Bill Wilson would never have another drink

Tuesday, April 20th, 2021

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg shares the story of the origin of Alcoholics Anonymous:

“I got religion,” the friend said. He talked about hell and temptation, sin and the devil. “Realize you are licked, admit it, and get willing to turn your life over to God.”

Wilson thought the guy was nuts. “Last summer an alcoholic crackpot; now, I suspected, a little cracked about religion,” he later wrote. When his friend left, Wilson polished off the booze and went to bed.

A month later, in December 1934, Wilson checked into the Charles B. Towns Hospital for Drug and Alcohol Addictions, an upscale Manhattan detox center. A physician started hourly infusions of a hallucinogenic drug called belladonna, then in vogue for the treatment of alcoholism. Wilson floated in and out of consciousness on a bed in a small room.

For days, he hallucinated. The withdrawal pains made it feel as if insects were crawling across his skin. He was so nauseous he could hardly move, but the pain was too intense to stay still. “If there is a God, let Him show Himself!” Wilson yelled to his empty room. “I am ready to do anything. Anything!” At that moment, he later wrote, a white light filled his room, the pain ceased, and he felt as if he were on a mountaintop, “and that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man. Slowly the ecstasy subsided. I lay on the bed, but now for a time I was in another world, a new world of consciousness.”

Bill Wilson would never have another drink.


All of which is somewhat unexpected, because AA has almost no grounding in science or most accepted therapeutic methods.


In fact, AA’s methods seem to sidestep scientific and medical findings altogether, as well as the types of intervention many psychiatrists say alcoholics really need.


What AA provides instead is a method for attacking the habits that surround alcohol use.


Researchers say that AA works because the program forces people to identify the cues and rewards that encourage their alcoholic habits, and then helps them find new behaviors.


“When you make a self-inventory, you’re figuring out all the things that make you drink. And admitting to someone else all the bad things you’ve done is a pretty good way of figuring out the moments where everything spiraled out of control.”


  1. Peter Whitaker says:

    Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace gives a compelling fictionalized account of an Alcoholics Anonymous group.

  2. Kirk says:

    Two comments… One, if it looks stupid and it works, then it ain’t stupid.

    Empiricism absent theory is the hobgoblin of many “intellectuals” because they are conditioned and indoctrinated to believe that nothing can happen that is not in accordance with some preconceived “theory” of everything they observe. This is why they denigrate and devalue everything they don’t understand or fail to recognize as having an underlying set of actual causative factors. They think that everything around them “just happens”, failing to realize that even the hoariest of traditional social phenomenon have roots in the fact that those institutions would not exist in the first place, had a lengthy chain of other (likely more…) intelligent people not seen the necessity for them and then invented them.

    It’s Chesterton’s Fence writ large across society. Do you wonder why there are no any examples of successful historical societies anywhere in the world that have made the “social innovations” our intellectual “elites” have forced down our throats these many years?

    Prohibition was one of those ideas, and I can about guarantee you that nobody with a lick of sense would have ever expected any other results than the ones the Progressives got–Enhanced criminality and the beginnings of corruption in our legal system being only the first precursory ones. Had those dipshits let people be people, then none of the 20th Century’s multitudinous violations of civil rights would have gotten started–But, they felt that opening Pandora’s Box was a good idea. Why? Because they’d no respect whatsoever for the various fences they found out in the commons, thinking that they knew better than all the many generations who’d come before them.

    And, a lot of that happened because they could find no underlying theory of “social necessity” for escape valves like alcohol and narcotics anywhere in their grand “theories of the world”. Just like Marxism, where the idiot believers look at the wonderful construct and see things that aren’t there, there are no actual bits of working social structure based on those principles. The “true believers” in that fantasy can’t even make a communal coffee fund work in an office, and they think they could spread it out across an entire society and have that society still function…

    Another place you see this crap play out is in the military–Much of the officer class and the civilian administrators who run that institution have precisely zero idea at all of how it works. All they know is that all those antiquated traditions have to go, in the name of “equality” and “fairness”, never realizing that they serve key roles in binding men into social groups that have to stick together under fire. Sure, the things that fall under the idea of “hazing” can be abused and often are, but the key point about them is that every male social group out there, from the Elks to a street gang, all of them have their “jumping in” ceremonies, and traditions surrounding them. You screw with that stuff only at great peril, and if you do it wrong, you’re screwing up the entire process by which you make soldiers out of civilians.

    But, because none of these issues have been studied and “academized”, to coin a phrase, they have no weight with the anointed decision-makers who have to have everything spelled out in textbooks or they can’t believe it exists or has any importance whatsoever. Never mind that there are thousands of generations of experience, observation, and technique embodied in the traditions of the drill sergeant, likely going back to Thog the hunter tasked with turning young men into effective members of the mammoth-hunting team–If it ain’t in enshrined in some textbook by an erudite peer, it ain’t really real, now is it?

    The essential idiocy and blindness of our elites is going to be the death of us, with another fundamental causative factor being their devaluing all these things they don’t understand (mostly because they don’t bother to look for them, or at them…) and denigrate. One of the things I find disturbing is how far across society this issue spreads–It’s not only in the military, it’s in the schools and industry, as well. You don’t have much, if any, cross-connection going on between the practitioners and the anointed “experts” in any field. You go and look at the actual folks working with kids who have sexual dysphorias, for example, and NONE of them will tell you the fantastic idiocies you hear coming out of the academy about the issue. Sure, some nutters are out on the fringes of the practitioner doing crazy things, but almost none of the actual therapists working with kids that look at real results will tell you the asinine things that are coming out of the academic world.

