Appropriately, for a day that will be looking at the concept of community, it was today in 1935 that Bob Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith formed the first ever meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Together with other members, Wilson and Smith developed the group’s Twelve Traditions to help members give up drinking, introduced in 1946. These Traditions included ensuring members remain anonymous in the media, altruistically help other alcoholics and include all who wish to stop drinking. It also recommended that the group guard against governing hierarchies. The first female member joined in 1936 and the first non-Protestant member joined in 1939. The group has had various spin-offs (a concept discussed in our Tuesday session) such as Narcotics Anonymous and what is interesting is how, despite the endless parodying, the movement met with such acceptance from many people and societies who were traditionally hostile to grass-roots movements.
This led me on to thinking about altruism and its role in community. This term was developed from the French Philosopher Auguste Comte who said that individuals had a moral obligagtion to renounce self-interest and live for others. This attracted some criticism included from Mr Nietzche – who’d have thought it – although he eventually conceded that one did have a ‘duty’ to help those weaker than oneself. It is also worth noting the similarities between AA and the Free Masons, despite the fact that the Free Masons thrive on hierarchy. The Free Masons centre is in fact down the road from POPse!, Old Sessions House and in 2009 the Evening Standard exclaimed ‘It takes some doing to unite London’s Marxists with its Freemasons but Islington council has done just that’ in response to the council’s hopes to commercialise (or perhaps ‘Starbucksualise’) Clerkenwell Green. Thankfully, this doesn’t seem to have happened.
So I believe community is nebulous is some ways and can be a strength but can also lead to alienation within the wider community (which helps to explain the parody. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em and if you don’t want to join ’em just take the piss instead.) So come down to POPse! tonight for further discussion of community but be warned – there will be drinking.
Heloise Wood is a freelance journalist, social policy expert, and general all round fabulous POPse! contributor.