There have been several excellent responses to an “Agent Green” who started a website [note, 2011: now apparently Green Papers] to attack a noted A.A. critic who goes by the pseudonym Agent Orange. Among them are a couple of members of the 12-Step Free email discussion group, and Agent Orange’s own response.
Agent Green does not offer anything new in his attempts to discount criticisms of the Step groups. He begins in the very familiar fashion of trying to usurp the critic’s position. This is not by coming up with facts. It is done by attempting to use window dressing to look like he is saying something relevant. He tries to usurp the obvious authority of Agent Orange’s position gained through careful argument and the footnoting of his work. He does not offer real argument or even facts. What he does is characterized, in part, by his trying to imitate “Agent Orange” by calling himself “Agent Green”. As if calling himself Agent Green isn’t enough, at the top of his page, Green has a quote prominently featured on the Orange Papers website.
“Everybody is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.
—Senator Patrick Moynahan, quoted at www.orange-papers.org.”
I know Groupers have no factual, logical argument against the assertions of the growing army of Step group critics. However, their lack of originality is getting tiresome.
Green announces with false bravado,
“This page gives referenced information (below) on Alcoholics Anonymous and also provides counter-arguments to a viciously biased anti-AA site known as the Orange Papers. References are at the bottom of the page. Enjoy!”
Of course, his references can’t be more biased. They are from 12-Step group members and 12-Step treatment industry sources. They are worth about as much as a tobacco industry spokesman’s assertions about the safety of cigarette smoking.
Green’s argument begins by blurring the definition of “alcoholism” so that, just like Alice was confronted with in Wonderland, the word means what he wants it to mean as needed for different contexts. Of course, with such a vague and undefinable disease which is nothing like the disease A.A. and front groups promote, he seeks traction by claiming research on A.A.’s efficacy is too difficult to carry out. He ignores that the reason why little research is done is because the alcoholism movement and alcoholism treatment industry control the research money. They do not want any research that will show that what is presented as treatment is at best a terrible waste of billions of dollars. At worst, it is a fraud, a hoax, malpractice and a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Green argues, “Though millions of people have attended AA, Orange will not admit that AA has helped a single one of them.” I don’t know that Orange has ever argued any such thing. However, I do know that I’ve been accused of the same. Green confuses a “treatment” being effective with simple correlation. Imagine a man gets stupid drunk, steps into traffic, gets hit by a speeding truck and ends up in intensive care in a hospital. If the man should decide to not get drunk any more and sticks to it, does that mean that getting run over by a truck “works” for alcoholism”? Does that mean that we ought to all jump in our trucks and run over any drunk we can find to cure his alcoholism? Once his language is untwisted, that is what his argument, and accusation against Orange, boils down to. An effective treatment has to have more successful and less unsuccessful outcomes than no treatment.
Another point that Green misses is there is no evidence that those who claim to be doing well in A.A. for long periods of time were those with the worst drinking problems to begin with. It is integral to the way A.A. works for members to exaggerate pre-A.A. drinking. The best stories of terrible sin and miraculous salvation are greeted with the most applause. People are conditioned to exaggerate. Over many years time the stories become unrecognizable from the originals. Also, it is also normal for A.A. members to hide their difficulties.
And what about the precision of the diagnoses of alcoholism to begin with? The rule is “You are an alcoholic when you say you are.” Also, if you say you aren’t, you are suffering the symptom of denial, so you are an alcoholic. I can’t imagine that there would be any value in the results of study for the treatment of a bacterial pneumonia that was diagnosed by either “You said you had it” or “You said you didn’t have it”.
The “symptoms” of alcoholism, just as the symptoms of all the “diseases” that the Step groups claim to help all center around unpleasant feelings. For someone to later not feel as bad as “the worst time in my life” is not a miracle. It is the normal, expected outcome. It can’t be measured as “success” without knowing that a greater percentage of people are not going to feel better without the treatment.
Following his trivial attacks on Orange that were based on alcoholism being “just what I say it is when I say that is what it is” Green goes into the desperate old 12-Step emotional plea, “You are killing alcoholics by criticizing A.A.” with [your] “obsessive anti-AA stance”.
