“Mr. Gately Sir, I found myself sitting tonight in yet another Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting the central Message of which was the importance of going to still more Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings. This infuriating carrot-and-donkey aspect of trudging to Meetings only to be told to trudge to still more Meetings…what’s supposedly going to be communicated at these future meetings I’m exhorted to trudge to that cannot simply be communicated now, at this meeting, instead of the glazed recitation of exhortations to attend these vague future revelatory meetings?”
The words of Geoffrey Day concerning AA’s cyclical meetings inspired a bit of thinking. Day is struggling to find reason in attending AA; he believes that they have nothing to contribute to his recovery, if he entertained the idea that he was addicted and needed to recover. What is it that AA is trying to do, besides get him to go to more meetings? If that is the sole purpose, simply to go again and again to meetings where nothing of importance takes place, then Day feels his time is being wasted.
But isn’t that purpose enough? For the AA members in Infinite Jest who stick with it for “geologic” amounts of time, it is. I believe that AA almost becomes an addiction in itself, a desire not only to keep your body clean of any Substance, but also to help others find how meaningful it is to stop. The final step in AA’s twelve-step program reads: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Once you reach that final step, the “spiritual awakening” of ignoring addiction, you must work to get others to stop drinking, as well.
Some people in class struggled with the idea of all people being addicted. Addiction is prevalent in every person’s life, every day; if not to a substance, a goal, or something physical, then to life itself, an addiction to staying alive. Wallace’s characters all suffer an addiction of some sort, if not physical then goal-oriented, and by learning of their addictions, we can more fully understand them. Geoffrey Day is addicted to alcohol, and also addicted to solving his problems on his own (“Analysis Paralysis” is the phrase AA members in the book use to refer to this addiction, this mental mindset of ignoring outside advice and wisdom in favor of discovering solutions by your own thinking); this goes against the purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous, to fight addiction together. This disconnect is the source of endless frustration for Day at the workings of AA.
The “carrot-and-donkey” idea Day mentioned relates to the idea of addiction. Substance abuse might not have a particular purpose when it begins; it might be simple curiosity, or there might be convoluted reasoning behind it (a thought that made me realize we’re lacking explanation for why most characters have their addictions), but once it does begin, it becomes like a donkey with a carrot hanging over its head: it must continue, even if the carrot is never in reach. Addicts try and find meaning in their addiction even if it won’t help them. AA is vehemently against finding meaning in Infinite Jest, and by ignoring the purpose of their addictions, they shift focus to truly stopping the addiction. It is mindless, a great battle against intellect, but it works.