“The Anti-intellectualism of AA…”
January 15, 2019
I came across this the other day and was baffled by the inconsistencies in the content. Anecdotal evidence is logical fallacy..using a personal experience or an isolated example instead of a sound argument or compelling evidence. The argument presented actually alternates between “fact” and personal experience when it’s most convenient. Can’t have it both ways.
“One of the most worrying aspects of the 12 Step ideology, to anyone of a thoughtful and enquiring mind, is its insistence that one must abandon the use of reason and the asking of legitimate questions, accepting AA’s assertions instead through some sort of leap of faith.
Are you implying that none of the 2,087,840 members of Alcoholics Anonymous are of thoughtful and enquiring minds? That figure is a fairly large sample size. I’d be intrigued to see the empirical data to support your claim. Also, what is your definition of a “thoughtful and enquiring mind?” What you’ve described seems to insinuate that you’re the expert in this field, if so please enlighten us.
Where in the AA text does it say to “abandon reason” or “not to ask questions.” If one has tried every means imaginable to stop their excessive and compulsive drinking and drug use…then yes, one would have to take a “leap of faith.” That seems a lot less insane than continuing on with the same reason and logic that has failed time and time again. One would have to question their own sanity if they found themselves in an AA meeting with a better idea in their back pocket.
This approach is made clear at a person’s first attendance at an AA meeting.
Which person and what AA meeting?
Typically, the newcomer is told to just listen to what is said by existing members, rather than take an active part or ask questions.
“Typically,” I would agree with this statement…until you infer that an unquantifiable number of “existing members” encouraged the newcomer not to “take an active part or ask questions.” Taking an active part is asking questions. How would one have questions to ask if it were not suggested they listen first? There are no questions to ask if there is no context for them to be asked in. Perhaps this stemmed from your own personal experience? If so, that is truly unfortunate, but it is also…anecdotal.
They are also told to “look for the similarities, not the differences”.
Imagine the alcoholic that has been convincing themselves they are not an alcoholic for years, despite mounting evidence. It’s possible that person will be looking for rationale that suggests this has all been a big misunderstanding. This could be seen as an encouragement for the newcomer to be honest with themselves and to listen objectively. What ulterior motive could someone have for suggesting this?
Thus they are advised from the outset to overlook things which are said which conflict with their own understanding and experience, which is already implicitly denigrated.
They are advised to be open-minded to thoughts and ideas outside of their own experience and understanding…which has been “denigrated” enough already as evidenced by their presence at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
In practice, this leaves the newcomer with little to identify with beyond the bare fact that they have the experience of having drunk problematically in common with others present.
Fairly primitive understanding of what is meant my “the similarities.” The bedevilments articulate the emotions of an alcoholic which is more relatable.
“We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people — was not a basic solution of these bedevilments more important than whether we should see newsreels of lunar flight?”
This instruction to concentrate on the similarities between what they hear at meetings and their own experience would really be quite unnecessary if a large part of the content of the meeting did not consist of the presentation of ideas which might affront their reason and common sense.
Equating the program of Alcoholics Anonymous with the meetings and not the book. This is an incomplete thought.
The advice “look for the similarities” is really a veiled admonition that newcomers should discard their critical faculties, and not ask awkward but pertinent questions regarding the true agenda of the meeting.
Please elaborate on the “true agenda” or congruency of thought in a roomful of people thinking about themselves 90% of the time.
Telling newcomers that they should only listen rather than speak helps ensure that no difficult questions are raised, for instance, regarding the obvious religiosity of the meeting’s format.
Please cite the passage in the Alcoholics Anonymous text that silencing of the newcomer is directed…or even suggested. If that cannot be found, please give a sufficient enough sample size of this behavior in the 120,300 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings worldwide to support this claim. Also, if we’re going to use words like “religiosity,” please provide context to its relevance.