I have never heard an A.A. member speak of anyone having an “obsessive pro-AA stance.” It seems the “obsessive” zinger is saved for the heretics.
One thing that Green seems to be ignoring completely is the effects of teaching someone:
- you are powerless (Step 1)
- you can’t manage your life (Step 1)
- you are insane (Step 2)
- you must turn over you will and life to God as defined by the group elders.
Throw in separating people from non-Step support and shunning people to pressure adoption of group doctrine and the high suicide rates of A.A. members are no surprise.
Green talks about “research” in a very problematical way. He doesn’t use clearly defined terms and he doesn’t use anything near Standard English. He uses Programese, the self-proving, circular language of the Step movement. It is impossible to make logical arguments when the language is so far removed from useful constructs. It is impossible to make logical arguments when the twisted definitions of words “prove” doctrinal concepts. Some examples of Programese and non-Step constructs are:
|| alcohol dependency
& alcohol abuse
- primary disease
- spiritual disease
- abstinence only way
- can’t trust own thinking
- characterized by denial
- ‘self’ is the enemy
- faith healing
- specific symptoms
- specific “have it”
- specific “don’t have it” (anymore)
can be as simple as “drinks too much”
|| sober or abstinent
|| sober or abstinent
|absolutely abstinent and in “a” spiritual program (meaning a 12-Step group)
- drinks (even moderately)
- on a dry drunk
- not ‘serene’
Green builds a straw man. He asks a dishonest question, one that implies things that are obviously not true, gives his made-up wished for answer from Orange and then responds to his own set up.
“Q: Are all AA members abusive cult extremists, like Agent Orange says?
I don’t know that Orange has ever said such a thing. I do know it would not only be atypical of Orange, but also that I have been accused of saying such things without ever saying them. The idea that one can notice some people being horribly abusive and not just everyone that way seems to be for some reason beyond many Groupers’ understanding. Some most certainly are. Most members (and most members aren’t going to hang around too long!) are simply wrong. Wrong can be a problem for a number of reasons.
Believing one has special “conscious contact” with God and knows what is best for others when one doesn’t is not at all helpful and can hurt. Believing that one has special knowledge of God’s Will that overrides consideration of hundreds of years of legal precedence that protects us all from each others’ excesses is another danger area.
Green attempts to build a mirage in asking and answering himself, pretending the answer came from Orange:
“Q: Are there emotionally mature AA members who can offer guidance and share their experience, strength, and hope?
“Shar[ing] experience, strength, and hope” is also known by other terms. “Sharing for witness” and “proselytizing” come immediately to mind. This “sharing” is done to “keep the conversion experience real”/ to “stay sober”.
Some important questions are,
- Who are the “old timers” at meetings who “can offer guidance and share their experience, strength, and hope”?
- Who is someone likely to find when they walk into a meeting?
- Is one likely to find someone who has “gotten well” and gotten on with his life?
- Or is one is going to find someone who is stuck, who still hangs out at meetings day after day, year after year for ten, twenty or thirty years playing all-wise guru?
Of course, it is the last who one is most likely to find.
Green does not fail to insist on the omnipresent-in-all-cults directive that those unfamiliar with A.A. attend meetings. Meeting attendance is key to recruitment into any cult. In the group environment, group dynamics can be manipulated to get the potential recruit to distrust himself and to begin relying on the group for self-definition. Among the influences possible in a group having roles modeled that one is expected to fill in the future and being “a minority of one against a unanimous majority.” (much more about the dynamics of meetings is on line in Meetings)
“Agent Green,” since he is “Anonymous,” makes a not at all unusual but very telling disclosure.
* I am not an alcoholic or addict.
* I have personally benefitted [sic] from attending Al-Anon and CoDA and from working the Twelve Steps.
* I have seen 12-step programs rescue people from despair, compulsions, and even suicidal thoughts.
* I have also met so-called 12-steppers who are abusive gossip-mongers.”
