Traditions War: a pathway to peace

Chapter 17 
Twelve Concepts

The Twelve Concepts are the greatest threat to the NA Twelve Traditions ever. 


It requires a period of study to comprehend what happened and comparison with the AA 12 Concepts gives the reader a quick basis for comparison. The Concepts should be clear and useful, not lending themselves, as they do, to intrigue and advantage over members not familiar with them. The Right to Redress for instance, implies that redress will somehow open up the minds and hearts of a group of members who has just taken a negative position towards an individual or their actions. Actually, this should rarely, if ever happen in a spiritual setting. If it does happen, by definition, the setting is not spiritual. So, it has the effect of approving bad behavior by the group. Most frequenly, what I hear and agree with is that a group that has just stomped on somebody, is usually ready to do it again and doesn't particularly care to re-examine the case. 

[The following article was originally drawn from a member who was concerned and creatively thoughtful. - Ed]

                                   CON - SAPS

con (kon), adv. [contr. <L. contra, against], against; in opposition: as, they argued the matter pro and con. n. an argument, reason, vote, person, etc. in opposition.
con (kon), v.t. [conned (kond), conning], [earlier cond <me. conduen, to conduct; OFr. conduire; L. conducere; see conduct], to direct the course of (a vessel).
con (kon), adi. [Slang], confidence: as, a con man. Vt. [conned (kond), conning], [Slang] to swindle (a victim) by first gaining his confidence.

sap (sap), n. 1. the juice which circulates through a plant, especially a woody plant, bearing water, food, etc. to the tissues. 2. Any fluid considered vital to the life or health of an organism. 3. vigor; energy; vitality. 4. sapwood. 5. [< dial. sapskull & saphead], [Slang], a stupid person; fool. vt. [sapped (sapt), sapping], to drain of sap.
sap (sap), n. [OFr. sappe < the v.], an extended, narrow trench for approaching or undermining an enemy position or besieged place. v.t. [sapped (sapt), sapping], 1. to undermine by digging away foundations; dig beneath. 2. to undermine in any way; weaken; exhaust; devitalize. v.i. 1. to dig saps. 2. to approach an enemy’s position by saps.--SYN. see weaken.

Concerning the “Twelve Concepts for Service” no real study has yet been made either by we Traditionalists or (we would say) by the current structure. Some of us would say this alone is a good argument against them. This is one addict’s perspective. You will no doubt see more from others in the coming months and there are doubtless others with greater knowledge than I. During most of NA’s history I was not here; I was busy (down at the dope house). I am an inheritor of the present situation.

Going all the way back there have always been two schools of thought, if you will - one that believed in greater administrative control or a more business oriented approach to the development of our Fellowship, and the other which opposed this, basing themselves (we believe) more strictly (or literally) on our Traditions. Viewed in this way the last 10 years can be seen as a protracted trouncing of one school of thought over the other, culminating, it seems today, in the adoption of the Concepts.
Once upon a time “NA as such” was the Groups and the Traditions were their non-negotiable and only guidelines. The service structure was built to serve only and was defined outside of NA. Groups (NA as such) and service boards or committees were understood to be distinctly different entities. All we knew about authority was contained in the 2nd Tradition: defined on the Group. All we knew about service boards or committees was contained in the 9th Tradition: we (the Group[s]) may create them and they must be directly responsible to those they serve (again, the Groups).

It is interesting to reflect upon the phrase “directly responsible”. This section of our non-negotiable guidelines might just have easily read, “in some manner responsible to” or “through a representative system, indirectly responsible to” or “directly” could have been left out altogether to leave more room for “trust”. It was not, of course.
Viewed in this manner the Traditions “add up” and hang together as a cohesive set. Viewed otherwise they give rise to more ambiguity than answers. Questions raised over the years have included: If our Traditions are only about Groups, does this mean service boards or committees may go ahead and freely violate Traditions? If the service structure has a Fifth Tradition (the current supreme raison d’etat) why does it not also have a Seventh Tradition? Can our services function without their own set of guidelines? How can our services function in an effective and timely manner if every decision must go back to the Groups?

