I was poking around on the Baltimore Sun website the other day, and found a “Keep Coming Back” type story about Baltimore County Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley. This is the second time in 4 years that the man has caused an accident while driving drunk: Go read the story. You’ll notice that at the end of the article, the reporter quotes Moxley as saying, “I’ve got a problem.” “I am powerless over alcohol.”
After reading this article, I found this response from a reader:
As is usually the case, I totally disagree with Richard E. Vatz . In his piece in The Sun of September 4 (Readers respond) he says that Baltimore County Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley’s statement that he is “powerless over alcohol” is a self-serving claim that he has no moral or legal responsibility for his drunken driving. To the contrary, it is the First of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which says “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”
This admission is not only the first, but the most difficult, and the most essential step to start on a road to recovery.
It is not a cop-out, or an avoidance of responsibility, but rather an admission of a need for help in a fight against alcohol addiction.
Well, of course, if AA says so…
I couldn’t find the letter she was referencing, from Dr. Richard E. Vatz, so I started googling around to see if I could come up with it. Since our readers tend to be much more informed than I am, you probably recognize the name. But I didn’t; and ended up discovering that Dr. Vatz writes extensively on the subject of psychological rhetoric, and his CV lists several articles on the disease model. I emailed him to ask him where I could find the letter this commenter was referencing, and he told me that it had appeared in the print edition of the paper, and sent along a copy of it, with permission to reprint. So here’s what he wrote:
To the Editor:
The Sun is making the same error that most media make in cases such as this: the inference that saying one is an “alcoholic and needs help” is an “admission” rather than a self-serving declaration.
An admission is an honest, shameful confession; a self-serving declaration is a claim made to benefit someone, such as to avoid a greater punishment. Mr. Moxley’s public assertion that he “is powerless over alcohol” is a claim that he had no moral or legal responsibility for his drunken driving, which for the second time threatened life and limb of innocent citizens.
Baltimore District Judge H. Gary Bass swallowed the admission hook line and sinker and ordered Moxley to do community service, see a psychologist and attend an alcohol treatment program.
Moxley’s rhetorical “admission” saved him from jail and probably losing his seat.
Richard E. Vatz, Towson
The writer is a professor of political rhetoric at Towson University
Dr. Vatz also, generously, sent me a couple of his articles, which I have yet to read. I don’t want to comment on what I understand so far about his ideas, because I don’t want to misrepresent or simplify him. But I am extremely interested in this subject as it pertains to the 12-Step industry, and the kind of bullshit that is taken for granted as conventional wisdom in this arena.