Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Protest, evasion, merry distrust...

and a delight in mockery are symptoms of health:
everything unconditional belongs in pathology.

- Friedrich Nietzsche.

It is a strange thing...

that when God decided to turn author, he learned Greek and that he did not learn it better.

Friedrich Nietzsche.

Actual philosophers...

are commanders and lawgivers: they say “thus it shall be!”,
it is they who determine the Wherefore and Whither of mankind,
and they possess for this task the preliminary work of all the philosophical labourers,
of all those who have subdued the past —
they reach for the future with creative hand,
and everything that is or has been becomes for them
a means, an instrument, a hammer.
Their “knowing” is creating, their creating is a lawgiving,
their will to truth is — will to power.
Are their such philosophers today?
Have there been such philosophers?
Must there not be such philosophers?

- Friedrich Nietzsche.

There is a rollicking kindness...

that looks like malice.

Friedrich Nietzsche.

Friends of Ed

Here is an example of how gossip and ostracism can force someone to leave... or comply. I have always considered myself more a Friend of Ed than of Bill W. How different AA might have been if AA had done away with all this "God nonsense."

The following reading is from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp 143-145. It can be found on the Briggsmore Beach website at:
Not long after the man with the double stigma knocked for admission. A.A.'s other group received into its membership a salesman we shall call Ed. A power driver, this one, and brash as any salesman could possibly be. He had at least an idea a minute on how to improve A.A. These ideas he sold to fellow members with the same burning enthusiasm with which he distributed automobile polish. But he had one idea that wasn't so salable. Ed was an atheist. His pet obsession was that A.A. could get along better without its "God nonsense." He browbeat everybody, and everybody expected that he'd soon get drunk - for at the time, you see, A.A. was on the pious side. There must be a heavy penalty, it was thought, for blasphemy. Distressingly enough, Ed proceeded to stay sober.

At length the time came for him to speak in a meeting. We shivered, for we knew what was coming. He paid a fine tribute to the Fellowship; he told how his family had been reunited; he extolled the virtue of honesty; he recalled the joys of Twelfth Step work; and then he lowered the boom. Cried Ed, "I can't stand this God stuff! It's a lot of malarkey for weak folks. This group doesn't need it, and I won't have it! To hell with it!"

A great wave of outraged resentment engulfed the meeting, sweeping every member to a single resolve: "Out he goes!"

The elders led Ed aside. They said firmly, "You can't talk like this around here. You'll have to quit it or get out." With great sarcasm Ed came back at them. "Now do tell! Is that so?" He reached over to a bookshelf and took up a sheaf of papers. On top of them lay the forward to the book "Alcoholics Anonymous," then under preparation. He read aloud, "The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking." Relentlessly, Ed went on, "When you guys wrote that sentence, did you mean it, or didn't you?"

Dismayed, the elders looked at one another, for they knew he had them cold. So Ed stayed.

Ed not only stayed, he stayed sober - month after month. The longer he kept dry, the louder he talked - against God. The group was in anguish so deep that all fraternal charity had vanished. "When, oh when," groaned members to one another, "will that guy get drunk?"

Quite a while later, Ed got a sales job which took him out of town. At the end of a few days, the news came in. He'd sent a telegram for money, and everybody know what that meant! The he got on the phone. In those days, we'd go anywhere on a Twelfth Step job, no matter how unpromising. But this time nobody stirred. "Leave him alone! Let him try it by himself for once; maybe he'll learn a lesson!"

About two weeks later, Ed stole by night into an A.A. member's house and, unknown to the family, went to bed. Daylight found the master of the house and another friend drinking their morning coffee. A noise was heard on the stairs. To their consternation, Ed appeared. A quizzical smile on his lips, he said, "Have you fellows had your morning meditation?" They quickly sensed that he was quite in earnest. In fragments, his story came out.

In a neighboring state, Ed had holed up in a cheap hotel. After all his pleas for help had been rebuffed, these words rang in his fevered mind: "They have deserted me. I have been deserted by my own kind. This is the end ... nothing is left." As he tossed on his bed, his hand brushed the bureau near by, touching a book. Opening the book, he read. It was a Gideon Bible. Ed never confided any more of what he saw and felt in that hotel room. It was the year 1938. He hasn't had a drink since.

Nowadays, when oldtimers who know Ed foregather, they exclaim, "What if we had actually succeeded in throwing Ed out for blasphemy? What would have happened to him and all the others he later helped?"

So the hand of Providence early gave us a sign that any alcoholic is a member of our Society when he says so.

Be nice to newcomers...

next year they may be your sponsors.

Why is God so hard to find?

Because God isn't lost...

And neither are you.

It's always the last place you look.

Why would you keep looking after you found it?

There is a notable example of superstitious reasoning in animals experimented upon by Dr. B. F. Skinner. The rats were put into the now-famous "Skinner boxes." These boxes were designed with a lever for the rats to push and there was also a reinforcer, such as chute and door to allow food to be dispensed or an IV or electrode to dispense cocaine or a jolt to the brain's pleasure centers.

When the lever was attached to the reinforcer - i.e., one push equals one reinforcement - the rats would press the lever for food until they were full. However, the rats would continue pressing the lever for cocaine or a jolt to their pleasure centers until they passed out or had a heart attack.

After the rats had learned that the lever was important, the experiment was reintroduced with the lever being unattached to the reinforcer. The reinforcer was administered randomly without any connection to the lever. The rats continued pressing the lever for food even after they were full - perhaps because their next meal had now become uncertain.

