On this day in 1895, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill “W” Wilson was born. I understand the reason for starting the group. These were serious drunks who needed help. But there is no doubt that Bill W was a pernicious force in the 20th century. To begin with, the whole program is based upon religious teachings and the search for spiritual redemption. He could have followed in the non-religious tradition of the Washingtonian movement. And here’s the thing: Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t work. People are forced into this quasi-Christian cult and the only thing it clearly does for them is make their relapses longer. Basically, Bill W was a charlatan and the snake oil he sold was Alcoholics Anonymous. Thankfully, there is finally starting to be institutional push back against the whole 12-step “program.” I have no doubt that in 50 years, people will look back and ask, “Why did anyone think a religious program was a cure for drug addiction?” One might as well perform an exorcism on an addict.
Other birthdays: physician and activist Mary Edwards Walker (1832); inventor Willis Carrier (1876); botanist Ruth Patrick (1907); actor Robert Goulet (1933); the British Russ Meyer, Stanley Long (1933); comedian Rich Little (75); puppeteer Wayland Flowers (1939); singer Tina Turner (74); novelist Marilynne Robinson (70); and cartoonist Roz Chast (59).
The day, however, belongs to the cartoonist Charles M Schulz who was born on this day in 1922. He is my hometown hero. One of the few things that haven’t changed here is the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, which is designed to look like a Swiss chateau. When I was a kid, it seemed so big. Now when I drive past it, it seems tiny. Anyway, it is still used all the time, even as each rollerskating rink has vanished. It’s all kind of campy, as are all the Peanuts statues throughout the town. It could be worse.
When I was a kid, I loved Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang. In its time, it was the best comic strip going. Bill Watterson said that it defines the modern strip and that everyone who came after Schulz was just following his lead. I think that’s about right. The one thing that eventually turned me off the strip was its marketing. I can’t bear to watch the TV shows anymore. The insurance and junk food commercials are terrible. I am forever grateful that Watterson doesn’t market Calvin and Hobbes. Making those characters concrete would just ruin it.
I was happy to learn today that Schulz grew out of his Christianity. For the last decade plus of his life, he referred to himself as a secular humanist. I had always assumed that he was a hardcore Christian, because of all the explicit Biblical references in the strip. And indeed, he was once a Christian. But I suspect he valued the Bible the way a lot of us atheists do. It’s got a lot of good material in it—for good and bad. Schulz was a profound guy:
Happy birthday Charles M Schulz!