Monday, September 24, 2007

Non-membership has its privileges

I am no longer a member of AA.
AA's Third Tradition states that I am no longer a member.
And what a freaking relief!!!

AA members are fond of repeating AA's Third Tradition – the only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking – but in actual practice, there is a high road and low road in AA membership. If you are a dues-paying, meeting-attending, two-fisted Big-Booker, you're expected to say nothing negative about the history of the movement, its founders, or its whack literature and "spirituality." You are also expected to mindlessly repeat your admiration for the Twelve Steps, how they've helped you, and how they can help anyone. If someone dies or reclaims their right to drink, you are expected to blame them for following an inadequate "program." And finally, you are supposed to rigorously observe the other eleven traditions which have absolutely nothing to do with not drinking.

Screw it!

Bill Wilson (the womanizing, acid-dropping, narcissistic founder of AA) wrote to Father Dowling that he admired much in the Catholic faith and wished the Catholics had a fellow-traveler program that he could adopt. For Bill, there was too much silliness and cruelty in the history of the church's theological quarrels. I feel the same way about AA.

  • I've seen Steps 4, 5, and 9 kill people.
  • I've seen sponsors break the confidence of their sponsees out of an innocent desire to force their sponsees out of their secrets – sometimes with fatal results.
  • I've seen sponsors talk their sponsees out of taking their psych medications out of an innocent belief that the Steps can cure just about any psychological problem.
  • I've seen petty squabbles about whether an alcohol addict can speak about his use of other chemicals.
  • I've seen desperate people turned away because they crave a different flavor of mood-altering toxin or practice another type of self-destruction.
  • I've seen jealous infighting between General Service folks (who look to New York for guidance) and local intergroups (who believe New York answers to the local groups).
  • I've seen people racked with guilt about using mouthwash or taking a single drink.
  • I've seen people given undeserved respect for their unverifiable claim about how long it's been since their last drink.
  • I've seen other people who deserve respect hushed or minimized because they exercised their legal right to drink.
AA's freaking crazy! And if you consider yourself a member, it will drive you crazy.

Verily I say unto you, Screw it!

The Third Tradition itself, due to Bill Wilson's poorly chosen language, states I am no longer an AA member – and neither are most oldtimers. Why? Members are supposed to have the desire to stop drinking. The desire to stop drinking entails two opposite desires - the desire to drink and the desire to not drink. However, I no longer drink and no longer desire to drink, therefore I do not have the desire to stop drinking. Ergo, I am not a member of AA. Q.E.D.

Having said this, peace descends upon my limbs and a rippling fuck-it soothes my troubled mind. I don't have to do anything that those AAs hold in such high esteem. I don't have to count my clean time. I don't have to work the Steps. I don't have to honor the Traditions. I don't have to be of service. I don't have to reach out to dangerous or manipulative newcomers. I can scold oldtimers for being stupid. I can hearten people who decide to drink again – giving a true "hats-off" to them if they can drink reasonably. I am free from the little-minded inanity that is my local AA! I am free from the need to correct AA's message to conform with reason.

The Lilliputians will claim that I am harming the newcomers. But my conscience is clean because I know that what they do kills people... some of these people have even been friends and lovers... some have even been me.

But I can still go to meetings if the desire strikes,
and I will go to meetings when the desire strikes...
and I will joyfully disagree to my full, foolish, and boisterous heart's content.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Higher Power! Who you callin' a Higher Power?

I know it's hard to believe, but for all my religion-bashing, I think that praying to one's Higher Power – correctly conceived – is a useful part of the retraining of the addict's conscience. The problem is that the superstitious continue to believe that their Higher Power is external to themselves and somehow communicates clear bright-line ethical precepts that are true for all persons at all times. All of the evidence and argument I have considered leads me to disregard the theory of God to understand myself and the world. So obviously I am led to physiological and evolutionary considerations when I try to understand the conscience.
Napoleon: Monsieur Laplace, what about God?
Laplace: I no longer need that hypothesis.

My first encounter with the idea that "god" might be a substructure of the brain was Julian Jayne's The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. This book is either whack or way ahead of the data. Professor Jayne cited electrical stimulation experiments involving the right side of the human brain corresponding to the left-brain's Wernicke area. The Wernicke area is one of the major brain substructures governing language. Jayne noted that brain imaging shows that this right region is relatively unused by modern human beings – a notable exception being schizophrenics. Jayne wrote that when this area is stimulated, the test subjects reported hearing authoritative voices and thunderous noises. Jayne noted that this was not unlike the reports of schizophrenic symptoms. In later parts of the book, Jayne theorizes about the usefulness of recalling the commands of alpha individuals when they were not present, and he correlates this to the observation that the first temples seem to have grown around tombs of tribal leaders.
What are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchres of God? – Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Another book that has proven useful in thinking about this topic is Why God Won't Go Away by Dr Andrew Newberg, MD, et al. Using brain imaging, the authors theorize about mystical experience and its association with overloading the occipital regions of the brain. The occipital regions create the awareness of the boundaries of our bodies and our bodies' locations in space-time. When these areas are shut down, the person no longer thinks of themselves as a separate ego and "experiences" timelessness and spacelessness.

So what?

