THE TWELVE TRADITIONS OF A.A.,
Interpreted

by A. Orange

        Before we even get started, you should know that the so-called "traditions" of Alcoholics Anonymous are not traditions. Traditions are things that people have been doing for a long time. Bill Wilson's "Twelve Traditions" are just some new rules that Bill Wilson made up after his organization had been in existence for a few years. At first, the other A.A. members didn't like them, didn't want them, and voted against them. It took Bill years of campaigning to finally get a committee at a national convention to cast a vote of approval for these things, and call them "the official traditions", and then that decision was foisted on the membership at the convention as if it was already a done deal.

(Check out this rather scholarly history of the 12 Traditions:
http://www.orange-papers.org/orange-letters212.html#Rajiv )


  1.  
    Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.

    [Long Form]
    Each member of Alcoholics Anonymous is but a small part of a great whole. A.A. must continue to live or most of us will surely die. Hence our common welfare comes first. But individual welfare follows close afterward.

    • So just what is "A.A. unity"?
      • What does that mean, really?
      • You can't quit the group?
      • Bill's "A.A. unity" sounds a lot like:

        I will lock arms today and move forward in the company of those who need me. I need them also.
        The Promise of a New Day: A Book of Daily Meditations, Karen Casey and Martha Vanceburg, Hazelden, November 4.

        "I will center my thoughts on a Higher Power. I will surrender all to his power within me. I will become a soldier for this power, feeling the might of the spiritual army as it exists in my life today. I will allow a wave of spiritual union to connect me through my gratitude, obedience, and discipline to this Higher Power. Let me allow this power to lead me through the orders of the day."
        Daily Reflections; A Book of Reflections by A.A. members for A.A. members, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1990, August 27, page 248.

    • And "personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity"?
      • Says who? (Besides Bill Wilson, who wrote these so-called "traditions"...)
      • Where is the evidence for that sweeping statement? There is none whatsoever. That is the propaganda trick of assuming facts not in evidence.
      • The vast majority of people who successfully recover from alcoholism do it without Alcoholics Anonymous, so there is no need for Bill's imagined "A.A. unity".
      • That is just one more repetition of the standard cultish teachings that "Nobody can do it alone", and "You Can't Make It Without The Cult", which is not true at all.

    • This "tradition" sounds a lot like a demand for conformity.
      • Don't say things that are "divisive".
      • Don't say anything that other members don't want to hear...
      • Don't start arguments.
      • Don't criticize The Program.
      • Don't rock the boat, don't make waves.
      • Don't contradict Bill's Bull.
      • Don't upset people by telling the truth.
      • Don't reveal the real history of A.A.
      • Just conform to the group. Go along to get along.

    • Then this double-talk is ridiculous:
      "Hence our common welfare comes first. But individual welfare follows close afterward."
      That's right down there with the pigs in George Orwell's Animal Farm writing:
      "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

      • What is "the common welfare", and how is it different from the welfare of the individual people who make up the group?
      • What is there that could be good for the welfare of one member but bad for the welfare of the group as a whole?
      • The one thing that occurs to me is having one member of the group steal all of the group's money, like Bill Wilson did.
        • It was good for his wallet, but bad for the A.A. group as a whole.
        • But this tradition talks about what is good for people's welfare, not what is good for their greed, so that can't really be what this 'tradition' is about.
        • Besides, embezzling, cheating, and securities fraud were already illegal, so A.A. did not need a tradition against them any more than A.A. needs traditions against rape or murder. (Or 13th-Stepping the pretty girls, right?)

    • So what is the purpose of this "tradition"? It looks like nothing more than a demand for conformity and obedience to the group, backed up by a death threat.

    • Both this so-called "tradition" and "Tradition Twelve" declare that the group is more important than the lives of the individual members. Welcome to the cult.

