Director Jones is in charge of running a state waste management program. When it is found that the program is rife with corruption, Jones says “This program has its problems, but nothing goes on in this program that doesn’t go on in all state programs.” (Source: 42 Fallacies)
The Appeal To Tradition is similar, but has time on its side, asking you to accept something because “it’s always been done this way.” The persuasive allure of traditions or common practices is indeed so powerful that the recovery culture goes to great lengths to portray their methods as the norm, even when reality shows that they are not. For example, at any given moment 3/4 of americans who’ve ever had alcohol problems never receive any treatment or attend 12-step meetings, yet 75% of them are problem free at any given time! You wouldn’t know this by listening to addiction propagandists who are constantly screaming that the only way to overcome such a problem is with treatment and 12-step involvement, and that anyone who doesn’t follow strictly adhere to the ways of the recovery culture will die of addiction.
The recovery culture lets us know how much stock they put in the persuasiveness of Appeals To Tradition and Common Practice when they state that AA is “the last house on the block” or that you’re doomed to “jails, institution, or death” without the 12-steps. They want you to know in no uncertain terms that their way of doing things has been and forever will be the only way.
But just because something has been common doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right; the best way of doing things; or even holds any value whatsoever. Horse and buggy was the most popular mode of transportation – until cars were invented. Slavery was common practice – until public opinion could be shifted against it. And I know it’s an overused example, but bloodletting was the traditional medical practice for 2000 years – until people began to realize how harmful it truly was and developed technologies to replace it. Just because everyone does something a certain way, no matter how long it’s been done, doesn’t logically give us cause to accept it – nor does it prove anything other than popularity.
Here’s how I see the fallacy in use in the great addiction debate:
AA’s been around for 75 years – so it must work.
And bloodletting’s been around for 26 times as long – should I believe bloodletting is a sound practice?
10,000 treatment centers use disease based methods and twelve step based counseling.
Uh huh. And 10,000 treatment centers fail to beat rates of natural recovery every single day.
Everyone recommends abstinence for people with addictions – you don’t wanna chance it with moderation, do you?
Yes, you’ve scared everyone who goes through your recovery system into believing that moderation is impossible, and you’ve denied the existence of successful moderate users; and everyone who’s stayed on to be the public face of your system is abstinent because they’re the only ones who will fit your all-or-nothing view – but that doesn’t mean that moderate users don’t exist, and it doesn’t mean that abstinence is the norm, it only means that abstinence is what’s been presented and traditionally culturally accepted.
Should I keep going? I answered the claims above from a few different angles, but I could answer them all by simply saying: tradition doesn’t prove anything about what is the best path for me to take here and now – it only tells me what other people have done. The important question is, what should I do now. And only the facts about substance use and human behavior, coupled with logic, will lead me to that answer.
Sadly, I think our smartest addiction researchers and theorists have been dragged down by this fallacy. Many bright minds have realized that the disease views are wrong over the years – they’ve realized addiction is a freely chosen behavior – but they’ve accepted that since addiction has always been handled by support groups and the medical system in their lifetime, then this is the only way the problem can continue to be handled. So in turn, they’ve made their views, findings, and resultant methods of help amenable to and constrained within the recovery culture treatment system. It’s a sad state of affairs.
Don’t just tell me what’s been done, that proves nothing – tell me what works, how it works, and why it works.