In “The Virtue of Selfishness” Ayn Rand brilliantly identified a logical fallacy in wide use today, which she called “The Argument from Intimidation”.  If you don’t wholly support and endorse the disease theory of addiction, then you will undoubtedly be countered often with the Argument from Intimidation.  If you’re aware that the argument isn’t really an argument at all, and in fact fallacious, you’ll be better prepared to make your case for a choice based theory of addiction to those who care to discuss.

Here’s a quote of Rand’s writing on the matter:

There is a certain type of argument, which, in fact, is not an argument, but a means of forestalling debate and extorting an opponent’s agreement with one’s undiscussed notions. It is a method of bypassing logic by means of psychological pressure……..

This method bears a certain resemblance to the fallacy ad hominem, and comes from the same psychological root, but is different in essential meaning. The ad hominem fallacy consists of attempting to refute an argument by impeaching the character of its proponent. Example: “Candidate X is immoral, therefore his argument is false.”


Let me break in here for a moment.  So an example of an ad hominem attack would be if James Freye, author of A Million Little Pieces, were speaking about the faults of AA, then his opponent would say “but you lied about your life in your book, so what you say about AA can’t be trusted”.  That’s the ad hominem – it attacks the message by attacking the messenger.  While I’m not a fan of Freye’s, and haven’t read his book, I would still understand that the fact that he lied about his past wouldn’t invalidate a well argued case against AA – the only case it could cut down would be an appeal to his own authority – if he said “AA is bad because I say so”.  Anyways – that’s the ad hominem, it’s when someone argues against a message by cutting down the messenger.  Rand continues:

But the psychological pressure method consists of threatening to impeach an opponent’s character by means of his argument, thus impeaching the argument without debate. Example: “Only the immoral can fail to see that Candidate X’s argument is false.”

In the first case, Candidate X’s immorality (real or imagined) is offered as proof of the falsehood of his argument. In the second case, the falsehood of his argument is asserted arbitrarily and offered as proof of his immorality.

In today’s epistemological jungle that second method is used more frequently than any other type of irrational argument. It should be classified as a logical fallacy and may be designated as “The Argument from Intimidation.”

The essential characteristic of the Argument from Intimidation is its appeal to moral self-doubt and its reliance on the fear, guilt or ignorance of the victim. It is used in the form of an ultimatum demanding that the victim renounce a given idea without discussion, under threat of being considered morally unworthy. The pattern is always: “Only those who are evil (dishonest, heartless, insensitive, ignorant, etc.) can hold such an idea.”(my emphasis added)

Now we see what the Argument from Intimidation is – the opponent is saying that only a terrible person could hold such a view – and they actually never dispute the view.  They just scare you into backing down, or from ever speaking up in the first place.  This argument has existed for far too long in the world of addiction.  Generally, it comes out like this – “We need to stop judging people and just get them the treatment they need for their disease”. This statement is brilliantly crafted to stifle any debate, because what it says is “you’re a heartless SOB if you don’t believe in the disease theory and treatment, you want people to suffer and die”. It takes for granted that the disease theory is true, and that treatment is effective without supporting the validity of either claim, and declares that the only reason that you’d entertain another theory of addiction is because you’re cruel, heartless, hateful, and judgmental.

Another way the Argument from Intimidation is used to uphold the unsupportable disease theory and treatment industry is this – “We need to accept that it’s a disease so we can stop judging addicts and sending them to jail, and start getting them the treatment they need”. This is horrifically fallacious – it’s a false dichotomy in that it presents only 2 options while ignoring the possibility of a 3rd or more ways to address the problem.  It’s intimidation because it says “Only a despicable person would argue against the disease because they just want to send people to jail for doing something they disapprove of”.

There are many more ways the Argument from Intimidation is used in addiction, some are masterfully subtle and use only disapproving glances, gestures, and tones of voice, some involve long winded diatribes which implicitly say “if you don’t understand and agree with this then you must be both stupid and evil”.  Beware of it – and don’t back down from it.  If this is an issue you care about, then your goal should be to change minds.  You won’t change minds by accepting the disease proponents’ terms – if you let them frame the debate as “disease believers want to help people, choice believers want to judge people, jail them, and let them suffer” then truth will never win, because the laymen will not be open to your argument.  Call out the Argument from Intimidation as an anti-argument when you encounter it, demand that your opponent retract his questioning of your intentions, bravely present the options ignored by your opponent, pin them down to their premises, show the harm caused by the disease concept with real arguments, learn all of the disease arguments and be ready to break them down one by one.

Now to review:
Ad Hominem:  Candidate X’s immorality (real or imagined) is offered as proof of the falsehood of his argument.

Argument from Intimidation:  The falsehood of his argument is asserted arbitrarily and offered as proof of his immorality.

Rand has much more to say on the issue which is highly relevant and applicable to the challenges we face in addiction, the whole essay is posted here.


Also, here’s some more insight from the essay:

A social metaphysician is one who regards the consciousness of other men as superior to his own and to the facts of reality. It is to a social metaphysician that the moral appraisal of himself by others is a primary concern which supersedes truth, facts, reason, logic. The disapproval of others is so shatteringly terrifying to him that nothing can withstand its impact within his consciousness; thus he would deny the evidence of his own eyes and invalidate his own consciousness for the sake of any stray charlatan’s moral sanction. It is only a social metaphysician who could conceive of such absurdity as hoping to win an intellectual argument by hinting: “But people won’t like you!”

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