I wrote this post a few days ago, and have been sitting on it because I sort of blasted it out in a writers’ block tantrum and just never actually finished (there’s a whole other argument I wanted to make). I also didn’t want to proof read it — so sorry if it’s a mess. But, it looks like this is the subject of the day, and since I’m not going to finish this any time soon, it will have to do: This is the official Can AA Be Changed from Within? thread.
The more I think about it, the more I disagree with the idea that change can happen from within AA, by members changing the attitudes of other members.
One enormous hurdle is the fact that the Traditions are all built upon the founding principle of unaccountability in the pursuit of self-perpetuation. Of course, no one in AA would call the Traditions “principles of unaccountability,” because they are couched in terms that make them sound very noble. But their ultimate effect is in preventing the entanglements and complications that come with a sense of ethical responsibility. It’s quite a luxury not to have to answer for yourself, and it’s going to take a lot of slick talking to get people to accept 1. that the Traditions are not as noble as they appear, and 2. the personal responsibility that would land on their shoulders.
My feeling is that the old-timers whose lives revolve around AA, and who have developed their own personal fifedoms, just wouldn’t. And the rest are there because they want to get well – because they need to put themselves in hands they can trust – or they’ve been ordered to attend, and simply don’t have the knowledge, the standing, or the desire to get involved in an internal upheaval. I can’t even imagine the number of active AA members it would take to reform AA from within. Who are these people? They will have to be articulate, compelling, with enough seniority to be heard, and enough information to bring the challenge, but with very little investment in the status quo (which they have spent so much time maintaining). And there would have to be one of these people in every meeting.
Remember back to massiveattack’s radio interview and the response from the AA members who insisted that individual groups are responsible for handling the abuses within their own groups. That right there was a real-time example of old-timers using the Traditions to absolve themselves of any sense of responsibility. They took instant offense to the idea that there should be oversight, because they keep their side of the street clean – groups are independent, and members take care of their own. Enough said, as far as they were concerned. What articulate, informed, active, charismatic old-timer is going to tell them anything?
So, that’s my practical objection. In a nutshell, you can’t sweet-talk people who have a luxurious arrangement, reinforced by a belief system that they hold fiercely and dearly, to abandon it and take on a burden of responsibility. What’s the payoff for them? These are people who believe that the status quo saved their lives.
And, more universally speaking, movements are not always successful by gently changing hearts and minds. I’m going to position myself politically here, but my intent isn’t to spark a political debate*, as much as it is to explore this idea from my own perspective. So, the Civil Rights Movement, ultimately, had to be forced. The Civil Rights Act was imperative. And the Peace Movement didn’t exactly pan out, did it? Environmental legislation is still necessary, because, well, hippies. Cripes, we are even fighting about feeding and educating our kids properly in public schools. You’d think we’d be well beyond that by now. And we continue to vilify Labor, people who put their lives at stake for humane working conditions: 40 hour work week, child labor laws, safety. Women are still paid less for equal work, and just last week, we actually entertained the idea of redefining rape. The ACLU is still considered by many to be some kind of a meddling, fascistic outfit bent on destroying America. And people in this country still think the majority should have the right to vote on the constitutionally guaranteed civil rights of the minority.
So, Mr. AA’s idea that “Research alone won’t work. Facts won’t work. It is the manner in which the truth is delivered that will awaken the sleeping” has rarely proven to be true about our most important social movements. When real change comes, it seems to be motivated by a groundswell of righteous anger and courage that, finally, cannot be ignored, followed by a hearing of the facts, and an inevitable top-down shift in how things are done. Change does not seem to come about by, say, gently speaking to the better nature of every individual segregated business owner and convincing them that they should sacrifice their family’s livelihood for a cause that they have no personal investment in, and, in fact, are personally invested in resisting.
Also, I don’t think it’s over-the-top for me to compare this to the Civil Rights Movement. The population of addicts (I include alcoholics) in this country is enormous, and they are treated as fodder for a system that is financially invested in fostering addicts’ dependence upon it (lifelong, progressive disease) and on the relapse cycle it generates (revolving door – ka-ching!). Addicts’ deaths are displayed as warning to other addicts who want to buck the system. We also persists in classifying people as addicts when their problems are obviously outside the scope of addiction treatment, and these people are subject to the Program of Perpetual Relapse. This is a racket, and these “disenfranchised” human beings are a commodity. Complaints from addicts are dismissed because the source of the complaint is suspect: Everyone knows that addicts will lie. Everyone knows that once and addict always an addict. Everyone knows that they’re all in denial. It’s just their nature. Addicts are untrustworthy, and they must regard their own motives as suspect. Oh, you’re denying that you’re addicted? Oh ho! We know what that means. It means you’re in denial! You’re an addict and a liar! Yes, we know what that means. Hey, let’s go to a funeral.
* But I will take you on in the community pages, if you want to go there. 🙂