The Open Source Fallacy

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.

Note 1

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.

Note 2

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.


10 thoughts on “The Open Source Fallacy

  1. I read that site. It’s good. I know a group of men all in the same AA group, and I think it’s keeping them from flying off into space, but they really aren’t moving on. They have that rigid thing, always. They are functional but not very happy, I would say. They are economically marginal but managing. What’s sad is that they really can’t redeem the past.

    But this is a problem of alcoholics. Why is this the problem of people who have been associated with alcoholics but are not alcoholics themselves? I mean once you get away from the mayhem and can figure out what is actually happening? What if, just what if, there isn’t anything wrong with you?

  2. Well, the fallacy that it is also the problem of persons who have escaped alcoholics is what I have been railing about for years — in addition to the idea of “codependency” which I think amounts to some kind of anti-feminist near-plot.

    But what I learned by reading a lot of links and things in this site is that it actually doesn’t apply to a lot of alcoholics, either. It seems that the AA model of addiction isn’t really very reality based, and that if you conceive of the problem differently, then a whole lot of other solutions come into view. It also seems that all the AA talk about “honesty” really only amounts to really realizing you have a problem, and really being committed to solving it.

    That, of course, is more challenging – you have to look at whatever it is that you are overusing alcohol to manage or hide from, and actually deal with that. I think (and this is just my theory at the present hour) that for some people, getting AA-bound is a way to stay sober and not get into the problems you can get into from drinking too much, but without making some other shifts. Like, instead of drink, you pray for patience, but you do that instead of do something about what’s making you impatient. That sometimes isn’t a great substitute for drinking, so you fail, which then convinces you you are an invalid who needs the program, and round and round you go.

    The other thing that seems pretty clear is that the Twelve Steps address the management of some kinds of personality disorders more directly than they do substance abuse. So if you’re a substance abuser, but your issue is a different kind of mental or psychological problem, or a bad situation, or just a bad habit that’s hard to break like other bad habits, then telling yourself you have a certain kind of personality and certain failings, and trying to control those on the theory that this will keep you from either (a) creating situations that drive you to drink or (b) getting alcohol-fueled so you can create drama, — those “solutions” won’t speak to your actual problem. If your problem is different (i.e. more common, like self medicating for depression), doing the steps may help you control it, but won’t represent a stable solution.

    These are just my theories, based on just a couple of weeks of reading around casually. What I can’t believe is that, given all the thought I’ve devoted to figuring out the poor logic presented in ACOA and Alanon, I never thought to look at anything on substance abuse itself. It’s an eye opener to do that.

    During my second Alanon stint, though, the time I went about that diabetic boyfriend I had, I really wanted to interview a recovering or recovering alcoholic who would talk in a non rote way about the experience and say something critical about the 12 steps. I looked on the Internet and found the Orange Papers, which clued me in a great deal. There was more to be found that I didn’t find, including the Stanton Peele material which is non Christian and non fundamentalist, and there is even more to be found now.

    The other things I found out that are key is that alcohol dependence is a spectrum, it’s not just one thing, and that “denial” doesn’t really exist any more than “codependency” does — people do know if they have a problem.

    I’m interested in those last things in part because the ideas of “denial” and “codependency” are bandied about now about so many different things; I think they’re often poor descriptors and are thus counterproductive as ways of untangling a problem. We need some new words — several of them.

  3. P.S. I am really, really interested in the kinds of mind games that go on in 12 stepping and that it seems to be based upon — primarily because they did me so much harm I had to recover from, but also because they are so illustrative of the way manipulation and propaganda work generally.

    Some of the discussion boards at this Stinkin’ Thinkin’ site have really good analyses of the phenomenon in them; here’s one on “Truth, Honesty, Integrity” — the things the 12 steppers claim to have attained, and accuse others of not having:

    Another thing they discuss (in another thread on the boards) is dealing with 12 steppers in real life, as in socially, at work and so on. Virtually every thought I’ve ever had on the entire matter is in there, only in a more advanced form; there are also new thoughts and new information, so I am utterly mesmerized.

    One of the things that most impresses me is that some of these people started that program comparatively recently and left even more recently — and they already have figured all of this out! It took me much longer. Could that be because ACOA and Alanon are even more insidious than AA, and aim at even more nebulous “diseases?” So that you have to twist your brain even further to try to make sense of what they are telling you?


    Characteristics of actual 12 steppers, by and large, tend to include, I find:

    – condescension
    – entitlement
    – invasiveness (when they want something)
    – coldness (in response to others)
    – drama “addiction”
    – abusiveness
    – authoritarianism
    – manipulation
    – falseness
    – passive aggression
    – competitiveness, one-upmanship
    – citing their “illness” as an excuse for poor behavior (as they used to excuse it by saying they were drunk and not themselves)
    – patriarchal allegiances
    – projection

    Y’all got any mo’?

