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I recently came across Penn & Teller's attempt to dubunk the 12 Step process. Yes, THAT Penn & Teller- the team of two contrasting magicians (the little guy who is silent and the big guy who won't shut up.) These "12-Stepping" videos are part of their "Bullsh*t!" Showtime series and have surfaced on Youtube.
While I'm up for open debate, the "logic" and methods P&T use to assert their points are flawed to say the least. Much of their argument seems based more on manipulation than persuasion.
As P & T point out, the sheer number of different 12 Step programs available is overwhelming. The massive need for help from addiction cannot be argued. P & T assert that 12 Step programs are unscientific and question their effectiveness. But the evidence presented by P & T against The 12 Steps is far from scientific. They give only anecdotal evidence, personal opinion, brief excerpts from a twenty year old survey and skewed logic in making their case.
The calculated use of the word "cult" by Penn & Teller here is to ostracize and stigmatize anyone in, or considering joining, a 12 step group. It's an attempt to associate 12 Step programs with some insane dogma or radically dangerous religious fascism, ala David Koresh or Jim Jones. A cheap shot that is all too transparent. Especially after P & T accuse 12 Step programs of using shame and preying on the weakness of others.
As people from dysfunctional families are well aware, shame can be a powerful weapon. It is often used to try and control and influence by fear. And to silence those who may object or hold a differing opinion from those in power. When the merits of an argument can't stand on their own and open debate cannot be tolerated, shame and fear are convenient tools to keep alternate opinions subdued and unexpressed. These tactics are often used by truly radical cult leaders to keep their members in line. By lampooning the 12 Steps and ridiculing those who endorse and use them, P & T are using THE VERY METHOD they rail against- authoritarian, shame based coercion.
One definition of "cult" is "a cohesive social group and their devotional beliefs or practices, which the surrounding population considers to be outside of mainstream cultures." -Wikipedia. That's a pretty broad brush. Under that wide definition many groups including The Boy Scouts, surfers, lesbians and yes, even MAGICIANS can be considered members of cults.
P & T claim alcoholism is not a disease. I won't pretend to be able to divine THE definitive answer but PTSD, Addiction and Trauma all cause mental and physical afflictions. And yes, addiction does have a genetic component. Addicts and their offspring have a lack of dopamine receptors in their brains. This has been scientifically documented. A physical limitation like this cannot be changed with willpower.
The 12 Steps does not claim there is A monolithic, specific God. For me, belief in a Higher Power simply means I recognize the reality that I am not the most powerful thing in this universe. There are many, much more powerful sources than myself at work. One need only to look up at the sun to see proof of this. I open myself up to the possibility that a greater power does exist and can help me.
Penn & Teller claim the success rate of Alcoholics Anonymous to be 5% based on decades old information. But they fail to offer any statistics on the success rate of alternative "SOS" or "Assisted Recovery" programs that they tout on their video. Nor do they offer any opposing opinions on these treatments. Their entire argument against the 12 Steps seems to lie somewhere between unbalanced manipulation and outright propaganda. But then slight of hand, mental or otherwise, is what they do.
Penn and Teller themselves may actually suffer from an addiction to excitement, as many do. This could easily take the form of craving the spotlight of the stage and espousing controversial points of view for the accompanying adrenaline rush that comes with the inevitable confrontations to follow.
The 12 Step programs I am familiar with recognize that everyone is different and suggest that people explore to find what works for them. This viewpoint is so widespread in The 12 Steps that, "Take What You Want And Leave The Rest" has become an adage almost as popular as "One Day At A Time" or "Easy Does It". Perhaps P & T should heed this advice.
There is a long list of people that credit the 12 Steps with helping them. So far, the number of addicts that Penn & Teller have successfully treated remains at zero. According to their website, P & T are "confirmed skeptics and pro-science atheists (they refer to God as "an imaginary friend").
Far from being unbiased, P & T are using this platform to promote THEIR atheistic agenda and beliefs under the guise of having a mission to "expose the truth to an otherwise desperate and gullible public." This is the same approach that they accuse 12 Step Programs of using- an agenda based recruitment for the desperate and gullible.
Assuming you're not too gullible, ask yourself if you've found more value and truth in these videos or in your local 12 Step meeting. I already know my answer.
In the end, these two stage hucksters are no more qualified to explain addiction, cults, 12 step programs and other things they admittedly know little about than I am at stepping onstage and pretending I can pull rabbits out of hats.
Thanks for listening,
(note: Post publication of this article, the Penn & Teller videos referenced above were yanked from Youtube. Apparently the right holders want you to pay to have the wool pulled over your eyes.)
Check out the Orange County ACA website at: Orange County Adult Children