Recovering community as political fiction

Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the challenges and political fiction of political movements by unpacking this passage from a feminist:

“She, who is so different from myself, is really like me in fundamental ways, because we are both”: This is the feminist habit of universalizing extravagantly–making wild, improbable leaps across chasms of class and race, poverty and affluence, leisured lives and lives of toil to draw basic similarities that stem from the shared condition of sex…

Inevitably, the imagined Woman fell short of the actualities of the actual woman it was supposed to describe, and inevitably, the identification between the feminist who spoke and the woman she spoke for turned out to be wishful, once those other women spoke up…

But although the Woman at the heart of feminism has been a fiction like any political fiction (“workers of the world,” “we the people”), it has been a useful fiction, and sometimes a splendid one. Extravagant universalizing created an imaginative space into which otherwise powerless women could project themselves onto an unresponsive political culture….

I’ve sometimes struggled with the recovery advocacy movement suffering from the same thing. I think you could substitute “woman”, “feminist”, etc with recovering people and it would be pretty accurate.

We often struggle with how inclusive to make definitions of recovery, who we include in the “community”, etc.

This push to universalize recovery has, I think, been helpful. It’s pushed many people in the recovering community to think of themselves as something larger than their small group and how more people might be helped. (It’s worth noting that Bill Wilson has been described as obsessed with how to reach and bring more people into recovery.) But, it has its limits and, at some point, I suspect it could be harmful. The same walls that inhibit inclusiveness also serve as a container for shared identities, concerns, sentiments, etc. So, I think some caution is probably a good thing.

Ta-Nehisi offers this thought:

But what I like about her analysis is that it doesn’t stop at noting the very obvious point, that political fictions don’t live up to realities.Instead she pushes on to assert that people create political fictions for actual reasons, and often those fictions have actual positive results.

3 thoughts on “Recovering community as political fiction

  1. The question of inclusiveness in addiction recovery is one of the harder ones to answer. Certainly, those who are suffering should be helped, and recovery just may be an appropriate avenue for aiding them–but we always want to ensure that those who need help get the appropriate type.


  2. I’ve often thought about this, but in an abstract way. At what point (if any) does inclusiveness reduce meaning and effectiveness in the recovering community? it’s a good question. I was at an addiction conference earlier in the year where someone spoke about “celebrating” their recovery by using drugs occasionally.

    If anything and everything counts as recovery then does it actually diminish the power of the recovery community to help, or does it increase the richness and eclectisism?


    1. I suspect that the slippery slope is where we should live.

      It’s funny that there have been subtle (and, not so subtle) challenges to question the recovery bona fides of people who continue to smoke at the same time we’re challenges to make the boundaries more porous for people on ORT and people who continue to use a drug other than their drug of choice.


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