You’re gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to Peter Hitchens

The 1992 horror film Candyman is based on an urban legend: if you look into a mirror and say ‘Candyman’ five times, the eponymous protagonist will appear from nowhere and slaughter you with the hook on the end of his arm. In 2013 there is a less violent but equally chilling phenomenon on Twitter whereby if you use the words “Peter Hitchens” in a tweet there is a strong possibility that you will get a reply sometime later from the man himself if, as is likely, he’s not happy with the content of your tweet.

He uses the Twitter handle @ClarkeMicah (alluding to the book Micah Clarke by Arthur Conan Doyle) and by all accounts it really does seem to be the man himself.

I experienced this on Friday when I posted a couple of tweets about his pronouncements that addiction does not exist. He had a notorious argument with Russell Brand on the subject on Newsnight and also, more recently, the journalist Damian Thompson in The Spectator (they have both written books on the subject, drawing opposite conclusions).

My tweets were irreverent, but I was trying to make the point that denying the existence of addiction is as absurd as denying the existence of any number of things.

A little while later I received the following response:

Now, for anyone unfamiliar with how Twitter works there is only really one way Mr Hitchens could have become aware of these tweets. They did not specifically mention his username so he would not have received any notification. It is not possible that he would have seen them retweeted by another user as, in keeping with his obvious contempt for the platform, he doesn’t actually follow anybody. No, he clearly uses Twitter for one purpose only: to search for his own name, see what other people are saying about him and reply in kind. His prerogative of course, but this is akin to walking around a pub and eavesdropping on conversations to determine if people are talking about you, then taking them on if they are.

I’ve been aware of this phenomenon for a while as Micah Clarke is renowned for popping up in conversations with the immortal opening line “This is Peter Hitchens”, something for which, along with constantly referring to himself in the third person, he has been frequently lampooned for.

So while I was aware that this does happen, I was still surprised to get a response. And rather an unusual one really. Was he really suggesting that I genuinely do not know the difference? Was he taking me literally? He’s not renowned for his sense of humour or appreciation of irony but surely he doesn’t think anyone could be serious about this?

So I replied.

And in return I received:

“You’re just not as clever or funny as you think you are.” Ouch! A a punch in the kidneys! (But not literally a punch in the kidneys. You see, Mr Hitchens? I really can distinguish between the material and the non-material world.)

I responded again. What the hell, this was more interesting than work and besides, how often do you get to debate with a Hitchens?

And, dispatched from Mr Hitchens, one for one:

Of these responses, the first is the most curious.

“You say it exists. Burden is on you to prove it. Science needs objective description, repeatable experiments, prediction.”

The burden of proof. No objection whatsoever to this claim, and he is right. What makes this particularly interesting is that this would be the line of reasoning taken by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and, yes, Christopher Hitchens when debating the existence of god. As a renowned Christian and frequent debater on the subject I don’t ever recall Peter Hitchens acceding to this point on the issue of his own faith. Religious faith, it seems, is immune to this kind of scientific enquiry. It’s got a special permit. But here, the tables are turned. ‘Addiction’, something experienced by millions of people, must be scientifically proven otherwise he’s not going to believe in it? A staggering logical volte face there.

What Hitchens (how strange it feels to use that name and not mean his brother) means is that what we call ‘addiction’ is nothing more than a lack of self-control on the part of the ‘addict’. That by succumbing to the concept of ‘addiction’ we absolve the ‘addict’ of responsibility. It’s not their fault. They can’t help themselves. Up to a point he is correct. The first step that any addict would need to take to deal with their substance dependence would be to recognise that they have a problem with it and either seek professional help or resolve to give it up. But this overlooks a couple of uncontentious facts. Firstly, many substances do create dependence in an observable, biological sense. To use a mundane example, anyone who has ever been a regular smoker can testify to this. The desire for that first cigarette in the morning is not just habitual, there is a tangible, nagging craving in the body every bit as real as any physical sensation: accelerated heartbeat, salivation, twitchiness until the need for nicotine is satiated. Secondly, and of course this follows on from the first point, if addiction is a fallacy, how then to explain withdrawal? If addiction doesn’t exist then, presumably, it is not possible for anyone to become physically dependent on a substance. I think five minutes in the presence of an alcoholic at the end of a binge or a heroin addict going through cold turkey would rid him of that fantasy. Then again, perhaps it wouldn’t. Perhaps they just need to pull their socks up and keep a stiff upper lip. They are just weak, after all. It’s a bizarre position to take.

Following his logic it would be possible to claim that depression or any number of mental illnesses are not real either. Perhaps he does believe this. After all, he has argued that ADHD and dyslexia are non-existent conditions, like some austere Victorian physician who thinks anything can be overcome by just bucking your bloody ideas up.

I made these points in some subsequent tweets:

I didn’t get a further response. Fair enough, I’m sure he’s a very busy man with better things to do than argue with strangers at great length on the internet. I disagree with him on this and nearly every subject under the sun, but it was still interesting to have the exchange. That said, it’s a bit rich to be told that I’ve been taught what to think but not how to think. What he really means is that my thought process must be substandard as I haven’t come to the same conclusion as him. Presumably my own personal experiences don’t count for anything either. Oh well. And I don’t care if he did think it was ‘feeble’ I liked that Asperger’s analogy and it worked just fine.

I finished with one final remark:

I didn’t want to be rude. Despite everything I can’t really help liking him. Decca Aitkenhead made a similar point in an interview in The Guardian last year. Yes, he’s every liberal’s bogeyman and his opinions sometimes make me foam at the mouth, but he does it so well. It’s an uncomfortable fact, but liberals NEED Peter Hitchens.

Face it, we are addicted to him.

