If you don ’ t you won ’ t climb the hierarchy , but you can still be a member of a MLM without succumbing to the brainwashing , whereas in a cult you would have to leave . In AA you don ’ t have to sponsor to remain a member , but those who do increase their status within the group hierarchy , the more people they sponsor .
SURVIVORSHIP BIAS There is a survivorship bias in MLMs that means the old timers are held up as the examples . You ’ re indoctrinated with self-help , stay-positive messages because if anything bad happens to you it ’ s your own fault because you didn ’ t work hard enough . There is virtually no barrier to entry to the MLM except to buy the product . As the MLM gets bigger and bigger then recruitment becomes harder , but you can still be a member as long as you continue to buy the product .
Substitute the word ‘ distributor ’ for ‘ sponsor ’ and ‘ 12 steps ’ for ‘ product ’. Does this sound familiar ? MLM members are very much controlled through the techniques of the New Thought movement , which emerged in the US in the
THE BIG BOOK
Alcoholics Anonymous : The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism , also known as ‘ The Big Book ’ because of the thickness of its pages , was written by William G ‘ Bill W ’ Wilson , one of the founders of AA .
The Big Book is one of the best-selling books of all time , having sold an estimated 30m copies . Time magazine placed the book on its list of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923 . In 2012 , the US Library of Congress designated it as one of 88 ‘ books that shaped America ’.
19th century and is centred around the belief that we are all divine and that we can shape the world around us with our thoughts . In fact , we can cure our illnesses through the power of thought alone . It emphasises personal experience over objective evidence , and when you ’ re vulnerable and desperate your critical thinking is overtaken by emotion and desperation .
Napoleon Hill took this into the realm of wealth creation through the power of thought . In 1937 he published the best-selling book Think and Grow Rich , which sold more than 15m copies . The book promoted personal development and self-improvement , and while its title and much of the writing obviously concerns increasing income , the author proclaims that his philosophy can help people succeed in any line of work – to do and be anything they can imagine . A similar book from the time is the 1939 Alcoholics Anonymous : The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism , known as ‘ The Big Book ’ and written by William G ‘ Bill W ’ Wilson , one of the founders of AA .
13 STEPS TO RICHES Think and Grow Rich describes the ‘ 13 steps to riches ’. At the beginning of the book , in the section ‘ What do you want most ?’, it includes a doctor ’ s opinion on the validity of the steps and this paragraph : ‘ the author discovered through personally analysing hundreds of successful men , that all of them followed the habit of exchanging ideas through what is commonly called conferences . When they had problems to be solved , they sat down together and talked freely until they discovered , from their joint contribution of ideas , a plan that would serve their purpose ’.
‘ The Big Book ’ also contains a doctor ’ s opinion at the start of the book , and the first sentence of the foreword to the first edition says : ‘ We of Alcoholics Anonymous are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body ’. Later it reads : ‘ it became customary to set apart one night a week for a meeting to be attended by anyone and everyone interested in a spiritual way of life . Aside from fellowship and sociability , the prime
objective was to provide a time and place where new people might bring their problems ’. It ’ s not hard to imagine that the entrepreneur and salesman Bill Wilson had read the best-selling Think and Grow Rich , published only two years earlier than his own book and during a phase of his life when he was actively looking for methods . He must at least have had knowledge of it .
SHAME AND COERCION One of the characteristics of the positive thinking philosophy is that it is ‘ unfalsifiable ’ because we can ’ t measure thoughts and feelings , and whether a person has generated the necessary amount of correct thoughts and feelings for the positive thinking to manifest their desires . It is objectively unverifiable , which leaves the creators of these groups unblameable . The blame always falls on the victim for not thinking or feeling hard enough , which leads to shame being used as a form of coercion . There is also the ‘ just-world fallacy ’ which assumes that positive actions will lead to positive consequences – for example , curing yourself of cancer by positive thinking or spiritual mediations . When it works you ’ ve proven that positive thinking worked , and if you die you also prove it works because you obviously didn ’ t try hard enough . It ’ s an unwinnable argument .
In answer to the question – Is AA a multi-level marketing organisation ? – I would say yes . As an MLM should AA be recommended or discouraged ? My belief , and evidence suggests , that it does work for some people . People who are isolated or in an environment where there is a lot of pressure to drink need a recovery community . Dr David Best in his book Pathways to recovery and desistance ( 2019 ) describes the importance of peer support and recovery communities to facilitate the social contagion of hope . Also , some people with issues underlying their alcoholism can benefit from stabilising in an AA community that welcomes what they term ‘ problems other than alcoholism ’. Brendan Georgeson is an ex service user with lived experience of addiction and recovery , latterly an ex service provider and now a professional researcher
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