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    • Michael Stuart Kelly

      Major Update to OL (please click to open)   02/09/2016

      Sorry for the inconvenience, but we had to update OL and there have been some serious changes made by IPB. The real bad news is that they had to merge User Names and Display Names. This meant that I had to choose between bad and bad. I opted to keep the log-on information the same, so you can get on OL like you always did, but now your User Name is displayed. If your User Name and Display Name were the same, you will not feel the change. If they were different, you are probably irritated right now. I will figure out how you can change this so you can revert to the Display Name you used before if you like, however this may entail a change in how you log-on. The good news is that OL is now searchable from the very beginning. This means all the old posts from the A-Team in Objectivism (and everybody else) will finally show up when you search for something. I will keep changing this announcement as we adapt to these new changes. It's a pain, I know, but after looking around the backend for a bit, I believe the benefits will far, far outweigh the current irritation. They changed things in a hamhanded way and I don't like that, but I can't do anything about it. Benefit-wise, they actually did a good job, so please bear with us. In addition to this change, many good things are coming over time. You are the reason OL exists and I am sorry you have to go through this. Think of it like birth pangs... (All right, all right, that's forcing it.  ) Michael
Michael Stuart Kelly

Peikoff on Alcoholics Anonymous

49 posts in this topic

Peikoff on Alcoholics Anonymous

This particular post causes layers on top of layers of deep impact inside my soul. Not because of any special love for Dr. Peikoff. God knows I have my differences. But because I once so desperately needed a statement like this from one of the people close to Rand in the Objectivist world (if not Rand herself). And none was forthcoming.

Those who know my story know that I went through both AA and NA simply because there was nowhere else to go. So I would like to thank Dr. Peikoff from the bottom of my heart for the following public message he presented in a podcast dated June 15, 2009. Below is the transcript of the part concerning AA.

You can hear this podcast at his website at http://www.peikoff.com or you can download an mp3 file of it there.

I’m going to start today with a question about Alcoholics Anonymous.

Quote:

I’m a recovering alcoholic. The program has many tenets that run counter to Objectivism, including letting a Higher Power relieve me of alcoholism. How can I reconcile Objectivism, but continue staying sober through AA?

Well, I once asked an official in AA, “Did you have to believe in God in order to join?”

And he said, “No. We leave the Higher Power…” (what they call Higher Power…) “the interpretation to the individual. And if you want to make it objective external reality, that’s OK with us. We want something that you can’t manipulate by will. And, of course, since you can’t manipulate reality by will, it basically plays to the same rule for an atheist that Higher Power does.”

I think, as far as I can tell, all of the steps that AA takes are actually interpretable in secular terms like that. I’m not sure, but I think so.

I think one of the most important things that AA offers is social support. So you get an outside perspective. You see that you’re not the only one with this disease. It’s very widespread. There are other people struggling.

So I, from that point of view, would definitely stay in. It’s like a group [of people] who help each other tell each other, “I had this temptation, but I resisted it.” [And] so on…

It’s a very, very, very hard thing to overcome, and anything you can do to make it easier is fine.

If it were really religious, I don’t think it could work. Certainly not in the long run. Because then, by definition, you are saying to yourself, “I am helpless. I am out of control. I’m just a puppet, you know, manipulated by God.”

Well, if so, you give in to… to whatever, you know, craving you have.

So, I don’t agree with a lot of their formulations, but as far as I can tell, the essence of their creed, combined with the important social support that they offer, makes it not necessary to choose between AA and Objectivism.

The way Dr. Peikoff said "very, very, very hard thing to overcome" (three "very's) shows me that he has been close to alcoholism. Very, very, very close. Before any schism partisan mentions Rand's husband, Frank, let me preempt this.

To be blunt, in this context I don't give a damn. For all I know, it was someone else close to him.

The important thing to me is that he made this statement.

You see, I know the importance this Addiction section on OL has to Objectivist-leaning alcoholics. I know for sure because I once needed this badly.

But I was always bothered by the fact that I also know that Objectivists who follow Peikoff do not see me in a good light. So I have been thinking about how to reach them. With this statement by Peikoff, now there is a way.

I want to address a word to any person who is what I call ortho-Objecivist and who is suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction (I extend Dr. Peikoff's remarks to NA as well). I know there are people who fit this description and who read this section on OL. I know it because there are so few places they can turn to. And I am glad to offer this to them.

Dear Sufferer,

I speak to you right now as one who has the same problem you do.

I wish you well. I mean that.

I love Ayn Rand's works and Objectivism, but if I use alcohol or drugs, I lose it.

So I had to learn how not to use those things.

You can, too.