After all these years, I am still rather amused by the attempts of 12-Step group members when they are defending one 12-Step “fellowship” to try to portray themselves as “independent” and “impartial” while essentially announcing “I found the God of the 12 Steps by working the Step in another 12-Step fellowship, not the 12-Step fellowship I am defending at the moment.” Of course, the only real difference between the hundreds of different 12-Step fellowships is that each centers around a different disease (alcoholism, gambling, loving an alcoholic, being messy, etc.) as leverage for conversion to the 12-Step religion. Same church, different pew.
It is also rather amusing to me after all these years to see a Grouper challenge the 5% “success rate” often attributed to A.A. In treatment, depending on what the desired effect is, A.A. has either a 5% or 75% success rate. If someone was being stubborn about “coming to believe,” a big to do was made about “only 5%” with the implication that one had best obey. At other times, like when someone was implying that A.A. doesn’t work very well or when trying to convince someone to go to a 12-Step treatment center or even a meeting, the success rate is 75% “for those who really try.”
Leaving aside his rather strange analysis from what we are supposed to think are independent experts, I’ll just leave with a couple of quotes from two of those experts who he uses to claim that A.A. works and a comment on a study that showed A.A. worse than no treatment he claims is “Antiquated and Irrelevant.”
From A.A. trustee and Al-Anon George Vaillant, speaking of his own study, the study that Green (and Vaillant) contort success for A.A. out of:
“It seemed perfectly clear…by turning to recovering alcoholics [AA members] rather than to Ph.D.’s for lessons in breaking self-detrimental and more or less involuntary habits, and by inexorably moving patients…into the treatment system of AA, I was working for the most exciting alcohol program in the world.
But then came the rub. [We] tried to prove our efficacy. …
After initial discharge, only 5 patients in the Clinic sample never relapsed to alcoholic drinking, and there is compelling evidence that the results of our treatment were no better than the natural history of the disease. …Not only had we failed to alter the natural history of alcoholism, but our death rate of three percent a year was appalling.”63
As to 12-Stepper Dr. Edgar P. Nace who is an “expert” on alcoholism and author of a medical school text on the disease that Green uses to prove A.A.’s efficacy on where he gained his “wisdom” about alcoholism from:
“Every effort should be made to introduce the patient to AA. Schedules of local AA meetings should be kept in the office and given to each patient. The physician should know several recovered men and women active in local AA who are willing to meet with a new patient, share their experiences, and take the patient to an AA meeting.”
If the excessive drinker would rather quit on his own, the doctor is to suggest that the person who tries to quit “by himself … usually fails” as if people who go to AA have a lower failure rate. The psychiatrist is advised that his “primary goal” is to establish a “therapeutic relationship” with the patient in order to use it as “leverage” to get him into AA.
None of this is surprising since the book is written with the admitted goal of getting people into AA  by a man who got his information from the “insights” of “recovered” alcoholics, going to AA meetings and friendships with AA groupers. The author claims “a deeper understanding of alcoholism, an understanding that is not approached by the usual process of medical education.”
Then there is the Dittman study that Green claims is “Antiquated and Irrelevant.” Green seems to have no understanding about the way science works. An old study may well be a better study. With an old study, at least one should know. There has been a lot of time for it to be redone and problems found with it. There has been a lot of time for it to be repeated and confirmed. Of course, since the Dittman study, in spite of being very easily done and very inexpensive, has not been repeated. It had the “wrong” findings to draw alcoholism research funding. According to the researchers’ report:
“Some of the present writers [3 of 5] were quite optimistic about the possibilities of enforced referral to treatment, but the early encouraging anecdotal reports are not borne out by present data.”
This was rather good in terms of science. It is significant when researchers find results different from what they expected. This was rather bad in terms of 12-Step promotion. It showed the Steps to be a total failure.
 61. Ditman et al (1967) 1967 Ditman KS, Crawford GG, Forgy EW, Moskowitz H, and MacAndrew C, A Controlled Experiment on the Use of Court Probation for Drunk Arrests. American Journal of Psychiatry 124(1967):160-163
 Vaillant (1983a):283-285 Vaillant GE, 1983a. The Natural History of Alcoholism. Cambridge, London: Harvard University Press, 1983
 Nace (1987):148 Nace EP, The Treatment of Alcoholism. New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1987
 ibid. p60
 ibid. p124
 ibid. pxix
 ibid. pxiv
 ibid. pxiv