Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Step Two: the page 49 conundrum

'When, however, the perfectly logical assumption is suggested that underneath the material world and life as we see it, there is an All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence, right there our perverse streak comes to the surface and we laboriously set out to convince ourselves it isn't so. We read wordy books and indulge in windy arguments, thinking we believe this universe needs no God to explain it. Were our contentions true, it would follow that life originated out of nothing, means nothing, and proceeds nowhere.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, 49:0)

Here goes with an argument quite as windy as Bill's glorious ramblings in We Agnostics.

His logic here is this:
(1) A universe without God (= 'All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence') is one where (a) life originates out of nothing, (b) means nothing, and (c) proceeds nowhere.
(2) (a), (b), and (c) are untrue.
(3) Therefore, an 'All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence', i.e. God, exists.

There are several problems with this.

Firstly, (a) is true, scientifically. There was a point at which, on this planet, no life existed. The origins of life, biologically speaking, are indeed explainable without God. Whether 'God' is behind this sparking of life is moot.

Secondly, with regard to (b), the experience of any alcoholic coming into AA is quite specifically that life means absolutely nothing at all—life has been hopeless, pointless suffering for quite some time. In fact, if life still means something, you may not be at rock bottom, yet.

Thirdly, with regard to (c), the idea of 'life' having no destination but simply being a continuum guided by randomness and the laws of physics, like molecules bouncing off each within a liquid, occasionally causing chemical reactions, is not, to anyone in the state described by (b), implausible: au contraire, it is far more logical than the idea that life has some kind of teleological destination.

In fact, in the world of science, the explanation of phenomena in terms of teleology ('any philosophical account which holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature') was rejected in 1620 by Francis Bacon on the grounds that the truth or falsehood of teleological explanations are beyond the ability of human perception and understanding to judge. I buy that. So has science, for the last four hundred years or so. Bill should have read up a bit on this.

So, we have a problem, Wilson.

The basis for Bill's 'logical assumption' is, from the point of view of the newcomer, totally flawed. Far from proving that God exists, Bill has actually done the opposite.


Except, Bill is quite right.

And the reason is this:

When I came to AA, life had no meaning. Life was pointless. Life originated in nothing. Life was going nowhere.

However: I was bothered by this observation.

Now, if this were true—if life were truly meaningless, why would I be bothered by it?

Being 'bothered' implies a conflict; the conflict was this: beneath the surface reality of pointlessness was a dim awareness that this 'pointlessness' was not the way things 'ought to be'. The sense that things should have a point is beyond logic, beyond experience, and, I presume, beyond mere biology. And, however pessimistic or nihilistic I became, I could never be comfortable with this conclusion.

If, in truth, nothing meant anything, then there was nothing to worry about, right? There was, however, the unavoidable sense that the pointlessness I felt was not inherent to life but stemmed from my failure to find a point which did indeed exist, somewhere out there—or in here (points at chest).

I could not, therefore, resolve this conflict in favour of pointlessness. There was an immovable grit of hope which was the source of the conflict.

Furthermore, I saw people in AA who matched this description:

'People of faith have a logical idea of what life is all about. Actually, we used to have no reasonable conception whatever. We used to amuse ourselves by cynically dissecting spiritual beliefs and practices when we might have observed that many spiritually-minded persons of all races, colors, and creeds were demonstrating a degree of stability, happiness and usefulness which we should have sought ourselves.' (49:2)

The truth was, I saw this hope in you.

I find it hilarious that Bill is following the line that one cannot possibly begin to believe in God unless one has obtained a satisfactory explanation of the universe ('thinking we believe this universe needs no God to explain it'—he presumes that explaining the universe is our paramount goal in Step Two, the riddle which must be solved before we can get off the starting blocks).

I could not, and cannot, explain the happiness of others (and, now, of myself) unless there IS 'something' 'underneath the material world and life as we see it'. That was the satisfactory explanation that I sought.

And that 'something' (which we can comfortably and conveniently call 'God') is the light at the end of the tunnel in Step Two. That 'something' incontrovertibly existed.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Jim vs the pamphlet

After Jim's slip: "on each of these occasions, we worked with him, reviewing carefully what had happened." (35:3, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')

Vs 'Questions & Answers on Sponsorship"

"In order to make the return truly a new beginning, it may be wise at this point to avoid post-mortems on the reasons for the slip. Instead, the sponsor can help guide the newcomer back to the simplicity of the First Step and the prime importance of staying away from the first drink just for the day at hand.

Later, the newcomer may want to check the kind of thinking that possibly led to the slip in order to guard against its recurrence."

I'm more with the writers of the Big Book on this one.

People drink again because they still have an alcoholic mind. ("We meet these conditions every day. An alcoholic who cannot meet them, still has an alcoholic mind," 101:1).

This must be examined, or the individual will not (a) understand why he drank again and (b) take the actions necessary to bring about the psychic change vital to permanent recovery.

The simplicity of the First Step is this: as I currently am, I WILL drink again, whether I want to or not, and, once I start, I may never stop. Suggesting that this be coupled with 'the prime importance of staying away from the first drink' is frankly idiotic.

Essentially, the pamphlet is saying we suggest to the newcomer: "it is vital you do not have a drink ... but you are powerless over alcohol, so you are going to! Have a nice day!" and leaving it at that.

Nonsensically, the pamphlet suggests that newcomers are able to guard themselves against drinking. I was not able to. That is the whole point of Step One—the inability to guard oneself against it.


The slip must be subjected to a post-mortem whilst the memory of the pre-slip thinking is still fresh, to help the individual diagnose himself as the alcoholic of the doomed variety ... doomed, that is, unless he has a spiritual awakening. Only then will he take the necessary actions.

If the person drank, he had not surrendered totally to this programme. It is only by creating the conditions in which the individual can and will surrender (and a full knowledge of the hopelessness of his condition is one such condition) that we can hope to be of service to AA members who are relapsing.