I know for a fact that it is not your fault you are in this situation. I lived it. Twice.

Better said, there are parts that are not your fault and there are parts that are. And there is only one way you are going to be able to figure out which is which right now.

You need help.

You need help from others, I don't care if you are an Objectivist.

Almost nobody succeeds at figuring all this this out alone.

So take the help. Go to AA or NA. There is no shame in it.

You don't have to like me or even respect me. Just hear me on one point:

There is hope for you to get better and you don't have to give up Objectivism to do it. Please, do yourself a favor and take Dr. Peikoff's message to heart.

You matter...

Michael

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Peikoff on Alcoholics Anonymous

This particular post causes layers on top of layers of deep impact inside my soul. Not because of any special love for Dr. Peikoff. God knows I have my differences. But because I once so desperately needed a statement like this from one of the people close to Rand in the Objectivist world (if not Rand herself). And none was forthcoming.

Those who know my story know that I went through both AA and NA simply because there was nowhere else to go. So I would like to thank Dr. Peikoff from the bottom of my heart for the following public message he presented in a podcast dated June 15, 2009. Below is the transcript of the part concerning AA.

You can hear this podcast at his website at http://www.peikoff.com or you can download an mp3 file of it there.

I’m going to start today with a question about Alcoholics Anonymous.

Quote:

I’m a recovering alcoholic. The program has many tenets that run counter to Objectivism, including letting a Higher Power relieve me of alcoholism. How can I reconcile Objectivism, but continue staying sober through AA?

Well, I once asked an official in AA, “Did you have to believe in God in order to join?”

And he said, “No. We leave the Higher Power…” (what they call Higher Power…) “the interpretation to the individual. And if you want to make it objective external reality, that’s OK with us. We want something that you can’t manipulate by will. And, of course, since you can’t manipulate reality by will, it basically plays to the same rule for an atheist that Higher Power does.”

I think, as far as I can tell, all of the steps that AA takes are actually interpretable in secular terms like that. I’m not sure, but I think so.

I think one of the most important things that AA offers is social support. So you get an outside perspective. You see that you’re not the only one with this disease. It’s very widespread. There are other people struggling.

So I, from that point of view, would definitely stay in. It’s like a group [of people] who help each other tell each other, “I had this temptation, but I resisted it.” [And] so on…

It’s a very, very, very hard thing to overcome, and anything you can do to make it easier is fine.

If it were really religious, I don’t think it could work. Certainly not in the long run. Because then, by definition, you are saying to yourself, “I am helpless. I am out of control. I’m just a puppet, you know, manipulated by God.”

Well, if so, you give in to… to whatever, you know, craving you have.

So, I don’t agree with a lot of their formulations, but as far as I can tell, the essence of their creed, combined with the important social support that they offer, makes it not necessary to choose between AA and Objectivism.

The way Dr. Peikoff said "very, very, very hard thing to overcome" (three "very's) shows me that he has been close to alcoholism. Very, very, very close. Before any schism partisan mentions Rand's husband, Frank, let me preempt this.

To be blunt, in this context I don't give a damn. For all I know, it was someone else close to him.

The important thing to me is that he made this statement.

You see, I know the importance this Addiction section on OL has to Objectivist-leaning alcoholics. I know for sure because I once needed this badly.

But I was always bothered by the fact that I also know that Objectivists who follow Peikoff do not see me in a good light. So I have been thinking about how to reach them. With this statement by Peikoff, now there is a way.

I want to address a word to any person who is what I call ortho-Objecivist and who is suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction (I extend Dr. Peikoff's remarks to NA as well). I know there are people who fit this description and who read this section on OL. I know it because there are so few places they can turn to. And I am glad to offer this to them.

Dear Sufferer,

I speak to you right now as one who has the same problem you do.

I wish you well. I mean that.

I love Ayn Rand's works and Objectivism, but if I use alcohol or drugs, I lose it.

So I had to learn how not to use those things.

You can, too.

I know for a fact that it is not your fault you are in this situation. I lived it. Twice.

Better said, there are parts that are not your fault and there are parts that are. And there is only one way you are going to be able to figure out which is which right now.

You need help.

You need help from others, I don't care if you are an Objectivist.

Almost nobody succeeds at figuring all this this out alone.

So take the help. Go to AA or NA. There is no shame in it.

You don't have to like me or even respect me. Just hear me on one point:

There is hope for you to get better and you don't have to give up Objectivism to do it. Please, do yourself a favor and take Dr. Peikoff's message to heart.

You matter...

Michael

Edited by galtgulch
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I want to send him a case of refrigerated olives, some good dry vermouth, and a decent quantity of Russian vodka.