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Centrist. Atlanticist. Dry liberal. Anti-totalitarian. Post-ideological pragmatist. Child of The Enlightenment. Toucan.

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45 comments on “You’re gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to Peter Hitchens
  1. Mark says:

    Peter Hitchens is one of those people I can’t help but admire: I’m always astounded that there are still serious people in the world willing to hold such ridiculous views…

    • tom henry says:

      I too admire Peter Hitchens and Im astounded that there are people like you, who seem to think that someone else’s view’s are ridiculous. The emperors new clothes.

  2. Frank Bath says:

    What a SAGA and good on you for pursuing the man – I wouldn’t have the stamina. I’m surprised the personality engaged, which is a credit to him I suppose. Alas one has to wonder whether rational discourse is the way forward with those whom we profoundly disagree. It is, because win or lose what matters above all is that both side are prepared to enter into dialogue.

  3. […] *1 “If drug ‘addicts’ can give up their drugs by using self-control, then ‘addiction’ doesn’t exist. They can stop if they want to. Obvious, isn’t it?” *2 Citizen Sane debates Peter Hitchens […]

  4. Peter Hitchens says:

    The author complains (I’m sorry, I don’t know who writes this stuff as he doesn’t seem anxious to share his name with us ) : ’ He (that’s me, PH) clearly uses Twitter for one purpose only: to search for his own name, see what other people are saying about him and reply in kind. His prerogative of course, but this is akin to walking around a pub and eavesdropping on conversations to determine if people are talking about you, then taking them on if they are.’

    Not really. I say ‘This is Peter Hitchens’ because for tedious reasons., perhaps my own fault, I don’t seem to be able to Tweet under my own name, and because people often don’t believe that it is me. I refer, in the third person, to things I have written to which I wish to draw people’s attention. Nobody else can do it for me, so I do it myself.

    In short, I mainly use Twitter to promote articles on my blog, which I would like more people to read. But I do also take an interest in what people say about me, partly because so much of it is based on ignorant misconceptions about what I think and say, uttered by people who think it’s fashionable to despise me. I reckon that if I challenge this, I might occasionally make people think, and so capture another inch of soil for the causes I support. I also think it’s salutary, for people who are casually abusive, to realise that their target is a living human being, rather than an imagined or abstract presence. It’s not remotely like going round a pub eavesdropping, because Twitter is a public forum, and the things I find have been placed on it deliberately and consciously by people who want their thoughts known.

    If Mr ‘Sane’ did the same thing, he would of course find nothing, as we don’t know his name. But when I examine my lobster pots each day, I tend to find quite a few clawed and snapping creatures waiting for me in them. I suspect that, if people commented on him on Twitter, as they comment on me, he’d take a similar interest. Actually, I ignored it for years, until I eventually conceded that it might be a good way of reaching people I’d never otherwise reach.

    The trouble is that for someone like me, who has lots of other things to do and hasn’t yet wholly mastered the working of Twitter (which is at least comprehensible, unlike Facebook, it’s an incredibly cumbersome and restricted means of communication. If the same people commented at my blog I could ( and often do) respond directly to them in argument, and at enough length to have a proper argument.

    If Mr ‘Sane’ really does know the difference between a material object and an abstract concept, then he must have known that his argument was a dud one, not fit for a serious subject. Jokes aren’t funny unless they’re funny, and they’re also not funny unless they’re true, so the ‘it was a joke’ excuse isn’t worth much either.

    If he wants to discuss ‘addiction’ with me, he can visit my blog at
    http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/

    and will find that it is handily indexed and that ‘addiction’ is the very first entry in that index. When he’s looked at the relevant material, he might be better placed. A brief summary of my position can be found at

    http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2013/02/the-myth-of-addiction.html

    Mr sane also thinks he’s hit the target when he writes (about my request that he use the scientific method) :’ What makes this particularly interesting is that this would be the line of reasoning taken by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and, yes, Christopher Hitchens when debating the existence of god. As a renowned Christian and frequent debater on the subject I don’t ever recall Peter Hitchens acceding to this point on the issue of his own faith. Religious faith, it seems, is immune to this kind of scientific enquiry. It’s got a special permit.’

    This is just lazy. He ‘doesn’t recall’ because he’s never seriously tried to find out . He assumes, without warrant, that I hold opinions I don’t hold. So do most of my critics, who rail against an imaginary ‘Peter Hitchens’ quite different from the one who actually exists. I have argued not above a hundred times that faith is not equivalent to knowledge, and concerns matters on which there is no certain knowledge and almost certainly can never be any certain knowledge. It couldn’t be justified otherwise. My religious belief is a moral *choice* about the nature of the cosmos and what follows from that, which I am free to make (just as he is free to make the opposite choice, of atheist faith, or to make no choice at all, and declare himself agnostic and without faith) . By the way, my faith doesn’t entitle me to make or demand intrusive and invasive actions affecting other people, as(for example) disagnoses of ‘clinical depression’ and ‘ADHD’ do . It concerns the way in which I govern myself.

    Addiction is in a significantly different category because, though it is a faith, its adherents disapprove of faith, and are not conscious of holding any faiths. Indeed, they get quite cross if it is suggested to them that their faiths are faiths (especially the faith that is atheism) .

    Like ‘dyslexia’, ‘ADHD’, ‘clinical depression’ and many other abstractions, the concept of ‘addiction’ is simultaneously widely accepted and extremely hard to define or detect objectively. Many of these alleged conditions are also ‘treated’ with measurable, objective material responses (the worst by far being the prescription of amphtemaines or methylphenidate to small children who had -until they started taking these pills – nothing wrong with them at all). The efficcay of these prescriptions is at best questionable. Addiction in particular is also a bit of a shape-shifter, though the others are a bit amorphous as well. . The claims made for ‘addiction’ diminish the more it is questioned, but its adherents still seem happy for a very simple and straightforward concept of ‘addiction’ , that is to say an irresistible compulsion against which it is fruitless to fight, to be current in popular media and to inform government policy on drug abuse(see the movie ‘French Connection Two’).

