Welcome, Dispatches!

A few days ago, I wrote to Ed Brayton, author of the awesome blog “Dispatches from the Culture Wars” on Science Blogs to see if he’d be willing give my Feminist piece a look, and he surprised the bejeebus out of me by responding. And today, he put up a post and opened the topic up for discussion on his blog! Go visit, please.

So, Ed agrees that this subject should be addressed in skeptic circles, but takes issue with my belief that “I would have died without AA” is a thought-stopping cliche. When I wrote that, I knew how provocative that line would be, especially because I know that there are people who would be dead had they not done something to overcome their addiction. Believing that it was literally AA that saved one’s life (as opposed to the assertion of one’s free will over ingrained habits and behaviors, or the decision to do something, whatever it is) prevents people from being able to think critically about it. They literally believe that outside of AA await jails, institutions, and death — and whether that’s true or not, believing it’s true is all that matters. Poking holes in a belief system that is keeping someone alive is not very nice.

A variation on this is the arguments that AA members, or people in the field, use to stop any criticism: “An alcoholic might read what you wrote, decide not to go to AA and die!”

So, I wanted to address that issue right up front, because it seems to be the thing that gets in the way of a genuine exploration of this issue. The bottom line is that if we are concerned about the one guy who might die because we criticize AA, we also have to be concerned about the many, many more people who have died of their addictions because we are  not having this conversation.

Thank you, Ed.

  • Atheists don’t criticize AA because there’s no money in it.

    Just kidding. The truth is there are enough windmills out there for us to tilt at.

  • Hi Dugglebogey, Well, I don’t expect everyone to be doing what we’re doing, but a place on the blogrolls would be nice — just a chair at the grown-ups table? Perhaps a mention when our common causes coincide?

  • SoberPJ

    What a lot of people don’t realize is how much this quackery costs the public. Imagine you have a drug or alcohol problem and there are two doors. One is labeled “Science” and behind it is the Sinclair Method, CBT, RR, Life Spring, SOS, other medications and true therapeutic approaches backed with statistics and evidence. The other is marked “12 Steps” and behind it is faith healing deceit and manipulation developed by a stock scammer, a Proctologist and a religious nut job and they have no aggregated evidence of success and admit a general 3-5% “success” rate. Which door would you choose? Seriously. Get real.

    The real shame is the public pays billions for the door marked “12 Steps” and the problem continues to get worse. Some say it is getting worse precisely because of the widely used quack 12 Step approach that is supposed to be the solution. Every citizen that pays high health care premiums and taxes should be incensed at the state of this health care debacle. It is bigger than a little “spiritual vs religious” or theist vs atheist debate. It is a societal and health care crisis where the failed “treatment” solution is 75 frickin years old and used in 90% + of the “modern” facilities that practice this faith healing voodoo. We should all be mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore.

  • I couldn’t help myself, I took the opposite tact to AA saving lives. I DID know too many suicides in AA, and I’m convinced most were CAUSED by their AA affiliation.

    Dugglebogey, yes, there are a lot of things for skeptics to criticize, but AA has remained for the most part under the radar for too long. One poster in one of these blogs said he’d heard of AA for 40 years but only recently learned it has a religious component. What else he still doesn’t know about AA could fill several books.

    I’ve mentioned it before, people expose Scientology and its drug treatment program Narconon, but Narconon is less than five percent of all drug treatment. AA and “traditional” 12-step-based treatment centers are 90-95 percent, but THAT doesn’t alarm people NEARLY as much as it should.
    Which reminds me, I need to write one of those books.

  • Tallmike

    “An alcoholic might read what you wrote, decide not to go to AA and die!”

    If one stops and thinks about this statement, it is an assumption that gets elevated to some kind of self-fulfilling prophetic truth, but it’s not. It’s still a blatant assumption with further possible outcomes.
    Well, that alcoholic might decide not to go to AA and might also decide to do something on his/her own. One could make a whole list of assumptions, all with varying degrees of probability and possible outcomes.

    “If you go driving on the highway, you could die.” Absolutely. We all take our chances. We all figure it will be someone else to get clipped. Lots of things can happen but there is no absolute certainty that just because someone reads rebukes of a system with poor efficacy that it preordains anyone to anything.

  • Lucy

    FTG – I see this in a different way than you do. The problem starts way before the either/or choice of stay in AA or die.

    People stop examining what AA has to say the minute they accept the AA notion that they have a disease. On the one hand, they like it because it excuses their behavior and gives them a way out. On the other hand, it sets them up so that leaving becomes equal to dying of a disease.