What he does after that is up to him.

Anyone that has seen extensive damage (and I mean extensive as in not for sissies) "knows." They just know what is what.

Sometimes they say that their eyes have seen more than anyone in the world with that. A lot of them say that. Often, it turns into a pissing contest, and that confuses me. I will not have those conversations.

Currently, AA is, if you look at it, the only US government (at the least)-endorsed thing there is, just like the "disease model" is the only thing currently recognized. "The Disease Model" (outside of very specific cases) directly conflicts with the things even the most liberal O-based thinker can agree with, choice being the main one. Meaning, though, in real practice out there, if you fuck up with that stuff bad, it is likely you will get some experience with The Program. Step 1: Powerlessness. This is a very dangerous thing, because it means you can be inserted into the program, and then you might, out of just trying to comply, find yourself with a bunch of depressed, intellectual ninnies, and people swarming to sponsor you. It also cuts into your work time. The most important power tool in AA is if you have a license, and for whatever reason, are available to drive other people around to meetings. Culturally, I generally find it to be a drag on resources.

The last time I checked for "results" of AA (this is difficult what with the anonymous part, but there have been attempts at collecting data) surely AA and AA "sanctioned" entities have tried to...but they cannot track anyone after they left for more than, say, a year. It is sketchy. But even with sketchy it looks like maybe a 1% "cure" rate.

I am not saying AA is a bad thing. It can be, and often is. Often people become born agains. Often they trade one addiction for another: coffee, donuts, cigarettes, AA itself.

All it is is good for is for those that have found good from it. If you find a good meeting, you can go there even if you are not an addict. There are certain intersects in spirituality that allow for this. But spirituality doesn't exist, right?

It is also an excellent place to make drug connections. Actually, if you are into debauchery in general, AA is a great place to pick up strays.

And then yet another thing about it is that if you dare criticize it on any level, expect the hounds of Hell. It will be identical to if you start talking to Randians about spirituality.

Either way you are fucked, so I don't do that anymore. I have excellent arguments, but it is no longer worth my efforts.

There are certain things about AA. One of them is that it is a multi-social network: there are many groups, of varying social status. I used to drop in on meetings in the worst urban areas, and I found the best leads there. Trendy AA groups, in my opinion, suck.

The other thing about this is that I can only believe Peikoff to be practicing duplicity in this statement (although I find it waffly so cannot be entirely sure). That is because whether you are down to the "Higher Power" thing (vs., say, the blatant religious roots), either way, it implies mysticism.

I'm down with that and that's why I have made many great friends through my association with The Program, one way or another.

But walk the fucking talk. Can you be an atheist and be in AA. Yes. Can you be a Peikoff and think AA is an atheistic organization? Not so much.

Nope, don't buy it, but if it made Michael happy, that's a good thing.

rde

Wondering how funny it would be to find Peikoff in a gutter attempting "Rock Bottom<tm>."

We could've scooped him up and dumped him somewhere funny.

Edited by Rich Engle
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Ease up, Rich. I consider myself second to none in my contempt for the man, but this thing took my breath away. What he said needed saying. It seems so out of character for the man, I agree with Michael that Peikoff must have been or must be close to the disease. I know firsthand the hell of watching a loved one choose the bottle over all else. With a drunk, philosophic bromides are useless. Concrete help is needed, and AA provides that.

I suspect in the next couple of weeks, some of these meetings will have a few new people in attendance, people who are ever so "rational." I just hope they stick with it. If only one of them is helped, thank the lord for Peikoff's moment of sanity.

Ginny

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I just had an insight.

It never occurred to me that one of the reasons The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden hit me like a ton of bricks when I was at a peak in my drug addiction was the part about Frank. There were many parts that impacted me, but that one was very important.

That Rand continued to love Frank as he dealt with his own drinking problem showed me clearly that I was not a moral monster for being unable to control my addiction on my own, that I was 100% correct to seek help outside of Objectivism, and that Rand herself could not cure someone's addiction. But she could love...

In my previous state of mind, I thought all the answers to life were in Objectivism and I was a seriously and morally flawed human being for not being able to mold myself into it—to the point of becoming an alcoholic and drug addict. Barbara's book showed me that my approach was all wrong. This helped me realize that I had to deal with a serious problem in reality irrespective of what was in Objectivism. I was on my own in that respect and I had to find my way.

So I sought help using only the standard of what worked for me or not. And the path I had to travel led me to question every single tenet I had ever held. That alone was worth the price of admission. I was forced by reality to use my own mind regardless of my preconceptions. The alternative was death. I had to learn how to make cognitive identifications before normative evaluations. I used to feel safe since I believed Rand had all the answers. I had to give up that feeling and use my own system of thinking, which I didn't have at the time so I even needed to construct it, or I would die.

