Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode 5: Standing who gets a say in A.A.? 

“Who is more contemptible than he who scorns knowledge of himself?” John of Salisbury (1120 – 1180)
John Ralston Saul commentates on the relationships between citizenship, individualism and the public good. He argues that Western society, as a whole, suffers from “a fear of reality and a weakness for ideology.” As a way of describing our mental state while in the heart of addiction, AA members would be apt to describe ourselves as less in reality and more in delusion.

Today, let’s ask if AA as an organization ought to be mindful of our balancing act between reality and ideology. Are we as a fellowship losing touch with its own consciousness?
In his lectures and book, The Unconscious Civilization, John Ralston Saul suggests that John of Salisbury would give a nod to the adaptation of his quote above to “What is more contemptible than a society that scorns knowledge of itself?"

For those of who fashion ourselves as stewards of The Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Step/Twelve Tradition way of life, here is a question that relates to AA reality and ideology:
  • Is AA a fellowship with a manual, or
  • Is AA a book-based society?
Are we a fellowship or are we a program? While we might want to retreat to the noncommittal, “aren’t we both?” let’s look first at our Traditions. Do these twelve principles defend and define a fellowship or a program? The answer is quite apparent. Unity, membership requirements, how we govern our groups, how the groups relate to each other, how we cooperate with society as a whole, why anonymity—these tenets describe a fellowship. One Tradition, Tradition Five, reminds us to relate our message of hope to the still suffering alcoholic.

We are a fellowship. This reality is lost in our current vernacular. “When I joined the program,” is said so many times it is, to many, our collective reality. In fact, we joined a fellowship. Many of us applied a suggested program but there is no program to join. Am I splitting hairs? I don’t think so; I think this a fundamental explanation of some of the dogmatic tendencies in AA today.

If we were a book-based society—and we are not—then the book would be sacred. The sacred book could not be changed, nor should the words inside be liberally interpreted. While this is a knee-jerk reaction by many of the membership, The Big Book itself discourages us from this type of dogma, not once but twice: "The wording was, of course quite optional, so long as we voiced the ideas without reservation." (P. 63) “Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize that we know only a little.” (P. 164)

For comparison's sake, let’s liken ourselves to a society of grade five math teachers. Since the late 1930s, the principles of math as it applies to grade five have not changed dramatically. Are we using the same text book to teach our children? No; we have found more contemporary ways to express these principles. While staying true to the same principles in grade five math, every generation of students gets the same or greater advantage compared to those who came before, based on these enhancements. How silly would we look if we reified the math-teaching process with a text book that was almost 80 years old, fearing that our mathematics would otherwise be watered down?

If this is an unfair comparison, I am all ears and eyes. Tell me why.

Recently I was chaired a panel at the 35th Eastern Ontario Spring Conference of AA in Ottawa Canada. This conference had something for everyone. Clancy I from Venice California was there. Big Book evangelist, Tom K from Boston was there. The old-timers panel was called “Sisters in Sobriety” with three 40 years+ sober women in AA. I was chairing a panel called “Unity Not Uniformity: Spiritual Variety in A.A." which was comprised of Atheist and Agnostic members with long term sobriety. I talked about stewardship in AA. “It’s Okay to want to be the Tradition Police in AA; that’s a good thing. But first, we have to put our time in at the Twelve Tradition Academy to learn about our history.”

When we study our history we see that history does have a tendency to repeat itself.
Our principles suggest that individualism is no threat to unity. As stated in Warranty Six in our A.A. World Service Manual,

“Much attention has been drawn to the extraordinary liberties which the A.A. Traditions accord to the individual member and to his group; no penalties to be inflicted for nonconformity to A.A. principles … no member to be expelled from A.A.—membership always to be the choice of the individual; each group to conduct its internal affairs as it wishes—it being merely requested to abstain from acts that might injure A.A. as a whole; and finally that any group of alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group provide that as a group, they have no other purpose or affiliation. . . we A.A.’s possess more and greater freedom than any other fellowship in the world.”i]

I listen to Ralston Saul’s Massey Lectures about “Unconscious Civilization” and I wonder if AA isn’t becoming an “increasingly conformist society that pays only lip service to democracy and individualism.” Is Individualism in AA today (the autonomy of members and our groups) seen as a single ambulatory center of selfishness? Selfishness is a narrower, more superficial definition of individualism than our founders might have intended.....   read the rest


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