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following is a 1993 updated version, as noted from various
sources across the internet of the original
that appeared in "The 24 Magizine" in the mid
1970's, with no Author stated. View
the origanal or read
more about Gresham's law. The below updated
version will remain til such proof is made evident to warrant
Law and Alcoholics Anonymous
Tom P., Jr.
Gresham's Law and Alcoholics Anonymous
by Tom P. Jr., ©1993. Due to the file size of this
article, it is presented here in four parts. All four
parts will be linked together at the bottom of each page
by part # & title.
are three ways to work the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.
1. The strong original way - proved powerfully
and reliably effective over fifty-eight years.
2. A medium way - not so strong, not so safe,
not so sure, not so good, but still effective.
3. a weak way, which turns out to be really
no way at all but literally a heresy, a false teaching,
a twisting and corruption of what the founders of Alcoholics
Anonymous clearly stated the program to be.
a twenty-nine year member of Alcoholics Anonymous, I am
still awed by the combination of simplicity, practicality,
and profundity built into the Twelve Steps, the AA recovery
AA friend of mine recently summarized the Steps in a way
that gives a good quick overview of the spiritual principles
embodied in them:
Admission of powerlessness. 2. Reliance on a Higher Power.
3. Total surrender to God.4. Moral inventory. 5. Admission
of the exact nature of our wrongs. 6. Commitment to total
change. 7. Prayer for wholeness. 8. Total willingness to
amend. 9. Making amends where possible. 10. Continuing inventory.
11. Prayer meditation, leading to improved conscious contact
with God. 12. Spiritual awakening, carrying the message
and practicing the principles in all our affairs.
the Steps are epitomized like this, you can clearly see
that they aim, not at normalcy, but at full spiritual regeneration
- at a life lived one day at a time in conscious contact
the Twelve Steps, even though they are clearly aiming at
the mountain top, are so plainly worded, and so well-explained
in chapter five of the AA Big Book, that they can be done
by anyone. And therein lies their great genius. There is
no prior requirement of purity of life or advancement of
learning. Just a willingness to admit personal defeat and
a sincere desire to change.
Twelve Steps contradict the secular psychological axiom
that where the level of performance is low, you must set
a low level of aspiration in order to gain a positive result
to the secular psychological view, the only practical approach
for the early AA's to have taken would have been as follows:
to put together a program which aimed certainly no higher
than alcohol abstinence and a return to life as it had been
in pre-alcoholic days, to life as ordinary men and women
of the world.
these wild and woolly early AA's, these psychologically
illiterate off-scouring and rubbish of the world, these
newly-sobered-up drunks, set out to become totally committed
men and women of God.
authors of the Big Book knew that their God-centered, psychological
heretical, radical plan was liable to jar many of the newcomers
they were trying to reach with their message. Therefore,
they made two moves to sugarcoat the pill. First, they put
the following disclaimer immediately after listing the Twelve
Steps in chapter five:
of us exclaimed, "What an order! I can't go through with
it". Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able
to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles.
We are not saints. The point is that we are willing to grow
along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are
guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than
short paragraph was a stroke of inspiration, especially
the phrase, "we are not saints". It has eased thousands
of new, half-convinced AA members (myself included) past
the fact that we are headed, under the guidance of the Steps,
in the completely unfamiliar direction of spiritual perfection.
of us began practicing the Steps without realizing their
full implications. Experience quickly taught us that they
worked. They got us sober and enabled us to stay sober.
From our deadly-serious pragmatic standpoint, that was what
mattered; we were content to enjoy our sobriety, and leave
all debates as to why the Steps worked to non-alcoholic
theorizers - whose lives did not hang in the balance if
they got themselves confused and came to the wrong conclusions.
and Dr. Bob did one thing more to keep the spiritual rigor
and power of the Twelve Steps from frightening new prospects
(sugar-coated pill number two). They put the Steps forth
as suggestions rather than as directives. The sentence which
introduces the Steps in chapter five of the Big Book says:
"Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program
of recovery". This idea was greatly appreciated throughout
the AA movement from the time the Big Book was first published.