      Like Rajiv said,

      Till the traditions came, AA was simply there to help those who were afflicted, or the suffering alcoholics. But this took a back seat in the traditions. Tradition One says that AA's welfare comes first. So with this tradition the most important thing, what come first in AA, is to take care of AA and not the suffering alcoholic. So whenever there is a conflict between the welfare of AA and the welfare of the suffering alcoholic, it becomes binding on the members to sacrifice the suffering alcoholic's welfare or the suffering alcoholic. What a shame!

    • Lastly, this line:

      "A.A. must continue to live or most of us will surely die."

      ... is nothing but the propaganda tricks of Fear Mongering and Arguing From Adverse Consequences "Very bad things will happen unless you do what I want" "If you don't join my cult, you are all gonna die!"
      There is zero evidence that most of the alcoholics will die without A.A. The truth is, they do just fine alone. The vast majority of alcoholics who successfully quit drinking do it alone, without A.A. or any "support group" or any "treatment program".

      The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health, performed the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. For it, they interviewed over 43,000 people. Using the criteria for alcohol dependence found in the DSM-IV, they found:
      "About 75 percent of persons who recover from alcohol dependence do so without seeking any kind of help, including specialty alcohol (rehab) programs and AA. Only 13 percent of people with alcohol dependence ever receive specialty alcohol treatment."

      So Bill Wilson was lying when he said that A.A. must live or else most of the alcoholics will surely die. Bill just wanted his new cult to continue.


  2.  
    For our group purpose, there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as he may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

    [Long Form]
    For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.

    Tradition Two says that God is the ultimate authority, as He expresses Himself in the group conscience.
    But who decides what God is expressing in the group conscience?
    Obviously, it is the leaders, the old-timers who are the most-indoctrinated true believers, and who dominate the "sharing" sessions with their well-practiced raps and their standard sermons.

    • Besides which, who says that God is really expressing anything in the "group conscience"?
    • What if God doesn't feel like spending all of His time in A.A. meetings?
    • Wasn't it rather presumptuous of Bill Wilson to assume that God does?
    • Maybe the group conscience is really just the collective opinion of a bunch of old fools...

    I want to see the proxy. Show me a signed statement from God that says,
    "I hereby authorize this group of old-timers to speak for me."
    It is just outrageously arrogant for the old-timers to imagine that when they open their mouths, God's opinion comes out.

    "I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires."
    == Susan B. Anthony, 1896

    The idea that the individual group leaders "are but trusted servants" is good, but unfortunately, the highest-ranking leaders at the national headquarters are

    They do "govern", and even arbitrarily dictate, so this "tradition" isn't a tradition, either.


  3.  
    The only requirement for A.A. membership is a [sincere] desire to stop drinking.

    [Long Form]
    Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.

    The original form of this tradition said "sincere desire". The word "sincere" was removed from the "tradition" before the second edition of the "Big Book" was published.

    This tradition has good and bad aspects. On the one hand, it is good to let anyone in who sincerely wants to quit drinking. But that also means that:

    • There is no way to keep out the bad elements like the sexual predators who use A.A. meetings as a meat market.
    • There is no way to get rid of bad sponsors, like the crazy fundamentalists who kill newcomers by telling them not to take their doctor-prescribed medications.
    • There is no way to get rid of the self-appointed cult leaders.
    • There is no way to get rid of the true believers who rant on and on about how God will save you if you do the 12 Steps enough.
    • There is no way to get rid of the "Big Bills" who dominate the scene.


  4.  
    Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.

    [Long Form]
    With respect to its own affairs, each A.A. group should be responsible to no other authority than its own conscience. But when its plans concern the welfare of neighboring groups also, those groups ought to be consulted. And no group, regional committee, or individual should ever take any action that might greatly affect A.A. as a whole without conferring with the trustees of the General Service Board. On such issues our common welfare is paramount.

