful & constructive takes work.  But it does not require adopting a mindset of “personal powerlessness”, “weakness”, & dependency.

Stay tuned for Part II of this series.

BRIEF ASIDE: Personal response to commentary on this post will be rare if it comes at all.  I’m not interested in engaging prolonged, nonsensical ‘discussions’ over matters of personal opinion — especially when they have no basis in facts or evidence.