As newcomers continue to attend meetings (assuming they do) they become increasingly immersed in a closed world where critical thought is strongly discouraged by peer pressure reinforced with the use of thought-stopping clichés, and a sneering disdain for the intellect exemplified by the slogan “your best thinking got you here”, amongst many others.
What is the source of the accusation that AA discourages critical thought? “Thought stopping” is a stretch. Independent thinking and close-mindedness are not not the same words and have different definitions. They seem to have been used rather casually and irresponsibly. “You’re best thinking got you here” is also taken out of context. A doctor of sound mind would never consider operating on themselves, given other options. Similarly, using the same mind that caused the problem to fix it after failing multiple times seems foolish and unproductive. If the goal of arriving in Alcoholics Anonymous is a “desire to stop drinking,” and the “newcomer” has been unsuccessful after repeated attempts, then they would need a new plan they haven’t thought of. They would need a change of perspective. In order to have a change in perspective, one would need to inquire about an alternative perspective…which can only be done by asking someone else for theirs, also known as taking a “leap of faith” as you so eloquently put it.
The “drunkalogues”, in which members recount stories of the damage alcohol did to them, may remain the only “similarity” they can relate to, but they mostly end with an impassioned endorsement of AA’s program as the only thing which could save the speaker, and by implication other alcoholics, from certain destruction.
Since you have yet to describe AA’s program in any meaningful sense, this is really an irrelevant statement considering its source. But, if one is providing an account of their personal experience, then how can it be inaccurate? While I would agree that, at times, the “drunkalogues” are glorified and relatable, the thoughts and emotions are the component you haven’t touched on…they’re in the text as well. Cited above, page 52.
Meanwhile, the aspects of AA ideology which the newcomer found unreasonable or unacceptable, and was disingenuously advised to overlook, are being gradually absorbed, almost by osmosis, through repeated exposure to them within an enclosed group of mutually-affirming true believers. In this environment, reality can be effectively re-defined for the duration of the meeting and beyond.
Which newcomer? Are you referring to yourself or the group as a whole? How many people are you speaking for? This seems like a clinical or psychological analysis. This would be cited from a WordPress site ending in “.com.”
Despite himself, the newcomer is now becoming saturated with messages he may have found unreasonable and unacceptable on a frequent and regular basis, if he follows the injunction to go to thirty meetings in thirty days.
The idea that the newcomer is in some way a victim of an ideology that is meant to be “suggestive only,” seems impractical. If someone were to insinuate that they were a victim, then the fault would lie with themselves for not asking questions or reading the text of Alcoholics Anonymous.
When he reads AA literature (as he will have been strongly urged to do) he again encounters an aggressive anti-intellectualism, coupled with a belligerent insistence that the only insurance against an alcoholic death is the acceptance of a perverse and wayward form of religious practice.
Please cite where “aggressive anti-intellectualism” or “religious practice” is located in the Alcoholics Anonymous text…I’ve never encountered it. This is sounding more like a personal account of resentment than a reliable source of information (anecdotal).
The sneering and dismissive tone adopted towards anyone with reservations about adopting the doctrine elaborated in the “Big Book” is shown by this quote from “Doctor Bob” Smith:
“If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps you from accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for you”.
You’ve literally cited one example from the entire book. Ironically, the passage you are choosing to cite proceeds the program of Alcoholics Anonymous outlined in the first 164 pages. Better referred to as the “Personal Stories.” What you’ve done here is taken a personal account of someone’s personal experience and deceptively placed it in a context that would insinuate it was in some way associated with the program of Alcoholics Anonymous outlined in the first 164 pages. Dr. Bob’s assertion is his own opinion and is appropriately displayed in the section of the book that depicts stories and personal accounts of their own experience.
Ironically, Dr. Bob’s personal account is identical to what you’ve written here. A personal experience is what you’ve represented as a blanket fact to “anyone of thoughtful and enquiring mind.” As if “sneering and dismissive” of anyone without “thoughtful and enquiring mind,” according to you.
