About that boozin’ “higher power.”


I continue reading “Infinite Jest” with pure sadomasochistic abandon!


And in this novel is an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter in Boston and its Wallace-ian cast of absurdist characters ground from the desiccated remnants of human dreamology.


It’s an acid trip.


David Foster Wallace, the mad scientist authorial genius, touches upon the concept of AA’s “higher power.”


Much controversy surrounds this phrase. People automatically assume it infers a deity, a god, and thus stated, elicits antagonism. Most people of the atheist variety (which seems to compose a plurality of drinkers) succumb to the instinctive reaction that an almighty god is somehow involved in this AA plot to sate wayward drinking habits.


One of the oldest battles (which Wallace touches upon) is exactly how atheists can possibly reconcile their drive to dryness with AA’s repeated castigation that “God” must be involved in the Cure.


However, by the same token, God is also inferred to involve a “higher power” and this is what it seems people lack the nuanced definition that would help them come to terms with such religious babble.


A higher power is misleading in that it implies a hierarchy, a ranking, a vertical relinquishment.


I don’t think of  a “higher” in that respect.


“Higher” is merely a measure that gauges how close we are the the center concentric circle of self-awareness and personal evolution. The closer you get to the maelstrom of your own personal madness, the higher your power.


A higher power is relinquishment to control and absolute autonomy. Which implies surrender of control, and if there’s one unhealthy, pathological trait alcoholics share, it’s addiction to control, an ironic condition given than inebriation is typified by lack of anything approaching “control.”


Still, the alcoholic’s contrarian downfall is the inability to welcome raw existence, and thus seeking to overcome it, subsume it, instead seeks a distance and conscious disconnect which only booze can supply.



  • I think it matters what the character of the higher power is and what kind of obligations He imposes. The Rambam definitely mentioned this in the Guide for the perplexed. Let’s take for example Venus. She imposes certain obligations. Her obligations are opposed to those of Artemis. In fact so opposed such that if one serves Venus Artemis is likely to get mad at him, and visa versa. That is perhaps an extreme example. But the point I think is clear,

    • I suppose the “character” of the higher power we align with is one of the truest expressions of ourselves uniquely; perhaps then, our choice of higher power is unimportant as whether we defer to the higher power as a provider of humility.

      • My feeling is that it matters which higher power we choose. That is choosing the First Cause is important. But then there is a subject element of how we understand the first cause. Schopenhauer put it the best way to make this understandable. Not a direct quote but his idea is “The representation is provided half by the subject and half by the object.” All I am saying is how we understand the First Cause is important.

  • Wiless

    For many, the recognition by AA members of a `Higher Power` means they draw upon an external source for strength to overcome their addiction, recognizing their own limitations and inability to do it by themselves. I don`t have a clue how a materialist or atheist would be able to do something similar, not believing in anything transcendent in the same capacity.
    In any case, both the believing and unbelieving alcoholic who strive not to drink must exercise self-control, knowing that once they start back, they will end up out of control. It seems paradoxical, but it really isn`t, if you think about it.

    • Surrendering control (to a higher power or not) supplies that “counterweight” addicts must allow in order to battle their absolute surrender to the spell of (name your intoxicant).

      Even the most atheistic, non-spiritual person can find a personal sense of “higher power” if they allow themselves to lose their sense of inflated ego.

      • Wiless

        That makes sense. In either case, someone has to grasp / tap into a source of power outside of their normal self, in order to supply the counterweight, as you put it.

        • Yes.

          If you cannot accept the humble precept that you are never “too big” for your britches, you are doomed to addiction (if that’s your thing).