Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Difficulty of the Twelfth Step…


…not that the other steps are easy…


I am responsible when anyone, anywhere

Reaches out for help, I want my hand to be there

-          The Shattered Fortress, Dream Theater (lyrics by Mike Portnoy, dedicated to Bill W.)

This will be complicated….  Splitting it into two parts will help.

Part One

First, the song.  The Shattered Fortress appears on the 2009 release, Black Clouds and Silver Linings.  It is the last song in what is known as the Twelve-Step Suite by Dream Theater – with the lyrics all written by the drummer, Mike Portnoy. 

As you might have surmised, it is his reflection on his experience of alcoholism and recovery via Alcoholics Anonymous (hence, the dedication to William Griffith Wilson, also known as Bill Wilson or Bill W. – the co-founder of this organization).  Portnoy took his final drink on April 20, 2000.  It was his thirty-third birthday.  He credits AA with saving his life.

Altogether, the Suite includes five songs, with one song appearing on each of five consecutive Dream Theater albums spanning over seven years, from 2002 – 2009.  The lyrics above are the last lines of the last of these five songs, identified as XII: Responsible.  Step twelve, as published by Alcoholics Anonymous, reads as follows:

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.

The song incorporates the words from what is commonly known as the Prayer of St. Francis.  There are other passages of equally meaningful reflection – all from the view of looking at the life of another, of how to be of service, of how to hold humility and empathy.  Some examples:

Justice but do not judge

Courtesy for others' flaws

Kindness -- it's not that hard


Self-restraint of tongue and pen

Inventory -- my daily friend

Analysis let down your guard

I always thought that this song was one of the best examples of Dream Theater, both lyrically and musically.  But when it first came out – and for several years thereafter – I couldn’t listen to the ending, regarding my responsibility.  And, for sure, I couldn’t sing along with it.

Part Two

It was about six years ago when I really began transitioning this blog from something close to dogmatic libertarianism toward the idea of searching for liberty.  This transition began with a challenge from an anonymous commenter: you are so critical of left-libertarians…so, what about Hoppe?

That question resulted in this post.  I know the transition began around then, because in the same moth I wrote about my dogmatism.  Clearly, the transition wasn’t immediate – yet, undoubtedly, I have changed.  Of course, some of my readers from that time would say that I devolved (and some told me so, rather forcefully).

Reflecting this transition…I have come to be able to at least listen to the aforementioned lyrics – the lyrics of my responsibility.  While I am able to sort of sing along, I am not yet to the point where I can sing this part with anywhere near the gusto of the other parts of the song.  It strikes me that this represents some measure of how far I have come – and how far I have to go – in this journey of the Golden Rule and of doing my part to establish both liberty and God’s kingdom.

I am regularly reminded of a comment – I think it was from Roger, but maybe not.  He made a point to say how we each have responsibility for the madness around us (this was even before the madness that began March 2020).  I pushed back on this.  But now, I am not so sure that I was right to do so.

Sure, when it comes to the evils of the state in all its forms, I can claim some innocence – at least not more guilt than that of one swimming in the mud of this society; I can’t help but get a little dirty.  But what of those around me, in the circles that I have touched?  My sins of omission and commission have ripples, and those ripples spread to others – and who knows how far and how damaging?

What does it mean, to be “responsible”?  Am I the cause?  Perhaps.  Can I be the cure?  To some degree, yes.  There is nothing in dogmatic libertarianism that requires this of me, but there is something to achieving liberty that makes it my responsibility.

I am responsible.


Returning to the lyrics, the Golden Rule:

You're smart enough for me to trust go live your life now

Just keep these steps in your life and you'll know how

If you're not sure, ask yourself,

"Have I done to them as I would have them do to me?"

I find myself in a real struggle these days – feeling quite torn regarding those on the other side of the current mask-distance-jab narrative.  In other words, those who have fully bought into the current narrative.  These are my enemies, as sure as anyone has ever been my enemy.  But I am told to love my enemy.

Yet, if loving my neighbor (starting with my family) and loving my enemy come into conflict, my neighbor will always win.  I then consider that some enemies are not as much of an enemy as others – those who were close family and friends prior to this madness; it is this group that I hope to be able to love, but am not sure that I can. 

Then there are the others – I am a long way away from feeling any love toward these, let alone showing any love.  For now…if they will leave me alone, I will leave them alone.  If anything more is to be achieved in my life, I will leave this in God’s hands.


After the album on which The Shattered Fortress appeared was released, Mike Portnoy and Dream Theater split.  Portnoy wanted a break; the rest of the band did not.  Perhaps a hint is offered: another song on this same album, The Best of Times, captures Portnoy’s emotions on the passing of his father; perhaps he needed some time to reflect.  In any case, the band spilt.  Mike Mangini was brought in as the replacement.

Mangini is an excellent drummer, but he isn’t Portnoy.  I am not speaking about technical ability – I am not really qualified to do so.  It’s just that Portnoy drives, and Mangini is along for the ride.  Both are technically supreme; Portnoy also play with emotion – he moves the band, and he moves the audience.

The musicians of Dream Theater challenge my musicianship like no other band I have heard – with maybe the exception of Rush.