    The 12 step culture is so pervasive that everyone knows someone who has claimed he or she would die without AA. You want them to look through that statement to see if it is true. Instead, ask them to look through the “disease” idea.

    How can an atheist believe that he drinks too much because he has a spiritual illness and an allergy to alcohol? What would a spiritual illness look like to an atheist? If it is an allergy (which is what AA claims it is) why can’t iy been seen in chemical work ups on non-drinking alcoholics?

    I nearly drank myself to death and spent 25 years in AA every day.I have no liver damage, I have no bad triglycerides. Look at my blood tests. How do they know I have alcoholism?

    Send him Ed a copy of the Myth of Alcoholism. It says that what stops thought is the idea that alcoholism is a disease.

  • MA

    I really like this blog. I read it a lot, along with PZ’s blog at Science Blogs.

  • Jonny Quest

    Lucy says: “People stop examining what AA has to say the minute they accept the AA notion that they have a disease.”

    People stop examining what AA has to say the minute they accept that AA is “spiritual, not religious” – that is the first inversion of truth, the first betrayal – on which everything else is built.

    Under group pressure, newcomers betray themselves by accepting AA’s first inversion of truth – “This is not religious!” – this sets the stage for a progression of self-betrayals that result in the surrender of one’s own judgment to that of the group.

  • eddy

    It overlooks the issue of how many people have died because of AA.

  • Lucy

    JQ Pretending it’s a disease is the “gateway drug” to self-deception. (Or at least in my case it was.)

    I was never spiritual or religious, but I really wanted to be sober. I hated AA and I hated all the religious talk. But the treatment center people told me it was a disease and I wanted to take the cure.

    It was at that moment, for me, that I suspended my critical thinking skills to try to fit into the AA model. There never was a God or spiritual compenent for me, just the fear of drinking myself to death.

    I think there are a lot of people like who stay in AA that way long after they know it’s bullshit. I am the old timer who would tell the newer ones to ignore the religion and stay to hear how to stay sober, because by then I had convinced myself of what FTG says, “I’d die if I left AA.”

    I was fine with going to hell. I never bought the God deal.

  • Jonny Quest


    Yes, perhaps you are correct as far as fear is concerned. They do like to use that “chronic, progressive, relapsing brain disease” to keep people very scared.

    Fear does lead to all sorts of irrational behavior, like lying to newcomers.

    Every time I read one of those “AA is spiritual, not religious, and a Group of Drunks, nature, karma, etc” can be your Higher Power threads, where the serenity hornets jump on a newcomer reluctant to try AA on account of being atheist – like flies on shit – my blood really boils.

    I can’t figure out if they actually believe that bullshit, since even a 9 year old can see that it is religious, or if the booze fried their brains and they can’t actually process basic information anymore.

    They do seem to get really “angry” when someone says that AA is indeed religious, though, so they must know that something is way off.

    The Salvation Army has never lied about its alcohol rehabilitation program, which predates AA, being religious, and they seem to be doing fine. Since when is calling something “religious” automatically a “bad” thing?

  • Carebear

    Change your bad habit, or don’t. There is no scientist or religion that is going to fix your bad habit. There is no such thing as alcoholism, only alcohol drinkers. Should we call the phenomenon of too many people being killed with guns ‘gunism’? I think the whole shebang is pathetic and wrong.

    Keep drinking every day if you like the feeling of drunkenness more than you like the feeling of doing something productive with your life. Simple.

  • Jonny Quest

    Here’s a hypothetical: do all ex-smokers still have the disease of nicotine-ism, and is it doing push-ups?

  • I’m realizing more and more that those of us who’ve been on the inside take for granted the fact that AA is religious or in fact a religion – and we forget that most people don’t actually know this. They have no idea, and when they learn how many of the steps actually use the word “god” they’re shocked. People just think it’s innocuous support – that people just get together and tell stories and feel good about being able to talk to others that they can relate to. It never occurs to people how religious is – they just don’t know.

  • eddy

    Steve ,AA is the oxford group with minor modification, it isn;t about addiction but God control, and how does one get God control, by jumping into rescue mode and convincing others they need god control.
    That is how Bill W. kept himself sober. AA history, he realized he needed another drunk to focus on. At that time whle he was running around the Oxford group preachin and teachin God Control none of his prospects had a successful outcome but he realized as long as he engaged in the process of putting the focus on other, he kept himslef sober.

    t appears to be why the newbie is so important, my guess is without the newbie to focus on and preach and teach AA and its god control, the chapter would empty out.