    I say ‘extremely hard’ to define or detect objectively mainly to be polite and because I try at all times to maintain an open mind. Actually it is pretty much impossible to do so, and likely to remain so – all efforts to produce an objective diagnosis of ‘ADHD’ or ‘ADD’ have failed, and the Serotonin theory of ‘clinical depression’ (for instance) has been pretty much totally debunked by Marcia Angell (in the NYRB) and others. Thus it is an expression of a sort of faith, the faith in the view that humans are not responsible for their own actions. Alas, as it is a faith held principally by materialists, they cannot possibly accept that this is what it is. But it is.

    You can also read a lengthy discussion of the ADHD fantasy on my blog. And my arguments on these subjects have nothing to do with Victorian medicine, or ‘bucking up’. Indeed, it is his arguments, which involve drugging healthy people because their behaviour is inconvenient to others, or because it is fashionable in medicine to do so, , which have much more in common with the barbaric age of the pre-frontal lobotomy (and the continuing barbarity of ECT).

  5. Citizen Sane says:

    Mr Hitchens, thank you for taking the time to set out your position in such detail. You go to great lengths to get your arguments across and I can only admire that.

    I publish pseudonymously as I wish to demarcate my existence on the internet from my existence in the real world. Blogging and tweeting are not really compatible with my profession so I use a monicker for that purpose. You are in an enviable position of making a living from expressing opinions about any subject you so choose. I am not and have no desire to attract readers from my place of work, so I blog under this name.

    You make some very interesting points. I have read the post that you linked to in full and will read other entries from your blog in due course. I actually enjoy having my preconceptions challenged and my knowledge questioned. Even when you do not agree it certainly helps to refine one’s own argument.

    I make no claim to be any sort of authority on this subject and certainly have not studied the subject to the extent that you have. Some of your points I do agree with: I suspect you may be right that a diagnosis of ‘addiction’ or ‘depression’ or ‘ADHD’, etc, is too frequently made by some doctors perhaps too lazy or short of resources to investigate more thoroughly. We have personal experience of this in my own family: my wife has a serious and incurable condition but spent many frustrating months visiting her GP when her symptoms were manifesting themselves only to be misdiagnosed with depression and prescribed Prozac (which she did not take as she knew it was not depression). A number of weeks after this she was admitted to Guy’s Hospital with renal failure caused by Lupus. I would argue that the GP in question was negligent, bordering on the criminal. It happens, and there is an entire industry built around it. There is a tendency for anti-depressents to be dispensed like sweets for a number of conditions that are not clinical depression. But that does not mean that depression does not exist, just that it can be misdiagnosed or over diagnosed.

    I would make the same argument with addiction. Yes, there is certainly a case to be made for ‘addiction’ being used as a catch-all and an excuse for certain behaviours. I’m highly doubtful that there is such a thing as ‘sexual addiction’ in any physical sense, for example, any more than there is a ‘crumpet addiction’. But, again, this does not mean that addiction does not exist, and this is what you are claiming.

    Your points above do not touch upon the notion of certain substances being physically addictive. I used the ordinary example of nicotine addiction as this is the only substance I have ever been addicted to. But there is no reason for me to believe that heroin and other opiates do not also have the physically addictive qualities that hundreds of thousands, indeed millions of people attest – this is a level of addiction above and beyond mere free will. As I’m sure you are aware, heroin addicts are treated with substitutes which are themselves addictive. They just move from one harmful addictive substance to another.

    It is your all-encompassing assertion that “addiction doesn’t exist” that I simply cannot go along with. How else could you explain, for example, tragic cases of babies born addicted to heroin or other substances because their mother used the stuff throughout the pregnancy? Do you deny that such an infant is addicted and suffers from withdrawal? On what basis? There is observable evidence of physical substance addiction in the child, with the resultant symptoms that arise from no longer taking it: vomiting, fever, fits, diarrhoea. What is that, if not incontrovertible evidence of a kind of physical addiction? Or how about long-term users of steroids who have to gradually reduce their dosage because sudden withdrawal can be life-threatening? In such instances the body has developed a tolerance and a dependence on the substance that would be dangerous to suddenly take away. If that is not a kind of addiction, what is it?

    In summary I do not dispute that addiction is an over-used diagnosis. I do not dispute that it is difficult to define. I do not dispute that it can be conquered through determination and free-will. I do not dispute that addiction is a subjective definition in certain instances. But unless I see an alternative explanation for symptoms of withdrawal that can only be alleviated by taking more of the substance, I cannot see how anyone could claim that it doesn’t exist.

  6. Peter Hitchens says:

    The fact that a baby suffers temporarily from not being given heroin does not mean the baby is ‘addicted’, merely that its mother is an unusually irresponsible and selfish criminal. The baby doesn’t know why it suffers, and has had no choice over its mother’s actions.

    The so-called ‘withdrawal symptoms’ of various habit-forming drugs are not irresistible, and are no excuse for continuing to use them. The difference in this case is that the infant did not take the initial voluntary decision to ingest a drug that was a) illegal and b) well-known to be harmful and also, of course, that it is up to responsible adults to rescue the baby from this undeserved and unwanted burden as best they can. As new-born babies can hardly be said to possess the power of choice, the word ‘addiction’, as commonly used, cannot possibly be applied to them. It implies they don’t or can’t use a power they don’t have.

    The fact that *sudden* withdrawal from a harmful habit-forming drug is bad for you (as it undoubtedly is in several well-known circumstances) means merely that you should withdraw from it gradually, not that you are compelled to continue to take it.