That's actually as it should be. I am grateful for having lived this to learn this lesson.

I stated that "I once so desperately needed a statement like this from one of the people close to Rand in the Objectivist world (if not Rand herself)" and that "none was forthcoming." Actually, Barbara got there first for me. While not an explicit endorsement of AA like Peikoff just made (and I do not want to diminish the importance of his statement), I did get an emphatic message from Barbara that addiction was not an issue Objectivism could cure.

It made all the difference in the world.

Michael

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I suspect in the next couple of weeks, some of these meetings will have a few new people in attendance, people who are ever so "rational." I just hope they stick with it. If only one of them is helped, thank the lord for Peikoff's moment of sanity.

Ginny,

That is beautifully stated.

Michael

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I'll start holding my breath right now, then.

Ow.

Wait, still doing it...

wait for it (blacking out)...

Deep inhale.

Nope. I'm not buying it.

The best he could do by that is halfway decent damage control. This is all a dodge, and I'm not buying it.

Overtly playing to a sweet spot really makes people smell funny.

There's a difference between symptoms, and diseases.

rde

Telling me to lighten up is like buying Obama a new flyswatter.

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I'm remembering a conversation I had with a libertarian guy who saw fit to inform me that addictions do not exist, and that people who are 'addicted' to something can quit any time they want.

I'm extremely grateful to that person to this day. It was not until I spoke with him that I realized how truly unreasonable people can be. I spent an hour trying to explain that he didn't know what he was talking about before I gave up and went on my way. That really gave me an insight into the mind of the truly irrational person.

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Sounds like a garbling of Thomas Szasz, who said that once people change their thinking (his phrase was something like "bring the curtain down on one drama and raise it on another"), quitting becomes simple. True or not, this is not quite the same claim.

I wonder how you'd put this to a test. If you pointed out the people who try to get clean and fail, the quit-anytime-I-want partisan would probably turn it into a tautology and reply that they didn't really want to quit. Where you'd go after that is an interesting question.

Your friend will probably go on saying this until he's diagnosed with lung cancer.

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Sounds like a garbling of Thomas Szasz, who said that once people change their thinking (his phrase was something like "bring the curtain down on one drama and raise it on another"), quitting becomes simple. True or not, this is not quite the same claim.

I wonder how you'd put this to a test. If you pointed out the people who try to get clean and fail, the quit-anytime-I-want partisan would probably turn it into a tautology and reply that they didn't really want to quit. Where you'd go after that is an interesting question.

Your friend will probably go on saying this until he's diagnosed with lung cancer.

The problem, I think, is that people are irrationally attached to the notion of a completely free will that is unaffected by biological factors and resides in the realm of pure reason. Humans are free to the extent that they can choose to think and to act, but they are not floating consciousnesses. The essentially nasty thing about addiction in most cases is that the addict is fighting against her own biological impulses. It's an awful and long and terrible and seemingly hopeless fight after a certain point.

Edited by Michelle R
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This problem is particularly bad among Objectivists, who have attached themselves to a philosophy extolling independence and rationality. I can't imagine how hard it is for an orthodox Objectivist to go to one of these things. It must really be a smack in the face to him. Letting other people help him? Dear sweet jesus, how awful!

Edited by Michelle R
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Quitting is easy, it's not starting again that's hard.

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Not necessarily, Michelle. When I was living in the Objectivist world of New York years ago, I was familiar with a group of people who considered it a badge of honor to go to therapy (not the Ellen Plasil crowd described in Therapist, but quite similar.). They bragged about how they were improving and becoming more galt-like (I guess that was the goal). These people looked down on people who were NOT seeing a therapist for help in "improving." Two of the guys dumped me (LUCKY ME!!!) when I wasn't in therapy, since that was proof positive that I wasn't improving and therefore not moral.

I'm not making this up.

With Peikoff coming out in favor of AA and such, I can see it happening. "I'm in the program. I'm on step eight. What step are you on. Only six? You must work harder to get better, or you're not moral." (Dear god, are there still such objectivists around. I fear so.)

Ginny - unshrunk and happy.

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I didn't mean to imply I'm against therapy or step programs. Far from it. Many years later, I saw a therapist specializing in hypnosis. It was something I wanted to explore at the time. All I meant to say in my prior post was that I recent the idea of therapy as "moral." I learned some stuff in therapy. I didn't become more moral.

Ginny

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I learned some stuff in therapy. I didn't become more moral.

