RIP Roger E.

English: Roger Ebert and his wife Chaz Hammel-...
English: Roger Ebert and his wife Chaz Hammel-Smith give the thumbs-ups to Nancy Kwan at the Hawaii International Film Festival on October 20, 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Roger Ebert is dead.

I always loved that he was a film lover first and a film critic second. More recently I admired courage and spirit and in the face of cancer as it stole pieces of him and his life. I kept his blog feed in the philosopher’s folder of my reader. For me, he embodied this big book passage.

We have been speaking to you of serious, sometimes tragic things. We have been dealing with alcohol in its worst aspect. But we aren’t a glum lot. If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn’t want it. We absolutely insist on enjoying life. We try not to indulge in cyanism over the state of the nations, nor do we carry the the world’s troubles on our shoulders.

Here’s an earlier post on his blog post about his alcoholism and recovery:

Roger Ebert breaks his anonymity:

You may be wondering, in fact, why I’m violating the A.A. policy of anonymity and outing myself. A.A. is anonymous not because of shame but because of prudence; people who go public with their newly-found sobriety have an alarming tendency to relapse. Case studies: those pathetic celebrities who check into rehab and hold a press conference.

In my case, I haven’t taken a drink for 30 years, and this is God’s truth: Since the first A.A. meeting I attended, I have never wanted to. Since surgery in July of 2006 I have literally not been able to drink at all. Unless I go insane and start pouring booze into my g-tube, I believe I’m reasonably safe. So consider this blog entry what A.A. calls a “12th step,” which means sharing the program with others. There’s a chance somebody will read this and take the steps toward sobriety.

He responds to some of the most common criticisms (I know he doesn’t recognize that many people are coerced.):

The God word. The critics never quote the words “as we understood God.” Nobody in A.A. cares how you understand him, and would never tell you how you should understand him. I went to a few meetings of “4A” (“Alcoholics and Agnostics in A.A.”), but they spent too much time talking about God. The important thing is not how you define a Higher Power. The important thing is that you don’t consider yourself to be your own Higher Power, because your own best thinking found your bottom for you. One sweet lady said her higher power was a radiator in the Mustard Seed, “because when I see it, I know I’m sober.”

Sober. A.A. believes there is an enormous difference between bring dry and being sober. It is not enough to simply abstain. You need to heal and repair the damage to yourself and others. We talk about “white-knuckle sobriety,” which might mean, “I’m sober as long as I hold onto the arms of this chair.” People who are dry but not sober are on a “dry drunk.”

A “cult?” How can that be, when it’s free, nobody profits and nobody is in charge? A.A. is an oral tradition reaching back to that first meeting between Bill W. and Doctor Bob in the lobby of an Akron hotel. They’d tried psychiatry, the church, the Cure. Maybe, they thought, drunks can help each other, and pass it along. A.A. has spread to every continent and into countless languages, and remains essentially invisible. I was dumbfounded to discover there was a meeting all along right down the hall from my desk.

The most remarkable things is that the comments are civil. (Even with several references to other paths to recovery.)

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When the bubble bursts

A bubble.
A bubble. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A while back, a colleague introduced me to Shattered Assumptions. The book posits that we are able to engage in our day to day life because we assume:

  • The world is  benevolent
  • The world is meaningful
  • The self is worthy

When a traumatic event destroys these assumptions, rebuilding them is a task that is central to recovery from the trauma.

At any rate, Andrew Sullivan linked to an article talking about the assumptions of the middle class:

My friend is not a member of the middle class, as you might have guessed. He has a high school education, grew up the son of a factory worker in a family of nine children, works part-time as a house painter and DJ, lives hand to mouth, and gets by with a little help from his friends. He’s been in AA for a long time, has seen a lot of people pass away. “I hope you can get there before it’s too late,” I said. “Hey,” he said, not unkindly, “we could both die before her. You never know what’s going to happen.”

I am a member of the middle class, as you might have guessed, and the moment made me realize something about the way we see the world. No one in the middle class imagines they could die at any minute. The middle-class idea is quite the reverse: that the world can be controlled, risk eliminated, fate mastered. Grades, admissions, credentials—the steady, predictable climb up the ladder of professional success—that’s the idea. We’re going to live a long time, and the world is not going to take us by surprise.

Has there ever been another group of people, in all of human history, that’s possessed that kind of attitude? Of course, there are reasons it’s emerged when it has: our enormous modern life expectancy, our inconceivable prosperity, our overwhelming military power. But I wonder about its spiritual perils. My professor used to say that it was easy for Nietzsche or Sartre to do without God, because they had so much else to sustain them.

Science for spirituality

Psychological Science (journal)
Psychological Science (journal) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whatever one thinks of AA’s spirituality, research suggests that thinking about God enhances self-control:

“The world is full of people who are fastidious about Biblical rules but can’t say no to fast food,” says Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. “There’s something about rules from God that make them easier to follow.”

According to research led by Kevin Rounding at Queen’s University in Ontario and recently published in Psychological Science, Rabbi Wolpe is right: People are better able to resist their desires when thinking about God. In a series of clever experiments, the Canadian scientists demonstrated that triggering subconscious thoughts of faith increased self-control.

Turns out that it may not even matter if you’re a believer:

The effect, it turns out, does not require religious belief. More than a third of the students in the studies were atheists or agnostics, yet the scientists found that they were still influenced by subconscious thoughts of God.

Charles Duhigg also suggested that faith is important in preventing habits from breaking down during periods of high stress.