  • Lucy

    Steven – I agree with you. I think that AA started presenting the “disease concept” to give itself credibility when Bill and Bob realized it would sell. THAT idea is what people believe AA is until they meet an AA member or read the book. THAT idea gets millions of phone it in therapists to send people to AA when they would blanche if they actually stayed around the meetings to hear and see the religious cult. It IS the only part of AA that most people know, and it is bullshit.

  • I’ve always assumed people knew how religious it was – and I’m realizing I’m very wrong about that.

    @Eddy I once engaged in believing I needed to help others with substance use problems to stay sober – but I didn’t need it – any personally fulfilling activity at all other than drugging will bring the same effect. I did that service work, then I dropped it completely and pursued other completely unrelated goals – and my life didn’t fall apart, and I didn’t relapse. I Think you’re very correct – without the 12th step, without people desperately believing they need to help newcomers, it would pretty much empty out.

  • STEVENS SLATE–just forwarded the astright, inc. link to some former straight people.

  • ^ sorry, wrong thread. stoopid wireless mouse has me all over the gd place sometimes.

  • Market Analysis of topics on http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/ for June 23, 2011:

    The Stinkin Thinkin discusssion on “Skepticism and the 12 Step Industry” is the overall hottest topic going by number of posts at 157. Runner ups are “NBC Omits ‘Under God.’ Wingnuts Go Crazy” at 128 and “Jewish Court Doesn’t Sentence a Dog to Death by Stoning” at 65. It should be noted that all 3 issues are Religious in nature and there were 18 entries.

    Raw Data for analysis:

    June 23, 2011

    Farah’s Bizarre Views on Clinical Trials
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 12:06 PM • 31 Comments

    Is Michelle Bachmann Ever Right?
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 11:31 AM • 42 Comments

    Romney’s Dilemma
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 10:58 AM • 21 Comments

    Obama and Same-Sex Marriage
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 10:27 AM • 33 Comments

    Gohmert’s Latest Dumbass Quote
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 10:02 AM • 33 Comments

    More of This. Please.
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 9:02 AM • 23 Comments

    Major Lawsuit Filed Over Emergency Manager Law
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 1:59 PM • 28 Comments

    Newt’s Campaign: Even More Dead
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 12:30 PM • 29 Comments

    Evolution and the Miss USA Pageant
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 12:00 PM • 26 Comments

    Obama and Boehner: Fellow Hypocrites on WPA
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 11:32 AM • 3 Comments

    Skepticism and the 12 Step Industry
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 11:02 AM • 157 Comments

    Surprise! Bachmann Supports Creationism in Schools
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 10:05 AM • 34 Comments

    Jewish Court Doesn’t Sentence a Dog to Death by Stoning
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 9:32 AM • 65 Comments

    Did Koch Influence NIH Cancer Board?
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 9:05 AM • 47 Comments

    NBC Omits ‘Under God.’ Wingnuts Go Crazy.
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 12:32 PM • 128 Comments

    Farah the False Prophet
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 12:02 PM • 24 Comments

    Libya, Koh and Presidential Power
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 11:28 AM • 9 Comments

    The Patriot Act and Political Blackmail
    Posted by Ed Brayton at 11:02 AM • 8 Comments

  • SoberPJ

    @ Steven Slate .. I think a normal person simply doesn’t think about them at all when going about their daily routine. Why should they? It never enters their mind. If it does, what would they be expected to know about AA? There is no there htere. At best, they might think it is a place where drunks go to get help. No double click at all.

  • Jonny Quest

    My family still thinks I’m “in denial” because I refused more AA and outpatient rehab. I had seen one of the chief honchos at said rehab at AA meetings spilling his guts.

    They have no idea what AA is like, and it is futile to try and tell them what lies behind the curtains.

  • sally

    JQ says: “and it is futile to try and tell them what lies behind the curtains” So true in my experience as well. If denial doesn’t come out of thier mouth, you can tell it’s on thier mind. I was tuned out. One thing though, my husband stands by me 100%. I took him to many open meetings with me. He was able to recognize the bullshit either on and when I started educating myself further, he was astounded as well. His own reservations were put into words too.

  • Z

    @Johnny re nicotine-ism — yes and no. I’d rather smoke than not except I’ve quit because I don’t like what smoking does to you. I have to exercise will power not to restart — very consciously if I go anywhere I associate with smoking. However, I don’t think it’s “doing pushups” … not at all, in fact.