    We’ve broken the link between theory and practice; the theorists are out there madly swinging at the end of the rope, while the practitioners are desperately trying to hold on to the rockface. There’s going to be a huge crash once they manage to build up enough energy to pull everything loose from its moorings, and I think we’re actually in the midst of all that.

  3. Altitude Zero says:

    “if it looks stupid and it works, then it ain’t stupid.”

    See also “Protectionism”. It works in practice, but it doesn’t work in theory, so economists are against it.

  4. TRX says:

    The generally-accepted figures for Alcoholics Anonymous say that their success rate is poor and their methodology is a pseudo-religious mishmash coupled with outdated popular psychology… but despite that, their success rate is far better than their nearest competitors.

  5. Kirk says:


    See, that’s the point I’m making, here–The stuff we disparage because it doesn’t comply with some theory or the predictions of some academic will often actually be rooted in observational insights made by someone who might not have an advanced degree, but who somehow manages to make something work when the academics can’t.

    I’m afraid that the academy has mostly failed at understanding a great many things in this universe of ours. I would speculate that it’s because the majority of the men and women making up the academy are not actually all that bright, and they tend to work at things from the basis of their own pre-conceived notions rather than actually entertaining the idea that maybe, just maybe, the old-timers weren’t utter dolts and did know a thing or two about how to go about life.

    There are reasons why you don’t see any successful societies out there who allow the mainstreaming of deviant behavior the way we have. It’s because it doesn’t work, and it tears down the structural supports for that society. Our “intellectual elite” think they’ve discerned a “better way”, and are hell-bent on implementing it. Look around you, and ask yourself if it seems to be producing the results they predicted. I’m not seeing it, myself…

    The things these academized idjits have torn down are things that were built up over generations, by canny observation and not a little experimentation. They tried all sorts of solutions, and they kept what worked–So, when someone tells you that we’ve overcome the basic reasons all these rules existed, I look at that with eyes askance, because I don’t think we’ve really managed to change enough of the basic facts to be able to actually effect all these changes we’ve tried out. The brutal reality is, we’re still the same basic humans we were two centuries ago, and the same biological facts obtain. Denial of those facts will only result in misery for all concerned, and you can see that happening all around us.

  6. David Foster says:

    The writer Andre Maurois remarked that those people who are intelligent, but not in any way creative, tend to be eager adopters of intellectual systems created by others, which systems they apply more rigidly than their originators.

    I think this describes a high % of academics.

  7. Gavin Longmuir says:

    A utility company CEO pointed to peer pressure as a major factor in utilities first going all in on nuclear power and then going in the opposite direction. Today, when we see European oil company executives boasting that their oil production is declining (Watch us go bust!), we do have to wonder about the overwhelming influence of peer pressure within “elite” groups.

    Peer pressure is obviously a very strong factor within modern academic environments — zero tolerance for intellectual diversity or originality.

    I keep wondering — what factors drive peer pressure?

  8. Kirk says:

    David Foster,

    No, I think what you are getting at is the inarguable fact that what we’ve come to define as “intelligent”, based on those things we can produce written tests for… Really isn’t “intelligent” at all, in terms of actual capacity to function within the real world environment.

    All of those people in academia did really, really well on their tests. They wouldn’t be there if they hadn’t have done so. Yet, only an academic would be so utterly moronically stupid as to pronounce grammer and proper use of a language as somehow “racist”, and announce that such strictures were meaningless. Your average “stupid” layman, on the other hand, will look at said delusional idiot and say “Yeah… That’s dumb. Even I know better than that…”.

    Our elite has been carefully selected and indoctrinated with the idea that they are the elite, and better than everyone else. Wilson and his ilk wanted a technocratic socialist society, managed for the betterment of all. As such, they set about creating it, and what we have today in San Francisco and Seattle is the final result of all these “intelligent” types having their way with public policy.

    Intelligent is as intelligent does. You can’t test for it, you can only look at the end result and say “Yeah, those guys are smart…”. Our “end result” after a century and more of these felching feckless morons running everything is pretty self-evident: The people we selected for, indoctrinated, and then put in charge of running society for us are all a bunch of loser dolts whose best purpose would be to serve as tamping on top of charges they’ve laid to blow up society around us.

    The first and primary fallacy was to believe that “intelligence” was something we could define and test for; the second one was that we set the test as those things we could easily put on paper, and then behaved as though the prediction of predisposition was the same thing as actual performance. It’s rather as if we administered a test where we chose the victors of a steeplechase by having everyone run 50 meters in the stadium, and then said “Well, so-and-so did the 50m test in the shortest time, they’re the winner of the 3000m steeplechase that we don’t need to bother running, now…”.

    Real world gets its vote. If Professor Dunthinkin’ hasn’t actually spent time running a refinery, and only knows the details from second- and third-remove academic study, odds are pretty ‘effing good that’s not the guy you talk to about why your refineries keep blowing up.

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