Cults: Faith, Healing, and Coercion, by Marc Galanter
by A. Orange
"The A.A. Example" of "Charismatic Healing Groups" is present on
pages 176-190 in the first edition, and pages 210 to 224 of the second edition.
The back cover of the book tells us that:
Marc Galanter's book is an odd beast: It is like a chimera made from merging a good perceptive truthful book about cults with a bad propaganda book about Alcoholics Anonymous. In his book, Galanter perceptively and accurately analyzed destructive cults, and had a lot of knowledgeable things to say about them. He was right there in the middle of some of those cults, and got permission to study a few of them first-hand. He studied cults for 20 years, and got a good feel for their nature. He wrote about the mechanics of cults, how they work, how they behave, how they stay together, the forces present in cults, and so on. And he wrote about the evil in cults, and their destructiveness, and how many of them have harmed and even killed their members.
But then Galanter looked at Alcoholics Anonymous, and declared that it was a good cult. Galanter clearly recognized that A.A. is a cult — he didn't quibble or mince words — he said that A.A. is a cult, and that it uses the same forces and mind-bending techniques as all of the other nasty cults do. He rightly included Alcoholics Anonymous in this book about dangerous destructive cults like the Moonies, Jim Jones' People's Temple, David Koresh "The Wacko from Waco" and his Branch Davidians, and the Heaven's Gate cult. But then Galanter said that A.A. is "a good cult", because they use the power of cults for a good cause.
And upon what evidence did Galanter base his conclusion that A.A. is a good cult? On one single study by Chad Emrick, who surveyed a bunch of pro-A.A. propaganda written by other A.A. promoters and then declared that two-thirds of the A.A. members reduced their drinking, at least for a while. Then Galanter started talking about the "effectiveness of A.A.".
That sounds pretty good, until you realize just how deceptive that language really is. The first key phrase in that statement is "AA members". Two thirds of the "A.A. members" reduced their drinking, Emrick said, not two-thirds of the alcoholics who come to A.A. looking for help to quit drinking. In truth, ninety-five percent of the alcoholic newcomers to A.A. drop out in the first year, which only leaves 5% who could possibly become sober long-term members. So Emrick was actually bragging that two-thirds of five percent of the new alcoholics who come to A.A. cut down on their drinking. That is a mere three and one-third percent (3.33%), which is truly pathetic. That is massive failure, not "success". That is even way below the normal rate of spontaneous remission in alcoholics — 5% per year — which is the success rate of alcoholics who go it alone and get no "help" or "treatment" or "support group" at all.
And then the second key phrase in Emrick's statement is "they consumed either less alcohol or none at all."
When you think about it, you will realize that that is a meaningless statement. Almost anything qualifies as "consumed less alcohol". It doesn't require anybody to actually quit drinking — they just have to cut down somewhat for a little while. A hard-core boozer who merely cuts down and abstains from suicidally-intense binge drinking for just one month, and then goes back to it and kills himself, qualifies as someone who reduced his drinking for a while. Heck, someone who only abstains from drinking for one weekend also qualifies.
Then Emrick declared that "Almost half of those who improved remained abstinent for a year." But "those who improved" were apparently only 31/3% of the newcomers. Half of them is only 1.667%, which is not a success rate to brag about — it's a disaster to be ashamed of. It is less than the normal rate of spontaneous remission in alcoholics.
So Emrick was really just lying with qualifiers and disguising the fact that a tragically low percentage of newcomers to A.A. actually got sober and stayed dry for one year.
And one year is only the start of sobriety, not the climax of a great success story. It is no victory if someone stays dry for one year and then relapses and dies drunk in the streets. Heck, it is not much of a victory if someone stays sober for five years or seven years and then relapses and drinks himself to death. It's better than never being sober, but it isn't any great victory.
