Sorry, no punch line. But the similarities are striking
BY JOHN S. — As I’ve been watching “live” coverage of the brutal second-by-second collapse of the stock market — broken only by occasional reprieves — I have found myself thinking that I was witnessing a surreal representation of a drunk spiraling to his demise.
Cable TV’s cheerleader of capitalism, CNBC, plasters banners across the screen constantly: “When will we reach a bottom?” . . . “Is the bottom near?” . . . “Still no clear bottom.” The flashing numbers are bright red, the graphical charts all diving towards the gutter — down 340 points one moment, down 780 the next.
Will it ever end?
The Alcoholics Anonymous book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, states clearly in the first step that, “Every A.A. must hit bottom.” For some, that means living on the streets and dinning at the dumpster. (Think, Great Depression). For others, it seems not quite so desperate — more akin to a brief bear market.
But either way, a bottom must be reached — for drunks . . . and for stocks.
Then, the drunk can begin his recovery — a period of reflection and internal house cleaning. Wall Street writ-large needs this desperately. How in the world did the collective investor/speculator/trader let himself make so many destructive decisions? What happened to the power of reason?
The recovering alcoholic knows there is no answer — he has an affliction, a disease. He behaves this way: His mind knows he should not drink, that it makes him sick, that it gets him in trouble. Yet he continually reaches for the bottle. Logic and reason succumb to his body’s obsession for booze. Left to his own devices, it’s a losing battle.
The Wall Street professional? He knows that he is selling derivatives and financial instruments ultimately worth no more than vapor. Yet his obsession with quick money — the financial bottle? — outweigh what he understands in his mind. He behaves like a drunk.
For the drunk to recover, as A.A. has shown, he must admit he is powerless over alcohol (pay attention Wall Street trader and angst-ridden home investor; you hold no power over the market overall). Admitting powerlessness, in fact, gives one power. The next key part of an alcoholic’s recovery is laid out in Step Two, which says that we must, “Come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
This part trips up many an alcoholic. What? argues the willful drunk. You want me to believe in God? No way. Fortunately, the A.A. book tells people to believe in “God as we understood him.” In that sense, God can be anything that gives you strength and comfort. Many A.A. members find their own meaning for God, or devise acronyms that make them comfortable with the word “God.”
One of the most common: Good Orderly Direction. Who can argue with that notion? May the market and all its players, as well as struggling alcoholics, find it soon.
John S. is a San Francisco-based writer and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
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