Stanton Peele, The Diseasing of America 2/E (Lexington, 1995)
[originally posted 7Mar2001]
There are two types of people in the world: those the recovery zombies have already attacked, and those they will. It doesn’t matter if you don’t drink and don’t smoke, they’ll find something else about which you’re “diseased”—perhaps you enjoy shopping, you like to eat, you spend a couple of weekends per year in Vegas. Did you know these are all symptoms of diseases? Oh, you didn’t? Well, they are. Don’t believe it? You must be in denial. Here, let us help you lead a more well-adjusted life.
Peele seeks atonement for starting this craze with his book Love and Addiction in 1984. (As a side note, the one important thing Peele does NOT try to atone for is his almost singlehanded corruption of the definition of the term “addiction,” which he misuses throughout the book; when reading it, you might be better served by substituting the word “compulsion” every time you see “addiction.” Addiction requires, by definition, a physical component, and thus it is impossible to be addicted to most of the things that Peele contends are really addictive.) He does this by stating in no uncertain terms that the addiction/recovery industry has gotten way out of hand, then spends the next two hundred fifty pages outlining one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read—the sixty-year history of the recovery industry, beginning with the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.
Along the way, Peele stops on occasion to point out some obvious factors we tend to overlook in our quest for political correctness (e.g. the race- and class-based aspects of alcoholism, which are blatantly obvious to the eye but resisted by the mind thanks to decades of being told that alcoholism has nothing to do with class or race). While he occasionally slips into the same crevasse he’s trying to close by citing statistics without backing them up, the majority of what he gives us is surrounded with footnotes and citations, important when you’re accusing those around you of pulling their figures out of thin air.
Some of Peele’s ultimate conclusions should be taken with at least a grain of salt (he could have done himself a couple better by continuing his questioning to its ultimate conclusion, rather than stopping a step short and wholeheartedly endorsing the “family values” idea, which may need questioned even more than AA’s dogma), but that doesn’t make the research any less valuable. In a society where “innocent until proven guilty” is a the rule, anyone who expects their word to be treated as gospel and makes sweeping statements only needs one person to find fault with one supposed “fact” they spout. Peele has found a lot of faults with a lot of facts in the original AA dogma, and shows us exactly how the most distorted pieces of the AA marketing scheme have been used to create and power the larger recovery industry in America today.
They will come after you. The faster you read this book, and the longer you spend absorbing its contents, the better-armed you’ll be when someone accuses you of “addictive” (actually, compulsive) behavior. While I can’t give the book five stars thanks to Peele’s wimping out in the last chapter, this is certainly a life-changer, and one of the most important books that’s ever crossed my path. I strongly urge everyone I know to read this as quickly as possible. **** ½