Also notice the slanted language and stroking ploys that Marc Galanter used in that paragraph:
Marc Galanter began his proselytizing for A.A. early in his book, right in the first pages of the first chapter, by telling a cheerful story of a guy who was drafted into A.A. and quit drinking after 20 years of alcohol abuse. It was really quite an impressive story of a guy who apparently found the motivation to quit drinking in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous:
After increasingly heavy drinking that began in his teens, Ted became addicted to alcohol in his mid-thirties. His work performance passed from adequate to irregular, and he eventually lost the sales job he had held since college. Within a year, his wife left him, taking their child with him (he had recently begun to beat her when he was drinking). Within five years he was hospitalized twice for gastrointestinal bleeding caused by his drinking. Despite frequent exposure to medical advice and the exhortation of his extended family, he expressed no interest in sobriety and had refused to attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. On one occasion, though, he accompanied a recovering alcoholic friend to an AA meeting and found himself agreeing to stay after the meeting to speak with some other members. When I talked with him two years later, he remarked that by this point no one seemed to care whether he lived or died, but he couldn't admit that it might be within his power to change this. He could give no clear reason for agreeing to attend the AA meetings at this point, but he continued to do so. Within two months of regular meetings, he had acquired the resolve to remain abstinent, although he himself still wondered how he had fended off for even sixty days the alcohol that had controlled his life for over two decades. Later contacts would reveal that AA helped him maintain abstinence thereafter.
That sounds great. But Galanter said nothing about the 19 other people who went to A.A., and were disgusted and appalled by what they saw, and walked out without quitting drinking "with the help of A.A.".
So where did that "19" number come from? Simple: From the meager 5% retention rate of Alcoholics Anonymous. Ninety-five percent of the newcomers to A.A. drop out in the first year, which only leaves 5% who could possibly become sober members. That means that at most, only 1 in 20 newcomers to A.A. have happy success stories. So when Galanter tells the story of some guy who got sober while going to A.A. meetings, we know that there are at least 19 other unmentioned people in the background whose outcomes were not so happy.
Really, the numbers are worse than that. There are also many other A.A. members who go to A.A. meetings for years without managing to stay continuously sober for very long. They are the yo-yos: up, down, up, down, up, down, year after year. They are the reason why we came up with numbers like only 3.33% or 1.67% of the newcomers staying sober for a year. And then there are lots more people who just totally relapse after a few years of sobriety in A.A., and go back out and die drunk — like the Big Book co-author Henry Parkhurst did after 4 years in A.A., and Florence Rankin, author of the Big Book first edition story "A Feminine Victory" did after a couple of years, and like so many of the A.A. "first 100" did, and like half of the original first-edition Big Book authors did. But Marc Galanter didn't talk about any of those people. Why not?
That's the problem with the Proof by Anecdote propaganda technique — the propagandist just trumpets the one happy story of success, and ignores the other 19 or 29 or 39 unhappy stories of failure.
Marc Galanter also failed to establish any cause-and-effect relationship between going to A.A. meetings and quitting drinking. Why did that guy "Ted" finally quit drinking? Maybe for the same reason that he finally agreed to go to some A.A. meetings, after many years of refusing to go: He was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and was desirous of a change in his life. He was finally really ready to make a change, and ready to really quit drinking.
To put it in the terminology of Dr. Edgar H. Schein, the alcoholic's personality has become "unfrozen" and is fluid and subject to change. It is the strong desire to make a change in your life that does the magic, not joining a cult religion.
If A.A. really works, why didn't it make those 19 other alcoholics remain in A.A. and quit drinking?
And, if A.A. really works, why did A.A. still fail to make even half of the committed A.A. members stay sober for a year?
And Emrick's concluding line is ridiculous: "Later contacts would reveal that AA helped him maintain abstinence thereafter."
To say that,
"I went to some A.A. meetings and then quit drinking, so A.A. caused me
to quit drinking"
the same bad logic
as the radical fundamentalist preacher who declares,
"Mary-Ellen started listening to that Satanic rock-and-roll music and ended up
getting pregnant, so that evil music caused her downfall."
It is the logical fallacy of assuming a cause-and-effect relationship where none
Post hoc, ergo propter hoc
— "it happened after something..., so it was caused by that something...".
We have come to view alcoholism as a disease, one reflecting both compulsive behavior and physical incapacity. How can social influence, through a self-help fellowship, so dramatically change this syndrome? How can it achieve such impressive results when family, friends, and professionals have been so limited in their ability to aid alcoholics alter their behavior, even when their illness seems likely to be fatal? As we will see, the mutual support by members of Alcoholics Anonymous serves to engage alcoholics and promote their acceptance of the group's values. The combination of intense social cohesiveness and strongly held, shared belief (in abstinence, in this case) allows for such striking behavioral change.