    Take any route you like. You will not find anywhere any irresistible compulsion to continue taking harmful drugs. Our society clings to the false concept of addiction because it increasingly dislikes freedom, and the responsibility, freedom of choice and of will that it requires, and prefers to seek excuses for its greed and self-indulgence in genetic, social, economic or other factors.

    Our religion is Selfism. Like all religions,it loathes heretics.

    • Citizen Sane says:

      You see, I came to the complete opposite conclusion with the baby example. The fact that it clearly has not exercised any choice in its circumstances and is the victim of truly contemptible actions by its mother and yet suffers withdrawal symptoms is a sign of chemical dependence. The sudden lack of access to the substance and the resultant symptoms caused by this must be considered addiction, no? Addiction in a purely physical sense. The baby has no choice, is not capable of understanding its situation and had no say in its exposure to the drugs, but is addicted as a consequence of its mother’s deplorable behaviour.

      This has brought us full circle, back to my initial tweets where you thought I was unable to distinguish between material objects and abstract concepts. Because by my understanding, *chemical* addiction is not an abstract concept but a tangible reality and I think the newborn baby example demonstrates this.

      This is where our views remain irreconcilable.

      Nonetheless, this has been (for me, anyway) an interesting and enlightening conversation and as a consequence I have been reading many of your blog entries so you have at least acquired a reader (albeit one that will almost certainly never agree with everything you say). Your blog has become a guilty pleasure and I intend to trawl through the archives. In fact, you could say that it has become something of an addiction…..

      By the way, with regards to your Twitter account, if you so wish you can change your user name, perhaps get your account verified. A well-known columnist such as yourself could easily pick up many thousands of followers (I suspect a lot of people doubt it is really you) and reach a bigger audience for your blog and columns. It’s an extraordinarily powerful tool, but you get back what you put in. I hope you do master its workings. If you needed any further incentive simply remind yourself that your enemies will HATE it. God knows I’d rather see you on there than the likes of Owen Jones (89,500 followers) or Mehdi Hasan (49,100 followers)……..

      All the best.

  7. Peter Hitchens says:

    You’re not arguing with any care. In fact you have wholly missed the point. You’re going to need to strip the whole thing down to bright metal, and ask yourself to answer the following question with a clear, unambigous definition. ‘What is “addiction”?’

    You’ll also have to explain why’withdrawal symptoms’ as they are so grandly termed, are vested by you and others with such significance. This experience is not really much more than a bad hangover, also a measurable biochemical event. but not in any way evidence of ‘addiction’.

    You write as if these ‘symptoms’ axiomatically destroy human will and are some sort of overmastering physical force which no person can resist. They don’t. They aren’t. People who want to stop taking heroin, stop taking heroin. If ‘addiction’ were the force you claim it to be, they couldn’t. Of course, as I know well from dozens of these debates, you will now start to redefine ‘addiction’ for *this* part of the argument, saying that it doesn’t actually mean total compulsion. But you will retain the original definition , of an overmastering irresistible power, for the other part of the argument, the one you use to excuse the alleged ‘addicts’. This is called ‘inconsistency’, and in a serious argument it loses you lots of points.

    In this argument, because conventional opinion and majority opinion are behind you, and because you (and intellectual fashion in general) have a deep dislike of the concept of free will and full human responsibility, you can dance around it and pretend that you haven’t committed an offence against reason. Most people listening or reading will applaud you. But you will still have lost the point.

    This part of your syllogism is just an evasive blur , which fools you, but doesn’t fool me (most people can fool themselves with amazing ease. They just have to want to do so, and the rest follows. You don’t wnat to believe that people, including you, are fully responsible for their actions. So you manufacture this fallacy) . They are not an irresistible force, just a mild inconvenience ( a prison doctor of my acquaintance, who has encountered many heroin abusers and seen many of them give up when they couldn’t get supplies, in the old days before the authorities decided, unofficially, to let drugs circulate freely in jails for the sake of a quet life) says it’s easier to give up heroin than it si to give up smoking. Once again, the ridiculous caricature of the matter in ‘French Connection 2’ has fooled you, as it has fooled many.

    One again, the baby is not ‘addicted’ under any coherent meaning of the word. The baby was incapable of choicor will, so cannot be said to have its choice or will overridden by some sort of superior force.

    The baby adversely fected by being exposed to a dangerous drug, but he or she had no choice in the matter and has no choice in the treatment which doctors then apply. He or she has no choice, either in being given heroin or in stopping being given heroin. Nor ( so far as I know) does any competent doctor respond to this situation by assuming that the baby is irrevocably habituated to the drug, and arranging for the baby to have rgeular supplies of heroin (or a comparable substitute) for the rest of its life, which is how the British government treats adults who have voluntarily adopted this criminal habit.

    the raesonm whyMehdi Hasan and Owen Jones have lots of followers on Twitter is that Twitter is a left-wing electronic mob. Its whole nature appeals to the self-confirming conventional wisdom and received opinion of the half-educated. The fact that I have a couple of thousand followers reflects the balance of opinion. Changing my name etc would make no differnce.

    • Citizen Sane says:

      Mr Hitchens, these exchanges have forced me to think about this issue more than I ever have. Last night I started to write a lengthy response but I gave up when I suddenly began to realise that I was going to have to concede a major point to you.

      Over the last 24 hours I have read many of the posts on your blog that are tagged with ‘addiction’ and I see that you have had similar exchanges many, many times and the same issues of contention have come up time and time again. The logician and literalist in me has to concede that one of your arguments – indeed, your central argument – is very difficult to counter and it first struck me when I did as you suggested and tried to clearly define what ‘addiction’ is.