We drunks hate to be told to do anything. The second sugarcoated
pill gave us the freedom to take the Steps at our own pace
and in our own way. This freedom quickly grew to be deeply
cherished among AA members.
we explore the results of this sugarcoated approach to the
Steps, there is one oddity worth noting. AA existed for
four full years before the Steps were put in their final
written form. During that time there was a program and it
was sobering up alcoholics. It consisted of two parts: a
six-step word-of-mouth program, and the Four Absolutes -
absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness
and absolute love - taken over from the Oxford group, the
evangelical Christian movement out of which AA was born.
The six-steps of the word-of-mouth program from the early
pioneering years of Alcoholics Anonymous as given in Alcoholics
Anonymous Comes of Age are:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol.
2. We made a moral inventory of our defects or sins.
3. We confessed or shared our shortcomings with another
person in confidence.
4. We made restitution to all those we had harmed by our
5. We tried to help other alcoholics with no thought of
reward in money or prestige.
6. We prayed to whatever God we thought there was for power
to practice these precepts.
those early days of AA (1935-1939) there was no talk of
suggestions. The basic points of the program, especially
the word-of-mouth program, were regarded by all the older
members as directives, as indispensable essentials, and
were passed on to the newcomers as such.
the Twelve Steps were first being formulated by Bill and
Dr. Bob and an editorial committee from Akron and New York
- Bill, Dr. Bob and the entire committee conceived of the
Steps as instructions, not as suggestions. When the idea
of presenting the Steps as suggestions came up, Bill for
a long time flatly opposed it. Finally - and reluctantly
-Bill agreed to the "suggestions" approach. In Alcoholics
Anonymous Comes of Age he related how this concession
on his part enabled countless AA's to approach the Fellowship
who would otherwise have been turned off AA - and back to
Bill was a man whose watchword was prudence and who went
out of his way to steer clear of destructive controversy.
One cannot help wondering if his feelings on the decision
to present the Twelve Steps in the form of suggestions were
not a bit more ambiguous than he was willing to discuss
in public, once the compromise had been reached and certified.
Certainly the paragraphs of chapter five of the Big Book
which introduce the Twelve Steps are full of language that
would be utterly appropriate as a preamble to a set of action
directions, but is not as nearly as fitting as an introduction
to a group of suggestions. Following is the beginning of
chapter five, with the no-compromise key words and phrases
in (our) italics:
have we seen a person fall who has thoroughly followed our
path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or
will not completely give themselves to this simple program,
usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable
of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates.
They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that
way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing
a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.
Their chances are less than average. There are those, too,
who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders but
many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be
Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be
like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you
have decided you want what we have and are willing to go
to any length to get it - then you are ready to take certain
At some of these we balked. We thought we could find
an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness
at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough
from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to
our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.
Remember that we deal with alcohol - cunning, baffling,
powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there
is One who has all power - that One is God. May you find
Half-measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning
point. We asked His protection and care with complete
abandon. Here are the steps we took...
though Bill did end up fully reconciled to the compromise
approach, his initial misgivings, in the long run, may turn
out to be prophetic. At that time, however, there were no
indications that the permissive, suggestions-only approach
was anything but a boon to the Movement. In 1938 and 1939,when
the Big Book was being written, there were 100 sober members
in the Fellowship. By 1945 active AA membership was up to
13,000. The primary reason for this explosive increase was
that the program - the Steps - were a winning formula: they
worked, and there was a big need for them, out there in
Part 1: Gresham's Law and Alcoholics Anonymous - front page.
Part 2: America was
boozy and was spawning a great many alcoholics.
Part 3: What they were
shooting for, and what they aimed their program at, was
not mere sobriety...
Part 4: There is only
one term in the Twelve Steps that has been changed since
the Big Book was first published in 1939.