Well, my theory about why the Twelve Step programs work for some people – and the parts that I believe helped me – is that the meetings, step-work, and slogans work as a gradual reinforcing hypnotism. Over time, the addict is hypnotized into retraining and strengthening their conscience – especially the suggestion to stay away from drugs. However, most people with self-esteem issues are going to disregard their personal ethical positions unless these are glorified and overstated as "God's will". The problem is that "God's will" is still their own glorified personal conscience. This conscience – this substructure of the brain – has been groomed by the elder primates in their troop. If their parents and teachers are screwed up, then their conscience will be screwed up as well.

Many people come into AA with a mean, arbitrary, and screwed-up Higher Power – a leftover from our dark and brutish history. They are told to get a new Higher Power. A useful Step Two exercise for me was listing the attributes I wanted my Higher Power to have. Although I don't think that the Universe took on these qualities just because I made a list, I did have, at the end of the exercise, a good idea about who I wanted to be when I grew up.

I think it is stupid and dangerous to replace chemical dependence with an overblown fantasy of our personal conscience writ HUGE across the starry sky. The religious (including Communists and Manifest Destiny Capitalists) are notoriously cruel because they know or suspect that their positions cannot be defended by reason. Their only tool for persuasion is the horrible use of force and the threat of such force. I've seen this religious bullying too many times in AA meetings, and people that might have been helped are turned out to try sobriety alone.

  1. You are a dumb monkey who has been taught by even dumber monkeys.
  2. Your biology and training tells you that certain things are good for dumb monkeys and other things are bad for dumb monkeys.
  3. Your biology and training are right part of the time and wrong part of the time – practice learning which is which and when is when.
  4. Do not think in terms or right or wrong but in terms of smart and stupid.
  5. Understand that there are only facts and the value we place on those facts.
  6. Understand that your values are YOUR values...
  7. It's up to you to make the world the way you like it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Universe has no lessons to teach us...

but that doesn't mean that we don't have any lessons to learn.

Democracy doesn't mean I'm as important as you...

it means that you're as important as me.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Recommended Reading

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
god is not great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Cristopher Hitchens
Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved by Frans de Waal

The Kooky Evasion of "My Truth"

I used to be fond of protecting myself from oldtimers in AA by stating that the Big Book, 12 Steps, and sponsorship did not help me get sober. If pressed, I would claim that this was "my truth" as if truth could be personalized and pluralized. If there is truth, i.e., if there is a reality beyond my understanding and perception, then it is singular and unknowable by definition.

The early philosophers and shamans posited a world-beyond-the-senses to make sense of inconsistencies in our perceptions – the most accessible examples are tricks of sight such as the refraction of objects by water. A stick is placed in the water and seems to bend. I place my hand in the water to test this, and my forearm seems to bend. Obviously, water bends objects which are placed in it. However, my visceral three-dimensional body-awareness does not tell me that my arm has bent or changed its location, and this creates an inconsistency in my understanding of what is happening. This confusion was finally accounted for by Newton's theory of optics and refraction.

So is Newton's theory "true"? Do I "believe" Newton's theory?

Let me content myself to say that the theory gives us more exact ways of predicting what will happen, and these predictions have been borne out by repeated tests. These results have given us the confidence to build new technologies which assume the correctness of these theories. And these new techologies have proven useful over time. I don't believe Newton's optics; I use Newton's optics.

I now see my claim to a personalized truth as just one last vain attempt to hold on to the fable of "truth" – to feel like I was part of the group – one of the believers. The point is: use whatever you can to get yourself sober and to get back in the game. Do not make the mistake of generalizing your personal understanding of what got you clean and sober into blanket statements of what is good for all addicts at all times. If you do make the mistake of saying that the methods you think got you sober will actually help someone else get sober, you will be practicing medicine – negligently and probably without a license.

I also now see my claim to a personalized truth as a lazy claim to authority – without all the tedious testing and argument. If it is only my truth, then I can repeat it forever, disregarding the people I hurt who follow my lead, and there's nothing you can do about it because I was only asserting my truth.

But am I only asserting my truth if I want other people to take me seriously. If I want you to listen to me, am I not trying to get you to agree to our truth.

As it stands, truth is better left to the imaginary gods who have access to it. Let us concentrate on repeatable methods and results. When newcomers ask what to do with all the time they have after getting clean, don't give them another kooky book on spirituality and narcissistic introspection – tell them to study art, literature, music, medicine, history, physics, and law.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What can be asserted without evidence...

can be dismissed without evidence.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

What is "Spirituality" anyway?

I would like some real examples and definitions. My favorite example is a dog enjoying the sun on its nose. If you mean being someone like Mother Teresa, forget it – that woman's faith has kept uncounted people in superstition and disease by her condemnation of condoms and abortion. Really, you should be able to describe something as important as spirituality – shouldn't you? Is it contentment? Happiness? Self-satisfaction?

Returning to my example of the dog in the sun, spirituality is when one's biology, including one's brain, is running smoothly – when one does not live in unsatisfied and unsatisfiable fantasies – when one is not sputtering around on pipedreams, toxic chemicals, and untreated diseases. There is no such thing as spirituality, and it's easier to prove that God is a sadistic demon than a benevolent guardian.

Right now a six-year-old child is being brutalized in a dark apartment and crying for God to help her... Sadly, God won't help. Karma fares no better.

Nietzche said that compassion is too rare to waste on imaginary beings. The "spirituality" that describes itself as acceptance of the child's brutalization is a shameful waste of the short time we have here on earth. My advice to the newcomer is to use the sleepy spirtuality during one's convalescence, but at some point, we are cured and need to return to the struggle to make this world better – without hiding behind our "recovery".