Spirituality and the 12 Step Programme

Spirituality and the 12 Step Programme

John Waites

Visiting Lecturer, University of Portsmouth, and Chairman, Water Margin Restaurant Group

10 August 2016

Could you think of any example where a 12-step spiritual practice can actually help conquer one’s deepest fears and addiction, thereby turning one’s life around?

A “twelve-step program” is a set of guiding principles outlining a course of action for tackling problems including alcoholism, drug addiction, and compulsion. Originally proposed by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) as a method of recovery from alcoholism, the original Twelve Steps were first published in the 1939 book Alcoholics Anonymous. Often referred to as the “Big Book”, Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the best-selling books of all time, having sold 30 million copies. The method was adapted and became the foundation of other twelve-step programmes.

In this paper, John Waites aims to bring arguably one of the most important books ever written to the attention of more readers; explain that the 12 step programme is predominantly a spiritual programme, not a willpower programme; and draw upon some beautifully written parts of the Big Book, still unknown to most. It is an unbalanced book, a curate’s egg. The first 60 pages took years to write and rewrite, whilst the next hundred pages were written in a month, to meet a print deadline. Here is a summary of this gem of a practical philosophy model that actually works, helping thousands of people with addictions and other problems turn their life around.

No soul to damn …

No soul to damn …

5 March 2016

‘No soul to damn, no body to kick’ – this is how Edward Thurlow, the 18th century Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, described an organisation. This is in perfect agreement with an old principle of jurisprudence, which says that societas deliquere non potest, meaning that a legal person (e.g. a company, an association, or any other type of organisation) cannot be held criminally liable, because it lacks the moral core, which can lend it to moral worth or blameworthiness – a sine qua non of criminal responsibility. The latter can only be ascribed to natural persons, who have the consciousness that makes them capable of telling right from wrong, thereby morally responsible.

The key element here is that of intentionality – mens rea, in law. Since it lacks a conscience, a non-natural entity cannot be ascribed any state of mind, let alone the intention to commit a crime. (Again, one of the key tenets of the legal tradition is that only a free and conscious person can commit a criminal offence; in other words, freedom, awareness, and intention to commit the crime are key elements of criminal liability; without these, no such responsibility can be ascribed to a person).

The main consequence of this legal philosophy is that companies cannot be held criminally responsible, no matter what they do. If, say, a few hundred workers die in a construction ‘accident’ because a faulty piece of equipment was not replaced when it should have been, and the whole management of the company knew about this and chose to ignore it – one would think, the company should be held to account. Not according to the old principle of societas delinquere. The company could only be fined – that is, held administratively (rather than criminally) accountable. But is that satisfactory at all? Are the families of those workers going to consider this an appropriate level of justice – no one assuming responsibility, no one saying sorry, no punishment? (Remember, a civil penalty does not as such amount to any meaningful punishment, because no ‘criminal’ (that is, deeply moral) blame is ascribed or assumed. Rather, a fine represents a settlement between the company and the civil court).

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Values in theory and practice

Values in theory and practice

29 February 2016

Reflections on the hermeneutics of values – that is, on how we experience values in practice, or the so-called ‘integrity test’ in virtue ethics.

Let me start by introducing my refugee friend Mina, who lives in London on £36 a day, hasn’t seen her husband and four children in four years, and is the happiest person I know. Think about this, and I’ll come back to it later.

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