  4. Also: in the 12 Step model of the self there is one truth, which everyone has covered with multiple layers of lies. These are to be removed – each removal is a step closer to “rigorous honesty” (a major cultural value in 12 stepping).

    Eventually, you are expected to discover, and “accept” that you are a miserable sinner of, say, the David Vitter ilk.

    (On Vitter, search for the Facebook page “Best Little Whoremonger in Louisiana,” that is the most amusing and clever introduction to him.)

    I used to think my misunderstanding of 12 stepping was a private affair or had been some misguided version of it purveyed to me by misguided persons, but it really appears this is not the case.

  5. And: I wrote this whole other text to get the rest of this out of my system, which I will only post small pieces of here:

    – a friend, now turned Alanon zealot
    – how abusive he has become, or is willing to be now with some people
    – how entitled he feels — including really feeling hurt that his overbearing behavior is only barely tolerated at work
    – I do not know whether the abusiveness is really a result of Alanon indoctrination or whether he just uses Alanon to batter people with and Alanon type passive aggressive techniques on people
    – A recent interaction in which he would not let me speak, then confronted me about not having spoken
    – I am then still biting my tongue, as he is obviously not in a state to be spoken to; so he says
    “I see you in a lot of pain” (12 step code for “I am very angry with you”)
    – a few hours later, goes off at me again about my “poor communication skills”
    – This from someone who sees themself as very advanced, yet at the same time excuses themself for barbarism by saying they are ill

    What interests me as evidence here, for The Theory of what 12 Stepping is and who loves it, is:
    – correlation between really poor behavior and 12 step advocacy
    – use of the idea “I have a disease I can manage, but not control” to justify “relapses” which then explain away poor behavior
    – NPD type traits including self absorption and paranoia
    – some manipulations of truth except when rigorous honesty works in their favor
    – verbal abuse disguised as 12 Stepping PC-ness

    OK, I’m almost detoxified… 😉

  6. Additional random thoughts from me:

    1. The worst thing about 12 stepping is that it teaches you that you are less than. You are to “humbly” “accept” that you are defective. You must search your soul, find your wrongs, and make amends, again and again. If anyone wrongs you, you must discover what you did to cause this. Not how you might have been pushed to allow it, you understand, or manipulated into complicity — but what you wanted from it and got, how you asked for it, and so on. You are called dishonest and must confess again and again, and search again and again for evidence against yourself; you are never believed, however, for that 12 Step Monster is never satisfied.

    2. What I have described above is, obviously, abuse. I note as well that abusive people often tend to vigorously defend you against other people who may have mistreated or slighted you, calling THEM abusers. If your plan is to take note of something that has happened and confront the person if it happens again, or confront them in a friendly way now, the abusive one will say that is not enough and push for less calm. The goal is to create turmoil in your life, to shake your faith in your ability to handle things, and to separate you from other people. Also, sometimes the abuser is even right – one IS reacting too mildly, and they ARE genuinely rooting for you; consider, though, how they are treating you when they tell you this. Is it truly supportive? Or is it condescending? Or faithless and ‘detached’? Or are they verbally pummeling you to tell you you’re being abused by others?

  7. So, haha, the actual 12 step slogans really are Orwellian, as in “Being is Death.” I really think it is an effort on the part of some disordered personalities to recruit, and also take revenge upon those who do have some kind of psychological core. I realize this makes it sound like a cult vampire movie, but I think it really is a good shorthand.

    And so, reviewing for me: the term Reeducation was good, encompassing the vise of academia in non great versions, plus “advice” about it that negated my own instincts and ALSO professional training, given so earnestly that it shook my sense of reality; PLUS that ACOA based therapy, PLUS suburbia and the idea that one should adjust to it or not care because one should be so dedicated to one’s joblet — SO much negation of self, combined with a profession in which one needs a great deal of access to self (as well as a strong sense of self) to survive.

    SO, that was my set of problems and it was a bad set of problems, although of course writing it out like that it seems simple, and anyone can say well why didn’t you trust yourself? To which I answer that a preponderance of forces said not to, and I was displaced to boot, and EVERYONE said the mature thing to do was to suspend disbelief and not do anything “crazy” like trust one’s judgment, so I refuse to judge myself for having gone through that, but I am glad it is more and more over.

  8. Also, the other way to encapsulate the weirdness of the 12 step self destruction anti-spiritual program is to note that the more you have against you, the more it wants you to add to your burdens.

    The ONE thing it says is to be gentle with yourself, not ask too much, but that’s disingenous given that it wants you to be so mean to yourself. Really this is based on the one AA tenet, that relapse is OK. So in other 12 stepping, not pursuing your main goals is OK, or failing at those is OK, so long as you do your hobbies and things like that, and mostly your stepping. I know this because people are always telling me I am “too hard on myself” when I say what I would like to do, but “too demanding/independent/not ‘getting it'” or something like that when I decline to Step.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s