One has to ask why AA has such a strong anti-intellectual bias.
Logic is great stuff. We liked it. We still like it. It is not by chance we were given the power to reason, to examine the evidence of our senses, and to draw conclusions. That is one of man’s magnificent attributes.
I think it can only be because it sees critical and analytical thought as threatening to its precepts.
Who is “it?” Are your referring to the independent groups in the select meetings you’ve attended or are you referring to Alcoholics Anonymous as a whole, worldwide? If we are going to use broad strokes, let’s be sure that everyone understands the picture we’re trying to paint.
In other words, AA’s message simply does not stand up to rational examination, hence the intellect is treated with scorn and contempt to try to preempt such examination.
First, who is deciding whether or not it is rational? Are you referring to your logic and rationale? Also, what is AA’s message? “There is hope?”
AA’s message is perfectly rational if the intellectual has not been able to find a rational or logical solution…because a program that is “spiritual as well as moral” is definitely not logical. If you have found another solution, that’s outstanding. This was written for those who haven’t.
Fear of the intellect, as well as hatred and contempt for it, to the extent that the very word “intellectual” is a term of abuse, are typical of totalitarian states from Nazi Germany to Maoist China.
Hatred and contempt are strong words to describe a program that states “love and tolerance is our code.” The “precepts” of any organization are rarely the source of disdain, as they are simply moral and/or spiritual ideals to strive toward. What you’ve described is a disdain for a limited number of group members with human fallacies that you observed or interacted with. The problem with almost any organization is usually never the content of it, just the limited context it is experienced in.
They are also well-documented features of totalist cults.
Please cite these “well-documented” and reliable sources stating AA is a cult.
How are we defining cult? If we are to define it in the classic sense:
- a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.
It certainly wouldn’t be classified as a “religious veneration” since the definition of “God and Higher Power,” are used loosely to describe a coming to consciousness in which the self-absorbed alcoholic discovers they are not the center of the universe. If one were to imply that God fits the description of a “particular figure,” then one would also have to state that almost every religious or spiritual organization is, in fact, a cult. If we were going to compare a cult to Alcoholics Anonymous, then we would have to compare all of their attributes.
- Central Leadership
- Donations are Required
- Hierarchy System
- No defined leadership (Personal Anonymity)
- $1 donations optional to keep meeting active. (Self-supporting declining outside contributions). Otherwise, help is free.
- No defined hierarchy except for abstinence perhaps… which is simply an individual perspective
- No active recruitment. (Attraction rather than promotion)
2. a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.
This would really be the only definition that might fit that description…well, half of it at best. Alcoholics Anonymous could be viewed as strange if it is misunderstood, such as in this case, I believe. It certainly could not be portrayed as sinister unless the organization as a whole is responsible. Since there is personal anonymity, this is simply not the case.
3. a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.
If we dismiss the subjectivity of “misplaced or excessive,” as it is an opinion, then we are left with “a particular person or thing.” Well, the text refers to a form of God, which could be defined as a thing; but certainly not a “particular…thing.”
In fact, quite the opposite, AA is very general about “God.” (Some form of God)
That leaves us with a “particular person.” Members of Alcoholics Anonymous can become idolized, but that is the choice of a person and a decision made on the individual level as it is not encouraged. If someone was to infer that a “sponsor,” which is also nowhere to be found in the AA text, fits the “particular person” category, then it is also subjective and cannot be applied as a universal fact. Only an individual experience.
What you really have a problem with is the select few meetings you attended, not the program itself. It’s like minimizing Christianity for the actions of a few Christians…not logical. It also seems highly unlikely that you’ve read the Alcoholics Anonymous text either. Even “thoughtful and enquiring minds” make mistakes…just like the members you observed in Alcoholics Anonymous. However, it might be wiser for the intellect of the entire world if your statements were grounded in fact instead of experience and described as so.
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