    While this sounds like great freedom, it has the effect of making all groups out of control. When a group goes off the deep end and becomes dominated by fundamentalists who tell the newcomers (even mental patients) not to take their medications, there is no way for the headquarters or other groups to make them stop it. When people become fanatical religious fundamentalists and actively proselytize and spread goofy theology, there is no way for the headquarters or other groups to make them stop it. When a group degenerates into an incestuous little Peyton Place, there is no way for the organization to stop it. And when the "Midtown Group" in Washington DC specializes in being a cult that sexually exploits the newcomer young women, the A.A. headquarters in New York whines and cries and wrings its hands and says that it cannot be anything because every group is independent.

    Anybody can do anything, and nobody is in control.


  5.  
    Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

    [Long Form]
    Each Alcoholics Anonymous group ought to be a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose — that of carrying its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

    To carry what message?


  6.  
    An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

    [Long Form]
    Problems of money, property, and authority may easily divert us from our primary spiritual aim. We think, therefore, that any considerable property of genuine use to A.A. should be separately incorporated and managed, thus dividing the material and the spiritual. An A.A. group, as such, should never go into business. Secondary aids to A.A. such as clubs or hospitals which require much property or administration, ought to be incorporated and so set apart that, if necessary, they can be freely discarded by the groups. Hence such facilities ought not to use the A.A. name. Their management should be the sole responsibility of those people who financially support them. For clubs, A.A. managers are usually preferred. But hospitals, as well as other places of recuperation, ought to be well outside A. A. — and medically supervised. While an A.A. group may cooperate with anyone, such cooperation ought never go so far as affiliation or endorsement, actual or implied. An A.A. group can bind itself to no one.

    The small individual groups may have to live in poverty, but the A.A. headquarters doesn't believe in it. They have $6 million in the bank. They happily took more than $100,000 from the city of San Diego for holding a convention there. They have a scam going where they collect royalties on the Big Book from A.A. organizations all over the world, in spite of the fact that the copyright on the Big Book is fraudulent and invalid, and it always has been. And even if the copyright had once upon a time been valid, the A.A.W.S. headquarters staff screwed up and neglected to renew the copyright in 1983, so they really killed any chance that the copyright could be valid, and they know that.

    Nevertheless, A.A. leaders and their lawyers just recently (2000 to 2003) went to Mexico and Germany and lied and committed perjury to punish A.A. members for printing their own literature, by declaring that the first edition of the Big Book was still under copyright. In Mexico, they even testified in court that the Big Book had been written just recently by a guy named "Wyne Parks" (who was apparently an A.A. office manager in New York), so the copyright was still in effect. That was a total lie.

    The A.A. headquarters — the so-called "trusted servants" — actually got other A.A. members sentenced to prison for the crime of "carrying the message" to poor alcoholics.

    Interchurch Center
    Interchurch Center

    Well, the A.A. headquarters sure has allowed "problems of money" to "divert us from our primary purpose" of spiritual aims, hasn't it? Obviously, as far as the A.A. headquarters is concerned, their primary purpose is to make more money, and they won't allow little side issues like spirituality or honesty to distract them from that primary goal.

    In the background, I can hear them whining and crying that "We had to do those things to protect our profits. Otherwise we would go broke. That would be the end of Alcoholics Anonymous. So the end justifies the means."
    Actually, the corrupt organization called Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Incorporated in the Interchurch Building in New York City is quite unnecessary. A.A. could survive as a grass roots organization without that corporation committing crimes. In fact, "Tradition 9" says that A.A. is not supposed to be organized.


  7.  
    Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

    [Long Form]
    The A.A. groups themselves ought to be fully supported by the voluntary contributions of their own members. We think that each group should soon achieve this ideal; that any public solicitation of funds using the name of Alcoholics Anonymous is highly dangerous, whether by groups, clubs, hospitals, or other outside agencies; that acceptance of large gifts from any source, or of contributions carrying any obligations whatever, is unwise. Then, too, we view with much concern those A.A. treasuries which continue, beyond prudent reserves, to accumulate funds for no stated A.A. purpose. Experience has often warned us that nothing can so surely destroy our spiritual heritage as futile disputes over property, money, and authority.

