George Simmel on AA

George Simmel’s social theory illuminates how recovery is accomplished within the objective culture of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The alcoholic is the ultimate form of a negative subjective culture, as social interactions are focused towards obtaining an altered reality through alcohol.   Association with the objective culture of AA breaks bondage to the social form. Social coercion removes the old social form replacing the alcoholic’s subjective culture with the objective culture. Perhaps, AA contradicts Simmel’s idea that the tragedy of culture’s existential unhappiness is caused by the larger objective culture’s engulfment of a personal creation of culture. Maybe objective cultures can coerce a way of living that breaks addiction and improves life.

The subjective culture of alcoholics is composed of beliefs that they are persecuted and no one is on the alcoholic’s side. All associations for alcoholics are built to satisfy the obsession of obtaining the next drink. Attempting to create a social order by the alcoholic requires them to steal, lie, and use people in an attempt to satisfy the obsession of altering their reality. At one point, the drinker changes their social form from a normal drinker to an alcoholic. Once the social form of an alcoholic is adopted, it slowly grates against the larger objective culture that is directly opposed to the alcoholic social form’s interactions. Behaviors such as driving drunk, being abusive towards others, fighting and stealing, directly oppose the larger objective culture. This further reinforces their social form and the subjective culture of a believed persecution in many walks of life. All internal thoughts in the social form are based on the belief that they are persecuted by the objective culture and believe that God is punishing them for no reason. This belief within the social form causes the subjective culture of alcoholics to eventually end up sick, dying and alone.

This grating of subjective culture against the larger objective culture eventually leads to encounters with the objective culture of AA. The choice is: enslavement to the bottle, “blotting out consciousness until the bitter end,” or allowing coercement from the objective culture of AA. This is Simmel’s action of the objective culture being present shaping the subjective culture. The objective culture of AA has become a culture that exerts control and changes people’s subjective experiences eventually transforming the social form of the alcoholic to a recovered alcoholic social form. The objective culture of AA coerces the alcoholic to remain sober and penetrates all aspects of their lives. AA is embodied in the 12 steps and governs all associations the alcoholic has now. It influences the person’s life and allows the alcoholic to remove the social form that enslaves them to alcohol and AA’s coercion provides an out if they are to take it.

Persons are presented with a compelling newfound sobriety by the objective culture of AA or “the program” and this program of recovery is presented in many different sizes. Simmel’s observation of the power of dyadic associations take place between a sponsor and a sponsee; AA coerces the relationship between sponsor and sponsee. Contrary to being a negative association, this serves the sponsee, as well as the sponsor, by acting as a buffer between the old social form and the new. The objective culture “encourages” members to attend meetings of different sizes. Simmel is correct in his assessment that smaller groups are able to coerce and maintain sobriety over the old social form of the alcoholic. Individuals are unable to hide and the group is able to coerce the individual into accepting the 12 steps as a way of life. Larger groups are provided for new attendees to create a more susceptible and suggestible audience. At some point, they will become an instrument used by the objective culture to create associations that coerce the former alcoholics.  Subjectively, the culture of being an alcoholic has greatly influenced anyone who has subsumed that social form. Objective culture does not enslave the individual but allows them to live a more fulfilling life away from the social form of the alcoholic.

Within the objective culture, emphasis and coercion are extended into social actions such as community service or a more colloquial term, “fellowshipping.” These actions fully embody Simmel’s idea of sociability and the objective culture of AA encourages sociability. Fellowshipping serves the purpose of policing negative behaviors such as fear, which transpires constantly in the alcoholic social form. It also stops personal agendas contrary to the objective cultures purpose of coercing sobriety from sprouting up within AA. Community work serves the objective culture’s greater goal of spreading its influence and coercing others in the social form of alcoholism to sobriety instead of spending the rest of their life in a drunken stupor that will lead to death.

Another way the objective culture AA exerts its influence is through repetition of phrases reinforcing its ideals and coercing the recovering alcoholic to agree, perhaps, subliminally with its agendas. This jargon occurs in social interactions and the alcoholics start referring to themselves as “recovered alcoholics” distinguishing the new social form generated from interactions within the culture of AA. Vernacular then becomes an indicator of one’s status within the group and can be used as a measuring stick to determine the social form. But that judgment is coerced out of the individual by repetition and repeated remembrance of one’s previously inhabited social form.

AA amends the problem of the drunk’s social form that can be changed if the addict wants to leave the social form of an alcoholic. This is accomplished by the objective culture of AA that is embodied in the 12 step accomplishing social form transformation. The subjective form of the alcoholic in the face of these social interactions becomes coerced into sobriety by AA. Most recovered alcoholics will argue sobriety is a better way of life. Perhaps, contrary to Simmel, objective culture does not always cause an emotional gulf in people and an objective culture can, in certain instances, be a structure that betters social forms and encourages positive subjective cultural growth. 

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