Monday, September 13, 2010

The Politics of Powerlessness

I recently read this description of AA and Al-Anon, and even though it smarted of intolerance and judgmental-ism,  I could not stop marveling at the accuracy of it.

"Lack of religion is a concept I learned in Alcoholics Anonymous, a self help group for people who cannot drink responsibly, and Al Anon, a self help group for people who cannot relate to such people in a responsible manner."

One of the tragedies of modern man is the myth and mysticism of powerlessness.  The growth of organized bodies of thought or belief or ism's has in some ways destroyed the concept of individual empowerment.  Hence, we give in to politicians and government, oil prices and tax regimes, fatwas and confessionals.  We throng the psychology and self help sections in bookstores and libraries and are unable to think beyond the flavor of the month in personal productivity.

As a civilization, we have conditioned ourselves to believe that "power" is out there, and we need to tap into that power.  The AA movement with its 12 steps, which accepts lack of religion in an alcoholic seeking wellness but not the rejection of a God of our understanding, also stresses the absolutes of the Oxford Group through its insistence on total abstinence as a sign of success (regardless of the health of the member in other areas of life) and drinking alcohol in any manner a sign of relapse.  What is the weapon of overcoming the powerlessness that an alcoholic is possessed of?  It is "turning our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him."  

The literature of AA also goes on to clarify that all that is required of the nonbeliever is the willingness to believe in a God of his understanding, totally discounting that a person might not have an understanding of a God that he can subscribe to.  This too is a way of saying there is a power out there, and the reason why you are miserable is because you don't think so.

The sick and the suffering are already beaten into a submissive state by their circumstances.  The powerbrokers of religion and many so called self help groups, instead of helping them to rise above their circumstances, use their misfortune and vulnerability to hard sell (in that state pretty much any kind of sell works) their ideologies and dogma, often creating deep rooted conflicts in the mind of the suffering person about sin, guilt, and powerlessness. Faith healing, charismatic prayer meetings, lucky charms, and exorcism are all examples of this.

I myself have benefited immensely from the 12 steps of AA and philosophies similar to AA.  I have also been fortunate to escape largely unharmed from the disempowerment and conflict that such philosophies can give rise to.  All a poet can do is warn.  There are stages in the evolution of personal ethics and worldview, and at certain stages, the unquestioning submission to a philosophy along the lines of bhakti yoga is the best direction for growth, while at others, failing to question, failing to follow one's own heart, can destroy the spirit that spurs us to become all that we were born for.

As one journeys further into the realms of spiritual quest, one is able to see power in its true perspective; not the cacti laden hallucinations of Castaneda, nor the blunt analytics of Russell; not the self righteousness of Prabhupada, nor the militant meditation of the Samurai; that of the oneness of all phenomenon in the matrix of time-space and cause-effect.  Being one with that perception is true power.