    As explained above, the A.A. headquarters has no problem with taking money from lots of outside sources, ranging from taking over $100,000 from the city of San Diego for holding a convention there, to taking trumped-up Big Book royalties from all of the A.A. organizations in foreign countries.

    Bill Wilson may have been worried about "those A.A. treasuries which continue, beyond prudent reserves, to accumulate funds for no stated A.A. purpose", but that apparently doesn't bother the current leadership, which has been keeping between $6 and $10 million stashed as a handy little "prudent reserve".

    In addition, somebody commented that this "tradition" is absurd in another way. Attend a meeting of any A.A. group as a visitor. When the hat or basket is passed around to take up the collection, drop in a $10 or $20 bill. See if they tell you to take your money back because it is an "outside contribution".


  8.  
    Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.

    [Long Form]
    Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional. We define professionalism as the occupation of counselling alcoholics for fees or hire. But we may employ alcoholics where they are going to perform those services for which we might otherwise have to engage nonalcoholics. Such special services may well be recompensed. But our usual A.A. Twelfth Step work is never to be paid for.

    This is another one of those "traditions" that has become either totally meaningless or completely hypocritical. There are zillions of A.A. members who make their livings as professional counselors, working in some detox center or treatment facility, pushing the 12-Step program on every patient they get. Hence they are getting paid for their "Twelfth Step work".


  9.  
    A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

    [Long Form]
    Each A.A. group needs the least possible organization. Rotating leadership is the best. The small group may elect its secretary, the large group its rotating committee, and the groups of the large metropolitan area their central or intergroup committee, which often employs a full-time secretary. The trustees of the General Service Board are, in effect, our A. A. General Service Committee. They are the custodians of our A.A. Tradition and the receivers of voluntary A.A. contributions by which we maintain our A.A. General Service Office at New York. They are authorized by the groups to handle our overall public relations and they guarantee the integrity of our principal newspaper, the A.A. Grapevine. All such representatives are to be guided in the spirit of service, for true leaders in A.A. are but trusted and experienced servants of the whole. They derive no real authority from their titles; they do not govern. Universal respect is the key to their usefulness.

    This is one of the most absurd of the traditions. Bill Wilson apparently did not even understand what the word "organized" meant, because he totally organized Alcoholics Anonymous while proclaiming that it shouldn't be organized.

    • Alcoholics Anonymous is legally incorporated into both a profit-making corporation and a non-profit corporation.

      UPDATE 2012: They reincorporated the profit-making corporation as a non-profit, so that they don't have to pay any taxes. So now it's three non-profit corporations: the publishing house Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (AAWS), The General Service Organization of A.A., and The Grapevine (their magazine).

    • A.A. has a national headquarters in New York, and also state councils in every state.
    • A.A. has a national council made up of representatives from every state.
    • A.A. has a Board of Trustees.
    • A.A. has executives who are paid anything from $60,000 to $250,000 per year (and their lawyer Thomas Jasper got $468,000 as a going-away present).
    • And A.A. has 6 million dollars in the bank, just a comfortable "prudent reserve" for a rainy day.
    • The A.A. national council even has an official committee that examines literature and decides whether it meets their standards for conforming religious dogma — whether it can get the council's stamp of approval — "Council-Approved Literature".
    • A.A. is organized, completely, totally, organized.


  10.  
    Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

    [Long Form]
    No A.A. group or member should ever, in such a way to implicate A.A., express any opinion on outside controversial issues — particularly those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups oppose no one. Concerning such matters they can express no views whatever.

    This "tradition" is applied very unevenly. A.A. has no problem with proselytizing and promoting A.A. in very controversial ways, like having judges sentence people to A.A. meetings.

    • The American A.A. leadership has no problem with getting into controversy by committing felony perjury in foreign courts to make more money, and to terrorize disobedient foreign A.A. members who won't obey the orders of an "official" foreign "A.A. organization" that is recognized and sanctioned by the New York headquarters.
    • A.A. has no problem with using front groups like the NCADD and ASAM to promote A.A..
    • They have no problem with using a small army of propagandists to create and distribute a river of misinformation about A.A. and alcoholism.

