In the past three weeks I have accomplished too little in terms of visible production. What have I been doing in this hot village? For it is so hot that I find it difficult even to watch whole films, read whole books, or listen to whole albums. I have been reading very short texts. In between these, I reflect.
First, I dealt with my reassimilation to Maringouin. I rarely spend time anywhere where it is all right to be who I am, or where access to the contexts I need to be who I am and am also expected to be is not such a struggle.
I feel completely different away from Maringouin, and I must conserve that feeling here if I am ever to work my way out. I decided this is a legitimate question of temperament and needs, and not a character defect or a self-indulgent attitude.
Next, I continued to deal with Reeducation. Now, when I speak of Reeducation I refer in part to the highly coercive and misleading introductions to academia I experienced after graduate school. At a more important level I refer to the experience of psychotherapy with an ACOA based individual in New Orleans. I did not realize that this person was ACOA based and I would not have known what that meant, so I did not understand the worldview I was having imposed upon me. It took some listening and sleuthing to figure it out.
We had strange conversations because I did not have all the reactions to life I was expected to have, and had not had. Trying to understand where this person was coming from took a great deal of effort. The time, energy, and brain twisting that effort required was very destructive, and I have been trying to recover from this experience and its concrete effects ever since.
The present weblog is an invention I designed to take myself back from Reeducation. Now I have discovered that someone else had a related idea, and created an entire website where people piece themselves back together after run-ins with the Twelve Step movement. I am amazed to find that so many different people, from different countries and with different orientations, have had my exact same problems with this movement and especially with its claims to universality.
The method is “universal,” it is claimed, although it only “works” if you do not question any part of it; but when you show its exponents why it cannot be universal, they say you have not understood it correctly. Or you have not reinterpreted it sufficiently, or it is simply “not for you” — which means, in the end, that you do not seek improvement.
They think this self-justifying sleight of hand is clever; I think it is mentally retarded; since not all of them are mentally retarded, I can only conclude that they are deluded, when not also self serving and even abusive.
I have learned quite a lot from this new website. Indeed, it is not clear to me how I used to get through the days, before I had all this information. Evidently, not having it was what made the days so difficult — in addition, of course, to the oil culture and the white folks and the heat.
China is considering the possible abolition of Reeducation, and so should we.
The new website linked to an essay around which it was alleged that the Twelve Steps were “open source,” meaning that you do them however you want. That defense is weak and incomplete for reasons already suggested here. But the comparison to open source code is also based on a complete misconception of that. What if the Twelve Steps resemble, say, an urban legend more than they do open source code?
Indeed, the editors of Wired appear to have forgotten that a great many things in life are not proprietary. By their loose analogy one can call almost anything that is not an industrial secret “open source” including the English language, which we are using right now in a way uniform enough to communicate, but individualized enough so that each interlocutor has a distinct voice.
To give another kind of example, the complete writings of thinkers like Marx, Freud, and Einstein, among many others, is there to be read, and multiple teams are at this moment rereading, reinterpreting, adding to, and using these bodies of work. In these communities, dissent and disagreement are permitted; are they thus not more “open” than the Twelve Step movement? Finally, the editors of Wired seem to forget that a principal characteristic of open source code is that it is no secret how it works.
Verily, in their odd mixture of rigidity and nebulousness the Twelve Steps are anything but a solid program which you can then individualize to your own needs. As many others have pointed out, if it is a spiritual, not a scientific program, then it cannot be considered a modern approach to a physiological disease; if it is a psychological or religious program aimed at a psychological or spiritual problem, there are many more solid and more truly flexible ones.
There is much more to say, and which has been said on these matters, including that in the movement, the phrase “take what you need and leave the rest” is used to tout flexibility and individualization to newcomers, while the allegation that members “did not work the whole program” is used to batter those the program has failed. This is not mere hypocrisy; it is manipulation.
These, then, are some elements in what I am calling The Open Source Fallacy.
If you’ve ever been to any kind of Twelve Step meeting, you will have heard the phrase, “It works if you work it!” Someone on the thread I linked to above made a joke, “It jerks if you jerk it!” I wish I‘d come up with that.
If any Believers read this post they will surely write in to ask why I am Angry and do not Let It Go and Move On. I and others have a fair amount to say about the misguidedness of the assumptions which inform that retort.
The commenters in the new site make some useful points about Twelve Step hegemony in the addiction and recovery industries. For instance:
(a) people who have not had reason to come into contact with addiction and recovery will not have had the opportunity to discover any problems;
(b) practitioners prefer not to deal directly with substance abuse and are just as happy to slough the question off onto an organization which claims it has discovered the only way to solve this problem and that, furthermore, it can do so all on its own;
(c) many participants in this scheme have private doubts but know that if they voice these, the aspects of the “program” they find helpful may be withdrawn; given, then, that it is “the only game in town” they participate in a highly individualized fashion (i.e. they do NOT “work the whole program”).
(d) if you have experienced abuse anywhere or from any zealots of such a place, or exhortations to be tolerant or to try just one more time in a new key, do not blame yourself, doubt yourself, or wonder what it is you have not understood. Put it in the place it has in fact worked so hard to earn with you, and walk away.
That last point is in fact great advice for healing, but I find that one must often also understand what it is one is walking away from in order to actually walk. I also think that this sort of movement is different from, say, a car one didn’t like although others might, or a personal relationship that didn’t work out; I shall expand slightly upon this point in section SEVEN, below.
In addition, there are apparently many people who actually have the sorts of problems the Twelve Steps are purported to address, but might benefit much more from another approach, and are not aware of any. Statements like “if you don’t like it, just leave” are disingenuous because the entire model of the self, and of “addiction” that the Twelve Step movement promotes and has installed in mainstream culture really limits accessibility to and comprehension of alternative approaches.
Still more important from the point of view of my life, since I am powered mainly by caffeine and vegetables, is the way in which the Twelve Step “wisdom” has seeped into the culture at large. I mean, there is an entire self help industry based on this. Many “therapists” and “counselors” are informed by that industry and not by the more serious work that would (and does) call the Twelve Step ideology anti-therapeutic. Widely read purveyors of common sense like Ann Landers were AA members, and the list goes on.
My point is that it is precisely true what the Twelve Steppers say, that it is not just (or not even mainly) a method to stop abusing substances; it is an interpretation of life and a methodology for living it. Some critics point to the “cult-like” characteristics of the Twelve Step movement. I see their point, particularly with regard to the way in which refugees from the movement appear to require healing in the ways former cult members, or prisoners (or torture victims) do. Yet I note that the concepts this movement wields seem to be even more widespread and therefore more powerful than are those of most mere cults.
Its core ideas and methodologies in fact fit with those of too many other movements, including but hardly limited to those of the Tea Party. Its customs seem to be part of a whole cultural trend. People quote Twelve Step slogans as eternal wisdom without being aware of their source. These “make sense” because they speak to and reinforce other repressive traditions which float in our cultural air. Thus does this falsely “therapeutic” ideology become one of the main ways in which we are taught to think of ourselves and conceive of our relation to the world. That is why I think we should all be interested.
It having been the weekend, we must sing. I sing that I ain’t a-gonna be treated this a-way.
Y’heah dat, y’all?
“I’m blowing down that old dusty road. They say I’m a Dust Bowl refugee, but I ain’t a-gonna be treated this a-way. Your two dollar shoe hurts my feet. It takes a ten dollar shoe to fit my feet, and I ain’t a-gonna be treated this a-way.”
And, to continue the Guthrie fest for a moment, please note that all [them] Fascists bound to lose.