Straw Man: A logical fallacy by where a person misrepresents an opponents position in an argument, so it can be torn down.


Among the more frustrating things in discussing AA with a twelve-stepper is that every individual has his or her own conception of what is AA. Most of the resident AAs who comment on this blog are hardcore AAs, and tend to have a more fundamentalist view of the organization. Others use AA as nothing more than a support group. And of course, there the thousands of other interpretations that fall somewhere between the two extremes.

What is one person’s AA, is not another person’s – and this applies not just to how a person uses AA, but to how each person interprets the meaning of the scriptures, as well. Like any religious group, there are literalists, as well as those with a broader interpretation of the group’s writings. The Baptist church down the street from me is much different than the Baptist church I knew as a kid in the American South, and an Anglican and a Catholic are similar in their rituals and belief systems, but they each consider themselves Christians. Sunni and Druze Muslims each have a unique interpretation of the Koran, and like is the case with other Muslim sects, they don’t really even care for each other, even though they are each Muslim. I can pick other examples, from Mormons to Jews, and there is a common characteristic that none of them have a singular point of view. This makes sense, because scripture is inherently vague and often contradictory, and with time, worshiping in a particular religion is like picking food in a cafeteria, where it becomes take what you want, and leave the rest.

Anyone who has ever had a debate among people regarding what is really written in Bible knows that it can be an exercise in futility. A Pat Robertson fundamentalist believes, rightly, the the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, and they may just point out the verse from Leviticus that states that very thing. An Episcopalian will point out, rightly, that Leviticus also claims it is a sin to eat a Lobster. Either way, nobody is going to win that argument, because it becomes one giant circle jerk of one person trying to up the other on who is more right.

The same holds true with AA. Arguing what happens in AA with a group of members is like a never ending whack-a-mole session, with different AAs popping up stating the standard lines: “that is not what the Big Book says” or “that doesn’t happen in my group”. Both of those statements are both right and wrong, because AA has varying denominations. One AA might see the absurdity in having pet cat as a higher power, where another one might see validity in it. One might work their steps in a specific way, and accurately (or inaccurately) cite the Big Book and what it “really says”. Others will rationalize their interpretation a different way, and will also cite the the same source.

This brings me back to the straw man. In discussing what happens in AA, and tearing it down, it is virtually impossible to build a straw man argument. At least, this is the case if we are writing in generalities and averages, as we do on this blog. AAs tend to read what we write and think that we are speaking specifically of them and their group. I know this, because we get letters from AAs telling exactly that. Often we’ll see it in the comment section – “that isn’t my AA”, or “that is not what the Big Book means”. Those people might be right, they might be wrong. It doesn’t matter.

The only way we can build a straw man here is if we write specifically to the individual, and argue against what he or she believes. We don’t do that here, because there are too many AAs. The fundy AA, the liberal AA, and all in between. For our purposes, if it happens in AA, it is AA. We write about what happens in AA. So, if you think that we are talking about your brand of crazy as we discuss what happens in the AA nuthouse, and you think we are misrepresenting your point of view, we are not. We are simply discussing some other AA’s brand of crazy. But don’t fret. We’ll get to you in due course.

-MA