      One of the first, if not the first word to come to mind was ‘compulsion’ and I see many of your critics use this word in their definitions. It was also used by Russell Brand I believe along with other words like ‘irresistible’ and its variants. What does compulsion mean? Well, it is usually accepted as meaning an unstoppable force. But if it really is ‘unstoppable’ then nobody would ever be able to beat addiction would they? And they do, of course, every day. Some don’t, or can’t or won’t try, but it is clearly possible.

      So I tried to define addiction without using the word compulsion and came up with this:

      Addiction is the powerful desire or need to take, use or imbibe a substance that has demonstrable physically addictive qualities and where a range of physical sensations, ranging from mild discomfort or irritation to extreme sickness in some circumstances, manifest themselves when the substance is no longer taken.

      But what is a powerful desire? I’ve had a powerful desire to eat some toast, read the newspaper or go to bed before. And what is a ‘need’? By definition, it is something that you cannot live without. Oxygen is a need. Water is a need.

      I was not capable of constructing a water tight definition of addiction that wasn’t in some way self-contradictory or inconsistent.

      In my defence, I never actually used the word ‘compulsion’ or ‘unstoppable’ in our exchange. Nor did I ever claim that the symptoms of addiction “axiomatically destroy human will and are some sort of overmastering physical force which no person can resist’ as you put it. I did state very plainly that “I do not dispute that it can be conquered through determination and free-will” and also that “The first step that any addict would need to take to deal with their substance dependence would be to recognise that they have a problem with it and either seek professional help or resolve to give it up”. But thinking about it, that brings me back full circle to ask the following question: if it can be conquered through determination and free will, then what is the addiction if nothing else but an acquired habit that is very difficult to break, but certainly not impossible? In other words, I found myself arriving at your position on this point purely by accident. If addiction exists, what is it?

      While I still would not be so bold as to say that “addiction doesn’t exist” there is certainly no definitive way to identify it. But you could say the same of toothache, which can manifest itself without any physical clues. Does it therefore not exist? No. Can you prove its existence? No. You could also say the same for Lupus – notoriously difficult to diagnose as it operates in so many different ways and its symptoms come disguised as other conditions. It’s not impossible to suppose that addiction exists, we are just yet to develop a full understanding of it. Maybe.

      I also read up on the nature of giving up heroin. It sounds like a dreadful experience, but the physical craving is generally agreed to largely subside within a few days. Thereafter the temptation would be mental and/or habitual. I have not seen the film ‘French Connection 2’ (was not aware there was even a sequel to the original) but I also read up on that if only to understand what you were talking about. A more contemporaneous example might be the book and (especially) the film ‘Trainspotting’, which has a notorious cold turkey scene. I think you understate it by comparing it to a hangover – it sounds significantly more severe than that (and I have had some dreadful hangovers) and much longer lasting, but clearly it is something that can be overcome.

      I must take issue with a couple of your points though. Firstly, your assertion that “because you (and intellectual fashion in general) have a deep dislike of the concept of free will and full human responsibility…..” I cannot speak for intellectual fashion, but I assure you I have nothing against either of these concepts. I hold that everyone is responsible for their own actions and should be held accountable for them. I don’t understand how you can accuse me otherwise, frankly. Secondly, a similar point: “You don’t want to believe that people, including you, are fully responsible for their actions. So you manufacture this fallacy.” Again, no. I think what you are doing here is something that you (rightly) castigate your many critics for: you are projecting opinions onto me that I do not actually hold and criticising me for them, even though they are just your idea of what my opinions are.

      Anyway, in summary, you have won me over to a great extent through the force and clarity of your reasoning on the nature and definition of ‘addiction’. I could have continued to argue this through (and I still have my reservations) but I have to be honest to myself. Well done. This has been a very interesting experience for me, so thanks again for your (often harsh) words.

  8. I find it amusing that PH accuses people of manufacturing fallacies when his whole argument for religious faith is based on the wishful thinking fallacy. With regards to the baby scenario , yes of course the baby is addicted. If it suffers from withdrawal symptons then it is addicted. The babys exercise of choice in the matter is irrelevant (red herring fallacy), and the fact that abstention involves will power doesnt negate the concept of addiction. And just because a prison doctor (theodore dalrymple) makes claims about addiction doesnt make it automatically true (argumentum ad verecundium fallacy)

    • Peter Dalrymple says:

      Alexander,

      I don’t think that Mr Hitchens has claimed that Theodore Dalrymple’s claims are automatically true because he is a prison doctor. Rather, I think he takes them seriously because they have been arrived at empirically by someone who has made many thousands of observations. He simply describes observations upon which he bases his conclusions.

      I am no expert in this matter, and it is possible that Dalrymple is wrong, or lying, but out of interest, which of his conclusions about addiction (these mostly concern opiate addiction) do you think are untrue?

      • I was responding to PHs accusation of manufacturing fallacy and pointing out that he could be charged with that himself. I disagree that addiction is a myth. I dont doubt that willpower can overcome it but that doesnt mean it is a myth

  9. another error in PHs reasoning is that he thinks illnesses can allways be physically tested for. On that basis Bi-polar and Psychosis dont exist either. Other illnesses dont always show up on tests. People can have GERD but still show an all clear on an endoscopy. Coeliac disease doesnt allways show up on blood tests. People with back injurys dont allways get a positive diagnosis from scans

    • Peter Dalrymple says:

      Alexander,

      I don’t think that Mr Hitchens has said that illnesses can ALWAYS be physically tested for – can you give an example of him claiming this? I think what he says is that we should be very wary of conditions for which there is no objective test.

