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Peikoff on Alcoholics Anonymous


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#1 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 07:40 PM

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.

Im going to start today with a question about Alcoholics Anonymous.

Quote:
Im 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, thats OK with us. We want something that you cant manipulate by will. And, of course, since you cant 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. Im 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 youre not the only one with this disease. Its very widespread. There are other people struggling.

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

Its 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 dont 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. Im just a puppet, you know, manipulated by God.

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

So, I dont 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

Know thyself...


#2 galtgulch

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 08:20 PM

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.

Im going to start today with a question about Alcoholics Anonymous.

Quote:
Im 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, thats OK with us. We want something that you cant manipulate by will. And, of course, since you cant 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. Im 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 youre not the only one with this disease. Its very widespread. There are other people struggling.

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

Its 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 dont 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. Im just a puppet, you know, manipulated by God.

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

So, I dont 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, 19 June 2009 - 08:20 PM.


#3 Rich Engle

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 11:53 PM

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, 19 June 2009 - 12:36 AM.

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#4 ginny

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 03:18 AM

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

#5 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 04:58 AM

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 itto 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

Know thyself...


#6 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 04:59 AM

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

Know thyself...


#7 Rich Engle

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 01:08 PM

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
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#8 Michelle R

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 01:19 PM

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.
"After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn't it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked -- as I am surprisingly often -- why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn't it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?"
-- Richard Dawkins

#9 Reidy

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 02:13 PM

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.

#10 Michelle R

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 03:18 PM

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, 19 June 2009 - 03:21 PM.

"After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn't it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked -- as I am surprisingly often -- why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn't it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?"
-- Richard Dawkins

#11 Michelle R

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 03:18 PM

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, 19 June 2009 - 03:21 PM.

"After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn't it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked -- as I am surprisingly often -- why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn't it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?"
-- Richard Dawkins

#12 general semanticist

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 05:19 PM

Quitting is easy, it's not starting again that's hard.
'Always' and 'Never' are two words you should always remember never to use. :-)

#13 ginny

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 05:22 PM

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.

#14 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 05:30 PM

GS,

They're both hard.

Michael

Know thyself...


#15 ginny

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 05:33 PM

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

#16 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 05:40 PM

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

Know thyself...


#17 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 05:45 PM

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

Know thyself...


#18 James Heaps-Nelson

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 06:48 AM

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

Jim

#19 BaalChatzaf

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 07:25 AM

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.

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אויב מיין באָבע האט בייצים זי וואָלט זיין מיין זיידע

#20 general semanticist

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 12:10 PM

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.
'Always' and 'Never' are two words you should always remember never to use. :-)




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