But then, the rats did something interesting.

Some of the rats would do some random act (such as scratch behind their ear) before pressing the lever which was shortly followed by the reinforcer. This was viewed by the rat as "successful" even though the scratching had nothing to do with the reinforcement. The rat would continue to do the random act before pressing the lever even after several unsuccessful attempts. The rat seemed to believe that its ear-scratching was improving its chances of success. However, post hoc non ergo propter hoc... just because success followed an event does not mean that the event caused the success.

Why would you keep looking after you found it?
How do you know when you've found "it"?

You don't.

Many people around the tables seem to believe that because they have done certain things and have continued to stay sober that those things caused their sobriety. The Steps are the most notable examples. They point to the rooms full of "oldtimers" who have taken the Steps. The data is skewed. Only those people who have taken the Steps are encouraged to stay in the meetings. People who look askance at the founding texts or ask disturbing questions about the cult-wisdom are effectively ostracized or gossipped about until they are forced to comply... or leave.

I'm happy to be sober for one more day, and I'll say it...
Thanks to the grace of God (which I don't understand), the Twelve Steps (which keeps my focus on betterment), and the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Recovery taboos :
  • That there is a "Program" and that "program" is outlined in the Big Book.
  • That the Big Book is divinely inspired.
  • That the Steps work.
  • That divine intervention is necessary to remain sober.
  • That reliance upon the divine is necessary to remain sober.
  • That a reasoned understanding of recovery is suspect and dangerous to "real" sobriety.
  • That sobriety is a "gift" rather than a skill.
  • That alcoholism is a disease of the body, rather than the physical and mental damage caused by poor adaptations to stress.
  • That alcoholism is ONE disease rather than several.
  • That alcoholism is substantially different from other mood-altering substances or behaviors.
  • That time since a person's last drink is the most significant measurement of recovery.
  • That a moral inventory, confession, and amends are essential to continuous sobriety.
  • That you're "as sick as your secrets," in other words, that secrets are counter-productive to solid sobriety.
I'm not saying that any of these propositions are untrue. What makes them taboo (superstition) is the way these propositions are held in the mind of the believer. They are accepted and recited without any consideration of alternative explanations. The believer becomes threatened and angry when counter-examples or alternative explanations are suggested.

Birthmarked newborns:
  • People who are unwilling to make a moral inventory.
  • People who are unwilling to make a confession.
  • People who are unwilling to make amends.
  • People who have taken these Steps and who have received little or no relief.
  • People who are unwilling to speak in terms of divine help or reliance.
  • People who think about their addiction and recovery.
  • People who are addicted to street drugs.
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found [it], he layeth [it] on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together [his] friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
Luke 15:4-7.

The law, in its majestic equality...

forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread.

Anatole France, The Red Lily, ch. 7, 1894

Monday, September 18, 2006

Ethical problem...

You are visiting an extraordinarily happy and healthy island population that has a very structured system of taboos. The culture has plenty to eat and the people love and adore their children and elders. There are relatively few disputes that cross over into violence, and even when that happens, the violence is limited to wrestling and shouting.

Some of the taboos appear to have some scientific justification, such as those relating to washing and the eating and preparing of certain foods. However, certain of the taboos appear useless, if not downright mean. For example, the culture will drown any children born with birthmarks.

The taboos appear to be interwoven into a total worldview. Each taboo is felt by the group to be dependent on the validity of all the other taboos. Pulling on and removing any one thread of this system may end up unraveling the whole comforting cloth. The mystique of the entire body of laws may not be able to survive if subjected to modern critical thinking.

What should you do about the newborns with birthmarks? Do you try to talk the islanders out of this taboo? Or do the benefits of the entire system of superstition outweigh the detriments?


For those of you that are following along, this is exactly my problem with AA.

The relatively useless theory of answered prayer.

I'm often amused at humans who claim to know the doings of God. They claim that situations are the result of the answer to prayer as if they had some spectator seat to behold the divine in action. The problem is that any claim of God doing anything is merely a theory... and not a very useful theory at that.

Theories are stories or descriptions of unobservable happenings that help us to understand the observable. The problem with religious, divine, or parapsychic explanations is that they are completely irreproducible, unverifiable, and therefore they are of little use except as a lullaby or poem to make the listener feel better.

At AA meetings, I am told that God has helped certain members stay sober. That is their theory. I do not believe it. I listen at AA meetings with an important filter. I distinguish (1) narrative description and observation from (2) the theoretical explanations purporting to explain the observations.

I understand that people have prayed and have received serenity afterwards. I understand that people have prayed and enjoyed happy accidents afterwards. The problem with the Western monotheistic mind is that it searches for happy accidents only. Unhappy accidents are absolutely ignored.

What about the people that have prayed for peace and ended up blowing their brains out? What about the bad things that happen to good people? What about all the people that come to AA but don't get sober?

I am not qualified to explain the molecular mechanisms of my own soul. I can only guess at the workings of my own mind. What arrogance to assume an understanding of the reasoning and motivation of Deity.

Stick with your story. Do not pretend to understand why.

Oh, and by the way...

I have no problem with lullabies and poems that make the listener feel better.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Every deeply held belief...

should be used for entertainment purposes only.

All your pretty pictures
of How-Things-Are
are merely...

pretty pictures.