      • I was referring to his claim that science needs objective description…etc. Like I said on that basis we can deny the existence of many things ie, love, hatred. Addiction is merely the urge to keep taking a substance or do something, and the suffering of withdrawal symptoms if not taken or done. Whether it can be beaten by willpower or treatment is irrelevant to whether it exists or not. I speak as an addict and someone who has worked with addicts

    • Hilton Gray says:

      Good point, I like PH because he doesn’t get in a frothy. But addiction is certainly real whether you want to call it addiction or something else, it is measurable in that the body behaves abnormally when a certain substance is not present. The body begins to manufacture chemicals it wouldn’t otherwise do under normal circumstances. This can be both observed and detected in the bodies of heroin addicts.

  10. Peter Hitchens says:

    Mr Sane here makes a very generous and civilised retreat, of the kind that one can usually only dream of. I am much impressed (though I wonder if he will , for instance, draw others’ attention to this on other media) , and think it deserves an acknowledgement and a reply. From having jeered at me for supposedly ‘denying’ the existence of things which obviously exist, he has come a long, long distance. He now says: ‘The logician and literalist in me has to concede that one of your arguments – indeed, your central argument – is very difficult to counter and it first struck me when I did as you suggested and tried to clearly define what “addiction” is.’

    He continues : ‘I was not capable of constructing a water tight definition of addiction that wasn’t in some way self-contradictory or inconsistent.’

    But he adds :’ In my defence, I never actually used the word ‘compulsion’ or ‘unstoppable’ in our exchange. Nor did I ever claim that the symptoms of addiction “axiomatically destroy human will and are some sort of overmastering physical force which no person can resist’ as you put it.’.

    Maybe not, but these things are necessarily implied by the general use of the word, and by some (but not all, see below) of the policies adopted to deal with it.

    I know nothing about Lupus (except that I know one person who was absurdly diagnosed with it when in fact she was not suffering from it at all, and I have had a similar experience of someone being diagnosed with non-existent asthma, both complaints at the time being very fashionable diagnoses in the medical profession). But medical incompetence and modishness, while important, are other subjects.

    Crucially, I think the diagnostic parallel offered is false. If Lupus is, as Mr Sane says ‘difficult to diagnose as it operates in so many different ways and its symptoms come disguised as other conditions’, this implies inevitably that it does definitely ‘operate’ and that it is, all the same, *possible* to diagnose it. Difficulty is not a synonym for impossibility. Also, the disguised symptom is still, if Mr Sane is correctly describing the situation, a symptom, though disguised, and therefore objectively measurable, even if only with great skill and practice. It must also, axiomatically, be a symptom of *something* or it cannot be a symptom. None of these conditions applies to ‘Addiction’.

    I must also stress again that he employed the word ‘addiction’ as if it meant these things.( ‘compulsion’ or ‘unstoppable’ … ‘the symptoms of addiction “axiomatically destroy human will and are some sort of overmastering physical force which no person can resist”’). If it does not mean these things, then how can it be used as it is almost universally used, as a reason to treat habitual drug abusers as diseased or suffering, rather than as the authors of their own fates? This is the problem with the term. Its adherents are happy for it to be understood by the public in this way, and to base criminal justice policies on this belief, but generally ready to concede, in arguments, that they don’t in fact believe in this absolutist definition. But if it isn’t absolute, it isn’t what they said it was in the wider public forum. They have it both ways, or, if you like, indulge in doublethink. To me, as with all beliefs, the interesting question is why people block out this blazingly obvious contradiction, and carry on with it unresolved in their minds, often for decades. The most powerful deceiver in history is our own ability to deceive ourselves. And we use that to bolster faiths which we cling to and fear to lose. .

    Which bring us to : ‘…your [i.e. my]assertion that “because you (and intellectual fashion in general) have a deep dislike of the concept of free will and full human responsibility…..” I cannot speak for intellectual fashion, but I assure you I have nothing against either of these concepts. I hold that everyone is responsible for their own actions and should be held accountable for them. I don’t understand how you can accuse me otherwise, frankly.’

    Well, it’s quite simple. The use of language, the quality which distinguishes us from the beasts and which discloses the existence of mind, is an expression of the moral and other positions on the nature of the cosmos, taken by the person who uses that language.

    Your ready acceptance, without question, of the concept of addiction is, in and of itself, a denial of free will. Your original jeering objection to my argument (which brought us briefly together on our separate journeys to the tomb) was, likewise, an expression of your opinion on this subject. The modern fashion for determinism of all kinds, from genetic predispositions to obesity to ‘addiction’ to drugs has no other purpose than to deny the free will of the person involved. If I am wrong about your views on free will, didn’t you realsie that the very ideaof ‘addiction’ wholly contradicted your other views? Why else were you even concerned?

    Actually, as I tediously point out, if people *really* believed in addiction as it is widely accepted, an overmastering loss of will, they would be forced by their own logic to adopt savage deterrent penalties against the possession and taking of ‘addictive’ drugs in the first place, as almost any measure would be justified in preventing individuals from falling into this dreadful, irredeemable state in the first place. But of course believers in ‘addiction’ take a precisely opposite position, forgetting the fact that even ‘addicts’ had to decide to take the drug to which they have become ‘addicted’ and insisting on ‘treatment’ (whose indulgent, habit-perpetuating form is unexamined) and sympathy, rather than on punishment and scorn. The truth is that they do not even think the drug abusers were in control of their selves or wills when they voluntarily took the drug, for the purpose of pleasure, in the first place.

    We could spend hours discussing the roots of this belief (the abolition of the religious, particular, individual conscience and its replacement by the secular, generalized social conscience, the way in which the power of the benevolent state is rooted in claims to be able to comfort and overcome the problems of fallen and damaged individuals) . But I cannot see what other world-view could bring someone to believe that ‘addiction’ exists, without ever thinking about it or examining the proposition, and to grow angry and contemptuous if anyone states the contrary. If these words aren’t important, and don’t betoken anything, why do people get so heated about them being objectively examined? Faith is surely involved.