Ginny,

The more I read you, the more I like you. That's a very important point.

This strikes to the heart of Peikoff's quote above and why I value it so highly. He is not telling alcoholics to stay in AA to be moral. He is telling them to stay because alcoholism is a devastating disease and they need help to deal with it.

He even used the word "disease."

Michael

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I'm remembering a conversation I had with a libertarian guy who saw fit to inform me that addictions do not exist, and that people who are 'addicted' to something can quit any time they want.

I'm extremely grateful to that person to this day. It was not until I spoke with him that I realized how truly unreasonable people can be. I spent an hour trying to explain that he didn't know what he was talking about before I gave up and went on my way. That really gave me an insight into the mind of the truly irrational person.

Michelle,

You have no idea of the crap that was thrown at me in this respect when I presented some essays on the old SoloHQ about addiction.

I would love for those people, some of whom claimed I was undermining Objectivism by doing so (as if I had that capability in the first place), to read Peikoff's quote.

Michael

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Addictions are basically shortcircuits in the brain's reward systems. Each drug acts on different specific neural circuitries and different neurotransmitter systems.

Jim

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Quitting is easy, it's not starting again that's hard.

Let me turn that around. Quitting is hard, starting is easy.

The only physical addiction I had was tobacco. It took me ten tries to go cold turkey before I succeeded.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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GS,

They're both hard.

Michael

Yes, I suppose so. But I have seen many people "quit" smoking for a few weeks or months or even years many times only to start up again. You need to change your whole self-image and lifestyle to avoid starting again, I think.

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I am watching with great pleasure the views on this thread increase without much discussion.

Good is happening and I like that.

I don't believe in God, but doing as Rand did when talking about the USA, let me say, "God bless any and all of you who are seeking help."

You matter...

Michael

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Hello all - I'm new here. I'm glad I ran across this, and Peikoff's thoughts, on AA. I've been struggling with finding so many aspects of AA troubling, almost offensive at times, but the "fellowship" and having other people around who understand addiction is very helpful.

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one trying to reconcile atheism and objectivism, with Alcoholics Anonymous.

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Ripside,

Hang in there.

I don't know what stage you are at, but I learned that the problems of addiction change over time.

In the initial stage, you have to stop using. You just have to stop. I wish there were a different way of saying this, but there isn't. Stopping can take time, and it can be complicated, but it is what it is. We don't get to choose the laws of reality. (God knows I tried to pass new ones. :) )

And you need to learn to listen more than you speak. (God knows I did. :) )

You also need to be around those who root for you to do just those two things as they accept you as precious. AA and NA are great for that. I have nothing but praise and gratitude for them.

After that part settles, though (which takes time, lots of time), if you are a person like I am, the social component of AA/NA starts becoming a drag. I realize that I am not the only kind of person that exists, so I say that with reservations. There are plenty of people who resonate perfectly with the social part. There is no right or wrong about it.

To give an example of why the social element in a later stage of recovery didn't work for me (but let me emphasize that the first stage not only did, it helped save my life), I am a loner rebel at heart and I like to build things. Something inside me pushes me to go after the big brass ring. That's true even recently, when I have slowed down to a stop and have little but this forum to show for it. The fact is I am studying for a new career and to do it correctly, I had to stop networking.

What happened at AA and NA is that back then, I was still quite active in my profession (music and film). When it came to my turn to speak, I would tell of the stuff that was in my heart and what I was doing about it. That involved visiting TV producers, film directors, music studios, video companies, artists, etc., and my hopes and fears and insecurities and tears about getting my dreams accomplished.

The result? Did I unburden my heart and take another tiny step in the direction of emotional clarity and sanity?

Yes.

But at the end of the meetings, I would, also, get a line of people asking me for a job. So that part didn't work out too well for me. :)

I actually got entangled with some dumb-ass projects, too. They tell you do not date anyone from AA or NA if you are there trying to deal with your addiction. Since I am a very stupid person about things like that, I not only dated one, I also did some business with others.

I cannot blame the disasters that ensued on anyone but myself--and boy were there some spectacular train wrecks! :)

I am literally lucky to be alive.

Anyway, I am pleased you spoke out here.

But note. OL is not an addiction-meeting kind of place. There are even some people in our subcommunity who have very LOUD AND HOSTILE misunderstandings about the reality of what we go through. (Screw 'em, but still realize they are good people.)

So, please, speak as much as you are comfortable with. You are not alone. And don't take any negative feedback as anything but the personal opinion of the poster.

If you need more, feel free to contact me offline. (I'm not asking you to. I'm merely being here--extending the hand that was given to me.)

Best you you.

You matter.

Michael

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