opinion

ANDREW MILLER: Debate, the AMA, COVID and why we all need to remember Legally Blonde

Andrew Miller
The Nightly
Sixteen-year-old me was see-through pale, acnefied, crowned with unruly red hair, and lacking in sporting prowess. My only cachet came from smart-arsery. So naturally I signed up for debating.
Sixteen-year-old me was see-through pale, acnefied, crowned with unruly red hair, and lacking in sporting prowess. My only cachet came from smart-arsery. So naturally I signed up for debating. Credit: Unknown/Supplied

Sixteen-year-old me was see-through pale, acnefied, crowned with unruly red hair, and lacking in sporting prowess. Other than cross-country running that is - the leftovers team.

My only cachet came from smart-arsery. Making a whole class laugh at a fatigued teacher was my path to acceptance. I was too-often told to be quiet.

So naturally I signed up for debating, which is a model for the degraded state of our democracy and public intellectual discussion.

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They coach nerds to argue eloquently about ideas they just heard. This can be in favour of, or against, any proposition - it doesn’t matter.

We learnt the modern art of persuasion through false dichotomy in a moral vacuum.

This can form a lifelong habit of distorting any and every argument, by minimising the good points of the opposing team, and exaggerating the strengths of your own moth-eaten logic.

This can usefully be applied to sales, politics and relationships. Prowess in talking is used to paper over big gaps in logic.

It is why our current political leaders, and many podcasts, sound so rancid to the ear.

For the sake of efficiency - or laziness - once we have chosen a team, we tend to support their arguments by default.

Antivaxxers overseas died in great numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Medical staff tell of many patients who wanted to be vaccinated in the ICU - too late. Are there side effects from some vaccines?

Yes, AstraZeneca in particular had famous problems and is now kaput. All therapies have potential side effects.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines a good idea overall? Of course - they continue to save countless people, and prevent long COVID in many more.

Should we have the simple option of vaccinating our children, as they do in many countries? Absolutely. It’s infuriating that our Government blocks this.

The situation is slightly more nuanced than “vax is evil vs perfect,” yet many are incapable of appreciating concepts beyond team loyalty.

Ben Harvey penned a characteristically forthright article about China recently, which nicely demonstrated the issue of nuance in geopolitics.

He said that our attitude toward China cannot be simplistic even though “the actual world order gives us few other options ... than to suck up to them”.

China is an emerging super-power on whom many rely for prosperity, yet they are sometimes belligerent with neighbours and human rights.

Can we trade with China yet complain about some of their behaviour? Of course. We do that every Christmas with our own families.

Aristotle reminded us - via Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde - that “law is reason, free from passion.” The underpinning of corporate activity must be the law, not the loudest voices.

I rolled into the exciting Annual General Meeting of the Australian Medical Association (WA) recently. Some say that men, out of all the genders, are reluctant to express their feelings. This is a fallacy.

The best-case scenario for any AGM - anywhere - is the same as in surgery: pray for merciful speed with minimal pain and bleeding.

The AMA is an essential body for independently critiquing government policy. The public value hearing their doctors’ unfiltered opinions.

There has been recent biffo in the AMA federation, with the West Australians getting thrown out because our contract for Federal services expired after stalled negotiations on price.

It’s a GST argument - Canberra naturally wants more, so they can help Tasmania and do other good works, but WA is trimming costs after some tough trading years.

Some argued, correctly, that unity is vital. Others pointed out, also rightly, that we must get value for money, and that corporate governance - reason free from passion - dictates that contracts are the responsibility of the current directors, not past leaders who called the shots in days gone by.

Things are seldom as simple as we would like them to be.

Ironically our best contribution to debate is sometimes to pause and consider - quietly.

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