    As to being harsh, if I hadn’t put it harshly, would Mr Sane ever have taken any notice in the first place?

    • Citizen Sane says:

      Mr Hitchens.

      Thank you for the generous acknowledgement and continued correspondence on this matter and also for referring to the exchange on your blog today.

      In answer to your query, yes I do intend to write a post about this experience. I will let you know when I have done so. If nothing else, it is a nice example of a civilised exchange. A rarity!

    • Citizen Sane says:

      Also, I took the liberty of deleting the paragraph at the end of your comment that you didn’t mean to include (referred to by you in the comment at your blog) for the sake of clarity. The rest of your comment has not been altered in any way,

  11. prm says:

    Good Lord – a reasoned debate between two people with quite different views, which leads to one party altering their views in response to rational reflection. I think you just broke the internet.

  12. Peter Dalrymple says:

    Citizen Sane,

    First I would like to thank you for occasioning this debate with your tweets. I (like you and The Hitchens) enjoy a robust debate carried out properly – that is to say, in depth and at length, with proper argument and rebuttal. As well as enjoying them, such things have often made me change my mind, or at least gain a deeper understanding of my own and my opponents’ beliefs. So thank you again.

    I would also like to praise your open mind and your generous and public concessions of major points. I know how difficult it is to change one’s mind, and also how difficult to state that one has done so publicly. That you are willing to make public concessions to an opponent who has been, shall we say, vigorously assertive in stating his position shows considerable character.

    Now, I’d like to say a few words in your defence. Like you, I have been ‘addicted’ to tobacco – although at no point did I ever imagine that I COULDN’T stop, or that I was COMPELLED to smoke. Nonetheless, I would have described myself (and indeed did describe myself) as ‘addicted’, because the urge to smoke was a remarkably powerful one. I knew how very hard it was to give up, so if I had heard The Hitchens blithely denying the existence of addiction I too would have been miffed and dismissive. So I understand your initial feelings and tweets.

    The problem (as you have identified) is that people are talking about different things. If addiction is a strong urge to take something, then certainly it exists – we know this empirically, because we have experienced that urge, seen it satiated (temporarily) by ingesting a chemical, and so on. But if addiction is an inability to stop taking whatever the substance is, then we also know that by that definition it does not exist – after all, we and millions of others have stopped taking their addictive substances.

    Nobody seriously contends that addicts CANNOT give up, that addiction actually robs people if their will and turns them into automatons. But the ‘pro-addiction’ side (if you take my meaning) use terms like ‘can’t’, ‘compulsion’, ‘need’ and so forth, when they simply mean ‘strong desire’ or ‘powerful urge’.

    This is portrayed as compassionate, when in fact it is the opposite. It traps the addict into believing that he is somehow the slave of his appetites, whereas Hitchens-style strict adherence to logic and the true meaning of terms at al times reminds the ‘addict’ that he is a full human being, as good as any other, who has free will. The Hitchens reminds us that we are not powerless shells, destined to languish in the hell of destructive addiction until we get ‘the help’ from a benevolent State. Freedom is simply a matter of exercising one’s will. This view, often derided as authoritarian, unfeeling and so forth seems to me to be the opposite. It is a message of hope, and it holds the addict in high enough regard to treat him as a full human being, which the addiction bureaucracy does not.

    So I think The Hitchens is right, although I confess he would reach more people (and have fewer arguments) if he approached it slightly differently.

    I should state an interest in that it was reading Peter Hitchens that finally gave me what I needed to quit the evil weed for good. Cold turkey too. So he has quite possibly extended my life, albeit unwittingly and from afar.

    Any way, thanks again for the enjoyable ruck, and for your public display of open-mindedness and generosity.

    Best wishes to you.

    • Citizen Sane says:

      Mr Dalrymple,

      Many thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the exchange – I enjoyed it too. I see the fact that I came out of it with an alternative understanding than the one I started with a testament to the power of reasoned debate. I would not say that I stand 100% with Mr Hitchens on all the arguments he made here but on the concept of ‘addiction’ in pure definition terms I had to concur and I see that you do too.

      My initial exchanges were based on a misunderstanding of what I thought PH meant by saying that he doesn’t believe that addiction exists. I think this is a common misunderstanding by his critics, many of whom, I suspect, choose to misunderstand him deliberately. I initially thought that by denying the existence he was actually denying the reality of being drawn to a substance (I can no longer use the word ‘addicted’ here). As an ex-smoker you will know what I mean. The tangible, physical “I must have it’ craving that can drive you to distraction. But of course he doesn’t mean any such thing. These feelings are as real as any other. But this isn’t ‘addiction’ because it can be conquered by anyone determined enough.

      I won’t go on because I intend to write up a post summarising my own thoughts on this subject and the exchange. Clearly, you get it too.

      At the risk of being accused of having my cake and eating it too, I would still not be able to state with concrete certainty that “addiction does not exist’. I don’t know enough about neuroscience or the validity of studies of the brain’s so-called “reward circuitry” but I am able to say that I haven’t come across a definition of addiction that stands up to rigorous logical scrutiny and on the semantic point alone, “what is addiction?” I completely understand Mr Hitchens’ argument.

      I think we all still have much to learn about this complex subject.

      Thanks for reading
      CS

  13. cuttle says:

    It’s a pity that Mr Hitchens felt unable to answer the charge of intelluctual dishonesty, made by Jerry Coyne regarding his views on evolution.

  14. cuttle says:

    …And furher, Mr Hitchen’s request for evidence of the religious basis for the Intelligent Design movement, was answered by Mr Coyne without any published acknowledgement by Mr Hitchens.

