Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Tradition Four and fundamentalism in AA

Tradition Four and fundamentalism in AA

Oftentimes, I hear an argument which runs like this:

"I took the Steps a particular way. They worked. Previously I tried another way. That didn't work. Therefore, there is only one way: the way I took the Steps. If you took them differently, you're wrong. I've been sober 20 years. I should know!"

There are several logical fallacies at play here:

Excluded middle/false dichotomy: the presumption is that there are only two alternatives, the speaker's, and the other, failed method. In truth, people with very different experiences of the Steps stay permanently sober and become free and well.

A variant of this is: "I haven't done X [some element of how someone else has worked the Steps], and I'm OK, so X is superfluous." This is like saying that, because I get my carbohydrates from potatoes, I have not needed rice, so getting carbohydrates from rice is wrong.

The fallacy is that there is only one right vehicle for carbohydrates.

To apply this to the Big Book, there is no evidence that the "We" of the Book, for instance, all asked precisely the question, "wasn't it because self-reliance failed us" or took an hour's break between the end of Step Five and taking the Book down off the shelf.

The "path" that the people who wrote the Book followed thoroughly was not, in truth, one path but, at microscopic level, a multiplicity of paths all devised on a set of consistent principles.

One glance at how the Book was written reveals that there was a lot of in-fighting over precisely what it should say, because, even by 1939, experience varied hugely amongst those staying successfully sober.

This assertion, that there is more than one "right way", is usually countered by this argument:

"If anything goes, then we're all screwed ... If you open the door to any variation, we will end up in a free for all, and no one will get sober."

This is a combination of argument by adverse consequences (scare tactics) and the slippery slope fallacy.

The latter is also called the 'camel's nose' fallacy ... there is an old saying about how, if you allow a camel to poke his nose into the tent, soon the whole camel will follow.

The fallacy here is the assumption that, because something extreme (trying to get sober just by going to one meeting a week) does not work, everything between here ("what I did", which worked) and there (a) does not work and (b) will lead to the undesirable extreme.

Another fallacy is argument by generalisation: the presumption that what is true for one is true for all. For example, "I didn't need a workbook, so no one should need one."

All of this is often capped by an appeal to false authority.

I can say what I did and what worked for me. I am not right about what can and must work for someone else BECAUSE I am eighteen years sober, however, or because I have sponsored X people. All this may prove the efficacy of what I and my sponsees have done but does not extend to prove every assertion I make, particularly when I start to speak about YOUR experience.

One principle behind Tradition Four is the admission of variety of approach.

There can be a fondness for uniformity and black-and-white thinking amongst alcoholics.

One thing that these groups have taught me is that there are matters on which reasonable people of good will rightly disagree.

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