-          Classical Composer Reacts to Octavarium (Dream Theater) | The Daily Doug (Episode 134)

I agree – as long as it is Dream Theater with Mike Portnoy on the drums (I also agree with the Rush part). 


  1. Thank you Bionic for this open, heart-felt sharing of your journey. I also have had to deal with my own heart issues in my spiritual journey, being a Christian pastor all of my adult life. Now 70.

    First I had to examine my own belief system that I was defending (the system I grew up in). This was very hard for me because I really loved my parents and so much wanted to please them. Many will be the opposite. Through deeper study (of the Bible for me) I came to realize that what I had loved and defended was very much flawed. But then to what?

    Next I searched to more fully understand the goal, the fruit that God wants (again I'm Christian). The target is really very simple: love God first and my neighbor second. Ok, so what does that really mean? A peaceful, loving community that is just, merciful and faithful (Matthew 23:23)

    Next, what does love your neighbor mean? If I love God I will keep His commandments: (John 14:15;8-10 -- Romans 13:8-10) Justice means resisting evil. At some point, we must stand up and fight the evil. Certain people, certain beliefs will destroy your peaceful community. These must be cut off at the knees. No compromise with true evil. Well, what is true evil?

    Again, the moral law of God defines evil in explicit terms. 10 Commandments, the commands of Jesus. But what about turning the other cheek and loving my enemy? Love does not a feeling but a verb, something we do. I must seek to live at peace with my enemy, with forms of evil: (Romans 12:17-21) Aggression, theft, dishonesty, lusting. Sexual sins are some of worst destroyers of peace. They must be addressed early or else they will destroy the peace. So deadly sins must be stopped early.

    So how do we do that? Romans 13:1-7 says that is God's intention for good governance. To protect the good and punish the evil. The evil will destroy the peace, the good eventually if left unchecked. So it seems to me this must start at the local community level. What the Bible calls "the church."

    The "church" is to lead, instruct and model. This is where the modern "church" has failed so terribly.

    So am I responsible for the mess we are in today? I agree with Bionic -- but it is a hard pill to swallow.

  2. Sheesh, this stuff is over my head, I'm a simple man who grew up to power metal and Iron Maiden in the 00s...

    One realization that came to me recently (in a video game, funnily enough) is that error and suffering (or sin and punishment) are necessary parts of the structure of reality. It takes one sort of fool to go off punishing those who have harmed no one but themselves, and another sort to go off helping those who are willfully blind to their own failings. Most errors are not corrected by the teachings of the wise, but by unpleasant feedback. I'm fairly sure most cases of alcoholism fall into that category.

    When it comes to Covidians, one thing I realized early on in the "pandemic" is that some of the worst nuts are the very same ones I've been trying to nudge in a less authoritarian direction since I began leaning libertarian in my mid teens. It's safe to say I didn't do the best job of it, but my point is that they'll move seamlessly from this insanity to the next, and then the next, all the while believing that it's for the greater good, and that whoever disagrees should be "reeducated".

    Even if you somehow beat the odds and get one of them to grudgingly admit that you have a point, they'll be back at it as soon as they hear about the latest "outbreak" or other contrived bogeyman. For someone to truly change their attitude on this kind of thing, he first needs to feel tired and skeptical of the whole always-something-to-wring-your-hands-over routine. I know people in their 80s who are nowhere near tiring.

    This is hardly new. It's not even the result of relatively recent mass indoctrination, or the Enlightenment, or the Protestant Reformation. There have always been men like that (and women, too - in fact, they seem to be over-represented in this demographic). They'll still be around after we are gone, just like alcoholics, and I dare say most will go to their graves without changing.

    A few of them may come to understand, on some level, that something's wrong with playing the strict mom to the whole world. Those can and should be helped, but the whole "taking responsibility for the suffering of others everywhere" seems hugely pointless in the song's context, and smells strongly of A-type (for "artist") virtue signaling. I think you're right to hesitate on that part. Certainly when it comes to Covidians. Alcoholics at least are mostly harmless.

    I guess you could say that the better part of the Golden Rule is knowing which "others" to "do unto" for optimal effect.

    1. Nicely put. Not the conclusions, but the reasoning. I don't think "this stuff" is actually over your head.

      One element that all sides ignore completely is that we all only, ever, always, do what we want. If i drink, it's because i want to. If i stop drinking, it's because i want to. Anyone who says anything different has a moral code to sell you.

      The reason this patently obvious fact is by-passed is that few wish themselves or others to wield the irresistibly powerful ability to act on desire without guilt or appealing to some intricately crafted moral crutch.

      Good things can be used for evil more readily than bad things. The ten commandments were a good thing. When used as a moral crutch instead of a plain statement of what we do and do not do, they are used for evil.

      "I am responsible when anyone anywhere..."? REALLY? No, you *want* to be responsible because it fills a void in your moral code or provides the next rung up on your moral ladder. You just tossed your ability to desire into the mud.

      I'm not making an argument for only doing what we want, because every single one of us already do that. I'm making the point that standing up and admitting it takes the courage lacking in those who follow moral codes.