    • Peter Dalrymple says:

      Cuttle,

      These points are rather off topic here, but if you raise them over at hitchensblog you might well get a reply. He does go to considerable lengths to answer his critics, and the blog is full of long arguments, sometimes extending over several days and even weeks. So try asking them on the blog – the back and forth generated by such questions is one of the best features of his site.

      • cuttle says:

        Peter, I read hi blog everyday, and yes it probably does appear off topic,perhaps I should have expanded. The exchange with Jerry Coyne was never mentioned at Mr Hitchens blog,save for a couple of comments.As you will be aware, Mr Hitchens usually takes charges such ad intellectual dishonesty quite seriously,and in this instance Mr Hitchens has not replied publicly.
        The relevance is the similarities to the present thread, not the topic. Will we see Mr Hitchens change his view as graciously as Citizen Sane?

  15. Peter Dalrymple says:

    Hello Cuttle,

    I was not aware that you were a regular reader. Still, it is probably worth giving him a prod (perhaps when things look a little slow over there). He gets into so many debates I imagine it is genuinely difficult for him to keep up with them all, so this might have just fallen through the cracks. He rarely seems to have his back against the wall so I (and I’m sure many of his readers, for and against) would be interested to see this played out if you think you’ve got solid points to make. In fairness to Mr Hitchens, I think he genuinely loves arguing, and has shown great willingness to change his mind, so why not raise it again and see if it goes anywhere?

    • Ive never seen PHs willingness to change his mind. And its true that Mr Coyne destroyed Hitchens’ pretensions and guess what? the usually voluble Mr Hitchens kept quiet about that exchange. I also had an exchange with PH on his website about his conspiracy theory that 9-11 changed the USAs approach to Palestine. When I contested this by providing page numbers out of Bob Woodwards book and a NYT report that predated 9-11 that contradicted PHs theory he acknowledged what i said was true , then proceeded to ignore the point anyway. No change of mind there.

      • Peter Dalrymple says:

        Alexander,

        I am not aware of this Coyne incident, so I can’t comment, although if it is interesting then raise it again on his blog. I don’t think even his worst enemy would accuse him of being afraid of a fight.

        I think it is only fair to acknowledge that he has changed his mind on many things. A few off the top of my head:

        He was initially against the smoking ban, and now supports it.
        He was a serious atheist who made a point of actively rejecting God, but is now a committed Christian.
        He was a radical Trotskyist, and is now a Burkean conservative.

        I’m sure there are many others, but those are all quite major shifts.

  16. cuttle says:

    Peter D, no need to raise the Jerry Coyne thing at the PH blog as PH is 100% aware- go to whyevolutionistrue and write peter Hitchens in search box to see the very brief exchange. PH knows when he is beat, it seems

  17. […] which I replied. To which he replied. To which I replied. To which he replied again. It’s all here and makes, I think, for an interesting […]

  18. Paolo says:

    I came to this debate via Peter Hitchens’ website – what a great exchange. Hats off to you both, I had almost forgotten what an intelligent debate between thoughtful humans could look like.

  19. Citizen Sane says:

    Thanks Paolo! I’ve become something of an avid reader of Peter Hitchens’ blog because of this so maybe I’ll see you in the comments over there.

  20. […] more so) outspoken, witty and intelligent as his brother. Browsing through his blog I came across a link to this exchange he had with a blogger that took issue with his comments on addiction. I have to say, not only was it […]

  21. James Stephenson says:

    Wow. A fantastic and fascinating exchange. Kudos to you Mr Sane.

  22. Miles says:

    This is indeed been an interesting exchange.

    However I am slightly dismayed that PH appears to have been succesful in bamboozling people with an almost ‘reductio ad absurdem’ argument that essentially boils down to a beleif that we have free will and are thus weak when subject to the whims, drives or indeed the compulsions of nuerochemistry.

    Whilst I can see how from his point of view to much pandering to the idea of neurological determinism seams to result in attitudes which to him look like an excess of compassion, excuses for criminial behaviour, soft attitudes to drugs etc – and “leftists” misguided state intervention – I think his position – an ideoloogical complete denial of the concept – is to far the other way.

    There is enough evidence, regarding the role and nature of neurotransmitters to suggest that certain substances are indeed extremely dangerous in the way thay act at a synaptic level to take the concept of addiction seriously.

    I dont like the way right wingers magic everything away by denying pragmatic approaches to human behaviour in the face of a ‘self evident truth’ that god gave man total free will, and is therefore free to stop smoking, and free to not start smoking, so if people get fat or lung cancer in a free market environment – tough.

    In arguments that start from a political / religious / philosophical position they allways claim the status quo is somehow ‘left’ and ‘soft’, or misguided, then move onto a seamingly exciting first year university position of showing how almost any concept of mind can be thought away and how anything you thought was self evident could be false.

    The science is ignored, evidence is anecdotal, and the everyday experience of professionals is suddenly undermined as being mis-guided and probably a waste of tax payers money.

    There is a reasonble middle ground where theory of mind is ultimatley useless and people just need help – tough of otherwise.

    If they are thinking “just go cold turkey and stop making a fuss you useless criminal” – just say that rather than thinking they can impose a complete and entriley faith based theory of mind on the world.

  23. jdseanjd says:

    Wow, what an interesting & well conducted debate. My hat’s off to all participants.
    I’m going to enjoy catching PH’s blog.

    I’ve seen so much low grade mud slinging & name calling attacks, particularly re the (non-existent for the last ~17 years) Global Warming ‘debate’, that this read was a real pleasure. 🙂

    For informed & civilised debate on ‘climate change’, I favour wattsupwiththat.com
    Enjoy, please.

    JD.
    🙂

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