As you no doubt know, the lines in our Text which defined the service structure outside of NA, forbidding them to rule, censor, decide, or dictate, and guaranteeing to the Groups the right to use or not use such services were deleted under scandalous circumstances. It has been said that “they deleted the lines that prevented them from deleting the lines.”

Efforts to come to terms with some of the above questions, and perhaps ultimately, “If the service structure is not NA then what is it?" gave rise a few years ago to a proposed Twelve Precepts for Service. This was written by a Trustee and circulated on a small scale for feedback. A later version seems much more sympathetic to the "authority" of the structure. We can guess where most of his feedback came from.
With the printing of the Baby Blue in 1990 by autonomous NA Groups and the willingness of one member to become a spokesperson and focal point, these issues were rescued from oblivion and the syndrome of "a lie repeated often enough will become accepted". There came a frantic effort to hush up, cover up, clean up, approve retroactively and anticipate the next moves of this insignificant "handful" of trouble-making members (often called non-members). When I look back at the World Service Conference Reports for 1990-93 it looks like 3/4 of it is thus motivated.
It was in this context and atmosphere that the Concepts were hastily approved at the World Service Conference. The first Concept seems to imply that our right to create a service structure began and ended with the one, now only “Approved" one. Given that service boards or committees continue to be created by service boards or committees constantly, (isn't the solution found by bureaucracy to bureaucratic problems always to create more bureaucracy?) it would appear that possession of this right has "changed hands". Another Concept says that grievances should be heard. It offers no further recourse or guarantee. Thus "let's just take him out in the parking lot and kick his ass" (an infamous WSO quote from 1991) might have to be, "let's give him 1 minute to talk then take him out in the parking lot and kick his ass" - a far cry from ideals such as freedom, autonomy and a Loving God.

Another Concept seems to define Group Conscience as decision-making without votes. Its always seemed to me that a better word for this is consensus. Many of us feel that this is the preferred way of deciding things as a Group. The problem is that the Concepts do not define Group Conscience on the Group(!), thus retroactively approving what has always been the practice in many places - the practice of decision-making by service boards or committees: Hence, 'The RSO BOD took a Group Conscience and decided that...". We have seen this kind of confusing use of our language more and more lately (This is in fact, along with the name "Concepts", A.A. language). And a Fellowship filling up with addicts who weren't here a year ago would seem now to find an against-all-odds chance for clarity...

Another Concept gives servants charged with carrying out decisions a right to "full participation" in those decisions. In practice, this is the legitimization of "administrative" or "add-in" votes. The original structure where only GSR's voted in ASC's, only ASR's voted in RSC's, and only RSR's voted at the WSC kept Group Conscience and thus decision-making defined on the Group. "Carrying conscience" is probably another bit of our terminology that will soon cease to have meaning. At each level approximately one-third of votes are cast by committee vice-chairs, offices, treasurers, subcommittee chairs, etc., who are carrying no conscience from any Group or Groups and naturally tend to have an administrative perspective or a vested interest, if you will. We say that in this manner the Ultimate Authority is diluted or corrupted along the way. The fact that this was the practice at the WSC as well as many RSC's and ASC's prior to the approval of the Concepts means that this historic transferal of decision-making power from the Groups to the service structure was legitimized without the approval of the Groups (do you remember your Home Group's decision on this one?). Or we could say that they delegated themselves the authority to delegate themselves the authority.
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[July 29, 2004]

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Reprinted from the 
Traditions War: a pathway to peace
2003 Form

Copyright © December 2001
Victor Hugo Sewell, Jr.

NA Foundation Group
6685 Bobby John Road Atlanta, GA 30349 USA


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Last update January 12, 2006