From the outset, Synanon fell victim to the inflated role of Charles Dederich, its charismatic leader. In contrast to Bill W., Dederich was arrogant and controlling, and in time even designated Synanon as a religion, granting himself a transcendent role far beyond that appropriate to the director of a drug treatment program. Unbridled power leads to feelings of grandiosity that may be difficult to withstand...
Wow. Galanter described Bill Wilson to a 'T' while describing Charles Dederich, and then he went into denial about the whole thing:
Continuing with that quote from Galanter's book, we get:
Unbridled power leads to feelings of grandiosity that may be difficult to withstand, so the outcome of this group depended on the establishment of a rational administrative structure. Unlike AA, however, Synanon did not develop a stable organization or a democratic community. Instead, power was concentrated in the hands of a single individual who proved ill fit to manage it.
Brother. Talk about somebody being in denial. None of that praise of A.A. is true. None of it. A.A. did not establish a democratic structure. It is a phony fake democracy where the members can vote all they want, but nothing changes. The leadership in New York is so unspiritual, dishonest and greedy that they have even committed perjury against other A.A. members and gotten them sentenced to prison for the "crime" of printing their own literature and giving it away to poor alcoholics. (The A.A. leaders were just protecting their profits, you know.) The A.A. membership has voted to censure those dishonest leaders, and the leaders basically told them to get lost and go 'F' themselves. Nothing changed.
It is basically impossible for the rank-and-file A.A. membership to fire or impeach or replace or recall the bad A.A. leaders. There is no democracy there at all. The leaders do not obey or answer to the membership. In addition, the A.A. leaders control the house publication, the "A.A. Grapevine", and censor its contents, so you won't read the truth about what the A.A. leaders are doing in any official A.A. publications or through any official information channels. (The silence is deafening.) There is no simple way for the A.A. members to communicate with the whole membership and organize and build up a reform movement.
And A.A. is very intrusive and impinges in all aspects of the newcomers' lives, just like any other cult, like by telling the new members not to take their doctor-prescribed medications, and by telling sponsees whether they should get married or divorced, and whether they may have a love affair, and what job to take, and not to go back to college and finish that degree...
Further down on the same page of Galanter's book, we get:
Dederich later acknowledged in court that his own family had received $2 million of the organization's funds over a 4-year period.33 Such pecuniary gain, of course, stands in sharp contrast to the traditional limitation on the acquisition of assets with AA, and the disavowal of all personal benefits by the founder.
That is another standard Alcoholics Anonymous lie. That is so totally untrue that it can't be called a mistake. It is a lie. Bill Wilson profited from A.A. immensely. He took A.A. for everything that he could get, including a beautiful house in the country and a Cadillac car. Bill Wilson stole the Big Book publishing fund, and then Wilson feloniously stole the copyright of the Big Book and then blackmailed the A.A. organization into giving him an income for life in trade for the copyright that was already legally theirs. At the time of Lois Wilson's death, she was receiving over $900,000 per year from Bill's allegedly non-existent "personal benefits". Undoubtedly, the Wilson family got far more money out of Alcoholics Anonymous than the Dederich family ever got from Synanon.
And today, the A.A. headquarters is obviously also very dishonest in how they "acquire assets", as evidenced by their suing A.A. members over the expired Big Book copyright, and lying and declaring in court that the copyright is not expired or invalid.
In addition, Galanter also stubbornly refuses to see that the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book is as bad a piece of deceptive and dishonest cult religion propaganda as you will find anywhere. In fact, he doesn't study it at all. He makes no mention of ever having seen it. For good reason: if he did study the Big Book, he would have a very hard time defending it or explaining the contradictions and the delusions and the lies.
Likewise, Galanter ignores every other negative aspect of Alcoholics Anonymous. He just keeps repeating the chant, "Other cults bad; A.A. good", without any real evidence to support his assumptions and favorite beliefs. It is sad that this seems to be the state of the art in treating alcoholism in this country. That rap is, after all, coming from nothing less than a Professor of Psychiatry, and Director of the Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse at the New York University School of Medicine. Sad, very sad.
Last updated 20 September 2017.
Copyright © 2019, A. Orange