20 Apr Does Studying Law Make You An A******?
By Hugh Bampton
For those of you who know me you’ll know that there’s nothing that I like better than a good soapbox. Surrounded by LNP sycophants on one side and the almost trope like inner city lefties (alongside occasional nihilist comrades) on the other for the past 18 months, there has been no end for the need to explain why and how both sides of politics are full of idiots incapable of engaging with hard data or common sense.
How satisfying it is to watch supposed free market groupies justify market distorting tax breaks, or watch bleeding hearts try to comprehend how open door migration policies leads not to utopia but the rise of extremists and social disorder. You can almost see their little cogs struggling with the laws of physics.
Fearfully, however, as I reach the end of my degree I have discovered that a degree’s worth of legal thinking and training has made it harder and harder for me to accept simple dichotomies. The world of black and white increasingly escapes me. Righteous rants delivered to uneducated masses are now peppered with caveats and a grudging explanation that there could be other possible explanations for a data set. While watching ideologues on TV I now have an urge to research rather than immediately condemn.
Some people might suggest this is simply the result of age. My genes suggest otherwise. As the grandson of the only person in South Australian history to have Royal Commission inquiry directed solely at them for being a pain in the ass (shout out to Murrie in 67), and whose uncles gave me Atlas Shrugged and Animal Farm for my 11th and 12th birthdays, absolutism has always come naturally to me.
No – I blame law school. Contrarianism simply doesn’t do it for me the way it once did because something in the back of my mind compels me to start considering the counter arguments.
So what’s the problem you ask? Surely being able to comprehend another’s perspective and concede when necessary makes you a better, more rounded person? Wrong – like most of our politicians who wormed their way through the cesspit of student politics (Editor’s note: *cough* University of Adelaide *cough*) while doing a law degree I have just got better at arguing.
Being a law student hasn’t made my inner politician afraid of conflicting evidence, now I can anticipate it and either acknowledge it but direct attention away or simply explain how it doesn’t really apply to this situation. An opposing mind trained in this art can fight back – but to the average person I can now sound even more convincing as I explain how and why Abbot, Turnbull and Shorten are in fact the political equivalent of the human centipede.
Here within though, is the problem. Most of our politicians have been to law school, or have staffers who did. Most all of them did reasonably well, in-between stabbing other aspiring student politicians in the back. About a quarter on both sides of politics list a law degree as their qualification, and the percentage is rising. Inevitably they have got even better at saying nothing while talking, dog whistling in sotto and confusing the general public by misusing and abusing research and data. They have trained to be advocates – not clearly explain their principles in an open and carefully explained manner which allows for nuance and compromise.
As Australian politics continues its downward spiral and both major parties eliminate internal party democracy for the sake of staying on message, the question has to be asked – should law students be banned from entering politics? More importantly – are the competent law lecturers and tutors walking blindly into the Nuremburg defence – it’s not my fault they ruined the country, I was just doing my job.
On a final note – who were great Australian politicians? If, like most Australians, you have little to no knowledge of their even recent past, here are a couple. Sir Tom Playford – a Liberal premier and cherry farmer who nationalised electricity production in SA and greatly expanded the Housing Trust to help boost employment by keeping wages low. Ben Chifley, a train driver who became the ALP Prime Minister after Curtin and who started the Snowy Mountains Scheme, enlarged the CSIRO and sent the Army in to crush Communists in the coal mines. Note – not just lawyers or staffers.