    But when A.A. is criticized, they hide behind the slogan that "A.A. has no opinion on outside issues. We can't get involved in controversy."


  11.  
    Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.

    [Long Form]
    Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity. We think A.A. ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and pictures as A.A. members ought not to be broadcast, filmed, or publicly printed. Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us.


    Bill Wilson maintaining sacred anonymity, yet again,
    not getting his name or picture publicly printed, yet again.
    Bill's picture was featured in a newspaper article on alcoholism in the August 9, 1942 issue of the Knoxville Journal, during Bill's years-long "dry drunk" campaign of promotion and self-aggrandizement.
    Chester E. Kirk Collection of the John Hay Library at Brown University

    Also see Bill Wilson's testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee, given while identifying himself as one of the two co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, and bragging about all of the great accomplishments he had supposedly made. So much for anonymity.

    This is the most hypocritical of the traditions. For many years, Bill Wilson did everything in his power to promote his Alcoholics Anonymous organization, including him and Dr. Bob practicing coercive recruiting in hospitals, writing the Big Book, getting magazine and newspaper writers to publish favorable articles about A.A., traveling the country on speaking tours, grandstanding and getting his picture and story printed in the newspapers again and again. By 1944, Bill Wilson was the most famous "anonymous" person in the USA.

    Then Bill and the other early A.A. members even got one member, Morgan Ryan, to go on a nation-wide radio show and praise A.A. They managed to keep Morgan Ryan sober — by locking him up — just long enough for him to appear on Gabriel Heatter's "We The People" radio program and tell all of America how a wonderful new organization called "Alcoholics Anonymous" had saved him from alcoholism, and then Morgan promptly relapsed afterwards.

    Then Bill Wilson wrote this fake "tradition" and declared that A.A. was a program of attraction, not promotion. (And everybody but Bill Wilson had to remain anonymous, and get no fame or publicity or money for saving alcoholics. Bill got all of that.)

    Today, A.A. uses coercive recruiting and deceptive recruiting techniques to promote and expand the organization, while proclaiming that it is only a program of attraction.

    Judges and parole officers force great numbers of people into "the rooms", and the army of paid recruiters (called "counselors" and "therapists") who work in the detox facilities and treatment centers route a steady flow of newcomers into the A.A. and N.A. meetings while pretending that it is only a program of attraction.

    A.A. regularly runs television commercials on late-night TV, promoting A.A. while declaring that it is only a program of attraction. Likewise, the women's auxiliary, Al-Anon, is running radio commercials while proclaiming the very same tradition.

    A.A. boosters run a propaganda mill that cranks out a river of

    A.A. is anything but a program of attraction.


  12.  
    Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

    [Long Form]
    And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance. It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually to practice a genuine humility. This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all.

    The demand for "principles before personalities" in Tradition Twelve just means that their so-called "principles" (really, practices) take precedence over your personal beliefs, morals, standards, desires, or even your personal welfare. Again, you must conform to the group. The group is more important than you are.

    And once again, the wording is deceptive. The Twelve Steps are practices — the cult religion practices of Dr. Frank Buchman — not "spiritual principles". Dr. Frank Buchman started the deceptive habit of calling his cult recruiting and indoctrination practices "spiritual principles", and Bill Wilson just copied him. There are no "spiritual principles" in the cult practices of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill Wilson constantly talked about "principles", but he didn't have any.

    To Bill Wilson, "anonymity" meant that he got all of the publicity, credit, fame, and glory (and money and women), while everybody else had to be faceless, nameless, invisible and anonymous, and practice "genuine humility" and quit being so "selfish and self-seeking".


    Bill Wilson posing for a staged "man on the bed" publicity photograph, where Bill allegedly healed the alcoholics and made them get up out of their beds, and pick up their beds and walk.

    Notice the cross on the wall. This photograph was very carefully staged for best effect.





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    Last updated 3 October 2018.
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